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Alec Baldwin comes to Orient to talk about faith, COVID and democracy

On a balmy summer night, Alec Baldwin came to Orient to talk about things on his mind, from the hesitancy of many Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19, to the role of spirituality in his life during the pandemic.

The Thursday evening event was made possible by Rev. Donna Schaper, the pastor of the historic Orient Congregational Church, the oldest church of that denomination in New York State.

Rev. Schaper invited Mr. Baldwin to speak on a wide range of subjects, centered on the pandemic’s impact on families, the community and the nation. They sat on chairs in the shade on a grassy yard behind the church on Route 25, with approximately 100 people seated in front of them.

During an hour discussion, both Mr. Baldwin and Rev. Schaper stressed their belief that the pandemic is a dress rehearsal for more crisis to come – from newer and deadlier variants of the virus to climate change.

“I am 63 years old and I have six kids so, yes, the future worries me,” he said in an interview prior to the start of the discussion, as guests enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvres. He said vaccine hesitancy “shows people will not do what is best for them and the people in their lives.

“All of our decisions, my wife and I, are built around what is best for our children, who are 8, 6, 5, 3, 1 and four months,” he added, making it clear that he and his wife Hilaria are concerned enough about life in New York State that they are considering moving away. They have homes in Greenwich Village and Amagansett.

“The city is awash in a crisis of affordable housing, which is an issue on eastern Long Island as well and only seems to be getting worse,” he said. “We both need to feel a sense of renewal is happening in the city.”

As Mr. Baldwin and Rev. Schaper took their seats in front of the invited guests, Rev. Schaper laid out the themes to be discussed: “What happened with COVID? Is it a dress rehearsal for something even more difficult? What has happened to our democracy? What does God want from us? What is spirituality now?”

Mr. Baldwin talked about the “overwhelming level of stress” he felt during the shutdown and how for weeks he and his family barely left their home in Amagansett. Prior to that, he was constantly busy, from fundraisers for groups he supports, to all that goes with being Alec Baldwin, actor and advocate, from television appearances on Saturday Night Live to meetings with directors and writers.

Alec Baldwin was a featured speaker Thursday night at the Orient Congregational Church. (Credit: Steve Wick)

Then, suddenly, it all stopped. He and his wife home schooled their kids on Zoom calls with their schools, like millions of other Americans. “My wife was stressed out; she delivered a baby during the pandemic. As for me? I met a different me during this shutdown, and I came to see I didn’t know that guy.”

Both Rev. Schaper and Mr. Baldwin talked about managing stress and emotions during a crisis. “What do you do when you are in a lifeboat and someone is in the back drilling a hole in the bottom?” he asked. “There are many struggles and each of us deal with them differently.”

He said coming to Orient on a lovely evening and talking with people is one way to heal. “You live in this wonderful place – this is where those conversations can take place,” he said. 

As for American democracy? “This is a wealthy country. We need basic services for everyone,” he said. “Affordable housing is a real dilemma here. How will it be solved? Homelessness in the city is a critical issue. Our infrastructure needs to be fixed. Democracy is caring for other people.”

He expressed no interest in running for office, something that has been mentioned in the past. He agreed with Rev. Schaper when she said the country should create a national service program for young people to get involved with, a kind of domestic Peace Corps.

The evening was not entirely all serious, with several jokes cracked like “It’s easier to drive to Pittsburgh than Orient.” 

As for the place of religion in times of crisis, Rev. Schaper told the audience, “God believes in you.”

At that point, Mr. Baldwin said, “God overcomes my fear. I have not always faced every situation with dignity. I know that. I’ve learned a lot. But I rely on God to give me strength.”

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