10/08/12 8:00am
10/08/2012 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | No amount of rain can spoil the pleasure of a good scratch for this pooch awaiting his blessing at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck.

In honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, animals and their owners attended ceremonies across the North Fork to receive the traditional blessing.

Greenport’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church held a ceremony at noon Sunday, presided over by Rev. Paul Wancura.

Deacon Jeff Sykes at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck performed a ceremony in the early afternoon as a steady downpour drenched both animals and their owners.

[nggallery id=386 template=galleryview]
08/05/12 5:00pm
08/05/2012 5:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Growing up in Southold, Monica Miller was known to get into some trouble. Now she’s written a book named for two of the things that helped straighten her out, “Hip-Hop and Religion.”

When Monica Miller was growing up in Southold, she was always getting into trouble.

She was one of few African-Americans in her school, and says most of her early memories are of seeing the only potential black role models working as janitors or cooks on the lunch line.

She rebelled in the ways most teenage North Forkers were rebelling around the time she graduated in 1999. She wore eye makeup and ripped jeans. She got into fights at school. She listened to Metallica and learned the lyrics to every Guns & Roses song.

And then she discovered two passions that have intertwined in her newfound career as an academic: religion and hip-hop music.

She moved to New York to attend college in one of the most diverse cities in the world, then received her doctorate at Chicago Theological Seminary. With that degree in hand took a position just last year teaching religious studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., where she’s once again one of the few African-Americans around.

Now 31, Dr. Miller is about to release a book titled “Religion and Hip-Hop,” which expands on the work she did in her doctoral thesis, and is about to launch a 12-city radio tour.

“No one would predict I would be a professor. I was really bad. I can’t tell you how many times [former Southold principal] Mary Fitzpatrick suspended me for fighting,” she said of her childhood in Southold, where her family moved full-time after her parents split up.

Dr. Miller’s mother, Charlotte Miller, has worked at Eastern Long Island Hospital for 30 years.

“She would always get calls to come pick up her daughter in the principal’s office for fighting,” said Dr. Miller. “It was hard. She was a single mom with three little brown girls. My grandparents, Addie and Alvin Pace in Peconic, helped my mom raise us. We lived with them for eight years.”

Looking back now, though, Dr. Miller sees how her unique upbringing helped her understand the role of the outsider in American culture.

With her new book, she finds herself again an outsider in the society of religious scholars. In her research, she examines frequent religious references in hip-hop music in the light of conventional thinking that hip-hop is in some way opposed to religion.

“ ‘Religion and Hip-Hop’ settles the score between the sacred and the profane,” she said. “There is no divide between the sacred and the secular. It’s a manufactured divide. There is no such thing.

“It’s going to piss off a lot of religious studies professors,” she added.

Her book is being released by Routledge, the British publishing house known for its academic titles,
Dr. Miller said she initially intended to enroll in law school, but realized that her interest in sociology was much stronger than her attraction to the law. From there, she began to explore the social context of religion.

“I wanted to find out what makes us choose to believe,” she said. “Religion is an important part of primary socialization in African-American culture. Pew [Research Center] studies consider African-Americans to have high rates of religiosity, but if you look at youth Pew data, there’s a growing trend of young non-belief.”

She said that while many fewer young African-Americans are going to church, as with their counterparts of other ethnic backgrounds, they still have a high rate of claiming to believe in God.

She points to the trend in Crump dancing, an ecstatic street dance form in South Central Los Angeles, and to the uptick in tattoos in the hip-hop community, as part of a new “faith in the flesh,” an atheistic humanistic trend she believes practitioners describe using religious language because “they have no other language to talk about it.”

“It’s actually something very humanistic,” she said. “You have no faith in the government and the state, or in God, but you do have faith that you and your friends can channel your hurt and anger and dance it out. That’s putting power in the self. It’s very new age.”

She added that when hip-hop artists talk about God and about killing in the same song, they’re only creating a contradiction for people who believe religion is something inherently moral and good.

“You can go through the Bible and see that same kind of contradiction,” she said. “God is also a murderer.
“It’s not our job [as academics] to make religion the moral sanitizers of everything in the world,” she said. “I think religion should be seen as a social construction. We should be critics, not caretakers.”

Dr. Miller has equally blunt words for educators in Southold.

“I got a very good education. It was like getting a private education in a public school,” she said. “But I still felt cultural isolation. There was a void that was not filled in me. I felt my teachers didn’t really believe in me.”

She urges teachers on the North Fork not to judge students and to teach James Baldwin’s works as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.

“Give marginal groups the resources they need so they can build the confidence necessary to live full lives,” she said. “I make my students go to a community outside their own comfort zone and know what it feels like to be the other. It’s really important for everyone to feel that. I felt a lot of that growing up in high school. When I did see black students, they were in special ed. I fought back through knowledge.”

“Religion and Hip-Hop” will be available on amazon.com as of Aug. 15. More information about the book is available at religionandhiphop.com. Dr. Miller will be speaking at Columbia University on Sept. 21, and hopes to come back to Southold to speak around that time.

[email protected]

06/07/12 10:00am
06/07/2012 10:00 AM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | The Reverend Jim Macomber of Southold Universalist Church, which declares itself a 'welcoming congregation.'

In time for gay pride month in June, First Universalist Church of Southold has declared itself a “welcoming congregation” to all members of sexual minority groups.

The Rev. Dr. James Macomber said there is a program within the Unitarian Universalist movement that encourages other congregations to do the same.

“This has been years in the making,” Rev. Macomber said. “I’ve been in a number of other congregations over the past 12 years or so and most of them are welcoming congregations. It’s something that’s fairly common within our movement and I’m happy that Southold has followed suit.”

He performed a gay marriage at the church over the winter and said his predecessors have performed a handful of gay marriages and union ceremonies over the past few years.

He said it’s important to be a welcoming congregation because it sends a message to those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that those who join the congregation can feel at home.

“In my opinion, no true follower of the teachings of Christ would have any issue with a committed loving couple being a productive part of society, perhaps lovingly raising children, maybe belonging to a welcoming religious community,” Peggy Richards, secretary of the church’s board of trustees, said in the congregation’s June newsletter.

Ms. Richards’ statement counterbalances the attitudes of some other congregations that view homosexuality as a sin or an illness to be cured.

“I have been thinking and thinking about the dichotomy of Christians calling homosexuality an abomination,” Ms. Richards added. “I can’t visualize Christ ever discriminating against a human being who was born a certain way.”

Rev. Macomber said individuals who join in their worship will never be made to feel uncomfortable about their orientation.

“LGBTQ community members can expect to be welcomed into our church services and our membership without worrying about their identity in terms of discriminatory practices,” he said. “People’s identities are not something we seek to change in any way. We want to welcome people based on their personal vision of what their identity is.”

[email protected]

12/15/11 7:00pm
12/15/2011 7:00 PM
Southold, NY

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Mary VonEiff of Southold passes out snippets of scripture for her Girls 4 God group to discuss at last Wednesday’s Bible study group.

A group of young girls from all over the North Fork is coming together this Christmas season to help an innovative program for infants at an orphanage in China.

The program, called Gracie’s Room, was started by Southold mother Cathy Reilly, who in 2002 adopted a one-year old girl named Gracie Mei from the Chongquing Fuling Social Welfare Institute. Gracie died of sudden onset acute leukemia in 2004.

Her story touched many people, including staff at the Fuling institute, and Ms. Reilly worked with them to start Gracie’s Room, an infant nurturing program, with specially trained nannies who work with three to four infants for eight hours a day. According to the orphanage’s website, in many orphanages the normal staff to child ratio is about 10 to one, and infants do not spend time interacting with adults and developing emotional attachments. Gracie’s Room attempts to change that model.

“We were meant to show Gracie what it meant to have a family, a home, and people who loved her until it was her time to go,” says Ms. Reilly in a statement on the website. “I will be eternally grateful for all she brought to my life.”

She could not be reached for comment before press time.

Southold resident Mary VonEiff’s Bible study group, Girls 4 God, is gathering blankets, pajamas, baby supplies and money for Gracie’s Room. Ms. Reilly will bring the supplies to the the orphanage when she visits China next spring.

Ms. VonEiff’s group began meeting this fall and has grown by word of mouth to the point where 13 girls from as far west as Riverhead now get together at her Southold home every other Wednesday night to discuss their relationship with God, their paths in life and good works they can do in the community and the world.

“They are from varied backgrounds and come from different Christian denominations,” said Ms. VonEiff. “Some even have little or no experience with God. Some have been raised in the faith for their whole life. One of the initial goals of Girls 4 God was to reach out to all young ladies, regardless of their knowledge about God.

“The response has been great, and I have had mothers ask me if I would start a group for them and have even had a tween boy ask if I would start a Boys 4 God group,” she added. “But us ladies need to talk.”

On Dec. 7, the girls were eating pizza and getting ready to discuss scripture in Ms. VonEiff’s dining room.

Alexandra Apadula, who lives next door to the VonEiffs, is excited to be part of the group, which she attends in addition to Catechism classes. Her family has donated pajamas and blankets to Gracie’s Room.

Her sister, Victoria, has also been attending.

“I’ve learned to be nicer to my family and sister,” she said.

Katie Durec of Aquebogue joined the group after her mother saw an open invitation on the wall in Mattituck pediatrician Thomas Mercier’s office.

“I learned to correct people when they’re using bad language,” she said. “God loves us all.”

Ms. VonEiff said the group has grown enough that she’s considering forming a second group for older teenagers, who want to talk more about boys and relationships. Many younger tweens in the group are still involved with navigating friendships, she noted.

The group next meets on Jan. 11, when they will be helping to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen in Riverhead.

[email protected]

06/28/11 10:12am
06/28/2011 10:12 AM

When the Rev. Lorraine DeArmitt of Southold United Methodist Church passed the torch this week to the Rev. Jin Hyoung Kim, it was with a sense that she’d achieved the goals she set for herself 10 years ago.

“They’re really in a good place,” Pastor DeArmitt said of the members of her congregation. Listening to tributes from several parishioners on Sunday, she said she realized that her original aim of helping people better understand the Bible and know God has been achieved.

“It was kind of like attending your own funeral,” she said.

The Rev. DeArmitt is leaving Southold to become pastor of Westbury United Methodist Church, with a congregation of 150, three times the size of her current flock.

It’s a cross-cultural appointment, she said, and many of her new congregants will be African-American or from the Caribbean or Africa.

It has been “a conflicted congregation,” she said, but one with a social activist conscience, much in tune with Pastor DeArmitt’s own sensibilities.

She plans to approach the new assignment armed with the same advice she got when she first entered the ministry.

“What people want to know is that the pastor loves God and them,” she said.

Pastor DeArmitt first came to the Southold ministry after a 25-year career as a therapist. At the time, she saw it as an opportunity “to touch more people and to focus on their spiritual needs.” She admits that in the beginning, that goal seemed elusive.

Instead of the intimacy that had existed with her patients, she encountered distance with her new parishioners. But that distance closed over time, as an increasing number of people sought to talk to her about personal and family issues, and their relationship to God.

Listening to Sunday’s tributes, she said she realized just how “in sync” with her thinking her parishioners have become.
Southold Methodists today are alive and well and very much involved in improving the lot of others beyond their own church walls, she said.

They have participated with Volunteers In Mission, traveling to other countries to both spread the faith and participate in building projects to improve the lives of people in poverty-stricken communities. And they have supported Pastor DeArmitt’s involvement in running the Eastern Steering Committee of the Long Island Council of Churches, her role as vice president of the council’s Board of Governors, her work as a board member of Community Action Southold Town and her leadership of Southold’s original Community Land Trust.

The congregation also showed how giving they can be with the gift they gave their outgoing pastor: $500 to purchase safe drinking water devices for people in Haiti.

The pastor is so proud that her congregation, who also gave her a gym membership in her new adopted home of Westbury, knew the best way to please her would be to help people in need.

“That’s just very cool,” she said.

[email protected]

01/11/11 11:55am
01/11/2011 11:55 AM

The Rev. Jim Macomber

The Rev. James Macomber began serving as part-time religious leader for Southold’s First Universalist Church in September.

It was love that brought him back to Long Island, where he had served as pastor for the Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook in 2006-07. During that time he met the love of his life, Aina Gentile, a teacher in the Kings Park School District, and married her this August aboard the Christeen, a 125-year-old oyster sloop on Oyster Bay. They make their home in Centereach.

Now retired as a full-time minister, The Rev. Macomber came to Southold in answer to the church’s call for a part-time pastor. His last full-time posting as a minister was in Atlanta, Ga. He also works part-time for the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, collecting data for the Consumer Price Index.

The Rev. Macomber came to the ministry as a second career after spending 24 years on the faculty of the business school at the University of Tennessee. His ties to Unitarianism go back to his childhood near Cleveland where he felt drawn to the ministry beginning in high school. In 1997, he entered Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. and on his ordination in 2001 he retired from teaching to pursue the ministry full-time. Besides Stony Brook and Atlanta, he has served in Nashville and Los Alamos, N.M.

This month, under the Rev. Macomber’s leadership, the church is launching two new Sunday morning programs — an adult discussion group and a children’s ecumenical worship, both starting at 9:30 a.m. before the regular 10:30 a.m. service.

The discussion group, “Food for Thought,” will cover various topics from Aristotle to Zoroastrianism, the Rev. Macomber said. Initial discussions will be on theology. The discussions will be led by Judith Speyer, an experienced therapist and practicing Buddhist, who has chosen the theme, “In Difficult Times … A Buddhist Approach.” The initial session was on Sunday, Jan. 9, with more sessions set for Jan. 16 and 30 and then once a month through June.

Regan Batuello, the church’s long-time director of religious education, will lead the children’s program, which will also run at 9:30 a.m.

“We plan to explore the idea of worship from a young person’s perspective without a presupposed set of ideas,” Ms. Batuello said. “We’re going to explore spiritual topics in an open way, rather than learn a set of rules,” she said.

Participants in both programs are being invited to bring breakfast to the sessions.

[email protected]

12/06/10 5:26pm
12/06/2010 5:26 PM

Father Joseph W. Staudt, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Cutchogue, has been named Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI, according to Reverend William Murphy, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The honorary title of “Monsignor” is given to Roman Catholic priests as a sign of appreciation and recognition of the service they have rendered, both locally and in the world, according to a diocese press release.

Ordained in 1978, Msgr. Staudt served his first assignment at Corpus Christi parish in Mineola.  His subsequent assignments included serving at Saint Sylvester parish in Medford and Saint Patrick parish in Bay Shore, before becoming pastor of Christ the King in Commack in 1997.

Msgr. Staudt was named pastor at Sacred Heart in 2007.