Have faith: Neighborhood Convention

For more than 100 years, Islanders have gone to these ecumenical gatherings.

Sofia Anthony, secretary for the Neighborhood Convention, at her Edgartown home. — Gabrielle Mannino

Sofia Anthony has been secretary of the Neighborhood Convention since 2004, and she’s a keeper of history. The Neighborhood Convention meets on the first Tuesday of the month, October through June, usually at Island places of worship. I was surprised to learn from Sofia that when it began in 1894, the gatherings were an all-day affair.

“They were held up-Island,” she said, “and you had to go by horse and buggy or a waterway.”

In her binders full of history, Sofia has an old handwritten note from Mrs. Edna C. Langille of Oak Bluffs, who was born in 1890, that reads: “They felt, particularly the ministers of the time, that there was very little exchange of ideas and, even in some cases, friendship between the Methodist and Baptist churches. Each saw the others going to church and that was it. So they felt if we met up-Island, for example, or in other towns, we could learn from one another — ideas, friendship, religious beliefs and so forth. So my people went with horse and buggy — no autos when I was nine — and no one would ever miss the Neighborhood Convention!”

In 1994 when the convention celebrated its 100th anniversary, they compiled a written description of the old days. It says that the events were “day-long, with some evening sessions.” Everyone would bring a box lunch and the women of the hosting church would provide coffee and tea — something that still holds true today. The lectures would be religious in nature, and there was time to socialize. An early meeting of the Neighborhood Convention featured the topic “Of What Amusements May a Christian Partake?” Eventually the programs included travelogues and timely topics.

The Neighborhood Convention is gearing up for the year’s programs, which begin on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 11 am. This year, the board doubled in size, Sofia explained.

“We meet twice a year,” she said. “Late spring is when we decide who to contribute to, and then in early September or late August we sit down and go over who the hosts will be for the year. We’ve had some great speakers, Susan Klein… Dorothy West…”

Sofia, who attends the United Methodist church services, says that if it weren’t for the Neighborhood Convention she probably would not have even gone inside the many houses of worship on the Island.

“We go to separate churches and no one knows what happens there,” she said.

I think she’s right. I can remember when I was younger I wouldn’t have dreamt of going into another church that wasn’t my home church. That’s one reason why I liked going to weddings; you could see what other churches were like inside. It was fascinating. Here, you can gather with neighbors at the Hebrew Center for the many events hosted there, you could go to the West Tisbury Congregational Church for a Christmas program, or you could go to Union Chapel in the summer to hear preachers from all over the country. And it doesn’t feel like eavesdropping.

The gatherings usually follow the same order each time they meet. A person, oftentimes the pastor of the worship space where the Neighborhood Convention is held that month, opens with a welcome and then introduces the guest or guests who are presenting that month. There’s an opportunity to ask questions about the presentation when it’s concluded. Then the meeting gets underway where the minutes are reviewed, the treasurer’s report given, then announcements, concerns and requests for prayer, then a collection is taken — which all goes to charity — then there’s grace and adjournment to lunch.

The Neighborhood Convention’s donations have gone to the Animal Shelter of M.V., Camp Jabberwocky, Family Planning of M.V., Hospice of M.V., Island Food Pantry, Houses of Grace, Vineyard House, the Yard, Vineyard Health Care Access, and other Island nonprofits. Sofia explained that it’s typically not a whole lot of money, but the donations are certainly symbolic. The convention has no overheard, Sofia said, no expenses.

Some of the more popular programs are the Minnesingers and the Yard, both perform every year, she said. This year Molly Conole will perform as well.

“The programs are a great help to get people together and see the inside of other people’s churches,” Sofia said. Without the Neighborhood Convention, you might never see the beauty of the architecture of the Vineyard’s places of worship, or meet the people in charge of the congregations and those who worship there. The same principles that guided the founding of the Neighborhood Convention are still true today, although there is much more ecumenism these days.

“It was created for such a good idea,” Sofia said, “finding out how other people feel and what they do… we’re on an island. The fellowship and being with each other — and learning how to be with each other — are important.”

You’ll see the schedule within this column, and you can email Sofia if you have any questions or if you need a ride to the gathering.

“They’re good people, those that come. They’re people you’re glad you know, people you want to be with once a month. And the refreshments aren’t bad either,” she said with a smile.

The first Neighborhood Convention this fall is Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 11 am at the First Baptist Church, 43 Spring St., Vineyard Haven. The church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Leo Christian, will welcome everyone, and Margaret Hanneman will talk about “The New Island Food Pantry.”



Herb Ward emailed me to invite everyone to the Federated Church for a service on Sunday, Oct. 7, at 10:30 am when the congregation recognizes World Communion Day, which is celebrated around the world.


Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven has some long-awaited news: They’ve found a rector called to serve at the church. The congregation’s previous leader, Father Brian Murdoch, died in October of 2016.

The vestry and rector search committee announced that “Our call was issued to and accepted by the Reverend Stephen Harding, the 5-year Interim at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea, N.Y.”

Reverend Harding served as the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and as the Protestant Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department.

A press release from Grace Church said that before joining St. Peter’s, Reverend Harding most recently served as the senior associate priest at the Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy in Manhattan, and has more than 15 years of hospital and hospice experience.

“As a volunteer chaplain with the American Red Cross,” the release states, “he was active in the World Trade Center recovery effort. He is the editor of a disaster response manual for religious leaders in New York City, and the editor and contributing author of a disaster response training course for chaplains.”

Reverend Harding and his wife Storm and their son Theo will be living in the rectory next to the church. His first service will be Sunday, Nov. 4, and everyone’s invited to come and meet the new clergy member on the Island.