The Federated Church in Edgartown has called a new settled pastor, the Rev. Richard DenUyl Jr., who arrived from Connecticut just a few weeks ago. Before then, he had only sailed into our harbors, without exploring dry land. He’s quickly learning his way around the Island, though, and very much looking forward to his new ministry. We met for coffee to talk about how he got here, and how he’s enjoying it so far.
Pastor DenUyl was born in Arizona, but grew up in Michigan, where his father owned hotels and restaurants. The restaurants would become more of a nightclub after 10 pm, DenUyl explained, and that’s where he began to listen to the stories of the customers while he tended bar.
“I saw people struggling, and also beautiful people,” DenUyl said. “They told the truth, they didn’t powder and rouge it. What was in the truth? Brokenness.” We’re all born with an unquenchable thirst for something we just can’t quite put our finger on, he said, no matter where we find ourselves.
When he was around 10 years old, DenUyl said, he was outdoors grilling in the backyard with his father, a philosopher at heart, who looked up at the stars in the sky, and asked him, “Look at all those stars. Where do they end, and if they end, what’s on the other side?”
“My father was terrible with the grill; everything tasted like Kingsford charcoal. But he was a philosopher, and that was a pivotal moment for me.”
Psalm 8 reminds him of that night, he said. It begins, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens …”
DenUyl earned his bachelor’s degree at Hope College, where he met his wife Barbara, a pediatrician with a practice in Providence. He has a master’s of divinity from McCormick Seminary in Chicago, and worked as a psychological crisis counselor in the New Haven, Conn., area for a few years — another pivotal point in his career. After that, he served at a church in Little Compton, R.I., for 20 years, and then Greenwich, Conn., where he was before arriving here. The DenUyls have a daughter, Sophia, who is studying law at Georgetown.
Almost immediately in our conversation, I got the impression that this new minister will bring something unique to the Federated Church. First off, he told me he came from an “unchurched” family. “I ask the questions the unchurched ask,” he said.
DenUyl told me he tells his own truth from the pulpit, and doesn’t rely on commentary. A refreshing take on some of the old ways of looking at things might be just around the corner at the Edgartown church.
I asked him the age-old interview question: What are your hopes for this new congregation? He said he wasn’t ready to launch hopes and dreams for the Federated Church just yet, but he does have hopes for a universal church.
“In general, I need more time to flesh it out for this church, but for the universal church, theology needs to be updated. Faith is letting go, belief is holding on. In order to grow as a person you have to faithfully let go of outdated beliefs,” he said. “So many things in the Bible are historically fixed. Some beliefs are timeless, like ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ but I’m not a literalist at all. People are really searching, and they don’t want something canned.” That being said, he’s still an advocate of tradition. There are certain things you can expect to find at church, and those can be a comfort.
At the Federated Church, he said, you’ll find a church community that welcomes everyone, no matter where they are, where they come from, what they look like, or who they love. You can also count on sermons under 15 minutes, he laughed: “About the length of a Ted talk.”
How does he keep his own spiritual batteries charged? He thinks about his sermons as he runs, typically five miles a day. “I shut up and listen for God’s word to me while I run. My run is my shakedown; I think of what the sermon could be, and then shake it down,” DenUyl said.
He also goes into the empty church on Saturday nights alone and preaches aloud to “the great cloud of witnesses who’ve been here before us.” Speaking the words into the unfilled pews helps him nail down what he wants to say on Sunday morning.
The Sunday service is shared by the music ministry at the church, Pastor DenUyl said. He praised the efforts of the choir, saying that they energize the congregation. “Peter [Boak, music minister,] is outstanding. You go in there, and the choir brings it up, and then you can take that energy and keep going with it,” he said. “I don’t have to pull the yoke, they carry the yoke with me.”
He said he thinks the congregation has been through a lot, and they were incredibly honest through the search process. DenUyl said he feels the congregation is willing to try new things to move forward.
I asked him what he thought of the Island so far, and he said he loves it. “You can feel the energy … there’s freedom here,” he said.
And the essence of his spirituality? “Gratitude and thanksgiving. Everything else flows from that.”
A couple of upcoming events at the Federated Church include the Haiti Art Sale on Sunday, Dec. 15. Following the Sunday service, PeaceQuilts will offer a special sale leading up to Christmas, from 11:30 am to 4 pm at the church’s parish house. For more information, visit haitipeacequilts.org.
The church hosts its annual Old Fashioned Carol Sing in the Meetinghouse that same day, from 2 to 3 pm. Music minister Peter Boak will take your requests, and will accompany everyone on the piano. Festive attire is suggested, not required. Light refreshments will be available afterward. It’s a free event, and part of Christmas in Edgartown.
The Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard hosts “The Candles of Advent” on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 11 am with the Rev. Bill Clark returning to the pulpit to examine the candles of Advent and how they relate to the U.U. church. Then, the church’s annual Candlelight Service, “Music, Magic, and Mystery,” is planned for the evening of Sunday, Dec. 15, at 5:30 pm; the Afterglow Reception is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven hosts Advent Sunday services at 8 and 10 am throughout Advent, leading up to Christmas. They have an Advent Open House on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 4:30 to 6 pm. The spectacular “Community Sing: Handel’s ‘Messiah’” is planned at the Old Whaling Church on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 6 pm. There’s a $15 donation. Grace Church hosts a Blue Christmas Service on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 10 am.
Word from the bishop’s office in the Fall River Roman Catholic Diocese tells us that Wendy Tillman from Good Shepherd Parish has won a Marian Medal, a special honor for laypersons who have been nominated by their pastors. Made of sterling silver, the medal is embossed with a Miraculous Medal on one side and the Fall River Diocesan coat of arms on the other side. The medals are blessed, and presented to recipients during a special service that was held last weekend. Congratulations!