Sofia Anthony: ‘They are welcome’

The Neighborhood Convention’s secretary helps to preserve a Martha’s Vineyard tradition. 

Sofia Anthony served as the Martha's Vineyard Neighborhood Convention secretary since 2004. — Eunki Seonwoo

The Martha’s Vineyard Neighborhood Convention is a historic Island organization that began in 1894 to foster fellowship and service among Vineyarders, and secretary Sofia Anthony is a part of a volunteer team preserving this interfaith gathering. 

Anthony described herself as a wash-ashore who followed her close friends Phil and Jane Dietrich to the Island. Before coming to Martha’s Vineyard, Anthony lived in New Jersey as a family practice residency program director. 

“My job in New Jersey became less pleasant,” Anthony said, pointing to a cut in residency program funding at the time, and changes to practices she did not agree with. She looked at various properties on the Island with a real estate agent, and “fell madly in love” with a house in Oak Bluffs, purchasing her home on the Vineyard in 1996, before fully moving from the Garden State in 1999. Anthony said moving to Martha’s Vineyard “was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love it up here … and the people are so good here. It’s just wonderful.” 

Having just retired as a spry 59-year-old, Anthony became “interested in all kinds of things right away,” and got involved with the Island community, such as volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and the Chamber Music Society, among other organizations. One of the groups Anthony joined was the Neighborhood Convention, where she has served as the secretary since 2004. 

“The secretary used to be elected every year, and there was a president and a vice president, both of whom were clergy members,” Anthony said, although the convention’s election cycle of officers “went by the wayside” over time. The clergy members decided around 10 years ago they could not fit the convention into their busy schedules, according to Anthony. She became one of the lead organizers of the convention, alongside other officers, and was supported by members-at-large. “Thank heavens for them,” she said. “I’m lucky to have such helpful people.”

Anthony and the team held programs at different Island churches on the first Tuesday of each month from October to June, although there are no programs scheduled for January or June during the 2022–23 schedule. Attendees bring their own bagged lunches while the host church provides beverages and desserts. They also listen to worship by the host church’s pastor, and enjoy a program, many of which are talks by local experts. Anthony said November was the first time the convention had a police chief, Edgartown’s Bruce McNamee, who spoke about public safety on the Vineyard. There are also other types of programs, a consistent one being the Minnesingers’ December performances at the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard, which is where Anthony attends church in Oak Bluffs. During these monthly meetings, the convention also collects donations, and all of the money goes to local charities, such as the Island Food Pantry and Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard. 

“We pass the plate at every meeting,” Anthony said. “[If] we pay for a piece of paper, we pay for it with our own money. Nothing goes anywhere else except for charity. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Reading from the Martha’s Vineyard Neighborhood Convention Centennial Celebration booklet, made in 1994, Anthony told The Times about the impetus toward the organization’s creation. 

“In 1894, several churchmen, led by the Rev. William Packard, concerned with the hostility between Protestant churches and the feelings of bitterness among denominations, determined to bring about a plan for a neighborly meeting. Thus began the first ‘Neighborhood Convention,’” Anthony read.

She later continued by saying, “The interesting part about that is right now everybody talks to everybody on this Island, and there is not, that I’m aware of, any discomfort between different congregations or different church people on this Island.” 

Besides the centennial booklet, Anthony inherited a burgundy Hartford Graduate Center binder. She maintains the thick binder that holds an archive of handwritten notes, minutes, a list of discontinued and still active churches, and former programs, including one from Jan. 11, 1898. 

Anthony pointed out that many aspects of the convention’s older structure remains today, like the worship and the speeches, although the meetings from the 1800s were daylong affairs. 

“Many things we’ve done, we go back to the old example,” Anthony said. 

A difficult period for the convention was when the COVID-19 pandemic was rampant, and dioceses closed their buildings over public health concerns. 

“[The Neighborhood Convention] is just now really coming back together again,” Anthony said. 

The conventions are not just meetings to celebrate the Island. Sometimes, the conventions become monthly meet-ups for friends who attend different churches for a portion of the year. 

“[Some] people who do come have friends that they only see at Neighborhood Conventions,” Anthony said.

Anthony hopes to continue the convention and preserve the Island tradition that survived for over 128 years. “I don’t want it to go away. We’re still here,” Anthony said. 

Many Islanders are not sure what the convention actually is, and Anthony has a message for those who are curious. 

“At any time, at any place, they are welcome, and they can learn something about the Island,” Anthony said. 


The Martha’s Vineyard Neighborhood Convention holds community programs at various Island churches on the first Tuesday of each month from October to June. Programs begin at 11 am. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own bagged lunch, but drinks and desserts are served by the host church. Brochures are available at houses of worship on the Island, with each year’s program schedules becoming available in September. Host churches for the 2022–23 program include the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, the Federated Church of Martha’s Vineyard and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, St. Augustine’s Church and Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, and First Baptist Church of Vineyard Haven.