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Aug 25, 2008 12:10 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Last sermon for Incarnation Lutheran Church's Pastor Vita

Aug 25, 2008 12:10 PM

The departure of the Reverend Rose Anne Vita, who will conduct her final service at Bridgehampton’s Incarnation Lutheran Church on Sunday, will leave the 18 members of her tiny congregation pondering their own future.

After Pastor Vita’s service at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 31, friends and members of the church will hold a celebration, beginning with a coffee hour at 11 a.m., a festival of music at 1 p.m. and ending with a community lunch at 2 p.m.

The concert will include the music of an array of church musicians from the East End, including the young musicians Andrea Abbate and Peter Ludlow, who perform regularly at the church.

The office of the Metropolitan New York Senate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in New York City decided to remove Pastor Vita from the ministry in Bridgehampton earlier this year because of the congregation’s dwindling membership. She will be replaced by two part-time pastors, Ray Birkel and Carl Weaver, both from Southold.

“There’s church business and there’s Gospel business, finances and people power,” said Pastor Vita of the decision that she should leave. “It’s part of the normal life of a congregation that needs to be revitalized.”

She said that the Lutheran bishop’s office in New York focuses most of its attention on the five boroughs of New York City, and measures the success of churches outside those boundaries by the number of members in the congregation.

While Pastor Vita will lead a much larger congregation in Ontario, the members of Incarnation will have to decide if they want to try to continue their church or disband.

Pastor Vita said that many of the people who participate in the church are not officially members, but she added that it has also been hard to maintain interest and members, given the large number of churches and other activities on the South Fork that vie for people’s attention on Sunday mornings.

The initial Incarnation Lutheran congregation began worship at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Bridgehampton in the early 1950s. The congregation had expanded enough in a decade to build its own kit building church at the corner of Hayground Road and Montauk Highway in 1963.

Pastor Vita came to the church in 1999 and sought to create a “welcome place” that would encourage non-members to become involved in both the church community and in social action throughout the greater community.

“I always envisioned the church as the center of the community. It’s a place where things get knitted together in terms of people’s relationship to society, government and their God,” she said.

She said that she has always tried to foster the idea of “progressive Christianity,” helping people, one-on-one, to hear God’s prompting in their lives, holding open forums to discuss strengthening community and seminars using the book “The Artist’s Way” to help congregants become more creative in their thoughts and work.

She said that churches throughout the East End are suffering now, in part because it’s hard to create a community in an area where most homes belong to second-home owners and many residents have been forced to move away because of the high cost of living.

When Pastor Vita first heard that she’d be leaving the church, she said she had no idea of where she would go next, but while attending an interim minister training program earlier this summer in Burlington, Ontario, she learned of a congregation of 600 in St. Catharines, Ontario, that had just been created out of the merger of three separate congregations.

The congregation was looking for an interim minister and its members were impressed with the social justice work that Pastor Vita had done on Long Island. They hired her to work as their lead minister for the next nine months.

Despite the fact that most of her family is on Long Island and she will need to leave behind a new grandson, Pastor Vita said that moving to Canada is something she felt she was called to do.

“I think that is where I’m supposed to be,” she said, adding that her experience in Bridgehampton “has been a solitary ministry, sort of a wilderness experience.”

Pastor Vita said that the United Church of Canada, which oversees all protestant denominations in that country “takes social issues seriously” and does not support such things as bottled water, which privatizes the water that can be consumed by communities, and divests from businesses that invest in the wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories. She also said that the Canadian church is very sensitive to the idea of a monolithic church behaving as an empire.

Pastor Vita said that she’d like to remind the congregation she’s leaving behind to “take care of yourselves. You’re so overextended.”

“They need to see where God is leading them. There’s a possibility they might decide to close,” she said, adding that she hopes the members give themselves at least six months to decide the best way to proceed.

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This article is about me and there are errors in it.

The Farewell Festivites that will take place at Incarnation Lutheran Church on Sunday August 31st is an opportunity for friends and members to remember our shared past and to wish one another "Godspeed" in our future faith journeys. This ESSENTIAL CORE was not reflected in the Southampton Press article.

Please note these VERY important corrections: (Thank you)

First, I am leaving behind a new grand SON, not grand daughter. ...more
By Pastor Vita (1), Bridgehampton on Aug 28, 08 1:14 PM
I thank Pastor Vita for clarifying her remarks, and I'm sorry that she felt the story did not reflect the situation of her departure. We've corrected the reference to her new grandson--apologies. Otherwise, in defense of our reporter, I must point out that Pastor Vita did say in the interview that the small size of the congregation was definitely a factor in the bishop's decision; she did note in the story that "revitalization is a possible turn-around phase for a declining congregation."

Regardless, ...more
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Sep 1, 08 2:56 PM