5.1953-2003 and Forward

Frank Schaefer writes: One might argue that he period 1953-2003 was the most important in the history of the church from today’s perspective. Each of the five men who served the church during those years made significant changes in the life of the church.

The first was the Rev. Howard Michelsen with Mrs. Maude Michelsen. I am including Mrs. Mickelson because she was to the Sunday school what Howard was to the pulpit. In the meantime, the Sunday school was bursting at the seams. When this writer was asked to become superintendent there were about 25 children enrolled and classes met behind screens in the main room of the chapel. A major renovation provided the present educational building, dedicated to the Rev. Edwin H. Dickinson. Reflecting the changing age composition of the congregation, Sunday school enrollment peaked at 148, then rose and fell over the following years. The Mickelsons believed that ministers should move on when they considered their work done. The church bid them farewell with deep regret.

Next during those fifty years was Rev. Charles F. Schwartz, with us from 1957 to 1964. “Various circumstances encouraged an interest in reducing the number of churches in the community.” Mr. Schwartz encouraged the idea and he resigned to lend support to joining with the First Baptist church in what became the Federated Church.

The third minister, Rev. Earl C. Gross, a Baptist, served the federation from 1964 to 1968. Federation began with high hopes despite the “problems presented by two congregations handicapped by vastly unequal numbers of members, differing theologies, and local traditions, and two complete sets of church properties.” However, such challenges grew rather than lessened, and in an effort to save the Federation, Mr. Gross resigned.

Under Federation rules, a Presbyterian had to follow. The Rev. Martin D. Hardin Jr. had returned to the village to retire and he was hired as “stated supply.” The continuing disagreements within the congregation precipitated the de-federation. Separation was completed July 1, 1971, and Mr. Hardin became the regular pastor, helping the church regain its balance before he retired in 1973.

In addition, restoration of the trompe l’oeil sanctuary and rebuilding the organ was well underway thanks to his initiative. The “T.P.”s (Trumansburg Presbyterians” adult dinner group met monthly for some years. An annual Antique Show, sale, dinner, and annual rummage sale continue as successful sources of funds for the church.

Installed as our 25th pastor, the Rev. Thomas M. Lange was, at the time of his passing in 1999, our longest serving pastor. Rev. Lange served the church a record 27 years, as long as his four predecessors. During his tenure, the church maintained its membership and expanded its musical strength, with organ endowments and bell choir expansion.

Tom’s talents overflowed into what church members called his photography ministry. Probably every graduate of the high school received photographs as gifts from Tom who covered the village with his camera. He also served our Presbytery and Synod as photographer. Tom worked well with young people whom he encouraged to design their senior baccalaureate services, which are often held in our sanctuary. A favorite memory of many is watching him race down a field with a soccer ball ahead of others in the game. And a painful memory is of him being helped into the pulpit where he rested on a stool to preach his last sermon.

During Tom’s years the church adopted a unicameral – or one body – governing group of Elders, with a finance committee taking the responsibility previously held by Trustees. A comprehensive policy manual was written and endowment funds were established. Endowment earnings have been applied to the Building Reserve and to the Contingency Fund, enabling vital repairs and renovations to be undertaken in preparation for the Bicentennial year. The steeple was reinforced, new shutters were built, and the so-called village clock in the steeple was rebuilt. The church is now in the national and state list of historical buildings. The “tent crew” sets up a tent-for-rent at many venues to earn funds for scholarships for high-school seniors. The hard work – tent, antique show, and rummage sale – also provides valuable fellowship for the participants.

During this last fifty-year segment of our so-far two hundred years, we moved ahead with our twenty-sixth regularly installed pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey S. Kellam in 2003. The Kellams came to us after 27 years in Richmond, Virginia and a nine-year pastorate in northern Vermont. They returned to central New York where Jeff was born. To our good fortune, he and the First Presbyterian Church of Ulysses found each other. He remained here until his retirement in 2007.

In 2009, the Rev. Cheryl Peeples became our twenty-seventh regularly installed pastor. Pastor Cheryl came with her husband John from Christiansburg, Virginia and before that from Memphis, Tennessee. Since 2009, we have renovated the kitchen and offices of the church as well as re-roofed the sanctuary, refurbished the stained glass windows and taken on other projects necessary to maintain a historic building so that our congregation can continue to nourish the Trumansburg community. We have a fabulous choir led by Alice Ploss and are enjoying using the new Presbyterian Hymnal “Glory to God.” Mission is very important to us and among other activities we have built two houses here in Trumansburg with Habitat for Humanity, created the Youth Initiative to provide needed supplies for our local schools and helped with flooding relief. We gather weekly for breakfast before Sunday Studies and Worship and this time provides a way to stay in touch and get to know each other better. We are active in the Trumansburg Area Church group and have for several years hosted the TAC Community Christmas Concert.

Our congregation appreciates its past and continues its historic ability to adapt as needed. We are joyfully ministering in the world today, while looking forward to a bright future in our community and world.