After six years of renting a church in Water Mill to hold its services, the congregation of the Grace Presbyterian Church is digging its roots deeper into the community by purchasing the building.
On Sunday, May 19, the church members will celebrate the purchase with a dedication ceremony, at which they will symbolically plant an oak tree.
While the $2.5 million purchase is a big step for the congregation, their pastor, the Reverend Mark Middlekauff, said it was just another seed that has been sown, showing that they’re in it for the long haul.
“We believe when you have a permanent place—as permanent as a building can be—it gives us a stable base of operation, a place to call home, where we can reach out to our neighbors,” he said. “It means our mission to build a congregation which glorifies God and loves and serves our neighbors is becoming more and more of a reality.”
To celebrate, the church family and visitors will gather outside just after the service on Sunday, May 19, to plant a young oak tree on the church’s scenic grounds on the corner of Montauk Highway and Scuttle Hole Road. According to Rev. Middlekauff, the decision to plant the tree stems from an Old Testament verse: “So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”
“We hope to be a church that brings glory to Him in how we live,” he said, adding that every family will go home with an oak sapling of their own. “The saplings are to symbolize the church spreading out into the community, going into neighborhoods and loving our neighbors and showing God’s grace.”
He said the church building is a blessing not only for the members of the church but for families on the East End. The church’s “Second Saturdays Out,” a program that offers free child care, requires plenty of space for the 50 to 60 kids who show up each month, he said.
The congregation swells to about 170 people who regularly attend services in the summer, but it boasts about 200 regular members who call Grace their home. The church is part of the Presbyterian Church in America denomination and is an affiliate church of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
Not knowing the striking building, with stained glass windows, would become a permanent home, the then-grassroots Grace Presbyterian Church group held its first service in 2007, sharing the building with the Hamptons Alliance Church—which offered its sanctuary on Sunday mornings while it held services on Sunday evenings.
The church building itself was built by the Hamptons Alliance Church in the 1970s, but after what Rev. Middlekauff called “hardships” and leadership changes, its membership declined. It dissolved in 2011.
“If you asked me when we started out if the church was looking to buy a building four years in, I would have said, ‘No, not really,’” he said. “When the Hamptons Alliance Church ended up closing, the opportunity to buy came before us. We knew that it was something we would have to spend a lot of time in prayer considering.”
When the Hamptons Alliance Church started leasing the building to Grace, the Grace membership began a $2.95 million campaign to purchase the building and give it a sort of face-lift. According to Rev. Middlekauff, $1.4 million has been raised in gifts and pledges, and the congregation has three years to come up with the rest of the purchase price. The deal closed on December 20, 2012.
“It’s about being set apart—to know God and to live for him and showing the love of God to the world. Ultimately, it’s not about the building but the church as a people. My belief is if you do a good job at that the building will come,” Rev. Middlekauff said. “We’re just thankful.”