Some things never change for 83-year-old Grace White.She still lives in Southampton Village, still enjoys talking and chitchatting with her family and friends, and still attends Mass every Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Main Street.
The church, where Mrs. White has attended since she was born in 1930, is celebrating its 100th birthday later this year with a low-key celebration for its dedicated parishioners. Mrs. White said she is happy to help mark the milestone of her home parish, noting that she has taught Sunday School there for more than 20 years, and also volunteers as a chalice bearer during services.
“It is like a home for me there now,” Mrs. White said in a recent interview. “I have been there for so many years, and I have been involved with it for so long. It is a home.”
The parish actually was founded in 1908 by Samuel C. Fish, the assistant rector at St. Luke’s Church in East Hampton at the time. A small group of parishioners met at the Parrish Art Gallery for services over the next five years until the current church building was completed in 1913. On June 29, 1913, the congregation had its first official Mass in the church.
According to the Reverend Peter Larsen, who has led the church for the past quarter century, the parish has not changed much since it was founded, noting that it is still open 24 hours a day throughout the year for those who would like to pray. The church, however, now boasts an estimated 450 parishioners.
“The church has evolved as the village evolved,” Rev. Larsen said. “We have changed from a farming community with a summer community to more of a year-round community. We have grown with it all.”
Rev. Larsen, 64, said he is happy to be a part of the parish and surrounding community, noting that the church intends to continue to thrive for the next several hundred years.
Originally from Rhode Island, Rev. Larsen moved to Southampton with his wife, Nancy, who is a chemistry teacher at Hampton Bays High School, and their three children: John, now 35, Kate, 26, and Sam, 24. Having been involved with the Episcopalian Church for his entire life, Rev. Larsen said he immediately fell in love with the St. John’s community.
“I am a preacher’s kid from the South,” he said. “My father was an episcopal minister, so I have lived next door from a church for my whole life. It is in my blood, it is my life, and this is a great congregation of people.”
When asked about his experiences over the past 25 years, Rev. Larsen said he is most proud of the church’s extensive outreach program. Each year, he said, it raises approximately $30,000 for both local and international charities. For the past 15 years, he explained, that money has been evenly divided between local, national and global organizations.
“I am very glad the church does outreach,” Mrs. White said. “To me, it is a very wonderful thing, and I love that they do it. It makes me feel like more of a part of the whole world, really.”
Some of the groups that have benefited from the outreach program include scholarships to Camp DeWolfe, a Wading River-based Episcopal retreat; the Paul Koster Memorial Benefit for the Southampton Youth Association; Southampton Youth Services; the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons; Maureen’s Haven; East End Hospice; Southampton Hospital; St. Ann’s Church in the Bronx; Nurse Support, which sends three nurses to Zambia each year; and Times for Teens, a bereavement camp for teenagers.
“We don’t typically give to large organizations,” Rev. Larsen said. “We would rather give to a family whose house burned down and needs it.”
Even though his church is approaching a huge milestone, Rev. Larsen said organizers are planning to keep the 100th anniversary celebration small and “low key.” On Saturday, September 7, the church will host a rededication service that will be styled after the inaugural service in 1913.
Mrs. White said last week that she is looking forward to the event, noting that she will be attending by herself after Mass.