by Tom Hinds –
We are the church with all the banners and signs,” said The Reverend Susan Copley, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church on South Broadway in Tarrytown. A rainbow flag hangs in front of the church, and, among other signs that have graced the front wrought-iron fence over the years is one stating “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”
Christ Church has a rich history. Built of brick in 1837 in village Gothic Revival style, luminous Victorian stained glass windows grace its walls. The founder of American literature and historian, Washington Irving, was a patron and early warden. (His pew is tucked into a corner of the Church by the decorated Victorian baptismal font.)
Because it is located on busy Route 9 in Tarrytown’s inner village, the Church gives the impression of and actually is a bustling, public, historic centerpiece. A nun driving by recently came in to note the sign on the front fence that said, “Keep calm and pray on.” As the Rev. Copley noted, “The building is beautiful and people have prayed here for 181 years. You can feel that. But I am not interested in being a Sunday chaplain. This church has to be out in the world – a real part of Tarrytown.” Christ Episcopal Church in 2019, 12 years into the Rev. Copley’s ministry, blends Irving’s history of being engaged with the Tarrytown community and the Rev. Copley’s goal of making faith meaningful in the modern world. The Rev. Copley said, “Often, people come in during the day to pray, to rest and to study our history.” She has grown the membership of the Church to be inclusive. “We are trying to be a ‘beloved community’ – married, single, divorced, ethnically mixed, straight, gay, of different ages – and that doesn’t begin to list the differences. Our presence in the pews for worship is a gathering of the body of faith.” And yes, the Rev. Copley does preside over same sex marriages.
In 1993, the Church started San Marcos Mission, a program for the growing Latin immigrant population, and the front doors are open to everyone every day. The Church has services each Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m. and a Spanish service at 12:30. The Spanish-speaking congregation also joins in many services; there are about 12 bilingual services a year which are celebrated along with English-speaking members such as the very popular “Three Kings Pageant” at Christmas time. Morning Prayer is observed during the week, as well as the monthly Sunday Evensong using historic editions of the Book of Common Prayer. An annual “Blessing of the Animals” has become a well-attended, popular tradition.
Many Sundays The Rev. Copley ends a gathering by stating, “This worship is ended, but now our service in the world begins.” The Rev. Copley and congregants from Christ Church practice this concept and are active in the local community and the broader world. Members participate in REPAIR, a racial justice program, and in “The Midnight Run” carrying needed items to the homeless in Manhattan. The annual Fall Fair that supports the Church continues as it has for many years.
However, the congregants’ public interests are even more extensive: they sponsor activities at the Church for the local YAI (a network of agencies that supports people with intellectual and developmental diabilities) group home residents who volunteer on such projects as prepping and folding clothes for the church’s Clothing Closet which, in turn, provides clothing for people in the community. Congregants visit and lead prayer services at Tarrytown Hall Care Center, Kendal on Hudson, and, most recently, for Crestview Assisted Living.
Christ Episcopal and San Marcos also house and provide financial support for the Community Food Pantry of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown which is a monthly distribution of healthy food to nearly 250 families, serving approximately1,000 individuals.
The Church also has a very close supporting relationship to Cristosal, an active mission and advocacy group in El Salvador which works with internally displaced persons in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Members of the congregation have also travelled to San Salvador and environs in connection with Cristosal. A ministry at Christ Church is involved with supporting recent immigrants and hosting older children who are seeking asylum in the United States. As The Rev. Copley says, “We want to be connected to what happens in the world, otherwise we are not the church.”
The Rev. Copley realizes that bringing the church to the community can be very difficult, but she has some familiarity in experiencing difficulties. She worked at Sloan-Kettering as a pediatric oncology nurse. As a lay missionary and pediatric nurse, she met her husband, David Copley an aid worker, in Liberia, West Africa during that country’s civil war in the ‘90’s. (David, also a priest, is currently the Director of Mission Personnel at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City.) In Liberia, Susan and David served as nurses in the civil war and helped to house, feed and heal displaced people.
In April 2007, Rev. Copley became the 16th rector of Christ Church and San Marcos Mission where she quickly brought her energetic mission of service to her congregation, a belief in God’s embrace, and a generous-spirited vision of faith. “The Church doors are open and the sign in front says ‘God loves you madly.’ We believe that and are trying to live it.”