Introducing St. Peter's Community
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lithgow, is a well-established country parish with approximately 300 members. The church itself, which accommodates about 110 people at capacity, is a simple, Carpenter Gothic building located just outside the Village of Millbrook, in Dutchess County, New York. Attendance at a typical Sunday 9:30 a.m. service is 50 to 60, with 6 to 10 attending the 8:00 a.m. Eucharist. The church’s rural setting is idyllic: rolling pastures and fields, with large maple trees that turn golden and crimson in the fall.
The parish has grown over the past 35 years. Over that period, the congregation has increased by more than threefold, and the number of people attending services has commensurately more than tripled. As the composition of the parish has grown to include approximately 144 families, including 65 children, the development of suitable Christian education programs and other initiatives for children of all ages have become integral parts of the church’s mission and its prospects.
Our church doors are open. We welcome and encourage all newcomers.
There is a strong commitment to our church, to the traditions that have developed over the last 35 years, and to activate and increase engagement in the church’s programs. There is also a strong interest in welcoming new congregants. This commitment is anchored first and foremost by the spiritual leadership provided by the Vicar, whose sermons are thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating, linking the Old and New Testaments to the historical past and to the present-day lives of the parishioners.
Parishioners of St. Peter’s respect the church’s 200-year history and especially its long-standing tradition of an engaged and intellectual approach to religion. Equally important, however, is the sense of fellowship and community that has emerged and flourished, whether in the Sunday services themselves or in the shared interests and friendships that have developed in coffee hour, through committee work, or through the other interactions that comprise our involvement. The traditions that the church has developed over the years – in particular the practice of worship and our commitment to outreach and stewardship – along with the architectural simplicity of the church, and its peaceful, rural setting all support our feeling of belonging to a larger community.
Today, the parish consists of approximately 300 members, including 230-some adults and 65 children. The following characteristics reflect the church’s statistical composition and describe its engagement in our parish activities.
Religious Identification. While many of our parishioners are Episcopalian, we have always welcomed members of other faiths and traditions. Eighty-five percent of the parishioners have attended St. Peter’s for more than 6 years. Church services are generally well-attended with a typical Sunday 9:30am service having 50-to-60 attendees, and the 8:00am Eucharist (with sermon but no music) having 6-to-10. Thirty-five percent attends services most Sundays, and over 70% at least once a month.
What we do. The professional backgrounds of our parishioners cover a broad range of experience and expertise, which contributes to the vibrancy of our parish as a whole. Those backgrounds include careers in financial advisory services, investment banking, private capital, real estate, law, shipping, advertising, consulting, architecture, publishing, the visual and literary arts, agriculture, education and entertainment.
Geographical Representation. Nearly half of the parishioners live full-time in Millbrook, with the balance consisting of weekenders, mostly based in New York City, or people who spend a portion of the year elsewhere.
Engagement. St. Peter’s has substantially expanded the engagement of its parishioners over the past 5 years. More than 50 volunteer their time and talents by serving on committees or in organized groups, each of which has its own responsibilities. That degree of engagement and active participation in the church’s activities make us a parish in effect of “citizens” instead of mere attendees. St. Peter’s has many standing committees or organized groups, all of which support and/or report to the Vestry. Among them are Acolytes, Altar Guild, Altar Flowers, Cemetery, Choir, Eucharistic Ministers, Every Member Canvass, Lectors, Newcomers, Outreach, Ushers, Worship, and Youth Education.
Why St. Peter’s?
Many considerations bind us together as a parish. The following are especially meaningful to us.
Intellectual Stimulation. Our parishioners generally have a common interest in stimulating sermons, grounded in scriptural readings and contextualized into our daily lives, but excluding politics. Insightful sermons, delivered effectively, draw our parish together week after week. Visiting preachers of varying religious and professional backgrounds periodically supplement our Vicar, and they tend to be very well received. Most of our visiting preachers have been ordained Episcopal clergy with varying experiences and perceptions. Some are academic scholars, leaders of other religious traditions, or representatives of our outreach initiatives. Videos of sermons are posted on our website.
Respect for Tradition. We generally use Rite I, sing familiar hymns, follow the church’s traditional “low church” liturgy, and conduct seasonal services that have become cherished over time. We celebrate the Eucharist in our 9:30am service on the first Sunday of each month and on feast days. Otherwise the format of the 9:30am Sunday service is Morning Prayer. The 8:00am Sunday service is always a Eucharist except on rare occasions when the Vicar or another ordained celebrant is not available. All services include a sermon, and the 9:30am service includes music. The inclusion of music, Sunday School, and childcare, among other things, draws the overwhelming majority of our parishioners. However, the 8:00am Eucharist appeals to a consistent group who favor the format of a quiet, reflective service early in the day.
Seasonal services include the Blessing of Animals, with many people and animals (great and small), on the first Sunday in October; a Christmas Pageant with enthusiastic participation from the children of the parish; and a Memorial Day service, with a brass quartet and guest speaker in nearby St. Peter’s Cemetery. These seasonal events tend to be very well-attended, drawing people from the broader Millbrook community who do not generally attend other services, which makes them a central component of our community relations.
For example, our Blessing of Animals service in October 2020 drew over 121 attendees and dozens of animals, including numerous dogs of many breeds and a donkey! The service was held outside on the church grounds.
Outreach. The parish’s outreach programs are a fundamental and long-standing dimension of our overall mission. Most of our parishioners actively engage in our outreach programs, financially and/or through hands-on participation. Our fundraising for outreach initiatives is separate from the "Every Member Canvas" that supports the day-to-day operation of the church itself. Our Outreach Committee, with Vestry approval, allocates its annual budget to support organizations that improve the lives of those in our local community. Our efforts target food kitchens and pantries, youth engagement and leadership programs, ministries for the rural and migrant poor, and a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. We also sponsor separate one-off initiatives from time-to-time, including the “Harvest Hope” food program at Thanksgiving and Christmas support for the children of an identified family in need. Funds for these initiatives are raised largely through bi-annual special events, such as live or silent auctions.
Community. Many of our parishioners gain an increased sense of community by joining others in attending weekly church services and other church-related events, including seasonal services and informal talks or other gatherings periodically scheduled in the Parish House.
Church publications also contribute to our sense of community. In addition to our website, we communicate through weekly and quarterly publications. “The Mouse,” distributed weekly to our parishioners by email, includes announcements and descriptions of upcoming events, oftentimes with a timely, spiritual reflection from the Vicar. “Keynotes” is a forum for articles on church events and local milestones, parishioners’ reflections on personal travel or other experiences, and reviews of or reports on musical performances or art exhibits. “Keynotes” is distributed quarterly in print to our parishioners and to a broader group of Friends of St. Peter’s. Please let us know if you would like to be included on the distribution list.
Broad parishioner engagement in parish committees and other volunteer activities underscores our active approach to community. On a less formal but more intimate level our well-attended and sociable coffee hour each Sunday, hosted by a rotating list of volunteers, with delectable treats, reinforces our solidarity with one another. Parishioners have even been known, on occasion, to skip the service but appear for the coffee hour!
Christian Education. Our practices encompass effective programs for both children and adults. Our current programs for children include Sunday School held during the 9:30am Sunday Service and classes and retreats for those who are preparing for confirmation, celebrated at the Bishop’s annual visit to St. Peter’s. In addition, St. Peter’s provides childcare for very young children during the 9:30am Sunday Service.
Counseling and Visitation. As an integral part of his ministry our Vicar provides pastoral care to parishioners in the environs of Millbrook and in New York City.
Collectively, all the activities, programs and publications cited above draw our community together.
So, welcome! Please join us at a Sunday service. All are most welcome. In addition, if you have questions, requests or special needs please call or email our Vicar, The Rev. Jacob W. Dell, or our Parish Administrator, Anne Gillis.