Religious services have evolved over the years, changing with trends in diversity and technology but still rooted in faith and tradition. This idea was evidenced on Sunday at Setauket Presbyterian Church, which celebrated 350 years of worship in Setauket.
The church's pastors from the past several decades joined together to deliver a service which combined pieces of a 1660s-era service with more modern elements of worship. They arrived at the church in a horse-drawn carriage, as ministers would have done centuries ago. Members of the congregation donned period attire to get into the spirit of the day.
Rev. Jon Walton, who served Setauket Presbyterian from 1978 to 1985, offered a sermon addressing changes in worship over time. He has heard of institutions which tweet their sermons on Twitter and use Powerpoint presentations during services, which he said often takes the message out of context.
"The world is changing so fast we can't keep up with it," Walton said. "We are called to remain faithful in our time."
Whereas a service in 1660 – the year Setauket Presbyterian was established – would typically last three hours or longer, this past Sunday's service was much shorter and was followed by a picnic on the village green that featured food, games, and historical dances.
The celebration also featured the dedication of two cenotaphs, which are memorial stones placed without an actual grave, honoring Rev. Nathaniel Brewster and Rev. Zacariah Green. Brewster led Setauket Presbyterian from 1665 to 1690, while Green led the church from 1797 to 1858.
According to historical accounts the origins of Setauket Presbyterian are intertwined with early government, as worship was initially conducted in a structure which also housed the town's operations, and with the Revolutionary War. After the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776, which George Washington and his troops lost, British troops used the church as a garrison before the Patriots fought back in the Battle of Setauket about a year later.
During the picnic, members of the congregation proudly reflected on the church's history.
"People have been trying to understand what Christianity means to them for centuries," said Milton Hostetter of Stony Brook, who has been attending Setauket Presbyterian for 45 years. "It's a lot more than just old buildings. It's a community."
Susan Bohlman of Port Jefferson Station, a 14-year member of the congregation, marveled at the church's endurance.
"We've been here for 350 years and we will be here for 350 more," she said.