BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Although Rev. Hasselbach has only recently been installed as the church’s 30th pastor, he is actually not new to the historic congregation, which dates back to the times of the American Revolution. A former Catholic priest ordained in 1978—who retired, as he put it, from active duty in 1990—Rev. Hasselbach continued to feel the call to ministry even as he married and pursued a career as a lawyer and an educator. Persuaded by a friend to perform a wedding ceremony in 2002, Hasselbach connected with the Clarkstown Reformed Church and, upon the passing of its previous pastor in 2010, was hired on in a part time capacity.
Before long Pastor Rich was spending way more than part time at the church, becoming its de facto spiritual leader. This past May his ordination was finally transferred to the Reformed Church, paving the way for his installation as full time pastor.
“From the moment I got here,” he explains, “I found the Reformed Church, and this congregation, open and welcoming. I’ve made so many friends and it’s been great fun to be a part of this community.” Theologically the pastor doesn’t see too much difference between his church now and the Roman Catholic one he grew up in. However, he does appreciate how the Reformed Church is organized and administered in a democratic way that reflects a more American approach.
Pastor Rich has an inclusive perspective on religious life, viewing all humankind as children of the same Creator. Accordingly, his ministerial focus has been on helping others—the underserved and less fortunate, as well as those facing physical and mental challenges. This past Thanksgiving, for instance, the congregation organized an enormous Thanksgiving dinner for those who had no other place to go. All of the food was donated, and all of it reached people in great need both at the church and at local shelters. The church also opens its doors to two regular AA meetings, and hosted a New Years Eve gathering for recovering alcoholics.
It made complete sense then, when the consistory—the governing body of the church—asked him what gift he would like to receive in honor of his installation, that the pastor immediately responded, “A food pantry!”
“A church is no good if we don’t uplift those around us,” he states. “We need inspiration to make all our lives better.”
Progress on the food pantry has been steady. Already, a designated church space has been outfitted with shelves and storage, and volunteers have begun to stock the shelves. More food donations are needed, however, if the church is to keep the projected opening date in March. The church welcomes all donations of food, money and time to this project, regardless of church membership.
Meanwhile, with its pastor now on board full time, the church is moving forward with several other programs as well. There is a newly established Kids Bible Club on Wednesdays, a place where young people can go after school as an alternative to hanging out alone at home or at the mall. There are the on-going evening educational groups: a support group for those in mourning and a school of healing prayer. The church also hosts its Christian Values Academy.
Pastor Rich notes that the congregation is growing; when he started in 2011, there were only about 35 regular attendees at Sunday services. Now that number has doubled. He anticipates continued growth as the demographic of the congregation shifts from older members to young families. His goal for his ministry and for his church is to continue to remain open and welcoming to all through faith and works of good deeds. Although it is a long commute from his hometown of Carmel everyday, he is overjoyed to be here, and his parishioners know they are fortunate to have him.