New pastor hopes to see rebirth of Methodist parish in Sloatsburg
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
The United Methodist Church on Rt. 17 in Sloatsburg has welcomed a new pastor to town and with him the hope of a resurgence in attendance for the dwindling congregation.
“I want attendance to be over 100 parishioners every Sundaywithin three years,” Pastor Ross Topliff told the Rockland County Times. That’s up from its current level of 10 to 15 folks per week. In the last three years alone the attendance has dipped 50 percent.
Topliff is a first time minister who travels from his home in Newburgh to hold mass every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and oversee other parish activities. Under his watch, which began in July, the main chapel has already been painted by a regional church youth group.
Sloatsburg Mayor Carl Wright said, “I am happy to see any church rejuvenate. We want to save the church, it has come close to closing on a number of occasions.”
The United Methodist Church owns prime real estate in the heart of the Village of Sloatsburg, just across Rt. 17 from Village Hall, not far from the Sloatsburg Public Library and the historic Sloat House, aka Harmony Hall. The historic church was once the center of spiritual and social life in the village, but consistent with demographic trends across the country the mainline Protestant denomination has not managed to attract souls from the next generation.
A longtime Methodist parishioner himself, Mayor Wright had high praise for Topliff’s arrival. Wright said, “He is energetic. He has established high goals and his enthusiasm is contagious. We’ve already seen success within the short time he’s been here. He has a tremendous vision and he has a method by which to achieve that vision.”
It took many long nights of thinking and praying for Topliff to commit to the role of pastor after 30 years as a Methodist layman and a short interval in a support role within the clergy. He had a little tap on the shoulder from the local bishop, as well, who told him she thought he’d make a fine pastor.
Though he’s new to the job, the life of a pastor is not totally unknown to Topliff. He grew up as a preacher’s kid, his dad a minister to a Congregationalist parish. He said he will be out in the Sloatsburg community meeting people, organizing events and charity outreach and doing everything he can to remind people about the good that comes from church life.
Long a staple of Sloatsburg’s village center, the Methodist congregation’s original chapel was built in 1843 and sat on a hill above Rt. 17 at the intersection of Seven Lakes Dr. It was moved to its current location in the early 1900s. The current church building was erected in 1907.
Mayor Wright said in his youth the congregation had over 700 members. Every Easter and Christmas the pews were overflowed with congregants and additional rows had to be installed to accommodate.
In addition, Wright remembered there being a strong youth fellowship and a large Sunday school. At the end of every June Methodists held a Sunday School picnic out at Lake Sebago. In the 1950s the parish had a Boy’s Club and Men’s Club, which had their own baseball teams, as well as an active Methodist Women’s Society and a strong choir.
“One thing we did was sponsor and took care of a child in Korea through Save the Children. At Christmas, we would go to the old folks home and sing or go to Good Sam/Tuxedo Hospital and sing,” Wright said. “We had fun fall and Halloween activities like dunking for apples. We were served cider and donuts. Seems mild, but for those who did that it’s a treasured memory.”
Topliff wants today’s generation to have the same enjoyment of church life as Wright’s did. Though years on the calendar have changed, the role of Christianity in today’s world is similar to what it’s always been, Topliff said. “To bring peace. The gospel is saying we’re all children of God.”
Topliff has not arrived at his faith blindly.
Monday through Friday he works as a chemical engineer and consultant to major industrial firms. Being well educated in science has deepened his faith rather than eliminated it.
Topliff stated, “I will quote my professor from university, “The more I learn about science, the more I see God,” adding, “I don’t know how you can look at all of this and not see God in it.”
The Sloatsburg church is part of a 6-church cooperative within the Methodist governing structure. The other churches in Sloatsburg’s group are in Orange County, three up the Rt. 17 corridor and two north of Stony Point on Rt. 9W. The rest of Rockland County’s Methodist following is governed by a metropolitan area cooperative, similar to a diocese.
NOTE – Sloatsburg UMC is also involved in the local food pantry. On Saturday, September 17, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. the pantry is hosting a paper shredding fundraiser event in the parking lot of Sloatsburg Village Hall. The cost to shred is $10 per box of paper, all funds go to support the pantry. Questions call: 914-393-3160.