During the summer of 2008, the church's Session conducted a Congregational Self-Study with the goal of visiting every church member and active participant of Olivet. Each Session member recruited a partner from the congregation, attended a training conducted by the Interim Pastor, and received a list of 10-12 names to contact for a home visit. To accommodate those who might prefer a small group setting, several “cottage gatherings” were also scheduled in members’ homes and at the church. The visits focused on the following six questions that were mailed out in advance:
1. Why do you participate in this congregation? (Not why did you join Olivet, but why do you continue to participate?)
2. What do you feel are the strengths of this congregation?
3. What do you feel are the weaknesses of this congregation?
4. If you could change something about this congregation, what would it be?
5. Where do you see this congregation five years from now?
6. What kind of skills, experiences and personal characteristics do you feel we need in our new pastor?
The visits and cottage gatherings took place during the summer months. Visitation Report Forms from a total of 77 people were received. The Session compiled data from these forms at a half-day retreat in the fall. Summaries of the most common responses are included in this Mission Review. Other portions of this Mission Review were drafted by individual Session members or taken from existing sources as indicated below.
The feedback from the visitations and cottage gatherings helped the Session to develop the following Mission Statement to describe and direct ministry at Olivet. The process of coming up with the Mission Statement was deeply engaging and tremendously exciting when a consensus emerged. After seeking additional comments and suggestions from the congregation, the following statement was adopted:
Our mission at Olivet Presbyterian Church is to welcome all people into our diverse family of Christian faith and fellowship, to experience God’s presence in worship and daily living, and to share the love of Christ by reaching out to those in need.
Who are we at Olivet?
At present we have 162 active members in total. Since 2011 Olivet has welcomed 6 new members. Attendance at regular Sunday morning services averages about 75 and holiday and other special events see even higher numbers of both visitors and members. Length of membership ranges from one year to over 72 years with 48 as members for five years or less. Age distribution breaks down fairly evenly with approximately one-fifth of the congregation in each of the following five brackets:
25 & under: 53
over 65: 47
Members and friends live within walking or easy commuting distance of the church, although 91 travel more than one mile to attend church. Some come from as far away as Brooklyn, Manhattan or New Jersey. Others have lived in the community for many years.
The average age of members is 41, spanning from ages 14 to 100. There are approximately 20 children enrolled in the Church School and Nursery, and 8-12 in the Youth Group. Olivet is 68% Caucasian, 25% African-American, 3% Hispanic/Latino, 3% Asian or multi-racial, and 1% Native American.
Why do people participate in congregational life at Olivet?
When asked why people participate in congregational life at Olivet, many responses had to do with Olivet’s commitment to God and society. It is a place where spiritual needs are met, and sermons are contemporary. Olivet offers a friendly, caring, family atmosphere where people experience a sense of comfort and belonging. All ethnicities are accepted. The children’s programs and children’s sermons are very important to some. Others participate because of the mission, community and ecumenical/interfaith work that Olivet does. Olivet’s music program draws many. Seniors appreciate gathering weekly for fellowship.
What do we believe at Olivet?
Olivet is a very progressive congregation in its thinking and actions. We believe that in order to reach out to the greater society we have to have an open mind about all the evolving social changes. However, our faith and belief in God’s scripture does not change. We trust in God to guide us in dealing with the new ideas and changes in our society and to be the guiding light in our lives.
Our economic and educational advantages challenge us to wrestle with what it means to be faithful in an affluent culture: to be Christian disciples in a busy and competitive world; to practice stewardship of our treasure, time and talents; to build families and instill Christian values in our children in an increasingly secular society, and to love and support one another in times of sorrow, joy, crisis and celebration.
As a congregation we respect the integrity with which theological views differ and acknowledge the capacity to perceive the biblical basis and Christian credibility of other perspectives. The diversity of our congregation speaks of our commitment to equality. We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church unified in Christ. This is reflected in our constant desire to participate in ecumenical and interfaith services and activities.
We take stewardship seriously. Over the years we have never lost the sense that we are called to mission, in our local community, and in the world at large. This calling has led us to run mission projects reaching out to those in need in our local community as well as to host benefits and mission trips to help those further from home. We look forward to the blessings and challenges that God has in store for us as we enter a new era in the history of our congregation.
The History of the Olivet Presbyterian Church
The Olivet Presbyterian Church celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2006, but its ministry dates back 95 years. In May of 1913, a young divinity student, Joseph DeRogatis, was engaged by the session of Calvary Presbyterian Church to begin a ministry to Italian-speaking immigrants in the West New Brighton area. Under his leadership and with the partnership of his wife, Emma, the ministry grew rapidly, and in 1917 a new church called Calvary Chapel was built on West Street. The new building soon became a hub of active outreach to the community and the DeRogatis' name became synonymous with caring and compassion for those in need. Also, the church's summer Daily Vacation Bible School became the first of its kind on Staten Island, drawing large numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children. Dr. DeRogatis opened a second chapel in Rosebank named Our Savior, ministering there, as well, to Italian-speaking immigrants. By the early 1930's it became obvious that the original building was no longer adequate to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and with the help of a special WPA project, a Christian Education Wing was added to the church. By the late 1930's the congregation also began to investigate how it could become a fully independent congregation. After some initial resistance from both Calvary Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of New York City, Calvary Chapel became Olivet Presbyterian Church at a service on June 23, 1946, beginning with a membership of 235. In 1958 Dr. DeRogatis retired after serving this church for 45 years. His legacy of faithful witness, however, continues to this day, most especially in the lives of families who are still a part of this congregation and in the lives of young people nurtured in this church who have gone on to become pastors of churches throughout the country. His work set the tone for the multicultural congregation that Olivet has become today. In the late 1960's a long-held Olivet dream came to fruition as the congregation, under the leadership of Pastor Winfield Hall, began to build our present church building on property the church had purchased for $19,000 at a tax auction in 1956. The church building was completed in 1970. In 1972, the Rev. C. Lee MacCallum was called as pastor and under his leadership the church saw much growth and change, including wonderful growth in the racial and ethnic diversity of the congregation and in the scope of its mission. The church worked very hard to welcome people from all backgrounds and situations. A strong worship life was enhanced with a vibrant music ministry including chancel choir, gospel choir, children’s choir (“Sunbeams”) and superb soloists. The educational ministry included a lively Church School with 40-50 active children up to 8th grade, three youth groups, regular adult education and retreats, a Seniors group, and Staten Island’s oldest continuing Vacation Bible School, operating every summer since 1923.
A strong sense of stewardship allowed the congregation to be completely self-supporting through offering income, with no endowment principal or interest ever going to current expenses and about 18% of offerings going to mission outside the walls of the church. Through the generosity of members, the church building and manse became debt-free in 1986.
Also in 1986, Olivet donated land adjacent to the church and manse and worked in cooperation with the Sisters of Charity to build Joseph House, providing much-needed low income housing to seniors. 75 apartments in the building next door continue to provide affordable, subsidized housing for seniors from all over New York. Residents from Joseph House have been welcomed into the life of the congregation and the Seniors group.
In 1990, a scholarship program was initiated to provide help for young people from the congregation pursuing higher education. Year-round fundraising and the creation of a scholarship endowment enabled the congregation to award annual scholarships of up to $1,000 as well as special merit awards. Olivet’s ministry has consistently emphasized mission, both local and far-reaching. Special support was given to Casa Materna, an orphanage in Naples, Italy where in 1993 sixteen youth and adults went with Pastor MacCallum to do a work camp at the home. Olivet headed efforts to engage high school youth all over Staten Island in the SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) program, holding two major conferences at Port Richmond High School. In 2006, 19 Olivet members plus members of 2 other Staten Island churches and 12 people from the Warwick, New York Reformed Church went to Arcadia, Florida to help residents rebuild after the massive destruction of recent hurricanes.
Olivet was instrumental in the start of Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island, which helped to stabilize the local housing stock, not only in the West New Brighton section of Staten Island, but in neighborhoods across the island. Olivet was also instrumental in the start of Project Hospitality, an island-wide interfaith ministry to people who are homeless and those living with HIV/AIDS. In the 1980s, and again from 2001 to the present, Olivet has operated a six-bed shelter in the church building for homeless women. It is open every night of the week, year-round. Monthly meals for 50-60 men and women living with HIV/AIDS are provided through a large team of church men and women who cook regularly.
Olivet has provided leadership to ecumenical and interfaith worship and community improvement events. A principal organizer of annual Lenten and Advent services drawing 20-30 Protestant and Roman Catholic churches for worship and fellowship, Olivet also has helped sponsor an annual Interfaith Seder held just before Passover. Starting in 1999, Olivet has been a principal organizer of an annual island-wide ecumenical worship during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity drawing 700-800 people. In 2002 Pastor MacCallum, in his role as President of the Staten Island Council of Churches, organized the first interfaith prayer service in remembrance of the September 11 attacks, which drew more than 3,000 people to the local minor league ball park. As a result of that event he worked with a local Rabbi to begin Community Days, an annual weekend event that now involves about 75 religious institutions representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs working side by side in projects of community improvement. Pastor MacCallum also joined with other clergy to teach college-level religion courses to inmates at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, a medium security prison on the south shore of Staten Island, as part of the Rising Hope program begun at Sing-Sing under the leadership of Bill Webber.
After 35 years of service to Jesus Christ at Olivet, Pastor MacCallum retired in September 2007. His retirement was marked by a series of celebrations including a special “surprise concert” and a retirement picnic. In January 2008, the Rev. Ruth L. Boling came to Olivet as Interim Pastor.
Olivet’s early history of nurturing young men and women to pursue fulltime Christian ministry has continued in recent years. Elder Chris Peet initiated the process and was formally enrolled as an Inquirer at the September 2008 meeting of the Presbytery of New York City. He currently attends New York Theological Seminary.
Serving the Community and Beyond
The Mission Committee facilitates the planning and implementation of activities involving benevolence, service and social justice for the Olivet Church family, the local community and the global world.
Some of our Olivet Presbyterian Church Mission programs that include outreach to the community include:
• Positive Living dinners- we have teams of cookers who cook monthly for families (50-60 people) living with HIV/AIDS. We host an annual barbecue on the church grounds for the same clientele.
• Shelter- Olivet Presbyterian Church houses a six-bed shelter, in conjunction with Project Hospitality. The women who find safe shelter here each night have gone through several steps before coming here and this is the final step before getting back out on their own again. We offer fellowship with the ladies on special nights throughout the year, such as “dinner and a movie” or “game night.”
• Holiday baskets- For Thanksgiving and Christmas we raise funds, ask for donations, shop for, assemble and pass out holiday food baskets to over 75 families.
• Community Days- In conjunction with other Churches and Temples in Staten Island we organize blood drives, collect food for food pantries, host car washes, provide mammograms, etc.
• Mission Sundays- Three or four times a year, our Mission Committee invites speakers to come speak during our worship service to inform our congregation about some of the organizations that Olivet Presbyterian Church’s mission helps through financial contributions.
• Disaster Response- we collect food, clothes and funds and send them to where they are needed.
• One Great Hour of Sharing- we inform the congregation about people throughout the world who are in need of help. In the season of Lent, during worship, our Mission Committee reads Minutes for Mission, which are short stories about these people. The offering received in 2008 was $8,448.
Awards and Recognition
On March 14, 2010 at the Annual Interfaith Seder, the Building Bridges Coalition of Staten Island presented three framed awards to Olivet, our youth director and our interim pastor "for their outstanding commitment, contributions, prayers, humility, leadership, love, sacrifice, selfless giving to us and the entire Interfaith Community of Staten Island."
At a special awards ceremony held at Wagner College on April 22, 2010, the Planning Committee of Staten Island Community Days recognized Olivet "for their vision and their part in the founding of an organization that fosters mutual cooperation, understanding and ongoing participation in the community needs of Staten Island."
The majority of the above text is taken from the Mission Review approved unanimously by the Session of the Olivet Presbyterian Church on October 19, 2008.