The Westminster United Presbyterian Church began over 50 years ago in a storefront on Union Boulevard.
“The congregation first began meeting in people's houses before they acquired a store near where the movie theater was, between where and is today,” said Jim DeCastro, who joined the church in 1995 and became the Clerk of Session in 2004.
The beginning of the church's organization started in January, 1958 by a pastor with the Board of Church Extension, Rev. Alvin Wilson. By August of the same year, Rev. Raymond Kent became the organizing pastor. He was still in that position when the church received its charter by the Presbytery and officially began on November 14, 1958. The following spring Rev. Kent was the permanent pastor, residing in the original manse located on Higbie Lane.
“There were two other Presbyterian churches nearby at that time, one in Babylon (First Presbyterian Church) and one in Islip (Presbyterian Church of Islip),” DeCastro said. “From 1958 to 1965 West Islip grew exponentially, so the demand was there for another church in this area.”
By the summer of 1959 ground broke at 109 Udall Road where the church still stands today. The first services held in the building took place in February, 1960, and in May of that year it was officially dedicated. Originally the wall sides were made of glass and the Celtic cross, which is now in the middle of the front lawn, was to the right of the entrance to the church.
“The original cross was made from wood from the Southern State Parkway, but it had to be replaced five years ago after it fell down in a storm,” DeCastro said. “The church has also been expanded two or three times since it was built.”
The original manse was sold in 1987, the same year the parking lot located in front of the church on Udall Road began construction.
The following year, as the church celebrated its 30th anniversary, a new manse was built in its current location, which is also on Udall Road, to the left of the church. Rev. Donald Knight is the current pastor, a position he has held since November, 1999.
“When I was being considered as the pastor, some people thought I was just coming here to retire,” Knight said. “I promised them I would pastor for at least five years if I got the position, and now it has been almost 12 years.” Knight and his wife, Kathy, were in Belmar, New Jersey for over 27 years before they relocated to West Islip.
“One of our earliest members was (longtime West Islip teacher) Dorothy Bell, and one of our most influential members is (former West Islip library director) Darlene Carter-Aubin," DeCastro said. “Bell's sons are still members. When the church celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2008, we had 184 members and the Fellowship Hall was rededicated as Meyer Fellowship Hall, in honor of the two original charter members still with us, Robert and Helen Meyer." The Meyers were also speakers at the anniversary celebration for the church.
Today the church continues to be a vital part of the West Islip community.
“We have a food pantry, a community meal on the third Sunday of every month except August, a men's breakfast two times a month, a vacation bible school every August, two fairs on the front lawn, meetings for AA and GA (Alcoholics Anonymous and Gambler's Anonymous), Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts meetings, Sunday school, nursery school, the West Islip Homemakers and the Postpartum Resource Center of New York,” DeCastro said.
“We are open to the community. Everyone is welcome.”
The answer to the last trivia question is: The Higbie Lane School officially closed as a school in June 1977.
This week's trivia question: What is the name of the well known print artist who lived in West Islip? Bonus question: What street did this artist live on? The answers in next week's column.