Our congregation was organized in 1860 with 82 members who came from the Presbyterian Church in East Hampton. It was an amicable separation, prompted by the desire of those men and women who lived in Amagansett to have their own place of worship. In an initial statement of separation it was noted that the Amagansett Presbyterians were “believers or patrons of the Presbyterian doctrine and creed.” That description has been true in the history of the congregation from that time to the present. While pastoral leadership can be considered in some instances to be more conservative, or again more progressive, it was always Presbyterian, within the bounds of Presbyterian governance.
It is notable that the congregation in its history was little swayed by passions of the day outside the immediate community. Thus in the rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, the Amagansett church remained on course with a steady conservative leadership under the twenty-four year leadership of Clarence Scoville. The church grew in number, the Sunday School thrived, various social groups flourished. It was during this period that the present Women’s Guild was organized, initially as a group of young mothers to help raise funds for the church during the Depression.
In another period of American church history, in the 1960s the Amagansett church again stayed the course with essentially a conservative sense of itself. That observation can be modified to some extent through the pastoral leadership of Peter Braun, who was attentive to the issue of civil rights in the national consciousness.
Beginning in 1969 with the pastoral leadership of Paul Cunkle, and continuing in 1982 with the seventeen year pastorate of Robert Stuart, the congregation retained its Presbyterian character. The Sunday School continued, the Deacons were added as a board, with the always successful annual Summer Fair (since 1916), and social programs within the church. Mr. Stuart added a distinctive ministry of healing in his tenure, prompted by AIDS as a disease, open also to all persons seeking health and healing.
The church has had several longer pastorates, those of Mr. Scoville and Mr. Stuart already noted, and eleven years for Mr. Cunkle. In the earlier years, twenty-four years also for James Finch (1879-1903). Between these longer periods of service, which have lent stability to the congregation, there have been many periods with short pastoral leadership. In the 1950s into the early 1960s, three Scottish ministers served, all doing well in their time, Ernest Gordon, George Nicholson, J. Donald Yule.
The Yule Room was added in 1960, and with the bequest in 1970 from Denniston Bell of Amagansett, the church has had the funds to keep its property in good condition. The Manse was purchased in 1910. Scoville Hall was built in 1925.
In the 1950s the Amagansett church was yoked with the Montauk congregation, and in the 1970s with the Springs congregation.
The membership of the congregation historically has been from families in the Village, which has reflected its whaling fishing heritage. That is for the most part no longer true. In its more recent history, the membership has included men and women from outside Amagansett, some retiring from work in New York or moving here while continuing to work elsewhere. Church members come also from the neighboring villages. That having been said, the Amagansett church like all Presbyterian congregations in our area, is predominantly older in age. The challenge is to determine what the configuration of a present and future church might be while remaining true to itself as a congregation within the Presbyterian Church.
The strength of the church throughout its life has come from running a center course, conservative in nature without being extreme, at the same time open to newer forms of ministry as these have proved helpful, in service to its members and to the community in the name of Christ.
Amagansett is the Indian name for “place of good water.” We are a hamlet of the Town of East Hampton. East Hampton has a long history of being a summer tourist attraction, and the population can easily triple between May and September. People come from all over the world for famous beaches, golf, fishing, nightlife, and celebrity watching. In the winter the town quiets down to the small villages where everyone seems to know everyone else. On a summer weekend the town bubbles with excitement from visitors and scores of activities.
East Hampton encompasses a land area of about 70 miles (and includes about 70 miles of beaches). It is composed of several hamlets: Amagansett (settled in 1680), Springs, East Hampton Village, Montauk and Sag Harbor. In the 1960’s Amagansett was named “the jewel of the crown of the Hamptons.” Just two blocks from our Church, and the Manse, are the sparking beaches of the Altantic Ocean. Not far from that very beach is where, in June 1942, a German Submarine landed a party of men who eventually took the Amagansett train to New York City. Just a short walk from the Manse is the Public school, playgrounds, farmers markets, the public Library, and more.
Amagansett Presbyterian Church is a cog in a great Presbyterian tradition on the East End of Long Island. Each of the hamlets listed above has at least one Presbyterian Church, and they network together in the “East End Presbyterian Parish.” The year-round (local) population has been described as having more New-England type attitudes and convictions, rather than “New York” style convictions. This makes them conservative, thrifty, and often resistant to change. This is beginning to diversify, as more second homeowners move to Amagansett to live year round—this augments the inclusiveness seen in most activities of the church. The community often expects recreational programs from its churches, in addition to community and social service work by the churches.
Overall, the Amagansett community holds much of the character of a small, rural fishing town, but has many features of a growing suburb as well. As you may imagine, it is an exciting time to be a member of the Amagansett community.
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