For the past three and a half years, East Patchogue’s Emanuel Lutheran Church on East Main Street has been without a permanent pastor, with retired Rev. David Wackenhuth filling in temporarily. Bringing this vacancy to an end is 36-year-old pastor Steven Williamson-Link, who arrived on Long Island on Jan. 10 and will be officially installed on Feb. 4.
Williamson-Link grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Ill., with a church-going family and attended a Lutheran school. Like most high school students gearing up to graduate, Williamson-Link said he began to consider which path he would pursue.
He recognized his desire to help people, and felt that the Lord was calling him to become a pastor. He went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Concordia University in Milwaukee, Wis., as a pre-seminary major before attending Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he received a Master of Divinity.
During his vicarage (third year of Seminary studies), Williamson-Link worked in West Portal Lutheran Church in San Francisco, Calif., which he said is where his belief that he was meant for pastorship was fully confirmed. His first call was to the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Cairo, N.Y., where he served for approximately 10 years. His second call: Emanuel Lutheran. Cathy Dragone, head of Emanuel Lutheran’s call committee, said she and her colleagues conducted a “self-study” in the congregation in order to figure out what church members were looking for in their next pastor. All congregants, she explained, had the opportunity to express their preferences, and most wanted a young, spirited, and energetic pastor who could guide the congregation to bring more members to the church.
“We’ve already seen him jump in with both feet,” Dragone said of Williamson-Link. “He’s been involved with the youth group. We wanted a pastor who would be involved with the youth. He gave his first sermon this weekend and it was wonderful. He’s reaching out to each generation.”
Though Williamson-Link is new to the church and the town—his office still in the midst of being painted—he has spent his time here thus far beginning to immerse himself in the community. He said in addition to moving into the parsonage next door to the church with his wife of nearly five years, Natalie, reading sermons and worship planning, he has prioritized face time with the congregation, and said he will continue to do so.
“I was able to come to chapel with the preschoolers here yesterday, started going to meetings and different things like that,” he said. “My every day, I’m sure, will [consist more of] visiting people, getting to know the congregation—certainly for the first half of this next year, that’s going to be a big part of it.”
Williamson-Link has also been able to play guitar for the preschoolers, and aims to be a consistent part of their school week. The people who make up this congregation are a large part of the reason Williamson-Link accepted this call.
“When I visited Emanuel before I officially accepted the call, two things kind of jumped out at me as really amazing opportunities. The first—in meeting all the people, going to the Christmas party and stuff—was that this is a congregation that really, really loves each other,” he said. “And they really, really enjoy fellowship. So, when you have a congregation [of] people that like being together, that’s an amazing thing.”
Even after three and a half years without a resident pastor, Williamson-Link said he found that Emanuel is still a strong organization in every regard, which he credits to the congregation’s leaders.
“[There is a] strong, strong group of elders and teachers—just very talented people that are excited about serving the Lord and growing his church,” he said. “And, so, I was shocked, actually, at what a good position Emanuel was in when I came here, and we’re excited to see what the future will bring.”
The other attraction for Williamson-Link is the church’s Main Street location, which he finds ideal for extending the congregation’s outreach in the community, adding that he hopes to reinstate community gatherings that had been put on pause during the pastoral leadership void.
Additionally, he hopes to better utilize Emanuel Lutheran’s extensive property.
“The school used to be larger. We still have a very strong school and aftercare program, but we have some open rooms now, and those should be filled,” added Williamson-Link. “How those will be filled, [I’m] not quite sure yet. But I do know that we have a strong group of people here that are excited to start new things and just to move forward in the future. I could see some new ministries starting up, lots and lots of opportunity.”
Patchogue mayor Paul V. Pontieri Jr. will be in attendance at Williamson-Link’s installment on Saturday, Feb. 4, according to the church.
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