The calling: Elder Doris Schuyler on life, God and her work as a pastor

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Elder Doris Schuyler. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

The Riverview Missionary Baptist Church has had a rich history going back more than 80 years, leading up to Elder Doris Edwards’ time at its helm.

Located at 240 Catherine St., it started as a mission in 1933. It was located at Goldrick’s Landing near the brickyard, just north of Kingston Point, where the congregants lived and worked, relying on a well for their water and cutting down wood to fuel their stoves. In 1945, the church moved to a house in Ponckhockie. Riverview’s founder and pastor, the Rev. Walter Washington, who like many of the black brickyard workers in Kingston had migrated from Virginia, urged his congregation to purchase their own homes and raised money to build a new church.

The Rev. Washington did baptisms at Kingston Point Beach and he founded a choir, starting an important church tradition. In the 1960s, under the Rev. John Gilmore, the congregation expanded, in part because of the influx of minorities hired by IBM. In support of the civil rights march in Selma, Ala., the Rev. Gilmore organized a Kingston community march, with participation by religious leaders throughout the city.


In 1977, the Rev. Gilmore, who today is the pastor of a church in Tarrytown, was succeeded by the Rev. Willie Hardin. The Rev. Hardin had a commercial record made of Riverview’s acclaimed United Voices Choir in 1986 and held an annual Gospel Extravaganza, attracting groups from as far away as Mississippi and Washington, D.C. He continued the college scholarships started by the Rev. Gilmore, launched a reading program and built a new church complex.

The conductor of the United Voices Choir record was a young woman named Doris Edwards. Approximately 25 years later, Edwards was a natural choice for pastor when the Rev. Harold Jolly, who had succeeded the Rev. Hardin, left the church in June 2012. Ordained in 2004, she had a lifelong commitment to serving God and her successful career in social work had been dedicated to helping others.

Baptisms are now done in an indoor “baptism pool” located in a small room behind the pulpit, and the sanctuary has moved from the original building on Catherine Street, which now serves as the community room, to a capacious new structure decorated with six beautiful stained glass windows. Signed “Des. H.J. Vandebrght” and crafted by Lamb Studios from 1999 to 2008, they tell the story of the church’s development and holy work, each accompanied by a citation from the Bible. One window depicts a worship service at the brickyard mission; portraits of the former pastors are the subject of another, while yet another depicts the clergy visiting the sick, feeding a hungry family and engaged in Bible study with neighbors. The last window shows the choir, accompanied by an organist, sax player, three keyboardists and a guitar player.

Riverview has survived several challenges: it was rebuilt after a devastating fire by arson in the 1990s and underwent extensive repairs after flood damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Today, it faces the challenge confronting all houses of worship — how to remain relevant in an increasingly secular society. The Rev. Edwards who, following her marriage in August, is now Elder Doris Schuyler, sat down for an interview about her lifelong calling to the ministry and the challenges and rewards of being a pastor.

Lynn Woods: You’re from a family of five kids born and raised in Kingston. Music and church have always been important to you. How far back does that involvement go?

Elder Schuyler: I started singing in the choir when I was 9 and teaching Sunday School when I was 14. My mother was a well-known singer as well. At the time I was at New Central Baptist Church. By the time I was 16, people were inviting me to sing at weddings, funerals and other events. I’m a soprano and still sing. When I was 19, I left New Central and at age 21 became a member of Riverview. My brother-in-law had become the pastor. The Junior Choir asked me to become a director for the choir. We started out with nine kids and in a year’s time we had 30 kids.

I had many opportunities to sing in different bands, but it never appealed to me. At an early age I made the commitment to sing gospel, to sing for God.

LW: What did you do before becoming pastor at Riverview?

ES: I worked at the Children’s Home of Kingston starting in 1979, first as a counselor, then as a manager. I left to have my two children but came back and served 30 years, working with emotionally disturbed adolescent males. Years later some of the young people I knew there found me on Facebook. I had to speak at an event for one of the sororities in Newburgh about how to save our children. I talked about how children believe what you tell them and they’re looking for your actions to match up to your words. If you tell a child you love them, they’re waiting for your actions to match up with words. This man with salt and pepper hair came over to me and said, “Do you remember me?” I looked at him a little harder and he said his name and I recognized him: he was a kid I had at the Children’s Home when he was 12 or 13 years old. Now he’s in the community and doing well. I started crying and he gave me a big hug and said thank you for helping me; you did a good job.

LW: I’d imagine working at the Children’s Home was good training to be a pastor.

ES: Before I went to work I’d always pray. When you’re dealing with kids you learn to share your gifts and see the gift in them. Some days at the Children’s Home were difficult because there were kids who didn’t have the family structure they needed. It was difficult to get them to see who they are.

After working at the Children’s Home I worked at Ulster-Greene ARC as a manager for two years. Now you’re dealing with mentally disabled individuals, which had a different set of challenges. It was very rewarding.

LW: What was your reaction when you were asked to be pastor at Riverview?

ES: I was a member when Pastor Jolly was here. When he accepted an assignment in the inner city in Philadelphia, he put in a recommendation for me. It was kind of scary because of the responsibility. You really want to grow in God, and you want to do the ministry, then all of a sudden it happened.

LW: What is it like being the first female pastor at Riverview?

ES: This congregation was very open to having a female pastor. You really have to have your own sense of being. I’ve been advised by other pastors never to get to the point where you try to justify your calling. I don’t have to prove anything, I just have to do what God has called me for and chosen me to do. So far people have been very supportive. The other thing that helped is that I served in this church for over 22 years. People here either knew me as a baby or were people I grew up with. There’s another group who have just gotten to know me.

LW: What is your biggest challenge?

ES: When we were children, you had God, family, church and community. Those were the influences. We no longer have that. When we were children, if you wanted to have a toy, you’d get the wood and try to make it. Now they have handheld computer games, and no real social building skills are being formulated. The church has gone from being the number-one influence to being the last. It is very challenging.

LW: How do you reach out to the younger generation?

ES: We had here a Youth Explosion Summer Jump Off, on the weekend before graduation. I had all these young people and two ministers — Michael Poindexter, from Albany, and my son, Minister David Edwards, who’s from Charleston — POOK [Percussion Orchestra of Kingston] and two young ladies from the community who came and talked during a prayer breakfast. At the breakfast we had a dialogue with the young people asking them how we can serve you better. They said we should show up at other events that they participate in, away from church, like their school events and other community events. So we provided bulletin boards for them to post their school and community schedules. Across the board for every church is the need for evangelism, getting out there and just talking to young people about God. A lot of young people today will talk about God, but when comes to going to church, they don’t want to get involved.

It is my belief that 400 years now the church will be still standing, whether or not it’s a building. We know regardless of what transpires in this earthly realm nothing will be able to shut the church down. My question is, how can I really reach this generation? Social media can be used to talk about the love of Christ, the love of God. The church has a Facebook page for posting events. You need to include young people in evangelizing and other methods of reaching out.

LW: So in the future the church may have a different form.

ES: A church that does not have any evangelistic vision will perish. Churches are closing; it’s an economical thing. Our biggest challenge is how to engage people to take a look at God in their lives. I don’t care if you’re a crackhead in the gutter; your current circumstances don’t determine your future. God will always provide an escape route. God is merciful. Everybody has an opportunity to look to God to come into their life. A lot of people don’t understand repentance. You might have to have it in your heart to change, but the last place is in your mind. I just spoke to somebody yesterday and they said they were angry at God. God knows that; He’s our father, God understands us, He made us. When you really call on Him you can’t determine how God will respond, you have to wait and listen for that very quiet voice. We learn through trial and error, through repetition.

LW: What do your services consist of?

ES: We have Sunday School at 9:45, followed by worship service at 11 a.m. Starting the third Wednesday in October, we start Bible study, both in the afternoon and evening. We have one choir, of about 15 people, who sing a capella. We have a dynamic choir director who has perfect pitch and gets the choir to start out on the right note. Currently we have no musicians. If anyone is interested, we have a keyboard, drums, and an organ — a Hammond B3.

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