A young Wisconsin-born pastor with enormous heart and compassion anchored his tent here in New Paltz 28 years ago, never imagining that he’d stay this long, touch so many or lead a flock through their darkest and most celebratory times.
Howard Major III was the subject of what he desires least: attention, praise, gratitude, tributes and heartfelt thanks. He could handle the jokes, the roasting, the humorous recollections of his nearly three-decade-long post as the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church on Huguenot Street in New Paltz, where he gave his first sermon on Christmas Eve in 1985.
When he announced his retirement from his post as the leader of the Reformed flock and many unofficial members of the church on the oldest incorporated street in America, people were shocked, saddened, lost, yet at the same time so grateful for the time that they had been able to spend in his light and guidance, and so hopeful that his next journey in life would be as rewarding as this one had.
This past Sunday, a retirement party was held for Major and emceed by William Rhoads, a retired SUNY New Paltz professor of history, a local architectural and cultural historian of New Paltz and the Hudson Valley region, as well as a dear friend of Major’s. Rhoads began with humor, noting that he had been co-chair of the search committee back in the day to find a new pastor, along with David Lent, former town supervisor and longtime member of the Reformed Church.
“It’s my honor and privilege to be the emcee of this tribute,” said Rhoads, who joked that many thought that the “fix was in” with Major because of his grandfather’s prestigious architectural background and writing, of which Rhoads was a fan. He assured the crowd that there was no favoritism, but did applaud Howard III for plugging his grandfather’s book, and even sending a picture to the search team of a building that his Granddad had designed that greatly resembled the Greek Revival architecture of the Huguenot Street church. “He even mentioned in his letter to us that he had an early ambition to become an architect. But what he told us — and what, most importantly, he showed us — was that a church was not built with stone and bricks, but built by a group of people and their faith.”