Mark Mast hopes to lead “a 21st-century church.” “I think we have to be very proactive about serving the community” is how the new pastor at the New Paltz Reformed Church put it.
Mast is a minister of 18 years. He worked in Hopewell Junction, Beacon and Poughkeepsie for the last seven years, and before that in several Michigan churches.
He said that New Paltz was always a “destination” for his family when he lived in Poughkeepsie, and described the ability to work at the Reformed Church there as “exciting.”
Based on Historic Huguenot Street, the Reformed Church is one of the oldest continually existing congregations in the area. It first met in 1683, with a stone church built in 1713. The current brick building was erected in 1839, with additional transepts built in 1872.
Today it maintains Christian education, support groups and a program called Kids Kare, a service organization for those in the second through eighth grades. The church’s website describes the congregation as “Congregational in spirit, Presbyterian in government, Reformed in theology.”
Mast cited the Reformed Church’s “inclusiveness” as particularly exciting. “We’re a room-for-all church,” he said, “which means we include all people, including those who are gay.”
“In the past, people kind of thought, ‘If we do this, people will come to church,’” he said. “But we need to bring [our message] to them by being an active part of the community.”
Though Mast notes that the “20th-century church” worked in its time, now that many people do not practice a religious faith, he believes that his church must stake its claim and reach out to them. “Instead of trying to attract them to us,” he said, “we’ll bring what we value to them.”
Though Mast said that he’s “still getting to know the area,” he has several ideas for how to do this. “It could be working with schools for mentoring and tutoring kids. It could be opening things for young people to have a place to connect and be a part [of something].” He also mentioned what he calls “creation care,” meaning environmentalism, as well as help for those going through divorce.
“Maybe not new things [for the church], but expanding on a part of what they are.” He describes the current members of the Reformed Church as “very open” to these ideas, though he hopes to bring a “slightly different attitude” to his work there.
Whatever the church does, Mast said that he does not plan to duplicate the services of other ministries, instead partnering on programs already in place. Most important is the need to understand just what the community needs. “A lot of people have needs that are not seen,” he said, “so you have to get to know what they are.” He added, “You have to be there to help them.”
Reflecting on his place in the New Paltz community, he said that the Reformed Church “must wander up the street, so to speak…and become a place where people naturally go.”