This May 31, the Rev. Kate Dunn says goodbye to her ministry as Associate Pastor for Congregational Care & Outreach.
After a summer off, she will return this fall as Fifth Avenue’s Parish Visitor. She checks in with our Communications Team about what it means to say goodbye and how to begin a new hello.
Q: You have been on staff at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for seventeen years, including the past ten years as Associate Pastor for Congregational Care and Outreach. Do you remember your first day at the church?
A: My first day at church was actually not at the church. When I interviewed with the Rev. Jan Ammon for the Parish Associate position in the spring of 2004, Fifth Avenue was undergoing renovations, so I went to their temporary offices on Lexington Avenue. That’s where I met Jan, Emily Dunlap, Bob Brennan, Randy Weber, Paul Rock, and other staff I would come to know well in the years ahead. I worked for the church for at least a year before I ever set foot in the building on 7 West 55th St.
Q: Though you are not leaving the Fifth Avenue staff, you are moving to a new role. After your summer break, you’ll return to the church as the Parish Visitor. What are some of the new responsibilities you’ll hold as the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church Parish Visitor? Will you have office hours at the church?
A. One of the things I have always valued about Fifth Avenue is its commitment to staying connected to members when they are no longer physically able to come to church. These will be the members that I will be focusing on as Parish Visitor. I’ll be making calls and visits to people at home, or in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. My schedule will be Monday to Thursday, 30-hours a week. I’m not going to have an office at the church because my work will be primarily in the field. I will be at Fifth Avenue to meet with the other clergy and staff, and I will definitely be able to meet up with members at the church. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my work overseeing Congregational Care and Outreach ministries, I’m looking forward to being able to focus my energies on direct pastoral care, which is something I’ve really missed.
Q. You’ve been such a wonderful presence at the Women’s Winter Sabbath for so many years. Is there a chance you’ll ever return?
A. I’ve now led fifteen Women’s Winter Sabbath retreats and they have been some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had with church members. So even though my awesome colleague Jaime Staehle is going to be taking the lead on planning and handling administrative details of the WWS going forward, I absolutely plan to be at the retreats! I am looking forward to continuing to engage with Fifth Avenue women.
Q: What has been your favorite class of Deacons to work with? (we ask this with a smile!)
A: Every class of Deacons has been my favorite! I have loved working with the Deacons. They are some of the most compassionate, hardworking, spiritual, prayerful people I have ever met, and on top of that, they’re so much fun. I’ve learned from and enjoyed every single class.
I remember one morning, I got into work and I had four messages on my voicemail from four former Deacons, all calling because a member for whom they had been a Deacon had called them in distress. Immediately I called that member to find out what was going on. To my surprise, she told me she was fine. She had been upset earlier that morning, but she’d just had lovely conversations with all her Deacons, and she felt much better now. Whatever the crisis was, the love and care she received from her church family through the Deacons, had made it go away.
Q. You have been a part of the direction of Fifth Avenue’s Outreach ministries. Tell us about that experience.
A. One significant change in Outreach related to a shift away from the Benevolence model of mission, in which many worthy organizations applied for grants, to a Mission Partner model. This came about through the recommendations of the Mission Partner Task Force in 2013. Since then, Fifth Avenue has cultivated robust relationships with a smaller number of organizations, giving larger grant amounts and fostering mutual engagement through education, volunteer opportunities and mission trips.
Fifth Avenue has felt called to respond to the crisis of homelessness for more than four decades because for that long people experiencing homelessness have walked through our doors seeking a place to rest, a bathroom, help reconnecting with family or finding shelter, a bite to eat, a pair of shoes, or just someone to listen and pray with them. It has been an honor for me to be a part of this ministry for the past 15 years.
Here are some of the Outreach Ministry highlights I’ve enjoyed being a part of:
- Joe Vedella It was my privilege to work with Joe Vedella, a man who overcame years of addiction and homelessness himself and became our full-time Manager of Homeless Ministries. He ran our shelter and provided outreach with people living on the streets. He was an inspiration to me and many others.
- Celebration Parties Recognizing that shelters were filled with families experiencing homelessness, Outreach hosted its first Christmas party for children living in family shelters in 2009. Joe Vedella played Santa Claus and the children all left with a photo of themselves with Santa. The adult Christmas Dinner now bears his name, and the summer picnic is named for our beloved former Outreach Director, Margaret Shafer.
- The Special Shelter Project Safety issues involving people sleeping on the steps led to the formation of the Steps Study Group. This involved closing the church steps and funding a 3-month winter shelter at Ascension Church on West 108th Street. For the next five years, we found grant money to cover the cost of the winter shelter, which moved to West End Presbyterian Church. Between 2011 - 2016, 84 men moved into Valley Lodge and 71 of those moved to permanent housing. This is in addition to all the men who slept in our own church shelter every night.
- The Ecumenical Outreach Partnership (EOP) When Valley Lodge closed for reconstruction, we applied our grant money to hire social worker John Sheehan for ten hours a week to work with our vulnerable neighbors. Seamus Campbell, Director of Outreach, suggested we seek a partnership. Scott put out inquiries with Cardinal Dolan of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Canon Turner of Saint Thomas Church who were both open to hearing more. In the spring of 2017, John, Seamus, Lynn Wishart and I met with representatives of the other two churches. They enthusiastically agreed and the Ecumenical Outreach Partnership was born.
- A Place at the Table Recognizing that Covid-19 had sparked a crisis of food insecurity, Scott asked the Outreach staff to consider how best to address this need. In May of 2020, we piloted A Place at the Table, with Roxo Catering preparing two meals a week for our hungry neighbors. We now serve lunch to 80-120 people every Monday and Wednesday, with EOP staff, John, Robbie, Donna, and Seamus, providing additional services. I am thrilled that Fifth Avenue has hired Christine Boyle, M.Div as Director of Outreach & Missions to oversee this program and all these growing ministries. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next chapter holds for Fifth Avenue’s Outreach Ministries.
Q. How can we pray for you as you transition to this new role as Fifth Avenue Parish Visitor?
A. Thank you for asking!
I would appreciate prayers for my summer sabbatical, that I can really take this time to rest and recharge. This sabbatical will be different from the one I took several summers ago, because this time I’m marking the end of a significant chapter in my ministry. In some ways, it’s hard to let go. I am absolutely certain that this change is right for me and right for the church, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sad. There is so much about this work that I have loved and that I will miss. So, I ask for prayers that I can trust God’s guidance in this next chapter of my life.
My husband Jim and I are now empty nesters and embarking on a new chapter in our marriage as well, which we’re both looking forward to. Also, in the past three months, Jim and I have experienced several losses: his mother, my father, and our beloved cat, Star, so we’re grieving.
We’ll be spending a good bit of time with our families over the summer and are looking forward to that time. I have felt lifted up by the prayers of the congregation for many years now and I thank you for your prayers. You can be sure I’ll be holding Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church all in my prayers while I’m away.