Church on the Island returns to Baldwinsville – Eagle News Online
BALDWINSVILLE — Church on the Island, the non-denominational Sunday service founded by Baldwinsville First United Methodist Church in 2016, is back for its seventh season.
“You know it’s summer when the church on the island is open,” said Jim Sollecito, chairman of the church’s welcoming committee on the island.
The woman who started it all, retired FUMC pastor Reverend Patti Walz, was the guest preacher for the informal morning service on June 19. Guest preachers will lead services throughout Church on the Island’s 12-week season.
“You’re going to get two things: a melody to hum in your head when you leave and a good message,” Sollecito said.
While many traditional churches have moved to virtual meetings during the pandemic, the outdoor setting has allowed Church on the Island to continue despite COVID.
“We got through COVID without missing a week. We have security cones and demarcated [social distancing]“said Sollecito. “We wore masks and hummed tunes. We weren’t allowed to sing, so we hummed.
In addition to guest preachers, Church on the Island invites local musicians to share their talents. Phill Sterling, founder of the Baldwinsville Community Band, serves as accompanist. Avery Head opened the June 19 service with a performance on the bagpipes, which he has played since 1960. Head shares a non-religious connection with Walz: they both taught at schools in Liverpool, where he taught science and she taught music.
Figuratively and literally, worshipers take various paths to get to Church on the Island. Walz told the Messenger in 2019 that services attract people looking for a new church to join, regular worshipers looking to increase their weekly worship experience, and visitors who are just passing through.
“People cycle there, people come by boat, people drive, people walk,” Sollecito said.
In its first year, Church on the Island drew 25 to 30 attendees to each service. Crowds have doubled, Sollecito said, to about 50 to 60 people each week.
The rain does not deter the faithful.
“The people of B’ville are very hardy and they know how to dress for the weather,” Sollecito said.
Worshiping on the river, surrounded by wildlife and water, can be healing for many devotees, Walz said in 2019.
“A number of our faithful, we have discovered since the first summer, are going through difficult times. They are in mourning; they need healing. The outside setting is beautiful and seems to be what they need at this time,” she said. “We enjoyed the fish jumping and the calls of the birds, the eagles.”
Sollecito said Church on the Island is an essential part of his Sunday routine.
“I feel like I have direct contact with the sky instead of having a roof over the path,” he said. “When you have the water moving to either side and the sky above it, it’s almost like you can feel time passing as the clouds pass over you…and we can understand. -be a little better our relationship with nature and our trip, which will eventually have an end.
The Church on the Island meets at 8 a.m. Sunday through September 4 at the Paper Mill Island Amphitheater in the Village of Baldwinsville. Everyone is welcome. Participants are encouraged to bring their own chairs. For more information, follow Church on the Island on Facebook.
The organization accepts donations to cover its expenses and to donate to the Baldwinsville Community Food Pantry.
“Because we are non-denominational, we accept donations in any denomination,” Sollecito said. “After our expenses, we return these donations to the community in the form of the B’ville Food Pantry.”