Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

Contributed Photo

Rev. Kit Robison with family, wife Christa and daughters Alexandria, Heather and Stephany enjoy a tour of Rockefeller Center.

Pastor Robison bids adieu as Lutheran churches close down

By Kathy Daley
JEFFERSONVILLE — February 18, 2011 — The closing of the Lutheran churches in Jeffersonville and North Branch area is a triple loss to the wider area as locals bid goodbye to a minister and his family who were anchors of the community.
Rev. Kit Robison, pastor of First Lutheran in Jeffersonville and Grace Lutheran in North Branch arrived in Jeff four and a half years ago and quickly began volunteering in significant ways.
Robison and his wife Christa signed on with the Jeffersonville Volunteer First Aid Corps, he as ambulance driver and she as emergency medical technician. He was a key player in various interfaith efforts, including the founding of an ecumenical youth group that, among other activities, traveled to Appalachia to repair homes for needy people.
The Robisons’ three daughters, Stephany, Alexandria and Heather, all attended Sullivan West Schools and excelled in school sports.
“I can’t put into words all the good he’s done,” said Jack Costello, who talked Rev. Kit into membership in both the local Lions Club and helping out with beautification projects through the Jeff JEMS (Jeffersonville Enhances More of Sullivan).
“Kit is a minister and he’s a friend.” Costello said. “Anything I asked him to do for Jeffersonville and the village, he never said no to. He’s a friendly person who anybody could walk up to with a problem.”
Last June, First Lutheran on Main Street in Jeffersonville — the church also known for its bratwurst dinners and Christmas cookie sales — held its last service. This month, Grace Lutheran also closed its doors, along with its little thrift shop on Main Street in North Branch.
The reason for the shuttering of the churches is the same double-whammy afflicting many Protestant and Catholic churches: declining numbers of active parishioners, which translates into declining revenue.
“The costs of running a church have outstripped the people here,” said Robison. “The churches in rural areas like this one tend to serve the population that is here long-term, and those are primarily people who are on pensions, who are on Social Security, not those making $100,000.”
First Lutheran was the first of the two churches to confront harsh reality when faced with a $10,000 fuel oil bill one year. Another significant cost for congregations of any size is the need to pay a minister’s salary and, as many clergy people have families, the cost of health insurance. “That alone has gone through the roof,” Robison said.
“I am not in this for the money, that’s for sure,” said Robison. “But I have a daughter in college (at SUNY New Paltz), a wife in college (studying nursing at Sullivan Community College) and a car payment.”
When it closed, First Lutheran was attracting about 30 to 35 active church members at Sunday service. Grace Lutheran’s congregation had shrunk to about 12 to 15 in the pews.
“It’s so sad, I hate to even drive by the church,” said Sue Bodenstein, who was active at First Lutheran. “I taught Sunday School, my first son got married there.”
“It is a horrible loss to the community,” agreed Pastor Kit of the closing of the churches. “These are people whose grandparents built these churches.”
Robison has accepted the pastorship of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Baldwin, L.I. The Robisons are packing their belongings for the move next week.
On Saturday, Feb. 12, they invited members of First Lutheran and Grace to a goodbye luncheon at the Jeffersonville Ambulance Corps building. “There are great people here,” said Pastor Kit, “I’m going to miss them tremendously,”
The feeling is mutual, according to Bodenstein. “He bought youthful ideas to the church,” including a relaxed Saturday night service for children and their families.
As for the ambulance corps, in which Bodenstein is also active, Robison brought “just what you need — muscles and a smile.”
“It’s a big loss to us,” agreed ambulance corps captain Ruth Ackerman. Noting the wide area served by the corps, all of the Town of Callicoon, part of the Town of Delaware, and portions of the Towns of Bethel and Fremont, she said the Robisons’ service touched not only the local area but the wider region.
“Kit himself was available Monday through Friday during the day and even on weekends – except when he was in church,” Ackerman said. “It’s very hard to get people who want to volunteer. Most want to be paid and not serve the community. To me, the Robisons epitomized the love of Christ, the love of neighbor.”

top of page  |  home  |  archives