News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
By Andy Milone
Parishioners have gone out of their way to voice their feelings about the “really good sermons” lately at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville.
Senior Warden Debbie Paruolo said those comments come as a positive sign during the first three weeks since Rev. Christine “Chris” Veillon took over and became the priest-in-charge on Oct. 1. She replaced Rev. Mary Gregorius, who retired after about a decade in the role at St. John’s.
“I can’t tell you how seldom one hears that kind of comment, and we’ve had that for the few weeks that she’s given sermons,” Paruolo said. “That gives us hope that we made the right choice.”
The priest-in-charge preaches and teaches, and is involved in pastoral care and leadership development, as well as budgets, administration and financial stewardship, according to the church.
Veillon arrived in Pleasantville with her husband Peter, their daughters Lucy, 4, and Ruth, 2, and a menagerie of pets. She also came with the thoughts of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the forefront of her mind: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
The quote is reflective of the church she knows she’s joining and is looking forward to leading, one that serves all kinds of people.
“It’s something that I just want to help us share with Pleasantville, Westchester and the world in a time when there’s so much hate and sorrow and misunderstanding,” Veillon said.
A staple since 1853, St. John’s, at 8 Sunnyside Ave. in the village, currently has about 85 parishioners, a decline from the times before the COVID-19 pandemic. Paruolo said the drop is common for many places of worship. The senior warden is hopeful Veillon can help grow the membership.
“When we interviewed her, she had such a positive outlook,” Paruolo said. “In addition to having met all the requirements, she seemed to have an energy about her that would build community and that was really important for us.”
The church is well-known for its rectory, which dates back to 1734 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is one piece of a small, tight-knit community. St. John’s is also responsible for three ministries – a community garden and a thrift shop, as well as its participation in a “midnight run,” an initiative known in New York to distribute food, clothing and other items to the homeless.
Veillon was inspired in part to pursue the opportunity further by the love and welcoming atmosphere for all types of people. She made that realization while talking with parishioners during her first visit to the church on the “low Sunday” following Thanksgiving last year, and over time meeting more parishioners who are neurodivergent or otherwise “atypical.”
“The sense of community I encountered here is truly really deeply open to meeting people exactly as they are and getting them plugged in and giving them hospitality and a place to be at home,” she said.
There’s also a real commitment to being an LGBTQ+ ally at the church, the new lead minister pointed out. She recalled St. John’s flying pride flags, which were marred by vandalism. That led the congregation to subtly respond by buying a “ton more flags.”
“Every time a flag gets taken away or stolen or torn, they just put up another flag,” she said. “That kind of quiet doggedness is so characteristic of the people I’ve met. It’s not a big thing, it’s just the right thing. They just love people.”
Veillon was raised a Roman Catholic in Florham Park, N.J. and Maryland. But her personal journey to becoming an Episcopal priest started with her come-to-Jesus moment in 2009, changing the trajectory of her life in her 20s.
She was engaged at the time, but her relationship fell apart, leaving her heartbroken.
“I just felt myself say in my mind, ‘God, I will never deny you.’ That was almost my bargaining chip,” Veillon said. “If you just make this better, I will never deny you, and that was sort of shocking for me because I didn’t really know what it meant and it was out of the blue.”
“But I immediately felt this calmness and this assurance that God was completely with me and everything would be OK,” she added.
It was the first time Veillon felt she understood the language of Jesus, able to relate to her as a human, but also as the “divine personage” who held her close to the creator. That prompted her to begin reading, studying and praying, as well as writing as a form of prayer.
Veillon had moved to Manhattan to try to work in publishing, but because of her revelation, she went to work for the Episcopal Church in 2011. Before attending seminary, she was the director of communications and education at St. James’ Church on Madison Avenue.
She earned her Master of Fine Arts in writing and publishing and continues to source the arts as a preacher and theologian.
After a lengthy formal process to become a priest beginning about seven years ago, Veillon was eventually accepted by New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche, allowing her to begin preparing for priesthood in 2020 at the Yale Divinity School, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in New Haven.
Veillon graduated in May and was ordained into priesthood at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan on Sept. 16 – her wedding anniversary.
Examiner Media – Keeping you informed with professionally-reported local news, features, and sports coverage.