The United Methodist Church is looking to make its presence felt again in Pleasantville, but don’t expect to find traditional services at the large church on Bedford Road or anywhere else for now.
Pastor Susan Chupungco, who moved to the village in July with her husband Angelo and 19-month-old son Grayson, instead is looking to ignite the passion for and sharing of faith-based ideas at the library, Starbucks, the playground or diner.
It’s these types of gathering spots that Pastor Susan, as Chupungco prefers to be called, can be found meeting her Pleasantville friends and getting to know the village.
“We love the village. Everyone has been fantastic and welcoming,” she said. “People here are very supportive of a new family.”
A California native, Pastor Susan has been a lifelong United Methodist. She attended college in northern California, earning her bachelor’s degree in political science in 2001. She worked at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, then moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked in nonprofit event planning and fundraising.
In 2008, Pastor Susan returned to California to work in the ministry with youths in Sacramento and became involved with helping the poor and engaging in social justice issues.
She received a master of divinity degree in 2014 from Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J.
Pastor Susan has been a practicing Methodist pastor for six years and was ordained in June by the United Methodist Church. Although she is affiliated with the New York Conference for the United Methodist Church, her access to the church at 70 Bedford Rd. is limited.
Last June, the Pleasantville United Methodist Church officially disbanded after more than 200 years because of a dwindling congregation. The building, which was built in the early 1960s, is owned and overseen by the New York Conference and as the case with all its properties, is held in a trust.
“Pastors are appointed by the Methodist Church to communities, not to church buildings,” Pastor Susan explained. “I was appointed to serve the whole Pleasantville community and become immersed in their needs and concerns.”
If Pastor Susan eventually attracts a sizable gathering, the group could worship at the United Methodist Church in Pleasantville, but that remains to be seen, she said.
Pastor Susan’s concept is to create a new community of faith tailored to Pleasantville.
“People are now experiencing God in ways that they haven’t been able to in a traditional church setting,” she said. “We have the opportunity to come together and find out how this new community will take shape and where and how we may want to worship.”
Gathering in small groups was something Pastor Susan experienced years ago when she attended a newly-formed church in Sacramento. At that time, she had questions about her faith and found the small, more diverse and eclectic group more welcoming. Some had left the church but were comfortable discussing their feelings in the more informal setting.
From that experience, the concept of “The Table” emerged – one that was symbolic of the communion table but also the kitchen table where everyone is freer to chat casually. Pastor Susan has set up her own website version of The Table at www.thetableny.org, which is geared to the Pleasantville community but welcomes anyone and everyone.
“Building relationships outside of a church building creates trust among those who might not otherwise go to church,” she said.
The pastor noted that meeting someone at the grocery store or the park can prompt open and honest conversations about faith.
“In me you are not going to find any judgment,” Paster Susan said. “You’re welcome no matter what. At The Table, you are invited to come as your full, authentic self, no matter who you love or how you express your identity. All are welcome. All means all.”
As a young parent, Pastor Susan saw the need for stay-at-home parents, working parents and grandparents of toddlers to have a place to come together. She organized a free Parent-Child Playdate group that meets every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in a room at the Methodist Church on Bedford Road. Everyone brings a toy or two for shared play. It is geared toward toddlers from one to three years old who are too young for many of the local programs, she said.
“It provides a chance for parents to chat,” Pastor Susan explained.
One of the mothers in the group is a teacher specializing in early-childhood education and provides age-appropriate activities that encourage coping skills. The setting offers parents a chance to discuss what’s on their mind.
“We have talked about many issues including how people transition back to work, to healthcare issues, and we have found support from one another,” Pastor Susan said.
A preview event will be a Christmas gathering for all ages on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 4 p.m. at the Soul Brewing Co. on Wheeler Avenue. Anyone attending is asked to bring a pack of diapers or make a cash donation to support the Westchester County Diaper Bank.
“Anyone is welcome to attend our preview event,” Pastor Susan said. “For those who are curious about what we’re doing we will share the vision for this new church as we celebrate the story of Christmas together.”