On April 21, 1697, the first child was baptized at the Old Dutch Church. Her name was Rebecca, daughter of Jan and Maria Heyert. Thus, began the cycle of baptisms, marriages, and deaths up to this, our 331st year as a church community.
From the headstones of the burying ground and the first church record (1697 – 1715), compiled by and written in the beautiful hand of Dirck Storm (1716), we can get a sense of the goings on in the early years of the church. A truly invaluable record of Who’s Who and aid to the many descendants who have sought to untangle their genealogical threads.
But many of us who worship at the Old Dutch today will not find the branches of our family trees in the burying ground or the record books. Our ancestors can’t be traced back to the Netherlands. They came in other migrations from other countries with different religious backgrounds. But somehow, we found each other, here, on this grassy knoll. And when we look out the windows at the numerous headstones that dot the church yard, we realize we are not looking at the echos of the lives of strangers. Our shared experience of the waters of baptism makes us family. And whenever we can catch a glimpse into the lives of these early Dutch settlers it’s as exciting as listening to our own family stories.
Today a red rose was placed on the Lord’s Table to celebrate the birth of my first grandchild, Thomas Jonathan. It was a kind gesture that in my mind said, “Thomas, whenever you are ready, we, the church, are here for you.” It gives me comfort to feel that we who were once strangers to this place are part of a spiritual continuum that links the people inside the church walls to those resting on the other side of the 1837 Gothic windows.
My husband, a Yonkers boy, raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, used to tell me stories of playing hooky with his dad who would bring him to the Old Dutch to tramp through the headstones. He said at that time the church doors were often closed and his father would lift him up on his shoulders to take a peak inside the tall windows. He shared these stories with our daughters who also made the trek from Yonkers to Sleepy Hollow to peruse the headstones and perhaps recall the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman or the sad demise of Major John Andre, or listen to the stories of the late Bill Lent, Sexton Extraordinaire of the Old Dutch Church.
Many years later friends and family from all over the world gathered at the Old Dutch for my oldest daughter’s wedding (above). And a couple years after that my youngest was married at our sister-church in Tarrytown (below).
So, years before I first set foot over the threshold of the Old Dutch, my father-in-law, husband, and daughters had already experienced the magic of this place. My journey to the Old Dutch came by way of an advertisement for an Organ Recital. Here I met the co-music directors of the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, Jeremy and Mi-Won Goldsmith. Their invitation to join the choir put me on the path to joining the church a year or so later. The music ministry continues to attract new members and new friends, especially during the summer when we offer “Seven Sundays: A Celebration of Music in Worship at the Old Dutch Church.” Today, Jeremy (woodwinds) and Mi-Won (keyboard) and their children, Emily (violin) and Justin (cello), performed for our 5th Sunday – “Allegro” Trio Sonata in A minor by Georg Teleman (click on link for performance).
Whether it is the call of baptism, the blessing of a matrimonial union, the prayers of commendation for a soul, historical exploration, literary musings, or simply the sound of music, we are reminded that all are welcome to this little church that Frederick Philipse, 1st Lord of Philipsburg Manor, built for the spiritual sustenance of the first Dutch settlers in 1685.