An Elder Takes Her Leave

Remembering Ann D Phillips – 1933-2020

Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns

“Only Christ could have brought us all together, in this place, doing such absurd but necessary things.”

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk

It’s easy to forget that the Old Dutch Church is still a vibrant place of worship and an integral part of the life of Sleepy Hollow. For over 300 years members of the congregation have kept up the maintenance of the historic church and burying ground, some generations more diligently than others. Even after regular Sunday worship was moved to newer churches built in the Tarrytowns in 1837 and 1854, the faithful would still make their way to the “Old Church” for summer worship. Reading through the consistory records of the First Reformed Church in the years after the original community split into the First and Second Reformed Churches, you can tell what an economic hardship it was to hold on to and maintain the property. But they persevered.

The Old Dutch Church has witnessed so many layers of history that we can probably find a story for just about anyone who comes to visit, whether they are a descendant, a historian, a colonial reenactor, a teacher of American Literature or an aficionado of every variation of the telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But I think our greatest story is the church itself – a Dutch pre-colonial structure that is still used today for its original purpose. The worship of God has persevered.

Old Dutch Burying Ground
possibly acanthus leaf, signifying immortality

An organ concert at the Old Dutch Church, over a decade ago, was my first introduction to the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns. A week later I would walk into the choir rehearsal room to join the alto section. The first person to greet me with a smile and an outstretched hand was fellow alto, Ann Phillips. In the years that followed I would rely on Ann to help me read the music. Together with Sue Nagle, and later, Rachel Arnsdorf we were the alto section. This habitual gathering of rehearsal and Sunday worship led me to the decision to formally join the church a year or so later. The deciding moment happened following a Sunday service, as I was walking to the parking lot. I passed the window of our little kitchen and I could see Ann standing at the sink, washing dishes. I thought here is this woman, 20 years my senior, who set up the coffee service in the morning, prepared the table for communion, rehearsed with the choir, sang the service and cleaned up after the Friendship refreshments. As I walked past that window I whispered to myself, “It’s time to wash the dishes.”

We are all on a faith journey. I would describe my own like a quest for the Holy Grail. Some years spent here, some there, hopefully moving in a progressive path. Ten years ago it brought me to the Old Dutch and the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns. But when I think of Ann, I believe she is one of those souls who always knew where home was. The hymn “Blessed Assurance” comes to mind: “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blessed.” As a younger woman, Ann knew our church when it was filled to the rafters. I wonder how she felt as membership started to dwindle in this post-religion age. Ten years ago I too wondered, how long can we last? We seemed to be missing a whole generation of young families. I know she felt joy as new families started to appear on Sundays, and children were once again heard in the halls after school singing. Perhaps this is a sign that we will persevere.

My last conversation with Ann was about the poet and author Kathleen Norris. Pastor Jeff Gargano had mentioned her in one of his sermons and it sparked Ann’s interest. Ann was struggling with her health when I gave her my copy of Norris’ “Amazing Grace”. I hope this book by a Protestant oblate of a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota proved a worthy companion at the start of that sacred journey one must make on their own.

“Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others.”

Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace

I did not know Ann when she walked the halls of Wellesley College or piloted a plane. I knew her as a chorister, grandmother and community volunteer. She was a true Elder of our church and she loved the Old Dutch Church where she will soon be laid to rest. I don’t think there is a piece of music in our choir library that she didn’t sing, or a major building project that she wasn’t a part of. Just recently, she helped our choir director, Jeremy Goldsmith, make a short film for the 60th anniversary of the building of Ammerman Hall, where I’m sure she washed a lot of dishes.

Thank you, Ann, for your strength, your intelligence, your faith, your broad laugh, your fine voice, your fierce wit, your integrity, your charity and most of all, your perseverance.

And personally, thank you for teaching me to wash the dishes.

Old Dutch Church
Soul effigy, carving by Solomon Brewer

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