When Pastor Thomas D. Sutter, a traditional pastor and a traditional man who wears cuff links on his shirt sleeves and a tie to work each day, shares his philosophy about being a pastor, he doesn't quote a verse from the bible, but rather a verse from a well known Brooklyn philosopher of sorts, Neil Diamond.
“The best way I can describe New Testament ministry is from his song 'Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show',” Pastor Sutter said. “The verse says 'Now you got yourself two good hands, and when your brother is troubled, you got to reach out your one hand for him, 'cause that's what it's there for. And when your heart is troubled, you gotta reach out your other hand, reach it out to the man up there, 'cause that's what he's there for.' That is what we are supposed to do.”
Pastor Sutter, who relocated from Kansas with his wife to become the new pastor for the First Presbyterian Church of Babylon in 2005, left his former church because he needed more of a challenge in meeting the needs of the people he pastors to, and admits he was surprised to find it here.
“When I saw what they were doing here, how they are socially progressive but theologically conservative, which on Long Island is so rare, I knew I wanted to come here,” Pastor Sutter said.
“The elementary school provides an excellent education to anyone, not just church members, and the church underwrites a significant portion of the tuition. The school's gymnasium is used to serve a hot dinner every Thursday night to those in need. There is also a youth group that draws 80 to 100 kids, and maybe five of them are part of the church. It is all done as an outreach to the community. When I saw what this church was doing socially, I wanted to be a part of it.”
The church has a long history. The building where services are currently held, which was built in 1870, is the fourth church building. The first building, which was built in 1730, was located further east on Montauk Highway in what is now West Islip, across from CVS.
At that time it was named the Presbyterian Church of Islip and Huntington South. That church building became a casualty of the Revolutionary War when British soldiers tore it down in 1778 and took the wood to Hempstead to use it to build barracks for their troops.
The second church building, erected in 1784, is now home to the church offices. Building three, which went up in 1838 due to the growth of the congregation, is now know as the parish hall or the fellowship hall. In 1857, a new congregation formed in Islip, so the church changed its name to The Presbyterian Church of Huntington South. In 1870, it was changed again to the current name. In the 1920's, the gym was added to the hall, and the school building was added in the 1960's.
Some may find it surprising to learn that Pastor Sutter did not become a full time pastor until 1994. He was born and raised Catholic and spent two years in a seminary before going into the Navy and then to college where he earned his degree in business administration.
He took his first computer programming class in 1968 and “it was main frame only,” he said. After college he worked as a computer programmer for 11 years before becoming a part time pastor in 1991.
What is not surprising is that he used his modern technology skills to bring the congregation into the 21st century.
Cameras and two large video screens were installed in the church in 2008, not only to make it easier for the audience to see him deliver his weekly message, but also to bring church services to the Internet.
“We broadcast our weekly service live on the Internet,” Pastor Sutter said. “This is the technological revolution. This is getting the message to more people to have more of an impact," he explains, noting that churches have successfully used newspapers, radio and TV to get the message out.
"They were new methods back then. Some churches that do not embrace the modern electronic technology or other changes have a fear that it will adulterate the message," he says. "But you can change the method without changing the message.”