When Linda Westerhoff Maconochie was 16 years old, she remembers sitting in a pew in the Southampton Presbyterian Church, listening to the reverend and thinking, ‘I could do that.’ It was the 1970s, however, and while Ms. Maconochie was active in youth group and her parents, Fran and Roger Westerhoff, raised their three children in the church, female ministers were few and far between. It seemed a calling that was just out of reach.
As faith would have it, just as Ms. Maconochie was readying to leave for Lycoming College in Pennsylvania to study pharmacy, the Southampton Presbyterian Church named a woman as assistant pastor. Inspired, halfway through her freshman year at Lycoming, she traded a future in a lab coat for a future in a Geneva gown, or a pulpit robe.
Now her work in faith has brought her home to the South Fork some 35 years after she became an ordained minister. Rev. Maconochie will take the pulpit at Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ (First Presbyterian Church) for her first Sunday worship service on Sunday, April 7, at 11 a.m., a new worship time for the church, which will celebrate the 175thanniversary of its historic building this May.
Rev. Maconochie, who received a B.A. in religion from Lycoming before attending Princeton Theological Seminary, from where she graduated with a Master of Divinity degree, will split her time at the pulpit between the Old Whalers’ Church and the Springs Presbyterian Church. Community building is one of her top priorities.
“I see a church as community and a group of people that care about each other,” she said in an interview from her office in Sag Harbor last week. “And the church also cares about the community. We need to get outside the walls of the church to see what the needs are in the community and meet them somehow. I think one of the good things about the Presbyterian Church, in particular, is that it is pretty open to a variety of viewpoints and stances on social issues.”
“You don’t need to have all the answers and we don’t claim to have all the answers,” added Rev. Maconochie. “We want people to come and explore and see what fits and how it fits into what you already believe and what you already know.”
As an ordained minister, Rev. Maconochie has served churches in Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and New York, helping congregations of small churches grow in their communities and find their missions. She has also served on a nationwide task force to help churches redevelop in an increasingly secular society.
In Sag Harbor, focusing on increasing the number of families in the congregation is another focus, as is finding ways the church can help address the needs of children. “I want to make worship friendly for children,” said Rev. Maconochie, “which sounds like it can’t happen. But I preach in such a way that kids understand what I am talking about. And I will do a children’s sermon during worship times so that there will be something specifically for them.”
Rev. Maconochie said she has a lot to learn about the needs of both communities she is serving before she understands fully the work that lies ahead. But being a native of Southampton — her mother, Fran, is still a devoted member of the Southampton Presbyterian Church — and someone who has visited the area with her three daughters throughout her adult life, she feels that, in many ways, this is a coming home.
“I think it means a lot to be from here and I think it means that I can already hit the road running because I understand the culture,” she said. “It has changed, but I have seen those changes occur as they are happening. And I am excited to be here in Sag Harbor.”
The Sag Harbor Old Whalers’ First Presbyterian Church, 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor, will welcome its new pastor to work on April 1. Rev. Maconochie will give her first sermon on Sunday, April 7, at 11 a.m.