Contributed by Lydia Goerner
OSWEGO, NY – Kit Swartz has been the pastor of the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church for so long that he said it is a radically different congregation than when the church began.
“It’s changed so many times in 35 years,” Swartz said. “I often tell people I’ve pastored six or seven different congregations in the same place; it’s just changed so much.”
The Oswego RP Church began meeting in the Oswego Town Hall in late 1970s.
Later, the church moved to the YMCA; then, to the Dante Alighieri Lodge, to the American Legion and to the First Methodist Church.
Finally, the church building at 154 City Line Road was purchased.
The congregation has been meeting there for nearly 15 years.
Andrew Curran began attending the church in 1990 after moving to Oswego for a job.
He learned about the RP Church through a friend and said he enjoyed the preaching and doctrine he found there.
“Kit is a very good pastor-teacher, so he answered innumerable questions of mine,” Curran said.
Curran now serves as a deacon in the church.
“Deacons meet the pressing needs of people, primarily within the congregation, but also without and also in the community,” Curran said. “We’re also responsible for the physical building itself and its maintenance, upkeep and repairs. We also do some spiritual counseling on budgeting, how to handle money, understanding the tithe and things related to finances.”
Though some members of the church, like Curran, have attended for decades, the church also draws new members.
Brooke Demott has attended for a little over a year with her family after leaving her charismatic church.
“We started listening to a lecture series by John MacArthur,” Demott said. “It was called ‘Strange Fire’ and it was on reformed theology versus the charismatic movement. We were feeling disjointed from our charismatic church because of our changing doctrines.”
Demott said the RP Church was different than what she was used to.
“It’s a lot smaller, a lot quieter, less children,” Demott said. “But also, our first impression was that it’s much more reverent to the Lord and that the relationships here seemed to be more rooted in genuine fellowship, so it was more appealing for all the reasons that were really important to us.”
Demott has since become involved with many of the programs the church has to offer.
The church holds morning and evening worship on Sundays, monthly dinners, a women’s Bible study, a weekend book study, choir practice, an “All Family Night” and various conferences and retreats.
“I think that it offers a significant amount of things to do,” Demott said. “They’re not as flashy as some of the other contemporary churches, but they certainly are much more beneficial to growing in your faith and forging relationships with each other.”
Curran said the church tries to reach out to the community as well as its own members.
The church has become involved with local politics, the Salvation Army and the Oswego Pregnancy Care Center.
“We try to be obedient to scripture in reaching out to the community,” Curran said. “It’s sort of difficult in the sense that there’s always needs. The needs far exceed the resources.”
Swartz said it was difficult to fit into the Oswego community when the church first started.
“Oswego is very much the culture of a small town,” Swartz said. “The people here have a network and it’s hard to break into that.”
It took several years for the church to feel it had integrated into the city.
“We knew we were accepted into the community when the lawyer across the street sent us a Christmas card about three or four years after we moved in,” Swartz said.
Although the church advertises and holds events to reach out to the community, Swartz said those have not been very fruitful.
“The thing, by far, that is most effective in connecting and reaching out to the community is personal relationships,” Swartz said.
Gary Dahar is one church member who has benefited from those personal relationships.
Dahar found the RP Church in 1993.
“I think it’s friendly and I think the people are genuine,” Dahar said. “They’re enjoyable to talk to and they eat a lot. We eat a lot here.”
Dahar attends All Family Night every Wednesday evening for a Bible study and a meal.
“I like seeing some of the guys in the middle of the week so we can talk about what we’re working on,” Dahar said.
Although the food and warm hospitality are draws to the church, Dahar said there is a bigger reason that he attends faithfully.
“I go to church here because this is where the Lord wants me to go,” Dahar said. “My motto is, you go to the church the Lord wants you in and you play by the rules of that church.”
According to the church’s website, they believe in the inerrancy of scripture and the value of systematic theology.
The church accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith as its creed.
“The reading and exposition of the Word of God are the central focus of our worship,” the website reads. “Our musical praise employs God’s Word only, thus making use of the divinely inspired Book of Psalms of the Bible. In keeping with the New Testament Church’s directive for heart worship, we sing without the aid of musical instruments.”
The church sees roughly 50 to 70 attendees on a typical Sunday.
Demott said the relationships she has formed in the group are genuine.
“There seems to be more of an atmosphere of honesty,” Demott said. “[There is] an ability to be transparent about what you think and how you feel and what you want to say and nobody seems to take it personally, so relationships can sustain any conversation.”
Allison Standish, now 12 years old, has attended the church with her family since she was a baby.
Standish said she enjoys friendships in the church with children her own age.
She also attends All Family Night for the program specifically for her age group.
“There’s a class for little kids; they listen to catechism songs,” Standish said. “For the older ones, ages 8 to 13, they do a catechism thing where we have to read a bunch of things about the catechism and memorize the catechism.”
After almost 35 years as a pastor, Swartz still faces challenges in his ministry in Oswego.
“There just is no interest in spiritual things generally and in the gospel in particular,” Swartz said. “People generally are not hostile to the gospel; they’re not hostile to the church; they’re just profoundly disinterested.”
Swartz said he does not compromise his beliefs for the sake of increasing the church’s attendance.
“The temptation is to offer something else, to offer something that people are interested in…a lot of churches just become entertainment,” Swartz said. “People are willing to come for entertainment.”
Demott said she appreciates Swartz’s devotion.
“The pastor here is really, really committed to the people in the congregation and to studying the word,” Demott said. “It really is a resource in Oswego that I think a lot of people don’t realize would be very beneficial to increasing their faith.”
Swartz said he hopes to serve as a pastor to the Oswego RP Church until he is at least 70 years old.
“It’s been a real privilege to serve in this congregation,” Swartz said. “The Lord has brought in wonderful people who love the Lord and love one another and really take care of each other.”
Lydia Goerner is a journalism student at SUNY Oswego. She wrote this article for her Advanced Newswriting and Reporting class.