Farewell But Not Goodbye; Pastor Dennis Doerr Retiring

Pastor Dennis Doerr stands by the timeline he created for friends to mark significant events important to them since his arrival to the First Presbyterian Church 27 years ago. Doerr retires at the end of the year.

By Margo Frink

(Chittenango, NY – Nov. 2012) Dennis Doerr, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Chittenango says farewell to his congregation at the end of this year. Retiring from the church, but not the community, Doerr says he plans to remain in Chittenango where his friends are.

A reception will be held at the church Dec. 30 from 2 to 5 p.m. for friends to come and wish him well as he begins the next chapter of his life.

Doerr plans to devote more time to his wife who has had some health issues, and possibly work on his golf game.

“I’ve enjoyed serving here,” Doerr said. “But I’m looking forward to retiring and spending time with my wife.”

A lot has happened at First Presbyterian and the community since Doerr arrived in 1985 from the Boston area. And recently he has been reminiscing with his friends and the congregation, recalling special events. He says he’s been here so long that a child he baptized, he married and then baptized their first born child.

“There have been good times and sad times,” Doerr said.

One of the changes implemented on Doerr’s watch was holding two Sunday services. The first service at 8:55 a.m. is more traditional. The second service added, which celebrated 20 years this year, begins at 11:05 a.m. and is more contemporary and includes popular music. Doerr said the church worked at growing together while holding two services and still remaining one congregation.

Another major emphasis that the church started in 1998 was the development of small groups of ministries including a weekly Bible study group.

“It gives people the opportunity to talk and share together. The groups are close knit, about 60 people involved. If someone is sick they all rally around them for support,” Doerr said.

Doerr also had a strong interest in developing a mission program. So, in 1999 he did. About 10 percent of collections are given to mission groups such as food cupboards, the local preschool and the association of churches in the Chittenango area, in Syracuse to the Rescue Mission and internationally to groups in Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and South America.

This included mission trips and taking people from the congregation with him. He’s traveled to Ghana, the Philippines, Germany and Mississippi to help with rebuilding after hurricane Katrina hit.

A story that got a lot of attention was about the man he met in Mississippi whose home was washed away during Katrina. He spent a night in a tree during the storm. Then walked a couple of miles to a WalMart and slept in the parking lot. He eventually lived in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer but he had no help cleaning up his property.

Doerr and a group from the church spent a couple of days with him. During the man’s ordeal, he met a woman and they wanted to get married. So, money was raised for a wedding, complete with a Niagara Falls honeymoon. The couple and some family members were flown to Chittenango where Doerr married them, followed by a reception. Everything was donated. The couple ended up in a mobile home but he passed away shortly after.

The mission group also helps seniors in the Chittenango community by going into their homes, raking leaves or whatever they need done.

“We have a real commitment to help the community,” Doerr said. “It’s part of the fiber of this congregation.”

Doerr grew up in Washington State and traveled east when he went to Seminary in the Boston area. He met his wife, Linda, who was from Connecticut. The two have been married 37-and-a-half years, raising two children; Nathan, who is 32 and teaches in Cleveland and Kendra, who is 26 and teaches fourth grade in Virginia.

He was an associate pastor for 10 years at a Presbyterian Church in Newton, Mass. before making his way to Chittenango.

Once he arrived, he discovered all the other churches in the area had fairly new pastors. He said he met with them all and got to know them. His objective was to do what he could to serve the community as representative of the church. He attended monthly clergy gatherings where they encouraged and promoted ecumenical joint ministry. He became involved in the association of churches, the Rotary Club and was involved in Dollars for Scholars.

With a small grant from the state, Doerr and a small group of people started the Chittenango Child Care Center, which he said “has expanded and grown.”

“We made a difference in a lot of lives,” Doerr said.

Another project he chaired was the Habitat for Humanity home on Dyke Road. He said people came from all over and rallied to work on the home and complete it.

Doerr said he has become the “community” pastor for weddings and funerals, performing services for people who have no church affiliation.

“People just drive by and say, oh, what a pretty church, let’s get married there,” Doerr said. He said he performs around 10 “community” weddings a year and about 20 funerals, reaching out to people in crisis. He said he hopes to continue doing this for people after he retires.

“People say I do a good wedding and a good funeral,” he said.

On a more personal level, Doerr plain likes the community and said he is glad to stay in the area, where his friends are. He said he enjoyed the education his children received here and likes that the town is small but near Syracuse. He took up golf at the age of 50 and roots for Syracuse sports, the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.

An interim pastor is currently being sought. They will serve for about a year, year-and-a-half and help with the transition of the new church pastor.

For his retirement, Doerr asks his congregation that in lieu of gifts, he would like each of them to give him a simple stone with their name written on it. He jokingly called it, “stone the pastor.”

“They can paint it or decorate it,” he said. “It’s a memorial stone, symbolic because this is a stone church.”

He’s also created a timeline and invites people to write significant events on it that have become important to them since he’s been with the church.

Doerr reflected on his retiring by saying, “if there were no tears, there would be no love.”

Margo Frink is vice president of M3P Media LLC and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at Margo@m3pmedia.com or 315-481-8732.


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