GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Rev. Ken Applegate knows there is no shortage of things to come together on, from the war in Ukraine to recovery from the COVDI-19 pandemic. He believes his congregation at First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls knows it, too. This Sunday, he’s hoping to bring together groups far outstretching his normal purview at the church on Glen Street.

On Sunday, May 15, Applegate will welcome an Islamic imam, two Jewish rabbis, a Catholic priest and a Methodist pastor into First Presbyterian, along with members of their congregations, local leaders, and anyone else who wants to join in on the church’s first-ever interfaith community service of peace. Applegate says there’s never been a better time for such an event.

“We’ll all be coming together to talk about peace and reconciliation across all of our traditions,” said Applegate, who has been with the Glens Falls church for about three years. “We’re recognizing that we all come from the same source – the same God.”

The idea for the interfaith service came from a member of Applegate’s congregation, with the invasion of Ukraine cited as bringing things to a head. The pastor sees that conflict as just one item on a long list of divisions in the world today, also pointing to political divides and anger that can crop up anywhere, including in Glens Falls.

Applegate will be joined by Clifton Park Imam Mohammed Rabie, local Rabbis Joshua Gray and Norman Mendel, Rev. Rich Wiehing and Father Scott VanDerveer. The visitors will give readings on atonement, hear music, reflect on hope and peace and give a Litany of Recommitment to a brighter future. Local city and county leaders will be in attendance as well, with Glens Falls Mayor Bill Collins agreeing to mark May 15 as a city-recognized day of peace to mark the occasion.

The ceremony starts on Sunday with a tree dedication at 2:30 p.m. The tree already sits outside the church, in between two fully-grown ones that were in bloom with pink flowers on a warm Wednesday. The service itself starts at 3 p.m.

glens falls church tree
The young tree to be dedicated at Sunday’s interfaith ceremony at First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls, N.Y. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

Applegate hopes for the service to bring the church community closer. First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls hasn’t had an active clergy group in some time. Meanwhile, past the worldwide issues that have brought the interfaith service into being, the pastor sees struggles local to Glens Falls, too: Housing, homeless, drug and racial issues, to name a few.

“I think that the people of faith need to speak together,” Applegate said. “We have to witness to the community that we believe there’s a better way.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a part as well, having started not long after Applegate came to the church. First Presbyterian was prepared for the reality of having to live stream church services – with many congregation members who spend winter in Florida, the church already offered that service on Facebook. Even so, the pandemic was a high note of the turbulence that has spurred the interfaith gathering forward.

The nearly 100-year-old halls of First Presbyterian are far from the first Applegate has seen. He’s an interim pastor, with under two weeks left at the church before he moves on to a new congregation in Broadalbin – two of 13 where he has served over the decades. Apart from some early ones in New Jersey, all of those congregations have been local.

As his just three years at Glens Falls draw to a close, the interfaith meeting isn’t the only change Applegate will have left when he goes. Under his guidance, the church recently renovated an old meeting room in the church basement, revealing previously concealed windows and raising a once-forebodingly low ceiling. The church also runs preschool services, and those classrooms are getting redone this summer – the first time they’ve been touched in about 70 years. Hallways, and the rest of the building, will get their turn.

“It’s an issue of planting seeds. I’m hoping that we plant some good seeds, and that they grow into something,” Applegate said. “I hope we plant seeds in this congregation – in other congregations, whether Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, wherever – that we plant some good seeds, and that they begin to grow and bear fruit in the community.”

The interfaith community service will begin at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday outside the church – at the corner of Glen and West Notre Dame streets – and continue inside at 3 p.m. The Ukraine crisis that urged the community to act has been felt and recognized in many ways locally. Two Jewish congregations in Glens Falls held a march for Ukraine in March. Meanwhile, Kate Roos – herself a member of the First Presbyterian congregation – has stood outside many days per week downtown, holding a sign calling for peace by Centennial Circle.