Sunday, Aug. 25, was a special day for the congregation of the Owasco Reformed Church. The congregation was called to worship on that sunny summer day to celebrate the commissioning of their new pastor: The Rev. Timothy Brinkerhoff. This service was the culmination of an extended invitation for ministry, several months of planning and the continuation of a story in the ORC history.
If his last name, Brinkerhoff, sounds familiar to you, it should. Roeliff Brinkerhoff was the leader of the 1793 pioneer wagon train of 10 families to Owasco. They journeyed to New York from a Pennsylvania settlement called Conewago. This was located near Gettysburg.
In 1793, the four Brinkerhoff brothers — Jacob, Roeliff, Lucas and George R. — purchased land around the east side of Owasco Lake. It was mainly located at the mouth of Dutch Hollow Brook and up Rockefeller Road. On the other side of Dutch Hollow Brook, there is a historical sign marking the site of the Owasco Reformed Log Meeting House. Jacob Brinkerhoff donated his land in 1798 for this first pioneer church and it was reputed to be the first church west of Utica.
But it is the Brinkerhoff brother, the Rev. George R., in which history completes itself. He was the second minister of the Conewago Dutch Reformed Church. Upon reaching the shores of Owasco, he continued to preach God’s word as the second pastor at the log meetinghouse, following the first pastorate of Abraham Brokaw. When the 25-by-30-foot log church became too small for the swelling membership of the families, two new church buildings began: one at Sand Beach and one in the hamlet of Owasco. It was the Rev. George Brinkerhoff who wrote, in 1815, the words of the dedication hymn for the new expansive ORC church in the hamlet.
Now, keep that history fact, but fast-forward to Aug. 25, 2019. It’s 204 years later at the ORC, and the congregation is gathered for another special dedication worship service. And there’s another Rev. Brinkerhoff behind the pulpit. The church has gathered to commission the Rev. Timothy J. Brinkerhoff, fifth great-grandson of the Rev. George Brinkerhoff.
A rare gift was in store for the Rev. Brinkerhoff. The praise song leaders, Amalia Richards and Barbara Dart, reintroduced the words of that original dedication hymn. The nine stanzas were projected on the plaster wall that was raised in those early years. Barbara explained this old song was written to the tune of the “Old Hundredth,” known today as the doxology. As the music played, the whole congregation sang that historic hymn once again, filling the church with praise and thankfulness.
The words of the fifth stanza were especially meaningful:
Oh, grant to us a Shepherd, Lord,
Who here may oft unfold thy Word;
Declare to mortal man thy laws,
You have free articles remaining.
and vindicate thy righteous cause.
The little children in the nursery were invited back in the sanctuary to witness the commission ceremony with their parents. Elder Kevin La Grow read the charge to the new minister and invited the greater consistory to come forward to participate in the symbolic traditional “laying on of hands." Soon, the pulpit area was full of people, as men and women, past and present consistories, came forward to lay hands on the Rev. Brinkerhoff. He is the 33rd pastor of the ORC. Their outstretched arms, hands and hearts reached out, connected through faith, as they blessed and prayed for the ministry of our new minister. It was a powerful, emotional moment.
Last July, an email message came to my computer and historian's desk at the Owasco Town Hall. Tim introduced himself to me and stated he was coming to our town to “research his heritage,” and could I help? Would I? I was ecstatic! When I met him and I looked up, I was reminded of the male Brinkerhoff description of being “large, broad-shouldered men of great faith.” The Rev. Tim Brinkerhoff truly meets this description.
My daughter and I spent three days with him. During those days, he marveled at the hills, the beauty of the Finger Lakes, the farmers working their fields, the prominence of the church on those quiet four corners in the hamlet, and his great-grandfather’s signatures throughout the church’s many records. We trekked through farm fields and around gullies to several cemeteries where his relatives are buried, including his great-grandfather’s grave site in a little settler’s cemetery. Many pioneer graves are there with George. While helping me climb up the banks, he told me he was “a teacher at a Christian school in New Jersey” when I asked. I did not know he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, teaching the youth. As he extended his stay for the Sunday morning service, I introduced him to the Brokaws, Cuykendalls, Dewitts, Beviers and other pioneer descendants, all those old names still worshiping in the ORC. When the Rev. Brinkerhoff joined us in the singing of the hymns, his powerful baritone voice bounced off the ceiling dome, reminding us of that old forgotten dedication hymn found in the church records.
Sometime during those three days, he fell in love with our area, our history and our church, in that order. Two weeks later, he was back with his wife, Lori. The church was looking for a pastor — a right fit for our rural congregation. We needed someone of strong faith, someone who would continue teaching the timeless truths embraced by our ancestors, and most especially, someone who saw and appreciated our little four corners and the community within. The Brinkerhoffs worshiped with us on a Sunday, and then left for home in New Jersey. After some decision-making, the Rev. Brinkerhoff submitted his resume and interviewed with the church. Some months later, he preached in the ORC, and on that day, the congregation voted unanimously in favor of inviting him to be our minister.
When the first wagon train came, the journey was arduous. They experienced difficult travel. It was the same for the Rev. Tim. They moved part of their furniture here in March during a blizzard. The call went out to the community, and the young and old showed up to help. Men, women and teens worked in blinding snow to carry in their belongings. It was then we learned what a versatile and talented person he is as a master woodworker. Men carried in the four-post tiger maple canopy bed he had made and were concerned when the turned posts nearly touched the 8-foot upstairs ceiling. In the dining room, six windsor chairs, complete with massive shaker green breakfronts, were crafted by him in his woodworking shop back home in New Jersey. During his second truckload, the area experienced high winds, 60-70 miles per hour. He learned to listen to the locals when it was advised that he wait for calmer weather.
The Rev. Brinkerhoff, also known as Pastor Tim, continued to endear himself to the children of our community when he made them a rocket ship for their vacation Bible school in August. Being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space flight, the theme of the week of Bible school was outer space. He went online to eBay and purchased an astronaut’s jumpsuit and space helmet. He had his picture taken with each child next to the rocket ship, and wrote a personal message to each one for a 2019 keepsake.
With this column is a picture of Tim and Lori Brinkerhoff with some of his woodworking pieces. He saw the actual 1763 Brinkerhoff cradle in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and copied it in 2018 to its exact measurements, using over 2,000 brass tacks to accomplish the task. The long muzzle loader rifle is complete with a tiger maple ram rod and detailed metal engraving that won him a blue ribbon at a competition in 2012. The Brinkerhoff coat of arms, carved out of poplar wood, is a work in progress. Although the carving is done, he is in the midst of researching the right colors to complete the family crest.
In my column last month, I wrote that “the heart goes home.” Welcome home, the Rev. Timothy J. Brinkerhoff.