June 30, 2021 By Christian Murray
The leader of the Sunnyside Reformed Church Rev. Neil Margetson held his last service Sunday and officially retired today.
Margetson, who was appointed the church minister 12 years ago, has stepped down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Margetson said, reflecting on his time at the historic church located at 48-03 Skillman Ave. “My overwhelming thought is of gratitude. It has been a privilege to serve such great people.”
Margetson, who lives in Harlem with his wife Gretchen, said that he looks forward to doing some fishing, fixing up his apartment, painting and going up to Martha’s Vineyard.
“My accountant tells me I don’t have to work and that I’m good until I’m 90,” he said. “I don’t know whether God will give me that much time but we’ll see.”
Margetson leaves the church at a time when it has undergone a great deal of change.
“When I got here it was a very traditional church with a population of mostly Irish and Italian people who had been in Sunnyside and Queens a long time,” Margetson said. “The church reflected that sensibility and it was socially conservative.”
Margetson said that many members at that time did not embrace the LGBTQ community or undocumented immigrants. He said that those attitudes have changed.
“We have gone from a socially conservative church to a progressive church,” he said, noting that the attendees today are from a variety of different backgrounds. “Gay people were initially less comfortable—while now openly gay members come in with kids.”
The concept of church has also changed over the past 12 years, Margetson said.
“People used to go to church out of habit. Now they only go when they want to—so it has to be more appealing.”
Margetson said that his goal when he took over the church was for it to become part of the Sunnyside community.
He said that the church during his tenure organized free jazz concerts and films; held events like its free annual Thanksgiving Dinner; distributed food and clothing; and has been active in the arts community.
“It has helped bring in new members,” he said. “But someone does not become a member just because they have gone to a concert.”
Margetson drew on his own arts background in holding the events.
He grew up learning the guitar in a household where his parents were both artists and academics. He was raised in Harlem by a Jewish mother and a father whose family was from the West Indies.
Margetson never grew up with religion and found God later in life.
He discovered God after he was struggling with alcohol when he was in his early 40s.
“I was involved in a 12-step in 1991 and one day I was reading the bible and I heard a voice,” Margetson said. “I had never been to church—well maybe once or twice—in my life up until that point.”
He enrolled in divinity school while he was working as a data analyst at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He had worked in the research field for most of his career after graduating from Columbia University with a degree in anthropology and research methods.
It took him about a decade to complete divinity school and soon after he began looking for a full time job as a pastor.
He got a big break when he met a former reverend of the Sunnyside church. She referred him for the position and he got the job. He was 58 at the time.
Margetson said the church has not named a successor. However, he said that there will be many vying for the position.
“This church would be an awesome platform—particularly for a young minister. It is a stable church in a growing neighborhood with a lot of diversity. A great spot for anyone to find themselves in.”
A party was held in Margetson’s honor at the church on June 20 and he was awarded a plaque for his service.
Margetson said his final service on Sunday was well attended and heartfelt—and believes he is starting a new chapter in his life on a good note.
He said he performed his final number at the church during the service—the Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road.”