Celebrating Judson’s Rev. Donna Schaper’s retirement

At the Farewell, Donna Celebration! service at Judson, her final presence as senior pastor at JMC.
(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Judson Memorial Church celebrated Donna Schaper as senior pastor, this past weekend with two days of remembrances and acknowledgments.  After 15 years at Judson, Rev. Schaper is retiring.

On Saturday, Judson members held an outdoor Thompson Street party, with masks and on Sunday, Rev. Schaper attended to her last Sunday service as senior pastor, followed by  two hours of tributes. For the first time since the March 2020 New York Pause, congregants were in person inside Judson’s renowned sanctuary. 

Local electeds spoke; State Senator Brad Hoylman and Boro President  Gale Brewer provided Proclamations. Statements sent via video from Rev. Shernell Stilley of the United Church of Christ and Rev. Cheryl Dudley of American Baptist Churches underscored Rev. Schaper’s contributions.  Former Minister at Judson Rev. Michael Ellick  (2007-2014) and current Minister Rev. Micah Bucey also sent video messages. The recorded service and event are viewable on YouTube. 

For Suzanne Dickerson, Village resident and 35-year congregant, Rev. Schaper’s immigration advocacy resonated with her particularly the efforts to bring back her friend Jean Montrevil after he was deported.

Dickerson points out, “Donna is completely dedicated to Judson’s three missions—faith, social justice and art.  She’s very spiritual, and she has a great sense of humor.” 

On a personal note, Dickerson loved having a minister with whom she completely related— a woman about her age with a family.  Donna was a confidant and a source of comfort to her when Dickerson experienced family losses. 

Keen Berger tells that, “I was on the search committee that chose Donna, hoping she would lead in a progressive way. And she did. She is a radical leader.” 

A decades-long Judson member, responding to Ronald Regan’s election, Berger joined Judson to connect with like-minded progressive people. 

Among the many things instituted under Donna’s tenure, Donna fertilized the ground from which the New Sanctuary Coalition formed and grew; as opposed to sick calls to congregants, Donna instituted wellness calls to get to know church members and ask what were their concerns.  And Donna was dedicated to having the church be more inclusive including sexual orientation, people of color, and reaching people with whom one don’t always agree.  Living by example, Donna’s husband,   history professor Warren Goldstein is Jewish.

Donna also instituted the Community Ministry program from which over 100, mostly seminarians, have participated. 

Rev. Schaper final service included the UCC ritual for ending an authorized ministry. 

This ritual epitomizes how the church needs to look to the future. “We should not hang on to her and she should not hang on to us. It’s a hard stop,” says Berger, explaining how this leaves the path open, fresh, for the next person. “We are about to start he search process.”  

A transition minister will join during the interim until the new one begins in one year. 

As a parting gift “for Donna, from Donna, for Judson, from Judson,” the church began in her name, an Open Access & Innovation Fund and has so far, received $45, 150.

Donna received a few person gifts and then even her husband Warren was bestowed a gift, a chef’s hat for his cooking and contributions to the church community.

“Over the last 15 years, I’ve had a ringside seat to the pastor to a lifetime,” Warren said as he revealed how her stint at Judson is more than double of any of the previous six assignments in her 39-year pastoral career. 

Warren reflected on how Donna recognized the great challenge of the job in such a big city where the need was so great and the congregation was extraordinary.  

And speaking to the congregation, he commended their commitment to their immigration advocacy as well as helping flip the New York State Senate. “Somehow you held the space during the Trump years,” he observed, reminding congregants how Trump’s following continues its campaigns and “You still have work to do.”  

Repeating once more how great the 15-year run was, Warren said, “The show will go on and we’ll be in the audience cheering you on.”   

Rev. Dr. Valerie Holly, Judson’s Associate Minister, ended the program with a benediction and Judson moves into a new phase. 

A limited number and socially-distanced seating arrangement for the first time in Judson’s sanctuary for the service and tributes to retiring senior pastor Donna Schaper.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
The final benediction, which ends the afternoon of tributes.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
A moment of reflection from Donna who has led this congregation with much passion and direction for 15 years.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
An afternoon of standing ovations for a beloved senior pastor.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Donna and Warren, to celebrate their 39 anniversary in a few weeks.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Warren receives a chef’s hat as a gift.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Donna receives a poster of graphics reflecting images from the church.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
A personal gift from the church to Donna.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Applause of great affection from congregants.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)
Keen Berger, moderator, joined Judson 40 years ago and was on the search committee when Donna was chosen.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

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