‘200 for our 200th’: Hamilton Union Church launches food drive to celebrate its bicentennial

— Photo from Kim Matthews

Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church is launching its bicentennial celebration on Sunday, March 3, with a drive for the Guilderland Food Pantry.

GUILDERLAND — In 2021, soon after Kyle Delhagen became pastor of Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church, he told us a sort of riddle.

“There’s a saying that, if a fish washes up on the shore, one might ask: What’s wrong with the fish?” he said. “If a bunch of fish wash up on the shore, you have to ask: What’s wrong with the water?”

Delhagen went on, “I want to challenge my congregation and our community … to look at how issues of race and gender and economics intersect in creating systems of poverty.”

With poverty, churches and society tend to focus on addressing individual needs, which is important, but, he said, we also need to look at the larger picture and address the issues keeping people in poverty.

“In an age when the gap between wealthy and poor is continuing to widen to the size of a canyon, we really need to address those systems head-on and be willing to ask the hard questions,” he said.

So what is Hamilton Union doing to kick off the celebration of its bicentennial?

The church is launching a food drive this Sunday, March 3, at its 10 a.m.worship service.

John “Mac” McDonnell, who runs the not-for-profit Guilderland Food Pantry, will be on hand and the greater community is invited to participate.

“We asked Mac what the pantry’s 10 highest needs are,” said Kim Matthews, the church’s administrative assistant.

The answer: vegetable oil, regular coffee, juice, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, single-serving cereal, microwave ravioli, microwave mac-and-cheese, tuna or chicken in a pouch, and any canned fruit.

The cereal, ravioli, mac-and-cheese, and tuna or chicken in a pouch are all used in the pantry’s backpack program in which students in the Guilderland schools who qualify for the program bring home a backpack of food each weekend.

The church has dubbed the food drive “200 for our 200th” because its goal is to collect 200 of each of those 10 most-needed items for the Guilderland Food Pantry — 2,000 items in all.

The community at large is encouraged to donate. The historic church, where the Guilderland Food Pantry originated and was housed for years, is located at 2291 Western Ave.

Matthews said she is in the church office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday. “I can pop over if anyone has a large donation,” she said.

She also noted there is a brown bin outside the church labeled “200 for 200” in which donated food items can be placed any time; the bin is checked regularly, she said.

Delhagen told The Enterprise earlier that his congregation has taken up the Presbyterian Church’s Matthew 25 vision. In that chapter of the Bible, Delhagen explained, Jesus “talks about that day of judgment when God is going to separate out the people and put at his right hand those who did God’s will and, at his left hand, those who didn’t.

“And he says, ‘You know who fed me when I was hungry, you clothed me when I was naked, you visited me when I was sick and in prison.’ And the people say, ‘When did we do that, Jesus?’ and he says, ‘Whenever you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.’”

So churches that adopt the Matthew 25 vision seek to dismantle systemic racism and address structural poverty among other things, he said. Hamilton Union focused on hunger, helping the Guilderland Food Pantry and the Regional Food Bank, Delhagen said.

“As we celebrate 200 years of ministry in the community, we are challenging ourselves — with the help of our community — to make a collection that represents our continued commitment to feeding our neighbors in need,” Delhagen said on Friday.

“We are seeking to collect 200 units of ten high priority items for the Food Pantry — 2,000 in all! It is a bold goal, but we know that, together with our friends and neighbors, we can make it happen, and even go beyond!”


Celebration ahead

Matthews, who chairs the church’s 200th anniversary committee, said a celebration will be held on May 19 with a special worship service at 10 a.m. followed by a luncheon to which past clergy and the larger community are invited.

Also on May 19, at 1 p.m., Guilderland’s town historian, Mary Ellen Johnson, will give a talk on the history of the church.

“The history of Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church parallels the history of the Town of Guilderland, in which we are located,” says a church history. “In 1797, there was an active congregation and a church building on our site, and an octagon-shaped building served as a church school … We believe the ‘Union’ in ‘Hamilton Union’ came from the fact that the church was interdenominational in its early years.”

The hamlet was named Hamilton in 1796, in honor of Alexander Hamilton, and by 1813 had 56 houses, stores, and three glass factories, the church history says.

The current Eastlake Stick Style church was built in 1886, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Matthews is not a member of the church — “I’m not even Presbyterian,” she said — but has enjoyed working on the celebration. “I feel like I’m planning a wedding,” she said, noting tasks like finding a caterer, and looking up old clergy members to send invitations to.

“It’s a special place,” Matthews said of Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church. “The community is warm and welcoming; they’re passionate about their mission.”

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