Pastor Dave to get ‘Fresh Traditional’ sendoff from Morristown church

presbyterian pastor david smazik
The Rev. David Smazik, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, and his wife Ann, at their introduction to the congregation in January 2011. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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The Rev. David Smazik admits it was a “bit of a culture shock” coming from Illinois a decade ago to become pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown.

“You know, in the midwest, New Jersey doesn’t have a great reputation,” Smazik said with a laugh.

Ann and Dave Smazik bid adieu to the Willsons, at the Smaziks’ drive-through farewell to the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, Aug. 21, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Ah, but the Lord works in mysterious ways. The minister is bidding goodbye to the congregation this weekend, and says he will return to the heartland with happy memories of the Garden State.

He won’t be forgotten here, either, according to members of the congregation and the community who cited his kindness, energy, and his special gift for fostering collaboration.

Panelists discuss gentrification at Juneteenth event in Morristown, June 8, 2019. From left: Moderator Leslie Harris, activist Larry Hamm, historian Betty Livingston Adams, attorney Kisha Pinnock and Pastor David Smazik of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, June 2019. Photo by Hannah Rose Williams

They will give Smazik and his wife Ann a sendoff that is Fresh Traditional — a term trademarked to describe the blend of old and new that the pastor encouraged for a church where Gen. George Washington once took communion.

Traditional well wishes will be delivered in a modern way:  Drive-throughs, to prevent hugs in a pandemic.

The Smaziks will greet friends who motor into the Parish House parking lot at 65 South St. on Friday, Aug. 21, from 1 pm to 3 pm, and on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, from 11 am-1 pm and 3:30 pm-3 pm. (Registration required.)

‘A HEARTBREAK FOR US’

Expect some tears behind the masks and windshields.

“He took a good place and brought it to a whole new level,” longtime choir member Steve Tooley said of “Pastor Dave,” who oversaw a $5 million campaign to renovate the Parish House and the historic Church on the Green.

Board member Carolyn Crosthwaite, Music Director Matt Webb, Pastor David Smazik and Board Member David Darcy at the renovated sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, March 3, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Board member Carolyn Crosthwaite, Music Director Matt Webb, Pastor David Smazik and Board Member David Darcy at the renovated sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, March 3, 2019. Webb says he has cherished Smazik’s ‘exceptional leadership, kindness, and generosity.’ Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Smazik will become interim pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, closer to the Smaziks’ grandchildren.

“I think it’ll be great for them, but it’s a real heartbreak for the rest of us,” said Alexandra Mead, director of Christian education for the Presbyterian Church in Morristown.

“He’s just very genuine. What you see is what you get.”

Morristown & Township Library Director Chad Leinaweaver, left, and Presbyterian Pastor Dave Smazik at Cultural District ‘Theatre of Light’ in Morristown, Dec. 7, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Smazik’s imminent departure has jolted his friends at the Morristown & Township Library, next door to the Parish House.

Library Director Chad Leinaweaver credits Smazik as a driving force behind the Morristown Cultural District, an association of churches and civic institutions that promote the downtown through charity events.

“The whole idea of the Cultural District really came from Dave and his ability to share a smile, make a phone call and connect a group of us that share a street and could certainly collaborate on much more,” Leinaweaver said.

Church member Rick Bye, left, shows details of gym renovation to visitors as Pastor Dave Smazik looks on. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Church member Rick Bye, left, shows details of gym renovation to visitors as Pastor Dave Smazik, center, looks on. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In an era when many mainline churches are struggling, the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, bolstered by a healthy endowment, has held steady.

A pre-school program has introduced young families to the 900-person congregation. For music aficionados, a Jazz Vespers service was created. The renovated 700-seat sanctuary is a first-class performance space. Improvements to the Parish House include rooms for communal events such as the Morristown Festival of Books.

Early on, Smazik grasped the power of video. When the pandemic closed everything in March, he quickly transitioned to online devotional messages and virtual worship services.

He has an “uncanny ability to speak to each individual watching in their own space, through the camera,” said Bruce Frazier, who produces many of the videos.

Viewership exceeds pre-COVID attendance in the sanctuary, Smazik said.

‘PRETTY GOOD MOMENTUM’

“We’ve got some pretty good momentum,” even with the pandemic, Smazik said of the congregation.

The church’s stability, and his upcoming 65th birthday, convinced the Chicago native it’s the right time to move on. The Smaziks look forward to living closer to their son, daughter-in-law and grandkids, near Chicago; and to their daughter and her husband in Milwaukee.

In Morristown, the Rev. Ed Halldorson, for 29 years senior pastor of the Chatham Township Presbyterian Church, will serve as interim minister during the search for Pastor Dave’s successor.

Smazik said he and his wife have enjoyed Morristown’s proximity to New York, Philadelphia and the Shore. Pleasantly, they were surprised by good hiking nearby and, yes, friendly people who care about each other, and about the Morristown area.

He still marvels at the talent within the church.

“That’s what I’m going to miss. You just have people who could step in, in so many different ways, and contribute in the life of the church. You’re just not going to find that in too many other congregations.”

Many bright people sharing opinions, on the other hand, can cause paralysis by analysis.

“Everything is looked at from every angle. Where I saw the challenge when I first came was, how do we now translate this into action?” Smazik said.

Presbyterian Pastor Dave Smazik and his wife Ann at Juneteenth celebration on the Green, June 9, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘THEY WERE A TEAM,’ choir member Steve Tooley said of  Presbyterian Pastor Dave Smazik and his wife Ann, pictured at Juneteenth celebration on the Green, June 9, 2018. Ann was influential in church matters, in a quiet way, said longtime member Jenny Tooley.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I think he encouraged everybody to not be afraid to tackle big projects, not to be afraid to try something a little new,” said Jenny Tooley, a PCM member since 1973.

“Our church is very old. We have lots of traditions. Lots. I mean the favorite phrase was, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ And he’s been respectful of those. But I think he’s helped us to let go of the ones that aren’t serving as well anymore, which has been good,” she said.

“He was really a master at getting the right people on the task,” added Tooley’s husband, Steve. “He really knew exactly who is best qualified to really make things happen the way they should.”

At the same time, Smazik encouraged the church to look outward, as well as inward.

He helped members realize that “Morristown is our community, and that we’re not all just separate churches, separate nonprofits. We all are here together and serving the same community,” Mead said.

The congregation spearheaded an annual Diversity Day celebration on the Green, a square once owned by the church. Joint services were held with the Morristown United Methodist Church and Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Pastors Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel AME Church, left, and David Smazik of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, Martin Luther King Day 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Of all the clergy in Morris County, I would consider him my closest ally and colleague,” Bethel Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. said of Smazik.

They came to Morristown at the same time, Williams as leader of a Black congregation with roots stretching to the 19th century, Smazik as head of a predominantly white church that predates the Revolution.

Both were committed to finding common ground on the Morris Area Interfaith Clergy Council, on issues in the public schools, and on a project honoring the memory of a Presbyterian founder of Bethel, Williams said.

In the wake of Eric Garner’s killing by a New York police officer in 2014, Smazik hosted a Black Lives Matter rally outside the Presbyterian Church on the Green. The Rev. Janet Broderick, then rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, was among the speakers on that blustery December afternoon.

Video: ‘Black Lives Matter’ rally at the Presbyterian Church in 2014:

Presbyterian Pastor Dave Smazik and Episcopalian Rector Janet Broderick, at Family Fun Day in the Morristown Cultural District, May 20, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Presbyterian Pastor Dave Smazik and Episcopalian Rector Janet Broderick, at Family Fun Day in the Morristown Cultural District, May 20, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“He was a faithful, loving and true friend and colleague,” Broderick, who moved last year to a church in Beverly Hills, CA, said of Smazik.

St. Peter’s and the Presbyterian Church also worked together, unsuccessfully, against a lawsuit that struck down Morris County historic preservation grants for houses of worship.

When the Mayo Performing Arts Center needed overflow parking, Smazik made the Parish House lot available.

“We are eternally grateful for his unwavering support of MPAC and our mission,” said  MPAC President Allison Larena, calling Smazik a “true friend.”

Family Fun Day, May 20, 2017. From left: Chris Cannon of Jockey Hollow, Allison Larena of MPAC, Rev. Janet Broderick of St. Peter's, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Rev. Dave Smazik of the Presbyterian Church, and Chad Leinaweaver of the Morristown & Twp. Library. Photo by Anthony Scareon of MPAC.
Family Fun Day, May 20, 2017. From left: Chris Cannon of Jockey Hollow, Allison Larena of MPAC, Rev. Janet Broderick of St. Peter’s, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Rev. Dave Smazik of the Presbyterian Church, and Chad Leinaweaver of the Morristown & Twp. Library. Photo by Anthony Scareon of MPAC.
Pastor David Smazik conducts Blessing of he Animals, at the Morristown Festival on the Green, Sept. 20, 2018. Photo by Bruce Frazier
Pastor David Smazik of the local Presbyterian Church conducts Blessing of he Animals, at the Morristown Festival on the Green, Sept. 20, 2018. Photo by Bruce Frazier

Mead, whose family was comforted by Smazik when her father died, said the pastor set an example that will be his legacy.

“Because he’s so genuine, he was able to bring a lot of people together that hadn’t necessarily been together in the past. He really was able to move things forward because of the person that he is. And I think that comes from his midwestern roots. You know, there’s no guile, there’s nothing false,” she said.

As he heads for Indianapolis, Pastor Dave need not worry about Morristown.

“He’s leaving it definitely better than he found it, as far as I’m concerned,” Mead said.

Ann and Dave Smazik at their drive-through farewell to the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, Aug. 21, 2020. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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