A pastor leaves his mark

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 8:45am
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After arriving on Block Island in 2009 as the new pastor at Harbor Church, Steve Hollaway and his wife Becca are retiring and moving to Baltimore, Maryland. The Hollaways have been active in the community on many fronts, and we asked some of the people who know him best to share their thoughts about their time on the island:

Kay Lewis:

In the 35 years that I have known Block Island, one thing has remained the same: The Harbor Church has been at the heart of the community 12 months of every year. Over many decades, some community needs continue while new ones arise, and the energy needed to address them can wax or wane. Energies had waned a bit when Steve and Becca Hollaway arrived on our shores. They quickly became catalysts to expand and enliven the ways that Harbor Church serves Block Island. 

Who would have imagined years ago that we would someday have hundreds of international student workers needing an embrace from the community? Steve has worked with others to find an outreach that works. The challenges of mental health and addiction have always been with us, but we’ve seen a number of innovative responses recently that Steve has helped to spark. It is great to see multiple organizations like the Medical Center, the Library, and Ecumenical Ministries working together on these challenges. The Friday night alcohol-free coffee house has given a boost to the arts and provides a needed lift to our social life, especially on dreary winter weekends. And what a boon to have Boy Scouts and Vacation Bible School back on the island! 

It takes many people to forge the special community that exists on Block Island. During their years with us, Steve and Becca have been key to fostering and maintaining the ties that bind us as neighbors and friends. We thank them for their love and support to our church and our town. We wish them well on their new journey and know they will be missed! 

Bill Penn:

Steve Hollaway has been the beacon who organized and managed the International Student Center at the Harbor Church for the past four years. He and other concerned residents recognized the need to welcome and support the international students living and working in our community. The Center has been a safe harbor for the students to gather, interact and communicate with families back home through the internet. It has also provided support counseling about life on Block Island and in our country.

Steve originated the Tuesday and Friday night dinners offered by the Center to the students. In fact, he has worked tirelessly preparing and serving the dinners. There have been many nights when he has been seen flipping burgers and dogs on the grill. 

His contribution to the success of the Center will be greatly missed. The Harbor Church has committed to continue the operation of the Center as he and Becca move into retirement. 

Susan Matheke and Willie Feuer:

The Tango Invaders of Narragansett and Block Island wish to send a tremendous thank you to Rev. Steve Holloway for his open church and everyone is welcome policy. Yes! Harbor Baptist Church welcomed the “close embrace” of Argentine tango dancers, and the tango dancers filled the Fellowship Hall with joy and donations. May your hearts keep dancing, Steve and Becca!


Tony Pappas:

Rev. Steve Hollaway’s legacy will be with us for a long time. He launched the Common Ground Coffee House where folks could have fun and enjoy themselves in an alcohol-free environment. He helped to found the Block Island chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, a much-needed resource as we seek to give each person dignity and understanding. And he was central to the forming of the International Student Center which has given hundreds of our summer workers a home away from home, as well as helping them understand better our country and the justice we stand for. We wish Steve and Becca a very happy retirement as they move on to the next chapter of their lives. 

Pat and Beth Gaffett Tengwall:

We have known Steve and Becca Hollaway from the first day they moved to the island — we met them at the boat and helped them unpack their moving boxes. We count them among our closest friends on Block Island.

Steve's preaching is thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating, encouraging the hearers (and readers) of his sermons to think about familiar Bible passages in new ways and introducing us to less-familiar passages and viewpoints. More than that, he has been an activist. He cares about the condition of our community, not just the condition of our souls, and he has taken action to address the things he cares about.

Not that those actions have always been the result of careful planning. Steve described his approach to ministry in a recent sermon: “I have come to believe in serendipity. If you just keep your eyes open to occasions when God makes you aware of a need, God can develop ministries that seem on the surface to be a stroke of luck. Every significant ministry in my forty years had its origin not in a human plan, but in an 'aha' moment when I practically tripped over an opportunity.”

We joined Steve in starting and supporting the major “serendipitous” ministries he initiated, all of them to benefit the island beyond the church walls: the Mental Health Task Force that became NAMI Block Island, advocating for and facilitating improved mental health services; the weekly coffeehouse, offering music and movies in an alcohol-free setting year-round; and the International Student Center, providing hospitality to the foreign workers the island's summer economy relies on.

Careful planning has its place, too. Steve worked with the congregation and its Board of Trustees to dream about and find a productive use for the long-vacant third floor of the church building as affordable rental apartments for year-round residents.

Preachers come and go, and so do the rest of us. Steve is leaving to us who remain at least two tasks. First, he would urge us to sustain what is good and lasting in his legacy. Second, he would encourage us to respond with compassion and fresh thinking to the challenges and opportunities that we will trip over in years to come.

We thank Steve and Becca for their friendship, a bond we trust will continue at a distance. We will miss them being here, sharing our joys and crying on one another's shoulders.

Penny Young:

I want to share my appreciation for the ministry of Steve Hollaway. I began attending Harbor Church just prior to his call to lead the church. I was in a very different place then. It’s difficult to explain the transformation that has occurred in me over the past nine years. I left the Catholic Church seeking a different kind of church experience. This in itself is a monumental transition, made easier by the warm acceptance I found in two churches, Harbor Church and South Church in New Britain, Conn.

Steve’s sermons helped me grow in confidence to embrace ideals such as caring for the marginalized and outcast in society. I recall one specific sermon where he discussed fear as the major obstacle preventing us from taking care of our brothers and sisters. I could relate to that. He assured us that holding on would not serve our goal to be doing what God would want from us. He encouraged us to trust in the message of Jesus Christ. Steve is a champion of the the powerless and downcast. He taught about institutional bias and encouraged us to reach out to the “other” in our world. His lessons and actions have changed me and I am grateful.

Cameron Greenlee:

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” — W.A. Mozart.

I came to know Stephen somewhat later in his time on the island, but it's clear that he leaves behind a lasting legacy of love for Block Island and its people. He is one who truly cares about every single person in his community. 

And he let me play Bob Marley at Sunday service.  

Thank you, Stephen.

Martha Ball:

It seems a lifetime ago, but was only last December I sent to members and friends of Harbor Church a guardedly optimistic report on our pastor, then in a state of post-operative uncertainty:

He has begun physical therapy and Becca says he told their daughter Sarah that he was very tired from three hours of PT to which she had to reply: "Dad, you only had PT for one hour!"

I read that now, knowing he was just starting to recover from emergency brain surgery, and think “only?!” In a way it exemplified Pastor Steve's approach to all things, Full-Steam-Ahead. You all know the rest of the story, he was back among us in a few short months. 

His energy and passion returned, and even as he prepares for retirement, many of us are thinking, “No way he is going to go quietly write poetry!”  

We'll have the requisite tag added to the list of pastors that graces our narthex wall, but Steve Hollaway will leave behind far more than a name on a plaque. When I think of Pastor Steve's largest initiatives, one his “legacy” contributions in particular, I am struck that he folded very current needs into a very old tradition of the First Baptist Church on Block Island. He took outreach, that in another era was embodied in building a summer chapel for visiting tourists, and turned it around, opening our doors to summer workers, students from foreign lands. 

The church received the R.I. Council of Churches award for the program, but it truly belonged to Steve who took an idea floated by a summer intern and turned it into a reality. 

Steve Hollaway wasn't bound by the Harbor Church’s past, worn down by the constant worry of a big, high-maintenance building. He looked to the third floor and floated a few proposals, none of which were deemed workable, but he brought that space back onto our collective radar, the flickering torch was picked up and year-round apartments are being built as I write.

He reminded us who we are supposed to be, but also what we are supposed to do with what we are given: serve others. 

He was especially interested in the hertitage of the American Baptist Church to which he came later in life, after he and Becca came to the sad conclusion they could not be part of the exclusionary policies of the Southern Baptists. He preached the Gospel but he also brought us history, John Clarke as well as Roger Williams, and John Leland who worked so hard to make the establishment clause a part of the Bill of Rights. He leaves us with little details everyone will soon think were always there, such as the annually updated “Our 253rd Year” printed on our Sunday bulletin.  

Personally, the image I will always carry is one of a guy on the edge of the bluff, reveling in the touch of the storm, as Hurricane Irene swept past. “Retirement is just another adventure” is such a cliché, but I have no doubt for Steve and Becca Hollaway it will be exactly that.

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.