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The Rotary Club of White Plains is Club 5043, District 7230, Zone 32, Region USCB, Federal tax ID 13-6111471.

Mailing address: P.O. Box 1712, White Plains NY 10602.

Our "Foundation of the Rotary Club of White Plains" is tax exempt, New York State #219346, tax ID 13-6165380.

Website created August 2001.

The Rotary Club of White Plains was chartered October 1, 1919, charter number 540.

Gawain deLeeuw:
Local Priest Seeks to Be an Agent of Change

Goals Include Fostering "Soft" Relationships

Published: June 26, 2008 in The White Plains Times

By Michael Pellegrino

He can be seen around town riding his motorcycle, or enjoying a beverage at the Lazy Boy Saloon. At age 39, he’s young as far as religious leaders go, he’s a triathlete, and he’s way into the slow food movement. It might be easy to pigeonhole him as the “cool priest in town,” but the Rev. Gawain de Leeuw, rector at St. Bartholomew’s Church, is much more. In a recent interview, he came across as a free thinker but not a free speaker; he weighs his words carefully and delivers them deliberately and without apology or obfuscation. Father Gawain, as many people know him, was born and raised in Rochester. He has been in White Plains for 10 years and at St. Bartholomew’s for seven years (he was previously curate at Grace Church). Before coming to White Plains, he served in churches in Seattle and in Korea. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Oberlin College, cum laude, and his Master in Divinity degree from the University of Chicago. He received his Anglican Studies certificate from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church.

The War and Religious Institutions

Father Gawain is active with the White Plains Religious Leaders, an interfaith group of the city’s spiritual leaders formed last year in part to weigh in on the city’s and county’s treatment of the city’s population of homeless people who were unable or unwilling to comply with county requirements for participation in Department of Social Services programs. Father Gawain said he looks forward to participating in future discussions of mutual concern, which range from the environment to homelessness, reconciliation between faiths and international politics. “We’ll talk about absolutely anything,” he said.

The group’s April meeting included discussion of responses to the war in Iraq, Father Gawain said. “The reason why there has been little popular protest is because there isn’t a draft and the cost of the war isn’t equally shared by the citizens, although we all will be paying for it,” he said.

Father Gawain has obviously put thought into his role and the weight his words carry to various audiences. Making a point to say that the group of religious leaders wants to be effective and that part of their mission is to come up with ways to achieve that goal, he added that members of the clergy don’t have the same “cultural cache” they used to, since in general they are no longer the most educated members of the community. As a clergyman, he added, he is not considered “an expert on international relations,” but he can still use “the tools in my faith and tradition that allow me to speak about war and poverty.” His role is “relational” as opposed to authoritarian, he said. “People listen to what I say because I have a relationship with them. They may disagree with me on the war in Iraq,” he added, but his words still hold weight. Views on the war are not black and white, for and against, but more nuanced, Father Gawain said. “People are confused about the war and angry about how it’s been conducted.”

When it comes to affecting war policy or changing hearts and minds, Father Gawain said houses of worship have a limited but important role to play in creating relationships. “Almost every mainline denomination and the Catholic Church came out against invading Iraq, but it didn’t seem to have much impact,” he said. “I believe the most effective thing churches can do is build relationships. Those relationships in themselves create their own authority.”

Sharing Assets

St. Bartholomew’s runs a youth program that Father Gawain said is “deliberately small” and focused on ensuring kids finish their homework “so they can go home without any anxiety.” Father Gawain said that evidence shows, and he believes, that children who don’t have time to play with each other actually have more challenges paying attention and being social with their peers, “so we want to provide a place where kids can do their homework and also have a safe place to play without being burdened by the expectations that have been imposed upon them.”

Father Gawain said he sees his church (at 82 Prospect St.) and all churches as “fundamentally voluntary and cooperative institutions.” He added that “one of our primary strengths is our physical plant, which we want to share with people in the community. We’re able to provide organizations a place for their events at less than half the cost of other institutions, because we want to support the community; that’s our job.”

Father Gawain also sees establishing “soft connections” as integral to his role and that of his church. Such connections, as described by Father Gawain, are acquaintances in the community as opposed to close friends. The health of a community depends deeply on soft connections, he said, just as it depends on close friendships and family relationships. “The church is an organization that’s not the government and not business that provides a venue for people to build these ‘soft’ relationships.”

Community-Based Agriculture

St. Bartholomew’s Community Supported Agriculture Cooperative is just one example of the church’s going beyond its own building and its own parishioners to effect change. “I believe that the practice of my faith revolves around shared meals, fellowship and hospitality,” Father Gawain said. “One aspect of God’s promise is the land’s abundance.” The cooperative has participants from Irvington, New Rochelle, Greenwich and beyond. To live ecologically, he said, is “a consequence of good stewardship.” The cooperative provides shares to participants who in turn get to buy directly from organic farmers; the produce is brought to the church the day after it is picked (for more information, visit http://stbartswp.dioceseny.org/node/165).

Father Gawain is interested in the slow food movement, saying we need to take more time to build relationships and to eat together.

“We live in a culture that’s too fast and too convenient,” he said, “and it’s destroying us.”


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