Last Tuesday Gerald Fritz’s day started off a lot like every other. Around half past 10 he embarked on a leisurely stroll from his four-bedroom parsonage on South Water street and crossed town to the Espresso Love coffee shop.
Before he’d rounded the corner by the courthouse, he spotted a young acquaintance. “’S’up, Jerry?” the man greeted him. “How you behaving?” Jerry asked. They high-fived and continued on in opposite directions.
As he climbed the ramp to the cafe, he wondered aloud about the weather. It seemed sunny, but maybe it would rain later, as forecasters had predicted. Stepping inside, he assessed the line in front of the counter and waved to a lady sitting behind the juice bar. A large smile broke across her face and she waved in return.
When he’s hungry, Mr. Fritz orders an Islander or a Sunrise sandwich, always on a pumpernickel bagel. But Tuesday he simply ordered a small black coffee, tossed the change in the tip jar and stepped out to find a table in the adjacent courtyard. See you later, he told a man he’d struck up a conversation with about end of summer plans. Some days Mr. Fritz, the pastor at the Federated Church, is accompanied by Herbert Foster, an Edgartown resident with whom he works the crowds of locals. “I’m all glad-handing the Christians and he handles the Jews,” he says with a grin.
Mr. Fritz is friendly as can be, and well appraised of goings-on in town. But his interactions with others have lately acquired a different tone — one of finality. Mr. Fritz will move off the Island in early October, headed for Ohio.
In the next few weeks, Mr. Fritz will be saying a lot of goodbyes. Goodbye to the staff at Espresso Love, so long to the Island friends he’s made. But a special goodbye will go to his congregation at the Federated Church, where Mr. Fritz, known exclusively as Jerry, has served nearly 14 years.
When he first visited the Island in 1997, Mr. Fritz was on his last day of a vacation in Falmouth. He and his wife made a last-minute decision to explore the Island, and toured all three down-Island towns.
When they docked at Vineyard Haven, he thought it was nice, but “it didn’t do it for me,” he said. He had the same reaction about Oak Bluffs. But Edgartown was just right. “We walked around the shops, and everything we saw we said, wow, what a wonderful, wonderful place to be.”
He was specifically impressed with a little building on the Edgartown harbor that claimed to be a parsonage. “Mayhew Parsonage,” the sign read. “Look at
that!” he exclaimed at the time. “This is a pastor’s home. What a deal! This has got to be the most beautiful parsonage in the world.” When they wandered over to the front of a white building at the corner of Summer and Cooke, he realized that the Federated Church was paired with the parsonage. Oh, what a quaint little church it is, they observed, peering into the windows. The sign out front that read “Rev. John Schule” looked old, so Mr. Fritz decided they were going to be looking for a new pastor soon. “I looked up to the heavens, I raised my eyes to the heavens, and I said, Lord, when this person moves on, I could do this,” he said. They laughed and walked back to town.
A year later he received a call from the area minister for Massachusetts, asking him if he would be interested in a job opening up on a small Island off the coast of the state. “The hair on my back stood up, and I said, Federated Church in Edgartown,” Mr. Fritz recalls. The minister was confused — the job had not even been posted yet.
“I said, trust me, I was made for that church,” Mr. Fritz said. “It was just kind of an amazing happening.”
Mr. Fritz was ordained in the United Church of Christ in Maine, and was working there as a pastor when he got the call. He made arrangements to leave that church and showed up on the Island a year later in October of 1999. In his tenure there, he’s revived the Sunday School program and the ecumenical youth program, which has brought Island kids on ski trips and mission trips around the country. He’s fulfilled the regular pastor duties, visiting the sick in the hospital, performing marriages, officiating at funeral services and baptisms. “It’s been a very interesting 14 years,” he said.
Four years ago he started the tradition of the Blessing of the Bikes, which takes place at the beginning of the summer. Mr. Fritz is an avid cyclist himself. He spent his sabbatical in 2005 biking from Omaha, Neb., his hometown, to Martha’s Vineyard. In total, he and his friend Chuck Hughes (whom he met at Espresso Love) rode 1,803 miles over the course of one month, averaging 72 miles a day. “It was beyond anything we had ever imagined,” he said.
His tenure hasn’t been free of challenges, he said. “Not everything is rosy and sweet. We have had some rough times.” But if he had to do it all over again, he would, he said.
He’s leaving to settle in Ohio, where his daughter begins as a freshman at Kent State University. Katelyn, 18, graduated from the high school last spring. He has three other daughters. Mr. Fritz turned 70 in February.
The church has begun searching for his replacement, and an interim pastor, Terry Martinson, will preach to the Federated congregation beginning in October.
“It’s been a good 14 years,” he said. “We feel like we’ve loved and been loved by the community.”