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Brooklyn priest named as new dean of Episcopal Diocesan Cathedral

Fr. Sniffen Led Transformation of St. Luke-St. Matthew Church

September 2, 2015 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fr. Michael T. Sniffen. Photo courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island
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A young priest who serves at now-famous St. Luke & St. Matthew Church in Clinton Hill has been named as the new dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, Long Island. The cathedral is the seat (or See) of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island, and Mr. George Tietjen, chair of the Dean Search Committee of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, announced the appointment of the Rev. Michael T. Sniffen, 34, as the cathedral’s next dean on Monday.

Since 2010, Sniffen has been the rector of The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2007, and currently serves as vice-president of the board of managers of Camp DeWolfe in Wading River. He’s also a member of the Racial Justice Advisory Council of the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

Fr. Sniffen told the Brooklyn Eagle this week that he succeeded Fr. Richard Brewer, who retired after serving as rector there for more than two decades.

“The vestry decided that they wanted new leadership fairly quickly. So, they opted to call a priest-in-charge instead of having a full-length interim phase,” recalled Fr. Sniffen, who at the time was 29.

Fr. Sniffen describes the vestry (parish leadership) as a group of “committed and faithful people.” Those attributes were certainly needed as they faced what he called “financial and material challenges.” Stewardship, or pledged giving, was low and the building needed repairs. Their collaboration quickly proved fruitful; and the transformation into a community center is reminiscent of the first Sister Act movie.

“Within a short amount of time after I arrived, the place began to fill up with life,” he said. “Doors were opened. We removed the huge iron gates in front of the building. They started an Artist in residence program. These all began to pave the way.”

Then, Fr. Sniffen and the entire community proved they could rise to seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Hurricane Sandy hit on October 28, 2012. And just before Christmas Eve, an arsonist set fire to the building. Fr. Sniffen, his parishioners and the community built a hurricane-relief effort that became world-famous, including the creative use of gift registries to help the families victimized in the storm.

“More than 60,000 volunteers came through to church over a few months,” he recalled. “So then people really knew of this place as a community of faith that was committed to serving God and neighbor. We didn’t have to say it; the congregation just did it. They lived it. That, to me, I think was the turning point in the ministry of the place. The relief effort shaped all of us—everyone who was involved in it: local activists, neighbors, parishioners and the clergy.”

He added that the December, 2012 fire “could have been could have been devastating in the life of the church. You feel really violated when your church is burned. Instead, what happened, [through insurance] is that the fire enabled us to restore the building in a manner in which we otherwise could not have afforded. It also taught all kinds of new skills and brought partnerships. It strengthened their confidence.

“The culmination of having the building serve the local homeless population, the local arts community, local people of faith of every persuasion, has helped make the building a house of prayer for the whole neighborhood—and not for its members and parishioners alone. That I see as the great strength of this church.”

Moreover, the parish received more than $200,000 from NYC’s 2012 Green Infrastructure Grant Program. St. Luke & St. Matthew Church, through its proposal, demonstrated an outstanding ability to manage storm water and reinforce the goals and objectives of the Grant Program and then-Mayor Bloomberg’s vision, through PlaNYC, to shape a greener, greater New York.


Congregation Had its Say in Choosing a Dean

Fr. Sniffen’s selection as dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation sets a new precedent.

“This was the first time in the history of the Cathedral of the Incarnation that the congregation was empowered to form a search committee,” explained Fr. Sniffen. “It was a lengthy and deep process that enabled the congregation to devote a lot of time with each candidate.”

A letter from Bishop Provenzano was released that described the yearlong selection process. After a lengthy evaluation process of the thirty initial applicants, the committee then presented three candidates to Bishop Provenzano for consideration.

“I look forward to Dean Sniffen’s enthusiastic and prophetic leadership of our Cathedral as he begins a ministry of pastoral care for the present congregation and develops the Cathedral’s role as a real center for diocesan life,” Bishop Provenzano said

Fr. Sniffen and his wife Joanna maintain homes in Brooklyn and in Oyster Bay, both within the Diocese of Long Island.

Fr. Sniffen’s first day to preside and preach at the cathedral will be Sunday, Nov. 1. The liturgy for the institution of the new dean will be on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4 p.m.

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