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Ousted leader to head new Long Island Alliance of Churches

Four of the five founders of the Long

Four of the five founders of the Long Island Alliance of Churches are, from left, the Rev. Gia Lynne Hall, the Rev. Luonne Rouse, the Rev. Dyanne Pina and the Rev. Marjorie Nunes. Not pictured is Chester Hazel, a member of the United Methodist Church of Bay Shore. This photograph was taken on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Baldwin. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Rev. Dyanne Pina, who was ousted last month as executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, is joining with several other pastors to start a not-for-profit organization to minister to those in need across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The new group, called the Long Island Alliance of Churches, will be a coalition of churches and other religious groups that will focus on such work as helping inmates successfully re-enter society through job training, assisting at-risk youths and providing food to the poor, she and other founders said.

“It’s really a new beginning and a new day,” Pina said. “Most important, it’s a new day for the folks we are going to serve in the communities in need.”

The group is starting with Pina and a core of four other church leaders, including two who quit their positions on the Long Island Council of Churches’ board to protest what they called the unfair treatment of Pina, the first woman and the first African-American to head the organization since its founding in 1969.

“We are certainly not competing with the Long Island Council of Churches,” said the Rev. Marjorie Nunes, pastor of Hicksville United Methodist Church, who resigned as a council board member and is another founder of the new group. “We know that there are many people in our community that are not being served.”

Hank Boerner, a spokesman for the Long Island Council of Churches, said Monday of the new group: “If they are doing God’s work, we wish them well.”

Council leaders have said the executive director’s position was eliminated because of financial problems. The group’s annual budget is about $750,000. Pina, who started the job in June 2016 and served until Sept. 8, had a yearly salary of $81,000.

The council, which is governed by an executive committee and a board of about 30 members, is an umbrella group for about 800 congregations in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Funded by member churches through donations and in-kind services, it provides social services and operates food pantries in Hempstead, Freeport and Riverhead.

The new Long Island Alliance of Churches has not yet sought any funding, but its founders said they believe they will receive monetary backing from religious, government and community sources.

Pina, who will be the alliance’s executive director, said she does not think it will be difficult to attract support because many congregations across the Island are not actively involved with the Long Island Council of Churches. The new group is determining her salary.

The other founders are the Rev. Gia Lynne Hall, pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd United Methodist in West Hempstead; the Rev. Luonne Rouse, pastor of First Church Baldwin, United Methodist and Chester Hazel, a member of the United Methodist Church of Bay Shore. After Pina was let go, Hall also resigned from the council’s board and Hazel resigned from the council’s finance committee.

Pina and her supporters said she had ruffled feathers among those on the council, in part because she was trying, as she said, to bring a dysfunctional organization “into the 21st century.”

Her ouster set off an uproar among some council board members and others on the Island, including Muslims, Jews, immigrant advocates and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Pina credited Rouse as having the idea for the new group.

She said she expects churches and groups from other religions to back its efforts to address problems in the community in a systemic and transformative fashion, providing real solutions — not just handouts that do not lift disadvantaged people out of poverty over the long term.

“The model brings hope to the people,” Rouse said. “It’s going to bring such transformation for people that have been at a disadvantage.”

Initially, the group will operate out of the Church of the Good Shepherd, providing office space for Pina and a small food pantry.

“This has been a long-overdue need to address,” said Hall, the pastor of that church. “These communities have been neglected. They have been given handouts, but not an approach to help them to learn to fish, not just receive the fish, not just to receive help, but to be empowered.”

The five founding members are African-American but said they expect and want the group to be multiracial, multiethnic and ecumenical, spanning religious lines.

“There’s a whole plethora, a whole sea of churches and congregations that have not been a part of” the Long Island Council of Churches, Pina said. “We would like to reach out to them.”

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