Christ Church welcomes new priest
During his 30-plus year career as a Suffolk County police officer, Terrence Buckley responded to all kinds of calls: aided cases, noise complaints, drug dealings, shots fired. But in his early 50s, he would respond to the most important one of his life: the call to priesthood. Earlier this year, Buckley traded his bulletproof vest for clerical vestments as he began the journey towards ordainment. Last weekend, he led his third solo mass as the new priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Bellport.
It may seem like an odd career change, but it was a natural progression for Buckley, whose kind eyes and gentle spirit always enjoyed helping others.
The Staten Island native recalled his Irish-Catholic upbringing in an interview last week. As a high school senior, he was drawn to the priesthood, but quickly got cold feet. “I realized I wanted to have a family someday,” he said. “That was a big commitment.” Now 54, he and wife Bonnie have two children, Rory, 22, and Caroline, 18.
Buckley then studied business administration at Wagner College but didn’t feel a spark or passion for the field. At the same time, he took a job as a security guard to help pay his tuition, which introduced him to a lot of cops. “They all pushed me to take the NYPD police exam, and I figured it’d be a lot more exciting than working on Wall Street,” he said.
He got in and spent a year policing New York City before taking a job as a Suffolk County cop. “I didn’t know much about Suffolk County,” Buckley admitted. “I thought it was all rich people and farms.”
Disproving that theory, Buckley first served in the Third Precinct. “It was an eye-opening experience,” he said, noting that the area was just as diverse as the city streets where he grew up. It was during his 13-year tenure in the Third Precinct that he got to know officer George Lynagh. In May, the two men hosted a gang forum at Christ Church in the aftermath of an MS-13 murder that left four young men dead, two of whom were from Bellport. Buckley said he wanted to host the event as a way to address devastating community issues.
“This is not a problem that only affects Brentwood, Central Islip and Hempstead,” Buckley said. As a priest, Buckley is especially interested in working with youth at risk and those suffering from addiction.
After 13 years at the Third Precinct, Buckley was transferred to the marine bureau, where he patrolled the land and sea off Fire Island. He remained there until January 2009, when a serious boating accident in the rare sight of a frozen bay left him with a broken shoulder.
He returned six months later on light duty — deskwork — at the marine bureau office in Great River. “I would drive down Great River Road every day twice a day to get there, and pass Emmanuel Episcopal Church,” he said. One day, it caught his eye. “It was a beautiful little church and one day I felt compelled to go in.”
Once again, he felt the call towards priesthood, over 30 years later. He confided in Bonnie, who was supportive of him. “It’s hard to explain,” he said, attempting to put this ‘calling’ into words. Then, Buckley quoted a line from “Cyrano de Bergerac,” his favorite play. “So many things fade away to be reborn,” he said, adding that it perfectly captures his life’s journey.
“I felt like it was God showing me a path forward.”
With the guidance of Father Rick Simpson of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Islip, Buckley began the lengthy ordainment process. As he began taking the necessary steps, Buckley didn’t slow down in his professional career. Itching to get away from the desk job, he spent the last seven years on the job doing recruitment and community relations work until he retired in January 2017. The last six months, Buckley explained, were spent once again in the Third Precinct, where his career really began. “I thought it would be a fun way to say goodbye, though so much had changed by then,” he said.
As a young man, Buckley was drawn to the adrenaline and excitement that policing offered. As he got older, the camaraderie and building relationships with the community were what made him stay. In his new office inside Christ Church, photos from his days on the force hang on the wall, surrounded now by a simple, singular cross.
In September, Buckley was one of six new priests ordained at the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City. It was the largest class of priests since 1996, according to the diocese. The service was standing room only with over 600 people in attendance at the cathedral.
Now living at the 110-year-old church rectory, Buckley is also seeking a Master of Arts in Ministry, attending seminary school in Manhattan twice a week and thinking of ways to address challenges facing the church, like getting young people back in church. He records his weekly sermon and posts it to the Christ Church Facebook page as a way to reach people outside of the usual congregation. “When I began the process, it became very clear that it wasn’t just about standing up to lead mass every Sunday and ringing the bell, but rolling up your sleeves and getting out into the community,” he said. “I want to welcome the entire greater Bellport community to the church.”
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