Rev. Deborah Hafner DeWinter, Pastor

pastor Dewinter

Pastor Deborah was raised in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the daughter of Lutheran missionaries. She earned a Bachelor’s degree and secondary teaching certification from Luther College in Decorah, IA in 1973 and a Master’s in Divinity (M.Div.) from Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT in 1985. She also studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong in conjunction with her work at that time as the college counselor for the Hong Kong International School.   Pastor Deborah was ordained under the auspices of the American Lutheran Church in 1986 following a shared pastoral internship year at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in East Boston, MA and Lutheran Social Services of New England where she cultivated church sponsorships for newly arriving refugees.

Prior to embarking on her theological studies, Pastor Deborah served as the Director of Student Activities and then the Director of the Career Center at Luther College in Decorah, IA (1974-1980). Immediately following her ordination, Pastor Deborah, who speaks Mandarin, was called to serve as a missionary in Hong Kong with the American Lutheran Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hong Kong (ELCHK). There she developed advocacy and pastoral care ministries with Filipina migrant workers; facilitated the development of the Hong Kong Fellowship of Christian Artists; implemented special outreach programs for Vietnamese refugees in the detention centers of Hong Kong; led young adult service projects for the ALC and ELCA; served on the board of Hong Kong’s first shelter for survivors of domestic abuse, and was the pastor of Mongkok Lutheran Church, a Chinese Lutheran congregation affiliated with the ELCHK.

Pastor Deborah’s ministry in the United States has included serving as Associate Pastor of a 2,000 member ELCA congregation in Lincoln, Nebraska; Program Director for Resettlement at the national offices of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS); and Associate Director of the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program (CWS/IRP). She also spent two years as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement section in Geneva, Switzerland. Her role was to facilitate the development of best practices principles and practical resources for the integration of resettled refugees towards the goal of encouraging more countries around the world to accept and resettle refugees. In 2001 she returned to New York to take up a new appointment as Executive Director of Film Aid International.

In 2003 Pastor Deborah was appointed the Program Executive for the United States for the World Council of Churches (WCC), a position she held until 2009 when she became the Director of Donor Relations and then Director of Development for the National Council of Churches, USA (NCC). During her years with the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches, Pastor Deborah provided significant leadership in young adult ecumenical ministries. She also helped to staff the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches which took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil and in 2006 accompanied the WCC’s General Secretary on his first official visit to China, serving as his press officer.

Pastor Deborah brings to her ministry at First Evangelical Lutheran Church a deep commitment to mission and pastoral care as well as a strong background in fundraising and program development. She is an active member of the Poughkeepsie area Ecumenical Committee, serves on the Board of Habitat for Humanity – Dutchess County, and supports the work of the Dutchess County Interfaith Council.

Pastor Deborah joined the United Church of Christ in 1995 where she currently has full ministerial standing, serving First Lutheran under the ecumenical “Formula of Agreement/Orderly Exchange of Ministers” protocol between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the United Church of Christ.

Pastor Deborah is the mother of Emily and Benjamin and grandmother of Ethan. Her interests include travel and culture, music and the arts, antiques and history, and spending quality time over good meals and lively conversation with friends and family.

Eric Hepp, Director of Music

Hepp, Eric

Organist Eric Hepp is organist and choir director at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Poughkeepsie.  He holds M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Geophysics from Michigan Technological University, , and works in NYC as a data analyst/scientist.  Prior to accepting the position at First Lutheran in early 2006, Eric spent his first year in the mid-Hudson valley as a very busy substitute at many local churches.

Eric began his organ studies with Carolyn Deuel in Casper, WY, where he lived from 1981 to 1985.  He served as organist of Portage Lake United Church (UCC and Presbyterian) in Houghton, Ml from 1985 to 1989.  After moving to Rochester, MN in 1989, he again began formal lessons with Robert Scoggin, practicing on the 5 manual, 55 rank Robert Sipe instrument at the Rochester United Methodist Church.  He became assistant organist at The Congregational Church, Rochester MN in 1992, and remained in that position until his transfer to IBM Poughkeepsie in 2004.  From 2000 – 2003 Eric was a frequent recitalist in Rochester, appearing on the summer noontime organ series held at Rochester United Methodist, the Lenten series held at First Presbyterian Church, and the Advent series held at Calvary Episcopal.

Eric maintains an active and involved interest in all things related to the organ.  He is treasurer of the Central Hudson Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  During his time in Rochester, he served various offices in the S.E. Minnesota Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  Eric assisted local organ technicians with tuning and minor repairs, and oversaw the addition of 8 ranks of pipes to the 35 rank Reuter Organ at the Congregational Church.

Maria Knight, Administrative Secretary

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Maria was educated at Sacred Heart Academy, Hempstead, N.Y., attended Nassau Community College and Hofstra University and received a B.S. in Art Education, from S.U.N.Y New Paltz.

Married to John Knight at Redeemer Lutheran Church, New Paltz, they have lived in the Hudson Valley since 1975.   Together they are the proud parents of two young adult sons, Christopher and Peter.

In April 2015, Maria joined the staff as FELC office administrator, after working in that capacity for 18 years at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Hyde Park. Prior to that, she was manager and buyer for a local craft gallery store, and co-owner with her husband of Columbia Photography.

Maria became a member of FELC in March 2013. She sings soprano in the FELC Church Choir, serves as Lector, on the Communications and Worship & Music Committees and with the Eucharistic Visitor Ministry, as well as helping with FELC dinners and events.

Since 2008, she has been Art Specialist and Board Member of the E-4 Organization, a non-profit that brings music and art enrichment programs to Nursing Homes and Day Centers for the Developmentally Disabled. Her other interests include attending concerts, photography, cooking and crafts, especially silk painting.

“I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. ” Philippians 4:13