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Less than a year after arriving in Newtown, The Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery will be hosting Thanksgiving for dozens of people.
Dr Rev Montgomery, who is serving as priest-in-charge at Trinity Episcopal Church, will actually be overseeing the Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering. The annual event moves from location to location each year, and this year it is Trinity’s turn to host the event traditionally celebrated the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving.
She and her husband, the Reverend Dr Joseph Glaze, moved into Trinity’s rectory in early March. The couple was relocating from Arlington, Va., where Rev Montgomery had served as rector for St Andrew’s Episcopal Church for eight years, and experienced New England’s wintry weather immediately. A blizzard hit right after the couple moved into their new home.
“We got to see and experience a snowstorm right away,” she said. “It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”
That taste of winter did nothing to diminish the couple’s immediate love for their new home. The pastors love living in the parsonage on Main Street.
“We love the Edmond Town Hall Theatre, and that we can walk to a movie and pay $3,” she said. “There is so much to enjoy here,” she added, rattling off places they have discovered and enjoyed, including Dere Street, Ferris Acres Creamery, and Toro.
The couple enjoys kayaking, and have already made time to enjoy Lakes Zoar and Lillinonah, and Pond Brook.
They joined NYA Sports & Fitness Center shortly after moving into town, and while they do enjoy hiking, Rev Montgomery admits they have yet to spend much time discovering the local trails.
“We know they’re out there,” she said, “people keep telling us about them.”
The couple enjoyed the Labor Day Parade, and were bracing themselves for Halloween.
“I just cannot fathom thousands of people,” said Rev Montgomery, who had been told by neighbors and parishioners alike that she and her husband could expect more trick or treaters at their door earlier this week than they would be used to.
Rev Montgomery and Rev Glaze have eight children between them — he has six children from his previous marriage, and she has two — and 16 grandchildren.
They also have a Lab mix, Ruby, who was adopted from a shelter about ten years ago while the pastors were living in Clinton, N.Y.
“She loves, loves, loves the snow,” Rev Montgomery said. She and Ruby walk Main Street’s sidewalks often, the pastor said.
“Ruby also loves people, and other dogs. She’s very friendly.
“That’s probably the one way we’ve met most of our neighbors,” said Rev Montgomery. “There are a lot of others also out walking their dogs a lot.”
Rev Montgomery’s first Sunday at Trinity was March 19, the same weekend the church hosted Bishop Ian T. Douglas, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.
“When I knew that he was coming, I worked backwards with my former parish, to plan my leaving around that, so I could be here on his first Sunday,” she said.
In many cases, there is a formal call process that is followed in the Episcopal Church when a church begins looking for a new rector.
Rev Montgomery was appointed, however, to serve as priest-in-charge at Trinity by Bishop Douglas, to begin the process of Trinity’s moving forward following the departure of its previous rector, and other staffing changes.
The Reverend Kathleen Adams-Shepherd formally announced in November 2016 that she would be leaving her post in Newtown to become the priest, pastor, and provost at Christ Church Cathedral, St Louis.
The departure of Rev Adams-Shepherd, who had been leading the Main Street church since early 1996, marked the end of a historic chapter for the town’s remaining Episcopal church. While several women had served as curates, and one was associate rector, Trinity had not had a female rector prior to the arrival of Pastor Adams-Shepherd.
In addition, Trinity became the sole Episcopal church in Newtown as of September 7, 2016. A closing Eucharist celebrated at St John’s Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook that evening was the final offering for a church that had been serving residents for 147 years.
The transition period between Rev Adams-Shepherd’s departure and the new permanent pastor at the town’s Episcopal church was deemed “a little more complicated than usual,” said Rev Montgomery.
“There is a transition period following a long-term rector,” Rev Montgomery said, “plus some of the residual from the tragedy of 12/14 caused some uncertainly in the way the parish wanted to move forward.”
A priest-in-charge can ultimately be called as a rector, Rev Montgomery said. That decision will be made by Trinity’s Vestry and full congregation, in a few years.
“We’ll visit that in a few years,” she said. “We’ll assess where are we after some stability.
“It’s great,” she said of serving as a priest-in-charge. “I love it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to come into a parish, and go right to work.”
Listening And Adapting
For Rev Montgomery, getting right to work at Trinity meant listening to parishioners who are concerned about the place of the church in today’s society.
Trinity’s Vestry, Rev Montgomery said she was told, challenged the church family to think big when it began envisioning its new relevance.
“We are trying to reimagine ourselves,” she said, “while keeping the Episcopal traditions.”
Trinity’s members are cognizant of the need to be more multigenerational.
“The older generations feel more forgotten and lonely, and want to connect with the younger members of the church,” said Rev Montgomery. “Families, meanwhile, want their children to be known by name and be embraced and supported.”
It’s a difficult accomplishment with so many outside influences also vying for attention.
“We are looking for partnerships, and ways to serve outside of Sunday morning,” she explained. With that in mind, Trinity now hosts Connecticut Choral Society’s rehearsals every Monday evening. Two of the three CCS Christmas concerts will be performed at Trinity, on December 8 and 9.
One of Newtown’s Girl Scout troops now meets at the Main Street church, as does at least one AA group.
Last weekend the church hosted “Hope at The Holidays: Dealing with Grief at Difficult Times.” The free public workshop on October 29 was meant to help those in mourning understand the challenge of coping with their loss, especially during the holiday season.
“Now this building is being used all week,” Rev Montgomery pointed out.
Trinity will be doing something to mark the fifth anniversary of 12/14, but Rev Montgomery is not yet sure what that will be.
“One challenge for me is not having been here then,” she said. Two Trinity families were among those whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook School that morning in December 2012, however, and those families have been “extremely helpful,” said Rev Montgomery, “in helping me learn what they need.
“Figuring out how to be a healing, hopeful presence is part of the challenge,” she said. “We’re going to do something. Trinity has been a place to come for previous years.
“The fifth anniversary will be important,” she added, “in a sacred way, not a media way. We want to see what the families’ needs are. We are also waiting to hear what the schools’ needs are.”
It is this way of listening, and adapting, that Rev Montgomery and the members of Trinity hope will keep their church a vibrant presence in town. The Thanksgiving service, presented by Newtown Interfaith Association, is one way the church is hoping to attract younger attendees along with those who have already been enjoying the intergenerational gathering.
This year’s service, on Sunday, November 19, will start at 5 pm, earlier than in years past.
It will also include a family potluck dinner.
“I am hoping that more families will be able to attend this way,” said Rev Montgomery, who will be able to walk from her home — as she does most days — to the church for that special event. The walk will be another opportunity to see enjoy a small section of her new hometown, which Rev Montgomery described as “very Norman Rockwell-esque.”
“We have found a welcoming spirit here,” she said. “And more than that, we have found acceptance. I really do feel we belong here, because of the warm welcome we have been given.”