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Year In Review: Staffing Changes, Special Events And Big Changes In Religious Settings

Published: December 29, 2016

Three churches closed in Newtown in 2016, and staffing changes in others meant many resident worshippers had a year of change in their house of worship.

Approximately 40 people gathered in the pews of St John’s Episcopal Church on September 7 to say farewell to a church that had been serving residents for 147 years.

St John’s Vestry had decided earlier this year that is was time to close the doors of the stone church with its traditional red door at 5 Washington Avenue. After years of a shrinking population and an ongoing struggle to keep the church financially viable, it was announced by July that one chapter of Newtown’s religious history was coming to a conclusion.

The Right Reverend Laura Ahrens, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut, joined Reverend Mark Moore in helping parishioners and friends say good-bye to their church. Current and former members, and even a few friends of the church, took turns sharing their thoughts and recollections before the conclusion of the 90-minute service. Before he left that evening, St John’s Warden Bruce Moulthrop not only removed the church sign from its posts in the front lawn, but also turned the building’s keys over to the diocese.

In addition, Sandy Hook Baptist Church quietly closed its doors this year, just two years after members founded it; and New Hope Community Church also closed quietly, shortly after its founder, Pastor Jim Solomon, moved with his family to Louisiana. Pastor Solomon had been leading the church he helped found in early 2005 until the recent move South.

 

Staffing Changes

The Reverend Mel Kawakami, who had been leading Newtown United Methodist Church as its senior pastor since July 2008, retired this year.

The Reverend Lori Miller, of Pound Ridge, N.Y., was appointed by the bishop and district superintendents to step in as the local Methodist church’s new leader. She started her new post July 1, and presented her first sermon, “The Good Samaritan,” on July 10.

Parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Church learned last month that their leader would be leaving.

In a letter dated November 16, the Reverend Kathleen Adams-Shepherd announced that she would be leaving her post in Newtown to become the priest, pastor, and provost “for the people of God who are the congregation at Christ Church Cathedral, St Louis.”

The departure of Rev Adams-Shepherd, who had been leading the Main Street church since early 1996, marks 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.

The Reverend Salin Low, who served at Trinity during Rev Adams-Shephed’s summer 2016 sabbatical, was invited to serve as Trinity’s Supply Priest during the church’s transition. The Rev Adams-Shepherd is scheduled to leave at the end of December; Rev Low will begin serving on January 1.

Newtown Congregational Church also went through a few changes in leadership.

After saying farewell to Acting Associate Minister Caroline Hamilton-Arnold in December 2015, the town’s oldest church welcomed Pastor Carra McFadden as its new transitional associate minister by April. Meanwhile the church continued to search for a permanent associate minister.

During a special meeting of its members on July 17, NCC found its newest staff member. A unanimous vote that Sunday morning approved the hire of the Reverend Kristen Provost Switzer as NCC’s Minister of Youth and Mission, a new title for the West Street church.

After being given a standing ovation following the congregation’s vote to hire the Newtown native, Rev Provost Switzer — who was joined in the sanctuary by her husband Scott following the vote by church membership — thanked the 80-plus people in attendance “for allowing me to serve this community.”

St Rose of Lima Church lost a longtime leader this year. Deacon Emeritus Kenneth Edward Stroud died peacefully on June 3 at his home in Southbury. A deacon in the Catholic Church for nearly 40 years, Mr Stroud performed hundreds of baptisms and weddings, including those of his children and grandchildren. He had been the first deacon at St Rose.

A few of the town’s churches were not the only things that disbanded this year. After months of prayerful consideration, and years of slowly declining enrollment, the local chapter of Church Women United officially disbanded in June.

 

Special Events

Congregation Adath Israel participated with synagogues across America and Canada in Shabat Across America on March 4. A celebration of Shabbat, the day of rest for Jewish people, Shabbat Across America offered an opportunity for families and friends to join Jews across North America in prayer. Adath Israel introduced the event in Newtown by hosting a potluck community supper.

During the Shabbat service on April 9, more than 100 prayer books (Siddur Lev Shalem) gifted to the local temple from congregants of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, were dedicated and used for the first time. The gift was the result of a donation three years earlier from Sinai Temple in the wake of 12/14, with a request that the donation be used to purchase new prayer books to honor the memory of Noah Pozner, the sole Jewish child killed in the shooting.

Each book — the latest Conservative Union prayer book — includes a nameplate that mentions Noah, and his 19 classmates and the six educators who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Rabbi Barukh Schectman spoke about the book and highlighted a few prayers found in the book, and their importance in sustaining a congregation over time.

Members of St Rose of Lima’s New Beginnings Group didn’t let a little rain deter them in May, when they presented a fundraising tag sale for The Retired Religious Fund.

Newtown Congregational Church church was the host site of a vigil held on June 13, a day after 49 people were killed at Pulse Orlando, a nightclub in Florida.

NCC hosted its seventh annual Pancakes & Parking in September, inviting residents to enjoy breakfast and the church before walking to Main Street (and leaving their vehicles parked in the church lot) for the annual Labor Day Parade; and then its Fourth Annual Low Country Shrimp Boil, a fundraiser for Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., a few weeks later.

Christ the King Lutheran Church observed its 55th anniversary — and a baptism — on Sunday, July 17. In honor of the anniversary, Pastor Rob Morris was joined by special guests that morning, including the Reverend Dr Greg Wismar, Christ the King’s pastor emeritus and one of the morning’s lectors; the Reverend James Ilten, founding pastor, and also a lector; and the Reverend Tim Yeadon, president of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod New England District, who offered the morning’s sermon. A celebratory luncheon followed.

Working across religions, a group of residents and a few local leaders joined together this year to do what they could for an international crisis. In August, Rick Camiese-Chase and Gordon Williams formally announced The Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement. The group celebrated a major milestone in November, when it welcomed a family from the Congo as its first adopted group.

Pray For Peace Caravan, an event organized to encourage people to pray together to overcome violence in society and bring about peace in the world, stopped at Trinity on September 11. The caravan of vehicles was working its way from Boston to Ground Zero, with multiple stops including the quick vigil in Newtown.

Newtown Interfaith Association hosted two services in 2016, including an Interfaith Thanksgiving of Prayer & Music. The event again took place on the Sunday evening prior to Thanksgiving, and this year was hosted by Newtown Congregational Church.

The association also offered an interfaith prayer vigil on December 14, the fourth anniversary of 12/14, at Trinity Church.

 

Annual Events

St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church continued its run of the town’s longest running carnival presentation. The church grounds hosted carnival rides and amusements July 21-25. It followed that celebration with its second Christmas in July Sale, July 30-31, and then 12-hour Fan The Fire Youth Rally on August 13.

In September, St Rose and Trinity hosted Blessing of the Animals events the weekend of October 1-2.

The Catholic church also presented its annual Living Nativity, its special offering of the reenactment of the arrival of Jesus, on December 10. Sandy Hook neighbor Faith at Newtown had presented its second annual Live Nativity one week earlier, during the Sandy Hook Tree Lighting Event.

Members of NCC and Christ the King were among those who participated in CROP Walk in October, an annual event that raises awareness and funds to fight hunger around the world.

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