A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Celebration of Shared Ministries

Celebration of Shared Ministries

November 21, 2021


Following Rev. Anne Deneen’s reflection, based on the opening hymn, “Here I am Lord” as part of the Installation of the 46th Settled Pastor of the Annisquam Village Church & Celebration of Ministries, Rev. Sue offered these words:

It was so worth the wait. I wasn’t so sure whether or not we should even be holding this Installation this since so much time has passed since I began as your pastor.  But, as I told so many families who had to wait to remember their loved ones, important events like this hold so much meaning. I am so grateful we decided to hold this celebration. 

Thank you, Nancy, Church Board, officers and members, staff, colleagues, friends, and family. Thank you. Thank you.

From the very first time I read the profile the Search Team created to call a settled pastor for this extraordinary church, I deeply felt the rightness, the fit, of our joining in covenant together. The call to serve God through this church community felt undeniable. I am so grateful we all said, “yes!”

It’s hard for me to believe that it was two years ago, on November 27, 2019, the day before Thanksgiving, that I received a life-changing call from Nancy Guselli, inviting me to candidate for the position of settled pastor.  So much has happened since.

I am grateful that even as our lives continue to be upended in many ways by this pandemic, that we can pause to gather as a church community to publicly name our covenant – in the witness of some of the people who are most important in my life and who have accompanied me on my spiritual journey prior to joining the Annisquam Village Church.

I would like to acknowledge the heart of my heart, my son, Pete, who traveled from Virginia; and my dearest “non-traditional family” members of the last 30 years – Sr. Susan Regan and Sr. Meg Guider. Sr. Meg also represents the gift of my theological education at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Rev. Brigid Beckman, my Anam Cara and colleague who traveled from Albany, also represents One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, where my ministerial vision and skills broadened and deepened. As a woman who was raised in and served within the Roman Catholic tradition for more than half my life, being granted the opportunity to serve this community as pastor is monumental for me.

Had it not been for the generosity and encouragement of friends and colleagues in the United Church of Christ, I would likely not be standing here.  A deep bow of gratitude to Rev. Derek van Gulden from the First Congregational Church of Rockport  and the support team that walked with me through the demanding Privilege of Call process – Steve Lindo, Lou & Bob Cannon, Paul Hurst, Karen Chambers and the whole church community. It is more than a happy coincidence that my polity instructor at Harvard Divinity School, Rev. Elizabeth King, has become both friend and colleague.  There have been many other clergy within the UCC that have been and continue to be supportive and inspiring colleagues.  I am so very grateful.  

Today marks not only my formal installation as the 46th settled pastor of this church, but it is also a moment for me and for us to pause and give thanks for the ministries we share together.  Though he was writing about marriage, the words of the wise Rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov, also fit this moment. He writes, 

From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.

I joyously acknowledge the great light that is here in this community and the brighter light that we are creating as we minister together.  

Before I ever arrived, with Rev. Deirdre, you accomplished something that is a tremendous gift to a new pastor – the completion of a capital campaign and the beginning of renovations, which continues as we speak.  You also tend the building and grounds with great care and strive to do all of this in the most sustainable, creation friendly way possible.  Would the PRESERVATION COMMITTEE, RENOVATION PROJECT MANAGER, BUILDINGS & GROUNDS (including Gardeners), and our Sexton please stand?   Thank you for all you do so that this church can truly be the light, the beacon at the head of the Cove!

This community benefited from the tremendous skillfulness of Bridge Pastor, Judy Brain. During Rev. Judy’s tenure, Jaye Whittier recognized a need to tend to the pastoral needs of the community and our CARE TEAM was born. ASSOCIATE FOR PASTORAL CARE, Rev. ElizaBeth Emery stepped forward to support this effort.  You are the heartbeat of our community. With every visit you make and every card you write, your light shines brightly. Would the Care Team please stand?  Your thoughtfulness and kindness in all you do is much appreciated.  

There is so much that is “unglamorous” that happens behind the scenes – hard work that is necessary for a church with a congregational polity to function well.  Your light that helps lead the way often goes unnoticed. Please can we acknowledge our 2020 and 2021 dedicated CHURCH BOARD, tireless TREASURER Al Fichera, CLERKS, STANDING COMMITTEES, Search, Nominating, Finance, Stewardship, Personnel, Advisory, Steering), and Deb Aiello, our amazing Parish Administrator?  Thank you for being a guiding light.

Soon after I arrived, I discovered that Kathleen is so much more than a Director of Music; she is a Music Minister.  Her care for the choir – members present and past and her desire engage all of us spiritually through the gift of song,  as well as her remarkable musical talent builds our community.  And in the last two years when we had to adapt and adapt again and adapt again, Kathleen found a way through her own pandemic frustrations and disappointments to keep shining God’s light through moving and joyous music. With our faithful choir & chimers and the exceptional talents of Benji, Emily, Scott Moore and numerous guest musicians, we are blessed beyond measure by the music ministry of this church.  Kathleen, choir and musicians, could you please stand (or if you are on Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? Your gifts ignite the light within all of us.

Eric and our OUTREACH Team has had an almost impossible task since the pandemic began.  No longer could you show up with bright smiles, open hearts and willing hands to serve others.  Yet, every time one of our partners asked something of us, whether it be the Open Door, Action, Family Promise, the Grace Center or others, you found a way to be of support. Would everyone who has contribute to our outreach efforts in any way – through donation of material goods or finances or showing up as you’ve been asked by our wider community, please stand (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? Your service to the community and world is the light that shines in darkness.

One of the most most challenged groups during the pandemic has been families with young children.  Fortunately, our DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN’S & FAMILY MINISTRY, Peg Koller, who is away for Thanksgiving, found a way through meaningful and winsome messages to stay connected. Our  CHRISTMAS PAGEANT DIRECTORS (Terry & Rick), created a video pageant that we will likely watch for years to come.  Our PARENTS & KIDS came to events when it was safe to do so.  We’ve baptized babies, celebrated kids going back to school and more.  Could everyone who has participated in any of these family friendly activities please stand  (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? You are the light of the future.

Our UNFLAPPABLE FUNDRAISERS & COMMITTEE MEMBERS who put on SEAFAIR VIRTUAL SEAFAIR HYBRID, ARTS & CRAFTS VIRTUAL, and ARTS & CRAFTS SHOW – including Kathy, Mary, Stevie and others -Your efforts exceeded all hopes and demonstrate in powerful ways how this community steps up when there is a need and has fun doing it.  Could all of the folks who helped lead or contribute to these essential activities (sponsors, crafters, artists and more) that fund our ministries please stand (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? Your light enables all of our lights to shine.

While I was being interviewed for this position, Rob Russell asked me about the new directions I might take the community in.  I suggested that I had a real interest in exploring how we could be a green church.  In my wildest imagination, I could never have imagined the enthusiastic response there would be to developing a CREATION CARE TEAM, which has become a vital ministry of this church.   Could all of the folks who help lead and participate in these essential activities please stand (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? May your light be like a relay of illumination, inspiring others to live in harmony with our natural world. 

After George Floyd was murdered, it felt like that we as a country were at a turning point.  We were incredibly blessed that Gwen Hadden stepped forward in the midst of her demanding schedule as a professional diversity consultant to lead monthly conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, that led to a recently completed 7 week class. We have grown in knowledge and sensitivity because of the efforts of our D, E, I team. Could Gwen, Sandy, Perry, and our D, E, I Team and discussion participants please stand (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? Thank you for shining a light on hard truths that we have needed to see and respond to. 

Shortly after the pandemic began, I realized that it could be beneficial to create a midweek time of prayer and reflection, which  has turned into the most faithful, supportive, and prayerful group that meets each THURSDAY NIGHT on Zoom.  On nights when I am not available to lead, Sarah Begg has stepped forward to guide the group.  Could  all of the folks who joined in prayer on Thursday nights and for our recent discussion on Communion please stand (or if you are Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you? You keep the light of Christ alive in our hearts.

We are able to be connected in real time right now through Zoom because of the exceptional experience, skills, and dedication of Rick Blue who has set up our A/V system and Eric Bergengren and team who now help run it. Today we have folks joining us on Zoom from Maine to Florida and sometimes to the West Coast and Europe.  Your gifts have enabled church members who are unable to get out, or are in the hospital or nursing home to still be connected.  Could all of you who contributed to our A/V system and help run it please stand (or if you are on Zoom) raise your hand so we can celebrate you…. Because of you, the light that is this church reaches far and wide.

Finally, there is one last person I need to publicly thank and recognize today, my husband DAVID.  Ever since I told him 11 years ago that I wanted to go back to school at an interfaith seminary in Manhattan, then work at that seminary – even though we lived hours away, then preach at churches all over the North Shore while being in the midst of a pastoral Search process, he has been my number one supporter. You might not know this, but he reviews every sermon I write and offers crucial feedback. He has made significant sacrifices so I could follow God’s call in my life as I understand it.  I would not be who I am; I could not be serving the way I do without David’s love and support.  My dear husband, could you please stand, so we can show our appreciation for you? Through your love, you are the warmest light. 

Beloved community, we are blessed to belong and minister together! Could each of you who has previously stood or raised your hand now please stand or raise your hand again…Look around and notice the brighter light that shines from our united being. 

Here we are!!!

Blessed, blessed be. Thank you!