East Haddam's First Church of Christ, Congregational selects new pastor
By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
East Haddam - posted Thu., Dec. 19, 2013
In a unanimous vote with a standing ovation, the congregation of the oldest church in East Haddam - First Church of Christ, Congregational - elected its next pastor. Laura P. Fitzpatrick-Nager was elected by the members of the church which was started and built by the founders of East Haddam in 1704. The historic church is now a member of the nationwide UCC, or United Church of Christ, which inhabits most of the old congregational churches located on town greens throughout New England and much of the nation.
Fitzpatrick-Nager was previously serving in Old Lyme and grew up in Guilford, where her mother, also a minister, retired from serving in Guilford and Old Lyme. “I am thrilled for her,” Fitzpatrick-Nager’s mother said on Dec. 15. “She fell in love with the congregation and the church as soon as she met everyone and saw the church.”
The unanimous vote was remarkable, said Alan Ponanski, moderator for the church. “We are the oldest acting democracy in the nation,” he said. “Our town government was in this church initially before the state constitution and then U.S. Constitution established separation of church and state. The town moved its official offices out some time after the Revolutionary War.”
The new pastor is a graduate of Boston College, New York University, and Yale Divinity School. She is both a theologian and speech therapist. During the week, she teaches children with speech challenges. Ponanski mentioned that the church members were impressed that she is also a published author.
Fitzpatrick-Nager’s first sermon at the church was entitled “Great Expectations” in tribute to Charles Dickens, but was mostly about the Book of Luke, the only chapter of the Bible where Mary has a significant voice. She also spoke about freedom and responsibility to honor the words of the late Nelson Mandela.
The church has about 200 members, with 50 or so attending regular Sunday services.