Posted in Our Stories

Greening the Soul: Thoughts on My Sabbatical

  • August 31, 2022

by Melissa Tustin

I felt pretty strange describing my sabbatical before I left. I’ve always enjoyed nature but camping and environmentalism were hardly defining interests. These are just some of the things people said: “Why are you so interested in trees all of the sudden? And why Ireland? Didn’t you go there a few years ago? You say, you’re planning to do yard work during some of the time? That’s the last thing I would do during vacation time.”

I can understand why people responded this way. I didn’t know why I craved green things so much. I just did. My body and soul seemed to want green in an almost visceral way. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was gardening in my backyard, devouring books about the science of forests, or biking though the green hills of Ireland.

I’ve returned from my time away with a deep appreciation for green things; not just because of their physical beauty or usefulness, but because of what they teach us about the nature of life. I never realized that forests are comprised of complex networks of organisms which together have an essential role in the climate. For example, did you know that the size, shape and type of trees growing in a given area can determine the temperature and water level? And apparently, huge trees depend on the tiny threads of an underground network of fungi to send and receive information from one another. Different species of trees will actually warn each other about approaching pests and diseases! And some trees work together for years to keep their parent trees alive if they’re damaged. There’s so much more I could say about how incredible forests are. If you want to learn more, check out “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben or “To Speak For the Trees” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

You know the old saying: “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” It means not being able to see the big picture because of being overwhelmed by the immediate concerns that surround us and block our view. I’d say that’s a pretty good description of my mental state before the sabbatical. In our chaotic world, with its 24 hour news cycle, it’s been difficult to hold on to hope while tragedy after tragedy arises to demand our attention until we feel utterly surrounded by suffering. It has felt like unbridled self-interest, violence and bigotry have gained the upper hand, especially over the last several years.

Little did I know that the trees could help me find the forest and see the big picture again. Like Hildegard of Bingen, I heard God calling me recognize her in the greenness all around me regardless of what else was happening in the world and to notice that my soul was already returning to its green and life-filled state, like a plant greening up after long-delayed rain.

What inspires me so much about green things is that they clearly demonstrate the benefits of valuing diversity and interdependence over competition and artificial homogeneity. I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the oldest, most natural systems on earth resemble the spiritual values of most world religions: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Matthew 7:21, 19:19, 22:39, Luke 10). “None of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 72). Sounds like a blueprint for diversity and interdependence to me.

SF Prom

  • May 25, 2022

Thanks to the Dennis Lin Fund, Sunday Fellowship was able to celebrate forty years of ministry in style. Gorgeous outfits, elaborate decorations (complete with a red carpet), enthusiastic dancing, a photo booth, karaoke and delicious food under a tent in the Garden made the SF Prom a day to remember. A toast to the members and friends of Sunday Fellowship throughout the years on whose shoulders we now stand. Dennis, we know you would have loved it!

Bathroom Updates!

During this time you may not have given much thought to what’s happening in our church building. However, several folks have been busy improving things!

Susan Coppock has made our lower level bathrooms much more beautiful and functional. This involved changing plumbing and adding art, window treatments, and furniture. Then David Frink added new “touchless” features throughout the building to increase the safety of using the bathrooms at this time. Take a look!

Salt and Light

Isaiah 58:1-9a, Matthew 5:13-20

In this season, we remember how Jesus is baptized and begins his ministry, and how he invites others into discipleship.  We remember how we were baptized, many of us, and how Jesus invites us into discipleship. But what does this mean, discipleship? How could we really do it? What does it mean to follow Jesus, or to live a life faithful to God?

Our scriptures offer us two lovely answers today.  Both of them are worth a longer examination, if you want to take home your bulletin and look them up.  In the book of Isaiah, we find a God frustrated by their people. People pretend to care about me, God says, and they pretend to care about my ways. But at the same time, they are oppressing each other, and fighting with one another. (This may sound a bit familiar; you may have witnessed some of this in the news recently.  Times haven’t changed so very much.)

God says, if these people who talk so much about me were really interested in my ways, they would be undoing injustice, and sharing their bounty with those who really need it, and recognizing everyone as kin. Only when they do these things will their light shine forth, and their healing spring up. Only then will they feel my presence, right there, alongside them.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus, preaching what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, offers a similar message.  He knows that his audience has heard the law of Moses, and the wisdom of the prophets. You have probably heard at least the basics of it, too: love God, and your neighbor as yourself. But too often even those who know these guidelines do not follow them; or at least, we do not follow them with our whole hearts. Jesus tells us: you already have everything you need to follow me.  You know what you need to know, you are who God created you to be. So, be who you really are. Salt seasons all it touches.  Light brightens all it touches. You were blessed to bless others, so be salty, be bright, be yourself, and bless everyone who comes near you.

This church has taken seriously our calling to love God and neighbor, to bless others – even those we don’t know.  As part of our response, we give a portion of our budget  — recently, 11% —  to organizations we call Mission Partners.  And along with our wealth, we share other things with them, too: time, labor, prayer. 

I give thanks to all the folks who are leaders in this work of connection, several here among us today.  Two of them will now offer us a glimpse into why they do what they do…

Barbara: This church has a long history with Open Table.  Gordon Fraser was its faithful champion along with others when we first came to WCUC 16 years ago.  When Jesus says, “feed the hungry” there is not a lot of confusion or spin around what he means.  Community suppers in Maynard and Concord offer weekly healthy meals and the chance to socialize.  The food pantry, operating in what was formerly the Aubuchon Hardware building on Main Street in Maynard, serves upwards of 80-100 families on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  Our monthly food donations are part of providing that need.  Local farms, businesses, and the Boston Food Bank fill in the rest, and the team of volunteers to pull off this feat is awesome.  There are so many pieces to a community resource like this.

We all know about housing costs in this area.   Many people who work even full time have trouble managing rent/mortgage, utilities, not to mention the possible need for child care or medical bills and paying back student loans.  Helping families with food frees up money to meet some of these other bills.  If you are like me, the emails, letters and phone calls keep coming—so many worthy causes, so many needs.  I get overwhelmed.

I have needed to find my place of radical solidarity.  I think this is what Jesus calls us to, to partner with the hungry, the homeless, the displaced, the refugees, with those who are struggling.  When I worked in community mental health that was my place of radical solidarity.  In retirement Open Table connects me again with people who are struggling, with job loss, illness, family problems, low wages—all of which impact their ability to provide basic needs for their family.  It is also a place to welcome people new to this country, working to get settled.  For my own spiritual health I have needed to get out of my bubble.

I am grateful to God for the presence of Open Table in our communities and for my opportunity to partner with Open Table.

Constance: Why I support Habitat for Humanity

  • Habitat for Humanity is international, at one point present in more than 100 countries.
  • Habitat for Humanity is a binding national network—across social, political, monetary,     and religious lines.
  • Habitat for Humanity is regional and local, sometimes at work in your own town.
  • Habitat for Humanity is cooperative—“each one, teach one” is an unspoken motto.
  • Habitat for Humanity is young people baking and selling their wares to raise money for a nearby project.
  • Habitat for Humanity is a team of women bonding over a wide variety of tasks during “Women Build” Week.
  • Habitat for Humanity is celebrating a 75th birthday in grand style, challenging friends and family to raise money at the time of the local affiliate’s annual gala.
  • Habitat for Humanity is an agnostic Jew and a proud atheist (nephew of two Lutheran pastors) bonding as they dig foundation trenches.
  • Habitat for Humanity is learning humility—being just one more team member when the team leader may be 1/3 of your age.
  • Habitat for Humanity is being amazed by Jimmy Carter’s steadfast dedication to a cause he did not found but has supported more visibly than anyone for decades.
  • Habitat for Humanity is climbing tall ladders to wash windows, getting up on a roof that turns out to be steeper (and higher) than it had seemed, wielding new tools.
  • Habitat for Humanity is humbling—patiently washing paint brushes, picking up trash, sorting screws.
  • Habitat for Humanity is moving 1000 concrete blocks across a London worksite because they had been delivered to the wrong spot and were in the way.
  • Habitat for Humanity is replacing 1000 bolts in fencing because the wrong size had been delivered but everything had to be finished by the end of the Jimmy Carter Week in Vác, Hungary—and someone had to make the switch when the correct bolts arrived.
  • Habitat for Humanity is, in the words of founder Millard Fuller: “Love in the Mortar Joints,” “A Simple, Decent Place to Live,” “The Theology of the Hammer, “More than Houses.”
  • Habitat for Humanity speaks to me because it pulls me out of the isolating intellectual writer’s world where I spend too much time into physical partnership with people in need—and because Habitat for Humanity can use time and talent as well as dimes and dollars.

All of us can be part of this. Thanks be to God.

Celebrating 2019

Matthew 4:13, 17-23

As Jesus begins his public ministry, he takes a stroll by the Sea of Galilea. While he is walking, he spots two brothers, Simon and Andrew, going about their daily work, casting a net into the sea. Jesus calls out: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately, Simon and Andrew leave everything behind, to follow Jesus.

Jesus walks on, with his two brand-new disciples in tow. While they are walking, Jesus sees two other brothers, James and John, going about their daily work, mending their nets. Jesus calls out to them – this time, we don’t know what he said. What we do know is that these two brothers also leave their lives behind, to become disciples of Jesus. Now they’re a group of five.

Like many biblical stories, this one leaves a great deal unsaid. I have a lot of questions. Have Simon, Andrew, James, or John ever even met Jesus before?  Did they have an initial discipleship interview, so that they could learn more about the position, and he could learn more about them? Are fisherfolk the only people available to be recruited for discipleship by the sea of Galilee, or does Jesus have a particular fondness for people in that profession? Is there a reason Jesus chooses two sets of brothers? What about Jesus compels these four to give up their livelihoods, and their families, to follow him?

There are a lot of holes in this story. There are a lot of spaces that require our imagination. Perhaps the most confusing part of this story, though, is Jesus’ invitation itself. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  What’s that, now?  Why would anyone want to be forced to catch other people in a net?  We can give thanks that there seems to be only nets, not hooks, used in fishing in this story. Still, what a terrible way to describe the role of disciple, the work of ministry.  What a terrible way to describe the wonderful tasks of showing forth God’s good news and inviting folks into God’s grace.

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” I’ve never really liked this invitation from Jesus. But this year I heard it differently. Maybe it’s because this fall we talked so much about being bound together in love, and binding the world together in love. What if Jesus saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea, and he thought: that’s what God needs. Folks to cast out a web that others can catch onto, to save themselves from drowning in despair or loneliness or luxury or want. What if Jesus saw James and John, mending their nets, and he thought: that’s what God needs. Folks who are mending what binds us together, so that we can find one another and God again, so that we can be tied together in holy community.

The story of our ministry this year, and every year, is a story of webs and nets and ties. It’s a story of connections.

This year we have continued the work of connecting with one another across demographics and ministry areas and organizations, with programs like Sunday Fellowship Food & Fun, and interactive services like Maundy Thursday, with combined choirs, and with community partnerships.

This year we have connected through giving. Folks gave with extraordinary generosity to our annual appeal. We gave $43,000, 11% of our budget, to our mission partners, as well as in-kind gifts for Open Table, Prison Gift Bags, Minuteman Arc Holiday gifts, and Mitten Tree items.

This year we have continued to explore and expand our dedication to inclusion.  We discussed White Fragility. We kept working on our worship resources. We added an automatic door opener to our main entrance. We tried more inclusive words for well-known hymns.  Stick around for Annual Meeting, when we hope to expand our Open and Affirming Statement.

This year we have connected through acts of care. We supported one another through losses and memorial services and surgeries. We have delivered flowers and made visits and knit shawls and written cards and welcomed visitors. We have even baked pies. And each week, folks offer rides to church, prayers, a listening ear.

This year we have connected by through acts of service, small and large. Folks showed up to water and weed and prune the garden throughout the year. We worshipped in the garden all summer, thanks to a dedicated crew (especially Andrew). David Frink and others have fixed and installed countless items. All year, folks have showed up to move chairs, and platforms, and bell tables; to serve food and set the communion table. Each Sunday, there are people making coffee, handing out bulletins, singing, reading, helping with Sunday School, counting the offering. The Schummers even designed and installed a new name tag holder!

Maybe there have been days where there were too many items on your list of church to-dos, and you wondered: why am I doing this?

I suspect that for most of us, it was because one day, someone, or something, whispered in our ear: Come, and be part of it. There is a place in God’s great community for you. And not only that: you can be a caster of nets. You can be a mender of nets. You can be a bringer of good news. You can become part of the binding, part of the weave, part of the stretch, part of the strength, that reaches out into the world for others to grab onto.

Because all those acts of service combine through the power of the Holy Spirit into something amazing that none of us could have put together by ourselves, that looks something like all ages and abilities giant uno games; the wonder of a child; the joy of finding a place, a home, a friend.

Thank you all, for what you have given to West Concord Union Church. Through your ministry, we have witnessed the glory of God here among us. Thanks be to God.

Serving WCUC

On January 12th, we heard three members reflect on why they do what they do at WCUC.

From Ellie Garvey:

My father used to tell me I had an affliction, like my mother. He called it “the rising arm syndrome.” It manifests itself when I hear the words, “Would anyone be willing to…?” or “Could someone…? And my volunteer arm rises up. I don’t consider this an affliction. Helping and volunteering are part of who I am, and I like it that way.

West Concord Union Church has no shortage of volunteer opportunities, and I have thrown myself into the community with abandon. In addition to singing and ringing in the senior and bell choirs, I hold an elected position on the Worship and Welcome Ministry. I have served on this ministry for 6 years, and that means my time is up. In accordance with the church’s constitution, I have to step down. While I am a bit sad about that, it does give me the opportunity to tell you about everything that I love about serving on this ministry.

Most of what you see up here in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings is under the auspices of the Worship and Welcome Ministry. We guide the ushers and greeters, we prepare and serve communion, we assist with Joys and Concerns, and we review Sunday worship services to improve on our dedication to making them welcoming and inclusive. In the summer, we coordinate the outdoor services, and we are in charge of hospitality and fellowship, from coffee hour to funeral receptions.  And I love all of that. My favorite parts are serving communion and helping with fellowship events. And the best part of the Ministry is the team of leaders that I have had the privilege of working with.

The first time I set up the communion table was way back when I was on the board of Deacons, the precursor to Worship and Welcome. As I laid out the bread and juice, it occurred to me that I was setting Jesus’ table. And that was a pretty cool thing to be doing!  For those of you who are wondering if you could serve on Worship and Welcome in the future, the answer is yes! Please speak to me after worship today and I will be happy to fill you in on the details of this vital service to the church. 

It has been a privilege to serve WCUC in this capacity for six years, and I thank God for this community of volunteers. I’ll take a year off, and then we’ll see where my rising arm takes me next. 

From John Fossett:

I joined WCUC in 1988, after being introduced by one Maynard Forbes. What I found here was a vibrant church, teeming with vitality and activity, and it has been, and surely will continue to be, a congregation that is a living affirmation of God’s call to service, providing innumerable opportunities for each of us to serve the church in some way. Some such roles require an ongoing commitment throughout the year, while others are those I call one-off or time limited commitments. Over the past several years, I have focused my efforts on the latter, serving as a member and Chair of the Investment Committee, as a greeter, usher, and coffee host, and helping with outside grounds cleanup and periodic setup for special events.  One of my most favorite “roles” has been to provide rides to church for Annie and Fran, not easily able to get themselves here otherwise.

Over the years, service to church has given me pause to contemplate my formative days at the Wellesley Village Church, and how my late mother, Jane Fossett, taught me the power of individuals to help others through a helping hand or other simple acts of kindness. Her work was quite similar to what I see here: A quiet, yet abiding concern for the well-being of others, answering His call.  Jane would be so pleased to know that I had re-established a faith connection with a place that shares her values and that pursues God’s call for us to serve others.

One of the major reasons I pursue volunteer activities at WCUC is the satisfaction I derive from the joy of strengthening personal connections with others, not only while greeting or ushering or hosting coffee hour, but also during the enjoyable rides to church with Annie and Fran. Any of these time-limited roles may be perfect for those of you unable to take on longer term or ongoing commitments, but wanting to serve the church in some way.

From Joanna Swain:

I’ve been participating in our Sunday Fellowship ministry for adults of all abilities since our family moved to Concord – more than 12 years now. In fact, the SF program is one of the key reasons we visited this church, and also why we never visited another! My involvement in Sunday Fellowship has ebbed and flowed through the years as my other commitments have come and gone. Sometimes I just go to a biweekly worship services and help with whatever job needs doing, like collating music sheets, writing down joys and concerns, or passing out name tags. Other times, I have helped to organize a specific event, like a dance complete with DJ and a photo booth.  Recently, I’ve been sitting on the SF Team, along with several others from within our church and some from other faith communities. The SF team meets every couple of months to review past events, plan for new initiatives, and generally serve as a sounding board to Melissa Tustin, who is our paid and incredibly qualified SF Director.

Why is SF so important to me?  To tell the truth, most of us here at WCUC are pretty good at presenting the best of ourselves on a Sunday morning. We are buttoned down and pretty self-contained, am I right?. But SF worship services are different. They are really “come as you are”. You can’t sing on key?  Who cares! Did you have a fight with someone you live with?  Who hasn’t! The services are rambunctious and sweet, with big emotions, and God’s love is palpable. I praise God for our Sunday Fellowship program, and the opportunity to participate and help make it happen.

Saints of WCUC

On October 27, we heard Ephesians 1:15-19 and these reflections on saints of our congregation.

Emma Hefty Mitchell, remembered by her daughter, Jean Moscariello

The person I most admire is my mother, Emma Hefty Mitchell.

My mother was a very devoted Christian and very generous, helping others whenever she could.  She instilled in me good values and I have tried to be like her.

Emma was born in 1905 and was placed in the Cradle Roll of the church.  In 1991 she and George Hefty were 2 of the six Centennial Babies we celebrated at our Centennial Covenant.  She was a member of the church and attended faithfully until 1927 when she married and moved to Guilford, Connecticut.  However, when she came to live with me she once again became a member.  It meant so much to her.

I would now like to read excerpts from a letter I found that my mother wrote to give you an idea how things were a hundred years ago at Union Church:

“My association with West Concord Union Church began on My 14, 1905, when I was enrolled in the Cradle Roll at  the age of 2 months.  Mary B Lane was Superintend of the Cradle Roll at that time and for the next 3 years she sent me a birthday card on March 23 which I still have.  Mr. Campbell was pastor then. As I grew older my mother took me with her to Prayer Meeting every Wednesday night.

I well remember the huge Christmas trees which were set up in that same room.  The presents from the parents and other relatives would be brought and put on the tree and Christmas Eve Santa would be there and climb on a high step ladder to reach some of the presents and call the name of the person it was for.  I’ll never forget the night I received the biggest doll near the top of the tree which I very much longed for.  When my name was called I instead received a small baby doll from my Aunt but before the evening was over I did receive the big one which my daughter now has.

When I was in my teens I joined the Christian Endeavor Society and spent many happy hours with that group.

I became a member of the church May l, l921 when Alfred Stone was pastor.  Before that I remember attending Sunday School when Mildred Stone was my teacher and we met in the choir cloak room, some of us sitting on the steps.

When I got married in 1927 I moved to Guilford, Connecticut and attended the First Congregation Church regularly but could not bring myself to take a letter from the West Concord Union Church until 1950 when I did finally join the Congregational Church.

My memories of the years at Union Church are very dear to me and I still have connections there through my daughter, Jean Moscariello, and brother, George Hefty, and attend church whenever I come to Concord.”

I give thanks to God for the life of Emma Hefty Mitchell.

Mary Aldrich, Marilyn Cousins & Edna Wagner, remembered by Ann Schummers

I give thanks to God for 5 amazing women. They were known as the lunch bunch because they shared birthdays, holidays and fun times together.
They loved each other, they loved their families, they loved their friends and they loved this church. They are role models for all of us.

Mary Aldrich shared her beautiful voice with our church and with other places of worship, including a Synagogue. She cared for countless little children in her day care program with gentleness, kindness and love.

Marilyn Cousins sang in our choir and rang bells for many years. Her nursing background helped her care for children and her loving gentleness helped her care for all who knew her, especially her husband Norm and her family.

Edna Wagner gave us energy, enthusiasm, and an eagerness to share her love of travel. She loved Wednesday morning Bible Study and never missed a day unless she was in China, Antarctica or wherever! She showed us how powerful friendship can be and what we can give each other.

Fran Gardella is a saint and she is still with us as we worship. Her laughter, her kindness, her energy and her skills as a teacher enrich our lives on a daily basis. She has served this church as a Deacon, a Trustee, and a member of the Fellowship Committee and Helping Hand. She is a joy to us all.

Annie Holt is another saint sitting in our congregation every Sunday. Her warmth, her smile, her gentleness, her laughter warms our hearts and caresses our soles. She was a teacher for many years and she continues to teach all of us to share the love of God with all who touch our lives.

We are all blessed by the presence of these women in our lives.

Miriam Coombs, remembered by Constance Putnam

I first met Miriam Coombs when we served on one of the sub-committees of Concord’s 350th celebration.  When the chairperson asked for a volunteer to serve as secretary, no one budged—until Miriam said that she, as a former high school English teacher, could perhaps manage. When she discovered I would be driving past her house to attend those meetings, she said I could easily give her a lift to subsequent sessions of the committee.  I liked her immediately, for that directness and its correctness.

From then until the day she died, Miriam was my closest friend in town, despite the age gap.  Or maybe because of it; certainly I benefited from her Elder’s Wisdom on many occasions.  Many people—including a number here today—also were close friends;  Miriam was generous with friendship in many forms. 

I learned that only later, when Miriam—figuratively speaking—opened the door of West Concord Union Church for me, giving me a community I had not had up to that point in town.  Miriam cared deeply about this church, and she served it in many ways, too many to list here; a couple of examples will give the flavor.  She used to quietly make sure Sunday Fellowship members were well served during coffee hour and befriended Charles, who still remembers her.  For a number of years she directed the children’s choir.  Long after she gave up that connection with the children, her favorite Sunday was still Children’s Sunday.  Thus I was very surprised the year she told me not to pick her up on Children’s Sunday because she was not going to church.  When I asked why not, she said simply that the children get excited—as they should—and rush around.  She did not want to risk one of them knocking her off balance.  “Just think how terrible that child would feel if I fell?”

More dramatic and more important, because very public, was what Miriam said the day of the congregation’s vote on whether to go on record officially as an Open and Affirming community.  When someone moved to table the motion for six months to allow  additional time for discussion, Miriam pulled herself up, using the back of the pew in front of her (she was 91), and said, “I am not in favor of the motion to table—because who knows whether I will still be here in six months?  I want to be able to vote on the issue itself, and I want to vote YES!” 

The motion to table was defeated.  The vote in favor of this congregation making public its Open and Affirming stance was overwhelming.  

And an old woman led them.

Julia and John Forbes, remembered by their son, Maynard Forbes

My parents, John and Julia Forbes, were strong church people who were involved with the church as long as I can remember. John came from a Presbyterian church in Merrigomish, Nova Scotia and Julia came from a Baptist church in Greene, ME. When they married they joined the Winthrop Congregational Church where they were very active and where they made sure Carolyn and I attended church school and church regularly.

When we moved to West Concord in 1951 joining the West Concord church was one of the first priorities. Julia sang in the choir and became involved with the helping hand society. She also was also a Deaconess and stalwart member of the flower committee. A quiet presence but she was always there.  John was an usher and chaired the ushering group for many years. Because he was in business in the community he knew and met many people so when a new face came into the church he was always there to greet them, and see that they were well received.  John served on the trustees and was involved with many stewardship campaigns.  He was also involved with counting the collection after church. He dealt with money every day so this was a simple task for him.

John might do a little bookkeeping or sneak in a quiet project at the store on a Sunday, but Sunday was a day of rest from the work of the store. Even as more stores would be open on Sunday he held the line on being closed on Sunday. Sunday was church day and the two of them were very regular attendees. Together they lived strong Christian lives with a faith in God and faith in the church. Following John’s strong work ethic has helped me throughout my life. Julia’s patience and love provided a great solace as a youngster and many other times through my life.  They were great examples to follow. I thank God for the lives of John and Julia Forbes.

A New Roof!

  • August 28, 2019

We’re grateful for the workers replacing the flat portion of our roof and for the generous bequest of Bob Carter, which made this project possible. We’re on schedule to finish the project before our program year begins. Take a look at some early photos provided by David Frink!

Testimony by Janice Smith

  • August 28, 2019

Good morning everyone. I’m Janice and I’m going to be sharing my testimony today. Thank you for letting me share my story.

My mother and I started coming to this church when I was about twenty-two years old. We had heard West Concord Union Church was starting a group called Sunday Fellowship for adults with disabilities and we came for the very first meeting. I’ve been here ever since! I’m the youngest of four and the spoiledest! But I’m the only Concordian in the family. I was born at Emerson and I‘m also the only one who still lives here. In fact, I live just a few doors away from here in a house that’s part of the “shared living program” at Minute Man Arc. That means my roommate and I live in our own apartment but there’s a caregiver upstairs in case we need anything. I love my apartment because it’s close to my friends and many of my favorite places like church, the library, and Dunkin Donuts. Janice runs on Dunkin! Ha, Ha!

Growing up, I was involved in a lot of activities. I participated in plays through Open Door Theater. I also played tennis and ran track with the Special Olympics. One year, I even went to the International Special Olympics in track and field. The strange thing is that even though I was born and raised in Concord I couldn’t always go to school here. For three years, I was sent to Lincoln schools because there weren’t any programs for me in Concord. Then, they brought me back to Concord for junior high and my first year of high school. But after one year at CCHS they decided I would be happier at Wayland High School.

After high school, I started working and eventually, moved into my own apartment. I had a variety of jobs—some better than others. I worked the longest at Concord Teacakes but it was a very physically demanding job. So I left Teacakes and went to work at Crosby’s Supermarket. Unfortunately, I had to retire from that job too due to a shoulder injury. I don’t have a paying job these days but I keep busy. I’m on the Board for Minute Man Arc and Open Door Theater, I’m a self-advocate for people with disabilities at the Statehouse, I go to Standing Strong with other self-advocates twice a month and I volunteer at Petsmart twice a week. That’s not to mention the time I spend each week helping in the church office! Oh, and I also work in the church nursery on first Sundays. You can see why I need my coffee! Janice runs on Dunkin!

Seriously, though, I know I’m lucky. I’ve always had a full life. If I had been born just a few years earlier, that might not have been true. Special Olympics began when I was five years old and I was twelve by the time schools were required to provide public education for children with disabilities. Even now, more than 75% of people with intellectual disabilities can’t find a job. Did you know it’s legal to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage? I’m happy to say Minute Man doesn’t do that and there’s a bill in Congress to change that law.

Many of you were there in June when I retired from Sunday School. The day I said goodbye was one of the biggest, hardest times in my life because Sunday school was a job I could always count on and I loved it. I started teaching twenty years ago with Patty Lynch. Before I started helping Patty, I had no idea God would ever want me to do something like this. It was a big surprise and a new beginning. But I had a niece who had just been born and I felt like something was telling me to go upstairs. Maybe God was calling me just like God called Samuel.

I’m glad I had the courage to answer God’s call that day and I’m grateful to Patty for welcoming me. It was a big blessing because I didn’t know Patty and she didn’t know me. I never took care of kids before and I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into. I didn’t even know what church school was because there weren’t any Sunday school classes for me at the church I went to as a child. Patty became my “Eli”. She got me started with teaching and she was a big role model for me like Eli was for Samuel. That’s why it was very hard for me to see Patty go when she left six years ago. At the time, I wasn’t sure I could keep teaching but I heard Patty and God saying to me, “Don’t leave.” Once again I answered God’s call and I stayed. I continued to teach with Ruth and Jessica and then with Melissa and with my final teammate, Lisa and all the parents that helped out. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The nursery has changed places three times since I started! The teachers have changed. The kids have changed. Even the ministers have changed. I was the only one who was always there. I hope that was helpful to the kids.

This year, I started to wonder if my call could change too. I had started to feel like God might want me to do more to help with Sunday Fellowship. But I was nervous to tell anyone I was thinking about leaving Sunday School. I didn’t know how they would take it. For months, I struggled with my decision. I tried to compose my thoughts on how I wanted to phrase it and why I felt like this was something I needed to do. Some of my favorite memories at church are being with the kids and all the other teachers and I didn’t want to hurt them. I bet that’s just how Samuel felt when he had to tell Eli what God had said!

Finally, Jessica and I talked and she told me I could still help with Sunday school as a substitute or if there’s a project she needed help with. Telling her was a relief but saying goodbye to Sunday school was still very hard. Patty and I had been texting all week before my last Sunday and then she suddenly stopped answering! I wasn’t sure what was going on! I thought maybe something was wrong! I felt a little like Samuel in the story when he thought Eli was calling him and kept saying to Samuel, “I’m didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” Little did I know  she had stopped answering me because she wanted to surprise the heck out of me! When I came into worship on my last day in Sunday School I saw a familiar face in the back. It was Patty! I went right up to her and gave her the biggest hug! It was a wonderful surprise on a day that was kind of sad and a celebration. It became a celebration of two teachers, not just one.

So that’s the story of how I found my calling in Sunday School and how God is helping me realize that calling is changing into something new. I want to say how grateful I am to God for all of the opportunities I’ve had in my life. I am also grateful to Patty and my parents and all the other “Eli’s” God has sent to show me what faithfulness looks like. I guess I never realized that one day I would become an Eli too. Thanks be to God. Amen.