Well, that was then, this is now. I noticed lots of changes when I was called as minister in 1995. Main Street was humming. The church gleamed with fresh paint and hardwood floors. And the congregation was much younger. There were lots of small children. There have been more changes since, most for the better.
I came to Bolton when I could no longer resist the call to ministry. I was headed in that direction from college on, but once I got to seminary, it just wasn’t working. So I went off to follow other passions and find my way in the world. After a year as a counselor at a shelter facility for teenagers who had gotten into a bit of trouble (I love kids, even crazy, messed up kids), a volunteer assignment led to a nearly ten year run at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, where I was curator and development officer.
Mechanics Hall had just been restored to its mid-nineteenth century splendor and was beginning again to welcome the world’s finest musicians, as it had a 100 years earlier. I was privileged to work with many of them and have fond memories of one recording session with Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. I founded a concert series of my own that, to my delight, is still up and running. I led tours and designed education programs including one that featured Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks. I was responsible for raising a lot of money.
Worcester seemed to be re-inventing itself in those days, and I became very involved with the cultural life of the community, at one time serving on six boards of directors simultaneously. (It was then that I learned to despise meetings that lasted more than an hour.) I had a regular column in Worcester Magazine and produced and hosted a weekly radio program on the local PBS affiliate. After leaving Mechanics Hall, I became education coordinator for the Worcester Historical Museum and bumped up its programming and its presence in the community. Edie Clark, writing in Yankee Magazine, was kind enough to describe me as “an eminent Worcester historian.” I’m not so sure my boss agreed.
While I was at the museum, my call to ministry started to tug at me again, until it grew so strong I had to do something about it. I made an appointment with my United Church of Christ area minister and asked if there was ever a small church that would be willing to take a chance on someone with minimal credentials but a lot of life experience. The gig would have to be part-time, too. I wanted to keep my day job until I was sure that ministry was what I should be doing. “Occasionally, we come across a church like that,” he said. Five months later, I was in Bolton. My life felt suffused by a sudden grace. It still does. Only four ministers in 270 years have served The First Parish of Bolton longer than I have.
Grace, redemption, forgiveness, second chances, transformation --- these are themes that have been woven through my whole life, and have been a focus of the ministry I share with the members of The First Parish of Bolton.
One of the things I like best about The First Parish of Bolton is the sense that I don’t have to leave any part of myself at the door. I’ve been able to put to good use everything else I have done in my life --- counseling, music, education, public programming, managing an historic building, supervising staff and interns, working with children, writing, running meetings, and, yes, raising money. But that’s only part of the story. I can also make use of all of the experiences of faith and religion that I brought with me.
You don’t have to know me for very long before you sense my passion for history. It’s in my genes. Both sides of my family came to these shores almost 400 years ago. One of my great-greats was Mayflower Pilgrim Isaac Allerton, assistant governor of Plimoth Colony. Another ancestor, Benjamin Franklin, to drop a name, helped write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Religion is in my genes, too --- and ministry. Sometimes, I almost feel as if I am the reincarnation of my great-great grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Ira S. Jones, who was also a minister, an historian, and a community activist. I’m descended from the first minister of Lynn, Massachusetts, and Hampton, New Hampshire, too, and from the Protestant minister to the Hague. Members of my father’s family have been what are known as “weighty Friends,” leaders among the Quakers. One, Rufus Jones, was perhaps the most prominent Quaker of the twentieth century. Quite humbling, actually. What have I accomplished?
Despite my family’s deep roots in the Society of Friends and Congregationalism, I have worshipped in many other settings --- Episcopal, Baptist, Unitarian, and even Roman Catholic (I sang in the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral for a while). I can bring everything I have experienced into The First Parish of Bolton, and so can you! This is the joy of being part of a truly ecumenical church! On any given Sunday, depending on the theme of worship, we may seem Unitarian, Congregational, Quaker, Baptist, and, yes, Anglican or Roman Catholic. At one wedding, there was even a Buddha on the altar! (The bride was from Japan and, believe it or not, the groom’s mother was Muslim! Gotta love America!)
Okay --- this is way too long. I had a shorter version online, but it was written in the third person and the powers-that-be requested a more personal bio. Be careful what you ask for! In case you want to know the basics, here they are: Grew up in a big old house in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Attended Webster University (briefly), Gordon College, and graduated (cum laude) from Worcester State University. Majored in religion (Webster), Biblical and Theological Studies (Gordon), and English (WSU). Received my master of divinity (cum laude) from Andover Newton Theological School. Extracurricular activities: Moderator, the Central Association, United Church of Christ; Board member, The Worcester Area Mission Society; past president, The Shakespeare Club of Worcester. Community involvement: Chaplain to the Bolton Police Department; member, Partners For Planning; former board member, the Bolton Historical Society. My long-time companion at the moment is my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Christi (successor to Ellie, of sainted memory). I live in the 1798 Stephen P. Gardner house on Main Street in Bolton, the church parsonage since 1870. My predecessor decorated it in raspberry. Hmmn. If I stay here long enough, maybe I can get the wallpaper changed.