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Year In Review: Houses Of Worship Led The Faithful With Continued Patience And Adaptations



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As with other areas of life, the pandemic was a big story for local communities of faith in 2020.

In March, most local houses of worship began entering the pandemic era, with in-person worship services moved from live events to virtual offerings. The town’s faith leaders also moved their meetings online; the March meeting of Newtown Interfaith Council was the final in-person gathering of the year.

The one church that continued to host in-person services through the health crisis was Christ the King Lutheran Church, with protections in place. Rev Morris and parishioners also took advantage of the quiet time to take care of some renovations to the Mt Pleasant Road church building.

Most houses of worship spent the remainder of the year offering online services. St Rose continues to offer limited attendance for live Mass, while also streaming services and offering “parking lot Mass,” where parishioners are asked to remain in their vehicles and listen through their radios.

Special Events

In May, The Al-Hedaya Islamic Center began working to make a difference for people affected by the pandemic, locally and across the region. The Mt Pleasant Road community began a food drive to support those struggling during the month of Ramadan.

Also in early May, the National Day of Prayer moved online and included a Newtown Virtual Gathering.

Among the events canceled due to the pandemic was an interfaith Seder to be hosted by Newtown Congregational Church in the spring, and the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service. Many leaders shared thoughts and prayers for a special collection presented to Newtown Bee readers, however.

In November and December, local leaders of faith collaborated so that an interfaith gathering was once again offered on December 14. Eight years after 12/14, prayers and readings were offered to comfort those mourning the loss of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This time the prerecorded service was offered via Facebook Live and YouTube.

Even this year’s ecumenical workcamp trip was affected by the pandemic. After months of praying, the directors of Newtown Ecumenical Workcamp Services (NEWS) came to the decision that a trip to Puerto Rico in late June would be canceled.

Funds raised ahead of that trip, including through the big annual breakfast event, were donated in late May. The nine high school seniors who were planning to travel last summer selected FAITH Food Pantry, Appalachia Service Project, and Praying Pelican Missions to receive donations. NEWS is hoping to travel to Puerto Rico this coming June, instead.

In place of its September-to-June monthly Pasta Dinners and Coffee House events, Newtown United Methodist Church hosted a few drive-thru dinners after large gatherings were prohibited in March. The church offered pasta, BBQ, and pot roast curbside fundraisers, with diners making reservations ahead of each Saturday offering and then picking up their meals from the church’s lower parking lot.

St Rose of Lima and Trinity Episcopal Church hosted Blessing of the Animal events in October, again with different looks than years past.

Church World Services encouraged people around the world to participate in the annual CROP Walk, which was also modified for 2020. Instead of a one-day event, walkers were asked to fight hunger once again, this time taking walks at the time of their choice between October 26 and November 1.

In late December, St Rose of Lima launched two new offerings: an evening light show on its campus and an online Christmas concert.

Career Beginnings & Conclusions

Longtime Newtown resident Thomas Davis began the year one month into a new life. On December 1, 2019, Davis was ordained a priest during a ceremony at St Ann Melkite Catholic Church in Danbury.

Father Davis, who told The Newtown Bee in March that growing up he never thought becoming a priest would be his calling, was elevated to the position by Bishop Nicholas Samra. He was joined for the important event by his wife Joanne, and their children, Greg and Sophia.

Trinity Episcopal Church also celebrated an ordination in the final month of 2019. Matthew Babcock, who had been serving as curate for the Main Street church since last August, was ordained into the priesthood parish in December. Babcock traveled with his husband to Greenville, N.C., for the event, which took place in Rev Babcock’s home parish, St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville. He celebrated his first Eucharist as an ordained priest on December 15, and then returned to Newtown to celebrate his first Eucharist at Trinity Church the following weekend.

Within a few months, however, Rev Babcock left Trinity, having accepted a position near Chicago, Ill. He and the Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery co-presented the worship service on May 24, his final one at 36 Main Street, before heading to his new post.

A few weeks later, on June 27, parishioners offered farewells again, this time to Rev Dr Montgomery. The church’s interim priest-in-charge retired that weekend. Church members participated in a retirement/birthday parade that morning, driving through Trinity’s parking lot to say farewell and drop off gifts while still practicing social distancing. A recorded worship service played the following morning, while Montgomery headed toward Virginia to catch up with her husband, who had departed earlier in the month to set up the couple’s new home.

By mid-July the church’s Vestry announced its unanimous decision: The Reverend Andrea Castner Wyatt, formerly with St David’s on-the-Hill Episcopal Church in Cranson, R.I., had accepted the invitation to serve as Trinity’s 26th rector. Rev Andrea (as she prefers to be called) started her career in Newtown on August 17.

The Reverend Jack Tanner retired this year. The lead pastor at Newtown Christian Church since June 1, 1980, Rev Tanner had informed the Sugar Street church’s parish in 2019 that this past June would mark his retirement. Pastor Tanner had planned to lead his final worship service on Sunday, June 7.

While it took a little longer than planned for Rev Tanner to ease into that retirement — he notified The Newtown Bee via e-mail that “because of recent events, it may be a little longer” — by August, Newtown Christian Church had named August “Gus” Piazza its interim minister. Rev Tanner occasionally teaches, he said this week, but he is currently attending the church as a member. Piazza “does the preaching and is handling leadership duties,” Tanner further noted.

St Rose of Lima also said farewell — and hello — to parochial staff members this past year.

In February, Reverend Andy Vill took a huge step away from Newtown when it was announced he was heading toward Spain and life in a monastery. The Ridgefield native had served as a parochial vicar for less than a year, having begun his local tenure during the summer of 2019.

Father Alphonse Arokiam, who had been with St Rose since autumn 2014, also departed from Newtown this year, on July 1. Father Alphonse took on a new assignment at Saint Elizabeth Seton Parish in Ridgefield.

In late June the church welcomed its new parochial vicar, Reverend Michael Clark.

The bride wore white, and the guests wore masks: Christine Ruzek and Dan Grieco emerge from St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church shortly before noon on Saturday, June 27, having just been married. Due to COVID-19, the couple celebrated that weekend what Mrs Grieco called “our intimate wedding.” The Griecos hope to celebrate their first anniversary with additional family and friends. —Bee Photos, Hicks
Trinity Episcopal Church Priest-In-Charge Dr Reverend Jenny Montgomery smiles after being handed a vase with flowers during a retirement/birthday parade the church hosted for her in June.
Jon Ingersoll heads out with a pair of plates, ready to serve breakfast during the March 7 NEWS fundraising event.
Newtown Congregational Church member Cindy Dunn displays the two ribbons her entry won during a King Cake Competition at the church in February.
Pastor Rob Morris, of Christ the King Lutheran Church, makes a point during the March 11 Newtown Interfaith Council meeting. On the right is The Reverend Leo McIlrath.
The Reverend Jack Tanner smiles in January, six months ahead of his planned retirement.
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