The Newtown Bee has learned of the death of Alastair Sellars, former longtime pastor of Newtown Congregational Church.
Rev Sellars died on July 19. He had served as senior minister in Newtown from 1964 until 1987.
In a post shared to the Southern New England Conference-United Church of Christ, current NCC Senior Pastor Matthew Crebbin wrote in part that those who knew the ministry of Sellars “remember his warm heart and quick wit. During his time in Newtown he was described as a ‘dramatic, charismatic, spontaneous, poetic and often controversial leader — who relished pastoral and prophetic ministry.’”
Born in Montpelier, Vt., in 1922, Sellars graduated from Wagner College in 1946. His college studies were interrupted by three years of military service during World War II.
Sellars went on to complete his theological preparation at Yale Divinity School.
Prior to his time in Newtown, Sellars served congregational/UCC churches in Sayville, N.Y., Jacksonville, Fla., and Lake Worth, Fla.
During his ministry in Newtown, Sellars was part of many church and community endeavors.
“He was a key force behind the creation and building of affordable elderly housing at Nunnawauk Meadows and he oversaw the discernment, planning and much of the process that led to our congregational move out of the historic meeting house on Main Street to our current sanctuary on West Street,” Crebbin wrote.
Within months of the arrival in Newtown of the Sellars family — which included wife Miriam, and children Duncan, Alexandra, Clark, and Lesley — Alastair made “a significant decision,” according to Crebbin. The NCC pastor had already been joining other local clergy members for monthly meetings to discuss the issue of voting rights for Black men and women in the US South, and particularly the demonstrations taking place in Selma, Ala.
In March 1965 the group — Sellars, the Reverend James B. Ilten, the Reverend Edward H. Cook, and Father Richard R. Losch — spent five days in the city that was at the time the center of the Civil Rights Movement. While there, the men joined Selma demonstrators and met Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Sunday, March 14, 1965, the four were granted permission by city authorities to “attend churches of their faith in the city,” The Newtown Bee reported that year. Upon arrival at the respective houses of worship, however, the ministers were told at the church doors “that while they might come in, their friends could not,” the paper further reported. “A short service was held on the sidewalk.”
When the group returned to Newtown, “there were those within the congregation,” Crebbin wrote, “and the wider community who were critical of the trip. Some within our own church wondered if ‘we should keep this man in our pulpit.’”
Sellars did remain in the pulpit, of course, preaching and leading for another 22 years before retiring.
“Alastair believed fiercely that the business of the church is not merely within four walls,” Crebbin wrote. “He blended his compassionate pastoral sensibilities with a deep commitment to social justice.
“I know that our congregation was blessed by his many years of faithful ministry,” he added. “While we mourn his passing, we also affirm the power of a life lived with conviction and compassions. ‘Well done good and faithful servant!’”