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Trinity’s Rector Reflects On Her First Fifteen Months In Newtown



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Fifteen months into her tenure as rector for Trinity Episcopal Church, the Reverend Andrea Castner Wyatt says she is very happy having been called to serve Newtown.

Seated recently in the library of the historic church building at 36 Main Street, Wyatt called her first year at the local Episcopal Church during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, “deeply weird, but also wonderful.”

Arriving in Newtown from Rhode Island in August 2020 — with COVID and all related protocols securely in place — Wyatt encountered her first hurdle: trying to connect with parishioners who were being encouraged to remain at home as much as possible. She dug in quickly, however.

“We were all very intentional about getting to know each other,” she recalled. “We formed a lot of intense relationships, because we had to.”

Wyatt stepped into the role that opened with the retirement last year of the Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery. When Trinity’s new rector formally started her career in Newtown last summer, she became the 36th person to hold that position for the town’s second oldest faith community.

Wyatt was first ordained in 2001, becoming a minister in the United Church of Christ. She was a hospice chaplain for ten years.

She arrived in Newtown, Trinity announced last summer, with a high level of enthusiasm, intuition, and natural inquisitiveness, along with a proven record in ministerial outreach and leadership. She also arrived with decades of experience in three different Protestant denominations.

Her father was a Presbyterian minister for more than three score years. Although ordained in 2001 as a UCC pastor and educator in Congregational churches, Castner Wyatt was ordained as an Episcopal priest in June 2015. Prior to Newtown, Wyatt was with St David’s on-the-Hill Episcopal Church in Cranston, R.I.

Her greatest influence, Wyatt told The Newtown Bee in March, was her father. The Reverend Dr Edward W. Castner “was my inspiration and mentor in ministry, in the poetry of preaching. Daily, I miss his wise counsel about people and churches,” she said when she was featured for a Snapshot column.

She and her husband, Chuck Wyatt, have enjoyed exploring their new hometown.

“We are very happy here,” she said. “Absolutely.”

Hybrid Offerings & Care

When Trinity cautiously began to reopen its doors for in-person worship services this past May, Wyatt said she was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to meet more members of her new parish.

She laughed recalling Pentecost, saying she stood up in front of those in the pews for the first time in months — many being allowed to not wear masks for the first time — and said, “So that’s what you look like.”

Worship services and programs continue to be “such a hybrid,” she said. “Groups are still meeting online, in person, and through a hybrid combination of the two.”

Meanwhile, she said, the church’s vestry has reorganized some of the Trinity Care Team ministries of pastoral care. There has been a concerted effort, she explained, to have more phone calls to members at home, checking in on each other. Many of those calls and outreach efforts have been thanks to Stephen Ministry training. The Christian education program provides training to congregation members who can then offer care to people who are hurting.

“Trinity has been blessed to have, for many years, a Stephen Ministry program,” Wyatt said. “I think this congregation is really blessed with people with great listening skills.”

Trinity has also benefited, she noted during a recent Newtown Interfaith Council meeting, from members who are very comfortable with current technology trends. It was Wyatt, in fact, who was able to offer space within and outside of the Main Street church to fellow local leaders of faith should they need to use Trinity’s available technology. The offer was gratefully received by at least two members of the council.

Sue Roman, Trinity’s current warden, says Wyatt’s accessibility during the pandemic has been a touchstone for many.

“It was challenging to arrive during the pandemic, when there were parishioners she didn’t meet in person for months,” Roman said October 25. “She embraced our new video system where we livestream the church service on our website and Facebook.

“It allowed us to continue worshiping together and remains important for people who can’t attend in person,” Roman added. “Rev Andrea has been very gracious and invitational through the streamed service to people who don’t live nearby, broadening our idea of who our congregation could be.”

Meanwhile, Rev Wyatt continues to take those important steps back toward a sense of pre-COVID normalcy.

“I miss being able to get into living rooms and visit, or be at bedsides in hospitals,” she said. “I think people are still holding back on that part of ministries.”

Like so many others, Newtown’s Episcopal Church has learned during the pandemic to do more — or at least maintain — with less.

“The church has less staff right now than it traditionally has,” Wyatt mentioned.

Trinity’s former curate, the Reverend Matthew Babcock, was called in May 2020 to serve in a parish near Chicago, Ill. Trinity has not yet filled his position, keeping Rev Wyatt as the sole clergy member until further notice.

That is not to say she is without support. Wyatt is supported by a team of vestry leaders, including Roman, the warden; Dorothy Schmidt, secretary; and three liaisons: Patrick DeBrock, liaison to worship; Cindy Anderau, liaison to parish life; and Cathy Filiato, liaison to formation.

Roman says Wyatt’s “both/and thinking” — the idea of opening oneself to more options and opportunities beyond human nature’s more common “either/or” thinking — has been a good model for the parish.

“Rev Andrea’s both/and thinking allows her to appreciate the ancient wisdom of our faith and also talk clearly to how it prompts us to face the challenges of our day, including poverty, racism, and environmental threats,” said Roman. “She’s making us think about how we can live out our faith in new ways, not just on Sundays and within our congregation, but also the rest of the week and in the world. That’s part of the both/and thinking: our faith can be a comfort and a call for action.”

During the past 15 months, according to Roman, Wyatt has also personally connected Trinity to “people doing exciting work at the national Episcopal Church level, such as the Rev Canon Stephanie Spellers and Tom Brackett.

“A small group she started is working through a program with churches in Virginia and California about how to look for opportunities to engage and serve people in the wider community,” Roman said.

Working Through Tragedy

Wyatt was aware, of course, of the recent history of Newtown. The shootings at Sandy Hook School in December 2012 reverberated around the world. Located near Boston at that time, she and her family were rocked by the news out of this town when it reached them.

“I had been praying with and for this community long before I met anybody here,” Wyatt said. The former hospice chaplain said for many years she has been “fascinated with how being part of a faith community can assist with coming out of a trauma.”

Andrea and Chuck Wyatt know tragedy. The parents went through one of the worst things any parent can. They are healing, and want to help others do the same.

A faith community, she believes, “can build resilience.” When she was invited to serve in Newtown, she said, “it was like the Holy Spirit had punched me in the gut.

“I felt it would be a tremendous honor to walk with those already here,” she said. “Perhaps some of the things I’ve learned in my journey might fit here.”

She feels honored, Wyatt said during the September Newtown Interfaith Council meeting, to be the host church for the annual 12/14 Service of Remembrance. While last year’s service was virtual, due to COVID, Trinity has hosted many of the annual public gatherings in recent years.

With worship services continuing to be offered, the church continues to follow the CT COVID Tracker in determining whether those attending worship services and other gatherings need to mask up and/or practice social distancing.

Trinity is also keeping up with seasonal traditions. The church’s youth collected dozens of carved pumpkins in recent weeks, which were lit and displayed in front of the church on Halloween. Donations collected from those who carved and donated the pumpkins for The Great Pumpkin Challenge will benefit The Hole in The Wall Gang Camp.

Members are also collected, which was then distributed to neighbors along Main Street ahead of trick of treating on Sunday night. The church has long supported its neighbors with those donations, supplementing inventories collected by others to also distribute within Newtown’s most popular trick-or-treating location.

This weekend its members will honor All Saints Day. Members and guests will have two ways to honors those they have loved and lost while also honoring the saints of Christian history.

It is a gentle step toward what Wyatt and so many others hope will eventually be a new era of wide open doors for everyone who wants to visit 36 Main Street.

“Every community has to relearn the skills of communication and welcoming,” she added, “for connecting to each other, not just filling pews.

“I think the Episcopal Church has a real place to offer sanctuary, as others do, to offer a place for those who seek it,” she continued. “We need a progressive sense of welcome. We have to be out there with that.

“It’s not enough to just be in the middle of Main Street.”


Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

With an easy smile and welcoming demeanor, Reverend Andrea Castner Wyatt has been serving as the rector at Trinity Episcopal Church since August 2020. She is keeping the Newtown’s Episcopal Church connected to its roots while embracing the technology needed to continue leading through the extended COVID-19 pandemic. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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