November 5 marked our first worship service with the Rev. Dr. Nancy H. Soukup, our new minister. The service, including her sermon, “Traveling through the Land of Unlikeness,” can be seen HERE.
It being All Souls Sunday, we joyfully celebrated the lives of those saints and souls in our congregation and among our families who had died during the past year. As it was also the Sunday associated with Veterans Day, we celebrated the many veterans who are associated with the church family. Finally, as we do every first Sunday of each month, we celebrated Communion, to which all are invited. This Sunday, it was celebrated by intinction. As the congregation lined up to receive the bread and wine, members who have known Rev. Soukup for the many years she has been a close friend of the church took the opportunity to give her a hug and a word of welcome.
October 22, 2023 was one of FCC Bristol’s community service Sundays. Several times each year, members of the congregation of all ages join together to carry out projects to help Bristol.
Often, children and adults will comb the streets looking for litter, bagging it for pickup. Other times, they will go to the Franklin Court facility to help out with landscaping projects or organize their in-house library.
Whatever the task, it is fun when we do it together.
The family of parishioners at FCC Bristol want to thank the Rev. Jack Jones for his kind service filling in as our pastor during most of the period from the departure of the Rev. Deborah Tate Breault and the arrival of our new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Nancy H. Soukup.
Rev. Jones, at left, came to us in September at a time of transition for our congregation. He graciously agreed to stay with us throughout the weeks of September and October, until our new pastor, Rev. Soukup, arrived. A pastor with a special ministry for the homeless, Rev. Jones brought a gentleness and sensitivity to our families and especially the children. Each Sunday, he would come down from the pulpit and speak from the floor of the sanctuary to deliver his sermon. Speaking from the heart, without notes, he would draw in his listeners with stories from his past, insights from his long pastoral experience, messages of love and hope.
Rev. Jones is embarking on a new, settled pastorate in Worcester, MA. We thank him and wish him the best.
A ministerial call agreement has been signed by Rev. Dr. Nancy H. Soukup to be the next minister at the First Congregational Church in Bristol, RI. Rev. Soukup will begin her ministry for the congregation on November 1, 2023 and will serve as a Designated Term Minister with a term length of one to four years.
Rev. Soukup was ordained in the United Church of Christ in November 2009 and is currently completing her call as the Interim Minister at the Amicable Congregational Church in Tiverton, RI. Previously she served as University Multifaith Chaplain and Director of the Office of Spiritual Life at Roger Williams University and the SNEUCC Conference Vice President for Justice & Witness. She has also served in pastoral and academic positions at both Brown University and Harvard University. She availed herself of the graduate level academic opportunities at the institutions by completing coursework in church history, international relations, human rights, and counseling. Rev. Soukup began her vocational journey by graduating from the University of Delaware and then attending the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA where she earned a Masters in Divinity. Ultimately, she earned a Certificate of Study from Andover Newton Theological School in the Doctor of Ministry program and then a Doctor of Ministry from the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace.
The parishioners of First Congregational Church in Bristol feel blessed to have Rev. Dr. Soukup as their new pastor.
A dozen women came together from September 22-24 at Irons Homestead, the Rhode Island UCC Camp and Retreat Center. Irons Homestead is described as “A sacred space that enables lives to change through encounters with God, nature and others.” The group experience was led by Valerie Tutson, a graduate of Brown University with a self-designed major, Storytelling As a Communication’s Art. A life-long member of the UCC (United Church of Christ) Valerie works ecumenically, sharing her gifts and helping others to tell the stories of their faith.
One of the first experiences we shared was learning a song from Malawi, sung in Chechewa. Valerie taught it to us, just as it had been taught to her by Masankho Banda. Translated, it said: “I see you with my eyes. I see you with my heart. I see you, fellow human, in front of me, and greet you with respect.” Throughout the retreat, we sang this song, repeatedly recognizing the innate value of every person as a beloved child of God, a valued member of God’s family.
At another gathering, we sang songs from our childhood, some learned in church school or camp. Valerie inspired us to think about how we see ourselves in relation to the name our parents had given us and how we perceive the journey each of us has taken in her life — the points of decision-making that we have navigated, the many women and men who have played a part in shaping us, the many roles we have played during our lives.
After supper on Saturday evening, we carried out a ritual called the Despacho Ceremony that is part of the spiritual traditions of the Andes mountains that Valerie had learned from her teachers in Peru. We were to make a Prayer Bundle, a collective offering that provides a way to give thanks or to release what needs letting go, a way to call in or ask for what we and the world need.
First, Valerie laid the fire. Then, starting with a clean white cloth, she laid out large sheets of white tissue paper, and in the center a large clam shell was placed. A symbol for the world? Small gummy creatures — Adam and Eve? — were placed in the shell. Special leaf bundles were placed at the four compass points. Then our hands went around and around, layering the offerings — bay leaves, special beans, rice grains, herbs, other grains, spices — around and around, each person adding her contribution to the layer, each ingredient symbolizing a different element of life, the hopes, the regrets, the ancestors, the children born, the children yet to be born. Pink flowers, white flowers — around and around.
Then the “good” stuff, the “fun” stuff we were offering up — the ginger snaps, the gummy bears, the chocolate drops — the sparkly ribbon, the brightly colored beads, the pink and blue cotton candy.
The bundle was prayed over as all hands and hearts embraced it. As the final act of this ritual, Valerie wrapped the bundle up tight, lit the fire and gently placed the bundle on the burning logs. Within seconds, the bundle felt the heat and opened up to the flames, releasing all of the prayers up into the heavens, crackling and snapping as we watched the Despacho bundle burn up, rise and disappear.
Looking back at the Women’s Retreat, Valerie said that her intention for our time together was to create and hold space for us to connect more deeply with our selves, with one another and with God and the presence of the Holy Spirit…through sharing our stories, singing and sacred ritual…and have it be a joy/full and nourishing experience, so that we could return home feeling good and energized and inspired in our day to day lives.
One participant looked back at her Retreat experience and felt “Grateful to have spent this past weekend making peace with all the women I once was. Grateful for the women who were by my side.”
We love the children in our church and everyone at FCC Bristol is so happy to be welcoming Lindsey and Doug Harrington’s new baby. She will join her brother Raymond who has been delighting us all for more than two years.
Following worship this past Sunday, we dedicated our Fellowship Hour to celebrating the forthcoming arrival of a new baby. After enjoying some cake and ice cream, we gathered around Lindsey, the expectant mom, to watch her opening good wishes and presents. Quite a few had been handmade by our talented parishioners. Raymond was a big help. And he was excited about the dinosaur truck he received as the designated Big Brother.
Thanks to the hardworking Deacons, FCC Bristol has both a colorful and cheerful rainbow array of flowering flowerpots, and also a sign that proclaims our church family’s core Open and Affirming belief: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” An open-armed message of acceptance that cannot be said too often.
Sunday school is “up and running” at FCC! . Lessons focus not just on the Bible and its lessons but how they can have meaning in our everyday lives! And there is always a fun project to wrap things up!
With the return of families from summer vacations, the return of the choir to our worship, the decoration of the sanctuary with bundles of bright balloons and a special intergenerational service led by the Rev. Jack Jones, this past Sunday — Rally Day — brought a feeling of renewed purpose and strengthened ties to the congregation. Worship was dedicated to the Commissioning of our Church School, bringing the children and youth, their parents, their teachers and the entire congregation together in a covenant of gratitude and commitment to provide loving direction and educational opportunities to all who come to participate in our efforts to grow in our understanding of Christ’s Way, to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. Through a special Litany of Prayers, the congregation prayed for all learners and leaders as they prepare to start a new year of growing in God’s grace together.
Following worship, everyone gathered in the DeWolf Room for a Rally Day luncheon of hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and ICE CREAM SUNDAES! Lots of chatter, catching up with old friends and making some new ones, making some plans, looking forward.
August 27, 2023 marked another day of transition in the 343 years of FCC Bristol’s history. Due to Rev. Deborah Tate Breault’s decision to retire, our congregation is saying Good Bye to our pastor. On this, her last Sunday preaching in Bristol, she and the congregation together spoke a Liturgy for Ending an Authorized Ministry.
On November 1, 2020, this church called Rev. Deborah Tate Breault to serve as Transitional Minister. As part of the Liturgy, words of gratitude, forgiveness and acceptance were spoken by both the minister and the members of the congregation. Through vows of Release by both parties, the congregation confirmed their focus on continuing the ministry of the church, looking forward to the congregation’s relationship with the new minister who will come to serve FCC Bristol.
Barbara Watts, who has faithfully served the church as Executive Assistant for the past 16 years, was called to the chancel during the morning’s service to recognize her contribution to the well-being and ministry of the church.
Following morning worship, the congregation joined Pastor Deborah in the Dewolf Fellowship Hall for a celebratory luncheon. Happily, many members attended in person who on other Sundays join us via LiveStream. We are thankful for the ministry of Pastor Deborah at FCC Bristol and wish her every good and joyful experience as she leaves our church.