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This is a story that started one year, one month and five days ago. One year, one month, and five days ago I had my first interview with a group of congregants at Westfield via Skype. Despite not being in the room with them, I had dressed in a suit and tie.  A rainy evening in Northeastern Connecticut made for an iffy connection and my efforts to spruce up were lost when I could see them, but they couldn’t see me.


A month later, I visited the church for the first time, preached for the search committee, and was driven all over the surrounding countryside. A year (and lots of tears, smiles, and introductions later) I was installed as the 24th Settled Pastor of Westfield Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.



It was quite a day! We debuted our newest installation for Pentecost which was, fittingly, the day of the installation. Three thousand plastic cups were melted and strung into over 160 strands of neon tongues of fire.


Beautiful flowers framed the pulpit and lots of congregants and friends showed up! The day started with our sweet moderator, Wendy, welcoming our guests to Westfield. Here’s what she said:

I want to welcome all of you to the installation of our beloved Jonathan Chapman to Westfield Church.

It has taken seven years to arrive at this point of having a settled pastor.  And Jon is just what we wanted and needed!

Pastor Barbara Marston helped us to identify our strengths and who we are.  Pastor Alice O’Donavan helped us believe in ourselves and NOT be insipid!  And now Jon is taking us further on our journey.

As most of us here know, Jon is wonderful!  He is vibrant, caring, fun, upbeat, energetic, creative, artistic, thoughtful, motivating, funny, and kind.  Jon loves very deeply.  We all are so delighted that he is here with us.  It is a true honor to have Jon as our settled pastor.

As Jon so poignantly says, “Everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome here at Westfield Church.  So welcome and join me in celebrating Jon’s installation and being an official part of our Westfield family!



My dear seminary friend and valued colleague, Sarah, preached the service. Her words were beautiful and grace-filled, not to mention down-right funny at points. She preached on my favorite story in the gospels: the story of Lazarus.


As she delved into the text for the day, she offered lots of great insights. Installations are big celebrations: celebrations rejoicing in the new pastor, rejoicing in the journey of the church.  It’s not about me or them, it’s about us.  This is what Sarah offered:

In the New Testament, the second chapter of the Letter of James reminds us that, “faith by itself, it is has no works, is dead.” {NRSV James 2:17} In a similar way – a church, without works, is also dead.  Without strong and vibrant leaders, a church will not thrive.  Without strong and vibrant leaders, a church may not even live.

And when I say “leaders,” I am not talking about the pastor.

Do I think that you have made an absolutely wonderful choice in calling Jon to be your pastor?  Yes!  Do I think that Jon will energize you, push you and lead you in transformative directions?  Yes!

But Jon is not Westfield Congregational Church.  YOU are Westfield Congregational Church.  This is your church.  And your church needs you to be an active participants in its life and ministry in order for it to grow and to thrive.

After the rite of installation, we shared Holy Communion.



And we sang. Sarah, in fact, noted my particular love of singing in her sermon:

A few weeks ago the choir at my church was rehearsing before worship.  I walked into the sanctuary as they were running through the hymn, “We’re Marching to Zion.”

The last time I sang this particular hymn was actually at Jon’s ordination in 2010 at Elon Community Church United Church of Christ in Elon, North Carolina.  Now this was the south, where ever church was influenced by the Baptist Church; there was energy in the church when we sang that hymn.  We sang, we moved, we clapped and we marched right on into Zion.

As I am sure you can imagine, the energy was not quite the same at my church that morning.  I mean, let’s face it, New England country churches are not exactly known for moving, dancing and clapping during worship (YET!).  And so I may have insinuated (okay, okay, I came right out and said it) that it seemed like our choir wasn’t so much marching into Zion as they were kind of, well, strolling into Zion.

I was told to just stick to preaching. And that nobody would clap with me.

Fast forward a few weeks; I was telling Jon this story over dinner and we started talking about how we, as worship leaders, can bring some of that spirit and soul into our traditional churches without making people feel too uncomfortable.  Jon told me that he always prepares people to sing “We’re Marching to Zion” by encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zones, to feel the Holy Spirit move through them and to sing out with passion and enthusiasm.

And then – and this was my favorite part – he usually removes his ring in preparation for the intense and spirit-filled clapping that will come during the refrain of the last verse.

That’s my kind of marching.



Afterwards, like good church folk, we ate! Despite a spring shower/deluge, we loaded into a local picnic pavilion and feasted on all sorts of homemade deliciousness.


To top it all off, the congregation of Westfield gave me a beautiful stole to celebrate that we are officially in this together!


Here’s to this crazy adventure and to the church that I call home!

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