It is with a heart full of joy that I write this letter introducing myself to all you fine folks in the town of Cambridge. I am Pastor Devon Thomas and I’m honored to have been called to serve as the settled minister at the Waterville Union Church and Second Congregational Church of Jeffersonville.
I thank you all within the Cambridge and Waterville community for the hospitality that has been shown me as I settle down and start my ministry here in your communities.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a minister who is both open and affirming in his ministry. I believe that no matter who you are or where you are in your life’s journey, you are worthy of respect and you are worthy of love.
You may be wondering: Where is the “but” in that statement? There is none; at least, I try my best to make it so there is none. It does not matter who you are, if you are Hispanic, black, white or Asian, if you identify as LGBTQ, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, agnostic or atheist, you are worthy of respect, love and community and I welcome you to any congregation that I serve.
I say this recognizing that none of us fit into a mold, because I myself have never fit into a mold. I am a black man who grew up in Vermont, which should serve as case in point, but I will also throw in that I am a “Star Wars” fanatic who loves to sail while also dabbling in Dungeons and Dragons.
I join you here from the town of Underhill, Vt., where I grew up and have lived while serving as an interim associate minister for the First Congregational Church in Essex Junction. I am pretty new to ministry. Essex was my first job after graduating in 2015 from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
But these are my credentials, which are not who I am. To properly introduce myself, I would like to share a story, because that is what ministers do: We tell stories — a lot!
I am a millennial and, like many millennials, I grew up not going to church. I became a minister because the church was there for me in a time of my life when I needed it. I was working at a going-nowhere job in New York City with a liberal arts degree that was doing very little for me. I was frustrated with my life, I was frustrated with myself, and I was starting to question if I would ever amount to anything other than being a number behind a desk.
Seeing this, my dad, who is also a minister, started to prod me toward church, and I was not listening to him. I did not see the point in participating in an archaic institution that was responsible for over two centuries of war, violence and persecution within the world based on the assumption that some dude with a beard would pass judgment upon us all after we died. In my mind, I did not see how showing up to a religious service and being told how to live my life would help me find anything good to do with my life.
But I was desperate, and after a while I figured I had nothing to lose, so I may as well give it a shot.
I was lucky to find the right church at a time in my life when I needed it. I started going to the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights of Manhattan. I did not attend services, but rather attended a weekly men’s group that mainly sat around and talked about whatever was going on in their lives. I did not intend to become a regular to these meetings, but that group of guys gave me something I did not know I needed. They accepted me, they listened to me and they were friends to me at a time in my life when I did not feel I had a lot of friends.
I was getting something out of this church group, so I decided my next step would be to check out the actual church. In doing so, I learned a few things about religion and faith.
First of all, I learned that religion is not a science, and that if I was looking for God above the clouds, or for God to miraculously make all my problems go away, I was out of luck. Religion, when it is done well, is about living life, not explaining it. Religion is about learning to get through the good as well as the bad, and the way we religious folk do that is by learning to stick together.
As a Christian, I believe that God’s love reflected in Christ can get us through all things, and so Waterville Union and the Second Congregational Church work to build communities rooted in love. So, when things get heavy on our shoulders, we have friends who can help us carry the load; and when joy comes our way, we have people who can share with us that joy.
That is what I got from the men’s group in NYC, and that is the type of community I hope to help foster with all of you here in Cambridge.
Church should be a place where you can be yourself, knowing that you are loved and that others will help you to live a life of love.
Church should be a place where we can build bridges to those who are different from us and not burn them down because we don’t believe or think the same.
Church is about respect, love and community.
And so, I invite you all to join me on Sunday, or check out the Waterville Union Church or Second Congregational Church on Facebook.
— Pastor Devon Thomas