Reverend Jane Willan will become the first-ever female senior pastor at First Church West Hartford.
In a season of transitions at First Church, West Hartford, the excitement of the moment is that the city’s 309-year-old Congregational Church has called the Reverend Jane Willan as its 21st senior pastor.
“In its more than 300 year history, the First Church has seen much change and growth: five different meeting houses, 20 pastors and several interim leaders, but never a woman as senior pastor! We are very excited about this change and believe West Hartford is ready,” commented current church moderator Eleanor Wight.
Reverend Willan delivered a “candidate sermon” at the First Church on January 9, 2022. After the service, church members filled out ballots at a congregational meeting. 105 voted unanimously to extend the appeal to Reverend Willan. She will begin serving in her new role on February 8, 2022.
In May 2020, First Church assembled a senior pastor search committee of nine volunteers following the retirement of Reverend Dr. C. Geordie Campbell in January. Although this was the start of the pandemic, there was important work to be done and the committee continued, adapting its activities to comply with Covid protocols.
Under the direction of Acting Senior Pastor Reverend Erica Avena, Acting Associate Pastor Reverend Amie Giguere, Worship Arts Director Jim Boratko, Library Director John P. Webster Jennifer deSimas, Pastor Bridge, Reverend Dr. Michael Newheart and others, the church continued to offer worship, support and programming via YouTube, phone, email and Zoom. During this time, the search committee began its work of updating the church profile.
“Due to the pandemic, our research process was unlike any other. Our initial meetings and interviews were conducted entirely over Zoom,” President Suzanne Carnes commented. “We also visited other churches virtually to listen to the sermons from potential candidates Only finalists were scheduled for in-person interviews.
The search committee first became acquainted with Reverend Willan in late September 2021 after receiving her ministry profile. Her profile was the 15th they reviewed and stood out for several reasons. Reverend Willan shared her passion for social justice. She was among the first to perform same-sex marriages in Iowa. She is also committed to “effective and dynamic stewardship,” and has developed and honed her own skills in this area.
Reverend Willan serves the wider church as a member of the board of directors of the Central Massachusetts Association and the Ministerial Aid Council. Within her own community, she sits on the board of Colony Retirement Homes.
Rev. Willan comes to First Church, West Hartford from the United Church of Christ (UCC) Southern New England Conference. She was ordained in 2003 and has served congregations in Massachusetts and Iowa. Reverend Willan is a graduate of Hiram College, Boston University, Ohio, and received her Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is no stranger to Connecticut, having worked at Simsbury early in her career, before her call to the ministry.
As noted by the search committee, Reverend Willan was a pastor who related well to others. She was frank and genuine. She moved us with her commitments to ministry and her own humanity in the stories she shared. “After our face-to-face interview with her, I remember scanning the circle of faces around me for their reactions. Everyone was wearing a mask, so it was very hard to tell. But once we had a chance to talk, it was clear we all knew she was the one we would recommend,” Carnes said. The committee reviewed 17 profiles (or resumes) and interviewed more than half of them. “We had our list of qualities that we were looking for in the church at that time. We couldn’t be happier with how it all came together. Our committee quickly came to a consensus on Reverend Jane as the recommended candidate,” Carnes added.
“I was drawn to the First Church community by its strong use of technology, community outreach, involvement with the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA), and interfaith partnerships,” Reverend Willan commented during one of the four scheduled appointments. greet” sessions with the congregation on January 8.
Reverend Willan brings a wealth of knowledge about churches, is a self-proclaimed ‘numbers person’ and during the meet spoke of the need for a senior pastor to empower while nurturing the community she serves. .
When asked what she would bring to the West Hartford congregation, “one thing that bothers me is when a church says, ‘we have to to attract more young families. I don’t think as a church we attract. What we have to do is be a welcoming room for everyone, and growth will come.
Reverend Willan enjoys spending her free time with her husband Don, their dog, Moses and their cat, Winifred. She enjoys writing fiction and is the author of the Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn Mystery series. She and Don will be moving to Connecticut in the very near future.
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