Category Archives: Clergy profiles

Deacon brings hope to the streets

Deacon Art Miller (left) works with former gang members in Hartford/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleBLOOMFIELD – He calls them his family. He knows their stories and their struggles. He looks into their eyes, he says, and can see God’s work looking back at him.

“If I can be a mirror, a way for them to see their own reflection and to see God, then I’m doing my job,” he said.

Deacon Arthur Miller has served as director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the past five years. His job, he says, is to bring hope to the streets.

He works everyday with people like Herman “Big Bird” Cintron, who was a leader in the Los Solidos gang, and Tasha Negron-Mendez, who knew street life all too well. He also works daily with prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers and gang members.

A life-long devout Catholic, Miller watched as the church struggled to meet the cultural needs of its members. Of the 64 million Catholics in the U.S., only 3 percent are black.

“The church needs to minister not only to the spirit, but to the body,” he says.

Recognizing this need, he says, the church began seeking ways to fight, “the twin demons of poverty and violence that plague our streets, primarily in our black and brown communities.”

Miller has always been an advocate for social justice. Growing up in Chicago, he remembers his mother telling him about the horrors of the Holocaust and the unfairness of the Japanese internment camps. She also taught him that to say Christopher Columbus discovered America, was like saying those who already lived on the land weren’t human.

So when the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1960s, it was only natural for Miller to march and protest for equality, even though it landed him in jail.

His passion for equality was also fueled by the murder of his childhood friend Emmett Till. In 1955, Till was beaten to death at the age of 14 after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. His killers were exonerated.

Miller later wrote a book about Till called, “The Journey to Chatham: Why Emmett Till’s Murder Changed America, a Personal Story.”

Though Miller’s fervor for civil rights remained strong, he pursued a career in corporate America. He served as an executive for Aetna, and later opened an investment firm in New York.

But there was always something inside him that called him to the church. About 12 years ago he met a Hartford priest that changed his life. Rev. Alfred Janicke of St. Michael’s Parish in Hartford was a saint in Miller’s eyes.

“He was the most gentle, most wonderful person I knew. He walked around the north end of Hartford wearing a little cap that said ‘Jesus is my boss’,” Miller recalls.

Janicky encouraged Miller to become a deacon and Miller said everything came together after that.

He recently helped Cintron and Negron-Mendez complete a course in non-violence, which they will use when telling their story to troubled youth.

“When I got out of jail someone told me about him (Miller)…he helped me get a job real quick and began motivating me. I think without him I would have died,” he said.

Negron-Mendez said Miller taught her that with God on her side, she can have hope once again.

On Nov. 6 the Hartford’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries will host its annual fundraiser at the Courtyard Marriott in Farmington.  For information call (860) 243-0648.

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Cheshire synagogue welcomes new rabbi

Rabbi Josh Whinston is the new rabbi at Temple Beth David/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleCHESHIRE – After leading Temple Beth David in Cheshire for 20 years, the renowned Rabbi Eric Silver has stepped aside and made room for new leadership.

He retired in June and on July 1 Rabbi Josh A. Whinston took the reigns.

Following his recent rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, Whinston moved to New York about eight months ago where his wife, Sarah, earned a job as a camp director. Whinston, 29, began looking for a job in the commutable area and said Temple Beth David caught his eye.

“There seemed to be a real warmth here,” he said, adding that the congregation’s transparency was appealing to him. “It seemed like the right kind of place for me.”

He said his plan, for now, is to get to know the community and learn what their needs are, though he does have plenty of fresh ideas – such as possibly hosting more Shabbat observances.

But with 210 families in the Temple Beth David community, Whinston said his main goal is meeting everyone and preparing to the High Holy Days, which begin on Sept. 9 this year.

Whinston, who, like Silver, strums his guitar throughout worship services, said one of his main focuses is prayer.

“I want people to experience warm, intense, serious prayer,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for…hopefully that’s reflected in worship.”

Whinston holds an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from the University of California Santa Barbara and a Masters in Hebrew Letters and a Masters in Jewish Education from HUC. He said he loves to travel, cook, golf and scuba dive. However, with a 5-month-old baby and a new home in Cheshire, the Whinston’s haven’t had much time for those things.

According to Alice Bauer, of the Temple Beth David’s publicity committee, the synagogue will host multiple events to give the community a chance to get to know the new rabbi. For information call (203) 272-0037.

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Meriden pastor advocate for justice

Photo by Kimi LarmouthMERIDEN – He didn’t intend to be a voice for the gay Christian community, but that’s what ended up happening when Rev. James Olson decided to go through seminary as an openly gay man in 1995.

Olson, rector of Center Congregational Church in Meriden, never intended to be a minister either, but says that’s the career he stumbled into after trying his hand at other vocations.

“I went to Maine and went through the Maritime Academy. I thought I was going to sail, but I got sick and couldn’t do that,” he said, noting that his struggled with diabetes got in the way.

So he went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned his bachelor’s degree in hospitality administration.

It was during his undergraduate school studies that Olson, 41, became active in church for the first time, helping First Churches of Northampton to become open and affirming along the way. The pastor, Olson recalls, is the one who nudged him toward ministry.

“The pastor came up to me and said ‘why don’t you go to seminary so you can get paid for being here all day like you are now,’” Olson said.

Olson now has a Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary and a Master of Sacred Theology from Boston University School of Theology, where he is currently completing a Doctor of Ministry degree.

He was the first openly gay person to be ordained in the Hampshire Association of Massachusetts Conference UCC. Others have since followed in his footsteps.

Before coming to Center Congregational two years ago, Olson served as pastor of Greater Hartford United Church of Christ in Vermont and minister of music and worship at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis – both parishes he helped to become open and affirming.

Being open and affirming, Olsen said, doesn’t mean waving rainbow flags outside the church. In fact, he despises rainbow flags and steers clear of gay pride parades. To him, he said, being inclusive simply means being on the “right side of justice.” His own church, though welcoming, is not officially open and affirming and Olson says there are other issues in the Meriden community that the church needs to focus on right now.

“I’m gay, but that’s not the focus of my ministry,” he says.

In his academic research Olson has been studying worship and liturgy, which is something he said he’s passionate about.

“I think we would all learn well by following his example and model for ministry,” said Bishop John Selders, of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, “he manages to balance liturgy, community organization and service.”

Five years ago Olson and his husband, Darrick Jackson, were the first openly gay couple to get married at Marsh Chapel in Boston.

“Amazingly, the roof stayed on and no pits of sulfur bubbled up in the parking lot,” he said.

Jackson serves as Unitarian Universalist minster.

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In new book, minister offers advice to bi-vocational pastors

Rev. Bob LaRochelle serves as a bi-vocational pastor/ContributedUNION — It’s hard to find research on bi-vocational pastors, but as churches continue to reel from the 2008 recession, more and more churches are being forced to turn to part-time pastors. In 2007, for instance, 40 percent of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, were using bi-vocational pastors.

For nearly a decade Rev. Robert R. LaRochelle has lead the Congregational Church of Union, and all the while working full time as a guidance counselor at South Windsor High School. Until recently he also coached the varsity baseball team.

LaRochelle, a former permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, has written a book on the bi-vocational minister called Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church.

He said using part-time pastors is an issue many churches are facing.

“It’s becoming an economic reality,” he said.

LaRochelle explained that he intentionally sought a church that needed a part-time pastor because he needed extra income at the time. But he knew right away that bi-vocational pastorship was growing trend – a drift he doesn’t mind at all.

He says serving a church part-time allows him to pursue both his passions – ministry and counseling – and he uses both skills in both of his crafts.

“He has a passion for anything he does. He loves counseling, he loves being in the ministry,” said Mike Bombara, fellow counselor at South Windsor High. “He’s one of the few people I know in life who loves doing his job. It’s a precious commodity.”

Bombara added that when crisis situations arrive at the school, LaRochelle is quick to react and reach out to the students.

Over the years, LaRochelle has learned how to excel at both jobs, care for his family, and still have time to watch the Red Sox.

“He’s the best pastor I’ve ever come across and I’m 75 years old,” said Donald Graves, member of CCU. “Him being a counselor is a large benefit. It gives him wisdom in situations that might come up. I think great value to our church.”

Because he’s seen more and more churches, particularly evangelical churches, considering turning to part-time pastors, he felt a book on the issue was apposite. Churches, he explained, need full-time leadership, even if they can only afford a part-time pastor.

“The same needs are there, the need for ministry is there, the worship needs are there…” LaRochelle said.

But that shouldn’t deter churches from moving to a part-time pastorship. He explains in his book that by using other leaders within the church, the congregation’s needs can still be consistently met. And, he added, pastors need to approach their bi-vocational ministry with a different methodology, which is explained in the book.

The text, which will be released in the Fall and can be pre-ordered here, is a tool for church search committees, seminarians, church councils, pastors and parishioners, he explained.

Evident of his time management skills, LaRochelle is able to maintain a regular blog, which can be viewed here.

Hartford pastor hopes to be progressive voice in community

Rev. Stephen Camp is the new pastor at Faith Congregational Church/ContributedHARTFORD – When Rev. Stephen Camp was a young boy growing up in the North End of Hartford, he remembers admiring his pastor’s fight for social justice.

Today, when Camp walks into his second-story office at Faith Congregational Church in Hartford, he hopes he’s doing his pastor, the late Rev. Jared Wright, proud.

Camp, 57, is the first person in 175 years to rise from the pews to the pulpit at Faith Congregational.

“I’ve come home to give back … this is a very sacred moment in my life,” he said.

He began leading the church in December, and on the weekend of April 24, was installed as the church’s 35th pastor.

Faith Congregational, 2030 Main St. in Hartford, has been without a pastor since Rev. Barbara Headley, the church’s first female minister, left three years ago.

Camp, who was serving as conference minister of the UCC Southern Conference, said he’s blessed to be able to come back to the church he grew up in.

“Getting to work closely with people is what I love to do,” he said. “There’s a lot of spirit and vitality here. It’s a good move for my family and I.”

His wife, Patricia, an attorney and teacher, will be moving to Connecticut soon. Together they have four children and four grandchildren.

Camp has spent the past four months working indefatigably to get the church more involved in the community. When things slow down some, he plans to work in his rose garden.

In February, for the first time, the church hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Camp has also been actively involved with other clergy from the area in becoming familiar with the state budget, and is ready to fight racism and homophobia head on.

“The church has something to say about what’s happening in the community and about what’s happening on the North Side,” he said. “We’re obligated, by our faith, to talk about those different things happening in our community and try to offer solutions.”

He said he also hopes to get involved with more ecumenical work in the area, noting that clergy have to work together to make a difference.

This year the church’s motto is “take it to the next level by faith.” Camp has taught workshops at the church and plans to keep the congregation’s energy strong by having guest speakers throughout the year, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright who is slated to visit in the fall.

The church, which is home to about 300 worshippers, is the oldest black church the area.

For information on Faith Congregational, visit the church website here.

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Hartford pastor ardent about his community

Apostle Bradford Howard Jr./ContributedHARTFORD – On his 62nd birthday, Apostle Bradford Howard Jr. did exactly what he wanted – he handed out Thanksgiving turkeys to those who couldn’t afford to buy one.

And this Christmas season, he’ll again reach out to his Hartford community by recognizing exceptional area youth who are making a difference.

The program is part of the Live in Peace Youth Project, which is sponsored by Restoration Temple Deliverance Mission – a church now pastored by his daughter, Leslie Howard McCarter.

On Dec. 18 and 7 p.m., the youth – the students of Mary M. Hooker Environmental Studies Magnet School and four students from Restoration Temple – will be honored with a musical award ceremony. The event is also a fundraiser for the church and prizes will be given out to those in attendance.

Programs like this are what Howard thrives on. He’s fervent about the city’s south end and works with his church and other organizations to meet the needs of his neighbors, providing coats in the winter, school supplies in the fall and handing out cans of food whenever he can.

If he’s driving his black Murano slowly through town, it’s likely that it’s filled with boxes of cereal or bottles of water. Howard knows that some of the city’s homeless don’t go to shelters, so he goes to them. In the winter he brings them gloves, socks and scarves.

“We have to be able to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “Christ isn’t just in the big buildings.”

Howard, a Catholic turned Pentecostal, co-founded Restoration Temple with his wife, Carol, 10 years ago. He has an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate of ministry from North Carolina College of Theology.

He describes himself as a quiet little country pastor from the ghetto because he doesn’t like boasting about his accomplishments – like the fact that he is the 2008 Capital Area Substance Abuse Council Treatment Award recipient, or that he’s authored Don’t be Proud, Be Blessed, which was designed to help people deal with stressful times.

He said street ministry has been his focus ever since he was a pre-teen, noting that he was sick of being helpless about the sadness he saw in society.

“I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t like,” he said. “I wanted to better my neighborhood.”

Bishop Christopher McCarter, Howard’s son-in-law (though the family avoids such a term) has helped Howard with his street ministry for about a decade and said he’s learned a lot about caring for people.

“He’s helped me transition from the traditional church,” he said, adding that ministry means thinking outside the box. “You’ve got to go beyond the norm of a clergyman and start mixing in (with the community).”

Marcus Jarvis, co-founder of FrontStage Productions, met Howard this fall and said it feels like he’s known the pastor all his life.

“I would say he is a rare breed nowadays. He reminds me of our elders of the old days who took time out for young people to give back,” he said. “He’s of the philosophy that a rising tide raises all ships.”

Music is the common bond between Marcus and Howard. Never too Busy to Serve You Lord is a tune Howard wrote that will soon be released on an album.

The song just might be performed at the youth awards show. For information on the program, call (860) 992-5535.

Bristol pastor says military past enhances his ministry

Rev. Paul Krampitz hugs his daughter/ContributedBRISTOL — There’s nothing arid about Paul Krampitz.
Looking at the Lutheran pastor, who has incarnadine cheeks and an amiable smile, you’d never know he served in the U.S. Army and then worked as a police detective before entering the ministry.

Krampitz, who has led Saint Andrew Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bristol for the past two years, is a second career preacher, although he isn’t surprised he wound up behind the pulpit.

“I knew at a very early age that I would one day probably wind up being a pastor. It’s just that I wasn’t ready to do that at the time and wanted other experiences,” said Krampitz, who grew up in North Haven.
He said that when he finished undergraduate school, where he earned a degree in criminal justice, he joined the Army to gain military experience. After serving for four years he became a Cheshire police officer. He graduated first in class at the police academy.
His career was on the fast track and it wasn’t long before Krampitz was promoted to detective and youth officer.  But when he realized his police career couldn’t advance much further because of the size of the department, he decided to attend law school.
“I’m sort of a restless soul. I enjoy new challenges,” he said.
It was at law school that Krampitz realized he enjoyed working with high schoolers and had a passion for investigating crimes that had to do with youth. He began to do what he said is called community policing, and started teaching teens about the dangers of drugs (similar to what is now the D.A.R.E program).
He then pursued a master’s degree in education and decided to take a position at the Children’s Home in Cromwell where he worked with special needs children, young delinquents and kids with a poor home life.
“I really liked that because they were sort of like the kids I had been working with before,” he said. “And it was there that I rediscovered my sense of call to ordained ministry.”
He went to Yale Divinity School and studied in Philadelphia for one year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. He’s been an ordained pastor since 2001.
He said his law enforcement background makes him a better minister.
“It got me comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people, it got me thinking about different ways that people learn,” he said. “I learned to come to terms with my own physical and emotional limits and learned self discipline, learned to be organized, but probably most importantly, learned to become more comfortable with being in very charged situations, crisis, and being able to function and be present.”
Krampitz still holds his first career close to his heart and currently serves as a chaplain for the Connecticut State Police. He said it’s crucial that the troopers dealing with day-to-day crises have someone to turn to.
When Krampitz isn’t counseling his church or the state’s police officers, he’s planning the next episode of Lutheran Table Talk, a TV show featured each weekly on Nutmeg TV. He started the show shortly after he came to St. Andrew’s as a way to be more visible in the Bristol community.
Arlene Creswell, a member of Saint Andrew and co-host of Lutheran Table Talk, said she is overjoyed that Kramptiz found his way to her congregation.
“His pastoral care is exemplary, and I have witnessed firsthand the humanness he brings to his pastoral care,” she said. “He is a pastor, the shepherd, but he is human too and hurts when parishioners hurt. He grieves when parishioners grieve.”
She said Krampitz, who often quotes U2 in his sermons, has helped the church grow, noting that more young families have joined the church since he came.
“One thing that I particularly like is that I can totally speak with him on a pastor/parishioner level when I need counsel,” she said, “but I can also speak to him on a peer level and be comfortable talking to him about anything.”
Krampitz has three children, including twin boys and likes to play the drums whenever he gets the chance. He’s been a drummer for more than 40 years and has performed at clubs, weddings and, of course, at church.
Krampitz, 51, is also a member of the German American Society in Bristol and is pursuing a doctor of ministry at Hartford Seminary.