The poignant 9/11 memorial service at Fontana Field last Sunday was “a work of thousands doing their individual parts to honor the memory of the victims of the attacks on America 10 years ago with simple acts of kindness and service,” said event chairperson Leeanne Frisina.
But, behind the scenes was the quiet and invaluable sponsorship of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Southington sustaining the efforts of the organizers of “Southington Remembers 9/11.”
There’s a rich history behind today’s Interfaith Clergy group with roots going back a quarter of a century to the good work of organizations such as the Southington Social Action Council. Their efforts supported, united and inspired diverse groups in reaching out to the hungry, the homeless and other disadvantaged people through programs including the CROP Walk, Bread for Life, the Good Samaritan Fund and others.
The Rev. Richard “Sandy” Koenig, pastor of Plantsville Congregation Church, the Rev. James Debner, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and the Rev. Suzannah Rohman, pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and president of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Southington, provide insight into this caring organization.
Documents at Zion Lutheran Church offer a wealth of information about the development of the interfaith group in Southington.
There were pioneers in cooperative community service such as Rita Bartlett, Rosemary Page, the Rev. Walter F. Geraghty and the Rev. Arthur Dupont, then pastors of St. Dominic and Mary Our Queen Churches, respectively; former pastors Gordon Ellis and David Strosahl of First Congregational Church and First Baptist Church, and respectfully too many more to identify who forged the way through the decades to a place that today is a model of community compassion.
In 1987, the Rev. James Debner said Geraghty proposed that an Ecumenical Service be organized. With Southington Action Council, the Southington Ecumenical Laity and the clergy working together, an ecumenical service was held on Jan. 15, 1989, launching a "Week of Christian Unity."
It was only the beginning as the evolving group, striving for a broader sense of unity, renamed their group the Interfaith Clergy Association of Southington while transforming the Good Samaritan Fund to today’s Manna Fund. The name change was designed to reflect a more inclusive representation of faiths including Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation, a small Ba’hai group and, 10 years ago, welcoming the Sihk congregation.
Today, the Interfaith Clergy Association of Southington faithfully supports Bread for Life, Southington Community Services and Food Pantry, Southington Community YMCA, CROP Walk, STEPS, Manna Fund and Souper Bowl for Caring.
“We respond to other needs and occasions as they arise,” Debner said.
As for spiritual activities “A Day of Unity” was held on Feb. 13, 2000, with supporting signs at all participating places of worship. The American National Day of Prayer is observed at the Town Green on the first Thursday of May each year.
The Rev. Victoria Triano, director of pastoral care at Southington Care Center, organizes and extends the invitation to all who wish to join in prayer.
“Traditionally, our largest activity is the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving,” said Rohman. “This year’s service will be hosted by St. Aloysius Church on Nov. 22.”
The Rev. Kevin Dillon said that his faith community is looking forward to the service at St. Aloysius this year. The service welcomes all to come and give thanks to one God.
“The special spirit that is Southington’s comes about for many reasons. Good things happen here because of the number of people who have a sense of calling, who embrace the concept of giving their time and their energies to others … to the community,” Koenig said.
Koenig applauds the inclusiveness of the people of Gishrei Shalom Congregation, the Ba’hai and, in the past decade, the Sikh community - all working side by side generously with all people of faiths.
“What we do together can be compared to the concept of a healthy family environment, at the levels of each congregation, the local community, our country and even globally," Koenig said.
“When I arrived here three years ago, I was excited to learn that Southington had an interfaith group,” Rohman said. “It’s so important that we talk to each other. We all care about the people of our town. I quickly realized that Southington is the most unified community I’ve ever seen.”
“I believe that the work of the interfaith association is a major factor in the generous spirit and character of Southington,” she said.
As for a vision for the future, Rohman said the support for the Interfaith Clergy Association of Southington will allow the group to continue to grow the number and amount of services offered in the community.
“We are positioned to extend our work to include doing hands-on things together, like fixing houses and other outreach actions. Meanwhile, the CROP Walk, STEPS and the Souper Bowl for Caring are important for our young people who need to be valued, recognized and developed as important citizens of our town,” Rohman said.
“They really want to make a difference," she said. "Today our country is so far apart in so many ways, but the climate in this country changes at the local level. So let’s be different!”