SOUTHINGTON - A Southington native, Kathleen Cunliffe, will become the first senior minister at First Congregational Church of Wallingford in the church’s 342-year history today.
Cunliffe’s installation ceremony will be at the church at 23 South Main St. in Wallingford at 4 p.m. She will be the church’s 18th senior minister since its founding in 1675. Cunliffe previously served as a pastor at First Congregational Church in Bristol from Jan. 2013 to 2016. Her hometown church was Plantsville Congregational.
Cunliffe said her connection to her faith grew when her son, Joshua, was diagnosed at two-and-a-half years old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The progressively degenerative disease claimed his life in 2009, when he was 21 years old. She said her ministers helped her to get through that difficult time and to continue on with life. Additionally, she remarked that her son was able to appreciate “the beauty of creation” - nature, science, stars, the ocean - and ultimately led a full, albeit short, life.
“Some people might have run away from their faith or become angry at God but it made me go deeper into my faith and go to my church for support,” she said. “This experience made me want to reach out and help others with what they are going through, help them find a way to go on.”
Cunliffe graduated from Andover Newton theological school in 2011 with a Master of Divinity and was ordained in 2013.
She said she is eager to reach out to the Wallingford community, including local non-profit groups, and find ways to use the church to help those in need.
“When I was in Bristol, I got involved with community leaders to help solve the problem of homelessness,” she said. “These days, people do not always reach out to the church so the church needs to reach out beyond its walls. We need to use our skills to help meet the needs of the community, not just be a fortress-like building on a hill.
“When I worked with the youth ministry, I found that they cared less about pomp and circumstance and more about finding a way to make a difference in people’s lives to give their own lives meaning.”
Cunliffe said one of the first things she did at First Congregational Church of Wallingford was to have people wear name tags so that the congregation would come to know each other’s names.
“These days people have become distant from each other,” she said. “Not many homes have front porches and people don’t seem to want to talk as much. However, even with all of our differences there are some similarities too. You have to get to know each other before you can do something positive together. I believe that Faith isn’t just about Sunday morning at 10 a.m., it is what you do at work, how you treat people and how you use your money.”
Cunliffe also plans to reach out to the local library to see if she can get the church congregation to volunteer for storytelling. She also intends to help youth who are dealing with substance abuse and opiod addiction.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.