Rev. Flynn celebrating 35 years in the ministry

  • The Rev. Stephanie Flynn Contributed photo

  • FLYNN

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 11/26/2021 3:03:24 PM
Modified: 11/26/2021 3:03:32 PM

PHILLIPSTON — The Rev. Stephanie Flynn is on the verge of celebrating two very important milestones in her life. The first, which happened 35 years ago, is her ordination as a minister, and the other marks 20 years in the pulpit of the Congregational Church of Phillipston, UCC.

When it comes to her decision to enter the clergy, Rev. Flynn told the Athol Daily News it was her family which proved the greatest influence.

“I was brought up in a family of faith,” she said. “So, I was nurtured in the faith. My father was a deacon, my mother taught Sunday School and played the organ in a very small chapel. So, I was definitely nurtured that way.

“Both sets of grandparents were involved in different churches. My parents actually met at a meeting that helped form the United Church of Christ, because the United Church of Christ is made up of evangelical and reform, and then the Congregational Christians merging together in 1957. My parents were at a preliminary meeting for that.”

She said, however, that she took a career path quite different from those taken by her parents and siblings.

“My mother is a retired nurse,” Flynn explained. “My father has died, but he was a veterinarian. One sister is a veterinarian, my brother is a research scientist. My younger sister is a musician. So, other than my younger sister, most of the family has a science background. So, I was kind of different, and felt the call to ministry.”

Flynn graduated from Lyme-Old Lyme High School in Connecticut after spending her junior year as an exchange student in New Zealand.

“Then I went to Drew University in Madison, New Jersey and studied history,” she continued. “But I already knew I wanted to do ministry. It was recommended to me to not major in religion, to try to major in something different so that you’re more well-rounded.

“Then I went straight from Drew to Yale, and I graduated from Yale in 1986 with my master’s in divinity. And I’ve been at it for 35 years ever since.”

Asked what drew her to the ministry, Flynn said, “Please don’t put in the dogmatic school because that wouldn’t be where I belong.

“But I always felt called to be with people, minister to people. When I was first ordained, the big thing in the ’80s was AIDS. Some people said it was God’s punishment against homosexuals. At the time, it was very prevalent.

“So, I did some chaplain training at Yale New Haven Hospital,” she said. “I worked with many different kinds of patients, including AIDS patients; to be with them and assure them of God’s love, that, no, it wasn’t God’s punishment. My mother also worked on an AIDS floor, and she had people in her own home church not shake her hand because people were so afraid.”

Much of her call to ministry, she explained further, was about being with and speaking for those who have no one to speak for them.

She said the current pandemic is not too dissimilar.

“It’s very similar in that it’s a crisis,” said Flynn. “People make a lot of assumptions. But I actually — the two people from this church who died of COVID, what was horrible for me was that I couldn’t be with either of them. Normally, I would give someone a hug, but we’re in a time in which you’ve got to stay six feet away.

“It’s the reverse of what I’m used to doing. I’m used to holding somebody’s hand as they’re dying. So, it’s been an immensely challenging time.”

Rev. Flynn said when she’s making visits, she always assures people she’s had the vaccination and booster and wears a mask.

Asked how the ministry has changed since her ordination, Rev. Flynn said, “When I was first ordained in 1986, Doris Belcher in Winchendon and Ruth Martin in Templeton were my colleagues — female colleagues — and they kind of reached out and shepherded me. But early in my ministry, when there was a clergy group it would be one-quarter female, three-quarters male.

“That has certainly changed. It’s now more 50/50. It might even be more 60/40. But 35 years ago, when I went to do a wedding or a funeral and I’d be walking up the aisle, you’d hear ‘it’s a woman, it’s a woman,’ like it was big news. Now, it doesn’t mean anything. No one notices.”

Rev. Flynn said she ended up assuming the pulpit in Phillipston due in large part to 9/11.

“I was at Memorial Congregational Church in Baldwinville for 14½ years and then I had my second son, and I was just going to take it easy and be an at-home mom for a while,” she explained. “Well, that was what I had planned, but then I was asked to preach here, there, and everywhere, just substituting — what they call ‘pulpit supply.’ Finally, I realized I was doing this every Sunday.

“Then Sept. 11 — because I finished in Baldwinville in January 2001 — Sept. 11 happened and I just very much felt like, ‘Stephanie, this is a crisis. We just all need to pull together. We all need to do our bit.’ So, I began in the church in Phillipston on Dec. 2, 2001.”

She lauded the members of her church (about 70 people, she said) for their independence and their ability to get things done on their own, as well as their generosity.

Flynn said she expects the celebration of both anniversaries — her ordination and her move to Phillipston — to be fairly low-key.

At the Sunday service on Dec. 5, she said, the Rev. Harold “Skip” Lloyd, former minister of Athol Congregational Church, UCC, and Baptist minister the Rev. Phil Goff, who had churches in Ayer and Grafton — both personal friends of Flynn — are expected to speak. Goff, she said, was at her original ordination council.

Worship service on Dec. 5 begins at 10 a.m.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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