“Folk duo to bring early American music to Newbury’s First Parish Church”, Newburyport Daily News, 4/16/15


Newsletter Steeple photo

First Parish Church of Newbury

Winter, 2015                                 Volume 2, Issue 2


Minister’s Message, February 2015

Plant, Watering & Learning from Our Friends in Christ

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  ~ 1 Corinthians 3:6

Greetings, sisters & brothers,

These mid-winter months can be a good time for taking stock. I’d like to share a few thoughts on where we’re planting and watering, like Paul and Apollos, in hopes that God will give the growth. I also have an invitation to share.

To be clear, the God-given growth we seek first and foremost isn’t in numbers but in quality. Spiritual maturity in Christ involves growing in heart, in mind and in relationships that reflect God’s love. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount, “and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

In the past 18 months, we’ve been planting ministries suited to a people stirred up and set free by grace. We’ve planted a bi-weekly Bible study, a monthly mission outreach project, a re-energized diaconate, a Communion ministry to our shut-ins and a monthly fellowship meal. All are intentionally designed with ministry goals in mind. Each nourishes habits of the heart: to look outward, to bless our neighbors, to feel joy as we dust off and tread anew in the footsteps of Christ.

As we plant, we also water in such a way that our systems for growing disciples – including worship, a Sunday school and other ministries – are sustained even without a fulltime pastor. What we’re building is a sustainable ministry infrastructure. It empowers – and indeed relies on – laypeople to grasp the reins of our Congregationalist Christian tradition and be church in the 21st century with confidence and gusto.

Because every garden can use a good rain shower now and then, I invite all of you to set aside a day for learning in service to the church. The day is March 21. Location is Ludlow, Mass. The event is Super Saturday, a bonanza of 59 workshops, all geared toward Massachusetts UCC congregations like ours that have much to share and a bit to learn as well.

Attend particular workshops according to what our congregation needs and what you want to learn: about serving as a deacon, extending hospitality, inspiring commitments to missions, managing stewardship and just about everything else. To learn more and sign up, visit, email or call 508-875-5233.

Like the Apostle Paul, we plant. We could say our sisters and brothers in other congregations do some of the watering, like Apollo.

“Encourage one another,” Paul tells the Thessalonians, “and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

And when God gives the growth, the garden matures.

Your friend in Christ,

Rev. MacDonald

First Parish Church builds a Facebook following!

 Are you on Facebook? Have you “liked” our First Parish Church page yet? If not, then you’re missing out on a stream of announcements, resources and interesting news! Just go to & hit “like” to get the feed. Done!

Moderator’s Notes

As I write this under the throws of yet another blast of confining snow, reflections of the past year’s accomplishments at First Parish are helping to brighten my spirits.  Clearly we are a body of people who bring a multitude of talents, temperaments, passion, vision, time, and labor to the continuing legacy of the oldest church in the greater Newburyport area.

The physical manifestations of what has happened are most noticeable, though not most significant.  We repaired the steeple and are working to restore the building in order to continue running the environmental pre-school, productive organic garden shares, concerts in an acoustically advantageous sanctuary, Sunday School, Sunday Services, Bible discussion, community meals, and increased outreach.

What is most noteworthy is the recognition that all who attend First Parish offerings have shared their time and talent in some significant way.  Clearly the seeds of what a spiritual community needs to be are there as spring nears.

Edwina Goodhue, Moderator

First Parish Church Sunday School Winter

            Recently winter weather has not been kind to First Parish or its Sunday School. We had been having a snowless winter late into January when Sunday School met behind the Church in the parking area for an Epiphany-season charcoal grill outing featuring Frankincense and Myrrh. Small samples of the two spices given to young Jesus by the far-traveling star-savvy Maggi were burned to test their aroma for ourselves. The burial spice Myrrh had no pleasantness about its odor when burned. But the Frankincense had a very pleasing, perfumed smell. A smell that in Bible times was hoped would find favor with a deity and cause it to incline its ear to any prayers being offered. To not waste the charcoal fire, grilled cheese sandwiches were made for both students and teachers using a cast-iron Pie Iron to do the grilling. Last year the Sunday School looked at an image of the painting “Journey of the Magi” by James Tissot. 2000 years ago it was a major project to get some (three ?) of the king’s Maggi (elderly, experienced men wise in the reading of heavenly signs among other things) to go on  a very long journey to deliver gifts suitable for the new King of Israel: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. There had to be provision during their long journey for the necessities and the comforts appropriate to these Maggi who were people of some importance. Food and its preparation, baggage, animals to transport everything, the security people to assure the safety of all of the people and the animals of the caravan and of the valuable gifts being taken for presentation to the new king. It probably drew a lot of attention when this retinue arrived in Jerusalem looking for the new king who’s existence and location was unknown to the national political leaders there at the capitol. We know Him today and He is the object of our worship each Sunday, snowless and otherwise, and each day in between.

Our Sunday School helped with the serving of the once-monthly Thursday evening meal at the Newburyport Salvation Army by First Parish Church Newbury on February 19, 2015. This was the first occasion when our Church was responsible for both the preparation and the serving of the meal. This opportunity to serve will be available on a continuing basis not only to the Sunday School but to anyone in the congregation. Please continue to keep our precious Sunday School class members in your prayers as we move forward into the upcoming Easter Season.

Children and families are invited on Palm Sunday March 29, 9:45 – 11:00 to a special program – “Easter Bible Adventures”.  All ages will receive a palm and experience the Easter scriptures through “hands on” activities.

Sunday School continues to study the ordinary followers, disciples, learners of Jesus in the New Testament and the extraordinary faith and changes that came from knowing him and God’s awesome plan for new life.  Our memory project is Psalm 23.  We look at each shepherd and sheep image and think about how it benefits us today.

On Sunday May 3 we hope to host the monthly pot-luck lunch as the “Bible Lands Food Tasting Fest”.  We will be asking our congregation to bring dishes connected to places named in the Bible.  Expect further recipes and information.

Lobster Coast Dowsers

 I’ve been dowsing for over 20 years – and been involved in the American Society of Dowsers, in Danville, VT, and various chapters on both coasts and in Tucson, where I first learned to dowse.  There are many theories of how dowsing works – and doesn’t – but what I love about this skill is that anyone can learn to do it and all the dowsers I know acknowledge spirit for this gift.  People have been dowsing for thousands of years; how else would you find underground sources of water for your family or tribe or nation?

When I moved to Newburyport, I was thirsty for a local meeting.  Going to the annual convention in Vermont was not enough.  And I found another person, Carolyn Bartlett, who wanted to start a chapter, also.  Our first meeting was in September 2014, and we have been having monthly meetings on the third Saturday of the month, here at First Parish Church of Newbury, in Holton Hall, and we’re having fun and learning and being inspired by other dowsers.  Don’t know anything about dowsing?  Think you might like to learn?  Join us at 2 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month and we will welcome you – not just with open L-rods!!

Isabell VanMerlin 978-499-4399

Music Update

The Easter season will soon be upon us and First Parish choir is planning on singing for Palm and Easter Sundays.  We’re always looking for volunteers so if you want to sing please get in touch with Virginia Champi at  There are only a few rehearsals so it’s not a huge time commitment – please join us!!

Our PreSecret Garden school

 OSG director Ellie Dawson reports that she and her staff are really looking forward to the end of February and – maybe – some warmer weather!  Snow days have created scheduling difficulties, both for students and for upcoming tours of the facility.  The students are involved in creative adventures every day and the younger class, as usual, is full for the fall with a waiting list!  Staff, students, and animals are doing well and we look forward to a more comprehensive report from Ellie for the spring newsletter.

New Eden Garden Update

We have a new Facebook page – so check it out!

There is a new garden committee of dedicated volunteers to replace the super dedicated Patty McDermott.  Please feel free to contact Chuck, Cynthia, Annette, or Joe if you have any questions.  > > There’s a lot of energy with this new leadership and potential for improving the garden’s design and function, so now is a good time to put your ideas forward as well!  Our face book page will be a great way to continue the discussion.

Garden plot rates are going down this year!

Small plot $65

Large plot $155

We’ve modified the garden covenant (now Mission Statement) to eliminate some restrictions that seemed unnecessary, and have added reference to new gleaning and mentoring programs. There will no longer be a separate application form.

And our bees are alive and well! Cassandra Campbell of the Northshore Permaculture Group will continue her good care and maintenance of the hive this year.

Current gardeners:

1. Please let Annette ( know if you’re returning to your garden plot this year, and remind me which plot you have. We won’t know about open plots and opportunities for switching until we’ve heard back from everybody, but we do expect some openings.

2. Please make checks out to First Parish Church (with New Eden Garden in the memo line) and send to:

First Parish Church of Newbury

20 High Street

Newbury, MA 01951

Attn: New Eden Garden/Joyce Cerny/John Fish

3. Fill out, sign and return your mission statement to me via e-mail or at the address below, also by February 20th, please.

4. Please let me know if you are leaving or no longer in the garden and wish to be taken off this e-mail list.

If you know of anyone who is interested in renting a garden plot, please ask him or her to contact Annette!

And Finally, Many Thanks To:

 An anonymous group of dedicated folks who are writing applications for grants to help pay for the steeple restoration; the Essex Heritage Foundation is the most recent application – if anyone knows of other foundations please give the information to our Moderator, Edwina;

Brenda, Brenda’s husband Jim, and Isabell for creating the concert brochure for the Soggy Po’ Boys and Rock My Soul;

Volunteers who read scripture during the Sunday services;

Those individuals who are working on the music series;

Bert and Sayre Noyes for their continued involvement with the Sunday school;

Joyce for spending long hours assisting in the office;

Virginia for assuring the piano and organ are in good working order and there is quality music for services and holidays;

Cindy Schartman for donating garden food to those in need and being a member of the newly formed garden committee;

The other gardeners, Chuck, Annette and Joe, who are volunteering on the steering committee for New Eden Gardens;

Jane Merrow and Robert L. for organizing and participating in the Church’s Salvation Army dinner;

Brenda for helping with communion;

Karen King and Christene for providing food and beverages during coffee hour;

Robert Brown for all the things he takes care of on Sunday morning;

Virginia and John for taking over for Joyce when she’s gone on vacation;

Isabell for introducing the dowsers to our sanctuary;

Rev. Jeff MacDonald for delivering such fabulous, thought provoking sermons each Sunday.


The Church couldn’t function without everyone’s help, so a big thanks to all who are involved at First Parish Church!


Fall, 2014 Volume 2, Issue 1

Minister’s Message

September 2014

Dear friends,

As fall arrives, the crisp air nudges us to open our closets and put on an extra layer, perhaps one we haven’t worn in a while. In this season of fresh starts, why not also don the spiritual clothing that makes us strong against temptations and a blessing to our neighbors?

Scripture encourages us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) and welcome the daytime. Our lives in First Parish Church shower us with opportunities to do just that, especially if we embrace with gusto the roles we’ve been offered to play.

In our small church, everyone gets to flex the muscles of ministry. For us, faith is no passive spectator activity. The singing we hear is what we generate ourselves in the pews – so let’s sing with passion and joy! The snacks and fellowship we share after worship stem from a caring hospitality ministry that we generate in-house. At First Parish, people are able to spread their wings, claim faith traditions and make them their own. What a blessing!

Fall marks a fine time for each of us to ask: how can I experience more of the adventure of church life? How can I “wear” more of the role entrusted to me as a church member, a deacon, an officer, a friend of the congregation? What might this role entail in all its fullness? How might I use it creatively and proactively to bless others?

We’re already seeing fresh engagement with our traditions. Deacons Jane Merrow, Mike Chesla and Laura Colby are stepping up, for instance, to make sure our shut-ins receive Communion. Robert Lindenfelzer, Brenda Marshall and others are among those demonstrating God’s love on a habitual basis each month at the Salvation Army community meal. Mike Mullins, Joyce Cerny, Karen Wakefield, Bob Brown and others have worked hard to boost our hospitality by sprucing up our front entrance. In these activities and plenty more, people bless and are blessed – through the robust claiming of community roles.

We all belong here. The more we take hold of the levers God has given us to use, the more we feel we belong and trust it on a deep down, heartfelt level.

I urge everyone, whether you’re an official member or an informal friend of the church, to look around and take inventory. Do I see a church role that God is calling me to wear…perhaps because it will be challenging, energizing, fun, satisfying and a blessing to others? Can I be more adventurous in worship? In

exploring the timeless tenets of Christianity? In prayer, holy reading or service to the community?

First Parish has everything one needs to grow into a spiritual giant. And fall is a great time for a new adventure.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. MacDonald

2014-15 Sunday school at First Parish Church of Newbury


Sunday school meets at 9:45-11:00 for grades K-8

Welcome learners K – 8th grade to Sunday school.

Experience our Awesome God through the Bible. Each Sunday, all grades pray, praise and search for a Bible verse that points to their awesome God.

The Younger Grades follow an awesome God in Genesis – creation, the world, plants, animals, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and in Luke – the birth of Jesus. Each Sunday they color, glue, glitter, paint or otherwise add to an activity page. The class thinks about – “How can you use your hands to thank God for all he made?” or “What makes Jesus such a wonderful gift to you?” Students each week fill in a letter on the AWESOME GOD banner. They will decorate Thanksgiving bags to collect food for our community.

The Older Grades find their path in Scripture revealing the Christian journey. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 29-31) They learn about Jesus’ call to his followers; baptism into the Christian faith; Peter’s trials and triumphs; sisters Mary’s and Martha’s friendship with Jesus, and Paul’s surprise encounter with Jesus. Older students discover and plot their journey of faith to fellowship with Christ.

Special occasion Sundays

November 23 – presenting Thanksgiving food bags

November 30 – “Celebrate Advent”

December (date TBA) Sunday school presents – “Joy to the World”.

Dec. 28 vacation

Moderator’s Notes

We have much to celebrate as a church community! Of particular value is how we are emerging due to the talents and passions of members, friends, Reverend MacDonald, and the First Parish leadership team. These talents have been freely and generously given during the past few years. Consequently, meaningful connections that define healthy churches are being built.

Highlights of the past year include demonstrating to the Greater Newburyport community the feasibility of living sustainably, having he organic gardens on the Newburyport Garden tour and the continual growth of the environmental pre-school.

The First Parish Sunday school program, adult Bible study, choir events, monthly Pot Luck meals, fundraising concerts, sharing of organic garden produce with those in need, and monthly meal assistance at the Salvation Army will continue. We hope to add cooking classes, nursery care during Sunday worship, and dowsers meetings to the array of offerings in the building.

Sustaining these remarkable offerings and missions necessitates critical maintenance of our aging, historic building. Though within the past few years the church has achieved a relatively debt free budget, challenges relative to the cost of maintaining the structural integrity of the steeple are on the horizon.

Grant writing and fundraising initiatives are underway to help raise money to do this. Recently the Newburyport Five Cent Savings Bank provided a grant to help jumpstart this fundraising effort!

As moderator, my goal is to keep us moving toward the “New Normal”, as defined by Reverend Wendy Vanderhart during Reverend MacDonald’s installation last winter. It represents the need for viable churches to have relevant, clear, concise identities that serve a meaningful purpose(s) within and outside the institution.

The First Parish Church of Newbury has the foundation and resources to achieve this. We are a small, welcoming group that strives to live and promote the values the Church represents. Personally, I can vouch for the way service conducted on behalf of the church and its missions has enhanced who I am and I appreciate the connections established within this unique community.

If you’d like to share your gifts by joining the pre-school board, assisting with fundraising initiatives, maintaining the new website, participating in community outreach activities (office assistance, cemetery tours, cooking classes, meal serving, etc.), or joining a committee please let me know. We are always open to any way your time and talent can serve and enhance this community.

Most importantly, join us for services, coffee hours, potlucks, bible study, or other activity that will enable us to know you better. Council meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month and are posted on the website calendar. Your attendance and agenda items are always welcome.

Hope to see you in or around church.


Music at First Parish

This fall we are fortunate to have Ryan Goodhue and Jane Wang back playing for our services. Ryan will return playing the keyboard and Jane will again be playing both organ and piano. They will alternate Sundays depending on their schedules. Both are excellent musicians who have made a great contribution to our spiritual meditation during the past year.

For the Christmas holidays, we will be gathering a choir, which Jane has again graciously agreed to direct. We hope that we will have some new volunteer choir singers this year to join those of us who have been singing over the years. The more voices we have to participate in the Christmas Eve celebration service, the better!

Deacon’s Message

Any of our deacons (Jane Merrow, Laura Colby, or Mike Chesla) would be happy to bring communion to the sick and shut-in. To set up a visit for communion, please leave a message on the church answering machine at 978-465-5597

Grant Writing Committee

Several of the Church members are working with Jane Carolan, an historical research expert, to have our building identified on the Massachusetts Historical Registry, thus enabling us to apply for funding via grants. If there is anyone else interested in serving on this committee please contact Joyce, Karen W. or Edwina.

Our Secret Garden Preschool News

OSG has had a wonderful transition into the new school year. October will mark our 4thyear of operation and we have now proudly watched our very first student head off to Kindergarten! This past week, we welcomed a new addition to our teaching team. Melissa Bilo, who will be working mainly with our younger preschoolers, has already brought her warmth and creative touch to the classroom. We also have approximately 15 new students this year along with our former ones and a very supportive group of families.

This month, the children are learning what makes each one of them unique, what special talents they may bring to their class team and just how quickly they are growing. All the children under our care are also developing keen observational skills of the world around them and are enjoying the continued harvest of their vegetable garden, pumpkins, gourds herbs and sunflowers. They are so curious as they explore their outdoor play environment and the school/church grounds and are watching closely for signs around them of the changing season.

As many of you may know, this past Sunday was International Day of Peace and the older class participated in discussions throughout the week of the meaning of the word “PEACE” and what peace might look like in their home, in school, in their neighborhood/community and the world! They participated in “Pinwheels for

Peace” (a pinwheel is used since it is regarded as a simple childlike image) to display their creativity and thoughts about peace. The children decorated their own pinwheels which we displayed in front of the church building on Sunday with a peace sign made with the children’s own handprints. Watch for more details and projects on display in the school foyer. It is our intention that these exercises will begin to set a tone for compassion and greater understanding among the children and will lead to future discussions and extended community projects throughout the school year.

We are now preparing for our parent/curriculum nights which are being planned for the middle of October where we can highlight ways to build partnerships with parents in their child’s learning and we welcome a visit from Rev. Jeff MacDonald to greet our families.

Remember that the door is also open for church members to partner with us to simply read a story or share a special talent with the children. If you are interested, please see me to schedule a time to join us for this.

We look forward to a promising year of growth in all of us!


Dowsers Meetings

The Lobster Coast Dowsers is a newly forming chapter of experienced dowsers, beginning dowsers, and anyone who is interested in learning more about it, and possibly learning to dowse. We will be meeting in Holton Hall on the third Saturdays of the month, beginning at 2 p.m., possibly earlier to teach beginning dowsing. September 20th, the first meeting, was very successful and featured a presentation by Sue and Aaron Singleton who spoke on their book,

Nine Simple Laws to Create Joy and Grace. They founded The Way to Balance, LLC, Center for Advanced Healing and Training, in Amesbury. Look at their website for the amazing array of alternative and holistic healing therapies AND training they provide:

The American Society of Dowsers is a non-profit, educational and scientific society with an open membership. It is dedicated to preserving an open forum of ideas. Dowsing is an age-old art tracing back to ancient times. Dowsing is the name given to a search for information, with or without the assistance of a tool such as a forked stick or pendulum. Traditionally, dowsing has been used for finding water, underground, for human survival. There are indications that dowsing was practiced in the timeless past, inferred from various wall paintings, manuscripts and ancient sites.

The next meeting of the Lobster Coast Dowsers will be on October 18th, and will be a time of sharing stories of how we each got involved with dowsing. This will be a way for us to get to know each other better and discover each others’ interests in order to plan future meetings and speakers. All are invited to come. To get on the e-mail list for information on upcoming meetings, please e-mail; or call Carolyn Bartlett at 978-948-7606; or Isabell VanMerlin at 978-499-4399.

Notes of Thanks

To Robert Brown, for ringing the bell every Sunday morning, setting up the sanctuary for worship, and mowing the lawn.

To Joyce Cerny, Treasurer extraordinaire.

To Virginia for taking care of our music program during worship services.

To Edwina for being willing to be Moderator this year despite all her travelling.

To Mike Mullins for painting the front steps of the Church.

To all those members who worked on the Church grounds weeding, cutting, digging and, especially, to Norm from the PRCWA for taking his time to remove the invasive vine that was taking over.

To Karen King and Christene, our tireless Sunday morning coffee hostesses.

To Bert and Sayre, our dedicated Sunday school teachers.

To Isabell for taking over chairing the property committee and for putting us in contact with Jim Ryan.

And to everyone else who is helping in small and large ways to make First Parish a vital, thriving church.