Carter, John F.

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: Scoville Memorial Library
Date of Interview: December 8, 2022
File No: 13 Cycle: 13
Summary: Background, St. John’s Episcopal Church, the New England Baroque soloists, the Coffee House , drumming classes, Spanish mass, Spanish-English language workshops and Vecinos Seguros.

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

John F. Carter Interview

This is Jean McMillen. The date is Dec. 8, 2022. I am interviewing Rev. John F. Carter who will talk about his three loves:  forestry, music and ministry.  But first we’ll start with the hard stuff.

JM:       What is your name?

JC:        John F. Carter

JM:       What is your birth date?

JC:        Feb. 4, 1944

JM:       Your birth place?

JC:        New York City

JM:       You graduated from Yale in 1967.  You then moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 1984 to attend Virginia Theological Seminary,

JC:        Correct

JM:       But what did you do in between?

JC:        Well, after Yale I joined the Peace Corps.

JM:       Where did you go?

JC:        South Korea

JM:       How many years?

JC:        I was there for 4 years including training.

JM:       Did you enjoy it?

JC:        Yes! I loved it.

JM:       I assume you had to learn Korean?

JC:        I learned as much as I could: it is a very hard language.  In fact I love learning languages.

JM:       Oh bless you!  When you got back from the Peace Corps, then what?

JC:        When I got back from the Peace Corps, I was kind of at loose ends for a while. There had been a lot going on in the United States during that time between 1967- 1971.  The culture that I returned to was not the same culture I left.  I had been in another culture, immersed in it. Initially it was a challenging transition.  In time I started doing odd jobs for friends of my parents. I discovered that I liked doing tree work outdoors.  One thing led to another and I bought a truck, and chain saws and other equipment. (I was still living with my parents.)  I gradually became independent, moved out of the family home and ran a tree service doing a variety of all kinds of tree work: pruning, removal, cabling, fertilizing and that sort of thing.

JM:       How long did you have that service?

JC:        7 years

JM:       It was located in…?

JC:        Milton, Mass.

JM:       That takes care of the forestry part.  Now we are going to move on to the musical part. You made 2 albums.

JC:        Yes I did. One was in Korea called “Tomorrow without TB”. It was a real ball making that with other volunteers in the Peace Corps who played a variety of both Korean instruments and western instruments as well.  We made this album in 3 or 4 days.  I was kind of co-producer of it: it was just a lot of fun and a lot of talent.

JM:       What was the second album that you did?

JC:        My wife and I had a ministry in hunger, addressing hunger and the second album grew out of that. We were involved with the Greater Boston Food Bank and Walk for Hunger.  We went to a 2 week workshop in Washington, D.C. It was held at the World Hunger Education Service where we were educated about the disparities of food distribution, globally as well as in the United States. I have always been interested in music from the time I was very young.  I grew up in a musical household. I played the guitar and the piano and sang. I became motivated to combine my interests and commitment to addressing hunger with my music. I composed some songs and I borrowed some other gospel music.

JM:       What was the name of the record?

JC:        “Carry the Dream” It is a good album.

JM:       Naturally!

JC:        Well partly because I had some wonderful musicians.

JM:       That helps.

JC:        It really did. They were top-notch; they were kind of doing this on the side because union musicians…

JM:       I get it. We have touched on forestry and music so I guess we had better go onto ministry.

JC:        Right. Either way there is a path through all of these to ministry. Peace Corps in a sense was a kind of ministry.

JM:       When we talked earlier, you said that you were an explorer regarding the ministry,

JC:        Yes that is how I saw myself.

JM:       Meaning what?

JC:        Meaning that the normal path was to get approved at a postulate by your vestry and the Diocese. I did not do that. I was not ready to do that.  I wanted to explore ministry by going to seminary. I hadn’t been to school in over 15 years.

JM:       That’s tough.

JC:        Yeah. But I discovered that I wasn’t a bad student.

JM:       No, everybody has a learning style.

JC:        Yeah. I enjoyed the studies a lot.

JM:       When did you graduate?

JC:        In 1984

JM:       When were you ordained?

JC:        I was ordained as a Diaconate in 1985 and to the priesthood in 1986.

JM:       Then we talked a bit about your career path. You said that you were chaplain at the White Mountain School in Littleton< New Hampshire. You were there for 2 years.

JC:        Correct

JM:       Then you went to Brevard which was in western North Carolina. You were an assistant Rector there?

JC:        Yes I was.

JM:       For 5 ½ years?

JC:        Yep that’s correct.

JM:       Then you went to Norwalk, Connecticut to Christ Church. You bounced around a lot!

JC:        I am an explorer.

JM:       Yes you are! You were at Christ Church for 5 years, but it wasn’t a good fit because it was too citified?

JC:        Yeah

JM:       Anybody who ran a tree service has got to be a country boy.

JC:        Yeah I missed the country.   When we came to Salisbury, it was just one of those sparkling July summer days.  We both fell in love with the area right away.

JM:       A lot of people do. When officially did you come to St. John’s?

JC:        Officially my first Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent in 1998.

JM:       How long were you at St. John’s?

JC:        Oh and just by the way, I had contracted Lyme disease before my opening Sunday.

JM:       That’s not fun!

JC:        Well I tested positive. I never really felt sick but it did add to the excitement of the occasion!

JM:       That is one way of putting it. You are creative.

JC:        The title of my opening sermon was “Getting to Know You” from South Pacific.

JM:       Oh I know. Did you sing it?

JC:        Yes

JM:       Good! I like that. It kept people awake.

JC:        Yes and it surprised them too.

JM:       Well that is the point.  You were at St. John’s for 15 years?

JC:        15 years yeah

JM:       When did you retire?

JC:        Feb. 2014

JM:       Now while you were at St. John’s, you did something else which was controversial about the Christmas tree lights.

JC:        Oh we don’t talk about the Christmas tree lights. I replaced the white bulbs at Christmas time with beautiful multicolored bulbs, joyfully celebrating the season.

JM:       Absolutely!  When I go by at night the next time I am going to check to see if St. John’s has gone back to the traditions. And I think they have.

JC:        I think they have.

JM:       Is there anything you would like to say about St. John’s before we move on to the Spanish programs?

JC:        It was a good place for me.  It had some history that made it challenging.  I had my own history which was challenging, too. It was a place where I felt I could dare to be creative.

JM:       That is important.

JC:        But it is not always popular, but…

JM:       I tell you a couple of good stories about Rev. Henry Chiera afterwards.

JC:        I liked being there. It is hard to sum up of 15 years, but I felt…

JM:       You did a good job.

JC:        I did a good job and I helped start several ministries in music: the New England Baroque soloists, the Coffee House, and also the drummers. We had a drumming class there every week.

JM:       We used to have Chamber Music at St. John’s back in the 1980s. My husband was co–chair of that with Alice Mead. We would bring up from New York, usually a quartet from the New York Philharmonics to present chamber music about 3-4 times a year. Music and St. John’s have gone together for a long time.

JC:        I guess I picked up on that earlier tradition.

JM:       You did.

JC:        Without knowing it

JM:       Well good things come around again.

JCV:      That tradition is still going.

JM:       Yes it is a different format, because now it is Baroque rather than chamber music. Yes it is still going and it is important.

JC:        The church is beautiful itself and the acoustics are really good.

JM:       Oh yes, It’s, and I don’t mean this in an unkind way, but it is small enough so that you feel part of the musical experience.

JC:        Right it is not cozy but is it close to it.

JM:       Yeah we enjoyed it. Now because you are, I won’t say an iconoclast, but creative. You said to me that you tend to have sympathy for “others”.  You created a mass in Spanish?

JC:        Yep

JM:       What came first, the mass or some of the language programs?

JC:        I think the language programs came first, but I am not absolutely sure.

JM:       Tell me about that.

JC:        It was called “Puentes” which means bridges, those cross-cultural bridges.  We had both English classes for Hispanics and we had Spanish classes for Anglos.  Sometimes it would be the same night and we would meet at break-time and practice our language skills with each other. It was very gratifying that way, in terms of making a bridge.  Then one of the student’s families became interested in having a “Misa”, a worship service in Spanish. I was excited by that. Normally is was at 4:00 the last Sunday of the month.

JM:       As you did your Peace Corps work in Korea, had you studied Spanish in either college or high school? Or was it a language you needed to learn?

JC:        I had three years is high school at Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts and one year at Yale, then nothing for decades. I was also very involved in music by the way.

JM:       When you came here in 1998, did you realize that there was a Spanish population in town or did it just gradually appear?

JC:        I was surprised to see Latinos in the area. I think either my perception grew gradually or else the movement of immigrants into the area became gradual. But anyway I became aware of them and reached out to them when I saw them by greeting them or whatever because I suspected they were probably undocumented, probably lonely for their own country.

JM:       It is so nice to hear your own language.

JC:        It is.  Having observed that, it led to the idea of starting up the language program.

JM:       When you had the language program, approximately how many people were involved?

JC:        Classes were maybe 15, 12 to 15, something like that, sometimes fewer, sometimes more. You could not count on people to get there every time.

JM:       How often did you meet?

JC:        Either once or twice a week

JM:       For how long?

JC:        An hour to an hour and a half.

JM:       You met in the lower parish rooms?

JC:        Yes, the Spanish classes met upstairs. They were terrific. They worked hard: they just had a real fellowship, too.

JM:       That helps.  In 2016 there was an increased surge of Latino immigrants. You met someone at the transfer station who asked you to do something.

JC:        Right, more specifically Donald Trump has just been elected President. I realized I could see that there was a lot of fear in the Hispanic community.  At the same time after he took office immigration and customs enforcement also known as ICE became a lot more active in the region with raids and that sort of thing. There were traffic stops as well.  At the time too I needed to do something as I was retired.  My vocation was sort of dormant at that point. It was a great gift to me to be able to then start to serve the Hispanic community. Not long after the election, my friend Esperanza Nunez, met me at the transfer station by chance and said, “Father, we have got to pray.” By that I took it to mean that we have to get together to worship. She was right. I could see that right away. We planned our first service within a week or two. We got people together at Trinity Lime Rock and off we went.

JM:       Was this the initiation of Vecinos Seguros?

JC:        Vecinos Seguros started at the same time.

JM:       Is that an ad hoc organization?

JC:        Well it is organized. We have 200 people on our e-mail list.

JM:       Is it a non-profit organization?

JC:        It works through Trinity Lime Rock Church so it works through a non-profit organization. Yes, the answer is yes. There are no salaries.

JM:       What do you actually do with this?

JC:        What I did and what I am doing now are quite different because I am easing out of this ministry. At the time there were crises occurring in the Hispanic community. I raised money, mostly through an e-mail network of mostly white folks

JM:       Gringos that is the extent of my Spanish!

JC:        Por la mayor parte, los gringos- For the most part Gringos I had formed a committee: we had several committees. They came and went. Some worked well and some didn’t which was part of the learning process. Part of our mission was to educate gringos about what is going on.  We had more than a few well attended workshops with 40, 50 or 60 people.  They in turn became, or at least most of them became part of the Vecinos Seguros group e-mail.  We had Glenn Formica who is an immigration lawyer, who is dedicated.

JM:       Where does he come from?

JC:        He comes from New Haven. I had gotten to know him through other circumstances: he came up and did several workshops, explaining what the legal procedures are and how complex they are. People would ask questions, “Well why does it take so long?” We all learned that the legal process is a dull instrument.

JM:       Did you personally attend court hearings?

JC:        Yes

JM:       and ICE arrests?

JC:        Yes

JM:       If there was a disaster in the Hispanic community, how did you help?

JC:        I mobilized the Vecinos Seguros network.  In one case the house burned down completely. We helped get together furniture, clothing, and money. It is a family that still comes to the “misa”. They are lovely.

JM:       Most people are when you get to know them: it doesn’t make any difference the color of their skin, or their language, most people are wonderful.

JC:        Yep

JM:       Then just want to be treated like human beings.

JC:        That’s it. In many cases they were not being treated as human beings.

JM:       Now you have been involved in this for many years, have the Latino population changed as far as country location?

JC:        More Guatemalans have moved into the area.

JM:       How about Ecuadorians?

JC:        Some Ecuadorians, Columbians, a Venezuelan man was here recently looking for work.  He had been one of the groups that had been shipped from the border.  We couldn’t help him so he went to Florida to work with family.

JM:       Is there something else you would like to add before we close?

JC:        That’s it?

JM:       It is up to you.

JC:        I would just say in my recent experiences working with the Latino community has been very fulfilling for me.  We have had a food program too as part of the Vecinos Seguros: we give out gift food cards, getting to know people, some a little, some more.  They call me “Padre Juan”. They are very open and affectionate.

JM:       And wonderful people.

JC:        Wonderful people whom I respect a lot what they have been through and what it took to get here, the cost of that both emotionally and financially. I wish them luck.

JM:       Thank you so much.