Father David Sellery Cover Sheet:
Interviewee:Father David Forster Sellery
File #:11, cycle 3
Place of interview: St. John’s Episcopal Church
Date:November 27, 2017
Summary of talk: family background, his journey to become a priest, his goals and practices with St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Father David Forster Sellery Interview:
This is file 11, cycle 3. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is Nov. 27, 2017. I am interviewing Father David Sellery of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, Ct. He is going to talk about his church, his career path and anything else that tickles his fancy. But first we will start with the genealogical information.
JM: What is your name?
DS: David Sellery
JM: When were you born?
DS: March 6, 1966
JM: Where were you born?
DS: In Norwood, Massachusetts
JM: Your parents’ names, please?
DS: Priscilla Barton Sellery and Stephen Edward Sellery Sr.
JM: do you have siblings?
DS: I have 2 siblings. I am the eldest of 3.I have a sister Amy Elizabeth Sellery, and my brother is Stephen Edward Sellery Jr.
JM: Where did you get your seminary training?
DS: Immediately following attending the University of Connecticut, I went to the General Theological Seminary, right in the heart of Chelsea Square in New York.
JM; When did you graduate and be ordained?
DS: I graduated first in May of 1992 and I was ordained by the deaconate by the then bishop of Connecticut, Bishop Walmsley, the right Reverend Arthur Walmsley, at the cathedral in Hartford in 1992. I was made a priest that following January.
JM: Why did you choose to become a priest?
DS: That is a great question. I think I was drawn to working with people, helping people. Both my maternal grandmother and my mother were teachers. My mother currently serves in nursing homes, my sister is a nurse. I was sort of just drawn to a helping profession. I was part of a very active church and youth group in Darien where I grew up. One summer when I had just finished high school one of the local pastors asked me if I would consider being a summer intern, helping organize trip for kids, leading Bible studies and sort of helping with some of the programmatic aspects of the youth group of a large church. In fact I think it was one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the northeast at the time. I said it sounded great. So we led lots of trips to Ocean City with a middle school group of kids for a week, senior high kids the following week, college kids the following week. We did a whole bunch of different things. There was a tragic thing that happened. In the midst of that idyllic summer, there was a boy who was several classes below me in high school who I knew and his sibling. He had contracted a very rare blood disease and was taken to Yale New Haven where he eventually died. Over the course of his treatment the pastor that I was working with Mark Orr asked if I would like to go with him to make this thing called a pastoral call which I did not really know what it was. So we drove up and I remember him walking into the room, the pastor was incredibly passionate and full of compassion in terms of talking with the boy, not talking down to him, he didn’t use the pious platitudes. But he was really there in the moment. I think that made a huge impression on me as a young person to sort of see all this and reflect on it in years, decades later. The boy subsequently died. But I can remember being in the room we did multiple visits before he eventually died where the pastor was praying with the boy, praying with the family, praying with the staff; just a very comforting presence there
He did the funeral for the boy. We visited his parents at home the following week and this is thirty plus years ago at a time where that pastor was invited into the school system. There were opportunities for him to speak to the children in the school district who had known him, maybe not church goers but just to talk about him and to deal with the grief on a communal level. There was the aspect within our wider youth group at the time. We got together with some other churches, other kids in other youth groups who knew this child. There was this huge intersection that this pastor Mark Orr was not just sort of dealing just with this child. He dealt with the wider community. That was a monumental piece for me as I think of it years and years later in terms of my own interests. My interest in the wider community is not just our little niche. I saw him baptize a child, he did a wedding and I thought WOW! Here he is doing all of those phases in life and with the family the young and the old and making a very positive and significant impact. He touched not only the hearts and minds of his parish members, but beyond into the whole wider community.
It was very powerful which began a journey. I ended up the following summer working at my home parish doing the same things to build in some other skills. I followed our pastor around and really began to think about a vocation and what that might look like. Eventually I began a track. I went to the University of Connecticut and helped out the priest at the chapel at Storrs. I was asked to lead weekday services either morning prayer or evening prayers, helped out with the Eucharist, I did the weekly Bible studies and I ended up graduating and going right to seminary for three years.
JM: You really did have a calling from early on.
DS: I think so, very much so. I never had this” road to Damascus” experience. It is something that has been constantly unfolding.
JM: When did you come to St. John’s?
DS: For the first time?
JM: Oh let’s go for the first time.
DS: I was approached in March of 2014 Marion Schwaikert our current Senior Warden had called me about the possibility of serving as an interim pastor after John Carter had retired after about 18 years. At that point my wife Jane and I were living on the south shore of Long Island. I was thinking about what our future might look like. I said to Marion, “Thank you so much, but I really am looking for a much longer time horizon than a 12 or 18 month interim.” She thanked me. Lo and behold she ended up calling me back and said, “We have rethought it and we are interviewing now for a Priest in charge. Would you be interested?” “Absolutely.” I drove up 2 Sunday before Palm Sunday that year. I drove up thru the Hutchinson Parkway, #684 to #22 I got up towards Trinity School and just thought “Where is this place?” It was one hour more! I got here and pulled into the parking lot to what I now know is LaBonne’s and walked around the village on a Saturday morning. There really were no signs of life. I think it was 9:00 or something. Marion met me at the front of the church and walked me into the nave and showed me around. We went downstairs to the lower parish hall where I met with all of the Vestry members that are presently on the Vestry. They asked me a bunch of questions; we talked about hopes and dreams for the future. I went home and said, “Gee I am really excited about this possibility.” Jane asked me about it when I got home. “It was great.” “What was the village like?” “Well it was like that village in Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang; I didn’t see any children.” Now that we are here I know that is not true.
JM: First impression is that it is a very sleepy village, but when you get involved in the community, it is very lively, more perhaps than you would expect!
DS: It is fabulous; my kids love it.
JM: You have been here about 3 years?
DS: Three and one half years. I came here and my first Sunday was at the very end of July. I officially started August 1, 2014.
JM: You have a mission for the church?
DS: We came up with the idea of Praising God and Serving Neighbor; that is our focus. That speaks to what we do week by week. We gather: we celebrate the Eucharist. We are fed with words and sacraments. We gather around the altar. We pray for one another. We also during my tenure we pray every service for Salisbury Ambulance, the Lakeville Hose Company, our resident trooper Officer Sorrell, Family Services and visiting Nurses of Salisbury. That picks up the service neighbor piece in terms of reaching out beyond our doors.
JM: What is the size of your congregation?
DS: Presently we have ASA Average Sunday attendance. Our ASA is about 66 people total for the 2 services combined.
JM: You do have 2 services?
DS: We do. We have an 8:00 which is a rite one, a simple set service. I tell people you can come and talk like an Elizabethan if you like. We have a 10:00 service which is more of a choral service with music, more of a modern rite.
JM: Do you have a Sunday school presently?
DS: Presently we do not.
JM: Do you have a youth group?
DS: Presently we do not. Although I last year I was in touch with Lisa Carter (See file #47, cycle 2 Lisa Carter) who was very supportive and working with some other people presently about two initiatives
- A teen Café we started 2 years ago on Mondays with our Wi-Fi Internet Café coffee house which meets Monday 9 to 11:30. It is a place that the community members can just gather, have coffee, play some games, chess, checkers, talk, read the paper, hang out. We have a huge ministry devoted to the folks on the Appalachian Trail. It was also envisioned at a time when the library was closed and Sweet William was also closed at that time. So there was no coffee in the village. Now there are Provisions and other things. That is what we had originally thought of.
- One of our thoughts was morphing the café into a possibility of afternoon hours for a place for people to do homework or to gather when the library is closed. As well as a teen café perhaps on a Friday night or a Saturday night once a month where we might open up the whole building for kids to gather in a safe drug free environment. Whether it is video games, board games, just a bunch of things but opening our door just beyond our current membership and trying to provide what is something that we could offer that the wider community, the wider village, might need or want in value.
JM: How is the church structured? I know you have a Vestry. How many are on the Vestry?
JM: Do they oversee the church?
DS: They oversee the temporal or business affairs of the church; they are elected from our membership to serve a set term. We also have co president: we call the Senior and Junior Wardens. Marion Schwaikert is our present Senior Warden. Mika Armstrong is our Junior Warden. Cherie Cortese serves as our treasurer together with our wardens, treasurer, and priest forms our executive committee. We meet monthly to set the agenda, to review our finances to get together with our finance team and prepare whatever meeting materials are needed for our monthly meetings.
JM: Do you have a separate committee for Buildings and Grounds?
DS: Mika Armstrong, our Junior Warden, handles the Buildings and Grounds. She will call together an adjunct committee as needed. Presently we are dealing with the steeple which has been removed. We have decided that we will not be putting it back up. There is a current adjunct committee which is looking at putting together in a 3 to 5 year plan with respect to any capital improvements which we might need for the building.
JM; How about Hospitality?
DS: We have a very active Hospitality Committee that is chaired by Leslie Allyn. They do lots of things. We have hospitality every Sunday and we ask individual members to sign up so there is a calendar on the table behind you. We have hospitality ever week except for major holidays like Easter or Christmas. They also come together to assist is there is a reception after a funeral or major parish celebrations. We do an annual Christmas party after our Lesson & Carols service. We also have joined with the Lakeville Methodist church during my tenure. This will be our fourth season. We go to them for Shrove Tuesday pancake supper and they come to us for St. Patrick’s Day. We do a lot of joint things to work again with the whole community.
JM: Do you do a Christmas pageant?
DS: We do! I came up with the idea of kind of an interesting plan a couple of years ago, 3 years ago. Since we did not have any children other than my own children and a few other kids in a holiday time to do our own pageant or even a tableau, I came up with the idea of a “Pop up Pageant” at Noble Horizons. I ask all of the clergy if they would participate to which they said yes. I even asked Lisa Carter who was then principal of Salisbury Central School who was very excited about it. Again it was a community wide offering. We do it as” the children of the village of Salisbury “s pop up pageant for our friends at Noble Horizons.” This year it is morphing into an Epiphany pageant because we did not get a suitable date but it is really an invitation for all of the children in the village irrespective of religious affiliation or background to join us. There is no rehearsal or anything. We gather in the library at Noble and then we go up into the chapel and they love it.
JM: That is a lovely idea. You do many outreach programs and you partner with several like Family Services, you do the 12 Moons coffee House- what is the purpose of that one?
DS: 12 Moons coffee house we just provide the space. They invite entertainers from all over the region once a month. They do an old fashioned coffee house where they have different people who play the banjo, guitar, ukulele, and a whole host of things. The great thing about it is there is an open mike session. They invite people who want to try something whether it is a poem, or skit or whatever. It is a safe place for children to try performing.
JM: You said something about Louise Lindemyers?
DS: Louise Lindemyers does Hispaniola Health Partners. She has been doing that for a number of years. She brings services particularly to women in Haiti. She has a medical clinic there that she raises funding for and she parleys help from folks state-side to go down there and do medical mission trips with her.
JM: Food Pantry (OWLS Kitchen)?
DS: We contribute both dollars as well as filling the shopping cart in the narthex. We collect food for the Corner Pantry. We also have a bin where we collect items for Patrice McGrath at Family Services. She has an emergency pantry.
JM: What do you do for the Fall Festival?
DS: `What don’t we do? That is under consideration for successive years. Historically we have done books, pancakes, Attic Treasures, I believe they did cheese. We introduced something new the last couple of years where we have had “gently used” women’s and men’s clothing which was a huge success. We did not have the staffing for that this year. We also moved the Attic Treasures from the upper parish hall to the Nave of the church 2 years ago. That seemed to be a big hit with people.
JM: Tell me about your weekly video that you do with Michael Flint.
DS: Thanks. I do that for public broadcasting so I got to know Michael a couple of years ago. Originally I used to up to Canaan to the studio. We just decided it was better to do it on location so we film every week in the Nave here at the church. I have been writing for many years a primer on the upcoming lessons so I have a distribution on my website, I blog, and then an E-News push-out probably in excess of 30,000 folks worldwide. A lot of clergy read it as a primer for Sunday. For Michael now he does a video of it and then he strips the sound and it is also on Robin Hood Radio and is also available on my website. I also have a denomination in the Midwest that their big ministry is short wave radio and it is aired, if you can believe it, in New Zealand and Oceana Friday morning at 5:15 am. Pod casts are all part of this.
JM: Oh for the early birds in the wider community! Do you do a streaming of your own service?
DS: We do. Michael has helped us do 24/7 live stream from the church so we live stream our services and I also record prayers that are available throughout the day, prayers for the military, prayers for morning, mid-day and evening. He also airs the weekly message in an audio format on our live stream.
JM: During the summer you do Baroque Music program.
DS: We host the Northwestern Music Association. They do the baroque concerts series on Wednesdays at 5:00. We have been doing that for about 10 years.
JM: You would not remember the Chamber Music at St. John’s that was going in the 1980’s.
DS: I wish.
JM: That was wonderful. We would have a quartet from the New York Philharmonics. My husband was very much involved in it and naturally as a good wife, I was involved too.
Do you have any involvement with the Syrian family that was resettled here?
DS: We do. We ended up being a major center for that project. We like everyone in the community whether of the religious community or individual can claim that they were the sole person involved because it takes a village. It really did. Everyone came out and supported them for finding housing, the beds to furniture to clothing to whatever was needed. I ended up getting involved initially Heidi Truax at Trinity Church, Lime Rock, (See file #12, cycle 3 Heidi Truax) had a note in her weekly noticed asking for volunteers to come help set up furniture. I said OK: I met her there and we started setting up furniture. I learned more about the project and finally got involved. I am on the committee. St. John’s now manages a small account where people can contribute to their ongoing needs of the family whether for medical appointment or whatever, we process that check. More importantly St. John’s for the past year has served as the hub for the ESL training (English as a Second Language Ed.)That takes place throughout the week all last year in the lower parish hall. Katherine Parry is a trained ESOL teacher. We had training with Mahmud and Ali the parents so they would work on their English. They also had a number of families from Hotchkiss who were from Asia and other places who wanted to learn English. We had some folks who spoke Spanish, and wanted to learn English so they gathered with us during the day and then in the evening there was all the Syrian family’s 7 children and parents were here doing lots of other projects.
JM: The children would learn English in the school but this is more formal training.
DS: Correct but this is also part of their IRIS mandate that they have so many instructional hours.
JM: Is there anything about the church or your pastoral career that I haven’t covered?
DS: I came here with a distinct call for initially a term of three years, following John Carter who was here for 18 years. With our diocese that is an intentional time to work on some specific goals. One of those goals was looking at our finances, also looking at our hopes and dreams as a parish and a community, and looking at ways in which we might connect those goals with our current membership, and to reach out beyond our doors. We have done a lot of that. We have also realized that we need to live into a new reality with respect to our finances. There have been some significant changes; we no longer have a parish administrator, or a sexton. We have done a lot of radical changes. We have a priest in charge. We have a very part time bookkeeper and we have someone who cleans the interior of the church. We have subcontracted our landscaping. We are trying to do a lot more outsourcing. We are doing a lot more with less. We are working smarter. We harness technology to help us d that.
JM: Does the clergy rotate? Do you stay as long as the congregation wants you or are you at the bishop’s pleasure?
DS: We are like baseball players. We are under contract and we can be traded.
JM: That answers the question. Is there a specific term of office?
DS: Presently I am on a three year contract which was extended for another year. Part of our final work is to think about is St. John’s sustainable and viable for a full time person or like Trinity, do they need to work towards 3/4 time or 1/4 time position or something therein. The challenge is that in all of Litchfield County I am one of three full time priests. The other two are in Kent and Litchfield.
JM: The diocese of St. Mary’s has merged into St. Martin of Tours with Canaan and I believe Norfolk. The Lakeville Methodist Church has shared time with the Sharon Methodist Church. Pastor Peg does both. Each has its own specific challenges. What are your hopes for the future?
DS: We are open to what might come next. My children and Jane and I have fallen in love with Salisbury. I am very active: I served on the Ambulance squad.
JM: You are an active participant, not just the chaplain>
DS: I am on the schedule for Tuesdays. I fill in Thursday nights with the folks. I have met a lot of really wonderful people that I enjoy as friends beyond just my parochial duties.
JM: Are you chaplain for the Lakeville Hose Company?
JM: You have probably met a lot of the same people in both; the training is phenomenal for either one of those volunteer services.
DS: It is huge. I have finished my EMT training; I just have to do the state test.
JM: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.