Larry Ouilette, the minister of music at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Plainfield, CT, led a spirited hymn-sing, interspersed with jokes and witticisms.
Dr. Hedman was presented with many cards, a plaque, and a very generous purse.
In an attempt to prepare some informed remarks for this event, Dave and I spent quite a bit of time reading the Annual Reports from 1988 (when Bruce first became pastor of the Abington Congregational Church) to this past year. It was interesting research, and I would like to share some of the highlights of Bruce's journey with this church.
Here is what Bruce wrote in the Pastor's report for 1988:
"This has been a most exciting and rewarding year for me, since I began serving the Abington Congregational Church as your settled, though part-time pastor. I candidated for your pulpit on February 28th, and was most encouraged when I received a unanimous call from the congregational meeting following the service. I gave the required 60 days notice to the Hampton Congregational Church, and began on May 1st to serve this church as its fifty-first pastor."
"Many visitors and new members tell of the warm welcome they receive from the Abington congregation. Sandy and I also have been made to feel most welcome by all of you. We are looking forward to many years of fruitful ministry with you in the service of our Lord."
In that report, Bruce went on to note that he and Sandy hosted a "kick-off" picnic for the Sunday School children and families. I remember attending that picnic and appreciating the hospitality Bruce and Sandy extended to the group.
In the pastor's report each year since 1988, Bruce has always noted how many sermons he preached during that calendar year. In 1988 he preached 30 sermons. Little did he probably realize at what point, that by the year 2017, he would have preached 1254 sermons from the pulpit in Abington.
In the early years of Bruce's Pastor's reports he mentioned the number of hospital visits, pastoral calls in homes and counseling sessions he completed for that year. As an example, in 1989, working only half of the year for us, he made 19 hospital calls, 13 pastoral calls in homes, and had 9 counseling sessions at church. In the Pastor's reports of later years, Reverend Hedman did not list the number of such calls and sessions. As a result, I was not able to add the numbers up for the past 30 years, but that does not mean he stopped that work. From personal experience I know Bruce continued to visit church members in need. When my mother-in-law Ethel Platt was gravely ill, and we were not able to be here in Connecticut, Dave called Bruce from Arizona and asked him to call on her in the ICU at Day Kimball Hospital. Bruce responded quickly and immediately went to the hospital. It was great comfort for us to know he was there with Jim at her bedside. I am sure ours is not a unique experience as Bruce has spent many hours during his ministry at bedsides. But it is always something we will be grateful to him for.
In the early years of Bruce's ministry when the church was blessed to have more young people in the congregation, we had an active youth group and Bruce taught the confirmation classes. In the 1989 Pastor's report he wrote "I found 1989 to have been an especially exciting year. The confirmation class was a real high-point for me, as I came to know these young people in a new and meaningful way. We had six weekly meetings during Eastertide, during which they discussed and memorized the Apostles' Creed."
Bruce went on to conduct other confirmation classes and administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 16 teens.
Two of the students of Reverend Hedman's confirmation classes have shared some reflections of what they remember about their time as children within this church community.
Hope (Platt) Bickmeier wrote, "I was 8 or so when Dr. Hedman first came to the Abington Congregational Church. You can imagine the impression Dr. Hedman made to the children of the church, what with his poised demeanor, black robe, strong voice, and beard! Then we learned that he was a college professor (of math, no less), and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. At that point in my life I had never known someone so exotic. I don't remember much about his first sermon, but I can still clearly see the refreshments that were set up in the Tracy House afterwards! Sandy had made a cake roll that looked like an old log, complete with meringue mushrooms. To this day I've never been more impressed with a dessert!"
"Dr. Hedman was so kind to all us little ones. As much as we tried to hide it, I'm pretty sure he knew the Platt kids were folding paper airplanes with our bulletins, and our scribbling during his sermons probably wasn't note taking. I'm sure he was well aware of everything going on in our pew, but he was patient and never showed any kind of frustration."
"Confirmation classes with Dr. Hedman were always interesting and it was exciting when it was finally time for Seth and me to go through the process with him (after watching our older siblings do the same). Dr. Hedman brought such a deep understanding and appreciation of the scriptures that has stayed with me through my journey as a Christian. He taught me that our faith isn't all about how we feel; it's about connecting with those who have worshiped Jesus Christ before us. We are part of a rich history that binds all Christians, past and present together. Although I'm not able to attend services regularly in Abington anymore, I feel connected to those who have and continue to worship there. I have Dr. Hedman to thank for teaching me that; what a gift!"
Rebecca (Platt) Denslow also shared some thoughts about Reverend Hedman. She wrote, "Dr. Hedman has been the pastor of the Abington Congregational Church since I was about 10 years old. I can remember when we celebrated Children's Sunday every spring and he would always make us feel the day was all about us. When I was a freshman in high school, I was the sole member of my confirmation class with him, and can still remember some of the lessons from those classes. In 1999 Dr. Hedman officiated at my wedding and as our four children came along, our family traveled from New Hampshire back to Connecticut for him to baptize them. My family and I are now members of the Congregational Church in Washington, New Hampshire, but we are always so glad to see him when we come to Connecticut to visit family. Dr. Hedman is always very welcoming to all who come to the Abington Congregational Church, and I think your church is fortunate to have him as your pastor."
Bible study was something Reverend Hedman also conducted for several years first on Thursday evenings and then at various times during his ministry here in Abington. As the needs and abilities of the congregation have changed, the early Bible studies have now been replaced by the weekly Prayer Meetings held after the service on Sunday mornings. Stuart Bodin wrote, "The more we dig into the Bible, the deeper our faith gets." Those of us who have attended the Bible studies and prayer meetings Bruce has conducted appreciate the time and effort he has devoted to helping us deepen our faith.
Always an exciting event in any church is when a new member is welcomed into the Body of Christ through baptism. In looking over the last 30 years of church records, we found Bruce has had the unique privilege to baptize 34 here in Abington, several of whom were out grandchildren.
In his pastor's report for 1998, Reverend Hedman wrote, "I want to thank the Abington Church for giving me a sabbatical leave from September 1st through January 16th, so that I could spend fall term as a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sandy and I attended many church services and toured many ecclesiastical sites, which will provide grist for sermon illustrations for years to come."
In the Pastor's report for 1999 he wrote, "I believe I returned [from Scotland] re-energized with fresh history to relate, new jokes to crack, and new sermon material to preach."
In 2001 the Abington Congregational Church celebrated its 250th anniversary. In the Pastor's Column in our church newsletter from that year Bruce wrote, "Have I ever told you about my first glimpse of the Abington Church? It was a photograph I saw soon after I came to Connecticut in 1982. For our nation's bicentennial celebration the state of Connecticut commissioned several monographs to be written, one of which was on "Connecticut Congregationalism in the Revolutionary Era" by Freeman Meyer, professor of history at the University of Connecticut. I meet Freeman as a fellow professor on the UConn/Hartford campus, and he gave me a copy of his book. And there on the fist page of chapter one was a photograph of the Abington Congregational Church, which he had included in his book because it was the oldest church meeting house in our state. ... I am delighted to say that Freeman has agreed to speak during our anniversary celebration on July 22nd."
The celebration of the church's 250th anniversary was a success with guest ministers and 116 people in attendance at the Sunday worship service.
The congregation may have noted that Bruce needed some new material for remarks and sermons, because in the pastor's report for 2002 Bruce wrote, "I want to say a special 'thank you' to the church for giving Sandy and me some weeks off in July, during which we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in London, England. The highlight of our trip was an extensive and up-lifting tour we enjoyed of St. Paul's Cathedral, which became the theme of my sermon the Sunday we returned."
The same year, Reverend Hedman initiated the on-line website for our Abington Congregational Church. That early website included links to the state Conference and national denominations, selections from the history book about the church, cemetery listings, and the current Sunday worship bulletin. Thank you for helping to pull our church into the 21st century.
Each year in the Annual Report is a notation of family and friends who have passed on. Reverend Hedman has conducted funeral or memorial services for 88 of our members over the course of his 30 years as the pastor of our church. It is a great comfort to know that he has been there in support of the families during that time of need.
As near as I can tell from reading the annual reports, Bruce has joined 17 couples in Holy Matrimony here at the Abington Congregational Church.
Life's journey gets complicated. In the 2013 Pastor's report Bruce wrote, "I wish to begin my annual report with a huge THANK YOU for all the support you gave me during my illness this year. I went into UConn/Farmington Hospital on December 13, 2012 with cardiac failure, and was released from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York city on January 26, 2013 with a new heart valve. I was restricted from working at either school or church until April. During my illness your support in cards, letters, and prayers was overwhelming. I do not think I would have gotten through it all without your spiritual and practical support."
I have mentioned the Sunday services Bruce has conducted over the past 30 years (1254), but he has also conducted the Maundy Thursday services, the Christmas Eve Candlelight services, and the Easter Sunrise services.
Through the years he has supported the various church groups in their activities, including playing the bagpipes for years and years at the Bean Hole Suppers and welcoming church visitors such as the Sphinx Temple Highland Bagpipe Band for the Kirking of the Tartan celebrations."
Here are a few of my thoughts in conclusion. The numbers presented here of how many sermons, church services, weddings, baptisms, funerals, and confirmations Bruce has performed while pastor of the Abington Congregational Church is not a total reflection of what his tenure here has meant to this congregation. Knowing he has been caring, supportive, and readily available to all his congregation is something that cannot be quantified. Dave and I have spent many years living in other parts of this country but when we returned back to Connecticut for visits or for special events, both happy and sad, it was very comforting to know that the church congregation and Reverend Hedman were still firmly here supporting our family and welcoming us home. Thank you for being there for our family and for all the other families whose lives you have touched and enriched over the past 30 years.
I spoke to Sandy a bit and although she has not recovered enough from her last surgery to be here in person with us today, she did hare a few thoughts with me about you and your ministry. And she asked that I send her pictures of this celebration.
First, I noted that without her continued support in this work for the past 30 years you would not have been able to continue to be our pastor. She agreed but also noted that without your support of her she could not have pursued her spiritual journey either. We both agreed you are pretty great.
Secondly, I asked what music you would enjoy as we have Larry Ouillette here to lead us in a spirited "sing along" in just moment. Here she hesitated, saying when you first met, the only music you listened to was classical. She also indicated that she had to explain to you who the Beatles were because you had no idea why the obsession with a Yellow Submarine. In the years since she suggested you have embraced some Scottish and Irish folk type music. I told Larry all this, and we shall see what songs he choose for today. Larry Ouillettte is the choir director at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Plainfield, as well as music director for the Griswold Senior Chorus in Jewett City.