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United Church of Chester’s new leader, Reverend Alan Froggatt, is addressing an era of decreased Sunday church attendance by ensuring the church is relevant and accessible to congregants all week long. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Don’t look for Reverend Alan Froggatt at the United Church of Chester on Friday mornings. He will not be in either of his two church offices then. Instead, look for Alan in the center of Chester. On alternate Friday mornings he’s either at Simon’s Marketplace or The Villager—and he is not hard to spot.
“I always sit near the window,” he says.
People, he notes are sometimes hesitant about talking with a minister in church. Being at a local gathering spot, Alan says, can sometimes make informal conversation easier to strike up.
“It’s saying, ‘Let’s go out and get a cup of coffee together,’” he explains. “It gives me a chance to meet people.”
On average, he says three to five people, not necessarily from his congregation, stop by to chat.
Alan came to the United Church in the middle of August, following the two-year tenure of interim minister Lee Ireland. She led the church after the retirement of Reverend Kathy Peters, who had served the United Church of Chester for a decade.
Previously, Alan had served churches in both Bridgewater, Connecticut, where he led the congregation for 16 years, and most recently in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“I had been in Beverly for 17 years and I felt it was the right time to leave. I am sensitive to where God is calling me,” he says of his move to Chester.
What drew him to Chester, Alan says, was the relationship of the United Church to the wider community.
“This church spoke to me; its community engagement, its outreach,” he says. “I am looking forward to what I can learn from this congregation and what I can teach this congregation.”
One of his first tasks as a learner was to master the names of all the congregants.
“I learn every name. It’s important to people to learn their names,” he says.
In the 21st century, Alan points out, the manner in which people connect to religion can take many forms, especially for a younger generation that does not join organizations with the regularity of its elders. Add to that a youth sports culture that often schedules games and practices for what was once an out-of-bounds time, Sunday morning.
“There are always going to be sports on Sunday morning, which means people don’t come,” he notes.
But, he adds, that Sunday attendance is not the only measure of religious affiliation. He notes there are people who regularly show up to other kinds of church activities like working at the soup kitchen dinners.
“People can be faithful in different ways,” he says. “A congregation needs to be nimble and flexible in showing other ways of being engaged.”
Equally, church should be flexible about using the technological advances of the 21st century in financing its activities.
“The church has to make it easier for people to contribute,” he says, noting that pledging online and direct deposit are both now a viable ways of making donations.
Being a minister means being a part not only of life’s happiest occasions, but also at life’s saddest moments. Alan understands the sorrow as well as joy.
“It’s a matter of perspective. For me it’s a privilege to stand with a family at a time of crisis or tragedy,” he says.
A Connecticut native, Alan grew up in Meriden and was active in his church as a teenager.
“I guess I was as involved as one could get. It became an important part of my life,” he recalls.
He went to a small Christian liberal arts college and earned a master’s degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. He also met his wife Deb at the seminary.
The Froggatts have two grown daughters. Deb Froggatt is now the director of library services for the Boston Public Schools and the couple, which has a home in this area, also has an apartment in Boston.
Alan has used the sabbaticals that come at regular intervals in a minister’s employment to broaden his own religious experience. He did a pulpit swap in Inverness, Scotland where he participated in a uniquely Scots activity, the Highland Games, which combine iconic Scots challenges like tossing the caber with more traditional athletic contests. Alan ran in a 10-mile race.
He has spent six weeks travelling through France and Switzerland tracing the life of Protestant reformer John Calvin and spent another sabbatical period in Italy studying how the creeds of the church were depicted in art.
He also traveled through Greece retracing the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. On that trip, he sailed a Catamaran in the Aegean Sea, having taking sailing lessons in preparation. He also realized he had never read a classic saga of wandering the Aegean, the Odyssey, and remedied that situation by reading it in its entirety on the trip.
Alan has played the violin since childhood, with enough skill to have performed in symphony orchestras in areas where he lived, among them the Danbury and Meriden symphonies in Connecticut and the North Shore Philharmonic in Boston. Still, he never considered a career as a professional musician.
“I was never good enough to be a professional, and it’s a hard way to make a living; you have to cobble gigs together,” he says.
He would like to try out for a symphony orchestra in this area, but he has a rule about timing: no tryouts until he has served in his church position for a year.
Alan knows that people often want religion to answer perplexing questions of human existence. Instead, he feels his job is to help people find the answers themselves.
“I am not here to give answers. I can say here are the spiritual tools to find your way through life,” he explains. “Here is what I can offer to help you find your bearings.”
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