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Since joining the First Congregational Church of Westbrook in 2015, Reverend Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier has helped to keep the church engaged with the larger community, organizing a soup kitchen in the church and working on a new, town-wide fall festival. (Photo courtesy of Jan Gregory-Charpentier )
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“From the earliest age I’ve been volunteering,” says Reverend Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier, the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westbrook.
About a year ago, Jan helped organize a soup kitchen in the church that’s part of the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries network. The kitchen runs on Friday nights and, according to Jan, is a place for people to come to get food and fellowship.
“We feel like we’re really giving back,” Jan says of the event.
Jan says that the church has been making strides to be a contributing part of the surrounding community.
“It’s really important to me and the congregation,” Jan says. “We have a building and wonderful volunteers.”
While the soup kitchen is just one example of how the congregation can give to the larger community, Jan says the church is currently developing new ideas for other ways to give back.
“How can we be a link in the chain for support and resources?” asks Jan, who came to the church in Westbrook in August 2015.
Some of the potential needs that have been identified include child care, transportation, and relationship help.
Jan has “always been part of a congregation,” she says. In fact, you could say she was born into one, as her father is a retired minister.
“I literally grew up out the back door of a church,” Jan says.
Jan says that while in college, she realized that she had a gift for leadership and began to think more seriously of going into the church life.
“I always thought I’d be helping people, I just thought it would be in the mental health field,” Jan says.
She says her decision has been rewarded when she sees the actions of the congregation in worship, study groups, and service and simply the way they take care of one another.
“There is something really powerful and beautiful about humans understanding their beloved-ness in God and in one another,” Jan says. “The Westbrook church has been around for almost 300 years, and we have open big hearts in this community.”
One aspect of her work that Jan both enjoys and admits can be hard is that no week is ever the same.
“The wonderful and nice thing about being a pastor is that you’re a generalist and not a specialist,” Jan says. “I can’t necessarily have a predictable week...You kind of become a Jack or Jill of all trades.
“People ask for insight into things I don’t have expertise in, but you learn enough to help give them at least the first step in helping them,” Jan continues.
As a newcomer, Jan not only appreciates all the community has to offer, she also brought some perspective on things that may be missing. One event on which she is working is the planned community harvest fair to be held in October.
“I noticed Westbrook has no fall-themed community event,” Jan says, noting that the fair would be a fun time to bring the community together.
Jan grew up in California, then moved to Massachusetts when she was eight. After working in Massachusetts for 16 years, Jan interviewed and got the job in Westbrook in 2015.
“It felt like a good time to find something different,” Jan says. “It’s been a wonderful community to get to know...I’m really impressed with the leaders in our town and church. There’s real heart in the people I’ve met.”
“We try and reach out to understand the needs of our neighbors,” says Jan.
When she finds herself with some free time, Jan says the hobbies she likes to pursue are going on long bike rides, hike, read, sew, and garden.
The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries dinner at Westbrook Congregational Church, 1166 Boston Post Road, Westbrook, runs Friday nights from 6 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.shorelinesoupkitchens.org. For information on the church and its programs, visit westcongchurch.org.
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