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The Reverend Timothy Haut is celebrating 40 years as pastor of the Deep River Congregational Church, and in return, the church is inviting the wider community in to celebrate him on Saturday, March 14. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Here are some highlights from 1980: The Winter Olympics were in Lake Placid New York; Ronald Reagan Defeated Jimmy Carter in the presidential election; the Pittsburgh Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl; and Tim Haut became the minister of the Deep River Congregational Church.
In 2020, the Olympics are scheduled for Tokyo; Democrats are still wrangling over who their presidential nominee will be; and the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the second straight season. But Tim is still the minister of the Congregational Church in Deep River.
“Forty years. Here we are; so far it seems to be working,” Tim says.
There will be a celebration, open to the entire community, of Tim’s 40th anniversary on Saturday, March 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Deep River Congregational Church. A special service for parishoners is scheduled for the following day.
Over the years, there have been opportunities, Tim says, to move, but he never wanted to.
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t have gone; it was that I never wanted to,” he says. “There are good people here; it is a good place.”
By the numbers, Tim calculates he has done some 1,189 burials, 750 baptisms, and 250 weddings. Still, the numbers are not the story. Tim says becoming part of the fabric of people’s lives is what counts.
The people, in turn, have become part of his life. He recalls his divorce some years ago, after which it might have seemed to make sense to move and start rebuilding his life somewhere else. Instead, he stayed; met his wife Phyllis at a wedding reception at Essex Meadows, actually proposing to her in 1993 from the pulpit.
“I figured I’d have a better chance of her saying ‘Yes ‘if I did it in front of 150 people,” he recalls.
Their life together is one of the ongoing themes in the book Tim has recently completed, A Deep River Year: People, Passages, and Promises. Tim wrote a short essay and a poem every Wednesday for an entire year, reflecting on family, nature, friendship, and loss. The books are available at both Celebrations in Deep River and the church, as well as through Amazon.
Tim had planned all the way through high school in Davenport, Iowa, and college at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota to become a writer or journalist. He was editor of both his high school and college newspapers. A professor first suggested he might want to consider divinity school after college graduation.
“He told me Yale Divinity School was in a different place, different from Iowa or Minnesota, and maybe it would give me a clearer sense of where I was going,” Tim recalls.
Driving to New Haven from Iowa ended Tim’s dreams of becoming a novelist. He had a novel he was writing lying on the back seat of his car. The rear windows were open. Somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he turned his head to see clouds of white paper streaming out of the back windows.
“There went the novel,” he recalls. “Just think what might have been.”
By the second year of the three-year divinity school curriculum, Tim knew the ministry was the right choice. He served as an assistant in Stamford and Guilford before coming to Deep River.
Jeff Hostetler, who is organizing the weekend of celebration for Tim’s anniversary, was also head of the committee that selected him 40 years ago.
“We got some 30 résumés,” Hostetler recalls, but after the committee went to hear Tim preach, they knew he was their choice.
“He was a natural. What was not to like?” Hotstetler asks.
Forty years later, Hotstetler adds, Tim remains a natural: “He’s here because he was a perfect fit and he still is. He belongs in this town.”
Tim points out, nonetheless, that both he and the church have changed over the last four decades.
“I am not the man I was when I was 33,” he says.
And the rhythms and patterns of church attendance have also changed. Many young people, he says, no longer identify with a denomination and no longer attend church regularly, if at all.
In response, according to Tim, churches have taken on a wider role, in many ways like a community center. Tim points out that the Deep River Church hosts a wide variety of activities including a weekly soup kitchen, 12-step groups, and a child care center.
“We serve a lot of people who don’t want traditional church services,” he says.
Religion, he notes, ultimately comes from within.
“You can’t argue with people; you can’t convince them,” he says.
What Tim wants to do is create a place of welcome where people can pursue their spiritual search.
“I hope I can plant seeds of connection. That’s why I am here, why I am alive in a world of contentiousness and violence,” he says. “If peace and understanding are going to happen, they are going to happen in church.”
In the summers when he was in college, Tim worked as a materials inspector for the Iowa Highway Department. When he left, his boss told him if he wanted it, there was a full-time job waiting for him at the highway department.
“I wonder what my life would have been like if I had done that instead?” he muses.
He was also accepted into the Peace Corps, where he would have been sent to Venezuela to build sewers. He admits he also thinks about how his future would have turned out if he had chosen that path.”
He has no regrets over the decision he made 40 years ago to come to Deep River.
“It’s a wonderful place to be, a remarkable small town. I think of it almost like Brigadoon,” he says referring to the town in the Lerner and Loew musical of the same name that appears by magic once every 100 years.
Still, this celebration doesn’t mean Tim is thinking of retiring. He calls his 40th anniversary a milestone, not the end of a journey.
“I love what I do,” he says. “Most things give me joy, not like being a materials inspector on a highway.”
Deep River Congregational Church hosts a celebration for Reverend Tim Haut’s 40th anniversary, open to the community, at the church, 1 Church Street, on Saturday, March 14 from 2 to 4 p.m.
A Deep River Year: People, Passages and Promises by Timothy E. Haut is available at Celebrations and the Congregational Church in Deep River and through Amazon.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the date for Reverend Tim Haut's 40th anniversary.
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