With new pastor, First Congregational Church of Sunderland welcomes public back to pews

  • The Rev. Randy Calvo joined the First Congregational Church of Sunderland in March and oversaw the church’s first in-person services in over a year on Sunday, June 13. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • The Rev. Randy Calvo of the Sunderland Congregational Church. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2021 9:51:06 AM

SUNDERLAND — The First Congregational Church of Sunderland has a new face running its services. Well, sort of.

The Rev. Randy Calvo has been working at various churches in the region for more than 30 years. He was just across the river in South Deerfield from 1988 until 2017, when he started working in Hatfield. Calvo was involved in the community in other ways, too, serving on the Frontier Community Access Television board and sending his children to Frontier Regional School.

Calvo joined the First Congregational Church of Sunderland at the beginning of March and delivered its Sunday services via Zoom until June 13, when the church welcomed people back to its pews.

Calvo said he had been looking for another part-time job to go along with his responsibilities at the First Congregational Church of Hatfield and the Sunderland opportunity fell into his lap.

“I was looking for full-time, so that was kind of serendipitous,” Calvo said in an interview on his back porch.

The issue, Calvo said, was each denomination wanted its service at the same time on Sundays, meaning he wouldn’t be able to work for multiple churches when in-person services returned. But then, Sunderland and Hatfield changed service times.

“All these churches want almost the exact same time on a Sunday morning,” Calvo said. “Give Hatfield an awful lot of credit because they didn’t have to, and I give Sunderland a lot of credit, too. … Neither one of those churches had to do that, but they were very, very accommodating.”

Hatfield moved its services from 10 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and Sunderland moved from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., which gives Calvo plenty of time to drive between the two locations.

Calvo started at the First Congregational Church of Hatfield in 2017 and had been searching for another gig since. He explained the hiring process takes time because churches go through an extensive selection process.

“Just because one pastor leaves doesn’t mean you’re going to immediately get the next one,” Calvo said. “You know, just being patient, things worked out.”

Both Hatfield and Sunderland’s congregations met on Zoom when Calvo started in March. He said they made it work, but there is a distinct disconnect when you’re not convening in person.

“That is hard because it’s one thing to see a person’s face in that little box, but it’s not the same as actually talking to them in person or seeing reactions during church,” he said. “Pastors really gauge how things are going by the reaction you get and you don’t always get that on Zoom.”

Despite what Calvo described as “embarrassingly bad” Zoom services, his churches learned on the fly and will be offering hybrid services for those who might not be comfortable returning to in-person gatherings yet.

The public is welcome to attend in-person services, but Calvo said they are required to wear a mask and social distance as the church emerges from the pandemic. He expects these policies to be revisited in the future as everyone adjusts.

Calvo said the convenience of hybrid services was a “silver lining” to the pandemic, but he is glad to see people back in the pews.

“The weather was gorgeous, all the windows were open, the doors were open, it was just a perfect Sunday for coming back,” Calvo said of the first in-person services on June 13. “That church is 304 years old and they’ve never been closed for a year at a time. … It was wonderful to come back.”

As he and the rest of the town return to in-person services, Calvo wants to preach the message of hope to the community despite what might be happening around the country and world.

“People are just getting meaner and meaner. … I really think that faith gives me the ability to be an optimist,” he said. “Faith helps us look at the world and not be overcome by the world.”

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