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2022 Chaplains of the Week

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Week 1: 
The Rev. Kate Forer

The Rev. Kate S. Forer is currently Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs, New York. Kate has served this federated UCC and PCUSA congregation since the spring of 2016. Kate was attracted to PNECC because of its warm community and strong emphasis on social justice and service. Since 2016, PNECC has become further involved in the life of the larger community of Saratoga Springs, namely helping to launch a conversation about homelessness and income inequality that has led to major changes in her city.


Kate graduated from Duke Divinity School in 2008. In 2018, Kate was named a “Woman of Distinction” by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. She has also received awards from the New York Council of Churches for her work with faith formation, and from local nonprofit organizations in her city for her church’s dedication to social justice service in the community. Kate enjoys time with her husband and two sons, gardening, hiking, running and reading Stephen King novels.

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Week 2:
The Rev. Dr. Brita Gill-Austern

The Rev. Dr. Brita Gill-Austern is the Austin Philip Guiles Professor of Pastoral Theology and Psychology, Emerita at Andover Newton Theological School.  She retired from teaching in 2019. She founded the program in Faith, Health and Spirituality at Andover Newton and was Founding Director of the Border Crossing Program. Brita seeks to be a contemplative activist in her later years. She is an active board member of the Massachusetts Baptist Multicultural Ministries and is actively engaged with Communities for Restorative Justice. She is also concerned with climate change. 


Brita is grateful to be married to Gary, (for 41 years).  They have three awesome sons, one amazing daughter-in-law, and a year old grand-daughter who is the joy of their life. Brita loves playing with her granddaughter and helping with her childcare, learning more about gardening, hiking with friends and enjoying the outdoors, swimming in the lake by the family cabin in Maine, travel, reading fiction and non-fiction, attending theatre, listening to music and playing Rumikub.

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Week 3: Heidi Heath

The Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath (she/her/hers) is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC).  She holds a BA from William Smith College (the women’s half of Hobart and William Smith Colleges).  She has a Masters of Divinity from Andover Newton with a certificate in Spiritual Care and Counseling.  Heidi also holds a professional diploma in Leading Spiritual Diversity in Higher Education from NYU. She is a born and raised Western New Yorker, having lived, and gone to college in the Finger Lakes.

Heidi is a public theologian and teller of hard truths, someone who holds pain and joy with the same breath. She serves as the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches. Heidi is also a Spiritual Director, writer, preacher, speaker, and activist. She shares her life with the Rev. Dr. Emily C. Heath, also an ordained UCC minister, and author.

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Week 4: James Semmelroth Darnell

Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell is the senior pastor of David’s United Church of Christ, Canal Winchester, Ohio, in the suburban Columbus area. He has a BA in theatre history from Illinois State University and an MDiv from Wesley Theological Seminary. He also did a year of graduate study at Pacific School of Religion. He previously served as the pastor of St. John

United Church of Christ, St. Clair, Missouri and Warwick United Church of Christ, Newport News, Virginia. For a decade he worked in fundraising for The George Washington University, United Nations Foundation, and Washington International School, all in Washington, DC. Most recently, he served as interim director of development research at the Colonial Williamsburg

Foundation. He was ordained in 2011 at his home church, The United Church + Die Vereinigte Kirche (UCC/United Methodist) of Washington, DC. The United Church is one of four UCC congregations which still worships in the German language. James is deeply connected to his German heritage, as well as its culture and history. An amateur historian, he edited A Little Girl from Niederstetten, the memoir of a post-war German immigrant. He is presently working on a book tentatively titled: Faith in the Nation’s Capital: The Historic Congregations of the District of Columbia. He presently serves on the board of directors of the UCC Heartland Conference; Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society; and the UCC Historical Council. Also involved in theatre, he is a theatre instructor for Art & Science in the Woods, Washburn, Illinois and a board member of Actors’ Theatre of Columbus. His partner is Leah Bussell, a public school educator in Indianapolis.

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Week 5: Joseph Purdue

Joe grew up in Florida and felt a call to ministry at a young age. He has a passion for justice and for serving the most vulnerable members of our community.  Joe attended seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where he earned a Master of Divinity concentrating in Biblical Interpretation, focusing on the Hebrew Bible. While in seminary, he served as Pastoral Intern and later as a Children’s Ministry Associate at The Tabernacle Baptist Church, an ethnically diverse inner-city community united around serving refugees. Joe’s first full-time ministry position was in New York City with Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries as Pastoral Resident and Food Justice Coordinator. He did pastoral care and direct community outreach on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen with people experiencing high emotional stress and mental illness. Joe has been the Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Branford, CT since February 2021. While there he has worked to bring local churches together during the pandemic, resettle a family of refugees, and helped run Church day camps for inner-city kids and children who have suffered trauma. Joe is the recipient of the 2020 Ecumenicism and Faith Formation Award from the New York State Council of Churches. 

Joe is married to his wife, Julia, a costumer for professional theatre. She has worked on many well-known shows and taught students at the undergraduate level. She currently works at the Public Theater in New York City and is passionate about bringing the arts to underserved communities.  Joe and Julia have two cats and a very active dog. Their dog, Scout, often accompanies Joe to the office to assist in pastoral care and to distract everyone from working. 

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Week 6: Katelyn Macrae

Katelyn Macrae has served as the pastor of Richmond Congregational Church, UCC in Richmond, Vermont since 2014.  She brings a passion for social justice to her ministry and loves helping people find new ways to experience God by trying creative things in worship. Before and after attending seminary, she worked at non-profit organizations serving homeless people in Washington, DC and Portland, ME.  As a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ, Katelyn grew up attending First Parish Congregational Church UCC in Saco, Maine, where she was baptized, confirmed and ordained. Katelyn received her BA in Religion and Anthropology from Colgate University and her Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School. Katelyn, her husband Nathan and daughter Anna (2) live in Richmond with Koda, their golden retriever. In her spare time she enjoys walking, downhill skiing, cooking, reading, kayaking and exploring Vermont.  You can reach her here.

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Week 7: Nancy Strickland

Rev. Nancy W. Strickland, a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ,  is a native of Lexington, MA and has served churches in Wenham, MA; Hamden, CT; Sterling, MA ;and  North Falmouth, MA.  She graduated from Andover Newton Theological School, in Newton, MA. with a Masters in Divinity. In addition, she completed the Spiritual Directors Certification the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C. in 1991.  Now semi-retired,  Rev. Nancy does pulpit supply and has a Spiritual Direction practice in Falmouth MA.


Week 8: Candi Ashenden

Candi was baptized, confirmed, and ordained by the United Church of Christ and has spent more than twenty-five years serving as a pastor in a variety of capacities. Since childhood she has been intentionally saying, “Yes,” to God and though it has led her along some difficult paths here and there, she knows that God has never left her alone. For Candi, walking a Christian path means integrating God and faithful living into everyday life and she delights in finding God in the ordinary moments, as well as in the extraordinary ones. Throughout the years, she has served in multiple roles at the conference and association level, and recently, Candi and her best friend seized the opportunity that Covid provided to travel across the United States and film a year’s worth of “on location” sermons to keep their church’s worship life alive. 

In her free time, you might find Candi at home in Orange, MA with her spouse, Pam, and their two young adult children, or relaxing looking out at the lake at her nearby retreat. Professionally, she feels blessed to serve as senior pastor of Athol Congregational Church, UCC in Athol, Mass. And daily, Candi feels her soul is fed through constant conversation with God (in the shower, in her car, near the water).She would be quick to say that nothing inspires her more than listening to the stories of those whom she encounters and so is looking forward to hearing all of yours during her week at Chautauqua!

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Week 8: Cindy LaJoy

Coming to ministry later in life, Cindy brings a varied background as she works in a wide variety of secular and religious settings.  Entrepreneur, author, special needs educator and academic consultant, she is now turning her focus toward evolving digital and virtual ministries, as well as helping develop key community partnerships at Athol Congregational Church in Athol, MA.  Cindy’s walk with the Spirit has been intimate and necessary as she and her husband, Dominick, adopted five children from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and homeschooled them all through high school. A graduate of a United Church of Christ lay ministry program 15 years ago, she will also be ordained as an Interfaith minister in June of 2022.  With a passion for helping others discover the God of their understanding, Cindy is gifted at holding space for those with a more expansive perspective on faith and she deeply respects and encourages the questions that each of us spend a lifetime exploring. 


Week 9: 
The Rev. Dr. Rebecca A. McElfresh

Following a career in education where she taught both children and adults and then served as a public school administrator, Rebecca entered the discernment process for ministry at The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Arizona where she now serves as the Associate Minister of Pastoral Care and Spiritual Growth.  Her doctoral work in the field of Curriculum Studies focused on the role of the arts in the spiritual transformation of individuals and groups. The Good Shepherd is situated in the US / Mexico borderlands and the church's ministry included significant involvement with immigration work and addressing food insecurity.  Rebecca's work includes organizing and directing the annual Common Ground on the Border Conference held each year during the third weekend in January.  Visitors from across the country come to have transformative immersion experiences that are infused with experiences with the arts.  She is also one of three authors of the book titled, Embracing Our Final Days:  A Journey of Care to the End.

Rebecca and her husband, Jim Armstrong, live in Indianapolis, Indiana during the summer months where some of their children and grandchildren live. Together, they have three children and five grandchildren. Rebecca is an avid lover and supporter of the arts. She enjoys silversmithing, working with clay and painting / mixed media. She is especially passionate about bringing the arts into our spiritual experiences, both individually and collectively in worship.

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