Congregation Meditations

MEDITATIONS ON COVID-19 The threat of COVID-19 is now limiting the ways that we can get together as a congregation. Here are responses to  the continuing need to share our thoughts and participate in a communal spiritual uplifting.

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From John Van Ness

Although we’ve never experienced anything like it, a plague like the COVID-19 pandemic is hardly unique on this planet. Wooly mammoths grew and died. Dinosaurs ruled the planet, then were wiped out. Since the last ice age, we humans have covered the earth, and fought innumerable life-threatening disasters.

During our domination of the world, we humans have spun tales of our beginning, sung of calamities that nearly destroyed us, and illustrated in caves and cathedrals our struggles to survive. This massive artistic outpouring always includes non-physical forces and beings interacting with human saints and scoundrels.
Indigenous peoples of the distant past as well as the present day, whose cultures rely on the specific land on which they live, all include such stories. The ones many of us know best come from the Hebrew Bible – Noah and the flood, Moses and the Egyptian plagues. Since the Greek, Roman and, especially in the last two centuries, Western cultures have covered the world with rational science, the non-physical forces and beings have often been ignored.

Our word “spirit” describes those forces, and our word “soul” refers to that within ourselves which responds to spirit. Today it seems that our fear of COVID-19 is crowding out our awareness of spirit, to the peril of our soul.
Certainly, we need every precaution to avoid the virus and to treat those who have been afflicted with it as well as other conditions.

But we also need to deepen spiritual practices – to bolster our resistance to the virus, to reduce our depression and anxiety which make us more vulnerable to the virus, to live through the disease if we get it, and to cross the threshold to the next world if we do not survive – a crossing we all will make eventually.

Spiritual practice resembles the physical practice that we do by walking, running, working out in the gym, etc. It involves silence or music, paying attention to our bodily sensations, noticing our minds’ busy-ness, focusing on a single word or image, watching the rhythm of breath as a carrier of spirit as we draw it in through our nose, and let it out through our mouth. “Breath” and “spirit” are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek languages, suggesting that conscious breathing directly blows that primal force throughout our whole being.

May you find health and peace as you strengthen your physical and spiritual practice, and as we all look forward to a transformed world as this pandemic recedes.

So follow the road that you hear in your Heart
When you’re standing alone and you’re filled with that spark
Don’t become fooled by the voices you’ll hear
That surround you and drown you and get you to act out of fear
From the song, Choices
by Tim Van Ness © 1996

Rev. Steve Miller

The Rev. Steve G. Miller started his ministry at The First Church in Jaffrey in January 2022, after a unanimous vote of approval by the congregation in October 2021 when he visited and conducted worship. Prior to moving to New Hampshire, Miller was the senior pastor at the United Church of Christ-Congregational in Vermillion SD for 26 years.
Steve Miller graduated from Springfield College in 1981. He began studying at Yale Divinity School and transferred to the Pacific School of Religion, where he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1987. He served churches in Bethlehem, CT and Gilman, IA before going to Vermillion in 1995.

During his long tenure in Vermillion, Steve studied the Lakota spirit, language and music and invited the Lakota community to hold sacred ceremonies at the UCC church. He was also involved in community theater productions and the Vermillion Youth Baseball Association for players. The title of teacher also belongs in Steve’s repertoire, as demonstrated by his popular “World Religions” course at the University of SD

Starting Anew at First Church
Steve came to First Church during the pandemic and brought new energy and ideas to First Church as the congregation emerged from the isolation imposed by COVID. Working with the Minister of Music Gene Faxon and a growing list of volunteers, worship life not only fills the congregation with spirit but offers vision for the future. Late summer and fall showed a distinct increase in attendance, culminating with a full house on Christmas Eve 2023.

Steve has applied his teaching skills to an ongoing faith study series (usually 4-5 weeks) that has become a hub of learning and fellowship for members, neighbors and new friends. Topics explored in these sessions have included the character of faith, a mini course on world religions, a history of church music, and an examination of Christmas carols.

Steve offers pastoral care to members, neighbors, and friends in homes and care facilities. He’s committed to youth work for the New Hampshire Conference UCC - especially camping at the Horton Center in the White Mountains; serves on the board of Jaffrey’s Shelter from the Storm; and supports Jaffrey Adult Day Care by leading monthly singing events. Other community relationships include worship leadership at Cathedral of the Pines and serving as chaplain of the Scout Troup 33, who now call First Church home. Rev. Miller has also been involved with Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality in Oak Park, IL for more 30 years through retreats, conferences, and classes.

Steve’s wife, Dr. Jill Tyler, joined him in Jaffrey the First Church after she retired in May 2022 as professor and chair of the University of South Dakota (USD) Communications Department. They have five children and three grandchildren.

Gene Faxon
Minster of Music

Gene brings his experience with teaching music and his expertise on the organ, piano, and harpsichord. He leads the choir as well as organizes special musical worship and other church events. Gene is also an accomplished recorder player.  During the pandemic Gene and three ladies have become a harmonious quartet.  We enjoy their offerings on multiple occasions during our services.  The congregation joins this group in singing Taize chants and hymns selected from the Pilgrim Hymnal and the New Century Hymnal.

Judy Lessard
Administrative Assistant

Judy brings her corporate experience. Working with our pastor and music minister, she creates the worship bulletins, sends out e-blasts, and monitors phone calls and church email. Working with our treasurer, she maintains the QuickBooks database and generates financial reports. Working with the communications team, she creates, prints, and distributes the church newsletter.


In late January 2022, First Church heartily welcomed (bottom row)  Roy Lake, Pam Hill,  David Bliss and Janet Grant as new Trustees.  Nancy Elder-Wilfrid is the new Clerk and in the top row is Ann St. Cyr Gordon (Treasurer) and Sam Greene Moderator.


Sam Greene, Moderator
Ann Gordon, Treasurer
Nancy Elder-Wilfrid, Clerk


David Bliss
Janet Grant
Pam Hill
Roy Lake
Tom Warren
Dan Wilfrid