The Rev. David Felton of the First Church in Jaffrey.
Ben Conant / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript


Christmas is one of the most significant holidays in the Christian religion and often draws larger-than-usual crowds to services — not ideal when COVID-19 guidelines still call for limiting contact with large groups.

As a result, some churches are being creative with their services and many of the traditions that surround them this year. Others are holding in-person services without social distancing or mask requirements.

Sometimes, said Rev. David Felton, pastor at the First Church in Jaffrey, forced creativity can produce some silver linings.

The First Church in Jaffrey isn’t meeting in person for its usual Christmas Eve service, but will be providing an online service for its congregation to watch at home. And some members who wouldn’t have had the chance to participate otherwise get to join in, Felton said.

“We realized that since we’re recording it all in advance, remotely, there are things we can do different than ever before,” Felton said.

Felton said he invited lay readers, people who were members of the church but are away for the winter, or who grew up in Jaffrey but have since moved away, to participate.

“We can bring in people that we wouldn’t necessarily have in person. It’s a silver lining. It’s different, very different. But it has to be this year, because our first concern is keeping people safe. We don’t want to be a spreader,” Felton said.

Singing is one of the possible big spreaders of the virus, as it causes people to project and spread their breath and water molecules over a farther distance. At the same time, Christmas carols and hymns are an integral part of the holiday. The First Church in Jaffrey isn’t the only house of worship to find a way to still have music be a part of its Christmas celebrations.

The Union Congregational Church in Peterborough has already had a Christmas sing-along via Zoom earlier this month, and is planning another service of carols via Facebook Live right after Christmas.

The Peterborough UCC won’t be having an in-person service on Christmas Eve, instead streaming a 7 p.m. service to its members through Facebook Live, but some churches that have been allowing membership through the doors are planning to do the same for Christmas Eve.

Jaffrey Bible Church is making some changes to its Christmas services this year, including canceling its traditional soup dinner, which usually follows its Christmas Eve service.

Jaffrey Bible Church Pastor Fouad Faris said the service will happen in person, though he’s expecting a lower turnout than usual, and depending on the weather, may have some outdoor fellowship time, but the annual supper creates too big a risk to continue this year. The church’s traditional Christmas pageant is also canceled this year.

The traditional Christmas concert is still happening, Faris said, but is being recorded with individual members separately, and then put online.

The church has been offering in-person services, with an option for members to attend online, and has been seeing about 50 percent capacity, Faris said, which makes social distancing possible, though members are still asked to wear masks unless they are in their designated seats.

Faris said the church has been careful, and went to remote services for a few weeks when Faris quarantined after a family member of his was ill, and when a member of the church tested positive for COVID-19. But thus far, there hasn’t been any significant spread within the congregation.

Pastor Ken Whitson of the New Ipswich Congregational Church said the church’s Christmas Eve service typically draws more than 100 people to the church, and will still go on this year. However, the church has already started to consider how to maintain social distancing with more people than usual in the pews, including requiring overflow seating in the balcony and additional chairs.

“We just will deal with whomever comes through the door, as we have been week to week,” Whitson said.

Whitson said the church has been lucky so far, and able to hold in-person services for some time. The church did shut down its youth group for several weeks, after a member’s sibling tested positive for COVID-19. The church didn’t have any positive tests within its own youth group, however, and has been vigilant about social distancing and masking, Whitson said. He said some events that are typically open to the public have been reduced to only members of the church’s Sunday school, and its Bible study groups have moved online, and those precautions will continue.

“We’re following the guidelines of the state, and we have been following those guidelines right along, and we haven’t had a problem,” Whitson said. “That’s working well for us.”

Christian Outreach in Rindge, which had several weeks of remote-only services last month due to positive cases among the congregation, is back in person and also looking forward to Christmas Eve services, said Pastor Bob Hakala.

Hakala, who said the Christmas Eve service typically draws about 100 people, said the church won’t be requiring social-distancing measures or masks, despite the statewide mandate on them.

“We don’t do that. It’s come as you are,” he said. The church does plan to livestream the service for members who don’t want to or cannot attend in person, he said.


Rev. Steve Miller
And Wife Dr. Jill Tyler

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 of 2021 when he visited and conducted worship. His wife, Dr. Jill Tyler, will join him in the First Church parsonage after she retires in May as professor and chair of the University of South Dakota (USD) Communications Department. Currently Leah and Luke Summit (Steve and Jill’s daughter and son-in-law) and the Summit’s two boys are staying with Miller while the young family looks for a house in the greater Boston area.

“I am very excited about getting to know all the people in Jaffrey, the church and the wider Jaffrey community!  I’ve met neighbors walking my dog and playing in front of the parsonage with my two grandsons, who are ages 2-1/2 and nine months.”  Miller confessed: “I’m a bit of a schmoozer.”

For the past 26 years Miller was the senior pastor at the United Church of Christ-Congregational in Vermillion SD.  Originally a New Englander, Miller grew up in  Worcester, MA, in what is now the United Congregational Church.  Miller shared, in his first Sunday leading worship at First Church: “I used to come up here to climb Monadnock as a kid.  It’s like returning home.  I love the mountains, the trees, the ponds and rivers – it’s beautiful here.”

A man of many interests, Miller spent five years studying Lakota spirit, language and music. He invited the Lakota community to hold sacred ceremonies at the UCC church. Speaking for the Lakota community during a farewell gathering honoring Miller, one participant observed that he and Steve have been friends for years and call each other “Kola,” the Lakota term for brother.

At this same event Miller was honored by the Vermillion Community Theatre with a poster of six photos of him in community theater productions that was headlined “Actor, Playwright, Songwriter, Musician, Director of Spirit” in appreciation of his and the church’s support in helping the theater build a center for performing arts at the Vermillion high school.  A devoted baseball fan, Miller was a leader of the Vermillion Youth Baseball Association for players 5 to 12 for many years.

The title of teacher also belongs in Miller’s repertoire, as demonstrated by his popular “World Religions” course at the University of SD.   The University’s provost Kurt Hackemer observed that an important Miller offering was titled “The Pipe and the Cross,” about the intersection of Christianity and native spirituality. “So many students considered this THE great class, the best class that they ever had at USD,” the provost added.

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. 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.

Please come to First Church in Jaffrey at 10:30 on Sundays and meet Steve Miller!

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