Rest in Peace, John Van Ness

As some of you may already have heard, after several months under hospice care, John VanNess, 90, passed away quietly in his sleep the morning of January 4.  We are very saddened at the thought of his absence in our lives; we hope and pray, John, that your much-anticipated exploration of “the other side” is bringing you all the delight and wonder you had imagined.

 There will be a private memorial service for the family video-recorded live at the church on Sunday; a link will be forthcoming in the next few days. It will also be posted on line and available on the church website for anyone who would like to watch later.

Rev. Ilona Kwiecien


Rev. Dr. John Hasbrouck Van Ness

January 28, 1930 — January 4, 2021

John H. Van Ness died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 4, 2021, just 24 days shy of his 91st birthday.

His family, in partnership with the First Church in Jaffrey, will celebrate a service of remembrance via livestream on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at 2 p.m. You can join the livestream at this link:

John Hasbrouck Van Ness was born on Jan. 28, 1930, in Paterson, N.J., to the late J. Harold Van Ness and Frances Hasbrouck Van Ness and grew up in Glen Rock, N.J.

He is survived by his younger sister, Mary Lou, and her husband, Clyde Slicker; three sons and their wives: Peter (Vickie Siems); Stephen (Jaime Polk); and Timothy (Eve Capkanis); eight grandchildren: Eva Shute, Lia Borrelli, Tara Van Ness, Ethan Van Ness, Kristopher Stensland, Gabriel Van Ness, Michael Van Ness and John Van Ness; and two great-grandchildren: Jackson Forslund and Benjamin Shute.

In 1951, John graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., with a B.S. in electrical engineering. During his college years, John found increasing depth of faith through retreats with fellow students and, rather than take an engineering job, he enrolled in New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. While training at the Flatbush Reformed Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., John met the love of his life, Patricia Ann Wood. They married on June 13, 1953, about a year before John graduated with a Masters of Divinity. John and Pat’s marriage thrived for 59 years until she died on March 21, 2012. By facing his own fears, desires and illusions, and surviving a stroke, John found himself able to be mindfully present to Pat as he shared her 10-year journey through dementia.

John was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served as pastor of several churches in New York State from 1955-67, with one break in 1962-63, when he and Pat and their three boys ages 7, 5 and 10 weeks moved to Celigny, Switzerland, where John enrolled in the World Council of Churches’ Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies at the University of Geneva. Before returning to the U.S., John worked at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva. He would recall that year as one which restored his faith that something could be done about the inner spiritual experience within the church, and that he had a role in it. From 1967-70 John was Director and Campus Minister at the Student Christian Center in New Paltz, N.Y., until his activism became unacceptable to some local churches and he accepted a position as an administrator at SUNY New Paltz, where he became Acting Vice President for Student Affairs in 1978. In 1981, John was accepted into the doctoral program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now known as Sofia University) in Palo Alto, Calif., where he earned a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology. His time there deepened his own appreciation for diverse spiritual traditions, and led to his becoming a Whirling Dervish for a few years.

In 1985, John and Pat moved to Jaffrey, where they set to work designing an octagonal house built on land that had been in Pat’s family for several generations. They joined the First Church in Jaffrey, where John served on the Church Council, several committees, as a guest pastor and became a highly respected member of the church, sought out by the congregation for his deep wisdom. Many people in the community are forever changed, having been touched by John’s warm smile, clever humor and generous spirit. As a member of the church choir, John held up the baritone section for many years. He also joined the Monadnock Chorus and joined them on their European tour. Beginning in high school, John played clarinet in the marching band. He continued playing clarinet well into his 70s, occasionally sitting in with the band at local square dances called by Duke Miller in Fitzwilliam, Peterborough and Dublin. Until he retired in 2015 at the age of 85, John served as a pastoral psychotherapist, seeing patients in private practice and serving as Senior Therapist at Monadnock Area Psychotherapy and Spirituality Services (MAPS) in Keene. He also taught at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene and served as a Mentor at Sofia University and Faculty Advisor at Norwich University in Vermont.

In lieu of flowers, John’s family would welcome donations in his name to MAPS John will be buried next to Pat in Conant Cemetery in Jaffrey. To share memories, photographs and condolences with John’s family, please visit

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