New Milford woman is first female senior pastor in church's 300-year history

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Amy Carter, standing beside a photograph of the Rev. Noah Porter, who served from 1836 to 1843.

Amy Carter, standing beside a photograph of the Rev. Noah Porter, who served from 1836 to 1843.

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NEW MILFORD — Social justice for the equal treatment of everyone is a huge passion for Amy Carter, who is breaking ground as First Congregational Church’s first female senior pastor in its 300-year history. She takes on her new position June 1.

Since 2012, Carter has been pastor at Hope Congregational Church in East Providence, R.I. She said she’s very excited to come to First Congregational Church, and referenced the church’s recent Raise the Roof project, saying the church has also revamped everything “under the roof,” as well.

“They have redone their by-laws, they have looked carefully at their finances, and they have voted to become open and affirming, which means they affirm gay marriage,” said Carter, “which is a church code word for inclusive and accepting.”

The church, at 36 Main St., will welcome Carter at a June 6, worship service, at 10 a.m. She’s replacing Mike Moran, who left about two years ago after serving as pastor for 20 years. The 200-member church has had 15 previous pastors.

Social advocacy

As a social advocate, Carter was involved with numerous projects over the years, and one of her goals is to promote the LGBTQ+ community. In 2015, she was involved in Rhode Island’s marriage equality campaign, which legalized gay marriage in that state.

“I was one of a large group of interface clergy who were staunch advocates for marriage equality,” said Carter, 51, who has recently relocated to town from Rhode Island.

“We were at the Rhode Island State House as part of the Interfaith Coalition of Ministers,” she said. “It was the culmination of a few years of effort by many community groups including ministers, social activists, child advocacy places, and homeless shelters, who all worked together.”

Since that time, Carter has married about eight gay couples.

In her new position, she said she particularly would like to support young people in the LGBTQ+ community.

“The reality for teens and younger folks coming out is it has an extreme effect on their lives,” she said. “The rates of homelessness and suicide are extraordinary. The pressures of how to safely navigate life choices for younger people are very, very difficult, so to have a trusted adult who can steer them to the resources they need is critical.”

She also addressed the community of color, and said people of color are “disproportionately affected” by most social justice issues — “access to healthcare, income inequality, housing and banking issues.”

In her new role, Carter intends to encourage open discussions about race. “In my previous congregation, which was mostly non-white, a constant topic was racism and white privilege. Coming here to New Milford, with the changing demographics and the events of our world, it becomes more and more important for all people to be able to dialogue about race and how it impacts our lives. That is definitely something I will be bringing here.”

First Congregational Church is 97 percent white, “which is pretty much in line with the New Milford census,” Carter said.

She added, however, that New Milford is “a changing community,” which she said she has observed by recent walks around town.

“The shift that has happened here since COVID is going to have noticeable societal effects when things start to reopen, and when your neighbors look different, people are going to start dealing with things differently,” she said. “It’s really an exciting time to have come from serving a multi-racial congregation to a place where these changes are happening, so I feel really lucky to bring those skills with me.”

Additionally, Carter has been a strong advocate for women’s health issues, which, she said, includes supporting access to abortion and birth control. She received an award from Planned Parenthood called Champions in Women’s Health, for her advocacy.

Carter plans to use her position as clergy to continue to advocate for women’s health issues “because the opposition is strong,” she said.

Reaching the community

Sarah Rose, who was on the church’s search committee for a new pastor, said “I am so excited to welcome Rev. Amy to New Milford. She is going to be a blessing both for the First Congregational Church of New Milford and the town. Her energy is electric, friendly, and welcoming.”

Carter said she’s looking forward to not only serving as minister to the members of the church, but reaching out to the 6,000 residents of New Milford, “for whatever the needs in the community are.” She plans to get to know the community through regular coffees in public venues.

Carter, who is single with three grown children, said, “If you see someone driving around with a giant blue kayak on top of my Volkswagen — that’s me, so please say hello.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect Rev. Amy Carter is the first woman to serve as the church’s senior pastor.