July 19, 2015

North Windham Union Church welcomes new pastor with open arms - By Michelle Libby

Pastor Debbie Girard knew right away that North Windham Union Church was the perfect fit for her when she saw the sanctuary. 
“I immediately felt a connection. I prayed for God to direct me. I wanted joy in my life and work. I walked into the sanctuary and I almost burst into tears,” Girard said. 

Since she started three weeks ago, she has come to love her new role as preacher and teacher of this “very vibrant group.” 

“It is as if they consider me part of the family already,” she said. 

After the passing of her husband four years ago, Girard decided to go to seminary school at Andover Newton Theological Seminary, where she earned her Masters of Divinity. She had to do a round of ministry at Maine Medical Center and took many more steps on her way to NWUC, which was her first and only choice. This is her first “call”. 

The church on Roosevelt Trail has about 300 members. There was an expansion years ago and the sanctuary is air conditioned and climate controlled, which is especially helpful for those with breathing issues or asthma. There is a soundproof room in the sanctuary for “restless children”. Girard said her grandchildren have used that room when they have come to services. What is happening is piped into the room and there is a large window so the adults in there and the children can watch. 

“It’s extra ordinary to make all people comfortable. It’s a well thought out plan,” she said. 

 “They are a faith community that is very much into local missions,” she described. There is a thrift shop in the basement of the parish hall and Monday Meals are held there once or twice a month. The largest undertaking is the Music with a Mission program that donates proceeds from concerts to local non-profit organizations. “They’re having fun while doing God’s work,” Girard said. “They see the difference they make in their own community.” 

Girard hopes to do more Bible study courses at the church and wants to incorporate a prayer shawl committee. 

As soon as she got the call that she was called to work at NWUC, she started knitting a prayer shawl. With each stitch she said a prayer, not knowing if the shawl would go to someone in ill health or to someone who just got engaged, married or had a baptism. Girard described it as a physical way to show prayers to someone. She hopes each shawl made will travel through the church with each adult and child touching it. “It teaches the children another level of care. It’s a good teaching tool.”  
“The congregation feels that preaching is a gift of mine and pastoral care,” she said. 

Tracy Cook, chair of the Search Committee, said, “Pastor Debbie brings many gifts to the church, including a strong and vibrant faith, warmth and inclusiveness, and an ability to organize and energize the congregation to do God’s work. Her strengths include a keen intellect, compassionate heart, and a vivacious spirit.  She is a natural leader with charisma and patience, and she relates well to people of all generations.”

The congregation is described as open and affirming. No matter who one is or what they do, they are welcome at NWUC. 

Girard is from Old Orchard Beach and lives near her daughter, son-in-law and her three grandchildren.
“I hope to walk with them with joy and faith, and have fun with the kids. You never know what’s going to happen with kids.”

Services are at 10 a.m. on Sundays.  

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