SOUTHBURY — Members of South Britain Congregational Church voted via Zoom on Sunday, June 28, to call the Rev. Malcolm Carr as their next settled pastor.
Having served the church as supply minister since May 1, presenting the weekly service on videotape, Pastor Malcolm will conduct his first face-to-face Sunday service on July 5 as the church resumes regular weekly worship at 10 a.m. in the meeting house.
Covid-19 protocol will be observed, with masks required and advance reservations to ensure socially distanced seating.
It’s a long way here from Shenyang, China, where Pastor Malcolm and his family spent the past two years, but the New England native told Voices that South Britain already feels like home.
“I’m amazed,” he said. “It’s so naturally beautiful here. It reminds me of where I grew up.”
Malcolm Carr was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Bangor, Maine. He attended Messiah College in central Pennsylvania, graduating in 2002 with a degree in English literature and a minor in world religions.
While at Messiah, he was captain of the tennis team, wrote for the school newspaper and spent a summer in China, studying the religion of that country. The trip was led by another student named Britney, who would later become his wife.
After college, Pastor Malcolm signed on with the Jobs Corps, teaching English as a second language and basic math.
He returned to China for two semesters of graduate language study before entering Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass.
Following seminary, Pastor Malcolm worked as a chaplain at Beverly Hospital, then as a hospice chaplain at Hospice of the North Shore, both in the Greater Boston area.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ in 2010, his first call was to pastor a church outside Philadelphia. He later became pastor at Lihue Christian Church, a UCC congregation on Kauai, the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands.
After Hawaii, the Carrs and their two young daughters moved to Shenyang, a city of 11 million in northeastern China near the North Korean border, to teach English and literature at an international school.
About two years into that assignment, they began hearing talk of a new virus that was starting to spread in Wuhan.
“Things started to happen in January,” said Pastor Malcolm. “We weren’t close; the distance from Wuhan to Shenyang is about the same distance as from Texas to us. But the school and the embassy said it would be best for teachers to go back to their home country.”
During that time, Pastor Malcolm was also thinking about returning to ministry.
“I enjoyed teaching,” he said. “But I really wanted to go back to pastoring. The things I enjoyed about teaching, I also enjoyed as a pastor.
“I was raised in the UCC and ordained in the UCC. I really wanted to serve a church in the denomination. I felt called back to that.”
The family had just returned from China and was staying with family on Long Island when SBCC’s Search Committee came upon Pastor Malcolm’s ministerial profile through the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The profile listed a home address in China. Not knowing that the candidate had since returned to the U.S., committee members read the profile and were impressed enough to take a leap of faith and reach out to him.
Once they began speaking to Pastor Malcolm over Skype, it wasn’t long before they realized they had found the person they would ultimately recommend to the congregation.
“Having unanimously voted to endorse Pastor Malcolm prior to the Covid-19 reality was a miracle from God,” said Jennifer Naylor, who chaired the search committee.
“Our search team met with great regularity, prayerfully seeking God’s will over our two-and-a-half year search quest, and God reminded us that He is always in control and always has a plan,” she said.
“We are indeed blessed to have Pastor Malcolm join us as our next settled pastor, and welcome him and his beautiful family to our town, our church and our lives.”
The Carrs have been living in Woodbury since May and expect to move into the church parsonage later this month.
“People from the church have been checking in to see how we are,” the pastor said. “The clergy in Southbury and Woodbury have been reaching out, letting me know they’re here if I need them.”
Beginning a pastorate in a time such as this has had its challenges, he said, particularly in getting to know his parishioners.
“For me, it’s been frustrating not to be sitting with people and talking,” he said. “It’s been frustrating not to be able to meet with people in their homes.”
And for a minister who enjoys an interactive style of preaching, recording a sermon on video to be accessed days later is less than ideal.
“I’m standing in front of a camera, wondering if anyone is looking back,” he said. “When I say something funny, I wonder if anyone is laughing.”
But joining a church during a pandemic allows opportunities for insight.
“In a crisis, you get to see how the church runs in a different way than when it’s not in that mode,” he said. “You get to see how people work together best and worst at the same time. That’s a real gift.”
He was impressed, he said, with how quickly the church went from a traditional sermon to the technology of filming and distributing it.
“That gets at the heart of why we get together,” he said, “which is to feel connected, to look at scripture together, to figure out how it applies to our daily lives.
“That’s the beauty of scripture,” he said. “No matter who and where you are, it speaks to you.”
Pastor Malcolm said his family is settling in and getting to know the area. They’ve been driving around, exploring the back roads, seeking out local parks to walk the trails.
The two girls, ages 5 and 9, continued online classes at their Chinese school until the term ended on June 12. Britney, who holds degrees in applied linguistics and has taught at the university level, is devoting her time to helping her daughters adjust to the move.
“I missed New England,” Pastor Malcolm said. “It was very much a part of my culture. I missed the unique people, the culture of it. I was open to where God would lead me, but I was hoping to be in New England.”
Pastor Malcolm is the middle of three sons. Like both his brothers, he is an Eagle Scout. He considers Latin his second language and is conversational in Mandarin.
“I love chess,” he said. “I like all kinds of music. I like to cook. I like to bake. I like to explore.”
While in quarantine, he has made a project of getting to know the church by exploring what came before.
“I’m starting slowly, reading all the annual reports and the history, to get a vision of the culture of the place and what’s important to people here,” he said.
“I want to help people to grow in their relationship to the Divine. That looks different for everyone. I want to find different ways to help people to do that.
“I just want to help SBCC to be the best it can be.”
Those seeking additional information can reach Pastor Malcolm at SBCC at 203-264-5890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.