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New year will usher in new pastor for Wilton Presbyterian

Joan Lownds
Rev. Shannon White stands in the sanctuary of the Wilton Presbyterian Church, where she will become the fourth pastor of the 50-year-old church in January. (Photo by Joan Lownds)

The new year will mark a new era for Wilton Presbyterian Church. On Jan. 1, Shannon White will begin her new ministry, serving as the fourth pastor in the church’s 50-year history.

“I am delighted to be coming to Wilton,” said Ms. White, who has been a pastor and associate pastor with three churches in Fairfield and Westchester counties for more than 15 years. “The people here are hospitable, proactive and open.”

Ms. White was chosen as pastor after a “thorough and exhaustive nine-month search following the retirement of Rev. David Graybill, who served as minister for 23 years,” according to Tom Schneider, co-chair of the  church’s nominating committee.

“I have big shoes to fill,” said Ms. White. “Rev. Graybill left a wonderful legacy.”

“Rev. White is a very experienced and qualified pastor who fit all of the key requirements that the congregation was looking for,” said Mr. Schneider. “Some of the aspects that we liked about her, in addition to her strong preaching leadership skills, was her infectious energy and her outgoing, enthusiastic personality, which we felt would be an excellent cultural fit with our congregation.”

There are approximately 350 members of the church, he said. The nine-member nominating committee included two high school students, so the younger members of the congregation were engaged in the process, according to Mr. Schneider.

He said Ms. White, who was ordained in 1991 and received her divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, was selected from an applicant pool of 330 potential pastors.

“We were thrilled to be able to attract a candidate of Rev. White’s caliber,” he said.

Ms. White is currently a resident of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., but intends to move to Wilton after her daughter, Peyton, 13, finishes her last year of middle school. The new pastor has also been a part-time television reporter and associate producer in Westchester County, but will no longer work in this field come January — when she will serve as a full-time pastor.

The two fields are complementary, according to Ms. White. “The news makes my ministry real, and my ministry makes the news compassionate,” she said.

She worked for CBS News as associate producer of “interfaith documentaries” and has also been nominated for two Emmys and won numerous awards for shows on such topics as “homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and prison ministry,” according to Ms. White.

She has also written two books, How Was School Today? Fine … co-written with her daughter, Peyton; and The Invisible Conversations With Your Aging Parents.

“This book was written to help boomer children and their parents have the conversations which are often avoided, and lead to disconnection during an important time in life,” Ms. White said. She has just returned from a national book tour and has spoken about her books and other topics at numerous venues, including Microsoft headquarters.

“Her experience as a reporter and author has given her valuable perspective that makes her ministry and overall communication style, which is very open, inclusive and compassionate, that much more appealing for us as a congregation,” Mr. Schneider said.

Ms. White said she hopes to emphasize “interfaith communication” and participate actively in the Wilton Interfaith Council. This message is especially relevant to the Wilton Presbyterian Church since it co-exists with St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church at the WEPCO complex, she said.

Ms. White has also served as associate pastor at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, as pastor at North Greenwich Congregational Church, and as associate minister at Round Hill Community Church, also in Greenwich.

Her mission work has been “hands-on,” helping to build homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, working in soup kitchens and running the Midnight Run to benefit the homeless in New York City.

This aligns with the mission work that is a tradition at Wilton Presbyterian Church, and has included “team visits to the Mississippi Gulf for volunteer work after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; AmeriCares Homefront Project; Habitat for Humanity in Bridgeport; the Manna House in Norwalk; and Project Return in Westport,” according to the Wilton Presbyterian Church’s website.

Ms. White has also completed training in hospital chaplaincy and as an alcoholism counselor.
“She has a very contemporary and relevant message,” Mr. Schneider said.

A native of Dallas, Ms. White loves to travel, and has visited Japan, Turkey, Vietnam, Guatemala, Brazil, Nicaragua, Russia, and Israel, as well as Europe. Her travels have also contributed to the message she brings.

“We have to embrace the global society,” she said.

Information: wiltonpresbyterian.org.

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