Nearly a year and a half ago, the Wilton Congregational Church began its search for a new pastor to inspire and lead the congregation in furthering a shared vision of growth, purpose and vitality.
This past Sunday that quest was realized as the Rev. Dr. Arnold I. Thomas took up the mantle as WCC’s 37th senior minister, building on the church’s 287-year legacy of spiritual leadership.
“We sought an extraordinary person to do extraordinary things for the church, the congregation and the Wilton community,” said Jerry Sprole, chairman of the search committee. “Our recommendation to call Dr. Thomas as senior minister was unanimous, and we’re thrilled to welcome him and his family to our church and the Wilton community.”
A man of deep faith and an inspired spiritual leader, Dr. Thomas has led a rich and meaningful career. Most recently, he served as minister of education, ecumenical and interfaith relations at the Riverside Church in New York City. While at Riverside, Dr. Thomas established the Center for the Study of Science and Religion in cooperation with Columbia University; founded the Academy for Cooperative Christian Education and Living; led the church to becoming a founding member of the God Not Guns Sabbath Movement; facilitated interfaith dialogue among Jews, Muslims and Christians; and created an annual Bible Walk program that ventured to Israel and the Middle East.
Before being called to Riverside, Dr. Thomas ministered in various settings: parish, conference, university, urban, and small town. He served as pastor of the First Congregational Church (now Faith United Church of Christ) in Little Rock, Ark.; chaplain and faculty member of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.; pastor of First Congregational Church in Williamstown, Mass.; and conference minister of the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The son of a Baptist minister and elementary school teacher, Dr. Thomas spent his childhood in the Midwest. He earned his bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Hiram College, his master of divinity degree from Yale University, where he received the Wolcott Calkins Award for excellence in preaching, and a doctorate of ministry from Hartford Seminary.
“It is a privilege to have been called as senior minister of the Wilton Congregational Church and to be part of a legacy of vibrant ministry and community service that dates back to the town’s inception in 1726, when the first pastor, Robert Sturgeon, also served as the town’s schoolmaster,” said Dr. Thomas, a teacher himself, who currently serves as adjunct professor of religion at the New York Theological Seminary.
“I believe I’ve been called by this dynamic and growing church to expand upon its spiritual legacy by, first, helping it to strengthen and articulate the faith foundation from which it functions and, secondly, to broaden the involvement of members in enriching programs of the church and wider community through a heightened sense of their identity and purpose as Christians in a pluralistic world,” he said.
Dr. Thomas’s commitment to enriching the communities in which he lives and works aligns with the spirit of active service embraced by so many members of our church, Mr. Sprole said.
Ogden House, Wilton’s first residential center for senior citizens, and the grassroots nonprofit devoted to sustainable living Wilton Go Green, were created by WCC members, many of whom continue their involvement today.
Beyond their own back yards, WCC parishioners build homes with Habitat for Humanity; cook and serve hot meals at the Open Door Shelter’s Manna House of Hospitality; collect and distribute hundreds of coats, warm clothing and blankets to those in need; and travel within and outside of the United States with Wilton teenagers to restore the homes and hopes of others struggling with poverty or the ravages of natural disasters.
“I feel it’s vital for the church to help its members envision and strive for that common objective; what Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘Beloved Community,’” said Dr. Thomas. “The church is more a movement than it is a fixed place or stately institution within a community; and as a movement we are constantly evolving, spiraling hopefully ever upward toward new and greater vistas of spiritual insight and communion.”
At home, Dr. Thomas is a devoted husband and father of three who recognizes the importance of spending meaningful time with his family. When not attending to his ministerial duties, he enjoys writing, jogging and singing, and is currently authoring a full-scale musical production.