The Charlotte Congregational Church has a new senior pastor, Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen.
Goldenbogen was approved following a candidating service at the church this summer, where all 79 vote-casting members unanimously approved his appointment. He began serving as senior pastor on Sept. 5, following interim pastor Rev. Dr. Arnold Thomas, and Rev. Will Burhans, who served the church for 15 years before moving to serve another United Church of Christ in Winchester, Mass. Goldenbogen joins Rev. Susan Cooke Kittredge, who has served as an associate pastor at the church since 2014.
Rev. Goldenbogen grew up in Rochester, New York, holds a master’s degree in theology and a master of divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School, served as a youth pastor at the Congregational Church of Topsfield, Mass. and as a pastor of the United Church of Underhill, Vermont, since 2008.
He said his interest in the ministry was inspired in part by the ritual of communion. “Whoever we are, whatever we look like, whatever we believe, we’re all invited to this table, and God receives us there, and feeds us and sends us back out again.”
During a sabbatical while he was serving the Underhill church, Goldenbogen, a woodworker, built a communion table. While many communion tables are “big heavy tables, immovable, and have a sense of permanence,” Goldenbogen constructed another kind of table. “I wanted a table that was more flexible than that, lighter than that.” He built a table with three pedestals that could be put together as one table, or moved around, brought outside. “It’s sort of a metaphor for the church’s need to be flexible. Rather than people coming to the table, bringing the table to them.”
That kind of creativity in reaching out to the wider community is important for the Charlotte Congregational Church. The church was once located on a main road, but when Route 7 was re-routed the building “was suddenly up on a hill, away from the people and the traffic,” noted Rev. Susan Cooke Kittredge. “One of the challenges for us is, since people aren’t going to be going past the church every day, the church has to go to the people.”
“It used to be that people would come into the church, but people walk into church buildings less and less,” Goldenbogen said, noting that this is particularly true in Vermont, the least churched state in the nation. In a 2015 Gallup poll, Vermonters’ church attendance ranked 50th of the states, with only 17 percent of respondents in Vermont reporting weekly church attendance. “How can we help build strong communities, strong families, in changing demographics? I think this church is finding a lot of ways to do that.”
The church has an active social justice ministry and a strong commitment to social and environmental issues, illustrated in endeavors like the ground-mounted, 23,940-watt solar array built at the church in 2015. “It’s a creative, out-of-the-box way of having good stewardship, sustainability and environmental consciousness,” Goldenbogen said. The church also serves local families in need of food and personal-care items through the Food Shelf, housed in the church’s basement, and is active in mission and outreach efforts including the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
“What is so magnetic about Kevin is that he is grounded in something beyond himself, grounded in a faith that he clearly delights in sharing,” said Cooke Kittredge. “His ready laugh and compassionate nature attest to this and to the belief that God is always present in our lives drawing us together in communities committed to justice, peace and care.”
Goldenbogen who lives with his wife, Deirdre, sons Owen, 15, and Simon, 7, and enjoys running, skiing and woodworking—and rides a red Vespa scooter, says that the coming Advent season is a good time to visit the church. During the Advent season, the church will be coming together as a community around Sunday worship, celebrating the annual Messiah Sing on Dec. 3, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., holding a gun-violence vigil on December 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and raising money at its Christmas Eve services for mission projects throughout the church. “We’ll be doing both faith formation and engaging with the needs of the world,” Goldenbogen said.