ANDOVER- On January 31, the First Congregational Church of Andover will be celebrating the retirement of Jane Rich, their pastor for the past 23 years.
In meeting with Jane at the parsonage recently, she took me on a little visit down memory lane of her time in Andover and how God answered the prayer of an eight-year-old little girl with a messy life.
Jane came to Andover in 1974 after marrying Rufus Rich, the son of Louise Dickinson Rich. They made a life for themselves in the cozy town where “everyone just looks out for one another,” according to Jane.
She worked at Lakewood Camps that year and began writing the Middle Dam News.
“I always knew that we were put here (Andover/earth) to do something,” stated Jane. “And if we’re here to do something, we’re not meant to sit around. Life is too short.”
Jane Rich grew up in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, the daughter of a mother and father who had fallen away from the Catholic and Methodist callings. She lived a very challenging childhood while her father battled alcoholism.
It was at the age of seven when her uncle gifted her a bible that she began to find refuge, especially in Matthew 7:7 which states, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“Those words just seemed to jump off the page,” noted Jane. “When I was eight years old I remember asking God to let me serve Him. To lead me.”
As a teen Jane became involved with the Catholic church through friends who took her along with them, but after about 10 years and a few experiences that were less than desirable, Jane, “threw that whole thing out the window.”
Jane’s path lead her through five years without a church and after meeting Rufus and moving to Andover, that was when she discovered First Congregational, becoming a member in 1980.
“I needed to figure out what kind of church it was before I committed,” noted Jane.
Jane and Rufus mutually divorced in 1995, but she noted that if it wasn’t for him, she would have never known Andover and would have definitely been on another path.
“I feel very strongly that God honored the prayer of that eight-year-old child,” stated Jane. “I’ve learned over the years that God wishes for us to have obedience now and understanding later.”
When asked how she became the pastor in Andover, Jane shared that Marriott Churchill was the serving pastor and had urged her to get her license to preach.
After receiving her license, the Oxford Union Association hired Jane to travel to surrounding churches and preach.
“I would basically preach, meet new people, fellowship with them and leave,” noted Jane. She did this throughout Oxford County from 1988 to 1989.
It wasn’t until the latter part of 1989 when Jane was a member of the search committee to replace Churchill that they asked her to sign a contract to preach at First Congregational for six months until they found someone.
“Then, they asked me to sign a contract for a year, then it was a two year contract and then finally they said no more contracts, we want to keep you.”
At the time, Jane was the registrar of deeds for Oxford County and began her schooling to become ordained.
“I would work all day in South Paris, leave there and head to Portland for one class that night and then leave for Bangor for two more classes and travel back to South Paris for work. It was a grueling schedule.”
Jane served First Congregational for 10 years before becoming ordained in 2000.
“I’ve got a generational connection to Andover now,” noted Jane. “I’ve seen so many people born into this community, grow, some die and some live a long time. I’ve had the pleasure of being with them on their paths.”
Jane shared just how special it is to be able to share a friend’s last days, to share their newborns and to see them grow.
“So many people don’t realize God’s hand is on so many things,” stated Jane. “You never know how your words will impact others and who you may help lead to God.”
Jane stated how difficult it has become over the last several years, between the shrinking number of congregants, along with the new generation not having grown up knowing God and not to have ever heard the stories of the bible.
“It used to be that everyone who came to church knew the stories and could recite the Lord’s Prayer, but I had to truly be in preacher/teacher mode. They need to learn the stories, the prayer and start from scratch.”
Did you know that First Congregational isn’t the only church Jane serves?
During our visit, Jane shared that whenever she would drive by the Upton Union Church she would note to herself that it was too bad it was closed.
It was during the summer of 2010, during a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting that the thought of her preaching there came up and it was decided that they would open the church from May through October for services.
“It’s such a blessing to preach there,” noted Jane. “There’s a unique presence. Everyone feels it. We can feel the prayerful presence of all those who attended there in the past. It’s a very unique place.”
Even though Jane is retiring from First Congregational, she will continue to preach in Upton during the summer and early fall months. When asked how long she’ll continue up there, Jane laughed, “As long as they’ll have me. Remember, obedience now, understanding later.”
Now, since I’ve worked at this paper, Andover has always been a great town to cover, especially for their signature event, Andover Olde Home Days. Rumor had it that Jane was one of the founding members of that weekend-long festivity.
“Yes, I spearheaded an anniversary celebration the summer of 1979 when the town of Andover was celebrating their 150th anniversary and people enjoyed themselves so much they came to me with the hope that we could do something annually.”
Over the next ten years Jane was head of the AOHD committee, but then let it go to another group with more energy and time. Now, with the 35th anniversary coming up in August, Jane is looking to get another group of 40-somethings interested in spearheading the event to keep it alive and well.
When I asked her what she contributes the long-running event to, Jane stated, “People in Andover care about one another. They care about their roots. They care about tradition. They want to hold on to all that has made them who they are.”
Now, you haven’t heard the last of Jane, as she’s taken out papers for selectman by the urging of her fellow townspeople.
“I’m here to serve. I was a selectman from 1978 to 1987 and I’ve grown a reputation of responsibility and respect. I know as a selectman I am there to serve the people, not abuse my power.”
If you happen to be in Andover on January 31, stop by the First Congregational Church to wish Jane well, and if you miss the party, be sure to take a ride to Upton when the church opens back up in May.
A friend stated to me the other day, “God doesn’t use the qualified, he qualifies those he uses.”
I think Jane’s words can be heard in many of our hearts and minds if we really think about it, “God’s been very good to me. I’ve been down a strange path, but I’ve always done my best to trust and let Him guide me. He’s had a hand on my life from the beginning. I trust Him.”