- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

GUILFORD, Conn. (AP) - A few months ago, the Rev. Virginia Brasher-Cunningham said she had never even heard of Guilford. Now, she is making history at the town’s oldest church.

Brasher-Cunningham and the Rev. Sarah Verasco have become First Congregational Church’s first female leaders in the church’s 373 year history. The two are co-pastors at the church at 122 Broad St.

“We both share that goal that drives us to show people they are welcome and wanted and loved,” Brasher-Cunningham said.

Verasco said having two females lead the way at the church sends a powerful message about how inclusive and welcoming First Congregational Church is.

“I think women being in the church, it’s only been the last 20 years,” Verasco said. “I think we bring a wonderful gift to ministry and the congregation.”

Verasco said the idea to have co-pastors started last year when the leadership of First Church decided to scrap the old senior and associate pastor model.

“People noticed the associate pastor was doing a lot of work and perhaps we were already moving in that direction of sharing power equally,” Verasco said.

Michael Smith, the head of the church council, said a search committee made up of members of the congregation were tasked with finding co-pastors. He said they searched nationwide to give themselves the best chance to find the ideal person for the job.

“I had to apply again and they felt Ginger (Virginia’s nickname) and I were best for job,” Versaco said.

Smith agreed. He said they knew the significance of having two female leaders, but gender did not play a role in picking co-pastors. He said the pastors had to interview and even preach a sermon to the congregation before they voted on the co-pastors.

“The decision was unanimous,” Smith said.

Versasco said she had been associate pastor at First Church for three and a half years before taking the leadership role. Brasher-Cunningham worked as a pastor in North Carolina since 2007. Before North Carolina, she was a pastor in Massachusetts. Originally, Brasher-Cunningham is from Birmingham, Alabama and said she was born three blocks from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote his letter from Birmingham Jail.

She said she wasn’t ready to leave North Carolina, but made a commitment that if God called to go elsewhere, she would.

“I never expected Connecticut,” Brasher-Cunningham said. “I had lived in Massachusetts for 20 years and thought I’d end up in Massachusetts.”

Instead, Brasher-Cunningham was chosen to co-pastor with Verasco. Basher-Cunningham said also she understands the importance of two female congregational leaders and said growing up she never witnessed a woman preach. She said First Church has been welcoming, which reassures her decision to take the job.

The church is an open and affirming congregation, which means it accepts LGBT members, according to Basher-Cunningham. Verasco said she and Basher-Cunningham both share the same vision for the church.

“It’s a come as you are and leave knowing you are loved by God kind of church,” Verasco said.

And for the first time in more than 300 years, two women are going to make sure it stays that way.


Information from: New Haven Register, https://www.nhregister.com

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