A Library With A Rich Menu for Disciples

A Library With A Rich Menu for Disciples

Debby Kirk, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries conducted a recent interview with Jennifer deSimas, Librarian at J. P. Webster Library
I know that you have a background in Faith Formation.  Can you tell us what led you to the JP Webster Library?  
I was a teaching assistant in a Montessori classroom in Simsbury. One spring I was laid off because enrollments were down. I remember walking to my car that afternoon, and I asked out loud, “Well, where do I go now?” In response, I heard, or felt very clearly, “Go back to the church.” I was alone, but I wasn’t surprised – this had happened to me before.  But I didn’t understand what I was being asked to do.
I had never worked at a church – we weren’t even members of a church at that time. Later that afternoon, I told my friend about the experience and she said, “Oh, wow – my church (Avon UCC) is looking for a new CE Director.” So I had my answer!
I was the CE Director at Avon for about ten years, and it was very satisfying work. I’ve always liked working with youth and children, but wanted to work with them on a deeper, more meaningful level, and this was just a great place for me to live out my belief that we have to connect kids to their faith through experiences with other cultures, other people, other places. 
I also have an M.A. in History Museum Administration. I was a curator and museum educator before my children were born. I love history, museums - house museums, especially – archives, all that. So that tied in nicely when I heard that First Church was looking for a new Director for the JPWL.

It sounds like you are following your Call!  How is your work at J. P. Webster connected to your previous work in Faith Formation?
One of my responsibilities at the JPWL is program and event planning for adults. You do a lot of that as a CE Director, if you think about it, there’s a lot of event planning involved. I have a great time looking for events that explore not just scholarly faith topics, but also topics you wouldn’t necessarily connect with spirituality, like organizing clutter, or organizing your photo collections, or creating a cozy, hygge home, or learning the symptoms of depression, or exploring options for an aging parent. All of these have a faith component to them; they affect our psyche, our emotional well-being, and they affect our relationships. I try to help people see that our choices and actions and hobbies are all part of our spiritual make-up.

How do you describe the Mission of the Library?
The JPWL is open to anyone who would like to explore a religious or spiritual topic; it’s open to the public. Our catalog is online, and we issue patrons regular library cards. The church has had a library since the mid-1800s, in truth, just as most churches do. The John P. Webster Library was established in 1978 through a bequest from Florence Sidette Crofut, and was named in honor of Rev. John P. Webster, who was pastor when Miss Crofut was there. At the library’s dedication, Rev. Webster said that he hoped the library would become “a place of acceptance, the House of the Word,” where patrons of all ages and backgrounds would find inspiration for their faith journeys. 

This library is a little powerhouse. I like to say it's a church library on steroids. We have a great collection for pastors -- everything from books of prayer to books on church leadership and polity, leading youth, leading special worship services. We have current books on racial justice, LGBTQ issues, environmental concerns. We also have an amazing children's book collection with books about families, nature, relationships, kindness, dealing with moving, divorce or death, and a lot of resources on understanding different cultures, the idea of being a refugee, or being trangender, and of course tried-and-true favorites like  Make Way for Ducklings and Bishop Tutu's God's Dream

The Ruth Dudley Resource Collection may be of particular interest to Faith Formation leaders.  Can you tell us more?
The JPWL houses the faith formation collection of the historic Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, formerly known as the Ruth Dudley Resource Center. The collection was transferred to the JPWL in 2017 and we encourage faith leaders from the SNEUCC and beyond to visit us and browse the shelves of children’s and adult education resources. We are still developing that collection, keeping it current and adding educational/faith formation resources as needed. 

Can you give us an overview of the types of programs that you offer?
Recent programs Upcoming Programs Ongoing Project
  • West Hartford Witness Stones – collaborative project with town historian and West Hartford Public Schools to uncover the history of people who were enslaved in West Hartford in the mid-1700s and early-1800s.
The Southern New England Conference challenges its members to 'live the love and justice of Jesus,' and I see that many of your programs address the issue of race and injustice.  How do these help majority congregations to reckon with racism? 
Once you begin to understand the level of inequity, you can't NOT see it.  I believe that people are looking for ways to engage and explore racism on a spiritual level.  A clergy mentor challenged me to do more than 'wear a safety pin, or post a yard sign.'  My hope is that by providing resources and programs, we can foster meaningful dialogue and personal reflection at a deeper level.  The JPWL is an extension of the church and  the church has never been more important.  White people need to move beyond guilt and sorrow, and find ways to build relationships that will start a process of healing.

Are there any other resources that you want to tell our readers about?
  • Book club offerings – the JPWL has two ongoing book groups:
    • Awakening the Spirit is led by Rev. Susan Izard, Minister of Spiritual Life at First Church. This group meets every Monday, and they read books dealing with faith, spirituality, interfaith issues, and biblical history, among others.
    • I lead Food for Thought, which meets on the first Thursday of every month. We read historical fiction, biography, memoir, non-fiction, etc.
  • Book Kits – The library has book kits, or multiple copies of many current titles.  Groups interested in setting up a study group can borrow a set.
Can you tell our readers the best way to reach you during the pandemic?
We offer curbside service on Monday afternoons and by appointment. Contact Karla Grafton, Assistant Librarian at jpwebsterlib@whfirstchurch.org or myself at jpwebsterdir@whfirstchurch.org.


debby kirk.jpg
Debby D. Kirk

Debby Kirk serves as leader of the staff team that provides resources for the work of nurturing disciples of all ages in the local church. Her area of focus is youth ministry. Contact her for:  Faith Formation Communities of Practice Confirmation ...

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