The Rev. Mr. Alastair Sellars

The Rev. Mr. Alastair Sellars

Passed on Sunday, 19 July 2020
The Rev. Mr. Alastair Sellars died on July 19, 2020.

Written by the Rev. Mr. Matthew Crebbin
Alastair served as Senior Minister at Newtown Congregational Church from 1964 to 1987. Those who knew his ministry remember his warm heart and quick wit. During his time in Newtown he was described as a “dramatic, charismatic, spontaneous, poetic and often controversial” leader – who relished pastoral and prophetic ministry.
 
Born in Montpelier, VT 1922, Alastair graduated from Wagner College in 1946 – his college studies were interrupted by 3 years of military service during World War II. Alastair went on to complete his theological preparation at Yale Divinity School. Prior to his 23 years of ministry in Newtown, Alastair had served congregational/UCC churches in Sayville, NY, Jacksonville, FL and Lake Worth, FL.
 
As the parsonage was not in very good shape when Alastair arrived in 1964, the congregation assisted him is purchasing a house in Newtown for his family which included his wife Miriam and his four children (Duncan, Alexandra, Clark and Lesley). Inspiring and caring, Alastair was known for nourishing a number of his flock and guiding them into the life of ordained and commissioned ministry.
 
During his years of ministry in our community, Alastair was a part of many church and community endeavors. He was a key force behind the creation and building of affordable elderly housing at Nannawauk Meadows and he oversaw the discernment, planning and much of the building process that led to our congregational move out of the historic meeting house on Main St. to our current sanctuary on West Street.

I only had the opportunity to meet Alastair a few times over the years. Many longtime members also have joked with me about how difficult it was to pin Alastair down and connect with him over the years. Though always gracious and caring, Alastair kept his distance from our church even though he loved us so much and always wanted the best for us. I believe that this was due to Alastair’s own experiences here in Newtown. When Alastair arrived in Newtown to begin his service as Sr. Minister, he was met with the reality of the Rev. Paul Cullens – his recently retired Newtown Congregational Church Sr. Minister predecessor – living in a house that literally overlooked the Church Meetinghouse. Paul had served as Sr. Minister for 36 years and even though his was gracious to Alastair and tried to be clear that Alastair was now the minister, there were a number of church members who still tried to turn towards Paul for their ministry needs. I think that this made Alastair even more sensitive to need to keep a distance so that other clergy would not experience the challenges that were created for him.
 
One story from Alastair’s time here in Newtown captures a great deal of the life and spirit of the ministry he shared with this congregation. Alastair had only been serving in Newtown for a few months when he made a significant decision. From his earliest days in Newtown he began meeting monthly with fellow Newtown clergy and they had discussed the issue of voting rights for Southern blacks and the demonstrations taking place in Selma, Ala. (In March 1965, Civil Rights supporters who tried to march from Selma to Montgomery were met with violence by local and state police.)
 
The Newtown Clergy reached out to leaders of the Selma movement asking how they might be able to help. "Can you come down?" was the response. So, Alastair, along with these other Newtown pastors traveled down and joined the Selma demonstrators.  During their visit, Newtown clergy attempted to attend worship services at white Southern churches. They were told that they could enter but that their "friends" who were black could not. The faith leaders decided to worship on the sidewalk. In addition, during their stay in Selma, the Newtown clergy leaders provided spiritual and emotional support for the demonstrators who had gathered.  When Alastair returned to Newtown, there were those within the congregations and the wider community who were critical of the trip. Some within our own church wondered if "we should keep this man in our pulpit." It is said that the chairman of Sellars' "Calling Committee," which had made the decision to call the new pastor to Newtown, had stopped participating in church affairs.
 
An editorial in a local paper wondered if these town faith leaders' time and energy would be better spent "tilling the local soil." The four clergy leaders met with members of their churches and the community at a gathering in Edmond Town Hall to share the story of their journey. Nearly all who gathered agreed with the goal and spirit of the trip -- in fact their meeting ended with the group singing together, "We Shall Overcome."  In response to the questions and interest raised by their journey to Selma, the four Newtown spiritual leaders wrote a joint statement about their reasons for the trip: "We went to Selma because we believe that the present crisis is a religious issue. The business of the church is not merely within four walls. Too often the church has stood by, indifferent towards social injustice and human suffering. We went to give encouragement to the people of Selma in their struggle for their God-given and Constitutional rights. We hold the nation to be morally responsible; for violence done to any man is violence done to all of us."
 
Alastair believed fiercely that the business of the church is not merely within four walls. He blended his compassionate pastoral sensibilities with a deep commitment to social justice. I know that our congregation was blessed by his many years of faithful ministry. While we mourn his passing, we also affirm the power of a life lived with conviction and compassion. “Well done good and faithful servant!”

 
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