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George Porter

Leading by the Power of ‘We’

It seems fitting that an outdoors-loving Canadian has answered the call for leadership at Southwick’s “Log Cabin” church. In November of 2021, George Porter became Southwick Community Episcopal Church’s in-person spiritual leader, a role that was postponed by more than two years of immigration delays due to COVID-19.

“This has always been a church for people who don’t like church or who have been hurt by church,” Denese Gouvin of West Suffield said, standing in SCEC’s cozy, unpretentious sanctuary. Back in 2019, Gouvin and Westfield resident Maggie King were members of a search committee tasked with replacing their former pastor, who had recently retired.

A video interview with Porter (who insists on just being called George) ended the search. “He was the guy,” Gauvin smiled.

“He was very warm, and he has this energetic wife, Nancy,” King said. “They just fit right in. They’re not a show. There’s no pretense. They’re just themselves.”

“They’re nonjudgmental, full of empathy. Instead of speaking to us, they’re among us. They’ve both been amazing,” said Gouvin.

Having spiritual leaders who are “among” rather than “above” this resilient congregation has been particularly healing after COVID’s challenges. Without a priest, SCEC’s core parishioners became a team. As such, they brought online worship, visiting priests, parking lot services, weddings, funerals, and mutual support – all during days that were fearful, sometimes grief-filled, and always unpredictable.

Through that experience, Gouvin said, “We realized that we are the church. We don’t worship up here. We worship across.”
Suitably, George’s services respect his congregation’s hard-won autonomy. Rather than offering a lecture, his approach is more like an engaging college seminar, complete with class participation. Each week, the content is at once intellectual and personal; biblical, historical, and mystical.

The underlying theme, however, is always spiritual growth. “He’s so calm and soft-spoken,” said Elaine Stearley of West Suffield. “He’s encouraging. He emphasizes over and over again that God is always there. God gets us through things. All the time, he talks about the love of God and what faith can do for you.”

“He’s relatable,” Southwick resident Dawn Toma said. “He’s really down to earth. He talks about real-life issues and he’s very knowledgeable.”

With the nation now pushing past pandemic and George and Nancy finally leading SCEC’s team, this Southwick church is resuming its remarkable outreach. “The word ‘Community’ in this church’s name is what we are,” Southwick resident Sue Porter said, naming a few of their larger activities. Pancake breakfasts, game nights, food for hunger programs, ladies’ teas, vacation Bible school, Thanksgiving turkey drives, a Christmas giving tree, and hot meals with warm clothing for those without homes all emphasize this church’s focus on people – both in the community and in the congregation – as their way of seeing and serving God.

“It’s the people,” said Southwick resident Bernadette Johnson when asked about SCEC’s defining strength.

“It’s always the people, eh?” Nancy Porter said, her Canadian lingo punctuating the thought.

George, concluding his Palm Sunday homily, repeated that very sentiment.

“Jesus transforms us to ‘We.’ And that’s the church: ‘We,’” he said, wearing a simple, white shirt rather than vestments. By all accounts, he and Nancy have become part of that ‘We.’

“If you walk in the door here,” George said, “you’re ‘We,’ too.”