First Church Congregational‘s Pastor David Spollett recently and joyfully retired. We have a deep connection to David, as his vision in the 1980s helped form the foundation of Operation Hope. Operation Hope’s Executive Director Carla Miklos was invited to share her thoughts at David’s celebration this past weekend, shared with you here:

It is an honor and a delight to be able to join you today and say a few words about David Spollett. I carry with me the appreciation and respect of thousands of people helped by his vision. And I represent a community of like minded people who, knowingly or unknowingly, owe a debt of gratitude to David.

Saint Francis de Sales said the test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not just “what a lovely sermon” but also “I will do something.” And do something is what David does, and inspires others to follow.

The early 1980s were a time of great challenge and great change, which led to the rise of homelessness across our country, especially the tri-state area.

First, America was coming out of a Great Recession that forever changed access to economic opportunity for so many as we converted from a manufacturing based economy to a service oriented one.

Second, the deinstitutionalizing of mental health facilities, changes brought on my well-meaning advocates and the advancement of psychotropic drugs, sent thousands of people back to their communities without the connections and funding needed to keep them safe.

And then the act of being homeless was being criminalized in New York City, forcing people down natural arteries like the I-95 corridor and the MetroNorth railways. Fairfield and surrounding towns were natural recipients of a growing population of people without homes or hope.

This was also about the time that a young, energetic and somewhat righteous minister moved to Fairfield and found himself here at First Church. What timing! As David generously says about others, he was the right person at the right time.

Dr. Martin Luther King said – the time is alway right to do the right thing. And that is what David did.

You’ve all heard the stories of how David fearlessly tackled the challenge of homelessness, opened the doors to your church, gathered a group of clergy and lay leaders and together they created Operation Hope to house and feed our struggling neighbors. Those stories are part of the framework of First Church, and also contribute to the overall quality of life in our wider community. David has been our hero, our inspiration and our champion.

David’s vision created an institution separate from but forever linked with First Church. One that aims to end hunger and homelessness through a variety of programs and services. One that feeds, houses, and counsels over a thousand people a year, employs nearly 40 talented staff, one that gives people the opportunity to put their faith in action.

David, your legacy is immense, the stories are endless, the accolades are well deserved. Let me wrap up by quoting you back to you – a quote that this congregation can take away today –

“The reason the church exists is to save the world from itself, to inspire people to an ethical life. But the lifeblood of that effort is worship, and the more vital and beautiful the worship, the more committed we will be to building a just society.”  

I have been blessed to be along for part of your journey. Thank you for the opportunity, for the guidance and the love you’ve shown me. And may you and Geri enjoy the road that lies ahead.