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Longtime Peterborough minister stepping down

  • Polly Shamy, Peterborough <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Polly Shamy, Peterborough <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

The Rev. Polly Shamy has very mixed emotions as she prepares to step down as minister of Union Congregational Church. On the one hand, she excited to be retiring after 28 years in the ministry, first in Ascutney Union Church in Vermont and for the past 15 years in Peterborough. She and her husband, Joe Shamy, are planning to spend the next year in England, where she’ll be a part-time volunteer minister in the rural Northumberland region.

“I’ve been invited to serve 10 churches,” Shamy said on Tuesday at her office in the Concord Street church. “It’s very rural, a beautiful, beautiful area. I was there on an exchange program for six weeks back in 1995, when I was in Vermont. I’ll actually have one Sunday a month off, and we’ll have time to travel.”

But Shamy, who is 65, will regret leaving her Peterborough congregation, which she has felt blessed to have served.

“I see pastoral ministry as being like a midwife,” Shamy said. “I’m there to help, but the people are doing the work. When you have a good match, there’s nothing like it, and I’ve been fortunate to serve two churches where that happened. It’s painful to leave. I still enjoy being a minister, but it’s time for them to find someone younger.”

Shamy came to the ministry in her mid 30s, spending three years commuting from her home in Claremont to Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Mass., where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. A native of New Jersey, she had graduated from Bates College in Maine in 1968 and earned a Master of Library Science degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1970.

She majored in religion at Bates.

“I loved it. It almost seemed like too much fun, but I had never met a woman minister,” she said.

Instead she got a teaching job in Dunellen, N.J., which is where she met her future husband, a fellow teacher. After they married, she got the library science degree, moved to Idaho while Joe was getting a master’s degree, then settled in Claremont when he was hired to teach in the local school system.

That was when Shamy was drawn back to the ministry.

“I think it was an echo of an earlier call,” Shamy said. “I remember telling Joe that if we lived closer to a seminary, I’d go. He said ‘Why don’t you?’ So I commuted to Andover three days a week. That was in the days before online courses, when most of the students still lived on campus.”

Shamy said she wasn’t the only woman at Andover Newton at the time, and certainly not the oldest student. During her last semester, she served as pastor for the Croydon Congregation Church in New Hampshire and after graduating in 1985 she was hired at Ascutney Union, just across the Connecticut River from her home. The Shamys moved to Peterborough in 1998 when she took the job at Union Congregational.

“I was very intentional when I was hired about saying that I planned to be here until I retired,” Shamy said. “There’s a trust that develops over time between a minister and a congregation. You can ask for forgiveness and it goes both ways. You don’t lay that down lightly.”

Shamy said Union Congregational, which belongs to the United Church of Christ denomination, has a very diverse membership.

“I like to say that we can hold hands and disagree at the same time,” she said. “Some churches never manage to do that, but we have.”

She was moved by a bulletin board of photos taken during her tenure that members put up in a hallway outside the church sanctuary.

“Someone looked at them and said ‘Everybody’s laughing.’ That’s what makes this church special. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said ‘Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God’ and I believe in that wholeheartedly.”

While Shamy will be in the pulpit for three more weeks, on Sunday the congregation will hold a celebration of her ministry from 3 to 6 p.m. at the church.

“Joe and I will be moving out of the parsonage on Pine Street in May,” she said. “I hear the church is planning a big yard sale.”

The couple hopes to head to England in June, although they are still working to iron out details for their visas.

“Right now, we’re trying to prove to the British Consulate that we’re married,” Shamy said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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