Brooke Mauro spent several days in the hospital last spring, including Easter Sunday, after undergoing surgery. The Norwalk woman was surprised to get a visit that day from the interim pastor of her church who had only been in the position about a month.
"She wasn't even my pastor yet. She was a substitute pastor," Mauro said of the Rev. Holly Adams, who has since become the minister of the West Norwalk United Congregational Church at 275 Richards Ave.
That visit impressed Mauro, director of West Norwalk Nursery School located in the church basement, and she remembered that act of kindness months later when she served on the church's search committee to find a new minister.
"She was the unanimous choice. She's a warm, caring, out-going person," said Mauro, who chaired the church's block party on Oct. 6 to introduce Adams to the neighborhood while also calling attention to the school, which opened 47 years ago. The event included live music, face-painting, a Zumba class and ice cream sundae table.
"We thought Holly was the perfect match for us," said Sarah Chesler, a member of the church and a teacher at the preschool. While the role is first and foremost about faith, Chesler said Adams has an impressive resume that includes a business background.
Adams, an ordained ecumenical minister who earned a master's of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School in 2009, said everything she has done in her life has prepared her for this moment. Even her love for sailing will help her guide the church, which has been rudderless for the last three years. That's how long the West Norwalk United Congregational Church has gone without a pastor. Parishioners have relied on a series of substitute ministers for their spiritual guidance.
"I've lived in the real world. I've been in the trenches," said Adams, who has raised a family -- she has three children and four grandchildren, and worked in private practice as a counselor helping people integrate their work and personal issues; helping people "find their own North Star." She also served as chaplain and executive director of Greenwich Chaplaincy, providing pastoral care to the residents, their families and the staff of all the skilled nursing facilities of Greenwich.
"Holly's vocational path has prepared her for leading the spiritual life of our church," Chesler said.
"I always knew there was something else I wanted to do," said Adams, who was widowed in 1993. When she initially thought about ministry, Adams also thought it was too late and she was too old, "but God wouldn't let me go."
Renovations were recently made to the church building, which dates to 1961. The church itself was established in 1957. Adams now has plans to renovate and augment the church's programs. She wants to attract more congregants, which currently number 125.
She also plans to work collaboratively with other church groups and various segments of the Norwalk community to stop bullying and crime. "We need to stand taller and speak louder ... It takes a village," she said.
"She has a lot of great ideas," Mauro said.
"She has such a passion for reaching out to the community," Chesler said.
Parishioner Christine Hatch said the theme of Adams' sermon Sunday, overcoming adversity, applies to the church after going for so long without a minister. Things will be different now, she said. "I really like her and find her inspirational. I think she's going to do good things for us," Hatch said.
"It'll be fun to see where this journey brings us. It's an exciting, new beginning," Chesler said.