Person of the Week
NMCC Pastor Heather Arcovitch Finds Community Connections While Dancing for a Cause for Raise the Roof
Heather Arcovitch, senior minister at North Madison Congregational church, and her partner Barb McDaniel Black recently won the Gala of the Stars: Dancing for a Cause benefiting Raise the Roof. (Photo courtesy of Heather Arcovitch )
When Heather Arcovitch and her partner Barb McDaniel Black were nominated to participate in the Gala of The Stars: Dancing for a Cause, she was excited for many reasons, including having an opportunity to expand on the ballroom dance class she had taken years ago in college, having a fun hobby to enjoy with her partner during COVID, meeting new people as the couple had recently moved back to the shoreline, and raising money for a local non-profit that the church where she has been a minister has supported since its inceptions.
The fundraiser benefited Raise the Roof, a non-profit based in Guilford that works under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven.
“I took a one-credit ballroom class in college and have wanted to get back to dancing ever since; Barb was less enthusiastic, but could not say no to such a special cause,” says Heather, the senior minister at North Madison Congregational Church (NMCC). “We are one of the churches that started the organization and one of our champions was Frank Walsh, who had a stroke on a job site this fall. He had already made a donation to our dancing duo before that happened, so when we lost him, we decided to dedicate the dance to him. That’s a big reason we raised as much as we did, because there was so much love for Frank from all of the organizations he supported.”
Heather and Barb were the event’s top fundraising team, raising $17,230 for Raise the Roof, to win the competition. The previous fundraising record was $11,000. Not only did their team shatter that record, but two other teams of the nine did as well: Pam and David Kadamus raised $16,860 and Maggie Moffett and Tom Ferrell raised $14,369. The fundraising efforts of the nine teams this year totaled more than $100,000, to bring Raise the Roof over the $1 million lifetime fundraising mark.
“It was really close with donations coming in right to the moment they called it,” says Heather. “It’s super-exciting that we could be part of doing that for Raise the Roof and support it in all it’s doing to help people build their forever homes.”
Heather, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary as pastor at NMCC with her first Sunday there having been Nov. 11, 2019, noted that missionary work is a priority at NMCC.
The church is involved in many projects, events, and community efforts in addition to Raise the Roof, ranging from Circle Nursery School and Fire in the Kitchen to its Prayer Shawl ministry and support of the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries and much more.
Finding Her Mission
While Heather has only been with NMCC for a year, her call to ministry began with a dream when she was three or four years old. Her childhood minister later encouraged her to pursue the ministry, but she said it wasn’t until later in life that she returned to that calling.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Connecticut College, Heather served in Togo, West Africa, for 3 ½ years as a Peace Corps volunteer and then as a consultant to CARE International.
Upon moving back to Milford where she grew up, Heather became an apprentice union carpenter and was invited to become a deacon at her childhood church. She was then convinced to apply to be the church’s Christian educator.
“That became my first professional position working for God,” says Heather, who enjoys hiking, gardening, kayaking, and traveling during non-COVID times. “I served happily there for six years as minister of Christian education before accepting a position as the executive director of a local YMCA. It was in the midst of a meeting at the Y that I realized I was in the wrong place. I closed my folder, went back to my office, called Eden Seminary, and enrolled.”
Heather earned her master of divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri and her doctor of ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology at St. Louis University. As an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, she has served eight congregations across Missouri and Connecticut. She is also a certified reiki master, spiritual director, labyrinth docent, and intentional interim ministry specialist.
While serving in Saint Louis, she was one of the clergy first responders on the front lines of the Ferguson uprising that started after Michael Brown was killed. Heather learned a lot from this experience, along with the experience as a “same-gender-loving clergyperson who has served openly in deeply conservative parts of our nation.”
Being part of the Ferguson uprising “galvanized my heart for community organizing, engagement, and healing and I learned a great deal about the generational trauma wrought by systemic injustice in our nation,” says Heather. “I am aware of what it means to be ‘other’ and of the power and beauty of humanity when we are at our best. I am compelled that deep, vulnerable listening can be transformational and that community healing is possible and that the church—called from its outset to nourish, heal, speak truth to power, and stand with the most vulnerable—has an important role to play in this.”
As Heather has served NMCC in this fashion for the past year, there have been challenges as she has now spent more time preaching virtually than in person due to COVID. NMCC moved to virtual services and Heather saw views “skyrocket” to more than a thousand a week. She notes that the church’s worship services are informal and collaborative and the services have included local authors; the “amazing virtual choir; folk music; intimate, compelling preaching; wonderful children’s stories; a beautiful visit from a drag queen…all based on relevant, contemporary themes and questions.”
The NMCC COVID Task Force has determined that in-person worship will not resume until the new year when it will reassess safety risks. Currently, worship is broadcast live on Facebook at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
“We have leaned in to assessing what is essential to who we are as a congregation and how we may best serve these purposes virtually or in a physically-distanced but spiritually connected way,” says Heather. “We are a lively, warm, quirky, thriving church whose members enjoy being together and deeply miss being together in person. While we would all rather be together, there are elements of our online worship experience that members are already lamenting they will miss when we return to the sanctuary.”
Heather understands the challenges and isolation that have come with COVID. She and Barb and six rescue pets had only recently moved to Morris Cove when COVID hit, making it challenging to make social connections and find a place in the community. She encourages anyone facing struggles or loneliness to reach out to her by calling the church office at 203-421-3241.
“I find fulfillment in helping people discover the thin places, the in-between places, where God is most accessible,” says Heather. “There is so much pain in the world now and it seems to grow louder every day. I feel called to build bridges of connection and community among the church and those who are hurting, grieving, growing, or considered ‘other.’ When one is hurting, we are all hurting. When one suffers, we all suffer for it. Voices in our society try to persuade us that to be loving and compassionate is to be weak. Faith communities have a roll to play in reclaiming the revolutionary power and transformational courage of love.”
Being new to the shoreline area, Heather has not only made connections through her congregation, but through NMCC’s ministry work as well, including the Gala of the Stars: Dancing for a Cause event. Though the event, Heather and Barb got to know Donna Gregory and the team at Raise the Roof, including the staff, board, and volunteers. They also got to know the other couples participating as well as the instructors at Arthur Murray.
“We moved here and the pandemic hit very quickly so we hadn’t had the benefit to get to know many people in the community so it was really nice to have that outlet for emotional outlet and community connections,” says Heather. “We couldn’t go work on houses, but we could still build connections in community. It was wonderful.
“The missional stuff is such a big part of the heart of our church,” adds Heather. “It’s a smaller church and you have to look a little to find us, but it’s a community that’s worth discovering—one of Madison’s gems that’s wonderfully vibrant, curious, truly inclusive, compassionate, creative, generous, progressive, intergenerational community that inspires me every day.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .