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Grace, Gratitutde and Godspeed: Plainfield Community Baptist Church Pastor Retires After 25 Years

  • Suellen Leugers accepts a wrapped gift from Sarah Gillens of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. The gift was a print of the mural painted by Gillens and Priscilla Eastman at Phillip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield, where Leugers worked as a library aide. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Suellen Leugers accepts a wrapped gift from Sarah Gillens of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. The gift was a print of the mural painted by Gillens and Priscilla Eastman at Phillip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield, where Leugers worked as a library aide. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Suellen Leugers hugs Beverly Widger, left, of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Suellen Leugers hugs Beverly Widger, left, of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristen Bryant of Plainfield, N.H., signs a guest book at a farewell reception for Suellen Leugers, longtime pastor of the Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. Leugers is retiring to move to Newmarket, N.H. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Kristen Bryant of Plainfield, N.H., signs a guest book at a farewell reception for Suellen Leugers, longtime pastor of the Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. Leugers is retiring to move to Newmarket, N.H. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Suellen Leugers accepts a wrapped gift from Sarah Gillens of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. The gift was a print of the mural painted by Gillens and Priscilla Eastman at Phillip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield, where Leugers worked as a library aide. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Suellen Leugers hugs Beverly Widger, left, of Plainfield, N.H., at a farewell reception for Leugers, the longtime pastor of Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Kristen Bryant of Plainfield, N.H., signs a guest book at a farewell reception for Suellen Leugers, longtime pastor of the Plainfield Community Church and active member of the town in Plainfield, N.H., on June 29, 2014. Leugers is retiring to move to Newmarket, N.H. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Plainfield — After nearly a quarter-century leading the Plainfield Community Baptist Church, more than 100 well-wishers gathered at the town hall to say farewell to the Rev. Suellen Leugers on Sunday afternoon.

Amidst cupcakes, deviled eggs and bright red punch, community members young and old some with tears in their eyes shared hugs and best wishes at the town hall for the woman who has long been a familiar face in the pulpit and also at the post office, school and town library where she held part-time jobs. Leugers is retiring from her position as pastor at the Plainfield church and moving toward the seacoast.

“It’s a new beginning for her and for us,” said Deb Johnson, the church’s treasurer. “We hoped to send her off in style.”

Longtime church member Joy Hutchins had decorated the hall’s stage for the occasion with mementos of Leugers’ more than 24 years in Plainfield. A black and white stuffed cat paid homage to Leugers’ cat, Oreo, who made himself at home at the church and became known as the “pulpit cat.”

Faux flowers and ivy indicated Leugers’ fondness for gardening, weights symbolized her time in the Bone Builders exercise program and C.S. Lewis books pointed to her fondness for the author.

A slide show of photographs played on a screen on the stage; depicting Leugers playing the banjo in the church’s Holy Dubbers country gospel group, participating in missionary trips to New York City, Louisiana and Mexico and performing numerous weddings.

“We have fun,” said Hutchins. “It’s a great church.”

During her tenure, Leugers had the opportunity to see multiple generations come of age. She married Hutchins and her husband 20 years ago and then Hutchins’ stepdaughter in 2012.

“It was just so special” to have had Leugers preside over both ceremonies, Hutchins said.

Meriden residents Carl Strong and his wife Jean said that under Leugers’ pastorship they have found the Plainfield Village church to be welcoming.

“It’s nice to get to know our Plainfield neighbors,” said Strong.

Those gathered presented Leugers with gifts of gratitude for her presence in the community, including a wooden model of the church and a framed print of the mural of Plainfield Village by Priscilla Eastman and Sarah Gillen which hangs in the town’s library.

“Thank you all so much,” Leugers said to the group.

She said it has been a “privilege and honor to walk” with the community through illness and loss as well as joy.

“I’ll always be your friend, if not your pastor,” she said. “I will be back.”

Leugers is retiring to Newmarket, N.H., which, she pointed out is a mere “twenty minutes to the ocean.”

Laurie Atwater and her daughter Kelsie, though not church members, said they would miss seeing Leugers around town, walking neighbors’ dogs, checking out books or distributing mail.

“In a small town, it’s the people who make the town what it is,” said Atwater. “The new minister has big shoes to fill.”

Beginning with next Sunday’s service, Leugers will be replaced by an interim pastor, the Rev. Robert Fisher of Eliot, Maine.

Fisher’s role will be to lead the church as it comes to terms with the departure of its leader, said the Rev. Dale Edwards, regional executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Vermont & New Hampshire.

Edwards said he will assist the church’s search committee in identifying candidates to fill the permanent pastor role. After an interview process, which Edwards referred to as “the great mating dance,” the final decision will be up to the approximately 60 members of the church’s congregation.

Edwards said “no wise pastor” will take a position with less than 90 percent of the congregation behind him or her.

During the transition, the church members seem likely to stay busy.

On Friday, July 4, members plan to host a pancake breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and following the town’s parade, which begins at 11 a.m., they’re set to serve ice cream sundaes.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com .