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The Rev. Nancy Taylor of Old South Church: her last sermon

After 17 years of service with the United Church of Christ, Rev. Nancy Taylor, the senior pastor at Old South Church, is retiring. Worshipers gathered Sunday to hear Rev. Taylor’s final sermon.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Worshipers at Old South Church gathered Sunday to hear the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor’s final sermon as the congregation’s pioneering senior minister and to give thanks and celebrate her 17 years of service with the 353-year-old United Church of Christ.

“She is filled with courage and tenacity, grit and wit. She writes like a poet and preaches like a prophet,” the Rev. Shawn M. Fiedler, acting associate minister, said at the outset of the 10 a.m. service.

“Once upon a time, we prayed, God called and Nancy Taylor answered, and we haven’t been the same since,” Fiedler said, reflecting on the search that brought Taylor in 2005, the first female senior minister since the church’s founding in 1669.


Taylor’s sermon was one of thank yous and recognition and a reflection of the milestones and joys she has shared with congregants “in more than 40 years of ministry, from rural Maine to Hartford, to Boise, Idaho to Framingham and then to Boston.”

“Such has been my fortune to have found myself in each case among people who have hearts for God and minds to match,” Taylor said.

“It has been a peculiar pleasure and the highest privilege to have taken a turn at the wheel of this old ship of faith,” Taylor said in farewell. “You, Old South Church, you are the best of companions, but more than companions, co-conspirators, accessories and abettors in the work of God. My heart is full; my gratitude is immense. Thank You.”

Since Taylor became senior minister in 2005, Old South has introduced jazz worship on Thursdays; an early Sunday service for young families; and an annual blessing of the Boston Marathon runners, who finish the race close by.

Church historian Kate Silfen, of Brighton, said Taylor’s energy was special, and it “flowed” through her to others.


“She’s been our own Holy Spirit, helping us really keep the social activism piece of this church so alive,” Silfen said Sunday. “We’re going to miss her lovely voice, her humor and her ability to make everyone feel welcome.”

Chris Harrington, 40, of Lunenburg, sang with Old South’s choir for many years before the pandemic. The music program and Taylor’s warmth have always been a draw.

“When you need some extra support, she’s always there,” Harrington said. “I’ll miss her leadership and openness, her quiet support. She’s just an amazing person.”

Arlene and John Sullivan, of Harvard, self-professed “recovering Catholics,” have been attending services at Old South since about 2007.

“I came here looking for a church, and as soon as I heard Nancy preach and felt the community here in the congregation, I absolutely felt the need to join immediately,” Arlene Sullivan said.

The Sullivans said they were especially impressed with Taylor’s mentoring of pastors in training.

“She really had an impact on bringing young ministers in,” Arlene Sullivan said.

“She had real charisma without being loud herself,” John Sullivan said.

For Pam Roberts, of Brookline, it has been Taylor’s conversations about social and racial justice that have been most challenging and rewarding.

“I have been a fan of Nancy’s for many, many years,” Roberts said. “Nancy has a prophetic voice.”

“Nancy has laid a path for us in terms of racial justice. I think most of us in this congregation had no idea where we were or what we needed to do to make the world a better place in terms of our brethren of all colors, and Nancy has laid a path that is grace filled, not accusatory,” Roberts said. “Yet, she has demanded stuff from us in terms of how to be anti-racist and we have a lot of work to do, but I think that we are all feeling gladly challenged by it.”


Jeanne Miller, 58, of Somerville, said her entire family, including her three adult daughters, are sad to see Taylor leave.

‘She’s meant consistency and care and so many wonderful things for our church,” Miller said. “I definitely need tissues. She’ll be missed.”

Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.