Asylum Hill Congregational Church, established in the 1860s, is steeped in the history of both Hartford, Connecticut and the United Church of Christ (UCC), but that has not stopped its clergy and parishioners from looking ahead. Led by Princeton Theological Seminary alums Rev. Erica Thompson and Rev. Dr. Tracy Mehr-Muska, both MDiv Class of 2003 graduates, with Minister for Early Life Jordan Rebholz, a Yale graduate in her first settled call, Asylum Hill has an all-female clergy and diverse congregation of 1,600 across race, ethnicity, age, orientation, and economic status.
“As we have looked at going forward, we proclaim the ideas of inquiry, acceptance, and impact,” says Thompson. “We want to be known as a church that’s for the community and always seeking inquiry, asking good questions, and being as accepting as possible.”
“We’re also engaged in nurturing our community and there’s a justice component, especially as it relates to how we live out the call to be good neighbors,” says Mehr-Muska.
One Sunday afternoon in July 2020, they held a fish fry for the community as a response to the food shortages during the pandemic. When asked if they would do it again, Thompson said yes without any plans for volunteers or food sourcing. Now, rain or shine, Asylum Hill puts out over 150 meals each Sunday – over 8,000 in the last year – which draws people from around the city. The food is sourced from local businesses, including many Black-owned businesses, and nonprofits.
“What started as a charitable act for a specific need became this really incredible, relational thing: members who volunteer in the community and those who come for meals, forming beautiful relationships,” says Thompson.
“Part of what is so amazing about the church is this faithfulness and earnestness to have integrity as Christians, servants, and fighters for justice, and being humble in all of that,” says Mehr-Muska.
As faith leaders, they want to have an impact on the conversation
around what it looks like to be a Christian in this moment.
Thompson was appointed to serve as chaplain for the Connecticut State
Legislature in 2020. Mehr-Muska is a published author and teaches at Hartford
“We have many conversations around being uncomfortable with the way
that Christianity and Christians are often portrayed on the national
stage, so we’re using all our gifts, passions, and resources to try to
have an impact,” says Mehr-Muska.
For Thompson, raised in the UCC, Princeton Seminary helped her to
look at things in different way. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without
my time at Princeton Seminary,” she says. “It made me reflect on what I
believe in ways that were challenging but also safe, which helped me
Thompson and Mehr-Muska met at Princeton Seminary where they were
friends and classmates; both graduated from the Seminary’s MDiv program
in 2003. Fifteen years after graduating together, they reunited when
they realized they lived in the same town. Soon after, Thompson
suggested that Mehr-Muska work at Asylum Hill.
“I’m in this job now because of our friendship and the fact that PTS
taught us to be honest and authentic with each other,” Mehr-Muska says.
Both women are very optimistic about the road ahead.
“I have so much hope for the future of the greater Christian church and for communities of faith,” says Thompson.
“We agree it won’t look like it always has, but we are ready to work as hard as we can to move forward,” says Mehr-Muska.