provided to The Santiva Chronicle
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner took to the pulpit April 24 one last time as senior pastor of Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. Every pew was packed during a service resonant with significance. Afterwards, congregants, friends, family, community members, and colleagues past and present gathered at The Sanibel Community House to celebrate Pastor Danner as he enters retirement and to express love, gratitude, admiration, and respect.
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner preaching at his final service as senior pastor of Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ
The event, organized by a large committee of enthusiastic volunteers and led by Carl Smigiel, was festive and fun. People arrived to find a luncheon buffet served up with live jazz by the Bill Harris Quintet. The program proper began with an invocation by the Rev. Leslie Etheridge of the United Church of Christ’s Florida Conference. Enumerating his qualities and the work he’s done for the Conference during his 12 years at SCUCC, she said she finds Danner “a gentle soul with a deep spirituality.”
Master of ceremonies Sean Martinelli of NBC2 then welcomed the crowd and proceeded to introduce each of the speakers who would share their recollections of time they’ve spent with Danner and shed light on his career, family, experiences, and commitment.
The Rev. Dr. Deborah Kunkel, who served as SCUCC’s associate pastor with Danner for a decade, said a good part of her job was to make his job easier. She feels that she, an extrovert, and Danner, an introvert, worked very well together; and she told him, “I’m proud and happy to call you friend.” Recalling that he often needed her help finding his coffee mug, she presented Pastor Danner with a mug trailing a very long ribbon so that it would be harder to misplace.
Pastor Danner’s grandchildren display the congratulatory posters they prepared to wish him well.
Next up was Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, who emphasized the strong relationship between himself and Danner; Temple Bat Yam, which shares space with SCUCC; and members of the two congregations. The clergymen have shared services, co-taught classes, and led a memorable trip to Israel. Calling him “Bat Yam’s pastor,” Rabbi Fuchs noted that Danner “is the only pastor in the history of Christendom who’s played starring roles in three Purim plays.” The Rabbi, along with Bat Yam President Alan Lessack and Vice-President Sandy Teger, presented Danner with a Luc Century vase inscribed with a symbolic tree of life and the words, “To our pastor, with love, Bat Yam.”
The speakers who’ve known Danner longest were the Rev. Herb Henry and the Rev. Joanne Stoughton, who shared stories from when they all attended Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary together. They read greetings sent by others who’ve known Danner since his earliest days as a pastor.
Providing a musical interlude, Annabelle Crater, accompanied on piano by SCUCC Music Director Mackenzie Albert, sang Over the Rainbow.
Martinelli then introduced Danner’s son Matt Davis, who provided a family “timeline” – not only of the Danners’ extended family, but also of the four churches Pastor Danner has served during a career lasting more than four decades. Danner’s grandchildren flocked to the stage and displayed congratulatory posters they’d made for the new retiree.
Daughter Elizabeth Danner pointed out her father’s love of reading and the Boston Red Sox. She, like others that day, spoke of the numerous ways he has helped his communities and parishioners, whether in New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Sanibel.
Don Hunter, who headed the search committee when Pastor Danner was called to SCUCC in 2010, lauded Danner for his community service and his contributions to the church. Ron Periard, SCUCC’s moderator, praised Danner for “a job well done” as a “master teacher and preacher, taking care of his flock.” He mentioned Danner’s extensive accomplishments as a member and president of the Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva and his efforts on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, local food pantries, and other organizations.
Carl Smigiel presented Danner with a glass plaque by Luc Century. The piece is etched with an image of the church and inscribed, “All are welcome here.”
Pastor Danner himself then ascended to the stage and expressed appreciation to everyone who had a part in presenting the joyous and moving celebration. He thanked his wife, Linda, who served the four churches right alongside him for 38 years, and his mother, Connie, also an ordained minister, and described her as “a pioneer.”
Pastor Kunkel provided the benediction. She urged Pastor Danner to relax during the next six months, to find new things to do and just “let it go.” She concluded, “May God shine upon you, and may you know His peace.”
Even after the official program ended, the crowd remained, chatting with John and Linda Danner and wishing them well.