This week’s Q & A features Rev. John Danner of the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. Read on to find out more about his passion for the theater and why he’s looking forward to dressing up as a pilgrim this Thanksgiving!
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Bangor, Maine, and raised, for the most part, in New Hampshire. I’ve lived most of my life in the Northeast — a real yankee! My mother was raised in Vermont and my dad in West Palm Beach. But he moved north to go to school (where he met my mother) and never looked back. So while coming to Florida is, in one sense, a return to family roots, in another, its not.
My two sons, though, both live here in Florida, with their wives and their children. So part of what brought me here was a desire to be closer to our four grandkids. When we felt it was time to be looking for a new congregation, our search was limited to Florida. When the Senior Pastor’s position at Sanibel Congregational UCC opened up, it seemed to be an ideal opportunity. Ironically, former parishioners from Westport, Conn., where I last served, are now members of the Sanibel church! So my wife Linda and I knew about the Sanibel church long before the church knew about us!
You were a theater major in college — would you tell us more about that?
My first degree is from Bradford College. I concentrated in Theater Studies there and was fortunate to study with a very fine teacher. Acting and directing (as well as playwriting) have been part of my life since I first took to the stage in elementary school. As an adult, I have been fortunate to have a number of great roles over the years including Don Quixote in “Man of LaMancha” and Judas in “Godspell.” I have been able to find opportunities to incorporate my theatrical training and skills into my ministry. After all, theater and preaching are both all about storytelling!
Speaking of storytelling, we’ve heard that you incorporate puppets into your sermons! Why?
Because I like Julie Taymor? No, seriously, I don’t use them in sermons, but rather in our Children’s Moments (which happen at our 9 a.m. Sunday service). I find that my puppets, like Chompers the Crocodile and Wendell the Walrus, can say things that otherwise might not be said. They can be really outrageous, and no one objects — rather, children and adults, really listen and (hopefully) learn something about what it means to be a Christian.
So, when did you become a pastor?
I was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1980, but before that, I served as licensed pastor for three years in Maine while I was attending Bangor Theological Seminary.
What’s your family like?
I have been married to a wonderful woman named Linda Bradbury-Danner for almost 25 years. We have three children between us — Matt, who lives in Fort Myers, Bruce, who lives in Orlando and Elizabeth, who lives in Somerville, Mass.
Our family, being a blended family, has always had room for one more — and so, in addition to the partners and spouses of our children and our four grandchildren, we’ve been foster parents to thirteen additional children over the years. It’s been a wild ride, sometimes. But what family isn’t? And it’s built on love.
What do you do in your spare time?
I enjoy yoga, bicycling, my daily walk on the beach, theater, movies, music of all kinds and reading. Linda and I are also fans of the television program “Dancing with the Stars.” My favorite authors include John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Kathleen Norris, Anne LaMott, Eugene Peterson, C. S. Lewis and Marcus Borg.
I have also become a blogger since coming to Sanibel, and very much enjoy reflecting weekly on various issues ranging from the environment to capital punishment. The blog can be found at www.periwinkleponderings.blogspot.com.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I am an avid Red Sox fan. Anybody who knows me well is aware of that — but it sometimes catches people by surprise. Living here in Red Sox spring training country was a real added bonus to coming to Sanibel!
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Sanibel Congregational UCC?
This is a very gifted congregation! Folks here have a deep thirst for knowledge — and a real desire to be faithful in their spiritual journeys. It is a privilege to serve such people. I love the chances I have every week to teach and preach, and the round of pastoral duties is a real pleasure. I am blessed to work with a terrific staff as well.
You will be dressed up as a pilgrim at the Thanksgiving celebration on Nov. 21 at the Sanibel Community House. Are you looking forward to it?
Yes. It’s one of those opportunities to incorporate my theatrical training into my ministry. Actually, I’ll be a pilgrim several times that day. I will be presenting a monologue at our Sunday morning services at 7:45, 9:00 and 11 a.m., and then participating in the Community Celebration in a dialogue with my colleague Daryl Donovan, from the Sanibel Community Church, who will portray Squanto.
Thanksgiving here in this country, was started by the Pilgrims, who were, after all, Congregationalists! So it is a very significant holiday in our tradition.
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Well, obviously, Jesus. And St. Paul might make an interesting dinner companion. My PhD dissertation is about Fanny Crosby, the 19th century hymn writer, and I’d love to have the chance to see if my thesis about her is right! And, so long as she was doing the cooking, Julia Child!
Rev. John Danner of the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ