Rev. Christopher Solimene, Pastor

From an early age, Chris felt comfortable rallying all ages of people for meaning filled experiences. Baptized Catholic, raised Lutheran and having worked with youth in Episcopal and Baptist settings before serving in ordained ministry for the UCC, Chris embraces the value of his ecumenical background. Through his teens and ever since, he has produced and directed family-friendly musical theater, founding two theater companies along the way. With an undergraduate degree in Visual and Performing Arts and film studies, Chris never strayed too far from creative ventures. A kaleidoscope of career experiences include the educational publishing industry, drama director for Haddam Killingworth Middle School, Youth Minister at Bruton Parish Williamsburg, VA, a singer for Colonial Williamsburg and in recent years, ministry focused on youth while working as a Screen Actor’s Guild audiobook narrator.

Chris completed a Cooperative MDIV program from Hartford Seminary and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School. He has worked in various CT UCC churches in such roles as Director of Youth and Family and Associate Minister. Ordained in 2018, he started serving Avon  Congregational Church in 2018. He and Kent make their home at the parsonage in Avon and at their 18th century ‘farmette’ in Killingworth, where gardens, chickens and Gus the goose fill the hours. They also love visiting historical sites, to travel near and far and to spend any time possible with grown children, Kirsten and Scott. Life is full and journeying in faith with the people of Avon is a great joy for Chris.

Joan Parks, Avon Nursery School Director

Joan Parks (center) has been the Director of the Avon Nursery School since the school reopened its doors in 2006. She graduated magna cum laude with degrees in both Early Childhood Education and Psychology of Children and Youth. Joan has earned the National Administrator Credential and was named Student Teacher of the Year. She was the president and founding member of the Connecticut School Age Child Care Alliance. Joan has worked on both the Worthy Wage Campaign and the School Readiness Advisory Board and additionally was a professional validator for the National Association for Educators of Young Children.

During her 35 year career Joan has taught in public school (kindergarten and 3rd grade), written and taught programs for the YWCA, started school age-childcare programs in elementary schools in both Manchester and Marlborough CT. Prior to coming to ANS, she was the director of a large urban child development center with over 100 children and 26 staff. Joan considers curriculum planning one of her strengths and she has presented workshops and facilitated trainings on both a state and national level.

She lives in Broad Brook, with her husband Will and her golden retriever Jemma. Fortunately, her daughter Emily and grandson Colin, live only a few miles away.

When not at school, Joan enjoys traveling with Will, she loves entertaining, the theater, and music of all kinds.  Along with her family, Joan considers her position at Avon Congregational Church to be one of her greatest blessings.

Julie Thureson, Avon Nursery School Teacher (pictured on left)

Julie Thureson has been working at Avon Nursery School since November 2006. She has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 28 years. Before coming here, she worked in corporate childcare centers and in the Avon Public Schools as a Paraprofessional.

Julie graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Relations and took post-graduate courses at the University of St. Joseph in special eduction.

She lives in Farmington with her husband, Bob, and their children, Carly and Matt. Julie and Bon are enjoying being ’empty nesters’ while their children are attending college. In her free time, Julie enjoys reading, gardening and crafts.

Jennifer Valentine, Avon Nursery School Teacher Assistant (pictured on right)

Jennifer Valentine has been a Teacher Assistant for over three years at Avon Nursery School. She enjoys getting to know the children as individuals in the classroom as well as teaching yoga and movement to them in group settings.

Jennifer taught religion at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Avon for five years and taught three summers as Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton.

Jennifer holds a B.F.A. in Theater from Emerson College in Boston. She also attended the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT and England. She became certified recently from MYNT Yoga to teach yoga to children ages 2-7. She is currently working on completing courses for a CDA for Preschool. She has also been a Board Certified Massage Therapist for over fourteen years.

Jennifer lives in Avon with her husband, Anthony; son, Connor; daughter, Alissa; cat, Sparkle and Pup, Sunshine.

Karen Levan, Director of Music Ministries and Organist

Along with playing the organ during Sunday morning worship services, Karen directs both the Gallery Singers (the adult choir) and the Celebration Ringers Hand Bell Choir. Services include a wide variety of music, instruments, and participation of singers and performers of all ages.

Before coming to Avon Congregational Church, Karen served a variety of churches including Zion Christian Church in Flushing, NY as Choir Director, Lutheran Church of our Redeemer in Enfield, CT as Organist, and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church as Director of Music, Organist and Choir Director. Karen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from the Hartt School of Music, West Hartford, CT. Karen’s love of music and singing began when, as a little girl, she went with her mother to choir rehearsals and saw how much her mother loved to sing.

Karen and her husband, Greg are proud parents of two sons who they adopted from China. Residents of Avon, Karen and Greg like to go river-rafting, hiking, and going on drives with their children. They also enjoy cooking foods from different countries together and going out to eat.

Kathy Smith, Office Manager

Kathy has been a member of our church staff since September 2017. Kathy’s role includes preparing the weekly Sunday Bulletin and E-Tidings, directing phone calls, scheduling groups that use our facilities, keeping member database current and supporting Pastor Chris and our parishioners in all their endeavors.

A member of First Congregational Church at Canton Center, Kathy has also been actively involved in church life there, participating on committees, leading Church Council in 2014, and taking part in the Cherry Brook Chimes Hand Bell Choir.

Kathy and her husband Jeff have lived in Canton, CT since 2001, and have two sons who currently reside in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts. Kathy loves spending time with family, along with reading, watching BBC mystery series on Netflix, going to Hartford Wolf Pack games, and hanging out in coffee shops with friends.

Beth Ferrari, Administrator

Beth Ferrari is an accountant by trade, serving as a controller prior to raising her children.  She handles the accounting duties for the church as well as building matters.  She serves on the Outreach Ministry, specifically, the monthly Stone Soup meal for Loaves and Fishes in Hartford, and a weekly reading tutor to 3rd graders at Gaffney School in New Britain.  She is a UCONN alum and fan, enjoys gardening, tennis, and traveling.

Gene Martin, Sexton

Born and raised in East Windsor, Connecticut, Gene has lived in several towns across the state and now resides in Barkhamsted. Gene joined the Navy out of high school during which time he met his lovely wife Michelle. Married 40 plus years, Gene happily extolls, “Yes it is a life sentence with no chance of parole!” Together, they have two children Joshua and Amber,  and their daughter has given four wonderful grandchildren (Korben, River, Chloe and Augie) but sadly their son is no longer with them.

Gene retired from FedEx air freight, retired from military service after leaving the Navy and serving in the Ct Air National Guard with 22 years of service . He states, “I went on to have a mid-life crisis and decided to open a restaurant – What a lame brain idea that was – but a successful one nonetheless! The Wooden Spoon Family Restaurant was probably one of my proudest accomplishments. (That, and my wife and children!!) She made me write that!!”

Gene thought he was happily retired until he met Pastor Chris and Kent at a Abigail’s Restaurant where Pastor Chris recruited Gene into being the new Sexton.