The vision and fearlessness of Pastor David Jones touched Concord and beyond 

  • Rev. David Jones when he was rector of St. Paul's Church in Concord. Courtesy—

  • The Rev. David Jones stands in the sanctuary of St. Paul's Church in Concord in 1991. —Monitor file

  • The Rev. David Jones sits in the State House in Concord in 1994; he was Senate chaplain for nine years. The ‘Monitor’ reported at that time that he encouraged leaders to vote for the next generation in mind, not the next election. Monitor file

Monitor columnist
Published: 2/21/2020 4:11:30 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 4:11:17 PM

The Rev. David Jones’s church door was always open.

And lots of people chose to step through it, again and again. People who in recent years had limited their annual church time to a big religious holiday or two. That is, until they’d heard Jones’s sermon, seen him in action, felt his impact.

The rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church from 1991 to 2006 died earlier this month from pancreatic cancer. He was 70 and had been living in Evanston, Ill., the past 13 years, remarrying and raising a family.

Despite the time away, no one here forgot him, least of all Concord developer Steve Duprey, who flew to Evanston this week and eulogized Jones at his funeral Friday morning. We spoke by phone this week and Duprey emailed me a copy of his speech. He was at St. Paul’s nearly 20 years ago, on Jones’s first day.

“Everyone in the church that day knew,” Duprey wrote in his speech, “that we were about to have a remarkable and wonderful experience in our faith journey, with David there leading us. And what an incredible journey it was.”

Jones was described as a religious leader whose words and deeds touched people and became legendary in Concord. He was a master recruiter, without being pushy, turning every-day scenarios into a chance to roll out the red carpet, leading to the church door on Centre Street.

Maybe Jones would talk to you over lunch, convince you to come by St. Paul’s to listen, an opportunity to learn and grow. Or he might have piqued your interest standing in line at a UPS office, waiting to mail Christmas gifts. Jones got you excited about religion, providing a taste of what you could expect at St. Paul’s Church.

Jones had a wide impact on the community, so much so that he was named the Citizen of the Year by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce after he retired from St. Paul’s in 2006. 

"Every community, every group, every confluence of life within a place like Concord has a soul," Jones said to the crowd as he received the surprise award, which had never before been given to a member of the clergy. "Wherever you work, whatever you sell, whatever your organization, make sure you nurture the soul of that organization."

Duprey knew Jones from David’s time as Senate chaplain, from 1995-2004. Years ago, Duprey befriended Jones’s predecessor, Ed Mills, who suggested that Duprey, rarely a churchgoer at the time, attend a service at St. Paul’s.

The new rector would start soon, Mills told Duprey. Stop by. You’ll like this guy’s style. Mills had helped Duprey through a tough time, the death of his father, so Duprey felt an obligation to take Mills up on his offer.

“In truth, I fall closer to the Christmas and Easter attendance-end of the devotion to our faith,” Duprey said by phone. “But I didn’t want to disappoint Ed.”

Duprey recalled Jones’s first day at St. Paul’s, on March 3, 1991. That’s when Jones introduced himself to his new congregation, then paused, long enough for Duprey to wonder if the rookie had developed a case of stage fright.

No. Jones had not.

“He opened with ‘I love you,’ ” Duprey said. Then, as if Jones thought his words hadn’t penetrated this emotionally-controlled group of stoic New Englanders, he said it again.

“I love you.”

Duprey said he sounded sincere, speaking from the heart. Everyone felt it.

“In church, I had never heard a rector start speaking to a congregation that way,” Duprey said. “He was one of the most dynamic faith leaders ever to be in Concord.”

Jones reached Duprey that day with his messages of hope and strength and love, always pushing people to fulfill their potential, to be the best they could.

But he wasn’t hooked until shortly after, when Jones, fully aware of Duprey’s Concord-area connections and investments and overall presence in the city, invited him to lunch. Maybe spirituality and business could coexist?

“I was actually a bit surprised because I really wasn’t that engaged with St. Paul’s,” Duprey wrote in his speech.

He continued. “Through lunches and church, David and I became friends. He liked to push his friends forward in service to others and in faith. He pushed me into new places and new thinking repeatedly, and really tried to make me a better person, almost all of the time doing so gently.”

Others echoed those thoughts. Maeve Blackman of Concord is 92. She served with Jones for three years at St. Paul’s. She had breakfast with him once a month. She mentioned that Jones “was very good looking and all the girls probably fell all over him. I did not.”

She fell in love with his mind, though, making sure I knew that the St. Paul’s congregation had doubled under his leadership; that he helped build offices and classrooms and a food pantry at the parish that had survived a major fire in 1989; that he promoted harmony in politics, sometimes inviting the winner and loser of an election to St. Paul’s to shake hands, maybe join forces in some way; and that he started an annual mission to Jamaica, a volunteer program that remains in place to this very day.

“He said the doors will be open and we should pour out into the community to help with various problems,” Blackman said. “He did a lot on his own, and he began the sermon he preached by saying, ‘I love you,’ and we believed him, and that was the foundation of what he did in the church.”

Kristin Dunklee, the church secretary, worked with Jones for four years and described him as “Kind, brilliant, compassionate and pastoral, an excellent preacher. He gave you a message you could take and use in your life to help you be a better person.”

Jones’s vision and fearlessness stretched across the country, and in fact the world. He passionately supported the Rev. Gene Robinson, who was named the first openly gay bishop in 2003, when he lived in Weare.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen him,” Robinson said from his home in Washington, D.C., during a brief interview. “It’s all a blur, but David was very supportive of me personally and of the diocese effort to consecrate me as bishop.”

And according to the obituary submitted to the >italic<Monitor>res< by Jones’s daughter, Heidi Crumrine, Jones developed a close relationship in the 1970s with Fred Rogers, the late PBS star and former host of >italic<Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood>res<, a show that for more than 30 years taught children real lessons about life.

Both men lived in Pennsylvania at the time. They solidified their friendship over lunch. Naturally.

“You remind everyone every time of what is essential – of what our greatest contribution can be,” Rogers said in a letter to Jones in 1996, according to the obit.

“Much like Fred,” Crumrine said in the obit, “David sought first to understand and believed in the goodness of everyone.”

Duprey saw that for himself, relaying the story of that first one-on-one meeting with Jones, nearly 20 years ago. Lunch at the Barley House.

Jones suggested saying grace before Duprey, stunned at the idea, could take the first bite of his hamburger. They joined hands, and Jones, normally soft spoken, said grace, clicking the volume on high, plenty loud enough for the packed dining room to stop and wonder why this high-profile developer was saying grace and holding hands with this unknown church figure.

Heading back to Main Street, Duprey joked that their private ceremony had turned public, to which Jones said, “good.”

“When David would say grace,” Duprey wrote, “most of the rest of the room, which had grown accustomed to our monthly lunches and had gotten to know David, would get quiet.

“Well done, David.”

And nearly 19 years to the day of that first sermon at St. Paul’s, the former pastor will be remembered by friends and faithful next Sunday at noon. Together, they’ll say, “We love you.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.


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