Celebrating ‘Seasonings’: New book by veteran preacher and poet, Allen ‘Mick’ Comstock

All are welcome to a celebration party for Allen “Mick” Comstock’s new book, “Seasonings” on Saturday, April 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the social rooms of the Federated Church on Main Street (Route 2) in Charlemont. Light refreshments will be served by members of the church, and books will be available for sale.

All are welcome to a celebration party for Allen “Mick” Comstock’s new book, “Seasonings” on Saturday, April 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the social rooms of the Federated Church on Main Street (Route 2) in Charlemont. Light refreshments will be served by members of the church, and books will be available for sale. COURTESY LINDA COMSTOCK

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 04-12-2024 10:51 AM

Modified: 04-16-2024 10:21 AM


I was thrilled to learn last year that Haley’s of Athol was planning to publish “Seasonings,” a book of prayers by Allen “Mick” Comstock of Shelburne Falls. Mick has been a minister for more than 50 years, many of those years in Franklin County. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that he was my minister at the Charlemont Federated Church. I also count him and his wife Linda as friends.

I asked Mick last week about the origins of his career and of his prayers, which I think of as poems.

Twists of fate — and epiphanies of self-knowledge — brought him to the ministry, he told me. Hitchhiking home from college in Wooster, Ohio, as a sophomore, he was contemplating his future.

“I was in a place in my life,” he said. “I was actually about to flunk out of college. They had a thing called D-ing out, not flunking out. I had to do very well in that semester or I was finished. I had decided that I was going to quit anyway, and I was going to join the navy.”

His hometown minister drove by and offered him a ride. The two spoke about religion during the journey. The minister was enthusiastic about his calling, and young Mick saw a potential career path.

“I thought maybe I could be of some help [to people in crisis] because things had not been easy for me,” he mused.

A couple of other incidents pushed him toward staying in school and studying religion. First, he met Linda, a fellow student who had begun eating in his college dining hall. While sifting through BLTs one noon, they began conversing. “We talked and we talked and we talked and we talked,” recalled Mick. “Suddenly, we heard our waiter clear his throat. And everybody was gone….

“We haven’t stopped talking since.”

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His depression abated, and he was able to devote himself to his studies. He planned to be a history major — until the day to declare a major arrived.

“The line for the history majors was really long. I wanted to get out and smoke a cigarette. The line for the religion majors was really short,” he laughed. Even as a religion major, he thought he would become a scholar rather than a minister. Working on a Ph.D. in religion after attending Hartford Seminary, he had another insight.

“I realized that I loved this stuff, but I didn’t love it the way scholars loved it,” he remembered.

He first preached in Heath and Rowe, where he was befriended and inspired by Henry Bartlett, the minister at the Charlemont Federated Church. I remember Hank Bartlett vividly from my childhood. He was funny, smart and kind. His sermons sometimes strayed from whatever point he was trying to make. No one minded because Hank’s strayings were always interesting … and because he was loved. “He was my mentor in really profound ways,” Mick said of the Charlemont minister. “My connection with Charlemont started then.”

Mick moved on to preach for a decade in Stockbridge and then for two years at the Church of the Covenant in Boston. He honed his preaching style through those years but also came to a less than flattering realization. “I found myself preaching in order to be heard,” he sighed.

A woman in the Boston congregation who happened to be a professor of psychology at Harvard summed up his dilemma, telling him, “When I listen to you preach, I don’t know if I want the message or the messenger.”

He decided to relocate. “I did not want to be a city minister in an office. I wanted to be a minister in a church on Main Street,” he recalled. He ended up back in Charlemont, where he preached and embraced community for 18 years. Since his retirement from that church, he has served congregations in Shelburne, Montague, North Adams, South Hadley, and Vermont.

All his former parishioners will remember the prayers that inspired “Seasonings.” Over the years, Mick developed a unique style of sermons and prayers.

His approach was born his first year working in Heath, he explained. There he struggled to write sermons and consequently didn’t spend a lot of time on his prayers.

He recalled being pulled aside by the late Hannah Burrington, who told him, “The pastoral prayer is every bit as important as the sermon, if not more so.” That Easter he extemporized his sermon. “I had read the scriptures. I knew the story,” he remembered realizing. He just opened his mouth and talked. “I could do it because I had been thinking about it all week.”

He developed a new routine. He let the sermon and the readings percolate in his mind throughout the week. In the middle of each Saturday night, he got up and drove around listening to jazz on the radio and sifting through his thoughts.

“Then I would come in about four o’clock in the morning,” he told me. “I would sit down. What I would do would be to write the prayer. The words would just flow, especially after the first paragraph or so.” The sermon, coined in the pulpit after all the thought and jazz and prayer composition, flowed from that experience.

Mick’s prayers are beautiful and very human. They ground religion in humanity and in the natural world we inhabit. They often raise more questions than answers. “Seasonings” charmingly lives up to its subtitle, “Prayers of Praise and Complaint.”

The book is enhanced by the contributions of yet another former minister at the Charlemont Federated Church, Cara Hochhalter. Cara succeeded Mick at the church. Going to divinity school late in life after years in education and art, she spent a decade in Charlemont.

She frequently illustrated the weekly readings with her own art, which like Cara herself is full of grace and clarity. Her illustrations for “Seasonings” gently riff on the topics of Mick’s prayers.

The book will be useful to churches but also to lovers of poetry and thought. Mick remarked that he had been reassured by the reaction of Marcia Gagliardi, the publisher at Haley’s.

“She said to me, ‘I’m not very religious, but these prayers don’t scare me,’” he smiled.

Mick Comstock, Cara Hochhalter, and their book will be celebrated at a party for “Seasonings” on Saturday, April 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the social rooms of the Federated Church on Main Street (Route 2) in Charlemont. Light refreshments will be served by members of the church, and books will be available for sale. All are welcome.

Anyone who cannot attend the event and wishes to purchase a book may do so by sending a check for $30.50 to Haley’s, 488 South Main Street, Athol, MA 01331. The price includes the book, tax and postage.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.