Category Archives: religion

Hit-And-Run Driver Strikes Downtown

Christ & Holy Trinity Church is a beautiful church, in the heart of downtown. They open their doors to all, in many important ways.

Which makes what happened yesterday morning even more deplorable than if it happened someplace else.

Someone tried to drive up the stairs from the parking lot to the Memorial Garden. He (or she) significantly damaged the wrought iron railings on either side of the stairway.

Church officials think the car may have gotten hung up on the step or railing. There are 2 spin marks on the ground.

Christ & Holy Trinity damage

They know it’s a Nissan since a piece of the front grill broke off. A bit of the plastic license plate frame says “Wilton.”

Keep your eye out for a Nissan — perhaps silver — with a damaged front end.

In the meantime, Christ & Holy Trinity will continue to serve all Westporters. But please: park in the lot.

Update: Earthplace, Temple Israel, And The Future Of Westport Transit

An “06880” post earlier today reported that the after-school Westport Transit District bus routes serving Earthplace and Temple Israel would be suspended indefinitely.

“06880” has learned that last-ditch negotiations may provide a solution. But time is running out.

EarthplaceThe reason for the suspension of the routes is cessation of federal funds. Because the route is geared to students traveling from schools to afternoon activities — but not run by a school district — it is out of compliance with government regulations.

If the funds are cut, dozens of Westport parents will have to figure how to get their kids to Earthplace programs, and religious education.

One result, of course, would be more cars on the road.

Temple IsraelBroader issues include: What’s the future of the Westport Transit District? How does it fit in with other area organizations? How do we live and move around in town? Is there any role for mass transportation, suburb-style?

A number of folks are working hard, seeking a resolution. State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, First Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle, the WTD’s Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum, along with Earthplace and Temple Israel officials, have pulled many levers seeking a stay of execution — or at least a delay.

There are many layers to this onion. Stay tuned as Westport peels them back, one by one.

A Westport Transit District bus.

A Westport Transit District bus.

3 Bears For Sale

No, not the longtime restaurant on Newtown Turnpike. That was sold awhile ago — to Chabad Lubavitch.

These 3 bears — papa, mama and baby? — have stood for years outside the Post Road BP gas station, near Maple Avenue.

Bear collage

Now it’s an Exxon station.

And the bears bear “For Sale” signs.

The oil industry doesn’t get more cutthroat than this.



Bill Meyer Memorial Service Set For July 12

A memorial service celebrating the amazing, rich life of Bill Meyer will be held on Saturday, July 12 (3 p.m.), at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. Reverend Alison J. B. Patton, pastor of Saugatuck Congregational Church — still unavailable because of a fire — will preside.

Bill’s family says that in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to:

  • Sunrise Rotary Club of Westport (checks made out to “WSR 21st CF”), PO Box 43, Westport, CT 06880
  • Saugatuck Congregational Church Rebuilding Fund, PO Box 5186, Westport, CT  06881-5186; online donations at:
  • The School Volunteer Association of Bridgeport, 900 Boston Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06610
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer


Remembering Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer — the consummate Westport volunteer, a man who knew everyone in town, and one of the most genuinely friendly human beings on the planet — died today. He battled multiple myeloma for over a year.

In his 85 years, Bill did more than 85 normal people could in 85 lifetimes.

Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer

Professionally, he had a fulfilling career as national sales manager for several companies. “We manufactured and sold pens and pencils,” he said of one business.

That’s like saying Bruce Springsteen “plays music.” In fact, Bill managed 800 workers on a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Montana. He was so motivational and inspirational, the tribe adopted him — and gave him an honorary Indian name.

But as much as he traveled, Bill always found time for Westport.

Plenty of time.

Here is a teeny-tiny, way-too-partial list. Bill…

  • was elected 9 times to the RTM. He chaired the Parks and Recreation Committee, and served on its  Education, and Health and Human Services Committees
  • founded the Westport Little League softball program; was a member of the Little League board of directors; umpired — and had a softball field named for him
  • served as Y’s Men president and membership chairman
  • was a director of Sunrise Rotary, Senior  Center, First Night, Westport’s AARP chapter, Westport Community Theatre, and 2 intercity Bridgeport agencies
  • served on the Saugatuck Congregational Church council
  • mentored a boy from age 5 through adolescence
  • helped with Meals on Wheels
  • volunteered on many Republican campaigns
  • was a board member of Isaiah House in Bridgeport, which helps parolees transition from prison to life outside
  • won the 2004 Service to Older Adults award
  • earned a Westport First award
  • received the YMCA’s Faces of Achievement honor.

Bill loved Staples. He loved Westport, sports, the theater, church, the Republican party, volunteering, old people, young people, and his wife Carolyn.

Or — to put it another way: Bill loved life.

We owe Bill Meyer an enormous debt. He touched each of us, and all of us.

He made Westport a better place to live.

You can’t ask for a better life than that.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He's volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.

This photo epitomizes Bill Meyer. He was volunteering at the Great Duck Race, sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, while hugging Republican State Senator Toni Boucher.



Methodists Take A Stand, Make A Mark

Members of Westport’s United Methodist Church seldom agree on what time to start the coffee hour, laughs Rev. Edward Horne.

But last Sunday, an overwhelming 95% of the congregation voted to become a “Welcoming Church.” Disagreeing with the denomination’s official stance on homosexuality, the Weston Road church pledges “the full access to our rituals and sacraments” — including marriage — “to all persons and families.” That means gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people too.

Rev. Horne, and virtually all of his congregants, could not be prouder.

“Our church has not changed who we are,” says Jerry Eyster, chair of the Church Council. “We simply formalized our status, publicly extending a hand to all God’s children. If you love God and all your neighbors, then give us your hand.”

Methodist church logo

The vote was a long time coming, Rev. Horne admits.

Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Church teaching.” It prohibits pastors from performing same-sex marriages, and churches from hosting them.

Every 4 years, Rev. Horne says, there is a divisive church debate about the issue. The wording has not been changed, but for 20 years or so local churches have been saying, “We beg to differ.”

Same sex marriageLast November, spurred by a couple of events — the potential trial of Dr. Thomas Ogletree (retired dean of Yale Divinity School who presided over the wedding of his gay son), and a similar case in Pennsylvania in which a pastor was defrocked — the Westport church created a committee. Its charge was to lead members through a “discernment process.”

After much education and study — “people are always surprised that there are only 6 references to homosexuality in the Bible, and Jesus never mentioned it,” Rev. Horne notes — the “welcoming church” question was put to the ballot.

It wasn’t even close.

“People realize Jesus welcomed people of all kinds — including those who may be different from the ‘Westport demographic,'” Rev. Horne says.

The Welcoming Statement reads in part:

We affirm the sacred worth of all of God’s children and welcome people of all ages, races, abilities, sexual orientations and economic circumstances to join us in the membership, participation and leadership of our church.

Rev. Edward Horne

Rev. Edward Horne

Rev. Horne adds, “We don’t ask everyone to think alike. We ask them to love alike. Though we attempt in all ways to be loyal Methodists, there comes a point when obedience to the Gospel supersedes obedience even to the rules of the Church. We do not say this lightly, but we believe God is leading us to extend a loving welcome to those who too often have been excluded or marginalized by the church.”

In practical terms, little will change. The New York Conference, and its bishop, are “progressive” about LGBT issues, Rev. Horne says. The Westport church is the 14th — out of 500 or so in the region — to take an affirming stand.

The challenge now, according to Rev. Horne, is to “live up to” its pledge, and show that its message of inclusion is also reality.

So has any couple asked the pastor to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony?

“Not yet,” Rev. Horne says. “We’re just getting the word out. But I’m ready!”

Westport's United Methodist Church

Westport’s United Methodist Church


Saugatuck Church Remembers Nigerian Girls

Last month, almost 300 schoolgirls were abducted in Nigeria.

Saugatuck Congregational Church is making sure they are not forgotten.

Two weeks ago during worship service — following the lead of a colleague in northeastern Connecticut — Rev. Alison Patton handed out strips of paper. Congregants were invited to pray for the girl whose name they received.

Several folks wanted to do more. The idea of a public display emerged.

Rev. Patton’s husband Craig found flags online. A church member who oversaw the installation of a field of American flags in 2010 gave tips on installation.

Two other members offered to write girls’ names on ribbons attached to the flags (or “Child of God; name unknown”). A 3rd family said they’d plant the flags.

This was the scene earlier today on the Saugatuck Congregational Church lawn:

Elizabeth Baldwin, and daughters Lindsey and Abbey, place ribbons on each flag before they are placed in the ground by Matt Baldwin (background) and other volunteers.

Elizabeth Baldwin, and daughters Lindsey and Abbey, place ribbons on each flag before they are placed in the ground by Matt Baldwin (background) and other volunteers.

And here is what the lawn looks like now. The flags will remain up for several days.

(Photos by Mary Ann West)

(Photos by Mary Ann West)



Rabbi Rubenstein, Rev. King And Jail

Last month’s 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act drew well-deserved attention.

But the stroke of President Johnson’s pen hardly ended discrimination. In fact, just 2 months later — in June, 1964 — the largest mass arrest of rabbis ever took place, in St. Augustine, Florida.

The group — led by Rev. Martin Luther King — was striving to end segregation in the nation’s oldest city. Just a month earlier, he had spoken at Westport’s Temple Israel.

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein

Now the synagogue’s leader, Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, returned the favor. He traveled south, and was part of the group that landed in jail.

Next month, St. Augustine commemorates the 50th anniversary of that event. There is  a panel discussion with 9 of the rabbis who are still alive; a reading of the letter the rabbis wrote and signed that night in the St. Johns County jail; a march to the church where the rabbis heard rousing calls to action by Rev. King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Andrew Young; lunch cooked by the woman who cooked for Rev. King 50 years ago; a tour of the jail where the rabbis were incarcerated and fed baby food (overlooking the spot where black protesters were held, surrounded by barbed wire with no food at all), and a curated display in the city’s visitor center that reviews the 450-year-old history of blacks in North America.

Rabbi Rubenstein died in 1990. But his son Jonathan has been invited to attend.

Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy in the St. Johns County jail.

Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy in the St. Johns County jail.

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro told him, “The story of your father’s role in the largest mass arrest of rabbis in US history 50 years ago is legend here in St. Augustine …. (Some consider this) the most ‘undertold’ story in the history of the Jewish community of North America.”

That story was told in a recent edition of the Southern Jewish Historical Society newsletter.

Half a century ago, as St. Augustine prepared to celebrate its 400th anniversary — and Congress debated the Civil Rights Act — shopkeepers proudly displayed Ku Klux Klan robes.

King asked the Central Conference of American Rabbis for help. 16 rabbis — including Rubenstein — and Reform Judaism’s social action director, heeded the call.

The group joined members of St. Paul’s AME Church, attempting to integrate a motel swimming pool and lunch counter.

Monson Motor Lodge manager James Brock poured muriatic acid into the segregated pool, trying to get a group of rabbis and blacks to leave.

The Monson Motor Lodge manager poured muriatic acid into the segregated pool, trying to get a group of rabbis and blacks to leave.

In jail — by the light of 1 bulb burning outside their cell — the rabbis wrote a letter.

We realized that injustice in St. Augustine, as anywhere else, diminishes the humanity of each of us. We came as Jews who remember the millions of faceless people who stood quietly, watching the smoke rise from Hitler’s crematoria. We came became we know that, second only to silence, the greatest danger to man is loss of faith in man’s capacity to act….

We came to stand with our brothers, and in the process have learned more about ourselves and our God.

The newsletter notes that while plenty has changed in St. Augustine in 50 years, much has not. There is only 1 black firefighter, and no police officer, city commissioner or school board member. Barriers continue to keep African Americans from voting.

Rev. Martin Luther King is dead. So is Rabbi Rubenstein. But — as the newsletter notes — “the voices of those arrested can still be heard.”

Next month — 50 years after those voices were raised — St. Augustine celebrates them.

The rabbis composed this letter in jail. It is titled "Why We Went."

The rabbis composed this letter in jail. It is titled “Why We Went.”



Debra Haffner Prays With The President

The email was exciting: President Obama invites you to the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, held in the East Room the day after Palm Sunday.

“White House invitations are always a little mysterious,” says Rev. Debra Haffner, president of the Westport-based Religious Institute. She thinks it may have been because her multi-faith organization — which advocates for sexual health, education and justice — has supported contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

This was Rev. Haffner’s 3rd trip to the White House. But it was the smallest gathering — 150 clergy — and, in many ways, the most moving.

“Some people call these events ‘window dressing,'” she said. “But it was very profound.”

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

President Obama opened his remarks by citing the shootings the previous day at 2 Jewish facilities in Kansas. He said that no one should be fearful when they pray, and called on members of all faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance that leads to anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.

Rev. Haffner — who laughs that she may have been “the 1st Jewish-Unitarian Universalist minister” at the event — had walked over from her hotel with Pastor Joel Hunter. He leads a 20,000-member mega-church in Orlando, and gave the opening prayer.

“People across the theological spectrum prayed together,” Rev. Haffner notes. “There was a very inclusive message, in a very diverse room.”

Dr. Otis Moss — who took over at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after Rev. Jeremiah Wright stepped down — gave a powerful sermon. The black theologian tied together Anne Frank, Martin Luther King and the Easter celebration in a “spellbinding” way, Dr. Haffner says.

She was seated very near the front. Her table included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the 40,000-plus Hispanic Evangelical Association. Rev. Haffner told him about the Religious Institute’s Safer Congregations movement — keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse and harassment — and says, “There’s a good chance we will work together on it.”

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Also at their table: Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the 1st female head of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the end of the breakfast, President Obama looked around. No one was scheduled to give the closing prayer, so he asked Rev. Gene Robinson — the retired openly gay Episcopal bishop — to give the benediction. He was as surprised as anyone, but spoke movingly, off the cuff.

“Starting with Joel and ending with Gene really shows the broad theological spectrum” of the day — and the administration — Rev. Haffner says.

After the breakfast, President Obama greeted the clergy. Rev. Haffner’s table was 1st — and she was the 1st member of her group that he spoke with.

Returning to Westport from Washington, Rev. Haffner reflected on the day — and all that came before it.

“My grandparents immigrated from Poland and Ukraine,” she says. “I don’t think they could ever have imagined this.”

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This h communities and society.

Happy Palm Sunday!

A bagpiper and clergy led congregants out of Christ & Holy Trinity Church this morning. They marched up and down Myrtle Avenue, then returned inside.

The festive procession marked Palm Sunday — the beginning of Holy Week — celebrated by thousands of Westporters.

Music and religious rites combined as the Palm Sunday procession began.

Music and religious rites combined as the Palm Sunday procession began.

The procession continued down Myrtle Avenue.

The procession continued down Myrtle Avenue.

Among the celebrants: Jessica Branson, daughter of former minister Rev. John Branson and his wife Judyth.

Among the celebrants: Jessica Branson, daughter of former minister Rev. John Branson and his wife Judyth.

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