The character of Westport drew John Branson and his wife Judyth here more than 20 years ago.
The characters of Westport kept them here.
In January 1991, Rev. Branson was called as rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Church. A native of New Hampshire and an ordained priest since 1974, with a degree from Yale Divinity School and experience at ministries in Hartford but now in Chatham, New Jersey, he was eager to return to New England.
Judyth — a psychotherapist — knew Westport psychologist Irwin Sollinger well. Through him, the Bransons met other Westporters.
The call seemed right. The decision to come to CHT was reinforced by the gracious welcome extended by folks like the Wolgast, Ackemann and Hammond families.
“We felt wonderfully cared for and embraced,” Branson recalls. “Similarly, we wanted to share that hospitality with as many people as we could. We entertained a lot, and we tried to bring people together.”
The new minister had big shoes to fill. Dana Forrest Kennedy had led Westport’s Episcopal church for 29 years, and was a revered figure in town.
But Kennedy was a traditionalist. Branson is less so.
“We want to be a church that embraces the diversity of people who call Westport home,” he says. Throughout his tenure, Christ & Holy Trinity has done that. Now — with its new, handsome Great Hall — CHT can take advantage of its downtown location and, as Branson says, “literally embrace the wider Westport.
“Not everyone may agree with our creed, or the principles of our church. But all are welcome to use it.”
CHT hosts over 50 12-step meetings a week. When Saugatuck Congregational Church — a few steps up the Post Road hill — burned in November, Christ & Holy Trinity offered its hall for the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.
Branson understands Westport intimately. From natural features like the beach to man-made ones like the Memorial Day parade, he is a huge fan of — and participant in — civic life.
Over the years he has watched programs like the Green’s Farms Congregational Church’s Kingdom Builders and the townwide clergy’s Interfaith Housing grow into secular organizations (Builders Beyond Borders and Homes With Hope, respectively). From ABC House and Project Return to many others, he says, “people in Westport are really committed to serving their neighbors in need.”
Branson defines “neighbor” broadly. It may be someone in the next pew, down the street, or in Bridgeport or Africa. He is proud that his congregation has “really come together as a family of faith.” But, he says, “as we face inward toward each other, we also need to turn outward toward the larger world.”
This Sunday (June 10), Branson will conduct his final service here. He and Judyth are retiring to Fearington Village, North Carolina — a wonderful town near Chapel Hill filled with lots of retired State Department people and Episcopal clergy.
The Bransons have just purchased their first home; they’ve always lived in church housing. They look forward to working on it, entertaining, and serving the church in some capacity.
“We’ll ease up on the throttle a bit,” Branson says. “And we’ll see where the spirit moves us.”
It will move them, from time to time, to Westport. Their daughter Jessica lives here. So John and Judyth will certainly not forget us.
As he prepares his final sermon, Branson reflects on his 21 years in Westport. He likens the town to “a net. The strands of people’s experiences and aptitudes run different directions, but they’re woven together in very rich ways. Those strands strengthen and buoy everyone, very profoundly.”
Westporters’ commitments — to arts, education, athletics — are offered “in time, talent and treasure. They hold many of us in ways we can be very grateful for.”
Rev. John Branson leaves Westport “with a great sense of gratitude, for so many blessings.”
That’s what the entire community says about him, too.
The Bransons will be missed so much. Tears filled my eyes as I read your story. Although I have known for awhile of John’s retirement, the reality is here and it is sad. I wish both of them much happiness, rest, and joy.
In his 21 years in Westport John has made such a favorable
impact on so many people and organizations. The Tar Heel states
gain is the Nutmeg States lose,We all love you John,
Bill Meyer rd,
I will always remember The Reverend Branson with fondness.
My late mother spent the majority of her life as a devoted member of the Church. She retired and moved to Florida long before Rev. Branson became rector so I don’t believe he ever met her.
My best friend was married by Rev. Branson in 1992 and his daughter, my Goddaughter, was baptized by Rev. Branson in 1994.
When my mother died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s there was really no other thing to do for her but to bring her home to a service at Christ and Holy Trinity and burial at Willowbrook next to her first husband who had died in WWII and his family.
It was then that I found out that her homecoming and our family’s was in the caring, loving hands of Rev. Branson. He treated my family like one of his own which I believe they were by virtue of being raised at Christ and Holy Trinity.
I will always be grateful to him and to Christ and Holy Trinity for making it clear to me that you can leave home but always return and be welcomed.
May God Bless and thank The Reverend John Branson and give him a long and happy retirement.
Eric William Buchroeder
To Reverend John Branson,
Congratulations on your retirement. You have been a treasure to your congregation and to the town of Westport in all that you have done!!
Now we can welcome you to North Carolina, where you are moving to is about 8 miles from where we live. So should you and your family need anything, please do not hesitate to ask!!
Again, Congratulations!! You have done so much to make Westport the special place it is!!
I have never been to one of his sermons but your post brought a tear to my eye. Farewell and best of luck.
Dan, Thanks for those wonderful words! It is with great sadness and a great loss that we say goodbye to John and Judith- they deserve some leisure but have raised the bar on what we will be looking for in a rector, a family and a friend.
John Branson has spoken eloquently in support of the Westport Public Library and it was a pleasure to see him at last week’s Booked for the Evening Fundraiser.
Much more privately, his willingness to support the spiritual needs of even those who are not members of Christ and Holy Trinity have earned him affection and respect broadly through Westport. Several years ago a man died under tragic circumstances leaving those who knew him and those who loved him confused and distraught. Although this man had no church affiliation, John volunteered to host the memorial service of a person he had never met and brought peace, ceremony and perspective at a time when they were needed. It was a ‘small’ act and a private one, but it demonstrated the greatness of John’s character and humanity.
Dan, thank you so much for writing and sharing. You perfectly captured the spirit and essence of my dad. The Bransons will forever hold Westport and this tremendous community close to their hearts. We are so grateful to have been called to this wonderful town, i will always call home.
As a member of the A Better Chance of Westport Advisory Board since “the beginning,” John Branson has been a great friend, wise counselor and wonderful supporter of our scholars and the A Better Chance program. Additionally, he has welcomed us to CHT providing space for our Board meetings and we have felt lucky to have him visit the Glendarcy House often. His warmth, wisdom and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed. We hope he will visit often!
To recognize the milestone, an evergreen tree was placed on top of the structure as a symbol of life and prosperity. The church’s rector, the Rev. John Branson , then consecrated the “topping out” with a prayer.
Good luck to the Bransons. Judyth was one of two teachers who introduced me to yoga 13 years ago at the “Y” and inspired me to become a teacher myself. She also supported me through a difficult time in my marriage. I am indebted to her and wish both of them the very best!
This is a lovely tribute to a wonderful pastor! I visited The Bransons several years back and attended church with Judyth. I saw the mutual love and warmth between the Bransons and the congregation-it was awesome to see! I know that they will be greatly missed, but I for one am excited for them as they embark on this next adventure!