As a Methodist minister for 40 years, Ed Horne recalls many profound encounters with congregants.
But perhaps his most memorable moment came when a Holocaust survivor knocked on his door, at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on New York’s Upper West Side. Rev. Horne had offered his building as a temporary home for B’nai Jeshuren, after the nearby synagogue’s ceiling collapsed.
“I never thought I’d enter a church, let alone on the High Holy Days,” the man said through tears.
During Simchat Torah, the temple gave Horne a prayer shawl. He held a Torah that had been rescued. And he danced with the Jewish worshipers.
The ceiling was repaired, but the relationship remained strong. Decades later, B’nai Jeshuren still holds music and dance programs at St. Paul and St. Andrew.
They’re not the only ones. Horne welcomed in an Ethiopian evangelic church, and a Hispanic LGBT one. He helped develop a senior citizen nutrition program, a homeless shelter, and the largest food pantry in New York. “It was a wonderful, important time,” he recalls.
Horne moved on, first to a parish in Port Washington, Long Island, then in 2002 to the United Methodist Church on Weston Road. But he never wavered from his belief in the importance of ministry — and in interfaith collaboration.
As a boy in Queens, Horne was active in his church youth group. Yet he went through an “agnostic phase” during his first years at Duke University in the 1970s.
A history buff, he was also interested in “big existential questions.” So he took religion courses, and majored in both.
He considered a career in law or education, but “something about seminary” seemed appealing. Yale Divinity School turned out to be perfect: an environment of “searching, inquiry and fun, with a very interesting blend of people.”
Horne interned at a Congregational church in Branford, did campus ministry work with the legendary Rev. William Sloane Coffin, spent 3 years as an assistant pastor in Stratford, then was called to the East Avenue United Methodist Church in Norwalk.
After 5 years he moved on to St. Paul and St. Andrew. Sixteen years and one Long Island church later, Westport’s Methodists were searching for a new minister.
He and his wife Sara had always wanted to return to Connecticut. On trips to visit his sister — a teacher in Newtown — they’d get off the Merritt Parkway at exit 42, and pass the church.
“It just felt right,” Horne says of the job offer.
Another 16 years later — as he prepares to retire — the pastor says that both the church and community have been “a great fit. Westport was one of the few suburban towns we could feel at home in. It’s open, progressive, arts-oriented, and the schools are great.”
Plus, he could coach Little League. The future minister once had a tryout with the New York Yankees, at the old Yankee Stadium.
Of course, “there are issues,” he says with a knowing chuckle. “Ultra-affluence, entitlement, the mallification of Main Street.”
His greatest disappointment was the failure to get a proposal to build senior housing on Baron’s South approved. “Our committee of dedicated, highly competent Westporters put an outstanding project together, working with a first-rate developer. It would have been a jewel in Westport’s crown, and made wonderful use of that space — along with opening the property for public use.”
Overall, though, Horne feels “very privileged to be associated with the town, and so many wonderful people.” They include fellow clergy, Sunrise Rotary, and the Human Services Commission.
His own United Methodist Church is filled with “warm and loving people. They’ve been so good to our family, ever since we set foot here.”
During his ministry, the church has become an official welcoming congregation for LGBT people (with a 98% affirmative vote — despite the official national position that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and that same-sex marriages should not be conducted by Methodist ministers or in their churches).
The Westport church has also been very involved in refugee resettlement programs. A Laotian family welcomed in 35 years ago remains involved. A Bosnian family was resettled 20 years ago. This July marks the 2-year anniversary of the arrival of a Syrian family.
“The hardest part about retirement is leaving all these folks,” he says. Kids in his first confirmation class are now out of college. One will be married this summer.
His and Sara’s own children are grown too. Olivia is working at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine. Will is with Ernst & Young in New York.
“I’ve seen lots of life cycles,” Horne notes. “I feel privileged to be invited in at times of celebration. And of loss and hurt.”
One of the cycles he’s seen is in Westport’s faith community. Nearly every congregation — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish — has been hit by “the cultural shift away from organized religion,” he says. Regular attendance has been affected by many factors, including the growth of youth sports.
Most churches and temples here are “holding their own,” though. “Despite a decline in numbers, there are still strong ministries everywhere.”
And the “great interfaith community” remains. Horne has seen giants like John Branson, Robert Orkand and Frank Hall retire — and be replaced by “equally wonderful people.”
After his last sermon on June 17, Rev. Edward Horne joins that list of beloved retirees. He and Sara — a pastoral psychotherapist — will move to Goshen, where they purchased a home 12 years ago.
He’ll play tennis. He’ll kayak.
And he’ll stay in touch with all his friends here — those in his church, and the many more outside.