Every homeowner knows the drill.
The refrigerator needs replacing. Then you add the cabinets next to it.
Soon you decide to redo the full kitchen. When you’re finally done, you’ve renovated the entire first floor.
Green’s Farms Church is a lot older than most Westport homes. Founded more than 3 centuries ago, and occupying the same storied spot on Hillandale Road since 1789, it has a remarkable history.
The church was formed when area residents grew tired of traveling by horse and cart to Fairfield every Sunday for services. The meetinghouse served as the site for important religious, political, educational and social meetings. It was rebuilt when the British burned it. After moving from what is now the southern side of the Exit 18 commuter parking lot, it endured more fires, hurricanes, and everything else that happens in 311 years.
Parishioners first gathered on June 12, 1711. This Sunday — June 12, 2022 — Green’s Farms Church celebrates its most recent renovation.
It is thorough. It is handsome. It is in keeping with the understated Congregational tradition. But it brings Westport’s first religious institution firmly into the 21st century.
Yet much of it would not have happened without our 21st-century curse: COVID.
Several years ago, it was time to replace the organ. First installed in 1964, it had outlived its life span.
Soon, church leaders decided to also address structural issues like drainage and leaks at the same time. When they looked around the building — and saw that rooms like the social and banquet halls needed modernizing to better serve smaller gatherings like youth and bible study groups, and 12-step programs — they developed an integrated plan.
In 2019, architect Steve Orban and interior designer Betsy Cameron — both Green’s Farms members — began their designs. The next important step — fundraising — started too.
A few months later, the pandemic slammed the door on all in-person worship and meetings. Services went virtual — and contractor Rick Benson (also a parishioner) went to work.
The organ was removed. Contractors dug right to the foundation. They were surprised to find not boulders, but stacks of small rocks, supporting the structure.
Much of the work — steel, HVAC, drainage, fire suppression and more — will never be seen by congregants.
But what they see is quite impressive.
Beams from the original 1853 building — constructed after a fire destroyed the 1789 structure — were uncovered. Quickly, they were incorporated into the vestibule design.
The handsome narthex leads to a large area that can be used as an art gallery. It opens this Friday (June 10, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.), with an exhibit of paintings by Rebecca Swanson called — appropriately — “Emerging.”
At the rear of the gallery is a full kitchen. Among its uses: cooking meals for Westport’s Gillespie Center.
Two new classrooms bring the nursery school total to 6.
The meetinghouse itself feels the same. But it’s deeper than before. The stained glass is much brighter (and built into a cabinet, with LED lights). The balcony has been brought forward too.
As for the Aeolian-Skinner organ — the genesis of the ambitious project — it’s fully restored. But, in a nod to history, music director Rick Tripodi named several stops after choir members. He won’t be there to use the new instrument, unfortunately; he died just before the renovation was completed.
Green’s Farms parish was the original heart of what is now Westport. Over 300 years later, “we want to be more engaged and enmeshed in the community,” says Diane Parrish, co-chair of the capital campaign and renovation project.
“This is such a wonderful place for events and gatherings. We hope everyone will use it as much as possible.”
Several civic organizations are doing that. The Rotary Club and Sunrise Rotary are meeting weekly at Green’s Farms Church; the Chamber of Commerce will meet monthly. The Greens Farms Garden Club, Greens Farms Association and New Neighbors all use the space.
So will church-sponsored Scout troops. Four 12-step groups, and another one focused on mental health, have all been added.
“We owed the people who came before us the responsibility of caring for this building,” Parrish adds. “We owe it to the people here now — everyone in Westport — to be the best community members we can be.
“And we owe it to the people who come after us to make sure this is a building that lasts.”
If it lasts as long as the current one, Green’s Farms Church will be still serve Westporters in the year 2191.
(The rededication ceremony this Sunday, June 12, begins with a 9 a.m. ribbon cutting by 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker. Services at 10 a.m. led by Rev. Jeff Rider feature music performed on the restored pipe organ. A festival at 11 a.m. includes food, games, ice cream and cake. The public is invited to all activities.
(In between the June 10 gallery opening and the June 12 ceremony is this: At 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, the Remarkable Theatre screens “The Bad News Bears.” Green’s Farms faith formation minister David Stambaugh played Toby Whitewood in the classic film. Click here for tickets.)
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