Category Archives: religion

Hurricane Victims: More Ways To Help

Westport continues to respond to the recent hurricanes. Here are 2 intriguing ways to help.

Kidz Give Back — a local organization that lets children stuff, dress and prepare plush toy animals for others in hospitals or financial distress — encourages area youngsters to “send love” to boys and girls in Texas.

Their goal is 1,000 “Stuffed With Love” animals.

Clicking here brings up a donation form. $25 buys a kit with animal skin, stuffing, a wish star, clothing, accessories, gift card, “adoption certificate,” and bracelet so you (well, your child) can build a stuffed animal. Kits can be picked up at 23 Silverbrook Road, where the Wofsy family — originators of the project — live.

It takes less than 30 minutes to assemble an animal. You bring it back to their house; they ship it to Houston.

If you don’t want to assemble the stuffed animal yourself, your donation can purchase a kit for a child to do it.

The Wofsy family (from left): Hallie, Maya, Layla and Scott.

Help of a different kind comes from “Rhythms of Hope.” The benefit drum circle is set for this Saturday (September 16, 2 to 5 p.m.), at the Unitarian Church.

Westport resident Randy Brody — head of Sound Directions — offers his facilitation and drumming skills. Donations ($20 for adults; $10 for seniors; children under 12 free) to participate will raise funds for Direct Relief, which provides medical supplies and health services in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Everyone is welcome. No drumming experience is necessary. For more information call 203-227-7205, ext. 14, or email rbdrumguy@sbcglobal.net.

Randy Brody and his drums.

 

Buckets And Banners

Two Westport religious institutions have announced important projects.

Saugatuck Congregational Church is collecting supplies to assemble emergency cleanup buckets for hurricane damage in Texas and Florida.

The initiative — part of Church World Service — is open to all Westporters. The goal is to create one or more 5-gallon buckets with resealable lids. Contents should include:

  • 4 scouring pads
  • 7 sponges (1 of them large)
  • 1 scrub brush
  • 18 reusable cleaning towels (like Easy Wipes)
  • 1 50 ounce or 2 25 ounce bottles of liquid laundry detergent
  • 1 16-28 ounce bottle of liquid disinfectant dish soap
  • 1 12-16 ounce bottle of household cleaner that can be mixed with water (no spray bottles)
  • 1 package of 48-50 clothespins
  • 1 100-foot or 2 50 foot clotheslines
  • 5 dust masks
  • 2 pairs of non-surgical latex gloves
  • 1 pair of work gloves, cotton with leather palm or all leather
  • 24-28 heavy duty or contractor-type 30-45 gallon trash bags on a roll, removed from carton
  • 1 6-9 ounce bottle of non-aerosol insect repellent.

A clean-up bucket.

All cleaning items must be new. Liquid items must be capped and securely tightened. Place all items into the bucket, packed securely. Snap the lid on tight, and seal with packing tape.

The bucket should be cleaned well. It cannot have held chemicals of any kind.

Buckets can be dropped off behind Saugatuck Church by this Saturday (September 16). Signs say “Clean-up Bucket” at the drop-off point.

You can provide items from the list too, without buckets. Church members will assemble buckets on Sunday, and arrange for transportation.

Funds can be donated too, to defray costs. Checks made payable to Saugatuck Congregational Church (with “emergency buckets” in the memo line) can be sent to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880 (attention: Dana Johnson).

Buckets can be dropped off behind the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

“This is a great way for a family, school group or neighborhood to lend a much-needed hand,” says co-coordinator Melissa Banks.

“As someone who had to clean Superstorm Sandy debris from my home, I know this thoughtful gift of kindness in an overwhelming experience would be greatly appreciated.”

“Damage is massive. It’s hard to know how best to respond to a crisis,” adds Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

“This project gives us a concrete way to contribute to flood recovery. These buckets are desperately needed, and have a huge, positive impact. We’d love to be overrun by buckets assembled by the many caring and dedicated hands in Westport.”

Questions? Email dana@saugatuckchurch.org.


Meanwhile, the Unitarian Church prepares for the re-dedication of its Black Lives Matter banner this Sunday (September 17, 12:30 p.m.). Community and faith leaders have been invited to attend. Everyone is welcome.

At the dedication last October, Rev. Dr. John Morehouse said, “It is our intention for this banner to open a dialogue with others in our community about race, and our role in ending racism.”

Church officials say that happened. People called to support, question and disagree with the banner. Conversations were respectful and civil.

Last month, however, the banner was removed. No one has been identified, and no motive is clear.

All that remained of the “Black Lives Matter” banner last month.. (Photo/David Vita)

Rev. Morehouse calls the outpouring of support in the weeks since the incident “tremendous. Our community has proclaimed that hate has no home here. If necessary we will replace this sign and every other sign which is vandalized and stolen. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

The new banner was purchased with donated funds.

The Unitarian Church banner.

Former Westport Rabbi Takes National Stand Against Hatred

On Thursday, a front-page New York Times story reported on the reaction of 4 major rabbinical groups to Charlottesville.

The organizations — representing a variety of Jewish religious practices — strongly criticized President Trump’s reaction to the carnage. They also announced they would not participate in a traditional High Holy Days conference call with the president.

The Times quoted Rabbi Jonah Pesner —  director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — as saying that Jews were appalled by Trump’s equivocal response to the events.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Pesner — who participated in 2 High Holy Days calls during the Obama administration — said there was “a lot of sadness” about the decision not to speak with Trump.

Westporters remember Pesner as assistant rabbi of Temple Israel from 1997 to 1999.

“Those of us who were privileged to work with and learn from him knew that he was destined to accomplish much,” recalls former senior rabbi Robert Orkand.

“Indeed, he went on to serve with great distinction at Temple Israel in Boston, and as a senior vice president of the Union of Reform Judaism before assuming his current position.”

Orkand is “proud to call Rabbi Pesner my friend, colleague and teacher. And I am proud that his leadership has led the religious movement I served for more than 40 years to take a courageous stand in opposition to bigotry and hatred.”

(Hat tip: Susan Farewell)

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.

But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.

Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.

Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The Unitarian Church’s banner.

Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”

When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.

David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”

In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

The empty signpost.

Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance.  The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”

All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)

The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.

That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.

(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)

Pic Of The Day #126

New York City? Nope: power-washing the Green’s Farms Congregational Church steeple. (Photo/David Squires)

Jean Donovan Honored With Assumption Church Plaque

Jean Donovan is one of Staples High School’s most famous alums.

And one of its least recognized.

Just 9 years after graduating with the Class of 1971, Donovan — a lay missionary helping poor people in El Salvador — was one of 4 American churchwomen killed by Salvadoran national guardsmen.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

She and 3 nuns were beaten, raped, shot in the head, then dumped by the roadside.

The Catholic church is considering her for sainthood.

Her story was told in“Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who directed it too, as his 1st major film — the character based on her life was played by Cynthia Gibb. Amazingly, she’s a 1981 Staples grad — and lives here still.

Other films, and several books, portray her life and death.

A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

But until recently, the only memorial to Donovan was a framed photograph in Assumption Church. That’s where her memorial mass had been held, and where she attended elementary school.

The existing memorial to Jean Donovan — a story from the Assumption Church bulletin.

John Suggs — a longtime Westporter, and Assumption parishioner — has worked tirelessly to keep her memory alive here. He enlisted the help of Donovan’s ’71 classmates.

Father Tom Thorne was proud of the chance to house a plaque in the vestibule. A blessing and unveiling ceremony will be held soon.

 

Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 37.3% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.

Friday Flashback #45

Last weekend, the United Methodist Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of its home on Weston Road.

“06880” recounted the history of the church. It’s been here, in one form or another, since 1790.

From 1850 to 1908, congregants gathered in a building at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. A law office now occupies that site. This photo — from Seth Schachter’s postcard collection — shows that church.

Note the fence on the lower right, which still encloses what is now Veterans Green. And the hill on the left is where Town Hall sits. It was built as Bedford Elementary School in the 1920s.

Methodist Church Unearths Its Cornerstone

It’s not the coolest cornerstone in religious history: a Bible, old hymnal, list of members, sermons, a newsletter, a letter from the pastor to future generations; some stones from the Holy Land.

But when United Methodist Church unveils that memorabilia tomorrow — in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original cornerstone laying — congregants will honor much more than those half-century-old relics.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

The congregation on Weston Road has quite a history. In fact, the church predates the founding of Westport by almost as long as the date it celebrates tomorrow.

Its roots here go back to 1790. Jesse Lee — a Methodist from Virginia — rode his horse all around the area, inviting people to gather in homes for fellowship. Churches in Easton and Ridgefield are now named for him.

The first church was built on Poplar Plains. It’s near the site of the longtime Three Bears restaurant. Today it’s once more a home of worship — for Chabad.

In the 1850s the Methodists moved to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. There’s a law office now, at the tip of what was then a much larger town green.

A new church was built on (appropriately) Church Lane in 1908. In 1966 — to help pay for the move to Weston Road — that building was sold to the church next door, Christ & Holy Trinity. The Episcopalians still own it; it’s been rechristened Seabury Center.

The one-time Methodist Church on church Lane is now the Seabury Center.

Other funds for the new church were secured by congregation families taking out 2nd mortgages on their homes.

The 5-acre Weston Road site was adjacent to the home of Robert Lawson, author of the children’s book “Rabbit Hill.” During construction, services were held at Coleytown Elementary School. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 27, 1967.

But for many years, this was not the only Methodist congregation in town. A building in Saugatuck was constructed in 1854, near where I-95 exit 17 is now. That congregation merged with the one on Church Lane in 1947. The Saugatuck building became an artists’ studio, before it was demolished in 1955 for the thruway.

The Saugatuck bell lives on, though. It was bought by John Sherwood, who set it in the grassy area in front of the Greens Farms train station.

Rev. Edward Horne

It sat there for decades. A few years ago Sherwood’s descendants gave it to the United Methodist Church. It’s now in the memorial garden, just outside Reverend Ed Horne’s office.

A 2nd bell on Weston Road came from the old Church Lane building.

Rev. Horne is surrounded by — and thinks about — all that history, as he prepares for tomorrow’s cornerstone unveiling.

(It’s actually a re-enactment. The tin box was uncovered and opened a couple of days ago. Church officials wanted to avoid a Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone’s vault moment.)

The celebration — at the end of the 9:30 a.m. worship service — will include excerpts for the original service. In attendance will be a few congregants who were there at the groundbreaking 50 years ago. Former fire chief Harry Audley and his wife Pat are still active church members. Longtime teacher Pat Farmer and her husband Haynes — both near 90 — still sing in the choir. Gay and Liz Land plan to be there too.

The 1966-67 Methodist Church building committee (from left): Harold Shippey Jr., O. Glen Simpson, Paul Gann, Liz Land, John Kronseder, Curtis Cortelyou, Bob Doty, Bill Hale, Gay Land, Chandler Moffat, Joe Kyle, Arnold Miller, Phyllis Bowlin, Dale Bowlin, Herb Mahn, Faye Busch.

The Methodist Church’s 50th celebration continues in September, with a dinner and visit from the bishop. Also on tap: a day of service in honor of the anniversary, and — next May — a commemoration of the 1st service in the new church.

Tomorrow’s unveiling ends with the installation of a new box of memorabilia in the cornerstone. It will contain a contemporary worship book; letters from young congregants, and a church DVD produced by Dan Gelman.

It will be opened again in 2067 …

… the good Lord willing.

United Methodist Church, ready for worship in 1967.

Building Bridges Between Catholic, LGBT Communities

Three years ago, Sharon Carpenter read Father James Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” The longtime Westporter was challenged and inspired by the Jesuit priest’s lighthearted yet loving exploration of ancient Galilee and Judea, and his exploration of how Jesus speaks to believers today.

When Sharon’s husband Sam decided to treat her to a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Holy Land, he figured a Father Martin-led trip was just the ticket.

Father James Martin

Sam — who is not Catholic — did not realize Father Martin is a Big Name in Catholic commentary. A Wharton Business School graduate who entered seminary in 1988 after 6 years with GE Capital, he’s written extensively — and been interviewed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross.

Father Martin’s tour had been sold out for a year. The wait list held 400 names.

But Sam said if anyone dropped out at the last minute, they’d be ready to go.

Miraculously, there was a cancellation. Sam and Sharon got the call.

The trip was all she’d dreamed of. Father Martin was a warm, wonderful — and brilliant — guide.

Though Sam was the only non-Catholic in the group of 40, Father Martin asked him to read the Beatitudes at the Mount. “He’s that kind of guy,” she says admiringly.

Sharon and Sam Carpenter in the Holy Land.

After the trip, the Carpenters remained friends with Father Martin.

As the publication date neared for his new book, he asked Sharon to help with the launch.

Building a Bridge — appropriately published on Tuesday, during this month when the LGBT community celebrates Pride — is a passionate plea for Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock with compassion and openness.

The book was a response, in part, to last year’s Orlando massacre at the Pulse club. Father Martin felt that Catholic church leaders had not spoken strongly enough about the LGBT aspect.

His voice is important: Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed him a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.

Sharon read the galleys. “He brings faith back to the basics,” she said. “It’s all about being sensitive and welcoming.”

Still, she wondered about the reaction if she tried to arrange a launch party here.

She needn’t have worried.

Father Andy Varga of St. Luke — the parish where Sharon has been active for 25 years — offered the church for an event. Father Tom Thorne of Assumption wanted it at his church too.

St. Luke was chosen to host the Thursday, June 29 (7:30 p.m.) talk, Q-and-A and book signing by Father Martin.

But there’s more. Father Varga put out the word to Westport’s interfaith clergy group. Father Thorne has publicized it in parishes around Fairfield County.

Other groups are also promoting it. The Triangle Community Center — Fairfield County’s LGBT organization — is all in. So are the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble, and the (Jesuit) Fairfield University bookstore.

Sharon’s book club and prayer group are also excited to hear Father Martin.

As Pride Month winds down, Sharon Carpenter could not be more proud.

(Click here  for more information on Father Martin’s St. Luke talk.)