Category Archives: religion

Unsung Hero #51

Last month, scores of admirers from 2 churches joined to honor Sister Maureen Fleming.

Sister Maureen Fleming

The occasion was 60 years of religious service. And what service the energetic 79-year-old nun has provided!

First at Assumption, then at St. Luke, Sister Maureen has run many ministries, and all of the funerals.

Her official title is coordinator of pastoral outreach. But she does much, much more.

Nanette Buziak toasted her by saying:

Thank you for enriching our lives in so many ways. You are a good friend and confidante to us all, as we face various points along our spiritual journeys.

From hosting Seder dinners before first communion, to running our Harvest Fair and annual raffle; from leading Mosaics and New Horizons, as well as our parish outreach ministry, you truly live your faith. You exemplify 60 years of religious life better than anyone we know.

She is an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, education and the fight against poverty. As an NGO registered with the United Nations she participates in lectures and conferences dealing with  women’s and children’s justice issues, especially human trafficking.

From 1995 to 2005 Sister Maureen was director of Caroline House, the literacy center for immigrant women in Bridgeport that was started by her order.

Two years ago, Fairfield University honored Sister Maureen with an honorary doctorate.

Oh, yeah: She met Pope Francis in Washington, DC. She knows all the good people.

And now Westport knows all about this week’s Unsung Hero.

Pics Of The Day #400

Talented Bridgeport artist Cleiton Ventura painted this mural, at Long Lots Elementary School. He worked on it with assistance from 5th graders.

He also painted this, at the newly opened Chabad of Westport — the former Three Bears restaurant.

The ABCs of “06880”

Last summer, Shelly Welfeld’s mother passed away.

She sought solace in morning prayers at Beit Chaverim synagogue. Then she’d walk down the Post Road, along Riverside Avenue and downtown.

Along the way, Shelly noticed various objects that looked like letters. She took photos — and soon had enough to complete the alphabet.

Out of Shelly’s mourning came a creative and gorgeous collage:

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

It’s so beautiful, I asked Shelly to share it here.

And so much fun, we came up with a great contest idea.

“06880” readers: Identify the locations for all 26 “letters.” The first correct answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. (HINT: One of the images above comes from the National Hall building.)

Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net. Deadline is noon on Wednesday, May 23. If no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answers wins. The decision of the judges (Shelly and I) is final.

Get to work, “06880” readers. The answers are right there, under — and above — your noses.

Rev. Horne: Leaving A Legacy Of Social Justice

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.

Rev. Edward Horne

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.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

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.”

Among Rev. Horne’s many civic activities was service on the Baron’s South committee. (Photo/Judy James)

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.

Rev. Edward Horne, in his eclectic office.

“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.

L’Chaim, Chabad!

In early 2012, “06880” reported that the former Three Bears would turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. It would be used for prayer services, educational programs and other meetings.

The 9,180-square foot property sat on 2.73 acres, at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike. It was a historic site.

Three Bears Inn, in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

That’s where the Three Bears — with 6 fireplaces — operated from 1900 until 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site — parts of which still stood from its days as a stagecoach stop, 200 years earlier.

The story noted that complaints had been made by a neighbor about work being done without permits, and bright security lights infringing on neighbors.

Other concerns included traffic, wetland impacts, and exterior alterations to a historic building.

The interior of the Three Bears, from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

That story ran when I still permitted anonymous comments. It drew the most responses ever: 217. (The record still stands.)

They ranged far and wide. Readers waded in on Chabad’s mission, good works, and religious tolerance/intolerance in general; zoning issues like the permit process, residential neighborhoods, traffic, historic structures — even the pros and cons of anonymous comments.

What a difference 6 years makes.

As Chabad of Westport prepares for its grand opening celebration May 3 — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — the neighborhood has changed hardly at all.

The Chabad of Westport exterior, on Newtown Turnpike.

The exterior of the Three Bears has been preserved. Some of the interior wood beams and other features remain too. More than 10,000 square feet have been added, but it’s in the back, barely visible to anyone. It’s all done in traditional New England style, with a barn-type feel.

Even the parking lot has been redesigned, eliminating a dangerous entrance near Wilton Road.

The renovated space — designed by Robert Storm Architecture, and carried out by Able Construction — includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; 8 classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library, and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen.

The synagogue in the back includes plenty of light.

Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers, and Orthodox observers attending events on the Sabbath who are too far away to walk home. (The apartments — completely renovated — were once leased to 3 Bears dishwashers.)

A large mural gives energy to the teenagers’ space.

The building process has reinforced for local Chabad leaders the importance of its site. Over the centuries, the property has been not only a restaurant, inn and stagecoach stop, but also (possibly) a house of ill repute, says congregant Denise Torve.

To honor its history, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor and Torve are seeking artifacts to display, and memories to showcase. Photos and recollections can be sent to DeniseTorve@aol.com.

An old sign hangs proudly in the new library.

Chabad has come a long way from the days when members met in the basement of the rabbi’s home, and rented the Westport Woman’s Club for High Holy Days services.

Of course, zoning issues continue to provoke intense Westport controversy. Only the location changes.

(Chabad of Westport’s grand opening celebration is set for Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. at 79 Newtown Turnpike. It includes a ribbon cutting, mezuzah affixing, ushering in of the Torahs, buffet dinner, music and dancing. The entire community is invited.)

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Saugatuck Church: Arts Infuse Faith With Energy

Many things attracted Rev. Alison Patton to Saugatuck Congregational Church, 6 years ago: the town and congregation. The church’s commitment to social justice. The opportunity to help rebuild, after a devastating fire.

But when she arrived, she realized something else: Creativity and artistic expression was part of Saugatuck Church’s long, historic DNA.

Saugatuck Congregational Church

Services were still being held at Temple Israel when photographer MaryEllen Hendricks talked to Rev. Patton about a project. She was working on “Thin Places” — a show based on the Celtic belief that there is a thin divide between the holy and real worlds.

After that show, the church formed an Arts Committee. The goal was to make the arts a focus of congregational life.

“Arts” was defined broadly. It encompassed music, theater, visual arts — even color and lighting in the church.

As the committee went to work, church leaders realized their pews were filled with men and women who had arts and creative backgrounds. Many had never melded their talents with their faith lives.

So as the church mounted exhibits, sponsored concerts and developed programs, it also started conversations about how the arts fit into everything Saugatuck Church does.

A photo from the “Irresistible Vietnam” photography exhibit, by Joan Cavanaugh.

One example is the recent exhibition, “Irresistible Vietnam.” Its genesis was a trip church member and skilled photographer Joan Cavanaugh took to that country. When she mounted her show she also brought Hang Nguyen, her guide on the trip, to the church. The result was a fascinating discussion, and a sharing of 2 cultures.

“We explore the mystery of faith through the arts,” Rev. Patton says. “Sometimes that’s inspiring. Sometimes it’s challenging.”

And sometimes, she continues, “the Protestant tradition talks about faith only intellectually. We want to engage the entire body — not just the head.”

“Creativity is an outpouring from God,” explains committee member Joanne Leaman.

Dan Long — an artist, designer and Arts Committee member — adds, “Because art engages you, it has a calming effect. It helps you find order and peace. That’s something religion can also do.”

But, he notes, “art also challenges. We want art to touch and stretch, too.”

An image from the Cuba mission trip photography exhibit, by MaryEllen Hendricks.

There are many ways to engage people through the arts. Gospel choirs supplement traditional hymns. A photographic exhibit of the church’s youth group mission trip to Cuba conveyed spiritual connections. Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” lenticular photos portrayed an Emily Dickinson poem through sign language.

The church and Westport Library co-sponsor a concert series that includes the West Point Glee Club, a New Orleans jazz fest, classical harp recitals, a Caribbean steel drum show, and guitar ensembles.

Dereje Tarrant signed part of an Emily Dickinson poem, in Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” lenticular photo exhibit.

The church is particularly proud of a new organ. It’s being handmade in Germany, for installation next year. A special viewing room will allow anyone to watch music as it’s being created.

Beyond traditional “arts,” an annual flower show honors the beauty, power and uplifting spirit of nature. A labyrinth helps understand “how we experience the holy spirit through the way we see, hear, even move,” Rev. Patton says. And a colorful display of 32 signs lining the driveway said “welcome” in 14 different languages.

The Saugatuck Church labyrinth.

Even young members are involved. Each May, 7th graders present “Story Tent.” The dramatic portrayal of biblical stories goes far beyond the usual “church play.” Youngsters spend the entire year creating the show — and lead the worship service that day. (This year, it’s May 20.)

Rebuilding after the catastrophic fire offered the church “an opportunity to really think about aesthetics,” Rev. Patton notes. “Every part of our church — even the gardens and lawn — are important.”

The arts are alive and well at Saugatuck Church. And, Rev. Patton says, they’re there for all Westporters to enjoy.

Pic Of The Day #342

It was an interesting Palm Sunday at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

After the procession — 3/4 of the way through this morning’s family service — the fire alarm went off.

Everyone quickly filed out of the church, while the great Westport Fire Department raced over to check things out.

Rev. John Betit improvised, and held communion outside!

The culprit was the incense used in the procession. Thankfully, today was not one of our many nor’easters.

Easter — a harbinger of spring — is only a week away.

(Photos/Amy Chatterjee)

Sharing The Bima

One of the highlights of a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is lighting candles in honor of loved ones.

For one young girl last weekend, however, that seemed out of reach. She’d prepared for a year for this very important bat mitzvah ceremony — but candles were the only thing Temple Israel had. In the wake of the nor’easter, the power was out.

The Conservative Synagogue came to the rescue. They were hosting their own bat mitzvah. Yet they quickly agreed to share their event with the girl from Temple Israel.

“Rabbi Weiderhorn is all about community,” says Conservative Synagogue member Susie Blumenfeld, who asked “06880” to share this story.

“And I know Temple Israel would do the same for us. I’ve asked them in the past to help with a mitzvah during a potential storm.

“This is why we live in Westport,” Susie says. “This is why I love Westport. We help each other.

“I love that those 2 little bat mitzvah girls shared the bima this weekend. And the best gift they received was this lesson of community.”

Episcopal Church Tackles Legacy Of New England Slave Trade

Nationally, the Episcopal Church has spent years working on racial justice issues.

Locally, Christ and Holy Trinity Church is doing the same.

Recently, parishioners read — and discussed — Debby Irving’s thought-provoking Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

“It was a soulful venture,” says Rev. John Betit. “People talked openly and  honestly about their own ignorance and stuggle.”

But, he adds, some congregants felt dissatisfied. They were unsure how to move forward on thorny issues of race.

They — and anyone else in Westport who wants to come — will take a step in that direction this Sunday (March 18, 11 a.m.). CHT will show “Traces of the Trade,” a true story of producer/director Katrina Browne’s ancestors — the largest slave-trading family in American history.

They were Northerners.

The documentary traces Browne and 9 cousins, as they work to understand the legacy of New England’s “hidden enterprise.” Family members are shaken by visits to Ghanaian slave forts and dungeons, and conversations with African Americans.

After the film, Dain Perry — one of Browne’s cousins — will facilitate a conversation about race, reconciliation and healing.

Perry — whose family are longtime Episcopalians — says the church shares responsibility for the slave trade. It condoned slavery, while the leading denomination in early America.

“Systemic racism is so big and hard-wired,” Betit notes. He hopes for a “softening of the ground,” as people “take a deeper look, and broaden their circle of awareness” about issues like slavery.

(The discussion also includes lunch. For more information call 203-227-0827. Click here for the film’s website.)