Category Archives: religion

Westport Bids Tina Goodbye

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.

Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.

Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.

Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.

tina-wessel-funeral-program

Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.

In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.

“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”

They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.

“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.

“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.

He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.

“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”

Rev. Peter Powell before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green's Farms Congregational Church.

Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at  — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.

“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”

The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.

Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.

“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”

Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”

When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina's ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.

And they remembered Tina.

(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy -- when both were young -- were displayed on a board in the church's Branson Hall.

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.

Tina’s Cat: The Sequel

In the aftermath of the death of Tina Wessel — the homeless woman known to many Westporters, who died last month — “06880” readers have wondered about the fate of her beloved cat.

Julie Loparo — president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates — reports:

Tina’s cat — now named Elsie — is a delight. She is approximately 4 years old, healthy…just wonderful.

Elsie

Elsie

She is temporarily being boarded at Schulhof Animal Hospital, receiving excellent care and attention from staff and WASA volunteers. Now, WASA is searching for a local forever home for Elsie. She will need to be kept indoors for her safety.

Potential adopters should email wasa1@optonline.net, or call 203-557-0361.

Tina’s funeral will be held today (2 p.m., Friday, December 9), at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Westport.

Tina Wessel Service: Time Change

The time for the funeral service for Tina Wessen — the well-known local homeless woman who died recently — has been changed, to accommodate arrivals from out of town.

The new time is 2 p.m., on Friday, December 9. The site is Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in downtown Westport.

Meanwhile, the Westport Police — who helped secure medical services for Tina’s cat — have released this photo of her beloved pet:

tina-wessen-catThe cat is now safe and sound.

Funeral Arrangements Set For Tina Wessel

A funeral service for Tina Wessel is set for 1 p.m. 2 p.m. on Friday, December 9 at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She’s the well-known local homeless woman whose recent death unleashed powerful emotions among those who helped her, tried to reach out, or were hesitant to interact with her.

Church staff are donating their time and talents. Tina spent time there during her life, and was welcome to use its facilities.

The public is invited to attend Tina’s service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

That’s Assumption Church, of course.

If you’ve got a favorite holiday scene — night or day — send it along: dwoog@optonline.net. We’ll feature Westport’s most beautiful shots, all the way through Christmas.

Friday Flashback #16

Yesterday, Saugatuck Congregational Church welcomed hundreds of folks for the annual Westport Community Thanksgiving Feast. Scores of other volunteers made it an especially wonderful day.

Saugatuck Church is an important part of our town. It’s a welcoming gathering place for congregants and non-members alike.

“06880” has chronicled its many outreach programs. Its renovation and renaissance after a devastating Thanksgiving week fire 4 5years ago.

“06880” has been fascinated by the church’s move in 1950, from its longtime site on the Post Road near South Compo Road (approximately where the Sunoco gas station is now), across the street and several hundred yards west to its current majestic location.

We’ve shared photos from the September 11, 1950 Life magazine story about that moving day.

But here’s the first shot we’ve seen of the Saugatuck Church, at its original spot:

saugatuck-congregational-church-original-site

It looks the same as today (sort of). Too bad there is nothing in the photo to show where exactly it stood.

(Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Whipping Up A Community Thanksgiving Feast

After 46 years, you’d think the people organizing our annual Thanksgiving Day Community Feast would have their stuff together.

They do.

But in an attempt to make a fantastic event even better, they’ve added a few tweaks.

As usual, the meal — hosted by Saugatuck Congregational Church, in collaboration with Temple Israel, the United Methodist Church and Unitarian Church — takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

As always, anyone looking to enjoy (and share) a holiday meal is welcome. There is no charge.

Last year, over 325 folks feasted together. The menu includes turkey, stuffing, baked and sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots and pies — all donated by local merchants and caterers. There’s live entertainment too.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

Saugatuck Nursery School makes napkin rings. Coleytown Middle School bakes holiday breads. Temple Israel decorates place mats and banners. The Westport Garden Club provides fruit centerpieces for every table.

More than 150 volunteers — some from the religious institutions involved, others not — make it happen. They shop, prep, cook, serve and clean up.

Those volunteers are key. And that’s where one of the tweaks will make this feast the best ever.

Two volunteer shifts have been added for Wednesday, November 23: the day before Thanksgiving. That allows people with commitments on the holiday to help out too. The shifts start at 2:30 and 4 p.m., and run 90 minutes each.

Also new: head chef Raquel Rivers-Pablo. She epitomizes the volunteer spirit of the Community Feast.

Cehf Raquel Rivers-Pablo

Chef Raquel Rivers-Pablo

Classically trained at restaurants like Le Bernardin, she’s been recognized for her volunteer work with City Harvest, and attended the launch of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign at the White House. Chef Raquel has taught cooking and nutrition classes, and been lead chef at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger.

Now, she provides cooking education as part of the Urban Eats Culinary Training Program, and at food pantries, community meal sites, senior centers and Green Village Initiative community gardens.

Chef Raquel’s goal is to spread her love for food with as many people as possible. With all of Westport’s help, she’ll do exactly that next week.

(There are still spots available to help with the Community Feast. Click here to volunteer.)

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

As one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in history roars to a close, here’s a scene from tonight’s Anti-Defamation League event in Fairfield:

Jim Marpe, Keith Stein and Mary Ellen Marpe.

Jim Marpe, Keith Stein and Mary Ellen Marpe.

Sure, it seems like a regular grip-and-grin photo (the kind I avoid on “06880.”)

But look closely. Keith Stein (center) and his wife Brett Aronow were honored for their community contributions. Among his many volunteer activities: chair of Westport’s Democratic Town Committee.

On hand to help celebrate was Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen.

In Westport, Democrats and Republicans work together. They’ve got their differences, and they campaign hard to win. But our town functions nicely, because men and women of both parties respect each other. They collaborate. They govern.

I have no idea what Tuesday will bring.

Or Wednesday.

But whatever happens, you and I might heed the offer from Saugatuck Congregational Church:

saugatuck-congregational-church-election-day-prayer-service

It’s open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, for anyone wishing to pray.

You can pray for your candidate. Pray for your country. Pray for your sanity.

All Republicans and Democrats are welcome.

Saugatuck Church’s Pipe Organ: Not A Pipe Dream

The Thanksgiving week fire of 2011 devastated Saugatuck Congregational Church.

But it did not destroy that venerable downtown institution.

View looking into choir room

The aftermath of the November 20, 2011 Saugatuck Congregational Church fire. This is the view looking into the choir room.

Congregants, clergy and friends helped the church rebuild. Three years later, services were once again held in the historic building.

Yet the restoration was not complete.

Lost in the blaze were the entire 100-year-old music library, 5 pianos, a harpsichord and the pipe organ.

Firefighters cut a hole in the roof above the pipe organ. The heat from the blaze metled some pipes, and burned others. Water and asbestos poured onto the organ.

Firefighters cut a hole in the roof above the pipe organ. The heat from the blaze metled some pipes, and burned others. Water and asbestos poured onto the organ.

Though there’s finally a new Steinway in the sanctuary — itself now an acoustic marvel — the pipe organ has not been replaced.

But just wait till you hear what’s in the works.

A parishioner came up with a very substantial matching grant. Fundraising is almost done.

Meanwhile, an organ committee spent 3 years talking with and listening to a number of companies. Last summer, they signed a contract with Klais Orgelbau. The German organ builder’s headquarters are in Bonn — just down the street from Beethoven’s home.

Philipp Klais is a 4th generation organ builder. He’s worked around the world — including, a few years ago, at First Church Congregational in Fairfield

While there, he’d have dinner in Westport. Whenever he passed Saugatuck Congregational, he admired its beauty. It was, he thought, the quintessential American church.

Saugatuck Congregational Church, in all its splendor.

Saugatuck Congregational Church, in all its splendor.

When Dr. Heather Hamilton — Saugatuck’s director of music — called Klais, he could hardly believe the connection.

He flew to Connecticut. Standing by the burned-out church in a snowstorm, he told Hamilton and committee member John Walsh he’d be honored to help.

“He was like a kid in a candy store,” Hamilton recalls. “He said he wanted to make the organ an educational tool for the community.”

Saugatuck’s new organ chamber will include plexiglass. Music lovers — including students — will be able to see all the levers and bellows as they work. The organ utilizes age-old technology, but it will be the first time Klais has ever built one this way.

Pipe organs are complex instruments.

Pipe organs are complex instruments.

“An instrument of this kind sitting in the middle of Westport will be incredible,” Hamilton says.

She emphasizes that although the 2-manual, 26-rank pipe organ will be housed in Saugatuck Church, it really belongs to the entire town. Unitarian Church minister of music Ed Thompson is nearly as excited as Hamilton.

So is Mark Mathias. The Saugatuck Church member is a founder of the Mini Maker Faire, and an advocate of all things both artsy and techy.

Of course, building a pipe organ like this takes time. It won’t be installed until 2019.

In 2011 the Saugatuck Congregational Church organ was covered with soot and water. But music still rested on its rack. (Saugatuck Church fire photos by Heather Hamilton)

In 2011 the Saugatuck Congregational Church organ was covered with soot and water. But music still rested on its rack. (Saugatuck Church fire photos by Heather Hamilton)

Plus, the organ coffers are about $100,000 short. That’s not stopping Klais — he’s a true believer — but it’s why the Saugatuck Church is sponsoring a few fundraising concerts.

The next one is this Sunday (October 16, 3 p.m., with Carol Goodman; $25 suggested donation). On Friday, November 18, it’s “Music From Manhattan.”

Saugatuck Congregational Church has a rich history. It’s seen a lot in its 186 years, in its current location and the earlier one, just across the Post Road.

But its new pipe organ will be a story for the ages.

Christ Church, Revisited

Earlier today, I posted a 1914 view toward the Saugatuck River, from what is now Birchwood Country Club.

I pointed out various Riverside Avenue sites, like the old Staples High School and Assumption Church. But I had no clue about the church on the far left of the photo:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

Thanks to alert “06880” readers Bob Grant, Ann Romsky, Tom Leyden and Peter Barlow, the mystery has been solved.

The spire at the far left belongs to Christ Church, consecrated first in 1835 on the northeast corner of Ludlow Street and the Post Road. In 1885 the congregation moved a short way to a new building Burr Street, on land owned by the Nash brothers.

In 1944, Christ Church merged with another Episcopal church — Holy Trinity — which had been on Myrtle Avenue since 1863. That downtown church was — and still is — called Christ and Holy Trinity.

The abandoned Burr Street church was demolished in the late 1940s or early ’50s. Peter Barlow was there — and took a photograph. This afternoon, he sent the image to “06880”:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Christ Church no longer stands — but God is still there.

After demolition, Assumption Church built a parochial school on the site. It has since closed, but Assumption continues to use the building for various functions.