Tag Archives: John Branson

The Treasure Of John Branson

The character of Westport drew John Branson and his wife Judyth here more than 20 years ago.

The characters of Westport kept them here.

In January 1991, Rev. Branson was called as rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Church. A native of New Hampshire and an ordained priest since 1974, with a degree from Yale Divinity School and experience at ministries in Hartford but now in Chatham, New Jersey, he was eager to return to New England.

Judyth — a psychotherapist — knew Westport psychologist Irwin Sollinger well. Through him, the Bransons met other Westporters.

The call seemed right. The decision to come to CHT was reinforced by the gracious welcome extended by folks like the Wolgast, Ackemann and Hammond families.

Rev. John Branson, in a favorite pose.

“We felt wonderfully cared for and embraced,” Branson recalls. “Similarly, we wanted to share that hospitality with as many people as we could. We entertained a lot, and we tried to bring people together.”

The new minister had big shoes to fill. Dana Forrest Kennedy had led Westport’s Episcopal church for 29 years, and was a revered figure in town.

But Kennedy was a traditionalist. Branson is less so.

“We want to be a church that embraces the diversity of people who call Westport home,” he says. Throughout his tenure, Christ & Holy Trinity has done that. Now — with its new, handsome Great Hall — CHT can take advantage of its downtown location and, as Branson says, “literally embrace the wider Westport.

“Not everyone may agree with our creed, or the principles of our church. But all are welcome to use it.”

CHT hosts over 50 12-step meetings a week. When Saugatuck Congregational Church — a few steps up the Post Road hill — burned in November, Christ & Holy Trinity offered its hall for the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.

Branson understands Westport intimately. From natural features like the beach to man-made ones like the Memorial Day parade, he is a huge fan of — and participant in — civic life.

The Branson family: Jessica, John and Judyth.

Over the years he has watched programs like the Green’s Farms Congregational Church’s Kingdom Builders and the townwide clergy’s Interfaith Housing grow into secular organizations (Builders Beyond Borders and Homes With Hope, respectively). From ABC House and Project Return to many others, he says, “people in Westport are really committed to serving their neighbors in need.”

Branson defines “neighbor” broadly. It may be someone in the next pew, down the street, or in Bridgeport or Africa. He is proud that his congregation has “really come together as a family of faith.” But, he says, “as we face inward toward each other, we also need to turn outward toward the larger world.”

This Sunday (June 10), Branson will conduct his final service here. He and Judyth are retiring to Fearington Village, North Carolina — a wonderful town near Chapel Hill filled with lots of retired State Department people and Episcopal clergy.

Rev. John Branson

The Bransons have just purchased their first home; they’ve always lived in church housing. They look forward to working on it, entertaining, and serving the church in some capacity.

“We’ll ease up on the throttle a bit,” Branson says. “And we’ll see where the spirit moves us.”

It will move them, from time to time, to Westport. Their daughter Jessica lives here. So John and Judyth will certainly not forget us.

As he prepares his final sermon, Branson reflects on his 21 years in Westport. He likens the town to “a net. The strands of people’s experiences and aptitudes run different directions, but they’re woven together in very rich ways. Those strands strengthen and buoy everyone, very profoundly.”

Westporters’ commitments — to arts, education, athletics — are offered “in time, talent and treasure. They hold many of us in ways we can be very grateful for.”

Rev. John Branson leaves Westport “with a great sense of gratitude, for so many blessings.”

That’s what the entire community says about him, too.

Feliz Jose!

In a recording and touring career spanning nearly 50 years, Jose Feliciano has been honored in more ways than he can count.

Feliz Navidad” is one of the most popular Christmas songs in the world. His version of “Light My Fire” hit #1 worldwide, and earned him the first 2 of his 8 career Grammys.

He has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his hands were cast by Madame Tussaud. New York City named a performing arts school after him. He’s performed at virtually every major venue on earth, and draws enormous, adoring crowds everywhere.

Jose Feliciano

But on Sunday, April 29 (5:30 p.m., Continental Manor, Norwalk), the singer/guitarist/composer — and longtime Weston resident — will be feted in a way that means as much to him as anything else he’s accomplished.

The Boy Scouts of America’s Connecticut Yankee Council has named Jose Feliciano one of its Distinguished Citizens. He’ll join Rev. John Branson of Christ & Holy Trinity Church; longtime Scout leader Alan Stolz, and Santa Energy CEO Tom Santa as honorees for their commitment to community.

Local Eagle Scouts will be honored too. That means a lot: Jose’s son Mikey isthisclose to becoming an Eagle Scout himself.

Growing up on the Lower East Side, Jose’s brothers were involved in Boy Scouts through the Henry Street Settlement. His older son Jonathan was a Cub Scout. Now, through Mikey, Jose and his wife Susan have gotten involved in many Boy Scout projects.

“It’s a great organization for kids,” Jose says. “It teaches them a lot of things, including morality.”

Mikey Feliciano

Mikey joined Westport’s Troop 100 because he loved the outdoors. He earned his Life Scout quicker than nearly anyone in the troop ever had. Now, as quartermaster, he’s helping younger Scouts.

Mikey’s Eagle project is rehabbing Keene Park, on Weston’s River Road. It’s a 100-hour effort — at least — but he’s got some help. Including his family.

The Boy Scouts have given Mikey “a sense of responsibility, and respect for the country,” he says. A recent trip to Washington, DC ws particularly inspiring.

He credits Scouting with making him “more outgoing,” too.

Until last November, Troop 36 met at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. The pre-Thanksgiving fire destroyed much of their equipment — though not their Eagle Scout plaque, or their spirit. They meet now at the Christian Science church on South Compo, and do their CPR training at the Westport police station.

Mikey — a junior — is being home schooled. He also travels with his father. He’s played bass with him on stages as varied as the Kennedy Center, Austria and Korea.

They’ve also appeared at Weston High School, and the Georgetown Saloon’s open mic Thursdays.

Jose Feliciano is an internationally revered star. In Westport and Weston, he’s just as respected for his many community service activities.

His son Mikey is following in those big footsteps.

So will they perform together at the Yankee Council dinner later this month?

“My dad asked me if I wanted to play,” Mikey says. “But I may be too busy working.”

(The 2012 Distinguished Citizens Awards Reception is Sunday, April 29, 5:30 p.m. at Continental Manor in Norwalk. For ticket information, contact Tony Vogl: 203-876-6868, ext. 259; tony.vogl@scouting.org)