This year more than ever, it’s important to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And — now more than ever — it’s vital to do it on more than just Martin Luther King Day.
Layla F. Saad
The town is already gearing up for next Sunday’s conversation with Layla F. Saad, author of the compelling “Me and White Supremacy.” The livestreamed event is set for 12 noon. (Click here to register. Click here for more details.)
But that’s just the start of a week-long series of virtual events. For the first time, Westport is expanding its MLK celebrations beyond a single keynote.
Rev. Alison J. Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church says, “In recent years we have shifted the focus of the Dr. King celebration from a remembrance of his groundbreaking leadership to an occasion to deepen our understanding of the continuing impact of systemic racism. There’s a need to equip ourselves to more effectively unmask and dismantle racism in our lives and community.”
Saad’s talk will be followed 2 days later by a panel discussion on “Me and White Supremacy: What Can I Do Next?”
The January 19 session (7 p.m.) focuses on the process outlined in Saad’s best-selling workbook, a 28-day challenge “to combat racism, change the world and become a good ancestor.” Click here to register.
The week culminates with “New Works/New Voices,” an evening of original monologues in response to Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m.). It’s a world premiere, with Gracy Brown, Tenisi Davis, Tamika Pettway and Terrence Riggins sharing new works exploring themes surrounding racial justice. Click here to register.
Monologue authors ready for world premiere.
There’s more next month. February will include many opportunities for “profound personal engagement on the impact of white supremacy and privilege,” says TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey. Details will be announced soon.
TEAM Westport is co-sponsoring the Martin Luther King celebration, with the Westport Libraray, Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Westport Weston Interfaith Clergy.
Westport has many beautiful churches. But in terms of looks — and denomination — it doesn’t get more New England-y than Saugatuck Congregational.
Old, wooden, white, and set back on a broad lawn in the heart of downtown, Saugatuck Church makes a strong statement to everyone about history and heritage.
Now it’s making a strong statement about current events, and the role of a religious institution in modern society.
A “Black Lives Matter” sign has been hung across the front of the church.
And it’s not a yard sign, or a banner you must squint to read.
The sign is big. It’s bold. It’s meant to be seen by everyone.
Yesterday morning — socially distanced because of COVID, but shoulder to shoulder emotionally — the church blessed the sign.
Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee — spoke briefly.
On Friday, Pastor Alison Patton sent a letter to her congregation. She wrote:
We are getting ready to hang a Black Lives Matter banner on the façadeof Saugatuck Church. We do so to support those among us who are black and brown, during a year that has been particularly hard on people of color, and to express our commitment to work against racism. This is a project initiated by our Arts and Ministry Team and unanimously supported by our Saugatuck Church Council.
Among the many inter-locking experiences that have defined 2020 is a heightened focus on systemic racism and its impact on communities of color. In response, many of you have taken steps to deepen your understanding of racism – reading, discussing, marching and asking, “What more can I do?” You have leaned into this moment with courage and curiosity.
Rev. Alison Patton
Together, we have grieved the harm inflicted on those among us who are black and brown. We have prayed, held small group discussions and shared resources to support our collective learning. We’ve begun to explore the uncomfortable reality that those of us who are white have advantages in this culture that are not afforded people of color.
We are only just beginning what is truly a life-long project: to unmask racism, unlearn our own biases, and develop the tools to build diverse, equitable and inclusive communities. As I said on Sunday, this is hard work; it is also heart work. It is uncomfortable and necessary and holy.
Why “Black Lives Matter”?
The work begins when we say, out loud, to each other and to our neighbors, that black lives matter – as much as any other lives. It is a deceptively simple assertion that has stirred up all kinds of discomfort, usually among those of us who are white. Some worry it implies that black lives matter more, or that other lives matter less.
It might help to know that this line got its start not as a message to white folks, but as a tweet by Alicia Garza, who is black, to her own black community, at a time when they were feeling particularly vulnerable. It was a 16-character love letter.** To repeat her words now is to challenge the systems that have perpetuated inequality in ways that deny the intrinsic worth of black lives.
I know you’ve heard me say this before: I am deeply convinced that we are called to this project as people of faith and, in particular, as followers of Jesus, who insisted on the God-created value of all people and showed us how to love publicly in a world of inequality.
And I believe that church is the perfect place to launch this work: here, where we can wrestle, confess, forgive, learn, listen, stumble, get back up, reach out, and practice loving – ourselves and each other – the whole way through.
During the 2016 election, Saugatuck Church was open for prayer and reflection.
So, What’s Next?
When Council gave its support to the banner proposal, we did so with the recognition that we need to pair the words with real efforts to equip ourselves to confront and dismantle racism. Here are our next steps:
On Saturday, 30 members of Saugatuck Church will participate in a racial justice workshop led by Dr. Donique McIntosh, Minister for Racial Justice for our Southern New England Conference.
**On Thursday, October 29, our online small group, VOICES, will feature a podcast about the origin and history of Black Lives Matter.
This is just the start. There are more learning opportunities in the works. We will continue to dig deeper, examine our own habits, seek out partners, and ask what more needs to be done to banish racism in our lives, our church and the world. Please reach out to me if you have questions or ideas about these efforts.
Beloved, I am so honored to be doing this work in partnership with you. May God bless our words and our actions, our listening and our learning. May the Christ in our midst keep us curious and brave.
Posted onMarch 29, 2020|Comments Off on Livio Sanchez’s “American Portrait”
Last month, Westport’s Livio Sanchez was chosen to be part of an elite team.
As part of its 50th anniversary, PBS selected 100 videographers and photographers from around the country — 2 per state — to help define what it means to be an American today. The “American Portrait” project will focus on the beliefs, traditions and experiences that make up this vast nation.
Little did Sanchez — or anyone else — know that soon, life in America would abruptly change.
The downtown congregation hosts a wide range of 12-step programs. Last year they sponsored a show of immigrant art.
In 2018, Saugatuck accepted an invitation from the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport to pair with a predominantly African American church. The goal was mutual learning about the impact of racism in our culture and communities.
Small groups from Saugatuck and St. Matthew Baptist Church met several times. A Westport participant said he was amazed to learn what he had not been aware of.
Saugatuck’s Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton and St. Matthew’s Rev. Aaron Best remain in touch. Their congregations will continue to connect.
St. Matthew Baptist Church
Dan Long participated in the exchange. An artist and member of Saugatuck’s arts committee, he helped organize last year’s “Art Beyond Borders” show, featuring works by Latin American immigrants.
The opening — with art, music and poetry — drew a very diverse crowd.
Dan wanted to organize more shows at his church, honoring diversity and fighting racism.
He died suddenly in June. His wife Priscilla and arts team members have taken up the cause.
A special exhibit — “Celebrating Color in Black History Month” — opens this Friday (February 21, 6 to 8 p.m., Hoskins Hall). Six area artists of color — Jeffrey Nelson, Amir Hines, Clyde Theophilus McLaughlin, Shanna Melton, Michael Brinkley and Lesley Koenig — will share their work.
Some of the work in the Saugatuck Congregational Church art show.
The show ends March 10. But Saugatuck Church’s commitment to multi-culturalism, and against racism, continues.
In May Rev. Donique McIntosh — minister for racial justice for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ — will be a guest preacher.
(“Art Beyond Borders” is open to the public, whenever the Saugatuck Congregational Church is open. Call first — 203-227-1261.)
Comments Off on Saugatuck Church Opens Black History Art Show
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.
The 24 teenagers and 15 adults did not do as much “work” as usual. This was more “cultural immersion,” says youth group coordinator Dana Johnson.
They visited an orphanage, churches and families whose children have disabilities. They did plant coffee, pick and peel “thousands” of mangoes, and moved bags of sand at a construction site.
…and moving bags of sand.
They also went to Varadero Beach, a favorite spot for Canadian and European tourists.
But mostly, they forged what they hope are lasting friendships.
The Saugatuck Church group rode around in an old school bus, emblazoned with “Pastors for Peace.”
…and a peek inside.
Wherever they went, Cubans waved. “They’re so happy to see Americans,” Johnson says. “We felt like rock stars.”
One woman excitedly handed her baby to the female travelers. She could tell everyone that Americans held her child.
At a seminary in Matanzas, a pastor asked them to pray for him, and his country. “He was excited that the blockade has been lifted,” Johnson explains. “But he’s worried about the future. Capitalism can be precarious. He’s concerned that income inequality will widen.”
The teens and adults spent only a couple of hours in Havana. Mostly they were in Matanzas, and outlying villages. Though Matanzas is a big city, Johnson says it felt like something from “a different era.” Horses and buggies roamed the streets; farmers sold eggs and bread from bicycles.
A dusty road.
Before the trip, Johnson says, the teenagers thought their task was to help people.
They realized quickly, though, the power of simply meeting other people, and hearing their stories.
“Our kids came away feeling that they’d been helped,” Johnson notes.
“When we debriefed each night, they talked about not judging people until you listened to them.”
Listening, and learning.
The Cubans do not need help, she adds. “They just need their stories to be heard and validated. The kids got that. I think they came home more willing to hear other people’s stories.”
Sharing food, and stories.
Rev. Alison Patton (2nd from right), with old and new friends.
Saugatuck Congregational Church mission members kick up their heels in Cuba. (All photos/Mark Mathias, Marion Yingling and Miggs Burroughs)
Last week, some Westporters woke to find #WhiteLivesMatter flyers thrown anonymously onto their lawns and driveways.
Some were outraged. Others shrugged.
When “06880” reported the story, some commenters talked about hate groups. Others talked about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Still others countered, “All Lives Matter.”
It was an intense discussion. And it deserves to be played out not only in cyberspace, but in real time, with real faces.
Several local organizations are giving Westporters the chance to do just that. This Sunday (May 17, 4 p.m., Westport Library), everyone is invited to a community conversation. The topic is: “Why Does the Flyer Matter?”
Participants include First Selectman James Marpe, Police Chief Dale Call, Rev. Alison Patton of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and yours truly.
The following statement announcing the event was signed by TEAM Westport, Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Westport Human Services Commission, the Westport Board of Education, and Westport Police:
On the night of Thursday, May 7, 2015 flyers containing the slogan “#White Lives Matter” were left anonymously at a number of residences in Westport. We are deeply troubled by this campaign. While some have raised questions about the intent of the slogan, it is clear from similar campaigns in neighboring towns that this message was motivated by racism, which we reject absolutely and without qualification.
Further, we contend that dismantling racism requires us to attend to the impact of actions, regardless of intent. These flyers attempt to co-opt a movement that has been created by citizens of color across our nation to redress disparities in treatment, based on race. We are united in declaring that these flyers have no place in Westport, which aspires to be an inclusive community that values a diverse population.
We affirm the principle that all lives matter equally. However, there is much more work to do before our nation achieves genuine equality across race and ethnicity. In circumstances where this equality is not upheld, we affirm our commitment to support and pursue constructive efforts to redress institutional and cultural racism which tears at the fabric of our nation.
In the next several months we will organize a number of opportunities in Westport for education, discussion and engagement on matters relating to race relations in the United States. The initial event will be a community conversation held at the Westport Library on Sunday, May 17 at 4 p.m. regarding the topic: “Why Does the Flyer Matter?” We hope you will join us.
These flyers were tossed onto Westport lawns in the middle of the night last week.
Three years after a devastating fire, the Saugatuck Congregational Church is ready for its re-dedication ceremony. It’s set for this Sunday (March 8), with plenty of hope for the future.
And a special nod to the past.
A community-wide, inter-generational worship at 3 p.m. features Rev. Alison Patton, plus music by the Staples Orphenians, the Men’s Gospel Choir of First Congregational Church of Norwalk, and Saugatuck’s own youth and adult choirs.
Earlier — at 10 a.m. — Rev. Ted Hoskins returns as guest preacher. He served the church from 1971 to 1994.
That seems like a while ago. But it’s just an eye-blink in the long and storied history of the church, founded in 1832.
Tours of the newly reconstructed building begin at 1:45 p.m. Guides will probably mention that until 1950, it was located across the Post Road, and several hundred yards west.
Saugatuck Congregational has been through a lot, in 183 years. All Westporters welcome it back to its home — and wish it godspeed, for at least 183 more.
Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton, pastor, and Alex Floyd Marshall, associate pastor, just sent this wonderful note to members and friends of the Saugatuck Congregational Church:
Joyful greetings to you on this Christmas Eve!
Today, two long anticipated events converge: the birth of the Christ Child and our return to our restored church at 245 Post Road East.
The anticipation is palpable; we imagine all the joy and wonder associated with every Christmas Eve, magnified by our return to a sanctuary that is, for many of us, brimming with memories of Christmases past.
Of course, there will also be folks worshipping in this space for the very first time, including your pastors! Whether you are a first-time guest, newer member or returning after years away, you will recognize the work that has been poured into rebuilding Saugatuck Church over the last three years.
Many historic details of the building have been lovingly restored. We have also made changes to enhance our use of the space, improve accessibility, and support our unfolding ministries.
As with any move, our settling in will take time. We joyfully open our house for worship this Christmas Eve, but note that the building is not finished; there is yet work to do.
That’s OK. We are all works in progress….
So, with deep gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly to make this return possible, including the members of our building team, contributors to our capital campaign, countless volunteers, faithful members – those who have labored, contributed and prayed on our behalf – we are delighted to say: Join us!…
See you tonight, in our star-studded sanctuary.
(Rev. Patton notes that the church — shut since a pre-Thanksgiving fire 3 years ago — hopes to welcome back various community partners who use their space sometime during the 1st quarter of 2015. A community-wide re-dedication worship and celebration is set for Sunday, March 8. There is still work to be done — but it will be done, finally, back at “home.” Merry Christmas indeed!)
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)