Tag Archives: Rev. Edward Horne

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.

Westport’s Syrian Saga

Last year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence ordered all state agencies to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy countered by inviting them here.

Since then, a number of other Syrian families have arrived in our state. They’ve been welcomed, even embraced. And the folks helping them say they’ve gained as much as they’ve given.

Very quietly — but energetically and lovingly — a large group of Westporters has helped provide a new home for one Syrian family. They’ve kept a low profile. But now that Mohamed, Nour, Hala and Yahya feel comfortable, safe and more assimilated, they’re okay that their tale can be told.

The story has its roots in 1993. A Muslim family from Bosnia came to Westport. The Methodist minister housed them, and helped the parents find jobs. An orthodontist fixed their teeth for free. When the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a Jewish surgeon operated on her. There was no bill for the operation, chemotherapy and radiation.

A similar effort has borne fruit in 2016. Initiated last fall by Rev. Ed Horne of the United Methodist Church as an offshoot of the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, it includes St. Luke Parish, Temple Israel, Saugatuck and Greens Farms Congregational Churches, Society of Friends (Quakers) in Wilton, and 15 Muslim families in the Westport area.

Additional support comes from Assumption Church, Christ and Holy Trinity Church, the Center for Humanistic Judaism, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Weston, and the Al-Madany Center in Norwalk. The coalition is led by John McGeehan of the Methodist Church, Lynn Jeffery of Temple Israel, and Sister Maureen of St. Luke.

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family's arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family’s arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

Scores of volunteers make the project work.

Among them: Samer Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve by Barnes & Noble — who arrived in the US 23 years ago, and is now an American citizen.

The family — including 2 young children — fled Syria 5 years ago. They spent much of that time in temporary housing across Egypt.

The family arrived in mid-July. They live in Norwalk, close to the children’s elementary school.

Finding a home was not easy. A couple of possibilities in Westport were rented to others during the long wait. The Norwalk rental is less expensive than here.

Plus, admitted Rev. Horne, “Norwalk is more multi-cultural. There’s a mosque there. It’s walkable, and public transportation is great.” Neighbors, teachers and many other Norwalkers have embraced the refugee family.

Westporters have flocked to help too. More than 100 help drive the family to medical and immigration appointments; assist with language training and shopping, and provide other types of support like employment, education and translation.

“The goal is self-sufficiency,” says Delores Paoli, a 25-year Westport resident active in the Muslim community. They’re getting there.

But it’s not easy. Mohamed – the father —  is a highly educated man. An Arab literature major in Syria, with experience in the import-export business, he has found work as a chef at Whole Foods in Westport.

The family attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, held this year at Temple Israel. Mohamed stood in front of the Torah ark, and in a beautiful voice recited a section of the Koran.

That moment was significant, says Temple Israel rabbi Michael Friedman. He’d been active in interfaith efforts at his previous synagogue, in New York. After talking with Rev. Horne about Westport’s Bosnian resettlement effort, the rabbi felt confident committing his congregation to the project.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

“There is such a strong interfaith sensibility in Westport,” Rabbi Friedman says. “Our work as clergy together, and our trust, allows our congregations to do this.”

He notes, “There are clear principled reasons in Jewish texts, and our history, to care for children, widows and strangers. Vast numbers of Jews have fled persecution and bad situations, and been taken in. Now we want to provide safe refuge for others.

“We see these terrible images of a humanitarian crisis halfway around the world. We feel helpless. This effort is a way to say that while we can’t solve the entire problem, we also can’t absent ourselves from it. We have to try.

“What we’re doing is empowering. We hope it changes some lives, now and for generations in the future.”

“We saw the refugee crisis, and thought about it,” Rev. Horne adds. “As Methodists we welcome all, without restrictions. This is a chance to put that value into practice, with people who are fleeing for their lives.”

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

Both Rabbi Friedman and Rev. Horne say they and their fellow clergy members have heard “nothing but positive things” from congregants.

“Our families who help may be getting more out of this than Mohamed’s family,” Dolores Paoli says. “As we all work together, we realize how much we can do.”

“Human contact is so important,” Rev. Horne concludes. “We see these beautiful children, and engage with the charismatic Mohamed and his lovely wife. It’s transformative. It breaks the Westport bubble. It gives us a new look at the world.”

 

Methodists Take A Stand, Make A Mark

Members of Westport’s United Methodist Church seldom agree on what time to start the coffee hour, laughs Rev. Edward Horne.

But last Sunday, an overwhelming 95% of the congregation voted to become a “Welcoming Church.” Disagreeing with the denomination’s official stance on homosexuality, the Weston Road church pledges “the full access to our rituals and sacraments” — including marriage — “to all persons and families.” That means gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people too.

Rev. Horne, and virtually all of his congregants, could not be prouder.

“Our church has not changed who we are,” says Jerry Eyster, chair of the Church Council. “We simply formalized our status, publicly extending a hand to all God’s children. If you love God and all your neighbors, then give us your hand.”

Methodist church logo

The vote was a long time coming, Rev. Horne admits.

Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Church teaching.” It prohibits pastors from performing same-sex marriages, and churches from hosting them.

Every 4 years, Rev. Horne says, there is a divisive church debate about the issue. The wording has not been changed, but for 20 years or so local churches have been saying, “We beg to differ.”

Same sex marriageLast November, spurred by a couple of events — the potential trial of Dr. Thomas Ogletree (retired dean of Yale Divinity School who presided over the wedding of his gay son), and a similar case in Pennsylvania in which a pastor was defrocked — the Westport church created a committee. Its charge was to lead members through a “discernment process.”

After much education and study — “people are always surprised that there are only 6 references to homosexuality in the Bible, and Jesus never mentioned it,” Rev. Horne notes — the “welcoming church” question was put to the ballot.

It wasn’t even close.

“People realize Jesus welcomed people of all kinds — including those who may be different from the ‘Westport demographic,'” Rev. Horne says.

The Welcoming Statement reads in part:

We affirm the sacred worth of all of God’s children and welcome people of all ages, races, abilities, sexual orientations and economic circumstances to join us in the membership, participation and leadership of our church.

Rev. Edward Horne

Rev. Edward Horne

Rev. Horne adds, “We don’t ask everyone to think alike. We ask them to love alike. Though we attempt in all ways to be loyal Methodists, there comes a point when obedience to the Gospel supersedes obedience even to the rules of the Church. We do not say this lightly, but we believe God is leading us to extend a loving welcome to those who too often have been excluded or marginalized by the church.”

In practical terms, little will change. The New York Conference, and its bishop, are “progressive” about LGBT issues, Rev. Horne says. The Westport church is the 14th — out of 500 or so in the region — to take an affirming stand.

The challenge now, according to Rev. Horne, is to “live up to” its pledge, and show that its message of inclusion is also reality.

So has any couple asked the pastor to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony?

“Not yet,” Rev. Horne says. “We’re just getting the word out. But I’m ready!”

Westport's United Methodist Church

Westport’s United Methodist Church