Tag Archives: Saugatuck Congregational Church

Rev. Alison Patton: The Story The NY Times Should Have Told

The New York Times’ now-famous piece on the coronavirus in Westport — “How a Soirée in Connecticut Became a Super Spreader” — included a photo of The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

The caption noted that the Saugatuck Congregational Church minister “led an online fellowship hour with parishioners on Sunday after her church in Westport closed.”

That was it. No quotes or insights from one of our town’s most caring residents — a wise, insightful observer of all that goes on here.

Many Westporters thought there must have been more to her brief appearance in the Times. 

There is. Rev. Patton writes:

When a New York Times reporter called to ask me how Westport was responding to the virus, I thought she had a great opportunity to write an article about the creative ways that communities are navigating the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s not the story the Times chose to publish. So I thought I’d write that story.

Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton

This has been a profoundly trying few weeks. Contending with the virus itself, the related fears, and the disrupted schedules has put a strain on all of us.

In the words of pastor and public theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber: “We’re not only experiencing a pandemic of COVID-9, we are also experiencing an ‘epidemic of disappointment.’”

How many of us have had plans derailed: championship games, theatrical performances, business engagements or family vacations? How many have lost income, access to hot meals or life-saving support systems?

That’s a lot of grief, even if we do manage to avoid or ride out the virus itself. And of course, there are those who have contracted COVID-19. This pandemic has been hard on our hearts.

We are all scrambling to adjust, to stay safe and grounded. But here’s what has struck me: We are also working hard to stay connected as a community. Saugatuck Congregational Church, along with most other faith communities in the region, has suspended in-person worship.

But like all our other faith communities, Saugatuck is finding alternative ways to stay in touch, counter isolation, encourage people and feed spirits. We are urging physical distancing while sustaining social connection. The responses I’ve witnessed remind me that we have an amazing capacity to adapt, when our connectedness is at stake.

I have so many examples. There’s the 91-year-old member who asked for technical assistance so she could participate in our online bible study by Zoom, and the member who joined our Sunday morning social hour via Zoom from his hospital bed — just 2 days after major surgery!

Saugatuck Congregational Church has anchored Westport for centuries.

There’s the patience everyone has shown, as we figure out how to use technologies that are new to many of us. We are muddling through with remarkable humor.

As one Saugatuck member observed, in response to our Zoom social hour and online small groups, ”What we’re doing is totally different, but really touching and human.”

I know it’s not just Saugatuck Church. Creative efforts to stay connected are springing up all over town. I suspect that everyone reading this will have a story to add. There’s the Westport neighborhood where residents circulated red, green and yellow cards in mailboxes, to help vulnerable neighbors safely signal if they need supplies or other assistance.

There’s the high school student who created a Twitter account to report on the local impact of the Coronavirus and share helpful information, and the families who compiled a website designed to support local businesses by encouraging online shopping.

There are the local artists who are sharing photos and music online, to inspire and encourage us. The list goes on and on. For my part, I am grateful for and inspired by all those who have responded to these trying times with such generosity and innovation.

Westporters have expressed their emotions in many ways. A neighbor took this opportunity to thank our first responders. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Crisis can do 2 things: it can bog us down in our own anxiety or kick start our creativity. Surely, both are happening here.

We all have days when we are worn out from having to revise our habits again and again, in order to stay ahead of an invisible threat. But I hope we can also lean into those creative impulses, bearing in mind that isolation is hard because we are, fundamentally, interdependent. So we figure out how to reach and sustain one another.

The best story isn’t how this virus started or who may have contributed to its spread. It’s how we will get through it, and eventually stop the virus, because we can only do that together.

Saugatuck Church Opens Black History Art Show

The Saugatuck Congregational Church mission statement includes a commitment to “welcome all people.”

Those are not just words.

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.)

Remembering Anne Salmond

Anne Salmond — a longtime Westporter — died Sunday in hospice care, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Anne and her husband Willie spent over 30 years in Africa, from Ghana to Zimbabwe to Uganda, working in international development. But since 1981, Westport was always their base camp.

A psychiatric social worker, Anne had a special place in her heart for orphaned children. After graduating from Queen’s University in Northern Ireland, her home country, she worked in London and then Uganda at the height of the AIDS pandemic. A million Ugandan children were orphaned.

Anne was appointed orphans’ coordinator with World Learning. She organized Africa’s first Orphans Conference, bringing together experts from government and international NGOs.

In Uganda, Anne rehabilitated a school for the blind. She requested donations of braille story books. Quickly, huge boxes arrived by air.

In retirement Anne continued to support children’s education, with help from her daughter Heather and others.

Anne Salmond

Locally, Anne was an active member of Y’s Women, and a longtime member of Saugatuck Congregational Church. She volunteered with its missions board, and helped Pivot Ministries and Homes With Hope. She also served many meals at the Gillespie Center.

Anne supported Amnesty International, was an associate member of the Iona Community, and a member of the Daughters of the British Empire. She made many good friends through those groups.

She loved Compo Beach in all seasons.

A service for Anne will be held Saturday, November 9 (11 a.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church).

Friday Flashback #163

This Sunday (October 13), Saugatuck Congregational Church celebrates the dedication of its new organ.

Founded in 1832, it’s been an important part of town life for nearly 2 centuries. The 1835 announcement about the incorporation of the town of Westport was nailed to the meeting house door. For years, town meetings were held there.

But “there” was not its typical New England site: the back of a broad lawn, on by Myrtle Avenue. 

The church was first located diagonally across the Post Road, up the hill and a bit east, near the current site of the Sunoco gas station and the Fairfield County Bank branch that no human being has ever been seen going into or out of.

In 1950 the church was moved — carefully, and over the course of a long day — to its present spot. The event was featured in Life Magazine. I’ve written about it before, on “06880.”

There will be a big crowd Sunday, for the organ dedication and concert. Will anyone there remember when the church was here?

(Photo courtesy of Don Willmott)

Thanksgiving Feast Is On The Marc

It’s one of Westport’s greatest traditions: the Community Thanksgiving Day Feast.

For decades, it’s happened organically. Members of the sponsoring Saugatuck Congregational Church — and many others — sign up to bring food, or help elsewhere. Over 200 people show up, alone and with families. There’s music, fellowship and fun.

Every year, many hands help create Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Feast.

Sometimes there are tweaks. Sign-up Genius now makes it easier to assign tasks. When a fire rendered Saugatuck Church unusable, Christ & Holy Trinity stepped into the breach.

Last year brought a big change. Marc Weber and Anthony Miami took over the turkeys.

Plus the stuffing, gravy, potatoes, salads, vegetables, desserts — everything about the meal from, well, soup to nuts.

They were not simply volunteers. Weber owns OnTheMarc Catering. Miami is executive chef of the Inn at Longshore.

These guys are pros.

Marc Weber

Five years ago Weber — a Culinary Institute of America graduate who began as a private chef, then grew his business to include clients like the Warehouse at FTC, Audubon Greenwich and Hudson Loft — partnered with the Longshore Inn.

He works all over Fairfield County, Westchester and New York City. But he lives in Westport.

And he wants to give back.

He’s on the board of an organization that helps local families find volunteer opportunities. At Longshore, he works with non-profits like Sunrise Rotary and Tiny Miracles.

His mother — a philanthropic adviser — emphasized the importance of “skills-based” volunteerism: contributing not just money, but talent and expertise.

Last year for the first time, Dan Levinson and Monique Bosch of Main Street Resources coordinated Westport’s Thanksgiving Feast. They asked Weber to help. He and Miami fed nearly 300 people, at very low cost.

“We know how to do it,” Weber says simply.

This year (Thursday, November 28, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), they’ll do it again.

Once again, they’re doing it gladly.

“I was so impressed by the number of families who volunteered,” Weber says of last year’s event. The first selectman helped serve. High school kids transported food from the Inn.”

That’s right: Now, the food is cooked off-site. It’s a big step up from the former potluck-type planning.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws hundreds of people.

Of course, Weber and Miami can’t do it all alone. Westport Rotary, the Senior Center, Gillespie Center, Homes with Hope, the Unitarian Church, United Methodist Church, Bedford Middle School and Coleytown Elementary School all participate.

So do over 80 volunteers. They decorate, set up, greet, serve, clean up, even drive attendees who need transportation.

Monique and Dan hope for the usual donations of turkeys from Stew Leonard’s, pies from Temple Israel,  bread from Sono Bakery and s’mores from Westport Boy Scouts. Other generous donations traditionally include floral arrangements from Westport Garden Club and greeting cards from Coleytown Middle School,

Somehow, it all comes together. It’s a true community feast.

But now the turkey and trimmings are prepared by true pros.

(To volunteer at Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Day Feast, click here. If you need a ride, call the Saugatuck Church: 203-227-1261. For more information, call Monique Bosch: 203-858-8829.)

8 Years After Fire, Saugatuck Church Organ Is Ready To Resound

In 2011, a fire just before Thanksgiving nearly destroyed Saugatuck Congregational Church.

A spectacular effort by firefighters — and firewalls — prevented complete destruction of the historic building. But the sanctuary was ruined.

The music department was devastated too. They lost 5 pianos, choir robes, a 100-year-old music library with thousands of sheets of music, and a pipe organ.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

It took years for the church to rebuild. The organ was insured; monies helped rebuild the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, a committee sought designs and quotes from top-notch organ builders around the world. The Klais Orgelbau was chosen for its warmth of tone, design of the case, and the family feel of its company.

Installation began this summer. Finally — nearly 8 years after the fire — the new organ is ready.

The Saugatuck Church organ.

On Sunday, October 13 (2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church celebrates with a special concert.

The performers were all chosen for the compassion they showed after the fire.

James Boratko and his church in West Hartford reached out immediately. They loaned hymnals, anthems and choir robes. “Having parishioners singing from hymnals together” — even at other sites — “helped mold us as a community,” says Saugatuck’s director of music Heather Hamilton.

Rev. Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson at the Unitarian Church also called quickly, offering music, support, and a place to rehearse every week for 2 years. “We felt welcome, and loved being there as a group,” says Hamilton. (She took her first organ lessons from Thompson, and considers him a mentor.)

Craig Scott Symons gave Hamilton a keyboard. That helped her work remotely, and with the choir when they worshiped in different places.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — a few yards across Myrtle Avenue from Saugatuck Church — offered the use of Branson Hall for the townwide Thanksgiving feast, just a few days after the blaze. Congregants worshiped in Christ & Holy Trinity’s Seabury Center many Sundays and Christmas Eves, while their own building was rebuilt. Temple Israel opened its arms to the congregation, providing worship space for over 2 years.

Saugatuck Church invites everyone to the October 13 concert. After all, Hamilton notes, contributions for the new organ came from throughout Westport and beyond — not just parishioners.

In that spirit, the church is eager to share its organ with others. Several concerts are already planned. And the American Guild of Organists looks forward to sharing their music and master classes on it.

(The October 13 concert starts at 2 p.m., and is free. A reception follows at 3 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Westport Library.)

Blessed Are The Animals

Everyone is welcome inside Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Pets and other animals — not so much.

But this Sunday (October 6, noon to 2 p.m.), every living thing is welcome at the sweeping front lawn, on the Post Road just a dogleg from Myrtle Avenue.

Westport Animal Shelter Advocates joins the church in co-hosting a Blessing of the Animals.

The Great Lawn of Saugatuck Congregational Church is well suited to a Blessing of the Animals.

All are welcome to bring a pet leashed, or safely contained (recommended for pythons). You can also bring a photo, for an individual prayer of blessing (probably even better for that python).

Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton will lead the service. She’ll include all wildlife in her prayers.

Representatives from Wildlife in Crisis will be there too. They’ll answer questions about local wildlife, and discuss their rehabilitative and release efforts.

Also on site: Sitting Pretty Dog Training.

Our pets and wildlife are true blessings.

On Sunday, Rev. Patton is honored to bless them.

PS: Looking for more animal-related events on Sunday? Earth Animal celebrates its new location too: noon to 5 p.m.

(Questions? Click here, call 203-557-0361, or email wasa1@optonline.net)

A dog waits to be blessed.

 

Pic Of The Day #882

Another great Eagle Scout project: behind Saugatuck Congregational Church, next to Winslow Park. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Vital Organ At Saugatuck Church

If you haven’t been in the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary for the past few weeks, you’re not the only one.

The historic pews and altar — where, in 1835, the town of Westport was officially formed — are filled with construction equipment.

It’s all good. The church — which spent a few years recovering from a nearly devastating 2011 fire — is in the midst of installing a new pipe organ.

It’s not easy.

A team of 3 men from Orgelbau Klais — one of Germany’s premier organ builders — arrived in early June. The organ — in many pieces — followed soon.

Organ pieces fill the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary …

Since then, the crew has installed a tracker system, and associated parts. They added fire protection and lighting. Pipe installation is next.

The organ includes over 2,000 pipes, and 26 ranks. A blower apparatus can be pumped by hand.

Craftsmen from Germany are building the organ by hand.

The German team is here until at least the end of August. The church unveils the fantastic new instrument on September 8.

When it’s done, the organ will do more than make beautiful music. A Plexiglas window in the back of the console provides an inside view into how it works.

It will be the worth the wait. The organ is expected to last up to 200 years.

Which is the same pretty much how many years ago Westport was founded, in that very same sanctuary.

Progress!

Happy 70th, Troop 36!

It’s not easy for an organization to last 70 years.

It’s even tougher when your membership turns over every few years.

But Westport’s Scout Troop 36 has done just that.

70th anniversary patch, designed by troop member Oliver Saitz.

Organized in 1949 by Saugatuck Congregational Church, the troop has helped thousands of boys learn life skills, become leaders, and form lasting friendships.

It’s weathered the ups and downs of Scouting nationally. Boy Scouts of America is now called “Scouts BSA.” In addition to offering programs for girls, Scouts now accept gay and transgender members.

Numbers have waxed and waned over the years. In 2015, there were only 9 Scouts. Today, 28 boys are members of Troop 36.

They meet every Monday night in Hoskins Hall, and hold one outing a month. Last year they went cold-weather camping in the Berkshires, spent a weekend exploring Philadelphia, backpacked up Mount Greylock, took their annual trip to Block Island and went whitewater rafting, among other adventures.

Service work includes support of the Westport Maker Faire, participating in a coastal cleanup at Sherwood Island State Park, assisting with worship and grounds cleanup at Saugatuck Church, and cleaning drainage areas at Camp Sequassen.

Every 2 years for many years, they attended the Scottish Jamboree in Edinburgh.

This July, 5 Scouts will participate in the 24th World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. They’ll join 45,000 others from over 165 countries.

In 2006, newly installed Eagle Scouts gathered with Scoutmaster Jack Berry.

No Eagle Scout records exist prior to 1961. But from that year through 2017, 123 boys earned the prestigious Eagle Scout rank.

The troop’s history includes longtime scoutmaster Jack Berry. Last June — 4 years after his death — he was honored with a plaque, at the Saugatuck Church.

Jack was one of many adult leaders and young Scouts who helped Troop 36 for 70 years. Congratulations to all — and good luck for the next 70!