Tag Archives: Saugatuck Congregational Church

Saugatuck Church: Arts Infuse Faith With Energy

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.

Pic Of The Day #268

Saugatuck Congregational Church (Photo/Storm Sorrentino)

Unsung Heroes #24

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

All across Westport, families and friends will gather to enjoy this warm, nourishing and traditional American holiday.

Putting on such a celebration is a lot of work. But it’s nothing compared to what goes on at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

For 47 years, the handsome white building near the center of town has hosted a community Thanksgiving feast. (With a little help from Christ & Holy Trinity Church around the corner, after the fire a few years ago.)

It’s a free meal. All are welcome. And hundreds come.

Some are alone. Others prefer the company of a community. No one asks questions. They just gather together, and enjoy the day.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

The turkey-and-all-the-trimmings event goes like clockwork. After nearly half a century, the church has it down pat.

Yet it takes a village to throw a townwide feast.

Over 100 volunteers make it happen. Saugatuck Church members, congregants from every other religious institution, non-believers — all pitch in.

They donate food, decorate the hall, do kitchen prep, set up tables, check in guests, cook, carve, serve, oversee the buffet table, bus tables, wash dishes and (of course) clean up. Three of them play keyboard, drums and sax, just for kicks.

They provide rides to the church for those who can’t drive, and deliver meals to those who are homebound.

They work magic.

A few of the volunteers at a Saugatuck Church Community Thanksgiving Feast.

The name of the holiday is Thanksgiving. Many of the helpers at tomorrow’s feast work behind the scenes. They never hear thanks.

That’s not why they do it, of course. Still, it’s nice to know you’re appreciated.

Which is why all the hundreds of Community Thanksgiving Feast volunteers — past, present and future — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Thank you!

Buckets And Banners

Two Westport religious institutions have announced important projects.

Saugatuck Congregational Church is collecting supplies to assemble emergency cleanup buckets for hurricane damage in Texas and Florida.

The initiative — part of Church World Service — is open to all Westporters. The goal is to create one or more 5-gallon buckets with resealable lids. Contents should include:

  • 4 scouring pads
  • 7 sponges (1 of them large)
  • 1 scrub brush
  • 18 reusable cleaning towels (like Easy Wipes)
  • 1 50 ounce or 2 25 ounce bottles of liquid laundry detergent
  • 1 16-28 ounce bottle of liquid disinfectant dish soap
  • 1 12-16 ounce bottle of household cleaner that can be mixed with water (no spray bottles)
  • 1 package of 48-50 clothespins
  • 1 100-foot or 2 50 foot clotheslines
  • 5 dust masks
  • 2 pairs of non-surgical latex gloves
  • 1 pair of work gloves, cotton with leather palm or all leather
  • 24-28 heavy duty or contractor-type 30-45 gallon trash bags on a roll, removed from carton
  • 1 6-9 ounce bottle of non-aerosol insect repellent.

A clean-up bucket.

All cleaning items must be new. Liquid items must be capped and securely tightened. Place all items into the bucket, packed securely. Snap the lid on tight, and seal with packing tape.

The bucket should be cleaned well. It cannot have held chemicals of any kind.

Buckets can be dropped off behind Saugatuck Church by this Saturday (September 16). Signs say “Clean-up Bucket” at the drop-off point.

You can provide items from the list too, without buckets. Church members will assemble buckets on Sunday, and arrange for transportation.

Funds can be donated too, to defray costs. Checks made payable to Saugatuck Congregational Church (with “emergency buckets” in the memo line) can be sent to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880 (attention: Dana Johnson).

Buckets can be dropped off behind the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

“This is a great way for a family, school group or neighborhood to lend a much-needed hand,” says co-coordinator Melissa Banks.

“As someone who had to clean Superstorm Sandy debris from my home, I know this thoughtful gift of kindness in an overwhelming experience would be greatly appreciated.”

“Damage is massive. It’s hard to know how best to respond to a crisis,” adds Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

“This project gives us a concrete way to contribute to flood recovery. These buckets are desperately needed, and have a huge, positive impact. We’d love to be overrun by buckets assembled by the many caring and dedicated hands in Westport.”

Questions? Email dana@saugatuckchurch.org.


Meanwhile, the Unitarian Church prepares for the re-dedication of its Black Lives Matter banner this Sunday (September 17, 12:30 p.m.). Community and faith leaders have been invited to attend. Everyone is welcome.

At the dedication last October, Rev. Dr. John Morehouse said, “It is our intention for this banner to open a dialogue with others in our community about race, and our role in ending racism.”

Church officials say that happened. People called to support, question and disagree with the banner. Conversations were respectful and civil.

Last month, however, the banner was removed. No one has been identified, and no motive is clear.

All that remained of the “Black Lives Matter” banner last month.. (Photo/David Vita)

Rev. Morehouse calls the outpouring of support in the weeks since the incident “tremendous. Our community has proclaimed that hate has no home here. If necessary we will replace this sign and every other sign which is vandalized and stolen. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

The new banner was purchased with donated funds.

The Unitarian Church banner.

Where Westport Meets The (Art) World

“06880” is not in the business of promoting upcoming art exhibits. There are too many worthy ones — how can I single out any?

But rules are made to be broken. Two upcoming events are well worth your time. Both have local roots — and are also of global interest.

“Westport to Cuba: Building Bridges” takes place at the Saugatuck Congregational Church on Friday, January 6 (5 to 8 p.m.). Over 50 large photos will be displayed, from the church’s mission trip last June. This is a great way to see one of the world’s most fascinating and quickly changing countries, through the eyes of 25 Staples High School students and 15 adult chaperones.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

The next day (Saturday, January 7, 12 to 4 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts an “Art to the Max, Now or Never” sale and celebration. It’s the last day of their exhibit about Max’s Art Supplies, the iconic downtown store that drew together Westport’s artists’ community, which in turn influenced American illustration.

Original art — from some of the over 70 famous artists and cartoonists in the show — will be on sale.

(PS: If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, go! There’s a recreation of owner Shirley Mellor’s classic corner of the store, a replica of the famous clock — and a sampling of the amazing art displayed in Max’s window during the store’s fantastic 4-decade run.)

"Shirley's corner," at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

“Shirley’s corner,” at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

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.)

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.

Friday Flashback #8

Back in the day — 1914, to be exact — Birchwood Country Club looked a bit different than today.

So, in fact, does the view from there — off South Sylvan — of Riverside Avenue.

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

(Photo/courtesy of Seth Schachter)

This photo — labeled simply “Bird’s Eye View From Country Club” — is best viewed much bigger. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the center, we see the back of what was then Staples High School. (Today, it’s the site of Saugatuck Elementary School). To its left is Assumption Church, built in 1900. In the far, far distance we see the white spire of Saugatuck Congregational Church (in its original location, further east on the Post Road).

But what’s that church on the far left?

Enjoy the view. And think about what passed for a “country club” 102 years ago.

Friday Flashback: The Follow-Up

Friday’s 1st-ever “Flashback” photo caused quite a bit of commotion, among a subset of “06880” readers.

The image — of the Pine Knoll Inn — led to back-and-forth comments, about whether the once grand home-turned-boardinghouse had ever been moved, from its spot on the Post Road behind the Crest Drive-In to a place further back at what is now Playhouse Square.

Jill Turner Odice just sent this photo, from 1950:

Saugatuck Church moving 1950

It shows the Saugatuck Congregational Church being moved — on logs — down and across the Post Road, from its original site near the current Sunoco gas station, to its present location. (Life Magazine featured the event, in a photo spread.)

You can see the Tydol gas station (more recently Getty, now Quality Service and Towing.) Next to it is Dairy Queen — the forerunner of the Crest.

And there, directly behind the gas station on the far left, you can see a little bit of the Pine Knoll Inn.

Meanwhile, Neil Brickley emailed aerial photos. They don’t reproduce well here, but they do show that between 1934 and 1965, the Pine Knoll definitely moved further back.

The year was probably 1957. Wendy Crowther noted this:

In April of 1957 there was a law suit filed by contractors who were hired to remove topsoil from the Pine Hill Estates property “in the rear of the Dairy Queen stand” during the “relocation of the Pine Knoll Inn, which is owned by Pine Hill Estates.”

The Pine Knoll Inn met its end in the early 1980s. It was torn down to make way for the Playhouse Condominium complex, behind what had already become Playhouse Square.