Tag Archives: Unitarian Church of Westport

Gambling, Gaming And The Teenage Brain

Gambling is a tough illness.

It takes a gambler’s money, and pride. It’s got the highest suicide rate of any addiction.

It affects a gambler’s entire family, friends and colleagues.

And gambling impacts not just people with too little money to begin with. Connecticut has 50,000 problem gamblers. Plenty live in places like Westport.

We have neighbors who spend their weekends at casinos, where they’re treated like kings.

We have kids who are addicted to gambling via video games. It starts when they buy treasure chests, with their parents’ credit cards. Some become binge gamers.

Rob Zuckerman knows all that, and much more. He’s a recovering gambling addict.

A 1968 graduate of Staples High School with a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he took over his father’s business after his death in a 1978 automobile accident.

Rob moved the studio to South Norwalk in 1981 — an early pioneer in the new SoNo real estate venture. He ran it successfully for 20 years, before relocating to Fairfield.

During the 2008 recession, and with the rise of smartphones and other technology, the photography business changed dramatically.

In 2009 his son Ben fell off his bike, and was run over by a UPS driver. In the year it took him to recover, Rob got addicted to online gambling.

He got himself clean, and has not gambled in a decade. Along the way, he learned a lot about the disease — and his own compulsive side.

He credits much of his recovery to Renaissance — a Norwalk-based treatment center — and Gamblers Anonymous in Darien.

Rob Zuckerman

To pay it forward, Rob became one of the state’s 5 peer counselor for people with gambling issues. He answers hotline calls, escorts people to GA meetings, and helps with gamblers’ denial, guilt, remorse and anger however he can.

Rob is also a recovery coach at Renaissance.

Now — with plans rolling along for a casino in Bridgeport — Rob wants Westporters to be alert to the dangers of gambling for young people.

Rob is proud that Renaissance is sponsoring a talk on “Youth, Internet Habits and Mental Health.”

Set for Sunday, March 1 (12:30 to 2 p.m., Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road), it features Dr. Paul Weigle. An adolescent psychiatrist, he’ll speak about how gaming and screen habits impact physical and mental health of children.

The church’s addictions recovery ministry is a co-sponsor of the event.

He’s seen the effects of gambling first-hand. Rob has seen too the work that can be done — by community organizations and his own church — to help with recovery from addictions.

He’s betting this is an important event, for anyone who lives with or works with young people.

Choral Chameleon Pops Up At Unitarian Church

Choral Chameleon is well named.

The New York ensemble works in a dynamic blend of genres and art forms — whatever type of choral music is called for, whenever they’re called to perform.

This year’s tour was inspired by the questions: “Regardless of whether we lean left or right, what if we could just leave the zoo? Would we find utopia, or go back to the never-ending search for meaning we humans have been on since creation?”

Cue: “If I Left the Zoo.”

Choral Chameleon

Using humor, animals and music ranging from the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and “I Am the Walrus” to the world premiere of Westport’s own Edward Thompson’s whimsical a cappella trilogy “Aphorisms of the Zookeeper,” Choral Chameleon returns to Westport’s Unitarian Church this Saturday for their only Fairfield County appearance.

The February 22 concert “explores the primal instincts in humans, and the stories and fables of earth’s creatures and transformations.”

For example, Thompson’s new work includes “Alligators.” It’s based on the saying “When I’m up to my neck in alligators, I remember that my intention was to drain the swamp.”

Animals can teach us about life — and with a bit of humor. Both are much needed these days.

Edward Thompson

Thompson — the church’s music director — has quite a resume. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard, a doctor of musical arts from the University of Hartford, and did post-doctoral work at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

He has composed dozens of pieces for youth, mixed, women’s and men’s choirs, as well as instrumental works.

But this is his first for — okay, about — animals.

 (Choral Chameleon’s “If I Left the Zoo” tour is Saturday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, click here.)

Photo Challenge #259

The Unitarian Church is a Westport treasure — both spiritually and physically.

For well over half a century, the congregation has been at the forefront of many social justice battles. They’ve provided a home for folks of many faith traditions, and those with none at all.

Throughout that time, they’ve done it in a building that looks as beautiful and modern as the day it opened.

Set back in the woods — unnoticed from nearby Lyons Plains Road — its soaring sanctuary and large windows provide gorgeous, inspiring, ever-changing views of the world.

David Vita’s image of those woods in autumn — framed by church windows — was last week’s Photo Challenge (click here to see). Fred Cantor, Andrew Colabella, Molly Alger, Bill Barron, Stephen Axthelm, Rosalie Kaye, Seth Schachter, Annie Haskel, Richard Hyman, Jill Turner Odice, Carol Hanks, Luke Garvey, Peter R. Powell, Tom Risch, Bobbie Herman, Mari-Eleanor Martino, Susan Miller, Jo Ann Flaum, Jalna Jaeger and Stephanie Ehrman all knew exactly where those woods were.

At least some of those readers are not Unitarian Church members. But at some point, nearly every Westporter has found his or her way there — for a wedding, funeral, service, meeting or program.

If you haven’t been there yet: godspeed.

This week’s Photo Challenge is a tougher one. If you know — or think you know — where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Jay Dirnberger)

Unitarians Offer Musical “Journey Of Light”

Christmas songs are not for the faint of heart.

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” makes some folks puke. “Jingle Bell Rock” can push you over the edge. And don’t get me started on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

So it’s good to know that there is still some true holiday music out there.

This Sunday (December 15, 11 a.m.), the Unitarian Church in Westport hosts a special performance. Music director Ed Thompson has written a wonderful piece. Using uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes), tin whistle, violin, organ, bodhran hand drum and harp — and backed by a chorus and soloists — “Journey of Light” celebrates the winter solstice.

It’s holiday music with a twist: secular, warm and melodic. The text is not biblical — but it is deeply spiritual.

“Journey of Light,” at the Unitarian Church.

With authentic Irish instruments, and rhythmic jigs and reels, Thompson’s work asks why we sing during the darkest of seasons. The answer: the importance of community, of sharing our own inner light, and the importance of yearly celebrations that date back thousands of years.

Thompson — Juilliard-trained, whose works have been commissioned throughout the US and Europe — has assembled noted musicians for the piece. Jerry O’Sullivan is one of the premier Irish pipe players on the East Coast, while Nicole Schroeder (tin whistle) has worked on Broadway.

The public is invited to enjoy this hopeful, exciting and celebratory work.

From Gun Barrels To Garden Tools

The prophet Isaiah said it well:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Over 2,000 years later we use guns, not swords. And we use them not only against other nations, but on ourselves.

This morning, the Unitarian Church in Westport took Isaiah literally (with a 21st-century twist).

Retired Episcopal Bishop Jim Curry preached on his work of taking guns off the street, and transforming them into garden tools. He was joined by Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.

After the service, Rev. Curry fired up his forge in the courtyard, and demonstrated the transformation.

Linda Hudson and Bishop Suffragan (ret.) Jim Curry, hard at work.

Truly, he practiced what he preached.

“Swords into plowshares; guns into gardening tools.” (Photos/Stephen Axthelm)

Winter Solstice Labyrinth, “Blue Christmas” Service And More At Saugatuck Church

Winter begins at 11:48 p.m. this Monday (December 21). The weather gets colder — but the days get longer.

To celebrate, Saugatuck Congregational Church invites the public to a winter solstice labyrinth blessing (Tuesday, December 22, 6-8 p.m.).

Labyrinths are a series of concentric circles with many turns all leading to a center. They’ve been important spiritual parts of many cultures for thousands of years. Walking a labyrinth provides a calming meditative state that re-energizes, reduces stress, helps re-focus and nourishes the soul.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create. (Photo/E. Bruce Borner)

Saugatuck’s 7-ring labyrinth spans 50 feet. The path is lined with over 1500 bricks. The church says that “world-renowned dowser Marty Cain assisted in determining the optimal location of the rings, the spine and its entrance. We hope it will become a spiritual retreat for the entire community.”

The labyrinth was an Eagle Scout project by church member and current Staples High School senior Liam Borner.

During several October weekends, members and friends of the church — along with Boy Scout Troop 36 — dug trenches and installed bricks (left over from the recent renovation project) in a special tree-lined section off the front lawn.

That’s just 1 of 3 special events to which Saugatuck Church invites the entire community.

Tomorrow (Sunday, December 20, 4-5 p.m.), a “Blue Christmas” candlelit worship service is open to anyone who is lonely, grieving or feeling down.

“Are you grieving, struggling, unemployed, uninspired — or just plain blue?” the church asks. “Do you feel disconnected from the holiday spirit? You are not alone.”

The event — co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church — includes music, prayer and reflection by the glow of candlelight.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church's Christmas Day reception.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church’s Christmas Day reception.

On Christmas Day (Friday, December 25, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church hosts a free community reception, with a light lunch and holiday treats. Bob Cooper and Suzanne Sheridan provide live music.

That event is co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church, Unitarian Church and Temple Israel. Saugatuck Church calls this “a happy result of our years spent with no church home of our own,” following a devastating Thanksgiving week fire 4 years ago.

Transportation to the church on Christmas Day — or food delivery to your home — can be arranged by calling 203-227-1261. To volunteer or make a donation, go to www.SaugatuckChurch.org. Then click on the Christmas tree — and smile.

Thanksgiving Feast Returns Home

Four years ago, a devastating fire forced Westport’s Thanksgiving Day  Community Feast out of its longtime Saugatuck Congregational Church home.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church opened its doors and heart on extremely short notice. It happily hosted the next 3 dinners too.

This year, the feast finally returns home.

It truly is a community event. Saugatuck Congregational partners with Temple Israel, the United Methodist church and Unitarian Church to produce the dinner.

Over 100 volunteers are needed. They shop, set up, prep in the kitchen, cook, drive, clean up, and handle dozens of other tasks. They’re the lifeblood of the much-loved Turkey Day feast. Click here to see what jobs are available, and sign up.

Donations are welcome too, to defray expenses. Checks payable to “Saugatuck Congregational Church” can be sent to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Put “Thanksgiving Feast” on the subject line.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Westport. The Community Feast stands at the top of any list.

(The Saugatuck Congregational Church Community Feast takes place Thanksgiving Day — Thursday, September 26 — from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For details, click here.)

A small part of last year's Thanksgiving Feast.

A small part of last year’s Thanksgiving Feast.

From Westport To Selma: 50 Years Of Activism

Denny Davidoff will be 83 years old tomorrow.  The longtime Westport Unitarian Church member and social justice fighter celebrated last weekend with a trip to Alabama.

She spent three days in Birmingham, at a Unitarian Universalist conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” beating of civil rights workers in Selma. Workshop topics ranged from history and racism to Ferguson, nonviolence and “the new Jim Crow.” Speakers included Dr. Bernice King, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. William Barber.

The UU church was intimately involved in the 1965 voting rights struggle. Both Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo — a lay volunteer — were killed in Selma-related incidents.

On Sunday, Davidoff and several thousand other Americans — of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds — walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The emotional event featured songs, music, and loudspeakers that broadcast Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Selma speech from 1965.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian and mother from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride  after a civil rights rally.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian mother of 5 from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride following a march.

It was an inspiring 4 days for Davidoff, who remembers watching the brutal events in Selma as they happened half a century ago, with her husband Jerry.

The weekend showed Davidoff “how far we’ve come, and how much there still is to do. We need to embrace more, and do some more butt-kicking.”

For Davidoff, Selma was another link in a lifetime chain of activism. One current project: She’s raising money to train a new generation of UU ministers to “understand the need to reach out beyond congregations, and work with our hearts with everyone.”

Denny Davidoff (right) and Rev. Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan -- and a US senator.

Denny Davidoff (right) and Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained as a Unitarian minister following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan — and a US senator.

Randy Burnham was also part of the UU conference. A 1962 Staples graduate, now a psychologist with a practice in Westport, he’s a veteran of the 1963 March on Washington.

“I went down to get reinvigorated,” Burnham says. “I wanted to figure out how, as a white man, I can continue to assist as an ally in the freedom movement.”

In Birmingham, he was moved by discussions of recent attempts to cut back on voters’ rights — a key focus of the Selma marches, 50 years ago.

“This is not a black/white, rich/poor, Democratic/Republican issue,” he says. “It is a moral issue. We need non-violent resistance to make sure our rights are not stolen.”

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport's Unitarian Church; she's now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport's UU church -- and social justice issues -- for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner (right) is president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute, and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church.

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport’s Unitarian Church; she’s now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport’s UU church — and social justice issues — for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner of Westport is on the right.

Late yesterday afternoon, Rev. Debra Haffner was still trying to process all she’d seen and heard. The president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute — and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church — she had been to Selma before. She’d met people who were at the marches 50 years ago, and had known some of the men and women who were murdered.

“I had to go back,” she says.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten badly in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten with clubs in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge — surrounded by over 600 Unitarians, all wearing yellow shirts — Haffner was “very aware of my role as an ally. I felt great pride that this movement I am now part of was there 50 years ago, too.”

Haffner took this message home yesterday: “Selma is now. We are not done. We do not live in a ‘post-racial’ society.

“People in communities like ours — like Westport — need to look at white privilege. We need to stand up, and stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Just as the Unitarians — and many other Americans — stood, and marched, in Selma 50 years ago.

(Hat tip: Doug Davidoff)