Tag Archives: Unitarian Church of Westport

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)