Tag Archives: United Methodist Church

Friday Flashback #45

Last weekend, the United Methodist Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of its home on Weston Road.

“06880” recounted the history of the church. It’s been here, in one form or another, since 1790.

From 1850 to 1908, congregants gathered in a building at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. A law office now occupies that site. This photo — from Seth Schachter’s postcard collection — shows that church.

Note the fence on the lower right, which still encloses what is now Veterans Green. And the hill on the left is where Town Hall sits. It was built as Bedford Elementary School in the 1920s.

Methodist Church Unearths Its Cornerstone

It’s not the coolest cornerstone in religious history: a Bible, old hymnal, list of members, sermons, a newsletter, a letter from the pastor to future generations; some stones from the Holy Land.

But when United Methodist Church unveils that memorabilia tomorrow — in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original cornerstone laying — congregants will honor much more than those half-century-old relics.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

The congregation on Weston Road has quite a history. In fact, the church predates the founding of Westport by almost as long as the date it celebrates tomorrow.

Its roots here go back to 1790. Jesse Lee — a Methodist from Virginia — rode his horse all around the area, inviting people to gather in homes for fellowship. Churches in Easton and Ridgefield are now named for him.

The first church was built on Poplar Plains. It’s near the site of the longtime Three Bears restaurant. Today it’s once more a home of worship — for Chabad.

In the 1850s the Methodists moved to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. There’s a law office now, at the tip of what was then a much larger town green.

A new church was built on (appropriately) Church Lane in 1908. In 1966 — to help pay for the move to Weston Road — that building was sold to the church next door, Christ & Holy Trinity. The Episcopalians still own it; it’s been rechristened Seabury Center.

The one-time Methodist Church on church Lane is now the Seabury Center.

Other funds for the new church were secured by congregation families taking out 2nd mortgages on their homes.

The 5-acre Weston Road site was adjacent to the home of Robert Lawson, author of the children’s book “Rabbit Hill.” During construction, services were held at Coleytown Elementary School. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 27, 1967.

But for many years, this was not the only Methodist congregation in town. A building in Saugatuck was constructed in 1854, near where I-95 exit 17 is now. That congregation merged with the one on Church Lane in 1947. The Saugatuck building became an artists’ studio, before it was demolished in 1955 for the thruway.

The Saugatuck bell lives on, though. It was bought by John Sherwood, who set it in the grassy area in front of the Greens Farms train station.

Rev. Edward Horne

It sat there for decades. A few years ago Sherwood’s descendants gave it to the United Methodist Church. It’s now in the memorial garden, just outside Reverend Ed Horne’s office.

A 2nd bell on Weston Road came from the old Church Lane building.

Rev. Horne is surrounded by — and thinks about — all that history, as he prepares for tomorrow’s cornerstone unveiling.

(It’s actually a re-enactment. The tin box was uncovered and opened a couple of days ago. Church officials wanted to avoid a Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone’s vault moment.)

The celebration — at the end of the 9:30 a.m. worship service — will include excerpts for the original service. In attendance will be a few congregants who were there at the groundbreaking 50 years ago. Former fire chief Harry Audley and his wife Pat are still active church members. Longtime teacher Pat Farmer and her husband Haynes — both near 90 — still sing in the choir. Gay and Liz Land plan to be there too.

The 1966-67 Methodist Church building committee (from left): Harold Shippey Jr., O. Glen Simpson, Paul Gann, Liz Land, John Kronseder, Curtis Cortelyou, Bob Doty, Bill Hale, Gay Land, Chandler Moffat, Joe Kyle, Arnold Miller, Phyllis Bowlin, Dale Bowlin, Herb Mahn, Faye Busch.

The Methodist Church’s 50th celebration continues in September, with a dinner and visit from the bishop. Also on tap: a day of service in honor of the anniversary, and — next May — a commemoration of the 1st service in the new church.

Tomorrow’s unveiling ends with the installation of a new box of memorabilia in the cornerstone. It will contain a contemporary worship book; letters from young congregants, and a church DVD produced by Dan Gelman.

It will be opened again in 2067 …

… the good Lord willing.

United Methodist Church, ready for worship in 1967.

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

 

A Blue Christmas Service

Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” was a lilting, gently clever song, lamenting a holiday spent without a loved one.

The Saugatuck and Methodist Church’s combined “Blue Christmas Service” is much more serious. It’s also far more important — and uplifting.

Set for this Sunday (December 15, 4 p.m., United Methodist Church), it’s a much-needed recognition that for many people, holiday emotions run a lot deeper than enjoying “decorations of red on a green Christmas tree.”

“Many people are not happy at this time of year, when we are ‘supposed’ to be this or that,” says Linda Bruce, who is planning the worship along with Saugatuck’s  Rev. Alison Patton and Methodist minister Rev. Ed Horne. Members of both congregations are also involved in the preparations.

This month, Linda says, “people face their longest nights. They are burdened with sorrow, loneliness and sadness. The service will say, ‘It’s okay to feel bad. And you are not alone.'”

Blue Christmas

A candlelight atmosphere will provide “quiet, contemplative space to be authentic to self, and open to God,” Linda says.

“Folks can drop their masks of good cheer and sit quietly. They can let tears flow in a safe, comforting space.” The worship service will provide a place to “set down burdens, where prayers can be heard and healing may begin to take hold.”

Both Pastor Alison and Rev. Horne have planned and hosted Blue Christmas or Longest Night services in the past, on or around the winter solstice and Advent. This year’s event falls the day after the 1st anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.

“The night is always the darkest the moment before the first light appears,” Linda notes. “The new day does come, yet we sit in the bleakness of doubt.”

All Westporters — whether lonely, grieving, struggling, unemployed, uninspired or just blue — are welcome to this service of music, prayer and reflection, by the glow of candlelight.

(For more information click here, or call 203-227-4707.)