The First Congregational Church of Greenwich

Meetinghouse Monthly

September, 2003

The Pastors' Column

Welcoming Images
by Ashley Grant

Dear Friends,

As I have been so warmly welcomed by you since the first of August, I now offer my deepest gratitude and greet you in the name of Christ. I am slowly but surely orienting to this community and place. During my first week, some members helped me to begin the orientation process. Three images remain vivid from my time with them.

First, I recall the image of the beach with sailboats resting like sleepy children, the blue lake barely held in by stone walls, and Captains Island at a distance, shielding its neighbor. The lush green of the garden at Greenwich Point framed the scene. The second image lay within the wet green grass and stoic stones of the old Tomac Cemetery. A historic marker tried to explain the beginnings of the church and community of Old Greenwich, but the graves and the hardwoods growing up between them told the story. And finally, the sky-view, from the top floor of Greenwich Hospital, showed the city below all wrapped in summer foliage, the blue sound beyond, and farther still, the New York City skyline, quieted by fog. The image was like reaching more than seeing.

Becoming oriented to this place helps me to better understand those who call this place home. At some point, you probably discovered these vistas on your own. Images like these, especially since they were shared with me by members of First Church, speak to the values and expectations, the continuity and possibility cultivated here.

In the midst of new beginnings this autumn, we are not alone. The heritage and Christian roots of this community anchor us to the solid ground of faith and hope. In the frame of the new season, we look forward to Homecoming and the All-Church Retreat within our churchscape. And from the sky-view we can peek at what the Holy One will accomplish in us, who love God. Under the protection, love and direction of God, our congregation has the gifts and vision to nurture those in this community and to reach beyond the blue Sound, into the world that needs us.

The end of summer draws nigh, and that means many things to us. Some members will return from vacations or visiting family and friends. Others will turn up the soils around their annuals for the coming autumn, begin classes at school, or exchange their bathing suits for soccer uniforms. As the programs and worship of the new season begin, we will miss the familiar faces of Tom Stiers, Sally Colegrove and Aaron Sinay. You will also meet new members and staff (like Ralph Ahlberg and me).

I look forward to meeting each person and getting to know you.

The New Team at First Church

On July 28, the Church Committee and the Board of Trustees unanimously called Rev. Ralph Ahlberg to be our Interim Senior Pastor. Rev. Ahlberg has many years of pastoral experience in large churches and is well respected among peers and parishioners in the region. Some of you may know him from his 10 years as Round Hill Community Church's senior pastor. He has an in-depth knowledge of Greenwich and is acquainted with many residents and members of the local faith community. Ralph will join us full-time in October, but he will be our guest preacher on September 7. So come hear him on September 7 and meet him in the Coffee Hour.

Rev. Susie Craig, as Senior Associate Pastor, continues to serve as a strong support and foundation for us as we build our new leadership team. Susie has moved her office to the space formerly occupied by Sally, but can still be reached by phone at ext. #25 and e-mail at . Her generosity of time and spirit as "pastor to the transition process" is a gift of immeasurable worth. Susie will preach on September 14, Homecoming Sunday.

Ashley Grant has been with us for a month now and she is settling in beautifully. We had the pleasure of hearing her preach twice in August and she will preach again on September 28. You can find her in the office right off the Auditorium, in Susie's former space. Her telephone extension is #26 and her e-mail address is . We will have a Congregational Meeting on September 28 after the 11:00 am worship service to vote on formally extending her our call to be our Associate Pastor once she is ordained early next year.

Finally, as we announced in the August Meetinghouse Monthly, we are delighted to welcome Josh Ziac into the newly created position of SPF Coordinator for this fall, while we search for a replacement for Sally. A former SPF member and advisor, Josh also has professional ties to Silver Lake where he has served on the Board of Directors and has been dean of several conferences. In this new part-time, temporary lay position, Josh will fill the critical role of providing continuity for the SPF membership and leaders and taking care of the many details required to make the program run smoothly. Please congratulate Josh and thank him for stepping forward at this important time.

Senior Pastor Search Committee
Report to the Congregation

July and early August have been busy periods in the life of our church with so many celebrations of past service and events welcoming new ministers into our midst. In order for the Search Committee to stay on the time line presented in our last Report to the Congregation, we invite you once again to review the Church Profile and Job Description posted on the church Website ( There are two sections where your input would be most helpful. The first is selecting 12 qualities from a list of 43 that we feel are the most important attributes for a senior minister for our church at this time. The complete list can be found under question 32, page 14, of the Church Profile posted on our Website or in the hard copies available for checkout in the
church office. The Search Committee’s selections (in no particular order) are:

  • Is an effective preacher/speaker

  • Helps people develop their spiritual life

  • Ministers effectively to people in crisis situations

  • Is a good leader

  • Builds a sense of fellowship among the people with whom he/she works

  • Is an effective administrator

  • Has a strong commitment to the educational ministry of our church

  • Works regularly to bring new members into the church

  • Works regularly in the development of stewardship growth

  • Is a person of faith

  • Encourages people to relate their faith to their daily lives

  • Encourages others to assume and carry out leadership

  • Is a compassionate and caring person, sensitive to others’ needs

The second place where your input would be helpful is the narrative description of the kind of minister we would like to attract that is summarized on page 20 of the Church Profile in the Job Description section. It states:

First Congregational Church of Greenwich, CT is seeking a spiritual leader who not only inspires us with charisma and intellect from the pulpit, but who acts daily on his/her Christian faith and challenges the congregation to do the same. We desire a senior pastor candidate whose personal warmth and goodness are an inspiration and comfort to the congregation. The successful candidate will be a person who works well with all ages and has an understanding of their views and needs, both in times of joy and crisis. It is expected the candidate will be active in parish events and have a flair for new ideas on how FCCOG can serve our church community and our Christian Outreach programs.

The successful candidate must have a Masters of Divinity degree from an accredited college; Doctorate in Ministry or Ph.D. preferred; and at least five years of service as a senior pastor or equivalent experience. He/she will have excellent writing and oral communication skills, as well as a proven ability to attract and retain new members. A commitment to the educational ministry of the church is highly valued. Fund raising and management ability should be first rate.

Any suggestions for improvement will be welcomed and can be made through any of the committee members listed on the left.

In closing, the Search Committee would like to express its deep appreciation to Elizabeth Winton for her service to the committee since its inception. As many of you know, the Winton family is moving to Minneapolis where Rufus is pursuing new career opportunities. She will be missed and we wish them God’s speed in this new phase of their life.

The Senior Pastor Search Committee

Bill Penwell Chairman - Betsy Kreuter Vice Chairperson - Cyndy Anderson -Bill Bausch - Martin Berlin - Tim Coleman - Jack Davidson - Michaela Fossum - Barbara Norrgard - Edward Oppedisano - Meg Sherman

September Worship Schedule

The last beach service for the season will be on Sunday, September 7. On September 14, one service will be held at 10 am in the Meetinghouse. Beginning September 21, we resume our regular 8 and 10 am services in the Meetinghouse.

Sunday, September 7
Rev. Ralph Ahlberg
“We never know how high we are”
Communion Served

Sunday, September 14
Homecoming Sunday
“All Hands on Deck”
Rev. Susan M. Craig

Sunday, September 21
Rev. Ralph Ahlberg
“Give them wings with which to fly”

Sunday, September 28
M. Ashley Grant
“Who Is With Us?”


Signature Quilt for Sally

For those of you who did not attend the evening festivities in honor of Sally on July 27, we intend to make a Memory-Signature quilt for her. At the moment we are collecting signatures on squares, which will eventually be built into a blue and white quilt. Instructions and squares are available in the church office and during coffee hour on Sundays. You may want to embellish your square with a little drawing or a personal note. This time you are not required to do any sewing as with the quilt for Tom. We are collecting blue calicos, small prints, stripes and checks. Please leave them at the office marked “Sally’s Quilt.” The final assembly of the quilt will be done sometime during the winter months. If you are handy with the sewing machine we would greatly appreciate your help at that point. Please leave your name and telephone number with one of the coordinators: Ginny Breismeister (637.2461), Ruth Reed (637.9896), Beth Rollins (637.9551), Inge Thalheim (637.9614), Barbara van Buren (637.2373).

Hot Chili in the Summer?

It's hard to believe. FCCOG's monthly offering to the Community Kitchen in Stamford, our hot chili/salad/fruit meal is really popular year around. In fact, on August 4, over 100 clients enjoyed our fare on a steamy day. If they love it in August, just imagine how well received our hot meal is in February!

Since the start of 2003, we are grateful to the following folks for shopping and preparing the feast: (January) Aaron Sinay, Tim Holman, Sara & Jack Davidson, Jill Orozco and Heather Almy; (February) the Fifth Grade Church School class, led by Sarah Thalheim and Peggy Briggs; (March) Aaron Sinay, JPFers and their advisors; (April) Jan Ruxton, Zoe Hansson, Ruth Reed, Nancy Whiteman and Debby Berner; (May) Sally Colegrove, SPFers and their advisors; (June) Pam Speers and the Board of Trustees; (July) Inge, Sarah & Ingrid Thalheim, Beth Rollins, Michaela & Eva Fossum and Barbara Van Buren; (August) the Rummage Room Gang - Mary Jane Penwell, Alice Ell, Beth Rollins, Janet Sotzing, Pat Myer, Marcia Livingston, Joan Johansen and Lois MacDonald. In September and October respectively, the Outreach Committee and the Anderson family have agreed to step up to the task. Thank them all when you see them!

Now we're looking for help for the November, December and January slots. This is the true hands-on (and time-limited) experience of our Christian outreach. Please try to organize a group of 5-6 of your friends, family members or committee group. The meal is served on the first Monday of each month and can be prepared the Saturday or Sunday before in our church kitchen. Call Mary Bausch (622-0309) or contact her at Kudos also go to Mary Jane & Bill Penwell, Bill Bausch and Lois MacDonald, the 'regulars' who love serving the meal at the Yerwood Center.

HELP, Cotton fabric in good condition needed !!

The quilters at H.O.M.E. Coop are ready to stitch, but their previous source for fabric donations is no longer available. If you would like to make a contribution of fabric it would be most appreciated. Just speak to Susie Craig or mail it to H.O.M.E. Coop Quilters, P.O. Box 10, Orland, ME 04472

Attention All Bridge Players

We are looking for ladies who would be interested in playing bridge one afternoon (or morning) a month. It is a great exercise for the brain, plus, you will meet some lovely members of our community! Please call Pat Myer at 634.4708.

Handbell Ringers Needed

The Palmer Handbells begin their fall rehearsals on September 18. We meet on Thursdays from 8:45 - 9:45 am in the Meetinghouse. We have an exciting fall schedule planned including performances with the Chancel Choir and during the four Sundays in Advent. Music reading skills are helpful and individualized training is available. Contact Mark Swicegood for more information.

Connecticut UCC Annual Meeting October 17th-19th

This year the Connecticut Conference of the UCC will hold its Annual Meeting in New Canaan on October 17th - 19th. With the meeting being held so close by, this gives us a great chance to see the CT Conference in action and get to meet many people from UCC churches across the state. We are looking for nominations for official delegates to the meeting. If you are interested, please see Susie Craig, Robin Loughman or Rick Derr. There will also be opportunities to visit without being a delegate with a vote and to help with some of the many volunteer opportunities a meeting like this entails.

Report from General Synod 24 - II

by John Stansell

One was made very aware at General Synod of how our nation's economic slump has effected our church, locally, and at the Conference and national levels. The reduction in revenue will have an impact on both ends of the "spiritual-outreach" continuum that I wrote about in my first report. I experienced Synod as having profound benefits for the inward-reaching spirit of the church as a whole. A by-laws change had been proposed by the Executive Council to change from biennial meetings of Synod to an every-four-year cycle as a means of cutting expenses. The delegates, keenly aware of the "strong covenantal relationships" forged by the current frequency, rejected this change. The costs of Synod are huge. The delegates were surely caught up in the spirit of the meeting. Hopefully they all took some of that spirit home to inspire increased financial support for the denomination.

General Minister and President of the UCC John Thomas called for an "amazing generosity" in his opening address to the Synod. UCC members now give $ 850 million annually, 90 percent of which remains in the local church. Thomas set a goal of $ 1 billion annually by the year 2007, the 50th anniversary of the church's historic union. Such generosity will indeed be required if the will of the delegates regarding frequency of Synod is to be realized.

The delegates adopted a resolution affirming a "partnership in mission and ministry" with the 60,000-member Alliance of Baptists. The Alliance consists of congregations formerly in the Southern Baptist Convention who have left that group because of its stance against the ordination of women and the acceptance of homosexuals among other issues. Three such congregations are already affiliated with the UCC and others are expected to apply for dual affiliation in the future. As Brenda Stiers recently commented to me, in much of our country the choice to join a UCC congregation expresses a person's strong commitment to social justice issues.

The Synod approved a pronouncement calling for "a more just, humane direction" to worldwide economics. Globalization is happening and will continue. This new policy statement of our denomination calls on us to work for economic policies that will benefit all people, not just the wealthiest. Tom Stiers gave me an example of the negative effects of US policy. In Haiti where rice farmers (who used irrigation technology initiated there by our own Constance Walton's father) have been forced out of business by low-priced rice coming from subsidized farms in this country. I recently heard on the news that poorer nations are already insisting that such situations be corrected as prelude to international economic meetings. Forces may be already at work for positive globalization.

To be continued...

Considering College?

The good colleges are getting fussier as more and more quality students apply. Where do you fit in? Talk with our own Mary Leinbach, an experienced and respected college consultant. Her $200 charge goes to the First Church College Loan Fund. You can reach her at 531-9434.


Cardio-Pulmonary Trained Safety Partners
by Dee Coover, Parish Nurse

Fall season 2003 is here - welcome back to worshipping at First Congregational Church of Old Greenwich! The summer has been filled with days of planning by members of First Church staff. Consequently, you can anticipate a very exciting Church year ahead.

Safety is the primary focus for activities lined up by the Wellness Committee along with members of the Safe Church Commission. Last month's Parish Nurse column provided an overview of the projected Safety Program.

Knowledge and skill in performing Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) are attributes that are valuable to ensuring a safe First Church for all our members. Hence, the Wellness Committee and the Parish Nurse are looking to identify church members and church staff who are already certified by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross in CPR. Likewise, we are interested in providing CPR training at a nominal cost if you would like to be a part of a cadre of First Church members who would be on a Safety Team. Our goal is to have 100 members with current CPR and First Aid certification so that there will be at least 15 to 20 individuals at any church service or church activity who would be able to respond to an emergency situation.

Please consider being an active participant in our Safe Church Program. If you are currently certified in CPR by either the Heart Association or the Red Cross, and you are interested in serving on a Safety Team at First Church, please complete the form at the bottom of this article and return it to the Church Office for the Parish Nurse. OR…If you are interested in becoming certified in CPR, please complete the form as well. The dates for the training course will depend on how many individuals will make up the goal of 100 CPR-trained First Church members. Please respond today!

Note well: Starting September 1st, the Parish Nurse schedule will change accordingly: Sundays 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM; Tuesdays and Thursdays 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. If you have any questions, please leave a message for our Parish Nurse, Dee Coover at 637-1791 Extension 21.

Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation ____ Certified ____ Want Training


Name: ________________________________________


Telephone Number: ____________________ Best time to call: _______________


by John Stansell

That music is an essential element of Christian life and worship is more than simply my own personal bias. As a language music gives voice to feelings on a level that is often too deep for words. Our worship needs singing, whether it is the congregation's song or the choir offering up its rehearsed praise on behalf of the body. Economic and political uncertainties, even the power failure that crippled parts of our country the day before I am writing this, remind us of the fragility of many aspects of modern life. But music and the melodies we carry in our hearts, even when we can't sing them aloud, these are treasures that nurture us at times when everything else seems to be failing. Are we, are you, doing enough to build up this awesome treasure?

Begin with the Children

Sing both to and with your children! It creates an unbelievable bond. Bring them with you to worship whenever you can. Hearing and feeling the sound of the organ and observing you involved in grown-up worship will make an indelible impression. Make sure your children take part in the choirs available to them here at First Church. Cherub and Youth Choirs rehearse on Sundays after church. The Children's Choir, for grades 3 through 5, is currently scheduled on Wednesday afternoons from 5 to 6, followed by a pizza supper. There are conflicts, I know. If scheduling is a problem, please help me find a time at which more children can come. It distresses me a great deal that such a small percentage of our children participate in this choir.

Join the Choir

The Chancel Choir at First Church has a wonderful tradition, unique in our area, of singing every Sunday of the year, even through the summer. If this tradition is to continue, the choir must grow. I am convinced that there are capable choral singers in our congregation who have yet to join the choir. If this describes you, get on board! Since every choir member misses some rehearsals and Sundays, and some must be absent for blocks of time, the total roster needs to be bigger. A current membership of 46 yields about 30 singers on a Sunday during the season, around 20 in the summer. With a membership of 60, we might even occasionally fill the choir loft. Join us!


I am well aware of the realities of life for working people in this town. There was one man who sang with us for one season. He loved the choir and, though he didn't think of himself as a highly skilled singer, felt he was making a real contribution. He was out of town so very much that he finally had to give it up. This one example represents a difficulty we have in recruiting and retaining particularly tenors and basses. To compensate we currently engage two professional section leaders. With greater volunteer participation, the considerable funds required for that could be directed elsewhere. If you really have no time, like the man I described, remember our need for professionals at stewardship time.


If you think you're not good enough to be a choir member, you might not be correct. Very few in our choir are perfect sight-readers. Each singer is strengthened by participation in a section. Were you to join you would probably initially feel overwhelmed. Long-time choir members have quite a few pieces that they know well, but you would soon find yourself catching up. Think you can't sing at all? I reject that concept. It is true that the learning curve might be too long for some ever to be ready for choir participation. If that's you, I still want to help you find your voice because I know it's there. Talk to me! A colleague of mine had great success with an "I Can't Sing Choir." Let's start one here!

A Message from the Church School

"To Be a Disciple"

Dear Friends,

It is almost September, our curriculum has arrived, and we are readying for the fall. Our teachers will be getting together for their training this week, and then all we need is you, the most important ingredient.

This year we are going to be learning in many different and intriguing ways. Drama and games, music and discussion, art and creative writing will be part of our experience. Each of us has different talents. Each of us learns in different ways, and as we learn, we help one another understand our faith anew.

What does it mean to follow Jesus, to learn from his teachings and then try and live according to them in today's world? Well, we are going to find out. To do this we hope that both parents and children will be part of our journey. Your input and your concerns need to be part of the picture because we are commited to learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our time.

We can learn from the stories in our Bibles. But we also want to learn from the stories of our lives. Come join us in this exciting adventure.

Registration materials have been sent to you with our handbook. Please return them by mail, or in person on Homecoming Sunday, September 14th.

Bring a friend. All are welcome!

Church School
Mark your calendars

September 2 Teacher Training 7:00 PM
September 10 Task Force Meeting 7:30 PM
September 14 Church School Registration 9:30 AM
September 21 Church School Registration 9:30 AM

Preschool Bookfair

Wednesday, October 8,
11 am - 1 pm
Thursday, October 9,
11 am - 1 pm
Sunday, October 12,
11 am - 12:30 pm
in Room 104
Featuring children’s book s from “Just Books” in
Old Greenwich.

Put these dates on your Calendar

September 14
Homecoming Sunday and Picnic
with the start of Church School

September 28
Congregational Meeting after the
10:00 am worship service

October 10 - 12
All-Church Retreat at Silver Lake

October 17- 19
CT Conference Annual Meeting, New Canaan

Red Cross Blood Drive
Saturday, October 18, 2003
First Church Auditorium
(Give blood.
All you'll feel is good.)

The Members of The First Congregational Church of Greenwich, Ministers

Ralph Ahlberg, Interim Senior Pastor
Susan M. Craig, Senior Associate Pastor
M. Ahsley Grant, Parish Associate and Director of Middle School Ministries
Rosemary Lamie and Jennifer Lepoutre, Church School Coordinators
John Stansell, Director of Music, Senior Organist
Mark Swicegood, Associate Organist/Director
Carolyn Diamond, Associate Musician
Dee Coover, Parish Nurse
Dr. Reniery España, Dir. of Medical Services, AIEH

Sunday Services of Worship—8 am & 10 am
Church School—10 am
Nursery Care provided during the 10 am Service.
The 10 am Service is broadcast live
on WGCH 1490 am Radio.