The First Congregational Church of Greenwich

Meetinghouse Monthly

December, 2003

The Pastors' Column

by Ralph Ahlberg

The news near Thanksgiving from Istanbul is frightening with its reports of terrorist violence. Almost nightly, the TV news brings to our living rooms scenes of innocent human suffering that at once make us angry and afraid. We wonder why people in our world treat one another in such ways?

During these Advent days as such scenes intrude themselves on my consciousness, the refrain from the hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel to captive Israel" echoes in my mind. It resounds in the sense that "Israel" of the hymn yields not only to the contemporary Israel, but also to places like Iraq and Turkey, Afghanistan and Palestine. All of them hold people, if not captive, at least gravely at risk from suicide recruits, who are themselves captive to a radical absolutism that puts their own lives in the service of murder.

Of course, if you are like me, you wonder about our world and what we might do about this ratcheting up of violence. The answer, unfortunately, is not much. Yet the violence afflicting the world doesn't occur in a vacuum. In fact, the rising levels of hatred requires all of us with good will to discern in our own attitudes whatever might implicate us in climates of hatred, even as we excuse ourselves as innocents.

A columnist for the Boston Globe, James Carroll, asks, for example, what our relationship is to the underlying question of religious absolutism that seems to stimulate violence. He asks that question as a Christian and tells us that the Advent season offers a clue.

Advent, he says, is a time of longing and expectation, when all that's lacking in the human condition fires the Christian imagination up. Christians often posit God's Reign in terms of experiencing those elements of life we all long for such as, joy, harmony, the sense of at-one-ness within family, friendships and our larger environment. But Christians also have a future expectation, a hoped for time when the longed for Reign of God will be experienced fully, when God will establish finally God's Realm, completely and finally.

Most Christians locate the arrival of Christ at Christmas, and, indeed, Advent is taken mainly as prelude to the annual feast of the Incarnation. But, as Carroll warns, emphasizing December 25 as the sole fulfillment of Christian hope is a mistake. Advent is better understood as expressing our longing for Christ's spirit to fulfill itself here in our lives - "thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And for that to happen, it means that Christians who claim to already be in full possession of the truth, who understand Jesus as the complete and finished revelation of God have abandoned a key element of traditional faith. Christianity is not a religion of radical absolutism. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we see "through a glass darkly." There's room in our world for other religions and channels of grace.

I thank God for the grace I have found within Christianity, for the joy and hope that this season provides and for its promise of peace on earth, for all with whom God is well pleased. May God bless your Advent and Christmas!

December Worship Schedule

Services are held at 8 and 10 am in
the Meetinghouse unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, December 7
“Preparing the Way”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching
Communion Served

Sunday, December 14
There is a 10 am Children’s service in the Auditorium
“Renewed by the Loving Presence”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching

Sunday, December 21
9:15 and 11 am
“The Curative Power of Love”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching

Wednesday, December 24
10 am A three generation service of story, pageant and song.
4 pm Family Service
Procession of Symbols and
Nativity Pageant
5 pm Carol Sing in Binney Park
8 pm Candlelight Communion Service
11 pm “Love Came Down at Christmas”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching

Sunday, December 28
NO 8 am Service
“Always the Question, ‘Why?’”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching

The copy deadline for the Meetinghouse Monthly is the 15th of the previous month. The issue should arrive in homes by the first Sunday of the month. Deadline for the Meetinghouse Minute is the first of the month, to arrive in homes by the third Sunday of the month. You may e-mail your articles to:


Membership Committee

The Membership Committee hosted a Potluck Cocktail Buffet welcoming new members of First Church on November 15 at the home of John W. Fryback. It was a great way for new members and committee members to get more acquainted and demonstrate First Church hospitality. I wish to thank John for opening up his home for this event. The Membership Committee wishes everyone a very Merry Christmas.
Warm regards,

Lori A. White
Chairperson, Membership Committee

20/30s Group

Do you feel that there is something for you at First Church? The 20/30s group meet on Tuesday evenings in the lounge, from 6-7 pm, for "My Cup Runneth Over" Bible Study. All are welcome. Our holiday schedule will include meetings on Dec. 2, 9, 16, and Jan. 6. Please contact Ashley Grant at 637-1791 ext. 23 or if you have ideas or questions. We are also hoping to start a new Bible Study during the day for those who have an hour in the morning. This will not begin until after the first of the year. If you are interested in a Wednesday or Thursday Bible Study at 9 am, contact Ashley.

Holiday Volunteer Opportunities

Many individuals and families ask us about how they can help make sure everyone in our local (and larger) community enjoys a full holiday meal. There are many ways to serve and/or offer help. Pick up a suggestion sheet in the church office.

"Sing for Your Supper"
December 14
5 pm in the Auditorium

Join the Parish Life Committee and Staff for an evening of delicious food, wonderful fellowship, and traditional caroling. Special music will be provided by the Chancel and Children's Choirs, as well as many of the groups at First Church like JPF and the Church School Task Force and Teachers. Hearty soups and bread will be served, and there will be a kid-friendly meal of chicken tenders and macaroni & cheese. Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for children and seniors. Sign-ups will begin on November 30 during Coffee Hour. Tickets are also available by calling the church office.


Junior Pilgrim Fellowship will celebrate with a Christmas Party on December 7 in the Lounge. From 5 pm until 7 pm, we will have a gift exchange, watch a Christmas favorite, sing and have lots of delicious food. Bring a wrapped gift to exchange ($5 or less) and an appetizer. Please RSVP to Ashley Grant by December 4.

On December 14, JPF will go to the "Sing for Your Supper," in the Auditorium. We will sing a special carol, which families should not miss! JPF will not meet again until January 4, when we will prepare the meal for the Soup Kitchen.

Pastor’s Class

Seventh and eighth graders in the Pastors' Class will be presenting the message during the Family Worship Service on December 21. All class members are invited to take part in the drama, "Awake and Waiting." Practices begin with an introduction to the theme and script on the first Sunday of Advent. Rehearsal dates: December 7 and 14 during Pastors' Class and Saturday, December 20 at 11 am.

Search Committee Notes

The Senior Pastor Search Committee had its first meeting with Dr. Ahlberg prior to services on Sunday, November 16. He is eager to share his knowledge, experience and guidance on the process of soliciting and evaluating Senior Pastor candidates. On Sunday, December 7, Susan Townsley, Western Region Minister of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ will meet with the committee to start the process of generating candidates through UCC channels.

In response to a suggestion made at the All Church Retreat last month, copies of the Church Profile will be available in the Meetinghouse after the November 23 (Harvest Sunday) service and at the coffee hour to follow. Anyone with a last minute comment is encouraged to contact any member of the committee and that person will bring it to the attention of the entire committee.

A question was raised at the All Church Retreat about the committee's intentions vis-à-vis the timetable circulated in the June Report to the Congregation. The concern was that committee intended to find the best candidate available within the time allotted, rather than being committed to finding the best candidate without regard to how long it takes. Please be assured that the timetable is an estimate, developed and circulated in response to members of the congregation that wanted some feel for the length of the task. To date, the committee is on track but the tasks completed are those that were within our control. To refresh your memory, the following are the steps yet to be taken:

Develop plan for solicitation Oct./Nov. 2003
of Ministerial Profiles

Start solicitation of Profiles Jan. 2004

Identify top candidate/negotiate May 2004
offer and acceptance

Present candidate for June 2004
congregational approval

Start date for new Senior Sept. 2004
Minister (90 days notice)

A Sense of Homecoming…at last!
by Susan M. Craig

As Thanksgiving and Advent come upon us we take pleasure in familiar traditions and time spent with family and friends gathered. I felt the season drawing near as we joined together for coffee hour after the service on November 16. It was good to see everyone. Yet at the same time, I found myself asking, where have we been? Somehow, this fall has been an unusually busy time - here at church and for us as families. We have not been able to come together as we might like, but now, blessedly, our calendars, usually so chock full of activities, are becoming a bit more relaxed and permitting a little breathing space.

Across the fall, sports, community activities and volunteer opportunities have seemed to permeate each day from early in the morning until into the night. Courses and lessons, sports teams, and volunteer expectations have multiplied in our children's lives and in our own. We have appreciated the uniqueness of these opportunities for our children and wanted to take advantage of them, because we do not want our children to miss out - because, we want the best for them.

But this Advent, as we approach perhaps the most meaningful gift God ever gave this world in the birth of his Son, we have a new chance to consider what it means to want the best for ourselves, our children, and our world.

What is it we hope for this season? As we light the Advent Wreath, we pray for peace, hope, love and joy, gifts which enrich our lives and touch our spirits, gifts which are precious, and the fruits of living together as children of God, who seek to be friends, families and the church in the world. It takes laughing and crying and caring for one another, and that happens in the "in between times," not as part of scheduled activities.

To be honest, I would have to put myself right in the center of all of us who consider ourselves "over-scheduled." And as I look toward this Advent season, I would pray that each of us, in our own way, give ourselves and our families the gift of time. Let us not be dissuaded by the excuse, "But everyone else is going to be there." Let us not be afraid of unscheduled time. It is true, our children may not know what to do with it at first, but they are resilient and given the chance will show us the way. Unstructured time has so many possibilities. It is the place for creativity and for relationship building. Children's play - which often includes disagreement - and then sorting things out - is one of the most important learning grounds they will ever know. Educators tell us "Play is a child's work."

This Advent and Christmas, I would pray that we take time and let the presence of Immanuel, God-with us, bless and keep us in all the ways God has in mind. And may peace, hope, love and joy greet you along the way.


December Second Hours

The spiritual education of adults is a priority at First Church. This lecture series offers a wide range of topics from Bible study to spiritual and physical health. Sundays, 11:30 am - 12:30 pm in the Lounge, unless otherwise indicated.. The December offerings are:

December 7 Michael Leach, author of "I Like Being Married;” This will be a wonderful way to celebrate the special relationships in our lives or those we hope for. Michael will share exerts from his book, which beautifully illustrates the many dimensions of love and marriage through many different voices. You will also be able to purchase copies of the book, which make great Christmas gifts.

We are sorry to inform you that the Second Hour featuring Maryan Ainsworth and Advent Art has been cancelled.


by John Stansell

This year's performances of Part I of Handel's great oratorio Messiah and the "Hallelujah" chorus will take place on Saturday and Sunday, December 20 & 21, at 4:00 p.m. each day. Our soloists have names familiar to First Church: Carolyn Paulus, also director of The Youth Choir, will be the soprano and, keeping it in the family, her brother-in-law and son of First Church, Thomas Woodman will be the baritone. Dramatic soprano Katherine Lakoski will sing the contralto parts. Christopher Beaurline (yes, Terry's son), whom many remember from last Christmas Eve, will be the tenor. The twenty-piece chamber orchestra consists of many musicians who return year after year, including Dorothy Happel, concertmistress, Mary Costanza, continuo cellist, and David Johnson at the harpsichord. For them, as for many in the congregation, it just wouldn't be Christmas without First Church's Messiah. If it's not already one of your family's holiday traditions, consider starting this year.

Tickets for this year's presentation will be available to the congregation at coffee hour on November 30 and December 7. Beginning Monday, December 8, the tickets will be available to the general public in the church office. A ticket guarantees a seat if presented up to fifteen minutes before the performance. There is no charge. We ask those who can to contribute $ 15.00 per person at the performance.

Swell the Chorus

If you have choral skills, why not consider joining the chorus for Messiah. Rehearsals are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, December 9th, 10th, 16th and 17th, at 8 p.m. Registration begins at 7:30 p.m. on the 10th, but it is possible to sign up at subsequent rehearsals. Just be sure to bring $ 20.00 as a deposit for the required use of First Church's hard-bound scores. There are no auditions; everyone is welcome. The singers always have a great time. Just ask one!

Christmas Eve

Soprano Pamela Kuhn will be the soloist for Adolphe Adam's beloved "O Holy Night" at both the 8 and 11 p.m. services on Christmas Eve. This will be Ms. Kuhn's first performance at First Church, though as part of her impressive career she has been heard in numerous local venues.

Duke University
Chorale Concert

Please join First Church in welcoming the return of the Duke University Chorale spring tour this coming March. A wonderful concert is in store for the Meetinghouse. How can you help? We are looking for First Church families that are willing to host these college students. Won't you consider? You will be responsible for picking up your guests at church in the late afternoon and serving them dinner. They will return for the concert that evening then spend the night at your home. After breakfast, the students depart by bus from the church. By volunteering your homes and hospitality, you will contribute to an enjoyable evening of music. Please contact Angela Stevens and let her know that you would consider being a host. You can reach her at 698.1709 and press 2 or email . Duke alums especially asked to host! Thanks for helping the music committee get started on this spring concert.

The Members of The First Congregational Church of Greenwich, Ministers

Ralph Ahlberg, Interim Senior Pastor
Susan M. Craig, Senior Associate Pastor
M. Ashley Grant, Parish Associate and Director of Middle School Ministries
Josh Ziac, Interim SPF Director
Rosemary Lamie and Jennifer Lepoutre,
Church School Coordinators
John Stansell, Director of Music, Senior Organist
Mark Swicegood, Associate Organist/Director
Carolyn Diamond, Associate Musician
Tim Holman, Director of Preschool
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.