The First Congregational Church of Greenwich
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
the Meetinghouse unless otherwise indicated.
Sunday, December 7
“Preparing the Way”
Ralph Ahlberg, preaching
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
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:
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.
Lori A. White
Chairperson, Membership Committee
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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"
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.
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
of Ministerial Profiles
Start solicitation of Profiles Jan. 2004
Identify top candidate/negotiate May 2004
offer and acceptance
Present candidate for June 2004
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
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.
MESSIAH FEATURES LOCAL TALENT!!
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
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
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!
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
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
AngelaMStevens1@aol.com . 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.