The First Congregational Church of Greenwich

Meetinghouse Monthly

February, 2004

Pilgrimage to Pakistan
by Ralph E. Ahlberg

During the recent ten days lived in Pakistan, I observed slices of life, understood only a small portion of what I saw, but found that those glimpses stirred deep thinking. For example, while visiting the great historic Lahore Fort in the northwest corner of the old city, I noticed families spreading blankets on one of the lawns beneath the fort's massive walls and enjoying a pleasant afternoon together. Built in the 1560's by the emperor, Akbar, UNESCO has called this place a world heritage site, so it wasn't difficult to understand why so people from the surrounding city gathered there. The temperature was pleasingly cool with warm sun and mild breezes. Many of the women wore the abijah or burqa, some with full faces showing, some with slits for their eyes. The men often wore what looked to me like pajamas, billowing light pants covered with a long shirt that reached their knees.

What was I seeing? Islamic traditional family outings? Perhaps, but which tradition? Modest attire, families sitting quietly in circles to savor each other? A simple delight in children and partners? The attraction of the historic Pearl Mosque located nearby? The noisy bazaar filling the outside streets? The vendors hawking drinks of crushed sugar cane flavored with lemon?

People stared at us. Visitors from the West are apparently not that common. I felt that the world I came from and the world I was watching didn't intersect, at least not yet. But I know my reaction to what I saw. I was drawn to its simplicity and mutual respect. Hospitality followed us wherever we went. Care was taken for our safety and comfort.

During our various meetings, I found myself frustrated with the way values that I hold dear have been claimed for a package called Islam or called Christianity. I consider myself "Christian" in the sense of being grounded in Hebrew and Christian Scripture, but not with the narrow legalism and mounting intolerance of those from either Christianity or Islam who claim to have an exclusive pathway to God. I claim "Christian values," but not the bigotry, homophobia and smugness that often seize the "values" podium. And I met Muslims in Pakistan who represented both poles: those whose fundamentalism claimed their exclusivity as well as those whose openness and willingness to share their faith values inspired me with their warmth of spirit.

Christianity and Islam of the kind that I respect have wide umbrellas and room for many points of view. Instead of fighting each other, we should be spreading our blankets in the open air and trusting God to make room for all of us.

If some wear the full abiyah, that is their choice. If some prefer headscarves, or no head covering, that is their choice. It matters to them, and it doesn't diminish my freedom. The tragedy of Afghanistan or Pakistan isn't the burqa, but that there are times and places where men force women to wear it. The same holds true for our dividing lines in Christianity. If people believe differently, that's fine. We're all pilgrims making our way across a difficult desert. But when some claim that theirs is the only valid belief structure or lifestyle or ethical stance, they become like the Taliban. It doesn't matter how many scriptures they quote. The starting line of a lively faith is the freedom to respond to God, not conformity trying to avoid error.

So I look forward to sharing more of my Pakistan Pilgrimage with you. The four very different communities we encountered, three Muslim and one Christian, and ranging from conservative and traditional to open and eager to dialogue were all intriguing in their way. Pakistanis like Americans are on a journey that quests after peace but also justice. I'm afraid the what the future holds is a long and difficult road that we must travel together. And I pray that our journey may be a peaceful one of increasing understanding and fairness.

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

Sunday, February 1
"Bake at 350' for 45 Minutes"
Susan M. Craig, preaching
Communion Served

Sunday, February 8
“Making Valentines of Difficult People”
Ralph E. Ahlberg, preaching

Sunday, February 15
“Sermon on the Plain”
M. Ashley Grant, preaching

Sunday, February 22
“Bedazzled by Peak Experiences”
Ralph E. Ahlberg, preaching

Sunday, February 29
“Meet the Devil”
Ralph E. Ahlberg, preaching


Around the Church

Lent 2004

Wilderness Invitation will be the theme for Lent in 2004 at First Church. On Sunday, February 22nd following worship in a "Second Hour" program at eleven thirty, the theme will be introduced by Dr. Ahlberg and other members of the staff who will outline the season's program opportunities.. On Ash Wednesday evening, February 25th at seven o'clock, there will be a traditional service of worship with music, prayer and meditation. The idea of Wilderness Invitation is to emphasize "the perspective needed to see the path that we have been traveling on, as well as the horizon and the paths that stretch before us." (Seasons of the Spirit) During Lent this year, opportunities will be offered for prayer, Bible study and an opportunity to discuss, What Jesus Meant: The Beatitudes and a Meaningful Life, a book written by Erik Kolbell.

Bible Study

"My Cup Runneth Over" Bible Study for 20's and 30's will meet on Wednesday nights in February. We will meet in the Lounge and begin at 6:30pm, which is a change from the previous schedule. We are studying Luke for the next two months. Some highlights will include: the Sermon on the Plain; Jesus raising the widow's son and Jairus' daughter; the parable of the sower; a feeding miracle; and much more. Newcomers are always welcome! Speak to Ashley for more information.

For the young and young in spirit! We are gathering on February 15 at 3:30pm for tea and cocoa in the auditorium to hear The Todd Hedrick Jazz Trio. Perhaps you are a young professional, or studying for a degree; maybe you have young children. Well, it is time that you get to know others in the church with whom you might relate. Don't miss this opportunity to meet people within your faith community amidst a casual setting with great music. Contact Ashley if you are interested or have questions.

First Church/First Sunday

On Sunday, February 1, we will have the barrel out to collect food for our local food pantries. The holidays are over, and the once-full shelves (thanks to Thanksgiving and Christmas giving) are looking 'slim' again. Please help support this effort with your regular donations. Most needed items this month are cereal, canned fruit and soup, and macaroni & cheese.

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.

Women's Fellowship Update on Programs

Please note date changes for the following events:
Family movie night for all - Friday, March 5
Bus Trip - Wednesday, April 21

Chili Cookin' Honor Roll

For the last 14-plus years, First Church has served a hot meal to clients at the Community Kitchen in Stamford on the first Monday of each month. Many hundreds of our members have stepped up over the years to organize, shop, cook and serve this meal which is one of our special hands-on outreach into the local community. Special thanks go to these folks who participated over the last few months: (September) - the Christian Outreach Committee - Tom & Tim Mahoney, Harlan Reynolds, Sue Cain, Nancy & Sarah Fountain; (October) - Cyndy, Ty & Katy Anderson, Renate Lovallo, Frosty Friedman and Karen Robbins; (November) - the Wellness Committee - Dee Coover, Betsy Kreuter, Pat Myer, Ginge Liddel, Ginny Breistmeister and Zoe Hanson; (December) - Leslie, Marc, Sarah & Miles Vandermeer, and their friends the Karp & O'Neill families. The JPF and their parents organized and prepared the January feast. In the next few months, the Fifth and Sixth Grade church school classes as well as the SPF will step up to the task.

And now, here are the next opportunities to join this "honor roll" for 2004: cooking on April 4, June 6, July 4, August 1 and September 5. Two of those dates are on holiday weekends (July and September) and you'll get extra credit for selecting them! All you need to do is organize a group of your family and friends to shop for the ingredients (you'll get a thorough list and we'll reimburse you) and cook up the chili in the church kitchen on the weekend before the first Monday of the month. We ask only for a few hours of your time one time this year. Please call Mary Bausch at 622-0309 or email her at

The Wild, Wild Word

"Beginning Bible Study as a Lenten Practice and then as a Life Practice"
We welcome those who are familiar with the Bible and those who are curious or hungry to know its treasures. The study will reading and reflection with organic group discussion. We encourage you to attend on Wednesday mornings at 9 AM in the Lounge. All ages. Wednesday, February 11 is our first meeting. We'll meet: Feb 18 and 25; March 10, 17, 24, and 31; and April 7. If you have questions contact Ashley at or637-1791 ext. 26.


JPF focuses on fellowship, service, and activities for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. We meet on Sunday evenings 5-6:15 PM in the Youth Room.

Sunday, February 1 JPF, prepare lunch for cast, (stay after church)
attend Variety Show at 2pm

6-8 Ski Trip
15 off (vacation)
22 JPF Games Galore & talk about the 30 Hour Famine
29 JPF Movie Night & Pizza


A Letter from the Parish Nurse

To the members of the Clergy, Church Staff, Deacons, Board of Trustees, Wellness Committee, Stephen Ministers, and most of all, the congregations of First Congregational Church of Greenwich:

With deepest regret, I am leaving my role of Parish Nurse to take a full-time nursing position at Greenwich Hospital that will allow me to work 12 hours, three days a week. The time that it takes me to commute to work and home again each day has more than doubled since I began in this position. In order to maintain some quality of life, I have chosen to consolidate the hours I spend "on the road" so to speak.

Almost four years ago, I gave a Moment of Concern in which I asked for your partnership in the Wellness Ministry. You have more than amazed me with your support, and especially your love and concern for me, and the success of the Parish Nurse Program. With God's Grace and Guidance, the Wellness Ministry has flourished abundantly at First Church. The scope of the program continues to increase and your enthusiasm abounds in many directions. For all of your efforts, ideas and assistance, I say "THANK YOU!" The members of the Wellness Committee, and the Chairpersons, first Nancy Wisecup, and now Mary Bausch, deserve my deepest appreciation. I look forward to seeing you, and working with you in the community, and returning to worship with you when I can. Much love to you all, and may God continue to richly bless First Church.

Dear Friends:

We are all very sad to lose Dee Coover as our Parish Nurse. She is leaving as of February 1st, because of her long commute and her work at Greenwich Hospital.

Dee did a wonderful job here at First Church establishing the Parish Nurse program, and showing us what a wonderful ministry it can be. She went way beyond simply acting as a nurse among us to show what a true Christian soul with health care skills can do within a church. She was a key component of our ministry team. We cannot thank her enough for the service she has given us.

We will miss Dee, but we know that the change in work hours and days of commuting will enhance her life, so we are happy for her. We all wish her God's love and support in all she does in the future, and hope she can visit us from time to time.

Greenwich Hospital was pleased with the Parish Nurse program as Dee developed it. They are helping us find a replacement for Dee so this ministry can continue.

Dee, thank you very much.


Rick Derr
Senior deacon

Ralph E. Ahlberg
Interim Senior Minister

Stephen Ministry
by Dee Coover, Parish Nurse

Stephen Ministry is a one-on-one ministry for individuals who need a caring, Christian sister or brother to walk along side of them during a stressful time in their lives. Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training in order to provide weekly sessions with their care-receivers. Last September, our plan was to begin a Stephen Minister Training Program Spring 2004. We've opted to delay the beginning of that training until we have a class of 12 to 15 candidates.

In the meantime, we want members of the congregation to get to know the members of the Stephen Ministers. Consequently, this Spring, members of this ministry are sponsoring a four-part enrichment series on Spirituality and Healing that are open to every member of First Church. So, save the dates: March 8th, 15th, 22nd & 29th! Details about each of the four sessions, and the presenters will appear in the weekly Church bulletin.

The initial session will address Spirituality and Healing: The Role of the Caregiver - Burden or Blessing? Many of the members of the congregation find themselves in the role of caregiver - many in the middle - caring for elderly parents while still parenting children and young people in the family. Some caregivers are single parents, while others are older and responsible for a spouse or partner who has a long-term illness or chronic health problem. What to do to maintain strength and balance is a universal dilemma. Come and learn about strategies for dealing with caregiver burden. For more information, please contact your Parish Nurse at 637-1792 x 21.

Post script: Thank you for your comments about the article last month on ways to avoid or reduce the effect of flu symptoms. One other suggestion to save yourself problems is to dispose of your toothbrush if you have had an infection-any infection - cold, flu, stomach virus. Toothbrushes can harbor germs that might contribute to further complications. Tossing the toothbrush every couple of months is an inexpensive preventive.


Preparing an offering for Honduras

Since there is a very small group going to Honduras this year, we will not be filling the 40 or so suitcases with materials as we have in the past. But we will be able to make some needed items available through our monetary contributions. During February, our Church School families will have a "contribution calendar" giving us daily targets for things we might do to fill our offering containers with coins. These offerings will be collected at the end of February, just before our delegation leaves; then while in San Pedro Sula, our travelers will purchase supplies for the children and their school.

A Lenten Preview:
A Church School Challenge of Reading and Art

First Church is very fortunate to have a nicely stocked Resource Library of books and videos for all age levels. During Lent, we are challenging our children to read or watch stories from the bible and other works about Jesus' life, works about God in our world, or any other works relevant to our faith. Each week, our children will bring in either a brief description of something they have read or a picture they have drawn about what they learned. We will tally these by grade level and after Easter there will be a special "celebration" for the work accomplished.

A "plea" for pictures

Please help us chronicle our Advent and Christmas events. If you have any pictures of the Once in Royal David's City pageant, the 10am children service on Christmas Eve or the 4pm, please, please, please share them with us.

Welcome to our newest Church School Family member- John Adam Russell, son of Christina and Michael (1st Grade Teachers), and brother of Peter.

The Thomas L. Stiers Endowed Scholarship at Union Theological Seminary

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to
what lies within us"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometimes phrases like this create trains of thought, at once both disparate and logical connectors. It made me think of FCCOG and our time of transition; and that reminded me that I should provide a final report to the congregation on the Thomas L. Stiers Endowed Scholarship. The effort to create the endowed scholarship at Union Theological Seminary, it seems to me, was a reflection of "what lies within us."

Year end giving to First Congregational resulted in the fulfillment of pledges to the Scholarship. It enabled me to forward a check to Union that brought the total giving to this scholarship to $69,434.79, not including interest earned by the principal to date and the anticipated matches by IBM and Lehman Brothers of two of our congregants' gifts. Our original goal was $50,000, the minimum necessary to establish a named scholarship at Union. It is my understanding that the first scholarship that will be awarded as a result of our effort will be in September, 2004.

The success of our initiative is solely the result of the generosity of members of our congregation and friends of Tom Stiers. While I would like to recognize each and every person who participated in this special drive, the list of individuals in our community who participated would exceed the space allotted to me here. But there is a group of "Charter Donors" whose early commitment to recognizing our now retired Senior Pastor with an endowed named scholarship deserves mention.

Central to our initial efforts was the Christian Outreach Committee whose $10,000 commitment over three years provided the seed money. The Women's Fellowship added encouragement and support with $2,000 per year over three years. A special note of gratitude is extended to Clarke and Bernice Whittemore for their gift of $5,000 to the drive. I particularly want to thank the following friends of Tom Stiers who matched the $1,000 charter challenge gift of my wife, Maryan, and me: Bob and Marsha Wilson, Harlan and Wendy Reynolds, Bob and Harriet Starr, Ann and Dana Low, Jerry and Dede Riggs, Curt and Joyce Carlson, Joe and Penny Low, Dale and Sherry Myer, Art and Wynne Delmhorst, Fred Arndt, Webb and Sallie Williams, Tim and Allyson Coleman, Rich and Bobby Hopkins, John Raynolds and Eileen Blaker, Gene and Carol Waggaman, Joan Warburg, Ruth and Jerry White, Mary Zehnder, C. Don and Jara Burnett and the Community Foundation of NJ for the Bunting Family.

I cannot imagine a better tribute to the wonderful shepherding of our congregation provided by Tom Stiers for over 28 years than to make it possible to train, educate and mentor additional shepherds in the Tom Stiers tradition. Thank you to everyone who made this effort the wonderful success that it was!

In gratitude,
Chuck Ainsworth


Duke University
Chorale Returns

On Wednesday evening, March 20, the Duke University Chorale, under the direction of Rodney Wynkoop, will present a concert in the Meetinghouse. As was the case on their two previous visits, church families will have the pleasure of entertaining the young people for dinner and overnight. The group will arrive by bus in the afternoon, do their set-up and rehearse in the Meetinghouse, and be met at the church around 5 or 5:30. Each host will provide supper for his/her guests, give them the opportunity to change clothes and return them to the church for a 7:30 warm-up and the concert at 8:00. After the concert the young people will be taken back to their respective host homes for overnight and breakfast before returning to the church for the departure of the bus.

If you can provide housing for one or two (or more) of these students, please give a call to Angela Stevens (698.1709) who has graciously taken on the responsibility of organizing the arrangements. If you get her machine, be sure to leave a daytime phone number where you can be reached.

The 2004 SAL Schedule

Sundays at 4 pm ~ subject to change

February 1 no SAL – watch for Youth Musical Revue

February 8 Vocal ensemble Musica Plenti

February 15 The Tod Hedrick Jazz Trio with Crystal Phillips

February 22 Trilogy: Lynette Wardle, harp,

Linda Boyd, flute & Brett Duebner, viola

February 29 Carolyn Paulus, soprano & Thomas Woodman, baritone

We invite you to join us in the church auditorium
at 3:30 pm for Twinings tea and hot chocolate

February 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 offerings are:

February 8 "Pakistani Islam and the West" Dr. Ahlberg will discuss the relationship between Muslims and Christians and East versus West ideologies explored in his recent visit to Pakistan.

February 22 "Why we have Lent" Forum: Join our clergy and staff to discuss our traditions and spiritual disciplines which we explore during the Lenten season.

February 29 Tour of First Church: Join Ashley Grant in search of every nook and cranny of First Church. Everyone is welcome. Refreshments will be served in an obscure place.

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
Kelly Stone, 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
Penny Gellmann, Director of Preschool
Dee Coover, Parish Nurse
Dr. Reniery España, Dir. of Medical Services, AIEH

Sunday Services of Worship - 8 & 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