The First Congregational Church of Greenwich

Meetinghouse Monthly

August, 2004

The Pastors’ Column

Circles of Loyalty
by Ralph E. Ahlberg

In Bill Moyer's new book, Moyers On America, there's an essay entitled, The Empty Nest. It interested me because it was written in 1982 about nine years into my ministry in Garden City and my friendship with the Moyers family. That was the time when we faced a similar experience of sending off "our final born" to college. And now this month, history again repeats itself as the first-born of our Ahlberg grandchildren packs his bag and heads for a college in Pennsylvania.

Bill recalls the sentiment of his friend, the late Erma Bombeck on that kind of experience. "One of these days," said Erma, "you'll shout, 'Why don't you kids grow up and act your age?' And they will. And you'll be left to wish for tablecloths stained with spaghetti, for anxious nights with the vaporizer, for PTA meetings, rainy weekends beneath a leaky scout tent, and the tooth fairy adjusted for inflation."

I lift up these thoughts during August rushing towards September because I'm aware of the planning going on these days at First Church, preparing for the opening of our church school, the reactivation of confirmation and youth programs, the building excitement in getting ourselves ready to celebrate "Rally Day" on September 19, and the hope that there might be sufficient interest and involvement to once again gather at Silver Lake for an "All Church Retreat" on the weekend of Columbus Day weekend, October 8 through the 10.

One thing I remember about the Moyers. As demanding as was their work in the frenetic world of television journalism, they took time to participate in the worship and programmatic life of our congregation. Together with their three offspring they were there. And I believe they experienced a similar quality of community and faith that's offered here at First Church. Youth receive a high priority within this congregation. And that commitment is reflected in the caring and talents of Susie Craig, Ashley Grant, Kelly Stone, Rosemary Lamie, Jennifer Lepoutre and their "teams" of nurturing lay leaders. They provide a great gift to Greenwich and beyond.

With Bill Moyers, I can easily identify in awakening to how quickly the years pass. He writes that without children, he might not have discovered how "the circles of loyalty" in congregations like this one nurture youth and family life. During August, lots of planning and praying is directed toward the hope and promise of a vibrant fall here at First Church. Please know that your help and ideas are needed as together we become a part of those "circles of loyalty" committed to the mission of this important congregation!

August Worship Schedule

Services are held 10 am in the Meetinghouse unless otherwise indicated.
During the summer, 8 am services are held at Greenwich Point.

Sunday, August 1
Communion Served
Secure in the “arms” of God
Susan M. Craig

Sunday, August 8
The Blessing of Courage
Ralph E. Ahlberg

Sunday, August 15
The Blessing of Discipline
Ralph E. Ahlberg
Sunday, August 22
M. Ashley Grant

Sunday, August 29
Kelly J. Stone

Homecoming Picnic
September 19, 2004

We need volunteers for this awesome annual event that kicks off the program year for First Church. If you have helped with the picnic in past years, we could use your expertise. If you have willing hands and an itch for fun and fellowship, look no further. This is also an perfect opportunity for new and newish members to get to know the community and for us to know you. Tasks include: theme brainstorming, entertainment, decorations, food planning and purchasing, publicity, tickets, children's activities, and set-up and service. Sign up for the Homecoming Picnic Committee in the Front Office. Contact Ashley at 637-1791 ext. 26 with your questions and ideas.

Preschool Enrollment 2005-2006

Church members thinking about enrolling in the Preschool for the school year 2005-2006 should attend an Information and Registration Session for Church Members on Sunday, September 12, 2004.


With thanks for what is…
by Susan M. Craig

June and July have brought us all deep into the midst of our summer schedules. For me June brought an opportunity to be here in ministry as we moved from our program year into our summer schedule. It also brought the opportunity to attend meetings with the Northfield League, an organization which sponsors faith conferences for high school and college age young people, and time for vacation at our farm in Maine. July in its turn has provided a sense of homecoming - returning to our community and First Church.

Across this time I have had one very pervasive thought which I would like to share with you. It is that we are very fortunate to live in the Stamford-Greenwich area at this point in time and history. We experience a rich diversity of nationalities and a host of different houses of faith. We are fortunate to be in communities that celebrate that. As a church we welcome and participate in interfaith worship opportunities, and we seek to learn from our brothers and sisters of different faiths. Within our church we respect the right of private judgment of each of our members and seek to share our faith journeys supporting one another, and learning from one another.

Now it may sound to you that I am stating the obvious, but what I have realized in my time away is that our diversity, and the valuing and respecting of the same, are increasingly rare commodities across New England and across our country. For this reason they are not to be taken lightly, but rather treasured and safeguarded.

There is much to be thankful for - as we look around at the beauty that surrounds us. There is much we learn as we travel and find ourselves some distance away, just as there is much we each learn as we enjoy time at home with friends and family. I hope this summer continues to nourish us - and to teach us many things.

A new parking lot is on the way!

The long-needed re-paving of the First Church parking lot will begin Monday, August 23, weather permitting. The project will probably take the entire week but we plan to be back in business by Sunday, August 29. During the week, visitors and staff can park on the Church-side of Forest Avenue and along Sound Beach Avenue. In the evenings you can also park at Perrot Library. They close at 5 or 6pm during the week (8pm on Tuesdays evening). Be aware that you cannot park overnight on the streets.

Women’s Fellowship Cruise

Women's Fellowship is hosting a beautiful Autumn cruise along the Greenwich coastline following church on Sunday, October 3, from 12:15 to 3:15 pm. The cruise is being run and catered by Fjord Fisheries in Cos Cob. The cost is $75 per person. Call church office to make reservations (637-1791). Paid reservations will guarantee a spot. All reservations must be paid for by September 12, 2004. If enough people are interested, child care activities might be organized back at the church. The capacity for this luncheon is 100-112 people.

First Church/First Sunday

On Sunday, August 1, we will have the barrel out to collect food for our local food pantries. Suggested items for this month are: peanut butter and jelly, cereal and macaroni & cheese. Neighbor to Neighbor in Greenwich will be closed from 8/23 until 9/7, so families are given extra food in anticipation. Please be generous. You may bring your donated items to the beach service, to worship in the Meetinghouse or leave them in the church office.

Legacy Society News

We wish to gratefully acknowledge receipt earlier this year of a substantial bequest from the estate of Hans Farman, who passed away in 2002. His bequest will augment the General Endowment Fund.

Until he became homebound in his last years, Mr Farman was a regular attendee who, as Tom Stiers put it, "loved the Church and, while quiet in his faith, was strong in his lover of democracy and justice." During his lifetime, Mr. Farman also was a benefactor of the music program here at First Church.

First Church Garden

Six months ago, the Church Committee agreed to add to the outreach program of First Church a new program, intended to assist in ehlping feed hungry local people. At a Second Hour meeting, a group of volunteers chose the name: First Church Growers for the Hungry. They also adopted a mission statement: 1 - Help feed the hungry and 2 - Grow and distribute fresh garden produce.

After the snow finally melted, volunteers used donated materials to begin rototilling, erect four corner posts and plant lettuce seeds and onion sets. Terrific volunteers have rototilled, raked and planted the entire available area, erected a six-foot high fence to protect from deer and rabbit damage, and built a garden gate with a flag on top. The enclosed area measures 1221 square feet. Some 55 volunteers have donated more than 180 hours of physical labor, and the harvest has begun with food distributed including lettuce, Swiss Chard, scallions, snap peas and beet greens. The Sunday School has planted flowers to beautify the garden. McArdle’s donated 144 tomato plants, 24 eggplants and 24 sweet pepper plants. Work continues with planting of midseason crops, weeding, cultivating, watering and harvesting. The garden will soon produce crops of beets and string beans with tomatoes about a month away. Everyone is invited to come and inspect the garden. We can supply hoes, gloves, seeds, knee pads and a cool drink for all volunteers. There is much to be done, and everyone is welcome. We wish to thank the Church Committee and all volunteers for their wonderful efforts and support. We hope to make a difference this year. The garden is located in the backyard of 36 Old Wagon Road in Old Greenwich. Please phone Donna Kelly, 661.6086, to volunteer and Don Walton, 637.0213, to let us know when you are coming.


Thermometers for Hamburgers? Get Real …..Real Healthy
by Sue Asselin, RN

With summer barbeque and picnic season in full swing, it's a great time to brush up on some safe food handling practices. Foodborne illnesses rise during this season when food is often consumed away from home. Many bacteria live all around us on surfaces and on foods. Most of us can handle a small amount of these bacteria in our environment. It is when the bacteria get a chance to multiply, that we can become sick by inadvertently ingesting them. Foodborne illnesses can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhea. More serious complications can occur, especially for those among us who are very young, pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service offers many recommendations. The basic principles: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, & CHILL can guide us toward safer outings.

CLEAN Keep everything clean. This can be especially challenging away from the kitchen. Bring disposable hand wipes and plastic garbage bags. Wash your hands before preparing food, and after handling raw meat or poultry. Also wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets. Provide antibacterial hand gel and/or wipes for your guests, and encourage children to use them. Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot soapy water after preparing each food; or bring extras if there is no source of water to wash them. At home, clean counter tops frequently with a disinfectant. Using paper towels may be best, especially when cleaning up raw meat juices. If using cloth towels, wash them often with hot water in the washing machine.

SEPARATE Cross-contamination occurs when microorganisms are spread from one food product to another. This is especially harmful when bacteria from raw meat, poultry and seafood are transferred to ready-to-eat foods. As my family can attest, this is one principle I am fanatic about…....I can visualize the invisible. Good practices begin at the grocery store, so use those little plastic bags they provide for you in the meat aisle. I even go so far as to place my meat packages on the bottom of my cart. Once home, keep raw meats in plastic bags in the refrigerator, away from fruits and vegetables. Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood. If possible, use a different cutting board exclusively for raw meat products. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood. In a cooler, place meats on the bottom, in double plastic bags or airtight containers. Even better, use a separate cooler for raw meats. Never allow meat juices to leak into the watery ice used for beverages or fruits.

COOK The goal here is to heat foods at a high enough temperature and for a long enough time to kill the harmful bacteria. I must admit, I had a problem with rule number one: Use a thermometer. Even for a hamburger? Yes. The more I read, the more the answer became clear: Yes. I thought this impractical, and compulsive. I thought thermometers were for roasts. I thought if the hamburger was brown, it was properly cooked. I thought wrong. First I'll assure you that I have always overcooked things in the name of safety, so to my knowledge, I've never seriously harmed any of my guests with my cooking. With that said, I will be changing my ways. I have learned (from a friendly voice on the USDA hotline) that there are thermometers designed for testing thinner foods like burgers and chicken breasts. I have also learned that relying on the color of the meat to detect temperature is unsafe. (Much ado about this can be found at the website below. Once there, type in "hamburger color" in the search box.) There are little disposable thermometers called "T-Sticks", though I could not find them locally. (I have sent away for some samples from the website below.) Look for a thermometer that rapidly detects the temperature at the very tip of the probe. Digital and "instant read" thermometers are two such kinds. I found several choices locally at Food Emporium, Stop-N-Shop, Porricelli's Food Mart, and Cook & Craft. So, use a thermometer and clean it after each use, or get some disposable ones. Here are the recommended temperatures for safely cooking meats:

Roasts and steaks (beef, veal, or lamb): 145º F.
Ground beef, veal, lamb, pork, or sausage: 160º F.
Pork chops, roasts, ribs, ham: 160º F.
Ground chicken or turkey: 165º F.
Poultry (chicken, duck, turkey): 180º F.

Eggs should be cooked until firm. Fish should be opaque and flake easily. Heat leftovers to 165º F. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies to a boil. Another enlightening fact: hotdogs should be heated to 165º F. From a freshly open pack, there is little risk, but once opened, a common bacterium (listeria) can proliferate and become harmful.

CHILL Cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Set your refrigerator at 40º F or less. Refrigerate foods promptly after shopping and after meals. Thaw foods in the refrigerator slowly, or in the microwave for immediate use. Marinate foods in the refrigerator. For coolers, use plenty of ice or ice packs. Blocks of ice last longer. Consider a separate cooler for beverages, since this will help maintain a more constant temperature in the food cooler. If possible, travel with the cooler inside the air-conditioned vehicle. At your destination, keep the cooler in the shade when possible. Once served, do not leave food out for more than two hours (one hour if the air temperature is above 90º F). A good rule of thumb: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The "danger zone" for bacterial growth is the in between temperatures of 40-140º F. A wise friend who recently visited me here at the church simply put it: "When in doubt, throw it out."

These prudent practices can serve us well throughout the year, as our celebrations at church and at home so often involve the sharing of good food. I've ordered a number of copies of a publication entitled "Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer's Guide to Food Safety" from the USDA. They will be available for you soon on the literature rack near the preschool entrance (also appropriately located near the kitchen). Also look for a safe food handling display on the bulletin board in August.

Wishing you all good health, happiness, and hot hamburgers.

Helpful Contacts:

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:
1-888-MPHOTLINE or 1-888-674-6854 (TDD/TTY) 1-800-256-7072

USDA Food Safety Website:

T-Stick website:

Children’s Choir Reminder!

The Children’s Choir rehearses on Wednesday afternoons from 5 - 6 pm during the school year. Please plan your extra-curricular activities accordingly so your child can attend and participate in choir.

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.

Checked Our Web Site?

Have you seen our website recently? It is now updated several times per week with sermon reprints, the latest issue of Meetinghouse Monthly and Meetinghouse Minute. If you listen to the radio broadcast of the service, you can find the bulletin and calendar on the website each Sunday. The address is

July 2004

Wm. F. Penwell

Betsy Kreuter
Vice Chairperson

Cyndy Anderson

Bill Bausch

Martin Berlin

Tim Coleman

Jack Davidson

Michaela Fossum

Julie Johnson

Barbara Norrgard

Edward Oppedisano

Meg Sherman

First Congregational Church
of Greenwich

Senior Pastor Search Committee Report to the Congregation

The June Report to the Congregation familiarized you with what we refer to as the “winnowing and wooing” process that is carried out once a candidate is determined to merit intense consideration. As of this writing, there are six candidates (“Actives”) that remain in this category and four that are still in the “Pending” category. Although we haven’t shut off the flow of new Profiles from the UCC, we have curtailed the number we see by having Susan Townsley, our Western Region Minister and advisor to the search process, screen them and only allow the ones that seem most attractive to be sent for our consideration.

All of the six Active candidates have undergone some fairly intense scrutiny. In each case, a representative number of committee members have listened to or seen audio and/or videotapes of several recent sermons and have interviewed the candidate through a teleconferencing service. Members of the Search Committee have traveled to visit the churches of five of the six to observe them conducting a service and preaching a sermon, and have reported their impressions back to the full committee. Three of these five candidates have traveled to Greenwich for an extensive interview with the full committee. When we finish visiting and interviewing all of the candidates, the list of Actives will again be pared down and the two or three finalists will be invited to come back to Greenwich for a couple of days of orientation. This will involve a final interview with the full committee and an opportunity to get better acquainted with our town, its schools and neighborhoods and housing options. We would also hope to arrange a meeting with the Senior Deacon and the Chairman of the Trustees at a minimum. Of course, these activities must be conducted individually and coordinated with all of the people involved … so this final phase will require at least two or three weeks to complete.

We continue to get questions about when we will be able to recommend a senior pastor to the congregation. While we understand the impetus behind the questions, we must repeat … this is a difficult question to answer. The search committee has spent and continues to spend an inordinate amount of time on the task in an effort to arrive at the right decision. You may recall that approximately 60 candidates have been reviewed and reduced to the current list of ten. While this may seem like a small and manageable number, there are many unknowns that affect the time line to a decision. Each Active candidate requires several hours of reading and reflection to pull the facts and impressions out of their Ministerial Profile, Self Appraisal and written references that are pertinent to our search. For these top candidates, their references have to be contacted by telephone and engaged in a discussion of the candidate’s strengths, methods and results. After all of this investigative work is completed, each candidate meets with the Search Committee at a time when at least eight members can be present. Since our committee members have other lives (barely) and other demands on their time … and since our candidates have successful, time consuming ministries and obligations of their own … scheduling is a major challenge. After a candidate emerges as the clear favorite, it will take time for an employment arrangement to be negotiated, a congregational meeting to be held and a call to be made.

All of these factors contribute to an inability to predict with certainty when a recommendation will be ready for congregational consideration. Rest assured your Search Committee is working as hard and fast as prudent and an early fall recommendation seems reasonable. We appreciate your continued interest, support and prayers.

The Senior Pastor Search Committee

The Members of The First Congregational Church of Greenwich, Ministers

Ralph Ahlberg, Interim Senior Pastor
Susan M. Craig, Senior Associate Pastor
M. Ashley Grant, Associate Pastor 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
Susan Asselin, Parish Nurse
Libby White, Director of Preschool
Thomas L. Stiers and Sally Colegrove,
Pastors Emeriti
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.