The First Congregational Church of Greenwich
A Lenten Journey
This month, in the cold of winter we look out and see the dark branches of trees silhouetted against the pastels of the winter sky. It is a season of darkness - and also, little by little, a time of lengthening days. The morning sun brings forth the dawn and strains to stay with us, each day a little longer.
For us in Connecticut, this is a season when the weather drives us inside with unexpected gifts of time - time to think, to notice, and to ponder where it is Lent finds us this year. Ash Wednesday, February 9, is approaching, now only days away. It will be our day for setting forth. We will begin in the garden of creation, the garden God created for the delight of humankind, and we will journey from there into the wilderness. The stories of Adam and Eve illustrated their humanity with all its imperfections. Those same stories will also remind us whose we are.
What will we learn this year? Who will be our companions? How will God choose to be with us. It is quite a journey from the garden of creation to the garden of betrayal, quite a journey through our own wilderness to that other garden tomb, the empty tomb of resurrection. The path is there and we are invited to find our way.
At times our journey will be a solitary one, at times it will be in the company of friends. We will travel together as a congregation, and we will meet new friends along the way. How we look forward to that crossroads on March 6 where we will meet Dr. David Young, already our friend, now coming to be pastor, to complete the journey with us. Let us get ready now, mindful of the possibilities this season holds. God is waiting, ready to walk alongside us, to share our joys, to wipe away our tears, and to pick us up if we fall. God is there to show us the way, like a bright star in that winter sky, there all the time, but most visible when the sky grows dark.
Let us be on our way.
February Worship Schedule
All services are at 8 and 10 am in the Meetinghouse unless otherwise indicated.
Sunday, February 6
Wednesday, February 9
Sunday, February 13
Sunday, February 20
Sunday, February 27
We wish to extend a warm welcome to our new SPF Coordinator, Anna Paskausky. Anna grew up in Southeastern Connecticut as a member of the 1st Congregational Church of Groton. After her undergraduate studies in Religion at Smith College in Massachusetts, she moved to Washington State where she served a term with AmeriCorps on an island community in the Puget Sound. There she worked in a variety of roles with youth from developing an electronic music program in an alternative high school to leading sailing expeditions in the Sans Juans. This past summer Anna returned to the Northeast to work at Silver Lake Conference Center as Camp Family Mom. She is currently applying to seminary.
Endowment Fund News
Towards the end of last year, the General Endowment Fund received a sizable gift from John C. Armstrong, a long-time Old Greenwich resident who now lives in Williamstown, MA so that he can be close to his children and grandchildren.
Mr. Armstrong's daughters were confirmed here (he, himself, was active in a number of churches in town); however, his generosity to First Church is motivated primarily by his lasting memory of the care and support offered by members of our congregation - especially Cornelia and Fred Veith - during his wife Helga's protracted battle with stomach cancer which came to an end with Helga's untimely death at 56 in 1974.
A Busy Church
People have commented that no matter what time of day or evening they are in the First Church buildings, there's always a lot of activity...and they're right!
In addition to the many meetings of First Church committees & ministries, and the daily ebb and flow of over 145 preschoolers, their parents and teachers, there are over 25 community groups or individuals who rent space here on a regular or part-time basis. It is the philosophy and mission of First Church to be a welcoming resource for the greater Greenwich-Stamford community and we do our best to accommodate those who need space.
These groups fully realize that there is a cost attached to the use of our facilities & utilities. Accordingly, we do charge rental fees, require liability insurance, and operate on a fair but businesslike basis. Facility rentals in 2004 contributed $22,600 to the First Church Operating Budget. If you would like any more specifics of this aspect of First Church life (or know of someone looking for space), call Church Business Administrator George Handley at the church office.
First Church ~
On Sunday, February 6, First Church will have the barrel out for our regular food collection. Please help keep our local food pantries stocked during the cold winter months. Our local pantry at Neighbor to Neighbor provides peanut butter (creamy is preferred) and jelly to most of the 125 families served during the first week of every month. Let's make this a "PB & J" month to help stock the shelves! (Any other donations will be great, too.)
100% Choir Participation
Members of The Chancel Choir agreed that they would achieve 100% participation in contributing to tsunami relief through the various avenues available to them, with the prayer that this would spread congregation-wide.
Save the Date Womenís Fellowship Bus Trip
Wednesday, April 20, 8:30 - 4 The Best of Litchfield County
Lenten Bible Study
During Lent this year, we are offering a wonderful opportunity for spiritual and theological reflection through a Lenten Study, led by Martin Berlin. On Sunday mornings, beginning Feb. 13 at 8:45 am, join us in the Senior Pastorís Office for a chance to make every step of your Lenten Journey meaningful. The Sunday bulletin will keep you up to date on information regarding the study. If there is enough interest in a Wednesday class, we will schedule it. If you are interested or have questions contact Ashley Grant or Marty Berlin.
The 2005 Lenten Offering
As you may have heard, Outreach has been busy assessing the meaning of a slew of recent developments in Honduras, going so far as to send a mission team to attain as much clear understanding as possible. The need for more detailed analysis, combined with the fact that Lent begins early this year on our calendar, left us without time to offer the usual advance description of our goals for the Lenten Offering. What follows is a brief description of the recommendations we will make to the congregation our January 27th Annual Meeting.
Serving Human Need: Our Two-Part Mission
For the third consecutive year, we will recommend that the proceeds of the Offering be divided between specific projects in Honduras and support for hunger-serving agencies in Fairfield County and, possibly, in Maine.
Our Hunger Mission
In 2003, Outreach proposed that we break with the Lenten tradition that we devote all proceeds to international causes. Through a series of meetings and second hours, the committee came to understand the severity of the issue of hunger, especially among children and recent immigrants, right here in Southern Connecticut. Through a Hunger Walk, poster campaign, food drives and a share of the Lenten Offering, First Church was able to donate thousands of pounds of food, and thousands of dollars, to food serving agencies in the area. We repeated that gratifying drive in 2004, and look forward to doing it again this year.
By all accounts, the problem grows. USDA donations to local food banks is diminished in times of war. Many core-needs agencies have yet to recover from the post September 11 economy and shift of donor interest. Our need to reach out to our brothers and sisters fighting to survive in the wake of tsunami further erodes giving at home, a dilemma spawned by both human nature and nature itself. But the food shelves are not filling as they should be, so our contributions will be well-timed indeed.
Outreach will provide further information soon as to specific food needs. The cash we donate will be utilized to by in bulk and at not-for-profit rates, greatly magnifying every dollar contributed.
Our Honduras Mission
We will be announcing a Second Hour to fully apprise the congregation of the situation on the ground in Honduras, so for now will simply summarize recent changes and advise you of our recommendation for this year's Lenten Offering.
Our eight-year partner in Honduras has been AIEH, the social service arm of our sister church, an entity allowed to run quite independently of the church. We worked most closely with Dr. Espana of AIEH's Department of Medical Services, and with our now-retired missionary there, Dr. Joyce Baker. Recently the Honduran church, facing deep debt, mounting losses and a philosophical rededication to its ecclesiastical side, brought AIEH under its full control and began to make the budget and personnel reductions that they felt must be made to begin to right the economic outlook. Partly for this reason, Dr. Espana was let go, leaving us with none of the contacts with whom we had worked since nearly the beginning. At the same time, we learned that the facilities First Church has built, the medical and nutrition clinics, are now partly unstaffed and extremely underutilized. There are presently no medicines on hand, with the church having suspended new purchases because they have no funds to pay for them. They are awaiting a congregant to finish medical school in Cuba and come back to Pinalejo to serve at the doctor at its clinic. The church has designed a drastically reduced budget, which it is not sure it can meet, and acknowledges that the original operating levels for these facilities are unlikely to be realized anytime soon. And they acknowledge that medical services are no longer a priority, feeling strongly that the struggling people of Honduras deserve an expanded effort to reach them with the Word. They would, in fact, very much like our support of their evangelical efforts.
The Outreach Committee feels strongly that we must make every effort to support our past work in Honduras, and to be sensitive to the changing needs of our partner and sister church there. For the Honduras portion of the Lenten Offering, then, we have assembled the following priorities. Please note that we still hold close to $15,000 in 2004 funds which we withheld until we could be certain that we understood the new landscape. Those funds are included in the figures below:
2004 Balance $15,000
2005 Goal 15,000
To be distributed:
$17,000 Funds the 2005 salaries of the existing doctor in Subirana, as well as the nurse and pharmacist/nurse assistant in Pinalejo.
$ 6,000 Will pay for bulk medicines and/or transportation to assist in providing medical brigades on a project basis.
$ 3,000 Will fund a survey and rough design of the much-desired Christian camp for children. This project also has the potential to develop into a building mission for our congregation and youth groups.
$ 4,000 To build a house for a pastor of our sister church. Many of their pastoral staff are currently living in appalling conditions while trying to minister to the needs of so many.
Special thanks are owed to Lisa Noorgard Miller, Fred Laffan, Juliana Pugliese and Susie Craig, for devoting their time and talent toward planning and executing a virtual whirlwind Honduras visit. They brought back a wealth of information, to be sure, but also a compassionate and Christian perspective in which to frame that information. Their ability to work together and report with candor and sensitivity is a remarkable blessing.
Heart to Heart
February Parish Nurse Hours:
With February comes the onset of Lent, Valentine's Day, President's Day, and here at First Church, a tradition I'm looking forward to experiencing for the first time: the SPF live performance of Godspell. What's more, with melancholy hearts, we will say goodbye to the guidance of Reverend Ahlberg, trusting that our friendship and love will endure. We are also witnessing the world joining together in prayer and action to help our brothers and sisters in Asia. With all this going on, one might not take time to observe National Heart Month. But, since we often think of our hearts as a symbol of love at the core of our being; I propose we use these examples of love, be they reverent, romantic, patriotic, praiseful, or brotherly; as reminders to care for our physical hearts. After all, we can more effectively share the love of Christ if we care for these amazing bodies God has so graciously entrusted to us.
There are some risk factors for heart disease that we cannot change (age, gender, heredity, race, medical history) hence the Serenity Prayer. And then there are those we can do something about (diet, cholesterol, blood pressure, exercise, weight, smoking, stress). I encourage you to examine some of these aspects of your life and resolve to improve one or more. While it can seem overwhelming to think of them all, they are so interrelated that it is difficult to separate them. In fact, by improving one factor, you can't help but improve some others. And what's more, the very things that can improve your cardiovascular health will also reduce your risk of other ailments such as diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer. Just one positive change will have exponential benefits.
This month the Wellness Committee is sponsoring a delicious way to improve your cardiovascular health. At Cooking for the Heart on Tuesday February 22, at 5:00 pm, come hear Edward Schuster, MD, cardiologist, speak on How to Live to Be 100, while we share some heart-healthy dishes. Volunteer to cook a dish, recipes provided, and keep the cookbook, also titled Cooking for the Heart. To attend or volunteer to cook, call me at ext. 21.
I would love to share more information on the many changeable risk factors touched upon above. Please come see me in room 203 for support with these changes, or for blood pressure screening, an important component of heart fitness. I have many printed resources available. Also very informative are the web sites below.
Middle School Programs
JPF(Junior Pilgrim Fellowship) focuses on fellowship, service, and activities for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Our big project for February is the 24 Hour Fast to help the hungry. Read more in this issue.
Wednesday, Feb 5 Drop In 3:30-5pm in the Youth Room
Sunday, Feb 6 JPF from 5-6 pm
Wednesday, Feb 9 Drop In
Sunday, Feb 13 JPF promoting 24 Hour Fast during Coffee Hour. JPF/Parent meeting after church (orientation to the 24 Hour Fast) in the Lounge at 11:45 am
Wednesday, Feb 16 Drop In
Fri-Saturday, 18-19 24 Hour Fast and Lock-In
Sunday, Feb 20 No JPF
Sunday, Feb 27 No JPF (school vacation)
Pastor's Class- We are off and running with great classes and worship experiences this year.
Feb 6 Pastor's Class will sit together in the Meeting House as we celebrate Rev. Ralph Ahlberg and share in Communion.
Feb 13 Pastor's Class will meet in the Lounge for class.
Feb 20 Family Worship in the Meeting House
Feb 27 Pastor's Class will meet in the Lounge for class.
24 Hour Fast for Hunger
Part of the youth ministry at First Church is involving the youth in service projects and teaching them about issues of need in our local and global communities. On February 18-19, many of our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders will participate in a 24 Hour Fast, sponsored by World Vision. "World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization, serving the world's poorest children and families in nearly 100 countries." Our teens and 600,000 youth from around the United States have decided to do something about the hunger epidemic in many places, like Ethiopia, Peru, Zimbabwe, and India. For one day, they will accept the challenge of experiencing what millions of children experience every day-hunger. We hope to focus our compassion on raising funds to contribute to this global hunger relief project. "Every $30 will feed and care for a starving child for a whole month." Every bit counts! Participating youth will have donation forms, and you will see youth on Feb. 6 and Feb 13 at Coffee Hour if you are able to give. Please contact Ashley Grant if you have questions or want to donate. Your financial support and prayers are appreciated.
The Senior Pilgrim Fellowship proudly presents
In the Auditorium First Congregational Church 108 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich
Ticket donation: $10 for adults $8 for under 12 and seniors
Tickets available in the Church Office
Information for Upcoming Events
NIGHTS OFF!, the evening book group of the Women's Fellowship, will continue to read Time and Again, a wonderful tale about life in late 19th century New York City - as experienced by a man who "travels" from our time back to that "Gilded Age". The meeting will be held in the Lounge at 7:30 pm on Monday, February 28. Our usual meeting date which is the third Monday of the month, falls during the public school winter break so we will meet the following Monday. As always, everyone is welcome and books can be purchased in the church office or at Just Books Too in Old Greenwich.
SAVE THE DATE: Friday evening, March 11. Sponsored by Just Books and the Women's Fellowship, Anne Lamott, the author of Traveling Mercies, read earlier this year by NIGHTS OFF! and Hats Off, is coming to First Church for a book discussion. This promises to be a very well attended event as Ms. Lamott is known for her refreshing and honest approach to questions of faith that will inspire us all. Grab your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends and significant others, because this writer/speaker is not to be missed!
Lift Your Voice
While quite a few people have expressed interest in my sessions to help those who think they can't sing, as of this writing no one has shown up on a Wednesday evening. But I am quite determined to offer this program and will continue it into February. I have also heard the question floating around, "Would I have to sing in front of other people?" First, please know that even most of our choir members would be mortified at the notion of that. But if you want to discover your voice, you have to try a little. My aim is to help you do that in the most relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere I can create. Believe me, if all you can do is make two grunts that are slightly different in pitch, we will work from there. And you, as an adult seeking growth in this area, will receive my highest admiration and praise!
To alleviate fears and whet your appetite, I will meet for a very short session, ten to fifteen minutes, after worship on February 6. Do give it a try!
The Parents Committee of First Church Preschool in Old Greenwich have voted to donate money raised during their fundraising efforts to the Tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. They will be donating a check for $3,000 to Americares. Photo of check for $3,000 being handed to Americares by First Church Preschool parents committee. Photo of Tara Whalen from Americares, children in picture Christiana Lauridsen, Tess Lamhaouar & Rose Duckworth.
The Members of The First Congregational Church of Greenwich, Ministers
Ralph Ahlberg, Interim Senior
Sunday Services of Worship - 8 &