Sermon Library

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

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All Saints Day service, Nov. 1, 2015

Read by members of the Confirmation Class, conceived by Richard DenUyl, and written by Pat Larrabee and Meghan Young.

Three people listed below are buried in our main cemetery. (The stories are in order by birth year.)

1.  Blackleach Burritt (1744 – 1794) – Read by Hayden Witmer

The papers called me The Rebel Priest. I am the Rev. Blackleach Burritt. I was licensed to preach in 1768, after graduating from Yale three years prior. I preached extemporaneously, and was known for my physical strength, agility, fluency and love of argument. I was regarded as somewhat visionary and unpractical, if not perhaps eccentric.

But mostly, I was known for being a patriot. The British press referred to me as that “most pestiferous rebel priest and preacher of sedition.” A Tory Newspaper said I was “an egregious rebel who frequently took up arms.”

At the beginning of 1779 I was installed as the pastor in this church.

I only lasted 4 months.

My ministry here ended in the early morning hours of February 11, 1779. I was captured by the British for my advocacy of the American cause.

It was 4 AM. I was at the parsonage, with my wife Martha, (a direct descendent of Governor Thomas Welles, the Colonial Governor of Connecticut) and our children. The British raiders broke in by shattering our windows when we refused to open the door. They carried off 13 of us Patriots, 48 cattle, 4 horses,  plundered all they could lay their hands on, and committed other outrages.

The raiders fearing an attack by my fellow patriots, did not have enough time, or enough human kindness, to let me dress, and threw me out of my bed and out into the cold night. My devoted wife, 7 months pregnant, left our 8 young children at home, in our plundered house, and followed clothes in hand, begging for a chance for me to put on some clothes. They finally allowed it, after giving her a hard time, and ordering her to leave. But my beloved kept following us, pleading for two of her cows. She followed us all the way to the water’s edge, where they boarded us onto a boat.

As the British raiders couldn’t carry away all the plunder, one of the officers, finally caved, saying “let the damned Rebel Minister’s wife have one of her cows!”

I was taken to the Sugar House Prison in New York City, where I was detained for about 14 months, and nursed back to health by William Irving, the father of Washington Irving.

Two months after my capture, my wife gave birth to a son, who was named after me. I would meet him upon release, when I joined the family in Westchester, where my wife had fled to be with friends. There I would continue my ministry. The strain of war was terrible, but I was convicted by faith, a passionate patriot, preaching of freedom.

 

2.  DeWitt C. Eggleston (1849 – 1939) – Read by Eliza Keller

When I accepted the call to be your pastor, my family moved from Providence, RI, into the parsonage here in 1894. My name is Dewitt Clinton Eggleston. Rev. Eggleston to you.

A year after my arrival, in 1895 we held a gala 3-day celebration of the church’s 225th anniversary and on October 29th we had a large dedication service for the laying of the cornerstone of the new stone church!

One month after that, I burned the church down. It was mortifying.

On a cold December 7th, the sexton and I stoked the fire in the furnace and lit the lamps for the choir rehearsal that night, and somehow the whole wooden church caught on fire!

I felt so badly. But in my defense, it’s still a mystery how that fire began.

Thankfully this church forgave their relatively new pastor, and we carried on.

Until the new stone church was completed the next year, we had to hold services in the 2-story frame schoolhouse, where the Fire Station is today. That big old bell in the tower was burned somewhat, but we sold 75 little commemorative bells cast from the big one as a fund raiser for the new building, and, if I do say so myself, they sound great! (rings the round bell.)

I and my lovely wife Mary were given the responsibility of choosing the stained glass windows for our new stone church. We chose three windows in the elegant Tiffany style that was all the rage those days. They were made by the J&R Lamb Studios of Greenwich Village in New York. These windows are now the 3 panels of the north narthex window, but each panel used to be the center of its own window on 3 sides of the building. I’d say that was the most beautiful contribution Mary and I made to the church. We were so grateful John and Charles Hendrie, A. A. Marks and the congregation could afford to pay for such elegant windows.

Many big changes happened in my time here. A church burned. A new one was built. We bought the McAfee property, and expanded the cemetery.

We kept up with the modern world. When the society first began in the 1600’s, they used pitch pine knots for lighting! But during my time, in 1903 we converted from gas lighting to electricity, greatly reducing our risk of fire, thank you very much!

I left this church in 1910, and when I died, they buried me in the cemetery, right out here, on the spot where the pulpit of the old wooden church used to be.

I feel at home.

 

3.   Alice Stead Binney (1866 – 1960) – Read by Eva Moore

I must say, I’ve been a major donor of this church. Oh trust me darlings, you’ve heard of me.

I am Alice Stead Binney. Donations include: the June Binney Memorial Parish House, the organ, the reredos now in our chapel, a large oriental carpet for the pastor’s office, carved ornate furniture, and so on. I could go on, …and I will.

My husband Edwin made his first million from his invention of carbon black. I was the one who invented the name of “crayons” after he invented Crayola crayons, and it’s all about the name.

Later I influenced him to buy Binney Park and donate it to the town. Okay, well truthfully, I myself was influenced by my daughters Helen and Mary as well as that fine young pastor Lorimer. Oh, that darling Lorimer…

Anyway, Helen begged and begged me to get Edwin to buy that swamp! Helen begged me again to buy the little triangle park on the corner of Harding Road and Sound Beach when she heard a gas station might go in there! Helen also got me to join her in paying for half and the architect Dan Everett Waid paid for the other half of the Natural Park land along Harding Road. (sigh) Helen resorted to tears that time!

But enough about her. Back to me. I enjoyed hosting annual beach parties at our beach next to our home, Rocklyn, off Shore Road in Old Greenwich for the Sunday School children. They came by the trolley, which ran down Sound Beach Ave, and filled up our beach with the sounds of laughter.

We loved the water. My four children were all swimmers, but Mary and June were outstanding at it.

Speaking of June, now I have heard that some of your young people think the portrait I commissioned of my son, “June” (which by the way stands for Edwin Binney, Junior) looks a bit creepy! I think he looks wonderful. He was a fine, handsome, outstanding swimmer at Yale – he broke 13 intercollegiate records! We could not have been prouder of him. June was my only son and followed his father, a petrochemist, in a similar career as a geologist. June had a wife and young son when he died of pneumonia in California in 1928. He was too young.

Some people may also be wondering, how we ever got the renowned sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who designed Mount Rushmore, to do that bas-relief of my husband and myself that hangs in the auditorium. It should come as no surprise that I LOVED to entertain all of the best musicians and artists in the area and Mr. Borglum lived in Stamford!

Now, as you know by now, I do love grand gestures. My husband and I paid for half of the June Binney Memorial Parish House to be built in 1930-31. The church got a mortgage for their half, but after my husband died in 1934, at the annual meeting dinner, I tore up the mortgage, thus paying for most of the whole building myself. It gave me SUCH pleasure! There was not a dry eye in the room when I did that. I do love drama. And, I did really love this place.

 

4.  Allan Lorimer (1902 – 1980) – Read by Lauren O’Donnell

I am Allan Lorimer, pastor here from 1927 to 1934, 7 years.

When I was a student at Amherst College, my friends told me not to become a minister because it paid too poorly and it was “an antiquated profession”.

After graduation I studied at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, on a fellowship. I studied Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism, and decided I was too interested in religions NOT to be a minister!

When I was in my first year at Union Theological Seminary, I was surprised to be asked by the seminary president, Henry Sloan Coffin, to give a sermon at a small Congregational church in Sound Beach, CT in April. They were looking for a new pastor. If they weren’t happy with my sermon, another student would be sent there next. I was so nervous that day!

But, they invited me back to preach on Palm Sunday, so I arranged to bring Fred Patten, a Metropolitan Opera bass, as a soloist. Fred was a big hit and a huge overflow crowd came.  The ushers scrambled to take the collection in some men’s derby hats!

Now, sometimes as a pastor, you are called to be bold, following the examples of the prophets and Jesus, and preach truth, even when it isn’t popular.

It all started when my beloved wife Mary’s father was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan in 1931 or 32.  It made me so mad. So I preached a sermon saying that the four most dangerous institutions in America today are The Ku Klux Klan, The American Legion, The Daughters of the American Revolution, and The Anti-Saloon League, all because of their intolerant attitudes in those days.

The local press published my sermon and soon the Legion burned a cross right out here on the lawn. The Legion demanded my resignation.

The Trustees and Deacons unanimously backed my right to speak my mind – I cried out of appreciation.

When I met with the American Legion guys, Allan Kitchel arrived in his Colonel uniform and Bill Cook came in his Major uniform.

Free speech is one of the fundamental principles of the American Constitution, and the American Legion stands on the Constitution. I demanded an apology from the Legionnaires, and they gave me one. I give thanks, that God’s word was heard that day.

 

5.  Emily Warner Close Lent (1900-1985) – Read by Olivia Pfetsch

I am Emily Warner Close Lent. Since I’m sure you’re all curious about it – Yes, I am a distant cousin of your current day actress Glenn Close. The Close family was in Greenwich for many generations!

I was born in Round Hill, but after I married Leighton Lent, we lived in Old Greenwich, and we decided to switch to First Church in 1921.

We became members during the Dr. Barney days when attendance was very light. In 1927 young Allan Lorimer came, then Alden Mosshammer, and then Dr. Vincent Daniels.

The church membership finally grew and grew! What a delight that was!

I taught Sunday School for many, many years – at all levels. After the Parish House was finished in 1931, we’d meet in the auditorium for a half hour of worship then we’d go to the classrooms – with girls and boys in separate classes. There were SO many students! Well, I had four children myself, so I was used to lots of children.

When I was Superintendent of the Primary level, I asked the children if they knew who Isaac Ferris, the white haired man who took the weekly offerings, was. One boy said, “Yes, I know. He’s Jesus, ‘cause he gets all the money!”

I loved working with the Women’s Fellowship, where once a month we would work for the Red Cross, rolling bandages and sewing garments for the poor. And, oh, that once-a-year rummage sale we put on was SUCH hard work, sorting, packing and storing. We made thousands of dollars in just that one day. That was before the Rummage Room began.

You know the bottom part of the 4th stained glass window in the Chapel showing women packing barrels?  That was us.  We sent many barrels to various missions.

When my husband Leighton died in 1964, I volunteered to become the first office volunteer at the front desk of the church. I SO enjoyed being with the staff, answering the telephone, making corn chowder for the weekly staff meetings and baking a cake for each staff person’s birthday!

There is a lot to be said for volunteering among friends and such a wonderful church.

I loved First Church and its music. One of my most memorable and moving moments was the reception you gave me, right before I moved away, and Cynthia Clarey sang “Oh Freedom”!

All in all, it’s what the church has done for me more than what I’ve done for the church.

Faith to me is the faith that we have in the way we live and the things we do.  I believe that faith is one of the finest things we can live up to.

 

6.  Jeanne Blaisdell Freeman Boyer (1910-2011)   – Read by Parker Freeman

I am Jeanne Blaisdell Freeman Boyer. I am buried in the cemetery here, next to my first husband, Donald Freeman, who passed away at age 50.  I, myself, was lucky enough to live to 101!

Don and I were both born in Maine and married there in 1933. After we moved to Old Greenwich, we joined and I became active in this church, as well as an active shopper at the Church Thrift store.  I was known among family and friends as “the ultimate bargain hunter.”

I served on many committees, such as Outreach, Memorial Flowers, ushering and as a Deaconess.  Yes, in those days the deaconesses were a separate group from the deacons. We ladies were relegated to preparing the communion elements and cleaning up afterward, since in those days only the men were allowed to serve communion.

Don was a Trustee here from 1943 to 1955 – 12 years! He was trustee in charge of the cemetery care, the Parish House, and financials. When he passed away in 1960, the church Meetinghouse expansion was being planned and I wanted to make a lasting dedicated memorial to him.

Our family and friends donated a new large 3-panel “Resurrection” stained glass window to his memory. It replaced the wonderful St. Cecilia window, which was moved from the center of the south narthex window to the left panel of the north narthex window.  Now all the lovely Tiffany-like Lamb Studio windows would be together! And Don has a magnificent memorial allowing beautiful light to shine in on all of you.

I am especially proud that my great-granddaughter, Parker Blaisdell Freeman, is in this year’s Confirmation Class. She’ll be a 4th generation Freeman with First Congregational Church.

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