From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

January 6, 2018

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

 From the Backcountry …

 Within reality lies the greatest enchantment we can ever experience.”  Hugo von Hofmannsthal

 We are taught to see enchantment as some kind of malign, magical spell.  And yet, it’s actually a French word - meaning “to infuse with song.”   We can consider ourselves enchanted when we begin to feel the many sacred bonds and interconnections that exist within the universe.  In fact, the word universe literally means “one song” – the joyous cacophony of living things celebrating our mutual inter-dependence.  When awareness of these sacred links is severed, we find ourselves in a state of disenchantment – with its many familiar forms: depression, malaise, hopelessness, despair.  Can our souls be re-enchanted?  But, of course.  We need only place ourselves back within the context of the universe’s greater song.

 Sunday, January 7   Epiphany Sunday  10:30  a.m.    

Holy Communion

 Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah 60: 1-6; Mathew 2: 1-12

 Text:    “…Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”   Matthew 2:1

 Sermon:   “On the Fourteenth Day of Christmas”

 Tease:   Once again, we join ranks with those strange men from the East, who journey from afar - field and fountain, moor and mountain. They bear gifts that are tools of the magian tradition.   In fact, the word “magi,” simply means wise ones.  Through the millennia, these “wise ones” have become shrouded in myth.   And yet, their appearance in the birth narrative bears profound symbolic significance as the “Old” Testament begins blending with the “New.”

 New Year

Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.

Will the garden grow?

Will the rivers flow in the right direction?

Will the earth turn as it was taught?

And, if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right?   Was I wrong?

Will I be forgiven?

Can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing?

Even the sparrows do it …and, I am, well hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading?

Or, am I just imagining it?

Am I going to get rheumatism? Lock jaw?   Dementia?

Finally, I saw that all that worrying has come to nothing.

And, I gave it up.

And, I took my old body and went out into the morning

And sang.


 Meet Harper Shea Garren!! 

Harper was born November 2.  I am traveling to Lincolnshire, UK on Monday to meet my new granddaughter. Our friend, Michelle Wiltshire-Clement will be preaching for me on Sunday, January 14.    I return Tuesday, January 16.

Here’s to another enchanting year


Forget-me-not:    Our annual meeting will be held on Sunday, January 28 following worship.  It will be a pot-luck affair. So, bring a covered dish to share. 

From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

December 29, 2017

Hogmanay Procession;  Edinburgh, Scotland

Hogmanay Procession;  Edinburgh, Scotland

 From the Backcountry

Those with Scottish backgrounds are, no doubt, preparing for Hogmanay – the festive New Year’s Eve celebration.   I am one of the few die-hards who believe the word Hogmanay actually comes from the French phrase: “Homme est né – meaning, “Man is born” - a fitting message for this magical turning of the year.  Hogmanay is a night of torch processions and bonfires to purify and drive out lingering “evil” spirits.  And, of course, at some point during the night you  invariably join hands with friend and foe alike for a rousing round of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Hogmanay is a wonderful tradition.  Rich food, good drink, lively music and dance give the spent year a proper send-off, while welcoming all the new possibilities that lie ahead.  And should your celebration get a wee bit riotous, it may be worth remembering the Scot motto that it’s better to leap the divide between one year and the next … than crawl over it.

Sunday, December 31  First Sunday after Christmas  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 148; Luke 2: 22-40

Text:  “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel.”  Luke 2:34

Sermon:   “Baby … It’s You!”

Tease:  We share a tender moment as Jesus is presented in the Temple and the aged prophet Simeon takes the infant Jesus in arm and makes an astonishing claim regarding the child’s future.  If true, his words introduce us to the entirely new and unexpected way God acts in the world.  Simeon’s predictions not only place trust in God, they place considerable  trust in us, as well.


God Bless Us, Everyone!!

What a truly joyous Christmas we shared together!   From the lighting of the first Advent Candle to “passing the light” to each other on Christmas Eve, our celebration included many time honored traditions and even introduced some new ones!!

I want to begin by thanking Peter and Kerry Linderoth for proposing and organizing our first Christmas Banquet!!  It was such a joy to see everyone bustling about the kitchen getting ready for the turkey dinner - with all the trimmings.  Thanks to Larry Broadbent for cranking up the old stove in order to receive all the amazing side dishes and breads.  We really got a sense of our strength and vibrancy as a congregation.  And, it was a special honor to share the day with regional minister, Michael Ciba!

Christmas Eve is always beautiful. My heartfelt thanks to Trish and Larry Broadbent, who served as worship leaders for the evening.  Gladys Caterinicchio’s bulletin was lovely. Carolyn Tyson and Ellen Vassallo’s three anthems were inspiring.  Our readers:  Kerry Linderoth, Jeff Junker, Caroline Vassallo brought the story of Christ’s birth alive for us.  And, a special nod to Peter Linderoth who did a beautiful rendering of the prologue to John’s Gospel.   Carlos Avila and Mihai Marica’s interpretation of Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words” was breathtaking.   And, once again Seth Garren’s trumpet descants enabled us to soar with the angels.

I want to take this moment to thank Carlos Avila, personally.  The Christmas Eve service is a virtual marathon of music.  Carlos is not only an accomplish musician, but maintains such an amazing calm under intense pressure.  It is truly a joy and a privilege to minister with him.

Finally, I want to thank all the members of the congregation who supported the Christmas Mission Offering.  Many of you gave multiple times during the campaign.  We collected $1,765.00 for the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Food Pantry.  Well done, good and faithful servants!

Haug Hogmanay to All!!


From the Backcountry ...

"Adoration of the Magi" by Sandro Botticelli

"Adoration of the Magi" by Sandro Botticelli

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Weekly Pastoral Update

December 22, 2017

From the Backcountry …

I am a huge fan of Italian Renaissance art, particularly 14th century renderings of the Nativity story.  Interestingly, the masters never place Mary, Joseph and the babe in a Bethlehem stable.   They set the entire scene in Florence, Bologna, or Cortona surrounded by familiar sites.  They also include friends, neighbors and colleagues.  For example, Sandro Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi” (pictured above) has many Medici sons, grandsons and associates pressing in on the holy family – it’s a virtual “Who’s Who” of the Florentine banking community.

The artist is reminding us that - no matter where or when - the divine is manifest in the midst of human experience, within our everyday joys and sadness, ecstasy and disappointment.  The baby is often naked  and lying not in a protective manger, but on the hard, cold ground -  yet another reminder that no matter how great or small, the divine meets us at our most vulnerable and helpless points - working its redemptive power and making us whole.

And, look again!  You’ll invariably find the artist somewhere in that mass of humanity ( man in beige bathrobe on far right.)  For if the truth be told, we all want to be a part of this story.  Each of us, in our own way, will find our way to the Sanctuary on Christmas Eve - pondering in the silence, and once again painting ourselves into the masterpiece. 

Sunday, December 24   Christmas Eve   5:00 p.m.

Candlelight Service

At the magical twilight hour, we gather to hear the story of Christ’s birth.  Our traditional service of Lessons and Carols will include special music.  Ellen Vassallo and Carolyn Tyson will sing the German carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming and Don Bessig’s haunting arrangement of the English carol, “What Child Is This?”   We again welcome cellist Mihai Marica, who will join pianist Carlos Avila in an interpretation of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words.”

My meditation is entitled, “Comfort and Joy.”  Even though Christmas brings tidings of great joy, we don’t always find our own moods reflecting the jubilation of the celebration  around us.  And yet, the Christmas story reaffirms that even in the most troubled times, the Christ Child is born …a light shining in the darkness… bringing its comfort and hope … and pointing us in the direction of everlasting peace.

Please note that there will be no morning service of worship this Sunday.

2017  Christmas Mission Offering

Neighbor-to-Neighbor Food Pantry

Here’s a quick reminder how our donations to the Christmas Mission Offering make Fairfield and Westchester Counties stronger and healthier:

Neighbor to Neighbor provides healthy foods to prepare over 344,000 meals each year, including protein, dairy and fresh produce.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s nutritionist-designed food pantry builds in dignity and respect for every needy client.

Over 300 school children receive summer lunches -  keeping them healthy when school is in recess.

Over 200 Greenwich seniors receive nutritious food each  week, supporting their strength and independence.

Thousands of local residents have the benefit of 18,500 shopping bags of quality clothing, warm blankets, and winter coats on an annual basis.

260 children receive new backpacks and school supplies for the first day of school in the Fall.

400 children are opening  new toys this holiday, not only putting smiles on their faces …but easing anxiety for so many financially-strapped  parents.

Hundreds of local teens will be able to attend local proms “in style” – thanks to Neighbor-to Neighbor’s Prom Project distribution of dresses, tuxedos and accessories.

The Christmas Eve Offering will be given in its entirety to Neighbor to Neighbor.  Please give generously.

Merry Christmas!!


From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

December 15, 2017


 From the Backcountry …

Christmas in Connecticut.  Time to place a twinkling candle on the windowsill.  This old Irish custom would also have us sweep the floor, stoke the embers and leave the door unlatched.  For it is believed that Mary and Joseph still wander the roads of the world searching for a safe night’s lodging on their cold, hard journey to Bethlehem.  The candle indicates our home is a welcoming respite for those who, presently, have no home to call their own.

We would do well to remember that the baby Jesus is the child of refugees, born in occupied territory under the rule of a tyrannical king, who feels his power to be threatened.  And for many, conditions haven’t changed all that much.  May our Christmas candles be signs of welcome to all those seeking refuge from the ravages of war and violence in our own day.

Sunday, December 17   Third Sunday of Advent   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah  61: 1-11;  Luke 1: 46-55

Text:  “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”  Luke 1:53

Sermon:   “Mary, Quite Contrary”

Tease:   From the moment the strange messenger brings greetings to Mary of Nazareth, she remains demure and quiet.  But, then, in a moment of sheer inspiration … she speaks.  And what a speech!!   God might have chosen a more mature, stronger woman of better background to play this daunting role. Yet, the choice of a young, poor and vulnerable peasant girl may tell us something far more important about God …and ourselves.


Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols

Sunday Evening,

December 24,  5:00 p.m


At that magical twilight hour, we once again gather to hear the story of Jesus’ birth.  Our traditional service of lessons and carols will include special music and a short, inspirational message.  It’s a joyous, yet reflective hour – guaranteed to put you and the entire family in the Christmas spirit. 

There will be no morning service on December 24.

2017 Christmas Mission Offering – Neighbor-to-Neighbor Food Pantry

There are over 50 million Americans now struggling with food insecurity.  Odds are … you know some of them.  According to a Brookings Institute study, the number of suburban households below the poverty line has increased 64% since the economic downturn.  Ironically, today’s upscale gentrification in urban communities has been displacing lower paid neighbors, forcing them further and further  into outlying suburban communities.  Poverty now affects nearly every American community - including Fairfield Country, where residents tend to think that hunger is a problem that occurs “somewhere else.”

While corporate America seems to have turned the corner, worker’s wages remain stagnant, or continue to decline.  We must advocate for the systematic changes needed to ensure that these issues are resolved, once and for all.  In the meantime, we must support our neighborhood Food Pantries.  When times are tough, they are very often the helping hands to whom our neighbors turn for immediate food assistance.

If you haven’t done so, please give generously to our 2017 Christmas Mission Offering and be aware that the entire offering received on Christmas Eve will be allocated to this special appeal. Checks can be made to NGCC and we will forward one donation, together as a church family.

See You Sunday,


From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Weekly Pastor’s Update

December 7, 2017

Manger, rude and bare -  First Century A.D.

Manger, rude and bare -  First Century A.D.

 From the Backcountry ….

The core principle of Christianity is the Incarnation – the belief  that the Word is embodied in human flesh.   Curious, then, that so much of our religious upbringing tries to instill shame and embarrassment over things physical - as if to drive a wedge between the body and spirit. And yet, the Christmas story couldn’t be more coarse and earthy:  a newborn baby laid in a manger -  rude and bare.  No matter how many angels and halos we add to this image, the temple of the Holy Spirit remains the body and the visceral nature of  human experience.   Needless to say, our bodies teach us much about sin, doubt, longing and heartache, as well as joy, belonging, hope and redemption.  So as we make our way through this holy season, let all our senses soar.  Take it all in … knowing that spirituality is grounded in raw experience, rather than refined dogma.

Sunday,  December 10   Second Sunday of Advent 10:30

Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah 40: 1-11;  Mark 1: 1-8

Sermon:  “The One Who Comes After”   Rev. Dr. Michael Ciba

We welcome Senior Regional Minister, Rev. Dr. Michael Ciba to the pulpit this Sunday

Michael has served on the staff of the Connecticut Conference since 2005.  He is a graduate of St. John’s College in Maryland and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He has served as pastor of two congregations, the most recent in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Annual Christmas Luncheon    Join us for a Turkey Fête after worship this Sunday.  Peter and Kerry Linderoth will be grilling the bird and we will provide all the trimmings.  Please bring one (or more) of the following to share :  Stuffing, Potatoes, Gravy, Cranberry creations, or Vegetables.  We will have a Bûche de Noël for dessert.  If someone wants to bring a Figgie Pudding, don’t be shy.  And how about some  Razzleberry Dressing, just for good measure?


 2017 Christmas Mission Offering

Neighbor to Neighbor Food Pantry

Hunger in suburban America has been rapidly growing.   Even though employment statistics have improved over the past decade, earning a “living wage” remains a challenge.  41.2 million Americans struggle with food insecurity.  This represents a 57% increase since the late ‘90s. 

Suburban hunger in  is often referred to as the “invisible epidemic.”  Without warning… job loss, divorce, medical injury, even death can rip middle class families apart.  Because of shame and a sense of powerlessness, many hide their hunger secret from family, friends and neighbors.  Pocketing food from work and skipping meals in order to stretch supplies are so common today that such practices barely register as a way of coping with hunger.

No one can function properly on a constant diet of microwavable macaroni and cheese mixes.  We need quality protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, especially children.  Resources are available for those who qualify: National School Meal Program, Summer Food Service Program and Food Stamps.  Tragically, government cutbacks in these programs are coming at a time when need is only expanding.  Local Food Pantries, like Neighbor-to-Neighbor, are now essential in responding to this epidemic.

Please give generously to our Christmas Offering.  Checks can be written to NGCC and we will make one donation together as a Church Family at the conclusion of our campaign.

In Memory of all The Gallant -  Pearl Harbor,  December 7, 1941

In Memory of all The Gallant -  Pearl Harbor,  December 7, 1941

See You Sunday,


Road Rules:  We are on a soulful path that asks us to step into the greatest version of ourselves.  It is a sacred gift to shine our brightest light – not just in our moments of glory, but each and every step of our journey.”   Debbie Ford,  American Author