From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

November 16, 2017


From the Backcountry

“Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have tea first?”   J.M. Barrie

I was raised on a diet of strict Calvinist Presbyterianism.  I committed the Westminster Shorter Catechism to memory.  I was well versed in the Reformed confessions.  But, none of this dogma ever took hold of me.  I have always struggled with the exclusive interpretation of Scripture that God welcomes some into the Kingdom, while others are cast into eternal darkness.

I continue to be struck by the wonders of God’s Kingdom. For me, faith is the call to a great adventure.  Along the way, we engage an inclusive Savior who encourages the kind of belief that is committed to asking questions and not knowing all the answers. A sense of “belonging” is essential for the journey.  We need comfort and challenge along the way - as long as we don’t fret about self-preservation and remain willing to venture beyond our  present boundaries.

Sunday, November 19   Service of Thanksgiving  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 100;   Matthew 25: 14-30

Sermon:  “Risky Business”

Text:  “He who received the one talent dug in …hid his master’s money.”  Matthew 25:18

Tease:  Our passage introduces us to two very clever and successful entrepreneurs.  They show us how to undertake ventures with skill and confidence, even in the face of certain risk.  Their rewards  are enviable..  But, success is never a sure thing.  Often, like a third entrepreneur in our story, fear of failure can get the better of us. Terrified that he will lose the small sum entrusted to him, this worker does nothing.  Sadly, his “return and reward” aren’t so enviable.  Yet, within the startling, if not uncomfortable narrative, we do learn what Thanksgiving is all about. 

The Wide, Wonderful  and sometimes Wacky World

Vive Beaujolais Day! -  November 1

Rolling out the barrels in Paris

Rolling out the barrels in Paris

One of the greatest, yet wackiest Harvest rituals is an “Amazing” Race currently underway. That’s right.  Welcome to Beaujolais Day!!   At the stroke of midnight this morning, 70 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau from the eastern vineyards of France were released.  By motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, jet, elephant, rickshaw and other forms of transportation,  merchants and their patrons are competing regionally around the globe to be the first to partake of this “vin primeur.”  I’m told the competition can get downright nasty - particularly in Japan!!

Shunned by aficionados, Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine made from grapes that only five weeks ago were still ripening on the vine.  Expedited fermentation and bottling processes ensure delivery by today.   So popular  is the demand,  French law prohibits distribution before the third Thursday in November.

It’s a day for frivolity and entertainment.   Many harvest festivals will continue on into the weekend -  with marathons, formula car, bicycle and other more creative forms of racing.   In fact, 120 “Beaujolais Bashes” are thrown in this wine’s region alone. How widely is Beaujolais Day celebrated in the United States?  Well, it depends on who you ask.  It’s no mere coincidence that millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau  will soon be on shelves, just as 45 million turkeys are arriving at local markets. And apparently, this vin primeur  is a “superb match”  for poultry.  Who could have guessed?

Happy Thanksgiving,


Road Rules:  There are times when we stop and sit still.  We listen.  And breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.”   James Carroll

From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

November 9, 2017

A modest radish crop completes another successful year in the Teaching Garden

A modest radish crop completes another successful year in the Teaching Garden

From the Backcountry …

“For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness, but of power and love”   2 Timothy 1:7

There are so many different expressions of Christianity, from extreme fundamentalism to mystical contemplation. I’ve personally experienced unparalleled meanness. Yet, I’ve also witnessed an amazing generosity of spirit.  Some look to faith for concrete answers to life’s complexity, others are more comfortable not knowing all the answers and see faith as an opportunity to probe deeper into life’s mystery.  

I see our own faith community as a place that encourages questions and nurtures an atmosphere that can help each of us refine our own daily experiences.  When we begin each Service of Worship with a review of the week’s events, we can easily see why our society is choked with fear.  That is why it’s also important for us to take that moment each week to hear the story of “someone out there” whose selfless acts of love can inspire us to once again “Believe in The Good.”   Our faith community is a place where Protestants, Catholics, Agnostics and Devout Believers journey together into the unknown and realize that religious expression is  a wonderful process of discovery and ongoing renewal. 

Sunday, November 12   Morning Worship  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 78;  Matthew 25: 1-13

Sermon:   “Bridesmaids”

Text:  “But when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them”  Matthew 25: 3

Tease:   Ah… the bridesmaid story.  Five are prudent.  Five are not.  When  it’s to join the wedding party, the “foolish” ones are turned away because their wicks aren’t trimmed!   It always seems to me that the prudent ladies are a snooty bunch.  And, the fact that they aren’t willing to share their resources seems contrary to the gospel message.  And yet, there’s a verse in this passage that turns this disturbing story completely inside out.

Our Church’s Wider Mission -   Oaxaca, Mexico

Radish carving,  "La Noche de Rabanos"  Oaxaca City, Mexico

Radish carving,  "La Noche de Rabanos"  Oaxaca City, Mexico

How easy it is to forget that on September 7, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake rattled the Oaxaca region of Mexico, leaving 100 dead and villages in ruin.  With the help of government, NGO, and our  mission partner funding, Oaxaca is slowly getting back on its feet.  Unfortunately, tour groups are cancelling trips out of fear of aftershocks.   Last week’s popular “Day of the Dead” celebrations did not attract the tourists that the region needs in order to recover.

Mexico is known for its colorful, grandiose festivals.   As I researched the history of the radish for our Garden Journal, I learned that one of the more unique events is Oaxaca’s “La Noche de Rabonos,” -  Night of the Radish!!  Sounds really scary!  Actually, it’s part of their Christmas celebrations.   Dominican friars brought radishes to Mexico in the 16th century.   Because they are  harvested in cooler December weather, a monk suggested that farmers carve their radishes into imaginative shapes as a means to entice people to buy produce at the Christmas Vigil market.  The practice has been observed ever since.  Oaxaca radishes are not like our little red ones.  They’re thick, long and cylindrical - measuring up to 20 inches in length and some even weighing 7 pounds. And yet, like our own crop, many grow into contorted shapes with multiple appendages!  Such “ugly” veggies prove inspirational to the carvers - one of whom will proudly take home 12,000 pesos, if judged best in show. 

Our prayers and mission support continue to assist victims of this year’s earthquakes.  May their rich and storied traditions enable them to find renewed faith - as they rebound from recent struggle and move forward to a brighter new year. 

Vida Al Rabano!


Road Rules:  “The happiness we seek cannot be found by grasping, or trying to hold onto things.  It cannot be found through getting uptight about wanting to go in the direction that we think will bring us happiness.  The happiness we seek is already here.  And it will be found through relaxation and letting go, rather than through struggle.”   Pema Chodron

From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

November 2, 2017


From the Backcountry …

Today is All Souls Day.  Since the late Middle Ages, the faithful have set aside a day to remember the dearly departed.   There was a time when the faithful believed the spirits of the dead would visit homesteads to look over the household and bring blessings for future life and work.  Even though “roaming spirits” was officially declared necromancy, many communities around the world continue to lovingly remember those who have gone before us.   In Mexico, for example, a three-day celebration is underway: “Dia de los Muertos.”  Far from being a morbid observance, today’s All Souls observance will be a grand fiesta.   Festal dinners are being prepared.  Scattered petals and burning incense will invite the spirits to enter and partake of favorite foods.  The “leftovers” will then be shared among family and friends.  As night falls, many will process to cemeteries to hold vigils at the graves of loved ones.  I suppose we could call it quaint superstition.  And yet, a Mexican boy spending the night at his uncle’s gravesite will no doubt have a connection across time with his forebears that most of us have sadly lost.

Sunday,  November 5   Holy Communion  10:30 am.

Lectionary Readings:   Psalm 43;  Matthew 23: 1-12

Text:   “…but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they  teach.”

Sermon:  “Hypocritic Oath” 

Tease:   We love to castigate hypocrisy!  Catching prominent leaders not living up to their principles is an American sport.  The unfortunate result of these feeding frenzies is a general reluctance to commit to any kind of principles, for fear that others may accuse us of being a “phony”.  As Jesus once again takes on the Pharisees, we may just conclude that hypocrisy is the risk we all take every time we try to commit ourselves to doing something good.


Our Church’s Wider Mission


Saying “Boo” to Hate

An interfaith counter-protest to a white supremacy rally took place in Shellbyville, Tennessee this past weekend.  The gathering gave more than 400 individuals a unique opportunity to celebrate Halloween -  by saying “Boo” to hate.  Both demonstrations were peaceful.  Organizations like the Nationalist Front, the League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party chose Shelbyville for their  “White Lives Matter”  march hoping to rile up racial resentment in this diverse and working class town - where a number of immigrants are moving because of the work available at a chicken factory.  Little did they know that their event would be so vastly outnumbered.  170 Tennessee faith leaders came together to support the counter message of love and solidarity.  And yet, it was a young man in the eighth grade, son of Latino immigrants, who organized the “Honk - To Say “Boo To Hate”  protest, enabling even passersby to participate!!

Margaret Ernst, a UCC seminary intern working in neighboring Brokmeade commented, “As a northerner, born in Connecticut and now living in the South,  (this event) has taught me that at an  historical moment when white supremacy is looking for new recruits, the North and liberal cities on the coasts have much to learn from courageous, rural and working class Southerners who are showing the rest of us how to face our history and carve out a new future with humility and togetherness.”

Way to go, Margaret!!

Say Boo To Hate,


Road Rules:   “We do not need magic to transform our world.  We carry all of the power we need inside us already.”   J.K. Rowling

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

October 19, 2017

Winter Wren stops by the Pollinator Garden

Winter Wren stops by the Pollinator Garden

 From the Backcountry …

“Consider the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap, or store away in barns ….”  Matthew 6:26

A winter wren stopped by the garden this week.  These tiny little guys are quite resourceful and adaptable.  When most songbirds migrate south, winter wrens will endure the frigid conditions by retreating to low-lying holes in masonry and wood.  They will approach their daily tasks with vibrancy, alertness and efficiency – never resting on their laurels.  In fact, they will often move around, never staying too long in one place.  It’s said that winter wrens inspired the bard to write, “home is where the heart is.”  Our forbearers keenly observed the behavior of their furry and feathery neighbors.  They believed if a winter wren builds a nest in your garden, it’s time to ask yourself some important questions:  Are you using all the resources available to you?  Are you displaying enough confidence?  Are you not seeing the forest for the trees?  Are you approaching life with enough gusto?  Are you staying grounded?  Are you so wrapped up in daily worries that you are forgetting to sing?  And most importantly … are you going beyond the realm of the known in order to access the adventure waiting for you?

Sunday,  October 22   Morning Worship10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:   Psalm 96,  1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Text:  “We always give thanks to God for all of you.”    1 Thessalonians 1:2

Sermon:  “Gratitude Attitude”

Tease:  As we prepare to enter the Thanksgivng Season,  the Apostle Paul reminds us how nurturing an attitude of gratitude,  is always the first step in restoring the balance and harmony that we all anxiously seek in our daily lives.

Our Church’s Wider Mission


Northern California Wildfires

“This is one of the greatest, if not the greatest tragedy that California has ever faced.  The devastation is just unbelievable.  It is a horror that no one could have ever imagined.”

Governor Jerry Brown


The United Church of Christ recently sent out the following statistics:

15 major wildfires are still raging

41 individuals are confirmed dead

200 people are still missing

40,000 are currently displaced.

3,000 community shelters are operating to house nearly 100,000 evacuees

217,000 acres have been burned

5,700 homes and businesses are reported destroyed

$3 billion dollars is the estimated cost of damages

9,102 FEMA assistance registrations have been filed.

With the help of our OCWM partners, 430 disaster workers are on the scene, serving more than 29,400 meals and providing more than 2,700 mental and health services.

Word has been received that the First Congregational Church of Santa Rosa was not destroyed.  Pastor Bill Gibson writes, “It’s still smoky here, but the church is OK.  The major fire damage is only two or three blocks from us.  Unfortunately, 6 families have lost their homes.”  Others in the congregation describe the area as feeling very much like a “war zone.” 

Pray for Northern California,


Road Rules:  Don’t complain beneath the stars about the lack of bright spots in your life.”

Bjornstone Bjornson

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Weekly Pastor’s Update

October 12, 2017

Cabbage Butterfly on asters

Cabbage Butterfly on asters

 From the Backcountry …

“Good are the actions which bring no regret and whose fruit is welcomed with joy and serenity.”      Gautama Buddha

It’s said that the heaviest shackles are the ones we forge ourselves.  Despite the clever justifications we use to defend questionable actions, when they have unfortunate consequences …we tend to regret them.  Remorse is a weighty ball and chain.  While it’s not always easy to make the right choices, we must always take the time to assess their impact on ourselves and others.  Not “thinking before we act” puts everyone’s happiness in jeopardy.

Sunday, October 15   Morning Worship 10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Psalm 23; Matthew 22: 1-14

Text:  “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”  Matthew 22:12

Sermon:  “Fashion Police”

Synopsis:  Jesus often uses wedding customs of his day to describe the working of God’s Kingdom.  In this week’s passage, an unsuspecting quest is banished from a wedding reception for wearing inappropriate attire.  At first, it seems as though the poor man is being treated harshly and unfairly.  Would we throw an invited guest out of a party for showing up in the wrong outfit?  As we take a closer look, however, a hidden agenda emerges that may justify the host’s discourteousness.

Our Church’s Wider Mission


Refugee Crisis

 Our government recently announced that next year, the United States will welcome the lowest number of refugees since Congress enacted the 1980 Refugee Act.  Only 45,000 individuals will be admitted.  This decision comes as the global community struggles with the worst displacement crisis in history.  65 million people have been forced to leave their home because of violence and persecution.

The following statement was issued by Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ:

            “This Administration has now set the lowest refugee admissions goal in U.S. history, which is an affront to faith traditions like the United Church of Christ who work daily to accompany refugees and welcome them to our communities.  We cannot allow politics to influence the moral imperative to welcome refugees who are fleeing extreme conditions and facing political persecution.  We are committed to continue to lift up the voice of refugees and all those who are targeted by harmful policies that hurt marginalized communities.” 

In Matthew 24, Jesus teaches us that the way we treat the most vulnerable members of our society reflects how we treat Christ himself.  As a people of faith, we must do everything we can to call upon our elected leaders to increase refugee admissions, reaching out to those struggling to rebuild their lives and raise their families in safety. 

See you Sunday,


Road Rules:  “The path of the heart requires a full gesture, a degree of abandon that can be terrifying.  Only then is it possible to achieve the sparkling transformation we seek         Carlos Casteneda