From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

February 21, 2018


From the Backcountry…

“… and a little child shall lead them.”   Isaiah 11:6

Our congregation continues to stand with the people of Parkland, Florida who are suffering such unimaginable loss.  It is difficult to comprehend how a 19 year-old with a history of mental and disciplinary issues could purchase an AR-15 assault rifle, arrive at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in an Uber taxi carrying a large duffle bag, and within minutes murder 17 students and faculty members – and less than a month after a 15 year old opened fire on students at a Kentucky high school!  Parkland is being called “one of the worst massacres in modern U.S. history,” but that’s a meaningless designation given the carnage being regularly imposed on us.

Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC General Minister, released a moving statement in which he laments the growing anxiety that our schools are no longer safe and “no amount of response on our part seems to mitigate the likelihood that this will happen again.”   But, I was jolted out of my growing sense of hopelessness by the prophetic voice of Florida UCC Conference Minister, John Vertigan who scolds us that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough and that our faith demands activism and advocacy.

“It’s past time for the church to act,” Rev. Vertigan warns.  “It’s past time to stand up to the gun lobbies.  It’s past time to advocate for Jesus’ way of peace that can’t imagine how we as a nation can dwell in unity and do nothing to mitigate the availability of weapons that enable such rampant violence.”

Our faith does demand more than we are currently giving. I am heartened that the students of Stoneman Douglas High School are in the State Capitol demanding action from their legislators.  They seem profoundly poised and ready to speak truth to power.  As mothers and fathers, we have failed them.  It’s past time for us to stand aside and let our kids lead the way.

Rev. Royal Garren


Holly Adams. Guest Minister

Holly Adams. Guest Minister

Sunday, February 25  Second Sunday in Lent  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:   Genesis 17: 1-7,15-16;  Romans 4: 13-25

Sermon:  “Day of Reckoning”     

We welcome the Rev. Holly Adams to the pulpit this weekend.  Holly retired as pastor of the UCC Church in Norwalk.  She has served as the Moderator of the Fairfield West Association.  You may remember Holly when she was a Chaplain in the skilled nursing facilities of Greenwich.  Holly received her divinity degree from Yale, holds an MSW degree from Fordham University, and did her undergraduate study at Smith College.  


Greenwich World Hunger

Remember that our Lenten Mission Offering will be donated to Greenwich World Hunger to support Proyecto Vamos Adelante.   My” up-close-and-personal article” on founder and director Nina Jorgenson can be found  in the “Wider Mission” section of the Outreach link on our website.  Checks can be made out to NGCC and please earmark them for “Mission.”   The Offering will be dedicated on Palm Sunday, March 25.

Lenten Book Study

The study group will gather on Thursday, March 1 at 6:00 p.m. for a soup supper.  We will be discussion Chapters 1 and 2 in the “Stop, Look and Listen for God” section of Frederick Buechner’s The Remarkable Ordinary.

Have a Holy Lent,


Road Rules:  “Know complexity, but hold on to simplicity.   Know sound, but hold on to silence.  Know action, but hold on to stillness.   Know knowledge, but hold on to innocence.  Know the manifestations, but hold on to mystery.    Lao Tzu

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

February 16, 2018

"Desperados defying winter's icy grip!!

"Desperados defying winter's icy grip!!

From the Backcountry …

“No matter how chaotic life is, wildflowers still spring up in the middle of nowhere.”  Sheryl Crow

Even now, forces are at work to ensure springtime’s fervent growth.  I consider the first inklings of the vernal promise to be the most miraculous.   Breaking out of their wintry prison, daring little desperados defy the odds and set our own rebellious hearts beating to the rhythms of new adventures.  Henry David Thoreau is quick to remind us, however, that such anticipated growth is possible only when seeds have first been planted.  “If the seed is there,” he says, “We can expect wonders."

So here’s to a chaotic …yet wonder-filled Springtime!!

Sunday, February 18   First Sunday in Lent  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Genesis 9:8-17;  Mark 1:9-15

Text:  “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Mark 1:15

Sermon: “Society For All”  

Tease:   On Tuesday, February 20, the United Nations will be observing its annual Day of Social Justice.  Throughout the week, delegates will address issues of global poverty, unemployment and discrimination.  A phrase that has come to be identified with this Day of Social Justice is - “A Society for All,” - which coincidentally bears remarkable similarity to the Kingdom that Jesus pronounces “drawing nigh” in Mark 1:15.  But then, perhaps this resemblance is no mere coincidence at all.


2018  Lenten Mission Offering

Greenwich World Hunger Association.

Vamos Adelante (Let’s Move Forward)

Proyecto Vamos Adelante is an outreach to 24 impoverished villages in Guatemala’s western Esquantla region.  Our offering will support both education and health teams who are trying to battle the effects of chronic poverty in rural Central America – illiteracy, malnourishment, water-borne disease (that contributes to high infant mortality), and alcoholism.  Through an ambitious schedule of local classes and clinics, residents are learning the benefits of health care, vaccinations, parasite control and how to prepare, safe, nutritional meals on shoestring budgets.  Our monies will also help to distribute water filters that purify 20 liter buckets of water, thus eliminating the constant need to boil water.  Please give generously.  Checks can be made out to NGCC (be sure to ear-mark them “Mission”).  The offering will be dedicated on Palm Sunday, March 25.

Lenten Book Sunday   “The Remarkable Ordinary” by Frederick Buechner

Thursday Evenings:  March 1, 15, 29 

6:00 p.m.  Soup Supper and Discussion

It’s not too late to join us!!  We meet “every other” Thursday in the Knapp Room.  At our next session, we will review chapters 1 and 2, “Stop, Look, and Listen for God.”  

Frederick Buechner is a beacon.  When we can’t remember what is true and what it all means … he’s the person we turn to.”    Anne Lamott

Expect Wonders this Lent,


Road Rules:  “Only from the heart can you touch the sky!”   Rumi

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

August 9, 2018


From the Backcountry …

It’s Carnival!!  Time to throw caution to the wind and Samba!! Let the rhythms get you!!   If that makes you too self-conscious - throw on a mask, don a costume.  Just get up …and move your body!  Spring is in the air.  We’re celebrating the passage from darkness to light, winter to spring. The origin of the word “Carne-vale” is from the Latin, meaning “farewell to meat.”  Before settling into our Lenten fast, we need to empty the larders of rich foods and indulge. Local padres, like me, may cast aspersions on all your hoopla… but not to worry.  Ever since the middle ages, the church has learned to look the other way for the next few days - so long as this folderol ends promptly at midnight on Fat Tuesday.  That’s the deal.   Oh … and don’t forget that it is also customary during Carnival to mock the ruling class - using masks and disguises. Times being what they are, that shouldn’t be too difficult.  Have fun!!  Play safe.

 Sunday,  February 11   Morning Worship  10:30 a.m.

 Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 50;  Mark 9: 2-9

 Text:  “And his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”  Mark 9: 3

 Sermon:  “Get Your Sparkle On”

Tease:   It’s no mere coincidence that the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration comes to us in the midst of the raucous strains of Carnival!!  (see above.)  As we follow Jesus up a mountain and witness his face “shining like the sun and his garments become like white light,” we’re being reminded to get our own sparkle on … to let the shimmering light of God’s grace shine in our hearts and give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory - already shining in the face of Jesus of Nazareth.  “Samba No pé!!

Lenten Book Study:  “The Remarkable Ordinary”

Thursday evenings:  February 15. March 1, March 15 and March 29.

6:00 p.m.   Soup supper and Discussion.

Presbyterian pastor Fred Buechner’s “The Remarkable Ordinary” is a guidebook on how to transform an “ordinary” life into an “extraordinary” one - by simply changing our mindset.  He suggests that by training ourselves to slow down and pay attention to the details of everyday living, we discover fresh ways to find God’s fingerprints on even the most mundane circumstances …thus enabling our lives to become richer and more fulfilling.

Join us for this extraordinary journey into the ordinary!!   Books can be downloaded to Kindles and Nooks.  I will have a few copies this Sunday for purchase at $10.00 cash.

2018 Lenten Mission Offering - Greenwich World Hunger Association


Vamos Adelante (“Let’s Go Forward!”)


This year’s Lenten Mission Offering will focus on Greenwich World Hunger Association’s sponsorship of the Vamos Adelante Project, a NGO providing education, health and nutrition services for residents in the impoverished Esqunta region of Guatemala.  This remote area suffers the symptoms of chronic poverty - widespread illiteracy, malnourishment, parasite-related illnesses, and alcoholism.  Our offering will help Vamos Adelante staff various  health facilities and schools endeavoring  to improve education, hygiene, nutrition and overall physical, as well as emotional well-being. Throughout the Lenten season, we will focus on the projects currently underway.  So please give generously to this offering.  Checks can be made out to NGCC and we will send one donation at the completion of the campaign.

Samba No pé!


Road Rules:  “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”   John Bunyan

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

February 2, 2018

Gaelic "Brideog" Dolls

Gaelic "Brideog" Dolls

From the Backcountry.

“Behold, I am making all things new.”   Revelation 21:5

It’s Groundhog Day!!  Or, in the Christian calendar, Candlemas.  We’re at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  Even though St. Patrick’s Day is more than a month away, it’s time to put on our green and celebrate the Irish season of Imbolc - a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly.”  That’s right … spring lambs are now gestating in their mama ewes’ “tummies.”  Winter has yet to release its cruel grip, but signs of spring already surround us.  Keep an eye out for snowdrops, those delicate white blossoms that bravely defy snow and ice.

We’re entering the season of growth and renewal, beginning with rituals of purification - like spring cleaning.  Time to sweep the hearth bare, mold fresh candles and light new flames.  Time to make pilgrimages to nearby holy wells and renew our baptismal vows.  Time to gather field reeds and fashion “brideog” dolls (pictured above) to invoke the blessing of Ireland’s female patron Saint Brigid on our household and livestock. Time to take heart and know that “no winter lasts forever …no spring skips its turn.”

Sunday, February 4   Holy Communion  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:   Psalm 147; Mark 1: 29-39

Text:  “And the whole city was gathered around the door.”  Mark 1: 33

Sermon:  “This American Pie”

Tease:   Within hours of Jesus’ first appearance in the synagogue at Capernaum, we’re told “all the people of Galilee” were at his doorstep, many with friends and relatives hoping to be touched by his healing hand.  Anticipation is rampant. The young rabbi is capturing the hearts and imagination of a new generation.  But, as we know all too well, reality often falls short of expectation.   What can the past teach us about maintaining confidence and hope in tomorrow, even in the midst of disappointment, or impatience?

Lenten Study   “The Remarkable Ordinary”

Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner

Thursday Evenings:  February 15,  March 1,  March 15 and March 29

At 6:00 p.m.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage of faith.  As the wise man says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”   And yet for many, taking that first step can be very intimidating.  In his book, “The Remarkable Journey: How to Stop, Look and Listen to Life,” Presbyterian pastor and teacher Fred Buechner offers some guidelines for the journey.  In fact, before we even venture forward, we need only observe what’s around us.  The bird calling in the distance, the wind rustling in the leaves overhead, the quirky and unique people that we meet … every day we are in touch with the Divine if we but “stop, look and listen.” 

I have had the opportunity to be in Fred’s company a number of times in my ministry. He has been perhaps the most influential teacher in my own faith journey.  So, I invite you to join me as we gather “every other”  Thursday evening throughout Lent  to study this delightful book, beginning February 15 and concluding  Maundy  Thursday (with  Holy Communion. )  We will gather at 6:00 p.m. for a soup supper and discussion that will conclude around 7:30 p.m.


Happy Candlemas,



Road Rules:   “Remember - the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.”   Rumi

From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

January 25, 2018

Robert Burns ( circa 1795 )

Robert Burns ( circa 1795 )

From the Backcountry …

“The Lord answered me and set me free.” Psalm 118:5

It’s Rabbie Burns Night!!  People around the world will come together this evening to eat haggis (pudding made of sheep hearts, livers and lungs – cooked in the animal’s stomach) served with neeps, (yellow turnips), tatties (potatoes) and washed down with a dram (glass of Scotch whisky.)  Yum!!  Why all the fuss?  It’s the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s own ploughman poet. 

Son of a poor 18th century tenant farmer, Rabbie would learn to read, write and become a pioneer of a new milieu of romantic verse – far removed from the flowery, distant poetry of the Enlightenment.  Like Jesus, his stories capture the voices and experiences of everyday farmers, laborers and artisans.  His style will eventually influence Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, John Steinbeck and even Bob Dylan!!    He speaks of a world where emotion and beauty invariably triumph over cool reason and logic.

Robert Burns engages his Scottish readers in their own words and language, drawing on their proud history and struggle for autonomy.  As you Outlander fans already know, this period is heavily influenced by the Jacobite uprising of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Across the pond, we’re fighting our own War of Independence … followed by the French struggle for liberty, equality and fraternity.  Burns is very much the champion of justice for the “common man.”  And yet, he remains a keen observer of everything around him.  One day, as he’s ploughing a field, he disturbs a mouse nest and immediately becomes overcome with remorse. There is nothing he can do.  The damage is done. That night he composes his endearing poem, “To A Mouse” that contains one of the most famous lines ever written.  He wants to reassure the homeless mouse that he shares her plight. “Sometimes,” he pens, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”   Truer words have yet to be spoken.   Cheers, Rabbie!!

Sunday, January 28   Morning Worship and Lord’s Prayer

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 111;  Mark 1:21-28

Text:  “And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  Mark 1:24

Sermon:  “Heckle and Hide”

Tease:    We follow Jesus to a local synagogue where his first public sermon is rudely disrupted by a heckler.  “What have you to do with us?” the man shouts.  “Are you here to destroy our way of doing things?”   We’re told that the man is possessed by an “unclean” spirit – a term that is used extensively in scripture and can refer to anything from mental illness to institutional tyranny.  I find it interesting (and by no means coincidental) that our Lord’s first public confrontation with society’s “darker” side takes place in a house of worship.  As He says in another version of this incident, “Physician … you must first heal yourself!”

Potluck Luncheon and Congregational Meeting

Following worship we gather for our Annual Meeting.  Please bring some cold cuts,  a covered dish, a salad, or some dessert to share.  Beverages will be provided.  

Traditional Scottish Haggis

Traditional Scottish Haggis

WARNING:  If members are thinking of bringing haggis to Sunday’s potluck, please be advised that the US Food and Drug Administration banned the import of haggis in 1971. 

 See you Sunday,


Road Rules:  “The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inner journey must be.”  Henry Nouwen