From the Backcountry 9-21-17

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

Thursday, September 21

First sign of Fall -  Spotted Orb Weavers spinning their webs!

First sign of Fall -  Spotted Orb Weavers spinning their webs!

From the Backcountry …

 “First keep peace with yourself, then you can also bring peace to others”   Thomas à Kempis

It is impossible to bring peace to our surroundings if we are not at peace with ourselves.  It invariably requires deeply personal and often difficult work.  Perhaps we need to rebuild bridges with certain individuals, apologize for certain behavior, or perhaps repair a certain injury.  And yet, if we have sufficient resolve and inner strength to preserve this peace, then we will be able to share this peace with others. 

Sunday, September 24   Morning Worship10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 145; Matthew 20: 1-16

Text:  “I choose to give to the last the same as I gave to you.”   Matthew 20:14

Sermon:  “Sour Grapes”

Synopsis:  This week we revisit a familiar, yet controversial teaching of Jesus – the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  It’s the story where a landowner hires day laborers at various intervals during the day.  When it’s time for everyone to line up for their pay, those hired late in the day receive the exact same amount as those who worked the entire day!  We agree with the disgruntled workers that this arrangement simply isn’t fair!!  Why would Jesus indicate that this is what we can expect in the Kingdom of God?   Is he joking?  Or, what?

Fall Kick-OffPotluck  this Sunday, September 24 immediately following worship. Please bring a covered dish, or salad to share.  Beverages will be provided

Wider Mission    UCC Caribbean Initiative

Resident of Dominica pondering the future

Resident of Dominica pondering the future

 Hurricane Maria is the latest in a seemingly endless line of tropical storms to devastate islands in the western Atlantic.  Tragically, this week the island nation of Dominca suffered the brunt of 160 mph winds,  leaving the lives of some 73,000 residents in ruins.

We have probably spent vacation time in one or more of the islands impacted by this season’s hurricanes:  Antiqua, Anquilla, Baruda, The Bahamas, Cuba, Culebra, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe. Haiti, Montserrat, Nevis, Puerto Rico, St. Barts, St. John, St.Kitts, St. Martin,  Turks and Caicos, Vieques, and the Virgin Islands.  The extent of the losses is simply “mindboggling.”  It will take years for people in the Caribbean to rebuild their homes and lives.

Sadly, these tragedies have come precisely at the time when the United Church of Christ’s Global Ministries is promoting its “Caribbean Initiative,” an 18-month program designed to raise consciousness of the issues, priorities, successes and struggles of our partners in seven Caribbean nations, including Venezuela and Colombia.  Needless to say, the Initiative (announced this past summer) will be taking on an entirely different meaning and context.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the storms and the UCC Disaster ministries endeavoring to assess the overwhelming need.  Among the original objectives of the “Caribbean Initiative” is to know the joys and concerns of our neighbors, and in so doing,   understand ourselves, our world and our faith anew.   Little did we know how important those goals would soon become.

See you Sunday,


Road Rules:  “The magic of life is to see in the darkness, to dream with open eyes, to hear in the silence, to fly without wings, and to love without condition.”   Julie Parker

Fom the Backcountry 9-14-17

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

September 14,  2017

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From The Backcountry …

“No matter what happens … this is the present moment.  Make your home here.”  Zen Teaching

When a drop of rain falls into a river, it no longer exists as a raindrop.  It is absorbed into the immensity of the water’s flow.  We can observe the river and we can ponder a moment when that raindrop first touched the surface of the water … but nothing is able to restore that drop of rain as it once was.

The poet reminds us that “time is like a river,” as well.  Our every action (or inaction) is absorbed into the immensity of its flow.  If it is possible to correct an error, or do something that hasn’t been done, there is no point bemoaning what might have been.  Rather, we must strive to live fully in the present.  This is always the best way to correct any bad blows of the past.

Sunday,  September 17   Morning Worship   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 114;  Matthew 18: 21-35

Text:  “Lord, how often shall I forgive?  As many as seven times?:  Matthew 18:21

Sermon:  “Scot Free”

Synopsis:  This week’s story of the Unmerciful Servant is Jesus’ response to the vexing question of how many times we should forgive someone who does us wrong.  Im certain Peter thought he was being more than generous when suggesting the magic number is seven.  Certainly, no one was expecting Jesus to match Peter’s challenge and multiply it by seventy!!  We mustn’t, however, get hung up on the number 490.  That’s not really Jesus’ point.  But, then … giving it another thought… maybe it is the whole point!!

Fall Kick-OffPotluck Luncheon,   Sunday, September 24

Join us for lunch immediately following worship next Sunday.  Please bring a covered dish or salad to share.  We will also be recognizing Emily Junker who is a 2017 Henry Green Scholarship recipient

The Wider Church:   “Human Hands”

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“But you came and defiled my landand made my inheritance an abomination.”  Jeremiah 2.7

Every Fall, just in time for the bird migration, delicate pokeweed sprigs are laden with ripe, juicy  pigeon-berries.  While we stain our hands and clothes trying to rip them out of our shrubbery, pigeon-berries are actually the last reminder that the American landscape was once laden with passenger pigeons.  These berries were a staple in the diet of the now extinct bird.  In the early 1800s, one observer in Kentucky saw a single flock some 240 miles long and a mile wide, estimated to contain two billion birds!!  Tragically, human hands annihilated every last one of them, as “pigeoners” captured the tasty birds by the tens of thousands.

Over the past few weeks, two hurricanes have devastated low lying coastland in the South.  6.3 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate – one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.  I commend Miami’s Republican mayor admitting this year’s record-breaking storms are very likely the result of global warming caused by human hands.  “It’s time to talk climate change,” he announced. 

As we struggle to detangle our bushes of pigeon-berry this Fall, let our stained hands remind us of the senseless annihilation we visit upon this pristine planet.   There was a time when the skies darkened as awe-inspiring flocks of passenger pigeons passed over head.  How tragic that we are quickly moving toward the point when the skies darken as the next fear-invoking extreme storm passes over head.

See you Sunday,


From the Backcountry 9-7-17

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

September 7, 2017

Fall is in the air!

Fall is in the air!

From the Backcountry …

The soothing tongue is a tree of life … but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”   Proverbs 15:4

We all know the power that a few words can have.  A single word can contain enough force to make someone smile, or cry; laugh, or grind their teeth.  Language is a unique way to convey our feelings and intentions.  It can be magical.  But, language is also a powerful weapon in free circulation.  It can bring happiness and comfort… but also profound suffering and desolation.  As my mom would say, “Choose your words carefully.”   

Sunday,  September 10    Morning Worship  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 119;  Matthew 18: 15-20

Text:  “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”   Matthew 18:18

Sermon:  “Agree to Disagree”

Synopsis:   Psychologists tell us that we want to be around people with whom we agree.  We live in a culture that sees conflict as a problem.  And so, we tend to look for the paths of least resistance.  Although most Biblical scholars don’t believe the instructions given in Matthew 18 on conflict management are the actual words of Jesus ( I’ll explain ), the passage nonetheless provides some very helpful guidelines in how we can disagree with someone in healthy and constructive ways.

Fall Kick-Off Luncheon   Sunday,  September 24

Our first Autumn social event will be an al-fresco (outdoor) pot-luck luncheon after Church – weather permitting, of course.  Please bring a covered dish, salad, or dessert to share.

The Wider Church


 Cacao Sustainable Initiative

As Hurricane Irma pummels the Caribbean Islands, my thoughts and prayers are with the small holding farmers whose crops will be totally destroyed.  During my trips to Haiti, I met a number of local cacao growers who provide raw materials to various multi-national corporations.  Needless to say, when the supply chain is interrupted by ever-increasing extreme weather patterns, the chocolate industry is severely impacted.  The African drought is having the same catastrophic effect, as well. Climate science suggests the dilemma will only get worse. While it’s important for governments to engage and address issues involving climate change, it will – no doubt - be the private sector that affects the transformational changes needed to reverse the trend.

In a September 6 on-line posting, Business Insider reported that the British chocolate giant, Mars Corporation, has decided to set aside $1 billion to fight climate change. CEO Grant Reid has indicated that the consequences of doing nothing will lead only to the further global calamity. Mars is upfront.  They are a food business, based on agriculture.  Their primary concern is the supply of raw materials required to support their $35 billion dollar business. This investment is being done to protect profits.  At the same time, they are beginning to realize that their own future requires reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 60%, and challenge other corporations to see the same handwriting-on-the-wall by following their lead.

Even though I continue to have serious issues with the multi-national companies who drive the cacao industry (particularly their exploitation of child labor) the Mars Cacao Sustainable Initiative is perhaps the most encouraging sign of environmental action to date.

Pray for Barbuda,


Road Rules:  “When you give of yourself, something new comes into being.  The world expands.  A bit of goodness is brought forth and a miracle occurs.  Never underestimate this miracle.”     Kent Nerborn

From the Backcountry 8-31-17

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

August 31, 2017

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From the Backcountry …

“The greatest secret of happiness is to find pleasant refuge in oneself.”   Bernard de Fontenele

Philosophers claim that we are responsible for our own happiness.  And yet, we also know from our own experience that much joy can be found by being present and participating in the happiness of those around us.  If we wish to be a positive influence in this world, we must start by taking care of ourselves … and then, by taking care of those around us.  For we shall never be truly happy in a world filled with sadness and misery.

Sunday,  September 3     Morning Worship   Holy Communion   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:   Psalm 26; Matthew 16: 21-28

Text:  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me.”   Matthew 16: 23

Sermon:   “Apocalypse Now"

Synopsis:  What a difference a week makes!  When we last met up with Jesus and the disciples, Peter was being heralded as “The Rock” upon which Jesus would build his church.  This week, he’s being cursed as an incarnation of the Devil himself!  Why this dramatic change of attitude?  We quickly discover that everyone is on edge.  We are preparing to go to Jerusalem for Jesus’ inevitable showdown with the authorities.  It’s a moment to which we can all relate - a threatening situation looming on the horizon.  Perhaps, we can take comfort that there are days when even Jesus can’t quite hold it all together.

Wider Church Ministries


      Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25 as a Category 4 storm packing 130 mph winds.  It devastated the town of Rockport, near Corpus Christi, and has caused unprecedented flooding throughout southern Texas and Louisiana.  Some 8 million people are currently impacted by more than 50 inches of rain.  It is estimated that 30,000 people are currently displaced and over 500,000 homes have sustained some form of damage.  FEMA is preparing for 450,000 assistance applications in the coming weeks.  It is sizing up to be the largest housing recovery effort in U.S. history.

As always, the United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries are prepared for long-term recovery work in the region - coordinating efforts with the leaders in the South Central Conference, our Church World Service partners, as well as federal and state agencies.  Not only will our Wider Church be assisting in the rebuilding of homes and communities, we will also provide psychological and spiritual support for those who have lost everything in the wake of this catastrophic event.

Our prayerful and financial support of the UCC’s “Our Church’s Wider Mission” helps to make these ministries possible.

Take care of yourself … and those around you,


Road Rules:   “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said.  They will forget what you did.  But, people will never forget how you made them feel.”    Maya Angelou

From the Backcountry 8-17-17

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

August 17, 2017

August Kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables donated to Lower Fairfield County Food Bank this week

August Kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables donated to Lower Fairfield County Food Bank this week

From the Backcountry …

“…And the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32

We all know that living with a lie brings a lot of sweat and torment.  This is because a lie requires so much effort to sustain.  Truth, on the other hand, exists without our needing to do, or remember a thing - like the moon shining in the night.   My grandmother was fond of saying, “Truth will out.”  Sooner or later, truth surfaces.  And when it does, it changes us for better… or for worse.

Choose truth.  It’s always a better traveling companion.


Sunday, August 20    Morning Worship   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 67;  Matthew 15: 21-28

Text:  Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  Matthew 15:27

Sermon:   “Dog Days”

Synopsis:  It may be one of the most disturbing (and, at the same time reassuring ) passages in all of scripture.  Jesus doesn’t always get it right!!  We catch him snubbing, and even making disparaging comments to a foreigner … an outsider.   As painful as it is to witness this encounter with the Canaanite woman, she is quick to point out the error of his Way - whereupon Jesus’ makes a 180 degree attitude adjustment.  Fact is - we don’t always get it right.  Would that we could turn as quickly on that shiny dime in the middle of our Way.



Floral tribute to Heather Heyer who was killed in Charlosttesville on August 11

Floral tribute to Heather Heyer who was killed in Charlosttesville on August 11

Among the racial and homophobic epithets hurled at the White Nationalist rallies this past weekend was: “Blood and Soil.”  This phrase first appeared within a 19th century European agrarian movement determined to take certain countries “back” from what was perceived as a growing, decadent, urban elite.   It was later adopted into the Fascist lexicon of Hitler’s Third Reich.  “Blood and Soil” would come to promote the control of certain territory (soil) by a certain race (blood.)

We see “blood and soil” ideology popping up in today’s political discourse, not only when privileged, young men chant it in the street, but when a White House spokesperson accuses a journalist of being “too “cosmopolitan,” or when an elected official rants that our “heritage and culture” are under siege.

We no longer have to wonder whether there is a White Nationalist agenda underfoot in American society.  It is staring us in the face.  Rarely does our nation face such moments of moral clarity.  There is no room for equivocation.  As Americans, but more importantly as Christians, this “Blood and Soil” agenda must be denounced and repudiated.

Pray for Peace,


Road Rules:   “Be happy in the moment.  That’s enough.  Each moment is all we need.  Nothing more.”   Mother Teresa