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Fr. Dennis J. Mason
Fr. Dennis J. Mason


Turn your time over to God.

by Fr. Dennis J. Mason

Published: Saturday, December 28, 2013

Danbury News Times

"Christ, yesterday and today; the beginning and the end. All times and seasons belong to him." As we move into a New Year, I believe these words taken from the Catholic Christian Liturgy of Easter suggest an approach to the days ahead.

My time is precious, as is everyone's. One task leads to another and then blends into a third. Before I know it the day, the week, the year is gone. Busyness devours my time. It can be pretty tiresome and often frustrating. Sound familiar?

As we face a fresh year, the tasks of the days ahead probably won't be much different than the tasks of the days we've just left behind. A lot will need to be done and a lot of time will be needed to do it. But how do we keep our calendar from getting out of hand? Is there a way?

I believe the way is to deliberately let our time get out of our hands and put it in the hands of God. All times and seasons belong to him. Maybe an appropriate first morning thought isn't: "I have so much to do today" but "God is planning to do a lot today; how can what I do be a part of his plan?" Perhaps rather than seeing Time as ours, it could seen as God's. To me, God isn't a piece of the puzzle of my life that I'm putting together over time. I am a piece of God's puzzle which God is forming in his Time.

And I believe every one of us is an essential piece of God's puzzle. Our Time is precious and I believe God uses it to bring about his plan for good.

How we spend our Time is important. Spent with a view that says "I need to finish what I'm doing so I can get on with the next thing I have to do," Time will be tiresome and frustrating. Spent with a view that says "What I'm about to do has purpose and God will use it for good," Time can become sacred and fulfilling.

The way we use our Time may not always seem like it has a purpose in God's plan. I'm going to vacuum the living room; I've got a truck route to cover; I'm taking a stupid math exam today. What's the purpose? I can't pretend to have a pat answer, but can share something that Saint Paul said "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord." (Colossians 3: 17). This is from one of the great Christian missionaries who spent his Time not only preaching the Word of God but also making tents. He seems to be saying that how and why we spend our time doing whatever it is we're doing makes all the difference.

Perspective can change ordinary Time to a graced moment. We can look at tasks as a bunch of things to check off our list or as a contribution to the plan of God. Attitude can transform weariness to wholeness.

But perspective is so hard to change; attitude is so difficult to sustain. How do we manage that?

Mychal Judge, a Franciscan Friar, who gave his life while serving the stricken on September 11, 2001, had a simple prayer which addresses that question. Each morning he would pray: "Lord, take me where you want me to go today. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way."

Mychal truly believed that all Times and seasons belong to God.

Relying on God rather than ourselves, I believe we can renew our choice each morning to give all our Times and seasons to God. In his hands, every day is new.

Happy New Year.

Fr. Dennis J. Mason, OFM Conv., Pastor, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Danbury, CT 06810. He can be reached at: 203-748-9029 or

Fr. Angelo Arrando
Fr. Angelo Arrando


Our Christmas has been Ransomed.

by Fr. Angelo Arrando

Published: Saturday, December 21, 2013

Danbury News Times

As early as mid-September, the malls, big box stores and other establishments saturated the airwaves with Christmas music, "Black Fridays" and "Cyber Mondays."Now it's Dec. 21 and the onslaught is almost over.

I believe the onslaught is because society and culture have kidnapped Christmas and have made Santa Claus the Christmas spokesman.

It is he who defines and represents Christmas. The tree, lights, Rudolph, elves, gifts and wrappings, stockings and poinsettias dominate the season and usurp, if not nullify, the original message of Christmas.

Many of us enter willingly into the chaos and frenzy of Santa's Christmas.

We prepare, decorate, illuminate, dust off the nativity, we write, mail, shop, wrap, bake, cook, carol, exchange, visit, accelerate and we celebrate.

We pray and worship, as well. We do for each other, give to each other, pick each other up, and drop each other off. But we're always in such a hurry in our heads that we see each other only sideways.

We don't have time to enter deeply into each other's inner happenings. Our highways are our homes. We are always on the go. How pleased Santa is that we have entered into the celebration of his Christmas.

I believe we have not only allowed the original Christmas message to be silenced, but we have allowed it to be replaced.

From house to house, from town to town, all across America, televisions and smart phones paint pictures for us of a new reality.

Advertising makes "have-to-haves" out of non-necessities. We never ask how much stuff we need, we never look at what junk we have. In the pursuit of happiness, we feel it is within our Bill of Rights to have it all.

But there is a price to be paid for this celebrating.

We give our children and grandchildren the idea that wants are needs, and if wants are not met, we are somehow deprived. The other missing piece is we no longer have time for ourselves or one another. Making enough money to buy everything we want is eating up all of our time.

I believe it is time for Christians to ransom Christmas from Santa Claus!

In reclaiming Christmas we acknowledge that the primary commodity we humans seek, need or long for is close connection and intimate contact with those we love most.

Christmas taps into our life's longed-for dream of giving ourselves away to others and having ourselves returned.

With the coming of Jesus, I believe, God definitively placed human beings above systems, above institutions, above flags and nations. I believe that in Jesus, God placed us in the care of one another.

Simply put, Jesus is religion made simple. People always come first. Not some people in some places, but all people in every place. Now, for me, that is keeping Christ in Christmas.

Because of the first Christmas, for now and evermore, humanity has been touched by a moment in human history when God, in Jesus, put us in the care of one another.

In Jesus, God made our human needs God's very own. In Jesus, God asks us to do the same.

For Christians it is unthinkable to have a world without Jesus, yet I believe too many of us go on as though he never existed. Human life today is still not about human beings. Too often it is about institutions, politics, finances, material goods and material gains.

Human beings are exploitable, expendable, disposable and dispensable.

If we truly believe in God coming in the flesh, I think Christian energies must move away from the frenzy of Santa to care and concern for one another, making others' needs our own.

This indeed would be the wonder of Christmas, the miracle of God in our midst and our serving of God in serving one another.

If that truly became the reality, we would not have to worry about anyone taking Christ out of Christmas. Our celebration of the coming of Jesus would be in our everyday actions, in our everyday words, in our everyday lives. The world would know what it is we believe and what it is we are about.

It's not the malls, Macy's, Old Navy or Nordstrom's responsibility to help me or anyone else find Christ in Christmas.

If someone truly wants to find Christ in Christmas, simply go to a homeless shelter, a domestic abuse shelter or a place of worship. Or just read the Bible or pray. Simply live your life as though Christ does make a difference.

Mother Teresa said, "It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you . . . Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand.

No one can take Christ out of Christmas if Christians live the mystery of God's love for all.

Father Angelo S. Arrando is Pastor of St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in Danbury, CT.

Monsignor Robert Weiss
Msgr. Robert Weiss


Sandy Hook; darkness cannot overcome light.

by Monsignor Robert Weiss

Published: Saturday, December 14, 2013

Danbury News Times

On this day, the first anniversary of the tragedy that took place on December 14, 2012 which changed our community and world forever, I cannot help but reflect back to that day and the many days that have followed.

We were called to stand in the midst of an unspeakable and unimaginable event that took the lives of so many, especially our children. As we gather to mark this first anniversary, however, we realize that these innocent children and dedicated teachers did not die in vain. In this life and now in their new life with God, they continue to be a source of inspiration, strength, hope and peace for all of us.

Their parents and loved ones are an incredible example to each of us of what family and love are all about. I often wonder how they get up each morning to face another day. How difficult it must be for them to pass by an empty bedroom or not set a place for breakfast.

But I also know that each of them will keep the memory of their loved one alive for each of us by the positive actions in which many of them are engaged to reflect the joy, the heart and the spirit of the one they lost. They are an inspiration to all of us, even in the darkest moments.

I am frequently asked how everyone is doing. We are all in different places. Grief takes us to places we never expect.

There is anger, and yet there is forgiveness. There is pain in loss, and yet great joy in memories. There is confusion from wondering how this could ever happen here, and yet there is a determination to be an example for others who have to face similar loss and tragedy. We have grown stronger as a community. We pause before we take anyone or anything for granted. In the midst of all that has happened, we still possess hope for today and all the tomorrows to come.

Faith has played an important role from the first moment. We know that evil visited our land and that for a brief moment we were covered in darkness. That darkness vanished quickly as the light of faith and hope surrounded us. It was in the dark of winter, and yet the hearts of the people of this community were living the hope of spring.

The mantra quickly became the passage from Saint John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5) people gathered wherever they could in order to find solace and strength in one another. Candles were lit, places of worship were filled, people were praying alone and together, families gathered with hugs tighter than ever before, Christmas carols and holiday songs were being sung, shrines of remembrance were established and no one was left alone in their grief and confusion. We were community, which we continue to be for one another.

I believe the lessons learned from this day will bring us all to a better place. There are lessons we have already learned, and there are many more to follow.

We do know that when tragedy happens, the resiliency that God created in us surfaces very quickly and our humanity overtakes any superficiality we may have in other circumstances in life. This day taught us the value of human life and how quickly it can be extinguished by violence and hate.

It taught us the importance of standing together and reminded us that no one was created to be an island unto themselves. We learned how blessed it is to have a faith to guide and sustain us and a heart that is filled with compassion and care for one another.

We learned never to take the blessings God gives us for granted, but to cherish each and every one of them as they are poured out upon us. We learned gratitude for a world that was willing to cry with us and support us in ways that escape description and definition. We were not alone, and we never will be, as long as we have a God who cares for us and a community who understands the depth of human tragedy and loss.

You can still see the bumper stickers that read "we are Newtown. We choose love".

But love was not simply a choice for us that day, it was our guide that has brought us to where we are today as a community.

Monsignor Robert Weiss, Pastor Saint rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, Newtown, Connecticut. He can be reached at:

Rabbi Jeffery Silberman
Rabbi Jeffery Silberman


Solitude is not the same as loneliness.

by Rabbi Jeffery Silberman

Published: Saturday, December 7, 2013

Danbury News Times

At some time or other, all of us feel alone. For many, aloneness evokes a sense of loneliness. For others, being alone may be a welcome break from external commotion and busyness.

In a hospital, one is never really alone. There are medical professionals who must be available during all hours of the day and night. These caring staff members often ask questions about things you might typically not share, even with those close to you.

While you seem to be left alone in your room for long hours, various noises remind you that other people are always close by.

On the other hand, as you struggle to recover and heal, loneliness can become an unwelcome companion. It can feel like no one cares, that your well-being does not matter to anyone.

Sometimes our loneliness is because we miss loved ones with whom we spend most of our time and lives. When they are not with us, we acutely feel their absence.

Sometimes the challenge of loneliness is that we want to share something special or very personal with another person. It can be the good news of the benign result of a test or the shock of a painful diagnosis.

Those moments are very difficult if we must cope with what feels like no support.

Some older people may no longer have others close at hand. The deaths of longtime close friends and family, distance from relatives, or even dysfunctional families can leave them feeling isolated in general, and especially while in the hospital.

Often religious tradition offers what feels like platitudes about loneliness. These religious messages tell us, "You are never really alone. God is always there with us."

These words can be a difficult message to hear when one is lying in bed in the middle of the night by oneself. We feel the need for more assurance than this.

In Judaism, loneliness is a somewhat strange notion because so much of Jewish religious life takes place in community, with family and neighbors.

From prayer to religious practice, from what we eat to how we live, life takes place among others -- be it family, friends, congregations or business associates.

Jewish wisdom emphasizes these relationships as critical to the well-being of the individual, so Judaism speaks sparsely about being alone.

One of the wisest men in the 20th century, Dag Hammarskjold, offered words of inspiration about loneliness. He said, "Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for."

His message underscores that meaning in life comes from within and being alone can be a time to examine what is important to us. Using loneliness to find meaning is to open the possibility to change our circumstances from despair to hope.

The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich offered a similar spin for this idea when he wrote: "Language ... has created the word `loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone."

These words point us in a different direction in thinking about loneliness. We can discover a new way to employ time spent alone. We may use our solitary feelings to venture within and find what or who can become a source of support.

Someone once commented further on this idea, "It's so lonely when you don't even know yourself." This idea echoes the teachings of the Jewish mystics. They often taught the need for spiritual solitude as a way to better connect with self and God.

Once a year I go to a Zen sesshin, a four-day meditation retreat. There is no talking during sesshin. Silence is observed so that each person may concentrate on his or her experience and not influence those of others. At the end of the sesshin, there is usually a meal when participants are allowed to talk to others for the first time since arriving.

For me this is a wonderful opportunity to get away from it all and be alone with my thoughts. This experience helps me to return to daily life with renewed perspective and energy.

Obviously, there are many ways we might experience being alone. In this season of celebrations, there are many opportunities for solitude and aloneness to explore the challenges and affirm the meaning of our lives; and in so doing, witness God's plan for each of us.

Rabbi Jeffery M. Silberman, D. Min., is director of spiritual care at Danbury Hospital. He can be reached at 203-739-7059 or

Jennifer Wolke
Jennifer Wolke


'Reverting' to family Thanksgiving.

by Jennifer Wolke

Published: Saturday, November 30, 2013

Danbury News Times

While I write this, I think ahead to when you will read this. If you are a non-Muslim, maybe you have had a turkey sandwich by now and there may not be any pie left.

Perhaps your family and friends have made a long trek home, or the lingering guest is soaking up the joy and festivities and plans to stay for the Sunday night Giants-Redskins match up.

I am not unfamiliar with the occasion and tradition of a great Thanksgiving Day celebration: the parade, football, the movies, the food ... ahh yes, the food.

After I became Muslim, I was never forced to change anything about my American culture.

But as a Muslim, in my circles and online networks, I am exposed to discussions of the permissibility of celebrating, and indeed, even acknowledging celebrations that did not originate within Islamic teachings.

Eager to apply the teachings of Islam to my life, I needed to understand how I should approach my own traditions in being with family for a holiday, sometimes the only time they gather, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Christmas and Easter are common for gatherings.

Could I share time with my family on these occasions? Would there be "haram police" to face? "Halal" is the word for what is permissible, while "haram" is the word for unlawful.

I fear even worse, will there be punishment on the Day of Judgment?

Though Prophet Jesus, peace upon him, is an important figure in the Qur'an, Muslims do not celebrate the birth of prophets. It isn't difficult for me to forgo the Christmas holiday.

Then I think of other family gatherings. I have been distanced from my immediate family by hundreds of miles and have aunts and uncles and cousins no closer than about a two-hour drive.

As we get older, I tend to more appreciate the time we have together as a blessing from God, glorified and exalted be he. This life is so temporary.

My cousin awaits the call telling her they have a pancreas for her surgery; and her mom, my Aunt Ronnie, passed away this past year. This will be the first Thanksgiving without her at the table.

My cousin said, in so many words, please don't come for this reason or that reason if it means you will not be here for Thanksgiving. "I need you here."

Many of the hadith tell us to keep good relations with our family. (Hadiths are regarded by traditional Islamic schools of jurisprudence as important tools for understanding the Quran and in matters of jurisprudence).

So I imagine while writing this that by the time you read it I will have visited with my nearest family, going with my non-Muslim daughter to see my non-Muslim cousin and her husband and what family or friends they may be sharing the day with.

I chose to go visit my family for the holidays because it is right.

The introspection on this matter had me searching my online texts of Qur'an and sunnah of Muhammad (includes his specific words, habits, practices, silent approvals, and it addresses ways of life dealing with friends, family and government).

God, the most merciful, did not send the Qur'an (our guidance) overnight, and learning is a lifelong journey.

As a "new" Muslimah, I have much to learn. I am asking with open hands, open mind and open heart, during my prayer and many times during the day and night, for the light and guidance of God.

If I have shared what is good, it comes from God, may he be glorified and exalted, and if anything I have said is wrong, it comes from me and I pray for his mercy and guidance.

Jennifer Wolke, Muslimah, Baitul Mukkaram. She can be reached at: jmwolke@gmaila or (203) 885-3528

Don Lavallee
Don Lavallee


Esotericism recognizes spiritual nature of all.

by Don Lavallee

Published: Saturday, November 23, 2013

Danbury News Times

To begin to understand the maxim, "the many are called and the few chosen," the Esotericist believes that we first need to realize that each and every human being has a spiritual nature, that is, each has a soul.

One's soul is tirelessly engaged in an attempt to develop its own conscious spiritual environment through the directed involvement and development of its reflection, that is, its incarnated personality.

We believe that as each personality progresses along their evolutionary path through repeated physical incarnations, they become increasingly aware of subtle mental impressions. This is the impression upon the mind by the soul.

Depending upon the myriad of conditions within the life of each personality, they may or may not be consciously aware of these impressions.

The ones that they consciously become aware of, they may not take any action about, thinking them just fancy or illusion. Even the ones that they do become aware of, to some degree and give some conscious thought to, they may dismiss as something that they neither desire to do nor have the time or inclination to become involved with.

Simply put, we believe if the impressed thought does not harmonize with their existing lifestyle then there is little chance that the impressed thought will find response and be developed; and the soul would then need to wait for their personality conditions to change, before the spiritual mission can again be attempted; or wait for a more favorably conditioned incarnation.

When the impressed thought does find response and one which the personality strongly acquiesces to, then the necessary life changes required to carry out the mission of the impressed thought will be made. It has to be.

This type of action we see in people who have a mission in life and the personal drive to bring a mission to completion.

These impressions are not always consciously recorded. They can simply be subtly felt impressions that the personality is sensitive to and is inclined to follow. A feeling, as it were, a strong sense of a responsibility that is in need of accomplishment.

The more highly evolved find it easier to respond, either consciously or unconsciously. Some of the personalities that do so respond are the forerunners of human evolution on this planet: the great leaders and thinkers of the past, and the future.

But not all impressed and successful tasks are world-shaking. Many are simply small acts of love, kindness or simple acts of service to humanity.

Additionally, we believe there is a need to realize that there is a spiritual hierarchy that, working under the auspices of the Bodhisattva, the Christ, guides the evolution of this planet and the kingdoms thereon.

The souls of all humans on their spiritual level of consciousness work in harmony with this spiritual hierarchy and are therefore conscious of the great planetary plan for humanity which this hierarchy is pledged to implement.

We are told that this hierarchy, in harmony with the souls of humanity, is constantly searching for personalities that can assist them in the working out of the plan, the Plan of God.

When they, in their spiritual wisdom, deem a particular accomplishment necessary for the furthering of the Plan, personalities are sought that are capable of carrying out the required work on the physical plane.

The personalities that are deemed capable of successfully carrying out the needed work are contacted via their souls as described above. When the most qualified personality or personalities do not respond to the spiritual impress, then less qualified personalities are then sought, for the work must proceed. The hierarchy is constrained to use those who respond.

Thus our maxim, "The many are called and the few chosen," takes on a unique meaning.

"The many are called" are those personalities that are deemed by the hierarchy as being capable of executing the needed accomplishment(s) and are so impressed. The members of this group that "are called" and consciously or unconsciously accept the challenge of the spiritual task are then "the few chosen."

Those who do not respond are either not ready to accept the impressed responsibility or are too busy with worldly pursuits and do not become one of "the few chosen," even though they are deemed capable. Whether a personality is chosen or not chosen is specifically the choice, the decision, of the personality himself.

So in Esotericism, it is important to listen carefully and to choose responsibly.

Don Lavallee is an Association of Religious Communities' volunteer and web master. He can be reached at

Rev. Leo McIlrath
Rev. Leo McIlrath


Approaching Thanksgiving after loss.

by Rev. Leo McIlrath

Published: Saturday, November 16, 2013

Danbury News Times

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, some of the people of Sandy Hook/Newtown may be asking God whether s/he might wonder if they will hesitate this year in offering any thanks for gifts received.

This apparent lack of a spirit of thanksgiving would be due of course to the fact that the anniversary of Dec. 14, 2012, is only a month away.

I wonder what each reader of this current column would say to those wonderful and courageous teachers and to those 20 diminutive and innocent children who were tragically killed by another hurting child, himself the son of a mom and dad, a brother and friend of other people, just like you and me.

Would you tell them how much you miss them and still love them? Would you let them know that you and an entire school, town, state, nation -- the world, itself -- has been thinking and crying and asking about you?

Would you tell them that town activities, sporting events, national assemblies paused to remember them?

Might you ask them if they were aware that they were the center of attention on every TV channel, every radio station and throughout cyberspace for weeks on end -- and that this was happening all over the Earth?

Do you think that each of these loved ones know that every person in Sandy Hook/Newtown has not ceased praying for each of them: the town's municipal workers, the administration, police, fire, EMTs, the clergy and representatives of every local faith community, school personnel, mentors in the arts and coaches in athletics and leisure-time activities -- all of these community workers and volunteers -- that they will never forget them?

When I posed the above question to myself, my faith moved me to write the following:

To My 26 New Friends:

"Si vales, bene est, valeo!" Such is the way that the great Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, began many of his letters. I am certain that you have already met him -- and all the wonderful people risen from the earth -- who greeted you upon your arrival in the glorious halls of heaven.

I am also certain that I need not translate the above greeting for you because you have already mastered all the world's languages and that you understand them just as the people of the Apostolic times could understand what St. Peter was saying when he was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

But just in case others reading this letter do not understand Cicero's Latin, it means: "If you are well, it is well, I am well!"

I pray that your loving family and friends will realize that you are truly well and that when they become well, totally healed from their grieving, the world of Newtown/Sandy Hook will be well again. Pray for them and for all of us. For you have greater vision and know what/who `Love' really is. You have already experienced, teachers and children, `Love' face to face.

You, dear friends, already have what we still on earth long for; the fullness of Love-Joy-Peace. And realizing that we are all in communion with one another, ask the good Lord to share that peace with the nations of the earth -- and our little town of Newtown.

Your time on earth was very brief, and we wish that it was longer. But life is relatively brief for all humans. Thankfully, in your new and better life, a day is like a thousand years. So you can enjoy an eternity of complete happiness.

And just one more thing!

Help us who do not yet have your knowledge and wisdom, to forgive Adam and all those who do harm to others - in body, mind and spirit - to forgive them for they do not really know what they have done.

You are well! It is well! Happy Thanksgiving!

Your Brother, Leo

The Rev. Leo E. McIlrath, D. Min., is ecumenical chaplain at The Lutheran Home of Southbury.  He can be reached at 203-270-0581 or at

Rev. Pat Kriss
Rev. Pat Kriss


Veterans need support every day.

by Rev. Pat Kriss

Published: Saturday, November 9, 2013

Danbury News Times

It takes a village to do something other than raise a child.

It takes a village to bring home the men and women who have served in our nation's armed services, making them feel truly wanted and respected and, in many cases, healing them.

As a pastor, I've found that while most people appreciate our veterans, many may not tell them.

Before returning to Danbury, I pastored a church in the downtown North Adams, Mass., where, last year our church installed the traveling exhibit known as the Field of Flags. One flag is planted for each service person lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, a tribute to the fallen and a stark reminder of the true cost of conflict.

We learned that we would be receiving more than 6,500 flags, i.e., the toll at the time. Suddenly I realized the enormity of this task.

Despite our best efforts to recruit volunteers, on the morning the flags arrived few people had signed on. I prayed for help, but also sweated. Even pastors have moments of doubt and wonder if God is listening.

Then it happened.

People just started showing up, getting down on their knees and planting row after row of flags. Ten people turned into 30. People in cars stopped and asked if they could lend a hand.

A woman from El Salvador spent two hours installing flags. People told me, "I just felt I had to be here to say thanks."

A Gulf War veteran with tears in his eyes said, "This is overwhelming. I never saw this kind of caring when I came home."

The homeless who ate lunch daily at our food project pitched in. I choked up at the sight of a wheelchair-bound veteran, whose every movement brought him pain, bending down to help.

Because of a community's love, the entire Field of Flags was installed in two hours. An Iraq War vet who lived near enough to see the church became the self-designated guardian of the flags and what they represented: loss, but also love.

It takes a village or, in Danbury's case, a city, including all its institutions, to bring our veterans home. And it needs a city to live this not just on a special day in November, but every day.

According to a recent Pew Study, 50 percent of combat veterans have experienced trauma, and its lingering effects can destroy educational opportunities.

Recognizing this, Western Connecticut State University is welcoming veterans to its student body, from establishing a special website for them to creating a private space (the Oasis Room, furnished by the Women's Club) that allows them to gather and meet with one another, or with representatives from the Danbury Vets Center.

Soon WestConn will hire its first full-time veterans services coordinator.

The First Congregational Church of Danbury has regularly been collecting and sending supplies to active duty troops. This Sunday we will salute veterans, praying with and for them.

And while seeking inspiration from Daryl Dennis, WestConn's assistant dean for student affairs, we will reaffirm and expand our commitment to bringing our veterans home by seeking ways to better address the special needs of those former members of the military struggling to again live normal lives.

The same Pew survey noted that some 67 percent of the veterans surveyed identified "attending church at least weekly" as the most important factor for successful re-entry into civilian life.

Working with WestConn, our church will explore how this can be accomplished.

It only takes a village.

Reverend Pat Kriss, is the Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Danbury. She can be reached at:

Polly Castor
Polly Casotr


See beyond the masks on Halloween.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, October 26, 2013

Danbury News Times

In the Christian Science church, there is a range of participation in Halloween festivities. I know a Christian Scientist that owns a hearse and works for months to carry off an amazing Halloween extravaganza at his house every year; but I also know others who refuse to celebrate Halloween on principle.

Our family chose a middle road, and our children donned innocuous costumes, carved silly-faced pumpkins and enjoyed appreciative neighbors exclaiming over their creative efforts, while giving them candy. Costumes in our house were always handmade and ranged from a pyramid made out of cardboard, accompanied by a brother who was a proud pharaoh to turtles, a rabbit, a musketeer, a dictionary, a centurion, a princess, a pumpkin and most fearsome of all, a skunk. Our youngest delighted in that skunk costume, lifting her striped felt tail and pretending to spray everyone.

I remember taking our oldest out for the first time in her butterfly wings, going from house to house collecting candy in the dark. She came along willingly enough, but try as she did, she couldn't wrap her head around why we were doing this. "We are trick-or-treating," I said. She thought it was more confusing and weird, than fun. Once she was older, she did find the fun in it, but her innocent perspective that this holiday was a bit odd remained with me.

In the intervening years, I've found that Halloween contains many instructive analogies that are helpful to consider. I leverage this holiday often in my healing practice of Christian Science, because I use it to explain that things aren't always what they seem.

After all, under that scary costume that makes you back away trembling, is your gentle friend George. It is easy to forget what is real, when for whatever reason something starts to appear as something else. Maybe we are too ready to believe in the outward appearance of things.

Popular culture has coined the concept that FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real, and this coincides well with how Christian Scientists see it. Fear is to be avoided, as it results not only in unnecessary worry, immobilization and terror, but can even cause disease. Fear is forgetting that God is large-and-in-charge.

There are masks and costumes of many varieties parading about, and not just on Halloween. Violence, infidelity, drug use, greed, bullying, insecurity, disease and hatred -- the list is seemingly endless. But somewhere beneath each of these "masks" are the men and women of God's creation.

Christian Science explains that this is how Jesus healed. He looked past whatever was projected and superimposed on our inherent godlike nature and acknowledged the indwelling goodness that was hiding underneath all that.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, says it this way in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:" "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick."

I believe that's the whole key to how Jesus heals in the Bible and how he taught us to heal as well. For the first couple hundred years after Jesus, his followers were healing as he did. Then the imposition of all those masquerading suggestions became more insistent again, and disciples started believing the false appearances more than underlying god-like reality. Mrs. Eddy responded to this by expressly designing the Christian Science Church "to reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."

So when I see the ghosts and goblins, zombies and headless phantoms at my front door, I won't be tricked into thinking they are real. The treat for me will be to know that behind each costume is a little kid having fun.

Beyond that, I'll be considering that other things, also, are not as real as they seem. I'll enjoy remembering that God is what is really real, and is creating, surprising and delighting each of us every day all year.

I see God as infinite, ever-present, always good, divine Love, who never scares us. But I think God has a sense of humor too. (If you are not sure about that, just take a look at the colorful bottom of a baboon.) So have fun! Enjoy your celebration, and be safe. God is with you, encouraging you to take off all your masks and radiate your essential, authentic self, the way he made you to be.

By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield.   She can be reached at:

Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia


Church's Yankee Fair embodies faith.

by Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia

Published: Saturday, October 19, 2013

Danbury News Times

At the Congregational Church of Brookfield, I always like to say that today, the third Saturday in October, is our "High Holy Day." It is our annual Yankee Fair and Barn Sale.

But since many religious organizations also have sales, you may wonder why we say this one day is more holy than others?

That is because it is the one day of the year at our church where we all come together to embody our faith.

We put our bodies to work in the service of others, as Jesus Christ wanted us to do when he called us to be disciples in the service of others.

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, told the congregation he planted in Corinth, Greece, to work together in love, in the Holy Spirit, for what Paul called "the common good."

As a vivid example, he preached about the "parts of the body," where each member works smoothly with the other -- the eye doesn't fight with the hand, the head doesn't argue with the feet.

Paul said to the church, "You are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Every "member" of the body of Christ is essential to the smooth functioning of a healthy church, and on Yankee Fair Day nearly every single living, breathing soul in our church is there working.

For this one day of the year, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (the barn opens at 8 a.m.), our sprawling church campus is transformed into a dazzling bazaar of various booths, elegantly staged from the big red barn on one end to tents on the lawn (where the Man Cave will have appliances and tools), to the antiques and collectibles for sale in our historic 1812 parsonage.

In the parking lot, we have have food at the grill, starting with breakfast sandwiches at 7:30 a.m.

There will be a DJ and live music, a clown, and children's games.

In our church building proper, which we Congregationalists call our Meetinghouse, there will be fine dining at the White Steeple Inn, plus a display of town history in keeping with this year's fair theme, celebrating Brookfield's 225th birthday.

In the church school wing, you'll find a garden shop, a silent auction, and beautiful handicrafts, including handmade quilts.

Downstairs will be our bake shop, cheese shop, coffee shop, used bookstore, and used clothing.

Since our theme is the 225th birthday, we hoped to recruit more than 225 volunteers, which is a challenge for a church with only 200 in worship most Sundays.

But our fair chairmen and fair chairman emeritus managed to sign up 242 volunteers, including this pastor, who is baking blackberry pie!

When I was growing up in Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, N.C., we had the slogan of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, on our church T-shirt. It read "To believe is to care. To care is to do."

We are committed to the call of Jesus to love him by loving one another and the world in his name.

As far as we know -- the Bible is silent on this point -- Jesus never baked a blackberry pie or organized a rummage sale. But at the Congregational Church of Brookfield, we like to think Jesus would enjoy our Yankee Fair.

How we use the proceeds from the fair is important to us, too.

The money supports mission projects, this year including the Brookfield food pantry, the Dorothy Day House in Danbury, and Loaves and Fishes in New Milford.

The fair also supports our refugee resettlement ministry, and provides grant money for Christian growth and enrichment, such as the spring break mission trip of two Brookfield High students who went to Oaxaca, Mexico, to help those who live in the city dump there.

Less than one-quarter of the fair money is used to sustain church property, which this year included repair and repainting of our white Meetinghouse and steeple, a treasured landmark in Brookfield since the mid-19th century.

Our church is at the crossroads of routes 25 and 133 in Brookfield Center. All are welcome to our High Holy Day on Oct. 19, to support our church mission to "Pray, Share, and Welcome" in the way of Jesus.

Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia is the Senior Pastor, Congregational Church of Brookfield, Brookfield, CT 06804. She can be reached at: or 203-775-1259. Web site:

Rev. Mel Kawakami
Rev. Mel Kawakami


Interfaith group strengthens all during crisis.

by Rev. Mel Kawakami

Published: Saturday, October 12, 2013

Danbury News Times

One of the unanticipated consequences of the Sandy Hook School tragedy of Dec. 14 has been the spirit of cooperation and mutual support that has come through the Newtown Interfaith group.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder through tragedy has made our ties stronger, more resilient and decidedly more human.

Our experience has reminded us of what we value in common, across the strengths of the many faiths we represent. We have come to know ourselves, each other and each others' traditions more deeply.

We have expanded our roles of comforting and listening beyond our own congregations. As a result, we have been given a clearer perspective of our Creator's world.

In the days following 12/14, as Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Baha'is and Buddhists, we have been in each others' houses of worship, prayed together, learned together, broken bread and broken fasts together.

Although in a recent meeting we agreed that we would trade this all for a return of the precious lives lost that day, we have nonetheless comforted and advised each other, and shared stories of grief, hope and inspiration.

We have explored ways to focus on the gifts we have, while always mindful of our shared mission to comfort and heal.

This fall, our interfaith group was asked to judge the Labor Day Parade in Newtown and, although I was personally unable to attend, I have seen pictures that prove we can even dance together.

One of the most powerful affirmations we gain from our time together is that sorrow does not overcome faith, love or the possibility of joy.

Through our common experience, we get to know each other in our humanity. We have shared experiences as simple as exchanging eggplant recipes and child-rearing suggestions, and as deep as soul-shaking grief, trauma and prayer.

We cherish our families and friends, nurture our faith communities, extend hospitality, and seek to create a better future.

We share our human experience of fear and sorrow, hope and love. We share our sacred experiences of praise, ritual and humility.

Together, we work to forge a future that celebrates our unity while honoring our differences.

All of this testifies to the strength of and appreciation for faith in a divine presence.

We all heard it in the heartbreaking tones of the Jewish mourner's Kaddish sung by Rabbi Shaul's and the words of the Quran chanted by the young Muwad.

We were spiritually touched by the haunting chant of the ochre-clad Buddhist monks and the poetic rhythms in the poetry of the Baha'i.

We were deeply moved by the traditions of all of our peoples, across many cultures and histories, to call out to the divine for solace, understanding and guidance.

While the words may be untranslated, the sacredness of the calls are clear.

As we share the world we have been given, with its beauties, mysteries and sorrows, we are strengthened by the gifts of communication and community.

Our beliefs are different, but we have found common ground, and we have done so without sacrificing our own belief in the holy.

Indeed, I have found my own understanding and appreciation of God has been deepened.

One lesson that comes out of our interfaith gatherings is that my own faith is not threatened, but enhanced.

Another lesson is that not only can we live in a multifaith community, but that this faithful community can be a platform for greater strength, learning and tolerance in the larger society.

A culture of mutual appreciation becomes a model for a world in which harmony is a reality, not just a dream.

Also we have much to learn from a dialogue with other faiths; for example, we can all learn respect for the Muslim dedication to prayer five times a day or the Mormon youth commitment to mission or the Buddhist piety of peace.

Through our own faithful interaction with other faiths, we can build a community foundation of strength, resilience and mutual support.

This strength honors those lost on 12/14 and provides a legacy for moving forward in a post-12/14 world.

The Rev. Mel Kawakami, Senior Pastor, Newtown United Methodist Church, 92 Church Hill Road, Sandy Hook, CT 06482. He can be reached at: 203-426-9998 or

Penny Kessler
Penny Kessler


Understanding Jewish prayer.

by Penny Kessler

Published: Saturday, October 5, 2013

Danbury News Times

Today is the first day of a new Hebrew month, the month of Cheshvan.

Around the world and here in Danbury, Jews will be praying today for a good month of health, prosperity and freedom from shame and fear.

I used to think praying was asking God for stuff and would lead God to give me things like a good grade on a test or a bicycle. I prayed really to get a mortgage, to get a job.

When -- or if -- I got any of those things, I didn't need to pray anymore. When I didn't, I got mad at God for not providing, so I stopped praying.

It was frustrating when I asked God to "please let me lose weight," and I gained it instead. It was terrifying when I prayed for people I loved to stay healthy but they got sick and some died.

I was baffled by the words in the prayer book because they didn't have anything to do with me and my personal needs. I couldn't understand the point of praying words if I wasn't going to get anything out of it.

Prayer book prayers were about thanking or praising God or asking for things for "God's people Israel."

Asking God to keep the state of Israel safe made sense, but the rest of it was incomprehensible. Why should I be thanking God for daily miracles when I looked at the miserable record of all the times I asked God for things and God fell down on the job?

A huge spiritual crisis and many years of spiritual recovery later, I learned what it means to pray (not to mention how to understand the nature of God) as a Jew.

What I learned and now teach is that Jewish prayer has nothing to do with asking for stuff and expecting God to provide as though God were a cosmic butler (to paraphrase a teacher), and everything to do with using prayer to challenge myself to determine what God wants me to do.

The Hebrew word "to pray," l'hitpallel, is a reflexive verb that means to judge oneself. Rather than asking God to do for me, Jewish prayer asks me to ask myself how I can work with and for God to do what is in God's and my best interest.

Jewish prayer helps me determine how I am holding up my end of my contract with God as I praise and thank God for those daily miracles, acknowledge God's daily recreating the world, ask God to bring peace to the world, and declare God's unity in love.

Instead of asking God for things, I now pray to ask God to use me to do what is right and good so that I can be the best person I can be.

Instead of praying for a good grade on a test, I pray for the willingness to study hard; instead of praying for people I love to heal, I pray for the strength to provide support and love.

Instead of praying for a result, I pray for the awareness of what I have to do to bring my best interests to fruition and to be grateful for the many gifts I have received.

On this rosh chodesh Cheshvan, the new month of Cheshvan, I will indeed pray for a good month and for the strength and power to have God work through me to make it so.

Cantor Penny Kessler, United Jewish Center, 141 Deer Hill Avenue, Danbury, CT 06810.   She can be reached at 203-748-3355 or Web site

Dr. Fred Turpin
Dr. Fred Turpin


A peaceful heart helps in time of crisis.

by Dr. Fred Turpin

Published: Saturday, September 28, 2013

Danbury News Times

As I write this column, the United States confronts a huge crisis, the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Moreover, the federal government could be facing a default of its debts, thereby throwing not only the economy into chaos, but shaking the confidence of the world in the stability of the dollar.

Should these things occur, it's reasonable that people will experience a variety of intense feelings, such as fear, anxiety, anger and disappointment.

Who among us would be pleased to see our elected officials so unable to resolve their differences and fail to bring direction and creative resolution to the problems that need to be addressed?

I am no politician or economist, so I have no expertise to comment on the possibility of such a crisis of national will. I am a clergyman and psychoanalyst whose background does enable me to comment on human emotions and suffering.

The question I want to address here is, "How do we begin to find any sense of tranquility or inner peace when the world seems, to borrow the phrase, "to be going to hell in a handbasket?"

All of the world's great religions have answers to that question. Moreover, there is much common ground in the answers that they reach.

Consider this: Water can clearly mirror the sky and the trees but only if the surface of the water is relatively undisturbed.

Likewise, our minds can address the issues of suffering and chaos in the world, as well as view more accurately our own sense of self, when we are able to find a space of tranquility and relax into an attitude of trust, if not peace.

There is no more frequent injunction in the Christian Bible than the words "Fear not!"

This message is imported by angelic beings as well as Jesus and the apostles. I believe if we are engulfed with fear, we are increasingly likely to feel lost and unable to bring understanding to our situation.

People are most vulnerable to fear during the times they are feeling most alone. We live in an age where so often families are broken and people are taught from a very early age that "crying doesn't help."

The rational intellect is overvalued while the emotional depths are devalued. The result is often a false sense of self that is laden with pretense. People frequently think that there is no one who really knows how they feel.

But I believe the greater reality is that we don't have to carry anything alone, not even our faith.

If we are members of a religious community, we realize when we cannot pray, others are still praying.

When our voices are silenced and we cannot sing, there are others who are still singing. During times of darkness when our faith is weak, others carry faith on our behalf.

When we are unable to be either grateful or gracious, others are extending grace.

We can reach our greatest place of wholeness within communion and community.

As we realize we are never alone, as we stand with others to express love and seek peace and healing, fear is inevitably diminished.

From a psychological perspective, our conscious minds conclude that only when everything falls into place will we be able to feel peace.

On the other hand, Spirit says that as we find our peace, everything else will fall into place.

I believe we can too easily exhaust ourselves in a frantic search for security and peace without, when we are flooded with fear and anxiety within. We may be unable to even get a decent night's sleep.

Such places of fear and suffering can allow the world to make our hearts hard. The danger is that our pain can not only make us fearful, it can make us hate.

I spend time each day in prayer or meditation so the bitterness in the world does not destroy the sweetness found in my heart and soul.

Though there may be much evidence to the contrary, I still believe the world is a beautiful place.

Dr. Fred H. Turpin - 203-894-9489.  Pastoral Psychotherapist and
Marriage & Family Therapist, United Church of Christ.
His poetry web site can be viewed at:

Rev. Garrett Mettler
Rev. Garrett Mettler


A faith that asks questions is healthy.

by Rev. Garrett Mettler

Published: Saturday, September 21, 2013

Danbury News Times

A group of high school seniors sat in a circle exploring what it means to have faith. One said "belief." Another said "trust."

A third ventureda description that others doubtless thought of but hesitated to share, not wanting to seem dismissive of their religious peers or their teacher.

"I think faith is basically choosing to accept something in spite of the fact that it can't be seen or proven," the student said. "It's what you need to have to believe in God or heaven, because no one can prove that they exist."

I get excited in moments like these. I'm an Episcopal priest, school chaplain and the teacher of this class.

Some students looked toward me nervously when this comment was made, but far from feeling defensive, I brightened at the opportunity to engage my students in a substantive discussion about the value of faith -- one that must include questioning at the boundaries of what we can't see or prove.

The students I am privileged to spend my days with are a curious and probing group. The school culture we share together celebrates inquiry, investigation, and even challenge in the pursuit of understanding.

Were I to tell my students that the core of religious faith must simply be accepted on the sole authority of my word as a priest or of the writings in a collection of scriptures such as the Bible, their reactions would range from polite skepticism to outright disregard.

The response "because I told you so," if it were ever a satisfactory answer to the curious-minded, is simply inadequate today.

And that's a good thing. I have very little use for blind faith. I believe that "show me" is not only a fair request to make, but a healthy one as well.

As a part of the discussion of religious faith with my students, I ask them to tell me about something that is important to their lives that they can't see, hear, touch, smell, taste or prove.

At first there are a lot of blank looks. Could anything that meets those criteria be important to my life, they wonder.

Then one hand raises, tentatively.


We ponder this for a second. Then another hand raises.


And then, "Love."

And we're off.

We debate whether any of these things can be indisputably proven by people's experience of their effects.

In the end I tell my students that what they're describing sounds very much like my faith. Not blind faith, but experiential, informed and questioning faith.

I have had this faith affirmed on numerous occasions by the strong sense that I am in the presence of holiness as I have worshiped, prayed or served others.

It is a faith rooted in the descriptions of the character of God found in the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures that I have tried to use as an example for the choices I make in my life.

It is a faith that regularly seeks a deeper understanding of how I can use the gift of my life to be a blessing to others.

The kind of faith that attracts me and that I find exciting to talk about with my students is a faith that is two parts action for every one part belief.

While doctrines about God, the origin and course of our lives, and possibility of redemption for human shortcomings are vitally important, I am confident that what people of faith choose to do about their convictions in these areas is that matters most.

It is though the practice of faith that it becomes most real, and because of that I welcome questions about it. Is there any God out there to hear the prayers of those who seek a relationship?

I suggest praying and then paying attention to what we sense, hear and feel afterward. The 20th century theologian and author C.S. Lewis once said about prayer, "It doesn't change God -- it changes me."

Does going to church or temple or mosque really accomplish anything? Does reading and reflecting on sacred writings have any actual power to inspire people of faith to be agents for peace, love and healing in our world?

These are not hostile questions but rather questions that can transform a person's life if they are treated with care. And the best answers will come, not in the self-assured pronouncements of religious leaders, but in the example of a lively faith that is alert, probing and responsive.

Rev. Garrett Mettler, Chaplain, Wooster School, 91 Miry Brook Rd., Danbury, CT.

Fr. Luke Mihaly
Fr. Luke Mihaly


God was there with Mom and black coffee.

by Fr. Luke Mihaly

Published: Saturday, September 14, 2013

Danbury News Times

It has been 25 years since my mother passed away unexpectedly in her sleep on a hot, humid August night.

She was someone whom I shared a deep respect for spiritually. It was many a day that I would visit her in the home I grew up in, to talk to her -- about church and her growing up on a farm in upstate New York -- over a cup of her percolated black, black coffee.

We would sing church hymns together that we both loved and talk about her parents and the struggles they endured as immigrants to a new country.

One of her favorite stories was that her father did not have enough money to come to the U.S. and so had to fight in World War I on the side of the Axis powers.

He lost all of his toes due to frostbite while fighting in trenches.

When he was in line at Ellis Island, a Jewish man in line in front of him gave him closed-toe slippers so he would be able to pass the health inspection and be able to enter the country.

If not for the kindness of this one man, a total stranger, my family would not be here in this great land of ours. We truly are a people bound to one another by our common situation.

No one person is better than another, and no act of kindness, no matter how small, goes unnoticed.

I have never met and do not know the man who helped my father, but I often think about him and pray that God remembers the man's kind act.

Does he know what that single act of kindness did? How it set in motion the lives of untold numbers of individuals and families?

I could see the impact his deed had on my mother. She was a woman of prayer, and she knew hardships.

I could see in her face and her eyes the intensity of prayer every time she knelt before the icons in our home. There were tears of anguish and there were tears of joy.

She would often light candles before our icons of our Lord praying. I noticed the intensity of prayer was directed not at something, but at someone. God was not some amorphous being, a power, a feeling.

God was someone whom she could talk to during times of trial, someone with whom she could share her joys.

She understood from the depths of her soul that God promised us one thing in this life, and that one thing is that he will always be with us. "Lo, I am with you to the close of the age."

That doesn't mean if we believe in him we will get everything that we want or even need. There are going to be struggles, trials and tribulations, but we are not alone. God is with us.

I think the one battle we fight as human beings is loneliness. We just have to look at the explosion of communication technology. Between blase emails, tweets and texting, people seem more connected than ever. I remember when faxing was the craze.

But with all this communication, there is something fundamentally different between our texting and tweeting one another and prayer.

Is this what we see with the rise of texting today? How many of us have seen a group of people sitting at a table, all of them on their phones texting people?

Some of these people may even be right there, sitting next to them. We think we are communicating with them, but we are not. We are just giving them information.

God does not want information from us. He already knows everything about us. What can we tell him that he does not already know?

What he does want is for us to invite him into our lives and share our joys and our struggles with him.

By doing so, we will be able to recognize his presence in our lives, just as my mother was able to recognize God's presence in the simple act of the Jewish man who gave my grandfather his slippers.

She related this to me so I also would be able to see God in every act of kindness.

And now, looking back, I am able to see God's presence in the time I shared with my mom, sipping her black percolated coffee, singing our favorite church hymns and sharing our lives with each other.

Fr. Luke Mihaly is the pastor of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Danbury, CT. He can be reached at 203-748-0671 or

Rev. Joseph Krasinski
Rev. Joseph Krasinski


There is a place for everyone in church.

by Rev. Joseph Krasinski

Published: Saturday, September 7, 2013

Danbury News Times

In the days following 9/11, houses of worship all over the country were opened during the day for private prayer.

Interfaith worship services were put together quickly, and overall, regular weekend attendance at worship increased.

This is actually true in any time of national crisis, when many more people turn to their faith, for many different reasons.

The reasons, however, have to do with where an individual is on his or her spiritual-life journey.

For some, it is almost the "default" mode of their lives. They have been raised in a household of faith, whatever it may be.

The first reaction for anything -- joy, sorrow, anxiety, confusion -- is to fall on their knees and have a conversation with their God. Every life event, big or small, is entered into with the eyes of faith.

People such as these know that they are on a spiritual journey and rejoice in it daily.

There are those who have a spark of faith, possibly planted when they were young.

(When I started out in the ministry 31 years ago, it wasn't unusual for a parent to drop a child off at church school on Sunday morning and go off to the tennis court. This is no longer allowed!)

It is possible that these people will attend worship fairly regularly -- maybe even once a month.

When there are major life events -- most especially crises -- their faith "kicks in" and they want the services of their place of worship, maybe even a visit from their clergyperson.

These people are not so much on a faith "journey" as they are making brief stopovers with the God they know. My guess is that this is the majority of people in our own area.

Also, there are people who have consciously stopped their faith journey because they have been hurt by their particular denomination or religion or house of worship.

In Christianity, they would be called not the "unchurched," but the "hurting churched."

Somehow, their religion created a deep and abiding pain that has cut them off from their personal relationship with the God of their understanding. Sometimes this breach can never be repaired.

Finally, there are those who are not at all on a faith journey. It could be they are agnostic or atheist.

More and more we are finding people who neither believe nor disbelieve in God -- they can't even verbalize what faith might be like. They have never experienced faith of any sort whatsoever.

In the Episcopal Church, all are welcomed at each and every worship service. It does not have to be a national crisis.

The Episcopal Church looks at life, especially our spiritual life, as a journey in which we grow in a deeper and fuller knowledge and love of God.

We offer education for all ages, from 3-year-olds to senior citizens. We do this because we know the best way to learn more about our faith is to do so in community with other believers.

We look to those who have deeper, more mature spiritual lives then ourselves, and we try to learn from them. No matter who we are, we know there are lessons to be learned from people in every shape, form, size and age.

Whether it is the woman in her 80s who writes poetry and can always give positive feedback about a sermon or the 5-year-old who runs down the aisle after church and throws himself into my arms with complete trust and abandon, we are guided in our faith, always closer and closer to the heart of God.

We believe that whether a person or family is starting, re-starting, continuing or growing in their spiritual journey, there is always a place for everyone in the Episcopal denomination and God's house.

Rev. Joseph Krasinski is the pastor of St. James Episcopal Church, Danbury, CT and member of the ARC Board of Directors. He can be reached at

Rabbi Jon Haddon
Rabbi Jon Haddon


Rosh Hashanah, a different kind of new year.

by Rabbi Jon Haddon

Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013

Danbury News Times

For Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5774, arrives this Wednesday evening (Sept. 4).

Unlike the Chinese New Year, Jews don't celebrate with tumultuous parades replete with snaking dragons and firecrackers in the streets. Just the opposite, in many Jewish communities the streets are deserted.

Unlike the secular New Year's holiday on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, on the Jewish New Year there are no soirees with champagne, noisemakers and giant crystal balls descending from atop Times Square.

Jews eat hardy and pray hardy, but they don't party hardy on their new year. While there are a whole bunch of artery-clogging meals on the order of a Thanksgiving, a preponderance of time is spent in synagogue.

These holidays are mandated in the Torah to take place on the exact dates on the Jewish calendar that they do. The shofar (ram or gazelle's horn) is blown repeatedly on Rosh Hashanah. The sound is piercing (when done well, and it's difficult to do) and it sounds ancient and eternal all at the same time. It's a sound that's meant to awaken us from the torpor of our daily routines; to jolt our seats to the upright and locked position and focus on things way bigger than us and our often petty concerns.

In the High Holiday machzor (prayer book) we intone repeatedly: "On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed and on the fast day of Yom Kippur it is sealed ... who shall live and who shall die (and by which unpleasant ways) ... who will wax rich, who made poor, who will be exalted and who brought low," as our individual and communal fate is determined in the celestial court. Nothing short of life and death itself are at stake, which is why these upcoming holidays are considered the paramount religious occasions of the year for Jewish people.

It's what packs the house.

For the majority of Jews there is a sense that if one fails to show up for the High Holidays, it could be mega-bad karma: Why take a silly risk by staying home?

The notion of "who shall live and who shall die" is more palpable the older one gets. Kids, teens and 20-somethings are blessed with a sense of indestructibility and immortality. As time goes by and the warranty starts to run out on our individual machinery, we become more acutely aware of the fragility of our existence. Hence, more intense and purposeful prayer on the High Holidays can be found on the faces of those in the congregation with more mileage on their odometers, as making one's peace with the Lord means a lot more when there are more years behind than ahead.

But all is not dour on Rosh Hashanah.

There are the joys of honey with apples and honey with challah and honey in cake and honey-soaked taiglach (don't ask), all to auger in a sweet year. There are the brontosaurus-sized slabs of brisket simmering in sauce for hours on end. There are the sweet tzimmis (carrots with pineapple). There are the smells of fatty chicken soup with matza balls and meals that start with "Jewish sashimi," otherwise known as gefilte fish (fresh, not out of a jar, please!) with white-hot horseradish and more carrots. There are the dining rooms resplendent in fancy tablecloths, china, crystal and flowers.

There are the endless good wishes for a Shana Tova, a good year, and the time spent with family, the encounters with former classmates, friends and neighbors that maybe you haven't seen in a good while. There are the ladies in their new fall finery.

Above all, there is the sense that we made it through another year, which is not as easy as it seems -- and we're still here. There are multitudes of prayers on the High Holidays for just about everything under the sun.

We pray for prosperity and livelihood. We pray for peace and security for our nation and for our brethren in Israel. We pray for health for us and our loved ones. We pray for the souls of family members who came before us and who are no longer here but live on in our hearts and in our memories.

Having our prayers answered involves a lot of confession of our inadequacies and contrition for our weaknesses, of which there are many as we are all only human. It involves teshuva (repentance), tefila (prayer) and tzedakah (charity), so that we're inscribed and then sealed in the Book of Life for yet one more year.

For Jews therefore, saying "Happy Rosh Hashanah" means Happy New Year and also a whole lot more.

Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.

Rev. Barbara Fast
Rev. Barbara Fast


Inspiring speeches offer us hope.

by Rev. Barbara Fast

Published: Saturday, August 24, 2013

Danbury News Times

"A democracy -- that is a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.

That phrase was first uttered not by Lincoln but by someone whose name you don't know. His name was Theodore Parker and he was a Unitarian Minister. He wrote that definition of democracy in a sermon he preached in 1850.

Parker worked for decades to eliminate slavery through his sermons and his participation in the Underground Railroad, a network of courageous people who provided sanctuaries for African Americans fleeing slavery before the Civil War.

The story is that President Lincoln had a copy of that sermon with him as he traveled to Gettysburg. However it reached him, Lincoln eloquently reworked that definition of democracy into the conclusion of his most memorable solemn address and inspiring eulogy for the fallen soldiers.

. . . we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

While Unitarian Universalists do not have a creedal statement of faith, there are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote. One is "The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all."

We draw inspiration from many sources, including the words and deeds of prophetic women and men that challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.

In 1853 Rev. Parker preached another sermon called Justice and Conscience. That sermon concluded this way.

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eyes reach but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice..."

I understand that Dr. King had read and openly admired Rev. Parker and that in his sermons and speeches he clarified this powerful image idea as he challenged people.

"Let us remember there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows."

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

Those two phrases, Dr, King's and Lincoln's are among five that are woven into a rug that graces the current oval office.

I am inspired and challenged by Dr. King's words and deeds all year long, but I bring up Dr. King in this week's column because August 28th is the 50th anniversary of that great March on Washington.

Dr. King's prophetic ministry of love and justice intersected with Unitarians again when he gave the eulogy for a Unitarian Minister, Rev. James Reeb.

Rev. Reeb was one of many clergy who responded to Dr. King's call to come to Selma in 1965.

Rev. Reeb was killed in Selma in 1965 when he and two other Unitarian ministers--all three were white-- were attacked outside a whites only restaurant.

Rev. James Reeb, walking near the curb, was hit in the head by a man wielding a baseball bat. He died a few days later.

Dr. King delivered the eulogy for Rev. Reeb, in Selma, March 15 1965.

"In his death James Reeb says something to each of us, black and white alike - says that we must substitute courage for caution, says to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him but the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murder," KIng said.

"His death says that we must work unrelentingly to make the American Dream a reality, so he did not die in vain."

We strive to learn from the words and deeds of people who make a difference in the world, to appreciate the wisdom of religions of our world and seek to be grateful for the gift of life and to live in ways help our neighbors.

It is encouraging to have faith that the arc does bend towards justice and humbling to reflect on the effort that requires.

That is where the "creative power" of love truly counts.

The Rev. Barbara Fast is the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. She can be reached at 203-570-0447 or

Polly Castor
Polly Casotr


Our choices in eating can reflect faith, values.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013

Danbury News Times

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church, said: "Christian Science teaches: Owe no man; be temperate; abstain from alcohol and tobacco; be honest, just, and pure; cast out evil and heal the sick; in short, Do unto others as ye would have others do to you."

This is a work in progress for each individual Christian Scientist and not always easy. And although moral imperatives often govern a Christian Scientist's choices, there is no cookie-cutter approach.

Since we seek to understand the Bible spiritually, instead of merely literally, we are constantly in a discerning mode about how to address any topic. Prayer is our best way to sort through any question of how to proceed.

Examining one's motives is the first important step when we consider an issue, since God supports right motives, and wrong motives involve defeat.

For example, my prayers have led me to a perspective on a subject that my fellow church members may or may not share. That hot topic, which I'd like to reflect on in this column, is food.

Earnest seekers might point to Jesus, who said, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat and what ye shall drink." And the gospel of Mark claims, "If they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them."

I believe it is true that food does not affect people spiritually and that God is able to feed us. But the question remains, what are we to eat?

The first chapter of Genesis says, "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."

Back in Jesus' day, and even Mary Baker Eddy's, the food issue was simple compared to the minefield it is today.

We are now surrounded by man-made food. I'm not just talking about overly processed food, or food that is laced with drugs and chemicals, but food that is unconscionably unsustainable and downright destructive.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not designed to be more nutritious, but rather to produce food with poisonous pesticides and increase sales to benefit their corporate owners (Monsanto).

The company claims to be increasing food yield, but I believe it is pursuing is a monopoly to control the food supply, and its tactics of domination have been quite successful.

Corn already is 95 percent corporate owned, and 90 percent of it is genetically modified. A hundred years ago, corn was 100 percent farmer owned.

These man-made crops are connected to all sorts of health concerns. Their vast monocultures are demolishing precious biodiversity, contaminating soil and polluting water runoff.

Their pesticides are quickly exterminating honeybees, which are pollinators essential to our survival.

This is why GMOs are banned or labeled in more than 60 countries. Here in America, however -- I believe due mostly to corruption and ignorance -- 80 percent of the "food" on our grocery store shelves contains GMOs.

It seems to me that if we are to "be honest, just and pure," as well as to follow the Golden Rule, we must abstain from supporting the GMO industry.

The way to do that is to buy or grow organic food -- food that is a throwback to the way God made it before mankind was arrogant enough to tamper with it.

This is one way to "cast out evil and heal the sick."

Organic food is not only sustainable, it "replenishes the earth," as God directed us to do in the first chapter of Genesis.

And many people don't realize that organic food has also been proven to be more productive than GMOs.

Many complain that this more-pure food choice is expensive, but that cost is cheap compared to the eventual toll of people eating drugs, man-made chemicals and poisons.

Monsanto is playing the part of an intimidating Goliath, and, like David, I think we must triumph over this bully in the name of God.

This takes gumption and commitment, but with the powerful motive of love for one another and for God's creation I believe we can succeed.

Every time I buy organic food I cast my vote for purity, virtue, justice, health, safety and stewardship.

I have learned through Christian Science that I need to pray through all my choices.

As I have done so on the topic of food for this column, I have become more alert to issues that are of urgent and crucial importance to society as a whole.

As such, I have become impelled to do what I can to "hold fast to that which is good; abstain from all appearance of evil," (1 Thessalonians 5:21 and 22), and to support positive futures for the good and welfare of us all.

By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield.   She can be reached at:

Rev. Mel Kawakami
Rev. Mel Kawakami


God's presence helps to soothe Newtown's pain.

by Rev. Mel Kawakami

Published: Saturday, August 10, 2013

Danbury News Times

This July marked the beginning of my sixth year as senior pastor of Newtown United Methodist Church, in the heart of Sandy Hook.

Coming from Simsbury to Sandy Hook, my wife Dorothy and I considered ourselves blessed to move from one beautiful town to another.

While nothing could have prepared us for the events of Dec. 14, 2012, what continues to lift our hearts are the ways in which God has held all of us in the days following the disaster.

Parishioners trained as Stephen Ministers arrived to sit with anyone who came to our church to pray and grieve. Others established a media-free place to gather.

The church housed a Red Cross station in its basement, while our preschool and 12 Step programs functioned as normally as possible in abnormal circumstances.

As I am writing this, it sounds way more organized than we experienced it. Think chaos mixed with horror tinged with anger and searing pain and flooded with tears.

Think of doing only what is in front of you for fear of doing nothing at all.

In the days that immediately followed, other volunteers arrived to help answer the telephones that never stopped ringing or catalog the gifts that began to pour in.

Our denomination responded with practical and spiritual help, and the Newtown Interfaith Clergy were a true source of mutual support.

Unity in crisis transcended denominational boundaries. That spirit continues in our afternoon prayer vigils on the first Sunday of the month.

Outside help came pouring in. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors provided a person who took our staff through a critical incident debriefing.

The Presbyterians did the same for the Newtown Interfaith Clergy. The Islamic Relief Agency came to help.

In the spring, we were hosted at lunch with the Ridgefield (N.J.) Interfaith Clergy. The Lutheran Disaster Aid brought in Camp Noah this summer for children affected by the disaster.

Calls and letters of support, most of which we were unable to respond to, were greatly appreciated nonetheless.

Prayers from the region and the world were deeply felt. We could not have made it without you all, because all of you gathered us up and carried us into the light.

You reminded us that we were not alone and you helped us through. For this, we are profoundly grateful.

Just one of the astounding "God incidents" was the state trooper who pulled up before Christmas with a bucket in the back of his patrol car.

In that bucket was a lantern and flame flown from the Church of the Nativity in Israel. The light that started two millennia ago in Bethlehem stood on our altar as a silent witness and a visible reminder of the light of Christ and a beacon amidst our darkness.

Seven months later, our healing continues but is nowhere near complete.

Please keep the families, teachers, administrators, first responders, survivors and townfolk in your prayers.

We may still be sad and we still may shiver at the sounds of sirens or helicopters, or cringe at the acrid smell and dull roar of diesel engines. Our hearts seize up with the endless video loop of the explosions in Boston, and the devastating pictures from Moore, Okla., leave us breathless.

But with the passage of time, I realize that we have journeyed a way from those first days after 12/14/12.

What stands out for me was the response to an overwhelming disaster, the manner in which the community and the world pulled together in the face of pain and grief.

Newtown, which for me was a physically beautiful place, has become a spiritual and emotional place, a place of inspiration, a place where God's hand and Christ's spirit became palpable, present and very real.

This blessing helps serve as a balm for the pain.

The Rev. Mel Kawakami, Senior Pastor, Newtown United Methodist Church, 92 Church Hill Road, Sandy Hook, CT 06482. He can be reached at:

Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya
Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya


Buddhists eye a more civil society, not 'cannibalism'.

by Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya

Published: Saturday, August 3, 2013

Danbury News Times

"A member of a tribe of cannibals accepts cannibalism as altogether fitting and appropriate."

I don't normally lead a column off with a quote, but this one from the famous social psychologist Solomon Asch has been bouncing around my head.

Additionally, my articles have traditionally been warm and fuzzy, but sometimes in Zen the kyosaku or "awakening stick" is used.

If meditators are being slothful, a meditation monitor will sometimes come up to them and whack pressure points on their shoulders to "encourage" their effort. This article is a little like that.

In my tradition we try to be conscientious not only of our own behavior but to encourage others to be socially conscious. It is a reciprocal relationship in which each member helps the other become better.

In secular terms I suppose we are speaking about civility, which is the opposite of cannibalism.

However, recently it seems to me the cannibals are gaining ground. For example, have you noticed more and more people treating the fire lanes outside stores as private parking?

Just a short while ago people would have been too embarrassed to casually sit in the fire lane, but now more and more people seem to feel entitled to it.

I remember you used to be able to walk up to them and politely note they are in the fire lane and they would apologetically move their cars. They might even thank you for reminding them to be considerate.

Today I hesitate to politely tell people. I have had experiences where those breaking the law become indignant with me when I, considering other peoples' safety, mention they are in the fire lane.

"Are you a cop?" a man with his child next to him bellowed at me. Thank the heavens I am not in a "stand your ground" state, as I might have gotten shot for noting his violation.

This happens in theaters also. When I go to the movies, cellphones being turned on, calls answered and games played are routine during the screening.

As the bright light of a smartphone shoots in my face, I politely turn and ask the person to turn it off, only to be rebuffed with "Mind your own business."

Actually, when they interfered with others' ability to peacefully watch the movie, it became everyone's business. Not to mention there is a sign on the way into the theater, and two notices moments before the movie begins, to turn off your cellphone.

But more than that is the backlash against those seeking civility. I know of a case where a one worker asked another several times to refrain from using profanity in their mutual workspace.

The profane individual lodged a complaint against the one asking for civility, which resulted in the civil worker being moved to a different unit, even though profanity in public is not just uncivil, it is illegal.

A similar thing happened to many of the financial workers who blew the whistle on their firms' unethical financial practices, which led to the last recession.

It is disturbing to me to see how much of society has gotten so used to cannibalism that we now expect it and no longer take moral stock of it.

It has become normal for our children's "role models" -- sports stars or entertainers -- to be arrested for drugs or doping or, of late, even killing people. These people often get out of jail and return to work, and many excuse their actions.

I am a strong supporter of forgiveness and truly believe in second chances, but the individual has to show a sincere desire for change and not just issue a pro forma statement.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about being judgmental, but rather being evaluative about what is conducive to the well-being of everyone.

A society where cutthroat narcissism is glorified in the search for the almighty dollar or individual entitlements, and ethical whistle blowers are bullied, fired or otherwise retaliated against, will eventually be unpleasant for everyone.

The problem with a society of cannibals is that everyone looks tasty to everyone else.

But with the Zen awakening stick (kyosaku) in mind, I can see a touch of warm and fuzzy. I believe if we encourage empathy, consideration and compassion for each other, and follow social rules even when they put us out a bit, then we get a civil, caring society where everyone gets their needs met.

Ven. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya is the Abbot of the Middle-Way Meditation Centers. He can be reached at:

Rev. Laura Westby
Rev. Laura Westby


Keeping link between life of spirit, life in the world.

by Rev. Laura Westby

Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013

Danbury News Times

Imagine a meeting that included: A flash mob wedding. A marriage equality celebration. Speaking out for compassionate immigration, care for veterans and affordable housing. A luau.

Working toward fossil fuel divestment. Lots of cookies. Taking stands against bullying, mountaintop removal, and sex trafficking. The establishment of a non-geographic, online church.

A closing worship that began like a New Orleans-style funeral and ended in celebration of a group of believers that is always alert for the leading of the Still Speaking, Still Acting God.

All of these things, and more, happened at the biennial meeting of the United Church of Christ (UCC) last month.

The UCC's ancestors were the Pilgrims, a group committed to religious freedom and civic responsibility. Our history is full of notable firsts.

We were the first denomination to ordain an African-American (1785), a woman (1853) and an openly gay person (1972).

Our parents in faith opened the first school for the deaf (1817). When Southern news stations imposed a blackout on civil rights coverage, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the UCC to intervene.

Their efforts led to a federal court ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property.

The life of the spirit and life in the world are always in conversation for us. We can't have one without the other or we wouldn't be the UCC.

Our public stands on social issues often get the most press, but those statements are the natural outgrowth of our belief that God loves everything in creation with a passionate, inclusive, unconditional love that demands we live as reflections of that love.

We believe that as followers of Jesus and heirs of his Spirit, we are to be the incarnation of the Divine presence in the world just as he was.

Sometimes our faith is acted out on the national stage, but it is in our neighborhood churches that the vast majority of our faith life is lived out.

Our local church is where we hear gather to hear God's word in the Bible and help one another understand how those words should shape our lives.

It is here that we experience care for our bodies, minds and spirits and learn to care for others. It is here that leaders for today and tomorrow are shaped and here that those leaders learn that the true heart of leadership is service.

It is our local congregation that we learn that we are God's unique creation and that we are part of a larger community to whom we are accountable.

It is in our local churches that we pray and play, sing and keep silent.

Like every human community, our local and national churches are far from perfect. We are no more or less broken or sinful than any other.

Our members can be petty, thoughtless, prejudiced and sometimes downright mean. We too can be blind to our flaws, slow to change and protective of our status.

If you have been on the receiving end of such behavior in a UCC congregation- I ask your forgiveness on their behalf. We're trying to be better, but know that we still get it wrong sometimes.

We want to hear you; and we would be honored to have you give us another chance.

In the UCC, faith and life are conversation partners. We try to have what we say on Sunday make a difference in the way we live Monday through Saturday.

We think that every area of life should be informed by our faith. And we think that a faithful life is also joyous- hence the flash mob wedding, luau, mock funeral and cookies.

Listening for the Still Speaking God. Engaging in ministries of extravagant welcome. Changing the lives of individuals and communities through ministries of justice, peace and compassion. That's the United Church of Christ.

Rev. Laura Westby is the Interim Minister of the First Congregational Church of Bethel.

Polly Castor
Polly Castor


Christian Scientists triumph over accidents.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013

Danbury News Times

When dealing with accidents, Christian Scientists often remember the following insight by Mary Baker Eddy, which is found in her amazing book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "Accidents are unknown to God..."

Although this is quite a radical statement, there is actually a strong Biblical basis for this concept. Here are some examples from the Bible where accidents are reversed:

In the Hebrew Scripture (2 Kings Chapter 6), a borrowed axe-head was dropped into the water during a construction project. When this was despaired of, the "man of God" asked where it had fallen. He then cut down a stick, and when he cast it in the water, the iron axe-head floated to the surface. The construction worker picked it up, delighted and relieved.

In the New Testament (Acts Chapter 20), when the Apostle Paul was preaching long into the night, there was a man named Eutychus sitting in a window in the third loft of the upper chamber. He was lulled to sleep as the evening wore on. Eventually he slumped down in his sleep, and fell the three stories to his death.

Paul, refusing to accept that this accident as part of God's will, "went down and fell on him, and embracing him said, 'Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.'... And they brought the young man alive."

Shortly after this (Acts Chapter 27), Paul was shipwrecked, and although threatened with death, all were rescued safely to land, on the island of Melita.

Then in Acts Chapter 28, Paul was bit by a venomous snake. Everyone around him murmured that he would not survive this, saying that first his hand would get swollen and then he'd fall down dead suddenly. However, Paul, with his confidence instead in God, shook off the snake into the fire and was not harmed.

Now we all know iron axe-heads do not usually float, and that injuries from accidents don't always instantly disappear. But what Mrs. Eddy's quote and these Bible stories say to Christian Scientists is that it is more natural for God to care for people regardless of the situation we are facing, than for an accident to reign supreme.

We believe this is a truth that can be experienced when applied with understanding.

To Christian Scientists, God is unconditional Love, always present, and all-powerful; God loves us continually, is always able to help, can rectify anything, and can protect us in every way.

This God is the ultimate authority, and superior to everything. God can obliterate any effect that God did not cause. And we do not believe that God causes anything bad, including accidents.

We do believe, however, that through this understanding of God, anyone can have dominion over accidents, just like our predecessors in the Bible did. And we believe this because we have experienced it to be true.

I have seen God protect everyone when I was the middle car in a ten-car pile up on black ice. I had a devastatingly short time to pray while careening before impact - certain I would kill someone -- and the result was not only that everyone was safe, but I became friends with the driver of the car in front of me.

I had a very quick healing when a huge draft horse stomped on my foot. While others stood around with their dire predictions, I was able, even through in searing pain, to know that since this was not God's will, I did not have to suffer from it.

I forgave the horse and proceeded with my day, perfectly fine.

These are just a couple of my many experiences proving that "accidents are unknown to God." These are the kinds of experiences I have both heard in Wednesday testimony meetings in Christian Science churches and read in Christian Science magazines for many years.

God is as actively present and sovereign today as in Bible times. When we appeal to God understandingly, God can redeem any situation and reverse any bad effects. Indeed, God has supreme authority and accidents do not.

By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield.   She can be reached at:

Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman
Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman


Departure is an ending and a beginning.

by Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman

Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013

Danbury News Times

I am leaving my church in a few weeks and that means that I am grappling with the challenges that happen when a pastor leaves their congregation.

In some ways leaving a ministry is like leaving any other job; a date is set for your last day and in the days preceding you get things organized so the transition will be easy for everybody.

But there are significant ways in which a spiritual leader's leaving is different from other job leavings.

In this Forum on Faith, I am going to use the terms "spiritual leader" and "pastor" interchangeably. In my mind they are the same.

I realize that many spiritual communities do not call their leader "pastor," but the role is often similar no matter what the title. Even though our belief systems may differ widely, leaders of spiritual communities often face many of the same issues in their work.

A spiritual leader is involved in some of the most powerful moments of life. We preside at weddings and funerals, baptisms and confirmations.

We walk with our parishioners as they face illness, divorce, and loss. At every worship service we speak of the deepest longings of human beings, our longings for relationship and for purpose.

All spiritual leaders seek to nurture the souls of their congregants.

As a pastor, I am bound by a Code of Ethics that defines the boundaries of my work. As an ordained minister with standing in the American Baptist Churches in the USA, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the United Church of Christ, I have three Codes of Ethics to abide by but there is very little difference between them.

Each speaks of the obligation to serve and not abuse congregants and each speaks of the pastor's duty to speak positively of all spiritual leaders that have served or will serve the congregation.

Each Code of Ethics also speaks of the necessity of severing all ties with congregants upon the spiritual leader's resignation or retirement.

Is this hard? Of course it is, but time has shown that it is best for both churches and spiritual leaders.

The phrase "severing all ties" sounds harsh. But the reasoning behind this stipulation is that the life that the congregation and the spiritual leader have shared together is over, and that both now need to move freely into their separate futures.

It is human nature to resist going into the unknown. But it is not good for churches to cling to the past, so the Code of Ethics demands that both congregations and pastors let go of the past and move forward.

So does this mean I will never speak with a member of Central Christian Church again? Of course not!

I live in the area and I am sure to run into people at the Mall or in Stop and Shop. It is natural that I will stop and say hello.

But it does mean that I can no longer be the person that a parishioner calls when they want to talk or when they need prayer, or the person who presides at their weddings and funerals.

Their new Interim pastor and then their Settled pastor will be that person.

I will miss the people of my Danbury church. There are many moments I will remember fondly and I will treasure the time that we had together.

I thank each of them for all that we have done together and all that they have taught me. Now it is time for us to go our separate ways and into the future that God has prepared for us.

Sacred time includes not only the endings but also the new beginnings.

Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman is the pastor of the Central Christian Church, 71 West Street, Danbury, CT.   She is a menber of the Board of Directors of the Association of Religious Communities and she can be reached at

Rev. Leo McIlrath
Rev. Leo McIlrath


Putting psalm's cry from the depths in context.

by Rev. Leo McIlrath

Published: Saturday, July 6, 2013

Danbury News Times

Many have heard the Psalm: "Out of the depths, I have cried to you, O Lord!" (Ps.130 ). I always appreciated this psalm as well as the situation that I surmised was behind it, namely, that David (or another) was seeking help from God to be set free from some type of bondage.

While the emphasis appears to mainly be on the depth-oppression of the writer, many scripture scholars interpret it as a thanksgiving psalm for an anticipated deliverance. What a stance of deep faith - that in the midst of a profoundly, difficult situation on behalf of an individual, or as in this instance, the entire ancient people of Israel - in captivity - the Psalmist simply speaks of trust in God.

This psalm brings to mind Victor Frankl's book, "Logotherapy," where the author takes his reader through a scenario, focusing on a person in the midst of a Nazi death camp expecting that his next day may be his very last. Frankl's theory was to mentally project himself into the future, well beyond the confines of his prison cell, and to look back from that vantage point of new freedom; and to now reassess his current dire position, thus bringing a sense of hope and peace. He did survive.

While this psalm has always been especially close to my heart, I only recently began to fathom. its deeper meaning and to realize that my former concept of depth may have been merely touching the surface (pun intended) of the situation. My concept of this psalm has now come to embrace any number of losses, as described in Judith Viorst's intriguing book "Necessary Losses."

So now I picture this psalm in the context of being in some type of pit, figuratively speaking, a deep hole for which we may have been, at least, partly responsible. Such a hole can take the form of a loss of a special friend (by death, divorce or simply, a geographical separation), the loss of a job, health, property, prestige, popularity, confidence, reputation or some type of power. And we can still cry out to God from any number of depth-levels, for healing and deliverance. Maybe, the picture is now becoming more realistic.

In recent years, I have begun to appreciate "de profundis" in a more profound manner. While I still pay homage to God as transcendent and who's ways are still much greater than my ways, I can better acknowledge God's presence since as Christians we believe God chose to come down to earth and to accompany us in our deepest pit-depressions. (cf. Ps. 22/23) As a wise person once remarked, "we see God best when on the flat of our backs."

My appreciation of a "de profundis" scenario is heightened as I dig more deeply into the mutually compatible disciplines of science and theology.

My thinking continues to evolve, moving me away from the two extreme and opposite poles so adhered to by millions of people throughout the world, namely, materialistic atheism on the one hand and, on the other hand, Christian fundamentalism that adheres to ID (the theory of Intelligent Design of the universe.) My understanding is members of each system believe themselves to have all of the answers to the other one's questions about the origin of life.

While I consider both of these groups as being sincere and morally good people, I think that their GPS systems are abysmally lacking in depth.

In a text that was eye-opening to me, by John F. Haught, "Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God and the Drama of Life," the author calls all serious researchers, both, in the area of science and theology, to dig deeply into each of these proven disciplines, giving each its rightful position.

Rather, Haught brings attention to "layered explanation." Some layers would include, for example, the ink on this page, this writer's thoughts, the News-Times' offering this column-space. None of these layers are at odds with the other. We can even embrace all the layers.

Likewise, both science and religion have their own "layered domain" and each may be correct in its own right.

I believe it's time to rise up out of "the pits" and to discover that Creator who allows His/Her many beings to be co-creators in this living and exciting world. Taking that step, I believe, is necessary to be set free.

The Rev. Leo E. McIlrath, DMin., is ecumenical chaplain at The Lutheran Home of Southbury.  He can be reached at 203-270-0581 or at

Ophir DeBarros
Rev. Ophir DeBarros


Seeing faith renewed in Brazil.

by Rev. Ophir DeBarros

Published: Saturday, June 29, 2013

Danbury News Times

Fifteen years ago I moved to United States to be a pastor in Danbury and to live and work in this great country among the immigrants that came in the last two decades.

Now retired, I have the opportunity to visit my homeland and stay there, observing the changes it experienced. I noted that there were big changes, but what impressed me was the religious awakening, the manifestation of faith, people searching for meaning and participation.

With the modernization of Brazil just after World War II and the industrialization that followed it, many expected Brazil to become a more secular society, as happened in Europe and in America. But visiting my home country this past couple of weeks, what I'm seeing is a faith explosion.

It is awesome. In every street block, small doors and rooms open with a rudimentary display indicating that it is a place of worship, where people can exercise their faith and find a sense of community of hope. And it is a popular movement, not linked to the great traditions, but to a diversity of new denominations and leaderships.

I talked to Carlos, a leader in one of these small communities. An ex-drug addict, he told me about his passion, his desire to transform the place he is now occupying as a center for his former addiction peers to come and find rehabilitation and a new life through faith. He invited me to speak there, and asked me if I could help his community in any capacity. "Are there many drug addicts in America?," he asked me.

He invited me also to his ordination as a minister. Carlos is being supported by another community that will promote his nomination. I asked him why he is taking this decision, and if his wife agrees with him in this new endeavor. He told me that he cannot imagine himself doing anything different, now his faith is stronger than ever, and he believes he has a unique mission to accomplish.

"Why I am not directly linked to an institutionalized church? Because they would block me to do what I feel is my mission. As a free movement, my community of faith and I can easily reach our goals," he told me.

Like Carlos, many other leaders are being raised spontaneously to establish new faith communities and social institutions. There is a cultural environment that is facilitating this and a climate of hope and of belief that this is a time of change.

This week, like the Arab Spring, Brazilian streets in the big cities and in the small ones were taken by crowds clamoring for better government and the end of corruption. There is no apparent leadership, no political parties at the helm. It is a mass phenomena based in the social networks.

The most important weapon is a smartphone.

Some vandalism occurred, but most of the meetings were peaceful. Political analysts and scientists are trying to explain what is happening but apparently they have no clue.

I asked Carlos what is the meaning of the upheaval. He said the people want change and this is exactly what he is longing for and using his life, to bring change to people. He is certain that it will happen, his faith is wonderful.

Carlos was raised poor, in a disrupted family. In the streets he found acceptance and the drugs. There he wasted his youth and early adult life. He said that everything took a new direction when he had a faith experience.

He began to read the Bible and other sacred books. His life changed, he began to work in a store, married and had children. Inside him, however, a growing need to do something to change the world brought him to read more, connect with people with the same mindset and, more important, to act.

He began to preach, teach his beliefs, convince people they needed hope and change. Then one day he met one of his former addiction peers. His friend was in bad condition, sick and totally unable to take care of himself. Carlos brought him home, took care of him, loved him.

He shared his faith experience with that depressed man, and, he said to me with his eyes full of joy, the miracle happened again.

His friend left the drugs and now they both were full of plans to move the world upside down.

Seven years have passed and now Carlos is in front of me relating his amazing story, as I write this column from Brazil. His vision has broadened, other needs have been detected, his faith is now flourishing and he has a call.

He founded a small church, in a one-door store in a plaza. He put a sign over the door, got some chairs, and used a sound system, and that is it -- he began preaching.

He believes in what he is doing, that change will ultimately be achieved and people will come to find healing and hope. And his wife plays the keyboard, and so I come to learn that it was a common project, all his family in mission.

Although I have always been a man of faith and a minister, a story like that moves me to tears.

It renews my faith and my hope, and it brings me joy that I can share it.

Rev. Ophir DeBarros is a retired pastor of the All Nations Baptist Church, 234 Main Street, Danbury, CT.

Chaplain Shazeeda Khan
Chaplain Shazeeda Khan


Muslim practice of fasting aims to instill piety.

by Chaplain Shazeeda Khan

Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013

Danbury News Times

This world is very demanding, it places demands on our time and energy, and robs us of that precious mental space for spiritual reflection, which is necessary in order to live purposeful lives.

For Muslims living purposeful lives require that we live in the realm of reality knowing that the ultimate goal is to be successful in the Hereafter and that journey begins with how we choose to live our lives in this world.

Being mindful of the consequences in the Hereafter affects our perspective and actions. Yet this awareness is constantly being interrupted by life which can compromise our relationship with God leading to compromises in other areas of our life.

Soon Muslims all over the world will be observing the fast, which occurs in Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. Ramadan is distinguished as the month of the Quran since the first revelations of God's words to Prophet occurred within this month.

Between the hours of dawn to sunset, we will abstain from the two types of appetites: meals, and intimate relations with our spouse. These are the physical aspects of fasting but its much more than that.

Our practice of fasting is from the Quran: "O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may acquire God-consciousness (piety)" Quran 2:183.

Fasting has been a pillar for the communities of all Prophets with common goals - to awaken our awareness of God's presence, to show gratitude to our Creator and to empower our hearts to submit to God.

While fasting in itself is a form of obligatory worship, its objective is that it should effect in us a profound and lasting change in our religious attitude, "so that you may acquire piety."

Piety sets the tone for our way-of-living. Piety disciplines and strengthens us to obey the commands of God and to stay away from his prohibitions -- both in the intentions of our heart and in our actions, in a natural, consistent and conscious manner.

This month provides us with the opportunity for self-analysis; to understand just what condition our heart is in, acknowledging that the accolades that we receive may not accurately reflect who we really are.

Prophet Muhammad said: "Surely in the body there is a small piece of flesh; if it is good, the entire body is good, and if it is corrupted, the entire body is corrupted, surely it is the heart" Bukhari.

A prerequisite as to whether permitted actions will be divinely judged as good or corrupted depends on the intent behind it, and the appropriate intention is to please God.

Without this awareness our actions are flawed but masquerade as beautiful actions. These actions may benefit us and others in this world, but our condition in the Hereafter is to the contrary, because those actions were rooted in such morally bankrupted qualities as hypocrisy, arrogance, etc., which lead to other types of corruptions.

Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, said: "Many receive nothing from the fast except hunger and thirst. . ." Sincere fasting is when the limbs also fast; abstaining from sins as the stomach abstains from its appetites.

For some, fasting is a just an annual ritual or a custom, for these people there's no real benefits, no attitude change, no attainment of piety as they still persist in deceitful practices, justifying their injustices towards others.

During this time we may came to recognize that our daily responsibilities and duties have become a cycle of routine, i.e. absent of God-consciousness. Fasting during the day and performing the extra prayers at night provides a moment for introspection that breaks our routine and moves us to consciousness.

The visceral aspect of fasting may enable us to empathize with the suffering of humanity and may stir us to be concerned and encourage us towards generosity and service to others.

The sick and weak aren't required to fast if it will endanger their lives but gain the benefits from this month by participating in the prayers and feeding the poor, if they're financially able.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is a means to acquire piety. Within the struggle of abstaining from the most elemental needs we gain perspective of truly living in the presence of God.

It takes us out of our comfort zone challenging our inner-self to reveal our strengths and more importantly our weaknesses. We can then experience personal and spiritual growth, and this is how we begin to live purposeful lives.

Chaplain Shazeeda Khan is Director of Islamic Education, Baitul Mukarram Masjid of Greater Danbury, 339 Main St., Danbury, CT, 06810.

Denis bouffard
Denis Bouffard


Father's Day & The Lord's Prayer.

by Denis Bouffard

Published: Saturday, June 15, 2013

Danbury News Times

My father died many years ago and so did my father-in-law. So how do I celebrate Father's Day? I may receive something from my children but who do I have? No one to celebrate.

I know... I can celebrate God, our Father.

I rejoice that there is the one Lord's Prayer, commonly referred to as the "Our Father", that Christians of diverse denominations have in common. I rejoice that I am, as is all humanity, created in our Father's image and likeness.

As I pray the Lord's Prayer, I say the words "hallowed be your name." The name "God" is indeed holy for the name represents the person, the almighty who is holy.

That means that I am holy.

Since I am made in God's image I am capable of being the loving being that God is. As God does, I am capable of and challenged to bringing the power of love to all whom I encounter each day: family, friends, acquaintances, etc.

When I pray "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" I marvel at the chance to be one who can make the kingdom of God a reality in this small world in which I live. I can do that in the moments I try to be a caring person in the circumstances in which I find myself.

Jesus lived and taught his followers what the kingdom of God is. It encompasses a life of caring, compassion, generosity, faith, etc. The Christian scriptures illustrate what that is all about. In his first letter to the community in Corinth, the apostle Paul describes this clearly when he tells of the characteristics of love (I Cor. 13:4-7).

If "love is kind", I can be kind. If "love is patient... not rude", I can be patient and not rude. I do not have to brood over injuries nor rejoice over wrongdoing. I can identify myself with Paul's description of love as I am challenged to make the kingdom of God a reality in my life and in the life of others.

This next portion of the Lord's Prayer, to do the Father's will, is very difficult to put into practice. There are times when I would prefer to pray as Jesus did in the Mount of Olives "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39).

I can count upon my Father in heaven to "give us this day our daily bread". We have needs that are essential to maintain life. There are times when we worry about meeting those needs. I can take the opportunity to thank God that I am living in prosperity while I recognize that many human beings are desperately eking out an existence in poverty far beyond that which I can imagine.

I can celebrate Father's Day by thanking my Father, God, for the needs and comforts I have and, at the same time, respond in whatever way I can to the needs of others, both locally and those "out there".

"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". Wow! Do I really mean that when I say it? Can I take seriously what I read in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel where Jesus instructs me to "offer no resistance to one who is evil ... love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..."? (Matt. 6:39, 44)

This is indeed a major challenge. And yet I am challenged to be like God as I celebrate my being a son of God.

"And lead us not into temptation". What temptation? As I was growing up I looked to my father for guidance. Fortunately, he was a wonderful father who guided each of his children to be caring and prayerful. Now I look up to my Father in heaven for guidance to help me to resist the temptations I am faced with.

I am often faced with temptations to lie, to avoid responsibility for my words or actions, to resist responsibilities, etc. With my Father's help I just might not give into these temptations.

So I ask for his guidance in the Lord's prayer "but deliver us from evil." I value my faith in God. I know that he will keep me from the power of evil as I maintain my faith in him. It is for this I pray and join the Christian community to continue efforts to make the kingdom of God a reality for ourselves and others.

And I conclude with the recognition of my Father's greatness by praying "For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever."

Indeed it is.

Denis Bouffard is a Member of St. Gregory the Great church, Danbury, CT.   He can be reached at:

Rev. Bryn Smallwood-garcia
Rev. Bryn Smallwood-garcia


Church must reach out into the world.

by Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013

Danbury News Times

A mere 225 years ago Sunday -- June 9, 1788 -- the town of Brookfield held its first official meeting, inside the boxy brown (log-cabin style) meetinghouse of the Congregational Church at the crossing of the roads that connected the towns of New Milford and Newtown (now Highway 25) and Bridgewater and Danbury (now Highway 133).

The church had officially gathered in 1757, with the calling, ordaining and installing of the first minister of the Parish of Newbury, the Rev. Thomas Brooks.

For more than 30 years, Brooks served his parish and his community faithfully, while sending two of his sons off to fight in the Revolutionary War.

As an honor for that distinguished term of service, the newly formed town took its name from his -- and Brookfield was born.

I share this with a great deal of humility, as I arrived to serve Brookfield in the church's 250th anniversary year -- 2007 -- and was installed that May (in the "new" 1850s-era white-steepled meetinghouse) as the first female senior pastor in the congregation's history.

As a native Southerner from Greensboro, N.C., I could well imagine my Smallwood ancestors, who arrived in the Carolinas from England in the early 1700s, spinning in their graves at my call to serve a church in "Yankeeland" -- not to mention everyone's horror at a woman in the pulpit in the first place!

But they undoubtedly would have been at least equally disturbed by my marriage in California in 1987 to John Garcia, who comes from a Roman Catholic family with Colonial roots that go back to land grants from the Spanish crown in New Mexico in the early 1600s.

I share these tidbits of my church history, town history and personal family history to fan your thinking about the faith path that you and your family, your town and your nation, now find yourselves journeying upon.

What has led us from here to there in our personal histories, our faith histories and our national history? And for those of us who name that mysterious, holy power "God," where is God leading you (and us) in the future?

These are the questions that our faith community is asking, because even though our historic white meetinghouse sits literally upon a rock and at a crossroads, we affirm our discipleship of Jesus as a living Christ who calls us up and out into the world to be "servants in the service of others" and offers us "courage in the struggle for justice and peace," as our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith affirms.

Our church vision statement declares: "Make Jesus Your Mentor: Pray, Share, Welcome." We seek to follow Jesus when he says, "love one another" (John 15:12) and "love your neighbor as yourself."(Matthew 19:19)

We are a congregation that comes to church on Sundays to sing, study God's word and pray, of course, but we also look out of our clear glass windows at the wider world and ask God how we can share the good news of God's love and welcome our neighbors in God's name.

We ask God questions like, how can we help, how can we heal and how can we work for justice and make peace in the name of Jesus?

Often the answer that comes is not "spiritual but not religious" but proudly "organized religion," in the best sense of the word.

Through our church organization, and some really outstanding volunteer teams, we can offer very tangible assistance to our wider community -- such as our new Oasis Alliance of Greater Danbury, the mission of which is to "extend extravagant welcome and respect for LGBTQA people," or our Refugee Resettlement program, which has just launched a wonderful Iraqi refugee family to a new life in the safety of the United States.

I think of our new Connecticut slogan, "Still Revolutionary," when I think of our church. We are still looking for new ways to change the world for the better, just as our ancestors did more than 250 ago.

Our next public project to benefit the community will be June 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parsonage.

Our Church-in-Society Committee has organized a one-day thrift shop, from which 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Brookfield Social Services to assist our neighbors in need.

Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia is the Senior Pastor, Congregational Church of Brookfield, Brookfield, CT 06804. She can be reached at: or 203-775-1259. Web site:

Rabbi Jeff Silberman
Rabbi Jeff Silberman


Paradox of human suffering chronicled in books.

by Rabbi Silberman

Published: Saturday, May 25, 2013

Danbury News Times

Suffering is an unfortunate companion for most everyone in the hospital. Suffering may be physical pain or emotional upheaval or, even, spiritual distress. Illness, loss, family dysfunction - all of these and other circumstances can be a source of suffering for us. We experience suffering each in our own way and no one can know what we feel, despite all good intentions to say so.

In some ways, Jewish tradition is a paradox when it comes to suffering. We are taught that God is always present, all powerful and responds to prayers for healing. Yet, we know that the world does not appear that way. There are times when we feel abandoned, or that things are unfair, or that God does not care about our pain. We ask, "How can God allow such misery?" All variations of this question are important; important because these questions reveal the depth of human experience as real. For Jews, suffering is not an illusion.

Dr. Victor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, as well as a Holocaust survivor. His famous book, "Man's Search for Meaning," chronicles his experiences in a concentration camp and describes his therapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and, thus, a reason to continue living. His suffering and that of others in death camps led to his conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that, therefore, even suffering can be made meaningful.

One example of Frankl's finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering is found in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of the Auschwitz concentration camp:

"... We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp... Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

"That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky . . . But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise."

Frankl was able to reframe his suffering in terms of the love he felt for his wife and she for him, so that he could survive. As he faced the bitter pain of captivity and degradation, he glimpsed the great joy that is love and it helped him to overcome his circumstances.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote an important book in 1981 called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." In this book, Rabbi Kushner addressed one of the principal problems of theodicy, the conundrum of why there is evil in the world. He posed the question, "If the universe was created and is governed by a God who is of a good and loving nature, why is there nonetheless so much suffering and pain in it?" His own personal suffering involved the premature death of his young son from a horrible disease. It prompted him to explore Jewish teachings for some meaning in the face of immense pain and loss.

I believe some of Rabbi Kushner's insights can benefit us in difficult times. One insight was that sometimes there is no reason for suffering in a world that is not yet complete. Another insight was that the world operates according to natural law and God does not interfere with nature.

In effect, there is suffering because of the flaws that are part of our world. And a third insight was that humans, as part of the imperfect world, are also imperfect. Thus, as we fall short in life, one result is suffering. In the end, our tradition teaches that in order to cope with suffering, we must forgive the world for not being perfect, forgive God for not making a better, more perfect world, reach out to the people around us, and go on living despite it all.

Rabbi Jeffery M. Silberman, D. Min., is director of spiritual care at Danbury Hospital. He can be reached at 203-739-7059 or

Rev. Cindy Maddox
Rev. Cindy Maddon


People of faith not ignorant or 'anti-'.

by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013

Danbury News Times

Like many people on Facebook, I have an eclectic circle of friends. Many of my friends are pastors, like me, or at least church-going people. I also have friends of other faiths, and many friends--both in real life and on Facebook--who would describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." I also have some friends who are atheists.

Thanks to Facebook, I now have "friends" I have never met. A few years ago, for a brief time, I played a game that required me to add friends if I wanted to advance. I quickly grew tired of such requirements, but I did add three people to my list of Facebook friends who I have never met. One of them is a devout atheist. She is as committed to her cause as many religious people I know, frequently posting quotes and ideas meant to further her point of view and call into question a belief in God or Jesus.

Two of her recent posts caught my attention, causing me to pause and reflect on their words. The first was a quote: "Scientists read many books and still feel they have a lot to learn; a religious man barely reads one and thinks he knows everything." Frankly, I have trouble not resenting this statement. For starters, I do not limit my reading to one book, even if I do consider it sacred. Second, I believe in science and value the vast world of knowledge and societal advancements that science has brought us. Third, I do not think I know everything simply because I am a Christian. And finally, I don't know many Christians who fit this description either.

I get frustrated with the rhetorical strategy of creating a straw man to represent your opponent and then attempting to prove you are right by blowing him down. Republicans do it to Democrats; Democrats do it to Republicans; people of one faith do it to people of another. Over and over we attempt this strategy, and I wonder if it's because creating straw men is easier than actually debating ideas, or if perhaps we simply take such a limited view of our opponents that we don't realize our over-simplification.

The second quote from my Facebook friend was a chart comparing the story of Jesus with the story of the ancient god Horus. According to the chart, both Jesus and Horus were born of virgins, were visited after their birth by wise men, were baptized, had twelve disciples, and ultimately were crucified, buried, and rose again. The chart was intended to show that Jesus was a myth because his story was clearly a copy of some other myth. I did some quick research on Horus and discovered that many of these claims are untrue and inconsistent with the story of Horus. Therefore the chart doesn't prove that the story of Jesus isn't true.

Of course, the opposite is also the case: the lack of comparison between Jesus and some ancient Egyptian god does not prove that Jesus was real, or that the story of Jesus is worth dedicating one's life to following. Faith cannot be proven, and even if something isn't factual, that doesn't mean it isn't true.

People of faith are not ignorant, nor are we anti-science or anti-knowledge or anti-questioning or anti-fun. Yes, some Christians believe in an interpretation of the Bible that leaves little room for anything else. But most of us do not hold such beliefs. Most of us are thinking people who believe what we believe because it brings meaning to our lives and direction to our days. We believe in the story of Jesus because it resonates within us as truth--or something as close to truth as we have found.

Christians cannot all be painted with the same brush. I believe we Christians need to remember that this is true of other faiths as well.

Rev. Cindy Maddox is pastor of King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury, CT. She can be reached at

Jo Gabriele
Jo Gabriele


Sundays mean God, family -- and meatballs.

by Jo Gabriele

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013

Danbury News Times

As Mother's Day approaches each year, my thoughts take me back in time to my childhood and I reflect on the women in my family who played a major role in defining who I am today. The journey for me is reflective and spiritual.

I remember my grandmothers; my mother and my aunts, who were almost all Italian immigrants. They settled in America and raised their families in Italian neighborhoods where learning how to speak English was not a priority. All the vendors, Italian immigrants themselves, came to the house offering all the goods you needed to feed your family. The men went off to the workforce and the women remained behind to care for the home and the children.

My sister and I grew up in a house built by my paternal grandfather, a mason by trade. It was a home where three generations lived and it is of these years that my memories are most vivid.

My paternal grandmother (after who I am named) bore six children: five boys and a girl. Every Sunday, the pasta board came out to the kitchen table and the ritual of making the ravioli and the pot of "gravy" began. I was always amazed at how she never measured anything. She poured flour on the board, made a well in the center for the liquids and skillfully blended the two until it made a huge mound of dough.

On Sunday, there was also always a double batch of fried meatballs, some for the gravy and some in a huge bowl on the table. Sundays in my home were all about God and family. My cousins and I went to church, attended religious education classes and returned home to nestle with the family and every Sunday, all of the grandchildren were brought to the house to visit my grandparents . . .hence the meatballs on the table.

If I close my eyes and think hard enough, I can almost still taste those meatballs and to this day, I won't eat a meatball once it goes into the gravy.

My mother and my aunts were brought into the fold of cooking Neapolitan style early on. As we grew older the granddaughters (12 of us in total) were called to participate. We, of course were given the most menial of tasks and although we may have wanted to take on a higher level of responsibility, it was not allowed until we mastered each step in the preparation.

Being bold, even as a child, I can remember being resentful of the process and always feeling like it was my penance for something I had done. But as I grew older I realized that it was the appropriate method of teaching because it ensured that when my time came to take their place, I could perform with the same mastery as my grandmother, my mother and my aunts.

When my grandmother passed some 40 years ago, I asked for her pasta board and rolling pin and they take residence in my house to this day. A couple of times a year, the pasta board takes its place on my dining room table and I sift through the old recipes and decide which will grace the holiday tables.

As I place the pasta board on the table, I run my fingers over the little cuts in the board. The cuts represent the marks made by the cutting wheel my grandmother used when she made the ravioli. I think about my time in her kitchen using a fork to be sure the ravioli were sealed properly.

As I prepare the recipes, I can almost feel the presence of my mother and my aunts as they guide me through the process. I can almost hear the conversation, the laughter and experience the camaraderie that was shared by all of them.

Every now and then my sister and two of my cousins join me and grandma's pasta board takes a road trip. We stand where our mothers and ancestors once stood and we take our place in the family history. We have all matured into responsible adults, as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. The central focus of our lives remains God and family.

There may not be a big bowl of fried meatballs on the table on Sunday, but the memory ever remains.

So on this Mother's Day, I celebrate the women in my life who contributed to who I am today and I smile as I remember each and every one of them.

Jo Gabriele is a member of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church, Danbury and the Association of Religious Communities. She can be reached at: 203-792-9450, ext. 100 or

Carol B. Huckabee
Carol B. Huckabee


ARC Comida: In feeding, we are fed.

by Carol B. Huckabee

Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013

Danbury News Times

Religious traditions share many common aspects but sometimes differ in how much emphasis they put on "worldly" versus "other worldly" concerns. Unitarian Universalism generally gives a lot of weight to the here and now: life after birth, rather than life after death. We see religion as a life-affirming enterprise, rather than a death-defying one. Because this is our focus, we are intensely interested in what is happening around us in our communities and with our neighbors.

In Danbury there are myriad efforts every day to enhance the lives of those who suffer or hurt or need. The Association of Religious Communities (ARC) is in the forefront of many of these endeavors. One such effort is their bi-weekly food bank, Comida, which helps to address the issue of food insecurity for many of our neighbors. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD) actively supports Comida.

Each Sunday we have a food offering at UUCD and many of us carry our packages of food staples to fill the basket.

This food is later brought to ARC to be appropriately packaged and distributed to our neighbors in need. Others from the community also give generously, including other churches, restaurants, and community organizations. ARC makes up the rest, all supplying the minimum 400 lbs of rice and 300 lbs of beans needed to feed over 300, mainly unemployed people, every month.

As a member of UUCD, I routinely donate food to Comida and help with the bi-weekly distribution out of ARC's Crosby St facility. Other UUs work right alongside me, handing out the food staples that our neighbors here in Danbury use to help manage their family's nutritional needs.

Our UU faith tradition respects the worth and dignity of all individuals, no matter where you come from, what you look like, how you speak or dress, what you believe, or who you love. My work at Comida melts right into this framework. We don't ask questions or criticize or judge. We try to tailor the goods we give to each family's needs. We talk and laugh and enjoy the antics of the children who jump around the small room where Comida is located.

As UUs we are challenged in our religious work to reach out to all sorts and conditions of people, to be open to the individual character of all human religious experience. We believe every human being is holy.

We love to think about and discuss social justice issues at UUCD but while such discussions are important and interesting, they are in the abstract.

My work at the Comida food pantry is in the now. Right here with our own.

Our justice work is in the face of a mother carrying a baby with a toddler in tow, balancing a basket for holding the rice, beans, canned goods and diapers she will gratefully receive. There is nothing abstract about the family elder who comes for food that will be carefully stretched over the two week period to help feed a family of six, with perhaps one member working once in a while as a day laborer for less than minimum wage, if luck is with them.

I see in the lined faces and bundled babies real life stories of the sorrows, joys, and stamina in the lives of the precarious and powerless. Lives that a booming wealthy nation has failed to welcome and integrate. This food pantry is a place where the meaning of our first UU principle, "The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person," is right before my eyes.

In this work we UUs also live out other principles of our faith. We covenant to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. We work with intention toward the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

And helping our neighbors feed their families brings it right back home as to how we, and they, are all part of the interdependent web of existence.

The kinship of all is more than a dream for the afterlife. It is a reality in one small food pantry room for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon. We are of a kind with each other and it is a privilege to experience that, even as we struggle with each other's language or share a laugh.

These principles guide us in religious community. Our values, grit, and a sense of humor guide us in the work of connection and care.

Carol B. Huckabee is a Member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury,   24 Clapboard Ridge Road, Danbury, CT 06811. She can be reached at 203-798-1994 or on the web at

Fr. Luke Mihaly
Fr. Luke Mihaly


Orthodox Easter: God broke the power of death.

by Fr. Luke Mihaly

Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013

Danbury News Times

Orthodox Christians will be celebrating Easter on Sunday, May 5. It is the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. From the fall of Adam and Eve, prior to Christ's resurrection, we believe all of mankind was condemned to Hades after death. Hades was a holding place for the souls of the people who died - righteous and unrighteous; holy and unholy. It was the dominion of Lucifer and his demons. Hades represented death; Hades represented darkness.

How was God to break the grip of death and corruption that had held man since the fall of Adam and Eve? How could God do this while still respecting man's free will?

He could have over powered us by his glory and forced us, but this would not have respected our free will. Can it really be called 'love' if you are forced to love someone? Absolutely not.

So God came as a little child, with no fanfare. He grew as a man and lived among us. He fulfilled the scriptures not by saying he was God, but doing the things that only God can do. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and forgave sins. He raised people from the dead. He left it up to us to believe or not believe that this Jesus was God or not.

We believe God did all this so that we would be saved not by force but by our acceptance of him as God. As St. Athanasius tells us God became like us so that we might become like him. And by becoming like us this meant that he submitted to death and went into the regions dark and deep, to Hades where only man goes after he dies. But here was a place where God was not supposed to be. Here, in Hades, Life was in the midst of death; here was Light in the midst of darkness.

At the beginning of every liturgy, as the priest censes around the altar he recites a very simple prayer: "In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul, in paradise with the thief, on the throne with the Father and the Spirit was Thou, O boundless Christ, filling all things yet encompassed by none." In this simple and concise prayer, we see that Jesus in his humanity entered everywhere that man went after death, but it was all held together by his Divine Nature. It was his Divine Nature that destroyed the power of death, the hold that death had upon all humanity up until that time because, what death had swallowed up was not a mere man, but God.

By his descent into "the lowest pit, in the darkest depths" and his resurrection, God is now everywhere present and fills all things. It is not that Hell no longer exists but that the gates of Hell have been broken.

If we look at traditional Orthodox icons of Christ's resurrection, we see Christ raising Adam and Eve, our first parents, from Hell. We also see depicted broken locks, bars and chains, and the smashed doors of hell. What is portrayed iconographically is that the doors of Hell now stand wide open. Hell is no longer a place where we are sent to after we die, but rather is a place from which we by the Grace of God we can walk through into the heavenly kingdom. However, we can still choose to stay in Hades while its doors stand wide open.

Hell is destroyed because there is no no place where God is not. There is no place where death and darkness reign eternally. We are no longer prisoners of death and darkness, unless we choose to be there.

There is can no longer any place we can hide from God. By rising from the dead, God has shed his love on everyone. As we recite in the Creed we believe in the resurrection of the dead. All will be raised and bathed in the glory and the love of God. Not just the righteous, but the unrighteous also. To those who love God that love is a warm and comforting light. But to those who reject God that same Love is experienced as a burning fire. It is not that God is condemning us to a fiery torturous eternity, but rather he sheds his love upon everyone to an eternity of his love. If we find ourselves in darkness, it is because we refuse to open our eyes to the Love, who is all around us.

At the very beginning of Matins for Holy Pascha, Easter, the church is engulfed in darkness. Yet it is a moment pregnant with the anticipation of announcement of the Resurrection. It is at this moment that the priest strikes a match and lights his candle from which every candle in the church is to be lit. After the priest lights his candle, he turns to the people and invites them to "Come receive the light." By doing so he invites not only the faithful, but the entire world, to open their eyes to the Light of Christ which bathes all of creation. Indeed, he who has eyes to see let them see.

This is the glory and the joy of Pascha; Christ is risen and all things are new; Christ is risen and the dead are freed from their graves.

Fr. Luke Mihaly is the pastor of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Danbury, CT. He can be reached at 203-748-0671 or

Polly Castor
Polly Castor


Bible suggests 'tender stewardship' of Earth.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013

Danbury News Times

In the quintessential chapter on prayer in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures there is a spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, which each Sunday is a part of our church service. For example, the line, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven," is interpreted as, "Enable us to know, as in heaven so on earth, God is omnipotent, supreme." Later in this book the author, Mary Baker Eddy, asks, "Have you ever pictured this heaven and earth, inhabited by beings under the control of supreme wisdom?"

Well I have imagined it, and in all fairness, I often even see it. I am deeply grateful whenever I do. But I also see indulgent living, full of haughtiness, self-will, and reckless greed, based on a merely materialistic view of the world. The prevalence of pollution, toxic chemicals, and squandered resources can be appalling.

In the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible we are told to "replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion... over every living thing." Historically, there has been disregard for the environment based on what I think is a misunderstanding of this authority for dominion.

To me, this text does not give rampant permission for exploitation. Instead, I think taken in context with the rest of the Bible, it suggests a responsibility of tender stewardship, a solemn charge to care for and nurture the earth.

As such, Christian Scientists believe we are to insure ongoing harmony and balance in nature while putting it to good use. It seems to me to suggest the lightest touch necessary to maintain God's perfect creation, while constantly returning to the question of what is "supreme wisdom" when deciding appropriate action.

I believe it helps to look both at the earth itself and at what truly satisfies, spiritually instead of materially. The way I look, for example, the clamor to get more of our share of resources before they run out is neither wise nor satisfying, while obeying the Biblical injunction to "love our neighbors as ourselves," is both satisfying and wise.

Jesus told us "the meek shall inherit the earth." What is meekness? It certainly is not caviler abuse, contamination and waste. But meekness is not a passive thing either. It is a powerful willingness to listen and make a responsible choice, instead of forging ahead blindly, quickly grasping whatever is expedient.

It seems the only way we will have an earth to inherit is if we can muster the meekness to obey "supreme wisdom" and choose carefully conscious love over thoughtless unconscious destruction.

The environment is what surrounds us. What environment are we fostering: one of over-consumption and competition, or one of divine Love's control of impartial benevolence and provision?

What is the environment in heaven that earth is supposed to be like?

An atmosphere of Love is what I'd say is the fundamental factor.

There are countless practical ways that this kind of love can be expressed. Some examples:   using reusable silverware, plates, water bottles, and napkins instead of throwaways; reducing your garbage by composting, recycling, and buying less packaging; investing in renewable energy; skyping instead of flying to that interview; carpooling; finding the freedom of living modestly; eating food that is organic and local, even growing and sharing your own; making choices sourced in moral purity and brotherly consideration.

God expresses beauty and life in the natural world so it is not surprising that it is there I feel God's love the most.

I thrive on getting out in nature, noticing how glorious it is, and feeling a big debt of gratitude for it. The variation, detail, sublimity and magnitude of God's creation are awe-inspiring. I believe we have an obligation to live tangibly our love for God by caring for this marvelous irreplaceable planet.

My prayer is to honor God by living "as in heaven so on earth" more and more each day.

By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield.   She can be reached at:

Penny Kessler
Penny Kessler


Imagination and wonder are keys to Jewish life.

by Penny Kessler

Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013

Danbury News Times

When Jews are called "the people of the book," that usually means THE Book for us, the Torah, and it's true. Jewish life is guided by thousands of years of interpretations of the Torah. But in fact, we Jews are the people of the imagination. Being able to imagine and wonder is a defining characteristic of Jewish survival for thousands of years. And you are never too old or too young to let your imagination fly. Simply to be a Jew is to engage in joyous flights of fancy. Of course there are limitations, but within a wide range of possibilities, those possibilities are endless.

For one thing, we Jews have no idea what God looks like. When asked to self-define, God has been spectacularly vague. "I am that which I am" is God's answer to Moses' inquiry. Jews are specifically restricted from creating pictures, statues, any pictorial reference to God. The best we can do is describe God through imaginative verbal adjectives: powerful, majestic, compassionate, kingly, maternal, and so on.

No two of us will have the same mental and spiritual picture because we each have a different understanding and relationship with God.

God has a great imagination, too.

A student once thoughtfully offered that being created in God's image meant that God had created each of us the way God had imagined us to look. That meant that of course no two people, even DNA identical twins, are exactly the same. Isn't that a perfect insight? When we pray, especially the Amidah prayers that are central to a worship service, each of us imagines ourself as standing in front of God, just ourself and God in a personal dialog.

Jewish midrash, the body of literature that helps fill in the blanks of Bible stories, is a world of wondrous imagination. There is no fixed time continuum in this genre, and there are instances of Bible characters spread through the centuries speaking to each other, like Abraham talking to Moses or Moses sitting in on a class taught by a post-Common Era sage like Akiva, clearly only possible in the writers' minds. It's awesome.

Imagination is hard wired into our history and our calendar. One of the most wondrous characters in Jewish history is the prophet Elijah, who never died; instead he wanders the earth, bringing a message of hope in a perfect future, a time when the Messiah will come. Passover ended a few weeks ago; Elijah was at our seder, just as he attends every seder around the world. We welcomed him, unseen, into our homes, where he sipped wine specifically poured for him. Imagination is what allows even the most jaded among us to be awed and delighted to believe that this invisible being can sip wine at our table. The Passover seder itself is an exercise in imagination. Each of us must imagine ourselves as personally being taken out of Egypt.

Our High Holy Day prayerbook is filled with beautiful piyyutim, sacred poems, that provide imaginative insights into our relationships with God. We build temporary structures for the fall festival of Sukkot, tangible and fragile reminders of living on the fringes of the harvest fields, firing up our imaginations of an agricultural time long past. Shavuot in the late spring is perhaps the festival that requires the most fertile imaginations. Celebrating our standing at Sinai receiving Torah, there are no at-home or in-synagogue rituals with nothing tactile to hold or do. We have to imagine ourselves at the foot of the great mountain, hearing the thunder and the lightening, standing together in the presence of awe and majesty.

Most of all, we Jews imagine a world and time beyond our own, when our known world, incomplete and damaged and full of ugliness, will be made perfect and whole.

We imagine and believe in a time of the coming of the Messiah, whether it is a person or an age, that will usher in a world of hope and wonder.

We imagine a world to come, a heaven where we can sit at God's right hand.

Imagination allowed the Jewish people, oppressed for centuries and almost destroyed, to make the deserts of Israel bloom and bring that country back to life.

Imagination, hope and wonder have strengthened and sustained Jews for millennia, and I believe with all my heart that we are never too old or young to allow ourselves the gift of imagination.

Cantor Penny Kessler, United Jewish Center, 141 Deer Hill Avenue, Danbury, CT 06810.   She can be reached at 203-748-3355 or Web site

Eman Beshtawii
Eman Beshtawii


The Sanctity of Life, Redefined.

by Eman Beshtawii

Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013

Danbury News Times

We live in a world of increasing violence, aggression and murder. A world of relentless war and its accompanying oppressive atrocities. Unspeakable, unimaginable acts of cruelty occur every day, in every age and in practically every corner of the world.

As common people, we have become desensitized to these almost daily occurrences of mayhem in the News. We have lost our humanity and we have lost our ability to empathize - or so it seems until we ask ourselves what responsibility do we share in these crimes against humanity with our silence and until we ask ourselves with what Sanctity do we really hold Human Life?

Now, at least 80,000 Syrians are dead and at least 2 million have fled their homes. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has called Syria a "bloody center of history," and the death toll of Syrian civilians rivals that of Bosnian civilians during their Genocide of the 90's.

"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said in a statement on March 6th 2013. "The international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped"

There have been numerous atrocities since the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Syria is not the only nation that has been ignored when genocides occurred. No action was taken to stop the Cambodian Killing Fields or Rwanda's Hundred Days of Hell. Instead, millions suffered until locals finally overthrew the perpetrators by military force.

During the Bosnian Genocide, the world failed to intervene as the Milosevic regime indiscriminately shelled Bosniak civilians. Only after the Srebrenica Massacre of over 8,000 Bosnians was the world finally shamed to act, launching a NATO bombing campaign until Milosevic stopped the killing.

The Sanctity of Life is universally found in the revealed text of faith traditions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and others. Life is not only of infinite value, it is also sacred, as Islam's revealed text, The Qur'an states: "We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people. (Chap 5:32)"... "Nor take life which God has made sacred, except for a just cause" (Chap. 17:33).

Al-Ghazali, a renowned Muslim Scholar and Jurist from the 11th Century - widely accepted across the Muslim world today, concluded in his Classic work 'Huquq al-Insan' (Rights of Human Beings) that "in respect of the sanctity of life and the prohibition of aggression against it, Muslims and non-Muslims are equal. Attack on the personal safety of non-Muslims invokes the same punishment in this world and the Hereafter".

There is hope for a lasting peace by inculcating the message of The Sanctity of Life from the pulpits of all faith traditions to all of Mankind. There is hope when the world unites in righteousness against oppression and slaughter of the weak and defenseless as an alternative to individual nations pursuing their material interests. There is hope when a higher purpose and calling unites Mankind regardless of their differences.

Tragedy can unite diverse faith groups to share in their grief as our beautiful town of Newtown CT has shown. Multiplying the joy of living in a World at Peace can unite us too when the Sanctity of Life is truly observed. The Sanctity of Life will be observed when we demand its adherence on ourselves and on those who violate it. The alternative is the status quo that would leave all of our children repeating what their ancestors bemoaned after the Holocaust and after every genocide that occurred before and after - "where was the World?"

Let's grow this opportunity to work together across region, country and world to accomplish great things that would make us truly worthy children of our common ancestor in faith and patriarch Abraham, Peace be upon him.

Eman Beshtawii is the Chaplain and Co-Director of the Al Hedaya Islamic Center,
115 Mt Pleasant Road, Newtown CT 06470. She can be reached at: 203-300-9326 or Web site:

Fr. Angelo Arrando
Fr. Angelo Arrando


Move over Easter Bunny.

by Fr. Angelo Arrando

Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013

Danbury News Times

Another Easter is here. Easter and Christmas are the two pillar celebrations of the Christian faith that define what Christianity is about. Yet I do wonder how the world can perceive what Christians believe by the way far too many of us outwardly celebrate these hol(y)idays. Santa, Rudolph and Frosty have taken over Christmas and we forfeited Easter to the bunny, colored eggs and hoards of candy. These trite usurpers are certainly not what Christianity is truly about!

Nor is Easter simply about a dead Jesus becoming animated after three days.

The resurrection for Christians is not merely the triumph of light over dark, mercy over vengeance, life over death. Rather, it is the ongoing of Jesus' presence in the world and in every person. Through his resurrection humanity takes center stage and calls Christians to view our world in a different light. In the glare of history, he forever stands the Jesus of Israel, the Christ of Christians, a tragic figure who belongs to the ages.

But in the resurrection, he becomes a signpost pointing to another way for human beings to live with one another.

For Christians our world is unthinkable without Jesus. Yet far too many Christians go on as if he never existed. We have hollowed his words, and his challenges. In our time, as in his time, human begins are exploitable, expendable, disposable, and dispensable. In a market economy where we turn unnecessary products into absolute necessities, we reduce human beings from our first priority; human beings come second to money.

Our aggressive, assertive, competitive, predatory world is further away from valuing human beings today than it was in the days of Jesus Christ.

Jesus still draws a crowd. People still go wild over Jesus. But hardly any really pay attention to his vision anymore. We read and read the gospels but when the words lose their meaning, they all begin to sound like "Have a nice day!"

Relegating Easter to the bunny, colored eggs and hoards of candy, the way of Jesus lost its edge, its oddness, its deep kind of living, its deeper kind of loving that involves a deeper kind of relational existence.

Yet, the prospect of an alternative humanity is still the offering Jesus puts forward to us.

To give love, to receive love according to the standard established by Jesus, we must undergo a foundational change, a transformation of a deeply religious nature, a recapturing of the risen Christ in our midst.

God so loves us human beings that God has always intervened in our human affairs to keep us on the straight and narrow way of attending to each others' needs, making others' needs our own. Through the Bible, God's prophets plead with us to stop taking advantage of others. God begs us to stop squeezing others out of what they need to survive in order to satisfy our own oversized greed.

Times will keep on changing as this old world keeps on turning, but the command of love that we "love one another as God loves us" will always be the same.

The message of the Bible is always very simple, always very plain in our ordinary, everyday world. God begs us to stop foraging, hoarding, storing, and to stop stockpiling properties and possessions in a manner that cheats others out of their basic needs.

God's desperate wish to get us humans to share all we have with one another took a mind-blowing turn when God's only son became one of our very own (Christmas). For Christians, following Jesus, empowered by his resurrection, must mean putting persons first, front and center, in every way we approach existence.

What this entails is nothing less than one almighty conversation, as we move from being addicted consumers of material goods and services to becoming persons who attend to each other, who minister to each person by giving our fullest presence as modeled for us in the person of Jesus. The love for other human beings that Jesus calls for is not from some other realm foreign to our own. It is here-on-earth love.

Jesus comes back and lives again in any person of our own time who sees in other persons what he saw, who feels for others what he felt.

Christians are called to turn our planet into a person-centered world and this is as much a religious endeavor today as it was in the days of Jesus. It puts one immediately into a countercultural posture.

How much easier it is to allow the Easter bunny. However, the bunny cannot fulfill the hopes and aspirations of a human race that continues to struggle to find meaning in its existence. Christians, empowered by the risen Christ, are to be living witnesses of God's ongoing love affair with the human race and caring for others as they believe God takes care of us.

"Whatever you did to the very least you have done to me! What you have failed to do to the very least you have failed to do to me" continues to be the biblical challenge and the edge of our Easter celebration. Move over, bunny!

Father Angelo S. Arrando is Pastor of St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in Danbury, CT.

Rabbi Jon Haddon
Rabbi Jon Haddon


Finding similarities in Pesach and baseball.

by Rabbi Jon Haddon

Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013

Danbury News Times

It seems fortuitous that this year the sixth day of Pesach (Passover) occurs on Sunday, March 31st, the same day that Major League Baseball begins its 2013 season with the Texas Rangers facing the Houston Astros. The 2013 season will be the Houston Astros' first as a member of the American League and they will be placed in the West Division. This will mark the first growth in the number of American League teams since the 1977 addition of the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. In other words, pretty momentous decisions. And at this time of remembering the momentous events of the Exodus, we Jews can find many similarities between the opening of the baseball season and the coming of Pesach.

During spring training, baseball teams clean up their rosters. Players, like chametz (non-kosher bread products), can get old, stale and broken. So teams get new players in the hopes of redeeming themselves from past failures. In the spring, we clean our homes for Pesach. We clean out our cupboards, getting rid of chametz and other foods that are old, stale and broken. We get new bread - Matzah - in celebration of our being redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Hopefully, we also regain hope, courage and optimism as well.

The opening of the baseball season also means new hope. While it is true that after the 162 game season, the same big teams will probably be on top - the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers, and so on, while I as a long suffering Chicago Cub fan still believe that "this could be the year." The hopefulness of spring is glorious and it "springs eternal."

Pesach is a holiday of hope. We place a cup of wine on our table for the prophet Elijah, in the hope that this year will be the year that he comes to announce the coming of the Messiah, and will usher in a time of peace for Israel and the entire world.

Baseball has no time limit. Sometimes it seems like the Seders we attend have no time limit either. Baseball teaches us patience. The game isn't over until the very last out. Or as Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over, till it's over." The Seder teaches us patience, as we cannot leave until we say, "Next year in Jerusalem."

Baseball involves strategy - bunt, hit and run, steal. Pesach in Danbury involves strategy as we plan our Passover food scavenger hunt, not easy in Danbury... but who knows? Whole Foods or Trader Joes might one day carry kosher meat!

Baseball is a game of special foods - hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks. Passover is a time of special foods - not only the required matzah, but also macaroons, matzah ball soup, brisket, matzah brei and other family favorites. The object of baseball is to score runs by going home. Pesach celebrates our returning home from slavery in Egypt. And we celebrate it with Sedorim which are most often held at home.

Baseball is a pastoral game, played in a beautiful green park. Pesach is a spring pastoral holiday which celebrates the harvest of the spring crops.

Yet, in the end, baseball is just a game. We cheer for our favorite teams. We celebrate their wins and cry with their losses. But it is just a game.

Pesach isn't a game. Pesach is life. Play ball.

Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.

Rev. Karen Karpow
Rev. Karen Karpow


How Methodist pastors are called to their jobs.

by Rev. Karen Karpow

Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013

Danbury News Times

This is the last Forum on Faith article that I'll be writing, at least for now. I'll be moving away this summer. So the topic I've chosen is how moves take place for ministers in the United Methodist tradition.

One rather unique and even odd feature of the United Methodist Church is that our pastors serve where we are appointed by our bishop. Our appointments last a year at a time, though most of us stay put for much longer than that. Every year, each of us is either reappointed to our current church, or sent to another church within our conference, which in our case comprises approximately 500 congregations, across: the New York metropolitan area, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and western Connecticut.

When they first learn about our system, people are often surprised, even shocked. Imagine someone telling you where you are going to work, where you are going to live, even what house you will live in. And as a church, imagine somebody just sending you a pastor! (If you are Catholic, this will be easier for you to imagine.)

But this is the system that Methodist pastors and congregations have signed up for, and I believe it works.

This system has its roots in the Methodist movement of the 1700's, when itinerant pastors rode their horses from town to town in "circuits," serving a new place every month, every week, or even every day. (By comparison, our year-long appointments seem luxurious!) This system has evolved into a practice of missional appointments, based on the needs of each church and community, and the gifts of the pastors who are available.

People from traditions in which churches get to choose their pastors often assume that this is a terrible system. And yes, sometimes it doesn't work. But more often, I believe it results in wonderful and fruitful experiences for the churches as well as the pastors. The Bishop, assisted by the Cabinet, has a much wider view of what is going on in our conference, what our churches need, and who is best suited for each ministry.

Unexpected matches are made. It has certainly helped the United Methodist Church be among the more progressive denominations, when congregations receive pastors of a gender or race they would not have hired on their own. A member of my own congregation, for example, upon learning that I was leaving, said she has to admit I'm much better than she expected but she still thinks all pastors should be men. Churches sometimes receive pastors who challenge them in good ways they wouldn't necessarily choose, and pastors are sent to churches where they grow in good ways that they might not have sought out.

At the very least, the system is efficient. Everyone who is moving moves on July 1. Churches normally don't go months or even years without a pastor, which is common in some other denominations. If a clergy-church match isn't working, it usually gets fixed quickly. Most of the clergy in the conference know each other, and we are very careful not to leave big messes behind when we leave because we will see the people who follow us very regularly at meetings!

So, this is the system to which I (and all Methodist ministers) pledge at ordination to "offer myself without reserve for appointment."

I have been in Danbury nearly six years, and my youngest child is graduating from Danbury High School in June. I knew this might be coming. I am excited about my new opportunities, but I will miss Danbury terribly. I love the city, our church, our neighborhood, my friends, and the Hatters! Danbury has a diversity and energy that is really special.

The Danbury United Methodist Church is a wonderful gathering of fellow travelers on a journey to connect with God and with other people, and to connect our faith to our lives. These connections will spread outward as I move to White Plains, and a new pastor comes to Danbury. My successor is Rev. Kim Bosley and she will arrive in July!

The Rev. Karen Karpow is pastor of the Danbury United Methodist Church. She can be reached at or 203-743-1503. Web site:

Dennis Bouffard
Dennis Bouffard


Understanding purgatory: purged by God's love.

by Dennis Bouffard

Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013

Danbury News Times

Bill, a close friend, stopped by to talk. His brother recently died. While I could tell he was grieving he expressed fear as well. Apparently Bill's brother Barry was a good person, a good husband and father, yet he had some moral failings. Barry had no longer practiced his faith and this seriously troubled Bill. As a Catholic, Bill worried that Barry was now suffering in Purgatory and would be there a long time.

The teaching within the Catholic Church about purgatory has a long tradition. Yet it also has led to questions as noted in the most recent U.S. Lutheran - Catholic Dialogue "The Hope of Eternal Life".

The document states: "If we die still deformed by sin, but will finally live before God fully transformed into what God intends for humanity, then some sort of change or transformation must occur between death and entry into eschatological glory. In this sense, the general topic of "purgation" is unavoidable. What is the nature of this transformation?" (#157)

I explained to Bill that my understanding of Purgatory may not be found in any theological text. Yet perhaps it could be of help to Bill.

To understand the afterlife, I believe we need to use human terms despite that life after death is a spiritual existence. In the afterlife there is neither time nor space. To understand it we need to describe it in a way familiar to us.

It is this principle of using human terms upon which I based my explanation to Bill. No one is perfect. Each of us has moments of weakness and failure in the life God has ordained, that is a life of caring and loving. When death occurs, the person, upon entering the afterlife, is in the presence of God. God is "loving being" meaning that God is completely and ultimately pure love. I believe in God's presence a person instantaneously recognizes their whole life in the context of goodness and failure.

Referring to our human experiences, one might be able to understand this encounter.

When I have said or done something that has offended another and I later apologize to that individual, the offended, hopefully, would be ready to accept the apology and forgive me. Yet I recognize that I am humbled in this person's presence while feeling ashamed of my words and actions that offended that person. Still, it is over and we are reconciled.

In like manner, at the moment of my death I will acknowledge my failures. I believe God as "loving being" will then forgive me, purge me of my faults and failures as I present to God my entire life. I will be humbled and hurting as I acknowledge the love I have lived as well as the faults I have committed. Lovingly, God will instantaneously purge me of all that I have failed in my living as he ordained. My heart will melt and I will be transformed.

Therefore "Purgatory" is neither a place nor a period of time. Rather it is an experience of purgation. This spiritual experience is reflected in the Catholic liturgy of the Mass.

In the celebration of the Eucharist which concludes with the priest raising the life of Christ in the form of bread and wine, the Priest, along with the congregation, offers Christ to the Father with the words "Through him." While we learned that there is suffering in Purgatory, we believe, as exemplified in the Mass, that the suffering is in the recognition and humility of realizing that we have failed in life as God called us to live.

Therefore I believe it is the life Barry lived that he brought with him in his death and in his encounter with God. It is the failures he brought that were purged from his soul in order that he may "enter" heaven in a pure condition of complete love. And this experience is a spiritual one, outside of time and place, which happens in an instant.

Denis Bouffard is a member of St. Gregory the Great R.C. Church, Danbury. He can be reached at:

Darlene Anderson-Alexander
Darlene Anderson-Alexander


Embracing inherent worth and dignity across religions.

by Darlene Anderson-Alexander

Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013

Danbury News Times

As a Unitarian Universalist, I hold the first of our Seven Principles - "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" - at the core of my belief system. This sounds remarkably like the "Golden Rule", or "Ethic of Reciprocity", the spirit of which can be found in the texts of the majority of the world's religions. It's nothing new and it's fairly simple: be nice to people and treat them as you would treat yourself.

To do that, and do that well, however, takes active awareness and understanding. We Unitarian Universalists strive to offer opportunities for our children and youth to take part in interfaith exploration to move toward the goal of deeper understanding. One of our signature curricula is Neighboring Faiths: Exploring World Religions with Junior High Youth (Reed & Hoertdoerfer, 1997).

In this program, participants plan their own program by choosing which religious groups to learn about, visit and relate to their own developing faith. It is a curriculum which encourages a search for truth and meaning in many of the world's religions - religions whose members are our own neighbors.

This year, the 6th-8th graders in our congregation in Danbury have visited several area houses of worship, often attending a service and then engaging in a follow-up discussion with a religious leader. They were struck by the symbolism of the vestments which a Roman Catholic priest donned (during the Mass for the benefit of his Unitarian Universalist visitors!) and were introduced to some of the long-standing traditions of that faith.

They were awed by the beauty of the Cantor's singing at a Reformed Jewish service. They were surprised that, although the words of the songs were in Hebrew, their meaning and spiritual content were evident. It was described as a peaceful, meditative experience.

Quite the opposite at a local Evangelical Christian church! The youth experienced the use of contemporary worship with Biblical teaching. They were excited by the lively music and the references to football! They learned that the messages of faith come in many different packages.

At an Islamic center, the youth were challenged to think about what it would be like to be Moslem teenagers today trying to balance their religious beliefs of modesty with the pressures of the media and middle school culture which do little to encourage any sort of modest behavior. They engaged in an open discussion with the leader there while surrounded by the beauty of the prayer room. What a gift to be so warmly welcomed into these places of worship!

We were pleased to have guest speakers join us at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury as well. Notably, a friend of one of our volunteers came to share her practice of the Baha'i faith with us. Our youth were struck by the similarities to their own faith, especially the Baha'i desire to contribute to the construction of a better world.

Upcoming visits for our group include a trip to a Buddhist Monastery, a Native American center, and another Unitarian Universalist congregation quite different from our own.

Our volunteer religious educators and parents of children participating in "Neighboring Faiths" are pleased that our youth are taking an active role in living our 4th Unitarian Universalist Principle - "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning". The youth have asked meaningful, thought-provoking questions of our hosts (e.g., "How do you know your religion is the best one?"). They were encouraged to consider the similarities and differences of each faith to their own and to recognize that each tradition clearly holds some degree of truth.

They have had some of the misinformation about religious traditions that permeates our media and culture dispelled by open, caring discussions with representatives from various denominations. Straightforward answers that can guide them as they grow in their own Unitarian Universalist faith.

When I think about it, embracing the inherent worth and dignity of every person is a nice way to live. It seems fair and right. But it is so much more.

We live in a country which prides itself on its diversity. Our children are maturing in a religiously pluralistic world where, if they are to grow to be successful in the diverse communities where they will work, raise families, and be good citizens, they must learn about and appreciate one another.

I am proud to be part of the Unitarian Universalist movement that has faith and belief exploration at the core of its religious education program and so thankful for the gifts of our community neighbors in faith.

Darlene Anderson-Alexander is the Director of Religious Education. She can be reached: Web site or at (203)798-1994. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury.

Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe
Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe


Reach In, reaching out spiritually.

by Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe

Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013

Danbury News Times

A young man named Mike began showing up for worship every week at the church where I once served back in the late 1990s. Mike was an electronics engineer and it was the heyday of the dot-com boom. He gave an interesting reason for his decision to commit to worship.

Mike had not been in church since he was a young teen, so the religious faith in which he was raised was little more than a childhood memory. He was not in any sort of personal crisis. He had not been brought to his knees by illness, job loss, addiction, or the death of a loved one.

Everything was going great in his life. So I asked him, "Why now?"

Using language borrowed from his daily work, he said, "My world is interesting but mundane, and I realized that it was time for me to access the spiritual side of life." I had never heard anyone put it quite like that. Access the spiritual side of life.

Mike didn't know what he was in for. Like many Americans, he imagined that spirituality is an individual quest for personal experience or meaning. If there is a rationale for the existence of religious organizations like churches, it must be to meet that essentially private need or desire. Mike was surprised to discover that, while his individual faith journey was the original motivator, worship also brought him into the welcoming embrace of a community.

Over time, his desire to "access the spiritual" found fulfillment in fellowship and in a church with a message rooted in ancient scripture and creative tradition. He discovered something else, as well: that Christian spiritual life is about both reaching in and reaching out.

Through the church's men's group, Mike got involved in mission activities, starting with volunteer work at a soup kitchen. The community of faith is part of, and has responsibilities in, the wider community.

Before Mike decided to come to church he was a member of the very diverse wider community. When he first walked into the church he was a complete stranger. On that occasion, the congregation came through with a warm welcome. People talked with him. He made some connections. He came back the next week, people remembered him, and it felt right.

That does not always happen, even in the best of churches. It may be more common for a visitor to feel like an outsider who has stumbled into some strange club where everybody is speaking to one another in secret code.

Just as individuals tend to privatize their spiritual life, religious communities can also easily become self-absorbed.

I believe churches need to learn and re-learn the spirituality that came to characterize Mike's experience as he grew in his faith. This kind of spirituality combines the personal and the communal. It both reaches in and reaches out.

In the Christian Bible, the Apostle Paul had a holistic spiritual life in mind when he wrote to the church at Rome in the first century, "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers" (Romans 12:13). Reaching in and reaching out are two parts of the whole, as essential as breathing in and breathing out. "Saints" and "strangers" seem like words that divide the world into two opposing camps, but Christian faith at its best unites them in the life of the church.

The word "saints" in the New Testament does not mean people who are super-good or hyper-spiritual. It's Paul's word for ordinary believers who become members of the body of Christ, in the fellowship of a church that is committed to both reaching in and reaching out in this world.

Gradually, Mike came to realize that he was one, too.

As members and friends "contribute to the needs of the saints," the church offers spiritual and emotional care. Contributions are not just monetary. Contributing to the needs of the saints includes participating in any way to strengthen the church as a spiritual community. There's great comfort in this fellowship.

I believe to "extend hospitality to strangers" means to have the same concern for the wider world that we have for family and friends. I believe a faithful church cares equally for "saints" and "strangers," and that experience starts on Sunday morning.

What Mike discovered, and what I believe the church must continue to learn, is that Christian spirituality is an open circle of love.

Rev. Charles Hambrick-Stowe, the First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, Ridgefield, CT 06877. He can be reach at:

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer


The intangibles of healing include laughter and prayer.

by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer

Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013

Danbury News Times

Last summer, my friend Rabbi Phyllis Sommer posted on her Facebook page that her 6-year-old son Sam had been diagnosed with Leukemia. I was stunned and deeply saddened. Sam was a normal healthy six year old who developed pain in his arms and legs. After a number of doctors and hospital visits, he was diagnosed with Leukemia and to use Rabbi Phyllis' words "our lives will never be the same."

A few days after sharing her son's diagnosis, Rabbi Phyllis started a blog entitled: "Superman Sam." On the blog she proposed a photo project. These were the instructions: Take a photo of yourself wearing your favorite superhero shirt, or holding up their logo. Then print out the photo and mail it to Sam at his hospital room.

Soon I began to see photos on Facebook with the name Superman Sam, of people all over the country wearing Superman or Batman t-shirts. A week later Phyllis posted a picture of Sam's hospital room: it was literally covered in pictures of people in superhero t-shirts. All of those photos on Sam's wall were a beautiful testament to the love and support that Sam received from family and friends as well as new friends from all over the country.

The Superhero Sam project reminds us of the value of the intangible elements in healing. Of course we depend on our doctors to guide us through our medical treatment.

But there are other non-medical elements in the healing process that can provide us with hope and strength.

Norman Cousins, the well-known writer and editor of the Saturday Review, was diagnosed in 1964 with a spine condition and was given a 1 in 500 chance of survival. He discovered that his condition was depleting his body of large amounts of vitamin C, so he began to take doses of this supplement.

Then Cousins brought a movie projector home along with several old Marx Brothers movies. Cousins found that he laughed so hard at the films that he was able to stimulate chemicals in his body that allowed him several hours of pain free sleep. When the pain would return he would simply turn the projector back on and the laughter would re-induce sleep. A week later after the vitamin C and his laughing therapy, Cousins was back at work. He would live another 36 years.

It was perhaps a modern-day miracle that Norman Cousins' increased vitamin C intake and his laughter helped to cure him. I only wish it was so easy for all who are ill. But Cousins' story reminds us of the power of humor to aid in healing our spirits and even our bodies.

Along with community and laughter, there is another intangible element in the healing process, which is important in Judaism, and that is prayer.

Scientific studies at Duke, Dartmouth and Yale have shown that being part of a religious community is good for your health. Hospitalized people who never attended church or synagogue have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly. In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The process of prayer itself is good for health as well. For the past 30 years, Harvard scientist Dr. Herbert Benson has conducted his own studies on prayer. Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes that take place in the body when someone prays. All forms of prayer, he says, evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing. Surveys have found that perhaps half of Americans regularly pray for their own health, and at least a quarter have prayed for others. As Professor Paul Parker describes it, in times of illness all religions look towards their source of authority.

Each week in the Sanctuary, I offer the mishebeirach healing prayer with my congregation. Praying together helps to release the anxiety of dealing with illness and gives us renewed strength to face the week ahead. Praying for the health of others gives us peace of mind and hope.

My friend Rabbi Phyllis' superhero Sam photo project incorporates all of the intangibles of healing. It brings together a loving community of support. Seeing the pictures of people dressed up as superheroes I am sure made Sam laugh. And the prayers of all those across the world for Sam made a difference.

Sam is now in remission.

Today Superman Sam is just a normal 6 year old able to run, play and enjoy his life and his family.  And we are all grateful.

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is at the Temple Shearith Israel, Ridgefield,

Rev. Laura A. Westby
Rev. Laura A. Westby


What it means to be UUC.

by Rev. Laura A. Westby

Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013

Danbury News Times

One of the things I love about my current family of faith, the United Church of Christ (UCC), is the way it seems to attract people from a range of religious backgrounds.

It is not uncommon for a UCC congregation to have within it persons who have been Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Baptist. It is not unusual for the membership to include people raised in evangelical churches, Unitarian congregations and secular homes.

One of the other things I love about the UCC is its embrace of what Brian McLaren, a brilliant observer of the spiritual landscape, calls "a generous orthodoxy".

A "generous orthodoxy" is a way of living the faith that is open to the possibility that the Holy can be experienced in mysterious and compelling ways across the theological spectrum. Many of our churches are hundreds of years old, and Christianity is even more ancient, but we try to remain open to the possibility that God is still speaking in new and surprising ways.

My own spirituality is good example of this. I was born into the Roman Catholic Church and married into the UCC. My morning devotions include elements of embodied prayer I learned from Muslim colleagues and my yoga teacher. I am studying meditation using a Buddhist resource.

In my leadership of UCC churches, I am free to bring all of these experiences to bear on my ministry and worship leadership.But perhaps the thing I like best about the UCC is the way in which it views everyday life as the place where the Divine can be encountered.

The whole world is our monastery and our whole lives are our worship. We are encouraged to the way we parent our children, the way we spend our time, the decisions we make in the voting booth and the grocery store as spiritual practices.

We believe that if our faith is to have any meaning, it must be lived out in all the areas of our lives.

To the best of our ability, we try to live the way Jesus did- embodying the Creator's love for all creation through acts of ordinary kindness and radical hospitality. This is the reason why so many UCC congregations open their doors to 12 Step groups, welcome LGBT folks into full participation in the church and provide support to groups involved in social justice. We follow the One who came to serve sacrificially and reaching out to those in need is part of our DNA, and so we are passionate about ministries of service.

Many UCC churches have Congregational roots. Many still include the word "congregational" in their names.

In part this is because the power and responsibility for decision-making rests with the congregation. But the deeper truth is that we experience God most often in the formal and informal gatherings of the community of faith.

We feel it as we reconnect during coffee hour and potluck suppers.

We find God in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

We sense it as we work and learn and are challenged together.

In all of these ways, those who participate in a UCC congregation experience the transforming power of the God who creates community and invites all to embody the Divine presence in the world.

Rev. Laura A. Westby is the Interim Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Bethel: 203-743-1877

Polly Castor
Polly Castor


Understanding God helps alleviate suffering.

by Polly Castor

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013

Danbury News Times

A long time ago, before I knew anything about Christian Science, I had such a bad case of the flu that my temperature was higher than the thermometer recorded. People were understandably very concerned.

I was in the dorm in college and had a few friends come by to pray for me. Two of them were Christian Scientists whose prayers were more than earnest petitions for my recovery.

To my surprise, I had a miraculous, sudden, and complete healing. Let me tell you that got my attention!

I had been an atheist up until this point, having never encountered an idea of God that resonated with me. But these Christian Scientists talked about God as Love - that literally love itself is God.

I believed in love, and wanted it just as much as the next person, but I had never considered that as my God before. This radical change of view is what resulted in my healing.

Christian Scientists spend our energy growing in our understanding of God, mostly because that is the most important and everlasting relationship we'll ever have, but also because prayers based on that understanding have powerful results in helping to alleviate humanity's suffering. In the experience related above, my dorm friends' prayer of understanding was fully and promptly answered.

Since my miraculous healing, I have rejoiced in getting to know God. I have learned through the Bible and Christian Science to understand God as Life itself, Truth itself, Mind itself, Soul, Spirit, and Principle itself. I have always believed in these things, even when I identified myself as an atheist. All these synonyms of God are particularly helpful in understanding God and what God does.

In Christian Science, for example, God as Truth clarifies and reveals reality, gives us a strong foundation, and corrects any kind of error. God as Life itself demonstrates God to be as close as your next breath, as well as more infinite than the boundaries between birth and death. God as Mind is the alert, all wise, intelligent Creator of the universe, and it often helps to see issues from the perspective of the one omniscient divine Mind, rather than that of opposing human opinions.

Reasoning like this is a powerful aspect of Christian Science prayer. Unlike those who start their prayers with a human problem and then ask God to intercede, Christian Scientists start their prayer with their understanding of God, and reason from that perfect Cause to a perfect effect, which often aligns the human situation as a direct consequence.

Over and over again, I have seen how God as Love dispels the fear that induces fever. I have become aware that a God that is omnipotent Love never would prescribe illness, nor ordain germs and contagion with an ability to afflict. Through this reasoning, I have proved God to be powerful both in protecting one from ever getting sick, as well as effective as an alterative in whatever way is needed.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote in her bestselling book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "The transmission of disease ... would be impossible if this great fact of being were learned, - namely that nothing inharmonious can enter being, for Life is God."

She also states, "Beloved Christian Scientists, keep your minds so filled with Truth and Love, that sin, disease and death cannot enter them. It is plain that nothing can be added to a mind already full. There is no door through which evil can enter, and no space for evil to fill in a mind filled with goodness. Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited."

I do not think "flu season" is natural, to be expected, or to be endured. Instead, I believe it is to be redeemed and eliminated because it is not in keeping with divine Love. Health, joy, vibrancy, and bliss, these are our birthright.

Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield.   She can be reached at:

Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman
Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman


Epiphany: Good time to consider your spiritual gifts.

by Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman

Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013

Danbury News Times

On the church calendar, we are now in the season of Epiphany. During this time in the church year, Christians remember the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, the gifts they gave to him, and the subsequent spread of the good news about Jesus throughout the world.

For me, Epiphany is the time when we remember the three Magi and their gifts by discovering and exploring our own spiritual gifts. Christian scripture teaches that each believer is given one or more spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit. These spiritual gifts are for the building and support of the Church Universal.

You know when you have experienced the blessing of a spiritual gift in use. I saw it when Beth used her spiritual gift of Administration to enhance the worship space of a church I once worked with. For years the congregation had been talking about replacing the large central window with stained glass. But nothing ever happened until Beth took on the project. Quickly, she raised the money and commissioned the design. The beautiful new window was installed within four months. And it was all done smoothly and without conflict!

Most information about spiritual gifts is found in the letters of Paul in the Greek scriptures. But throughout the Bible we see examples of people who exhibited extraordinary ability in different aspects of God's work. Paul himself clearly had the Missionary gift, which is the ability to transcend cultural boundaries in planting and building churches. Moses used his gift of Leadership has he lead the Hebrew people for forty years as they wandered the desert in search of the Holy Land.

The number of spiritual gifts varies among scholars. Some find as many as thirty-two in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, others find fewer. The gifts are also called by different names. But each scholar's spiritual gift list includes, in some form, the gifts of Administration, Discernment, Preaching, Shepherding, Hospitality, Giving, Mercy, Helps, Tongues, Prophecy, Missionary, Encouragement, Leadership, Evangelism, Intercession, Teaching, Artistic Expression, and Faith.

Spiritual gifts transcend acquired skills or natural talents. Although special training can enhance a gift and a gift can enhance a talent. A sign that a spiritual gift is being used is that the recipients are drawn closer to God through the use of the gift. An example of this is Adolph "Bud" Herseth, Principal Trumpet for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 - 2001. I believe that Bud has the spiritual gift of Artistic Expression, sometimes called Music or Spirit Music. Listen to Bud on YouTube and you can hear that he is an extraordinary trumpeter. But Bud's playing goes beyond that, it takes you to another place. When I hear Bud play a piece of sacred music, like "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Handel's "Messiah" I feel as if I am being drawn into the presence of God.

The most amazing thing about the gifts is that we feel closer to God when we serve through them. You know when someone has the gift of Giving because they give of their financial resources freely and joyfully and they are always looking for ways to give more! A person with the spiritual gift of Giving usually has a lower standard of living then they need to have because they love giving so much. Their deepest desire is that God's work will be done efficiently and effectively.

Spiritual gifts are part of God's unmerited grace to us and, as such, they never cause division in the Church. Remember how Beth was able to get that big window project accomplished without a hitch? That is because she worked through every step using her gift of Administration.

Epiphany is a perfect time to explore your own spiritual gifts. You can find books on them through your local Christian bookstore, and there are lots about them online. Such resources help many in the church to find a spiritual gift inventory and to discover their own unique mix of spiritual gifs.

Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman, Central Christian Church, 71 West Street, Danbury, CT 06810. She can be reached at:

Rev. Leo McIlrath
Rev. Leo McIlrath


The week of prayer for Christian unity.

by Rev. Leo McIlrath

Published: Saturday, January 12, 2013

Danbury News Times

Jesus the Christ once prayed to the Father, "As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world ... that they may be one as we are one."

That all may be one! What a magnificent hope for this new year, or for any year!

"Naïve!" says one. "Impossible," states another. "Who cares?" asks still another. "Let's pray for such," cries a believer.

Take your choice -- and live it!

Among the plausible explanations for celebrating a week of such prayer for Christian unity are:

1) Abbe Paul Courtier's abiding passion to integrate all Christian values. Courtier took to heart the text known as "The Testament of Cardinal Mercier," which contains the following insight:

In order to unite with one another, we must love one another;

In order to love one another, we must know one another;

In order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.

Courtier, who popularized its observance in 1935, has been called the Father of the Week of Prayer.

2) Geoffrey Curtis attributes the concept to the World Evangelical Alliance, which presented a call to prayer to Christians all over the world for the "outpouring of the Spirit." Curtis points to two sources for inspiring the idea of spiritual ecumenism, including the liturgical expressions in the Eucharistic rites of the Roman and Eastern Church traditions, "that our Lord will grant to his Church `that peace and unity which is according to his will,' " and a similar prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer," in which God is constantly besought "to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord."

Secondly, Curtis points to certain organized movements of spirituality which he considers as preludes to the later crusades of prayer for unity. Amongst these may be recalled the great movement of "United Prayer for the Holy Spirit and Revival," finding prophetic expression in the work of New England Congregationalist, Jonathan Edwards (1705-58).

3) The eventual institution of the Week of Prayer derives from a recommendation from the Lambeth Conference, in 1878, for "the observance of a special season of `prayer for reunion.' " It was observed by the Church of England on Whit Sunday -- Pentecost -- in 1894-95. In 1895, the Roman Catholic Church in England joined its Anglican neighbors in this observance.

Pope Leo XIII had previously encouraged all Catholics to celebrate the first "Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" within that same time frame. It was not until 1908 that the octave was observed on the January dates with which it is now commonly associated.

4) Spencer Jones, a Church of England clergyman, and Lewis Wattson, a later convert to Catholicism (and founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement), jointly initiated the observance as January 18 to 25, the feasts of the Confession (or Chair) of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul.

In 1909, Pope Pius X approved the observance of the new octave, and extended its observance to the whole Roman Catholic Church. However, it was not until the Second Vatican Council's "Decree on Ecumenism" (1964) that Roman Catholics were permitted, and indeed, encouraged, to meet together with other Christians for common prayer for unity.

But what about spiritual togetherness right here, in the Greater Danbury area? We may all be aware of a few church communities celebrating a prayer service among themselves. We need to applaud and honor that. But I am referring here to many Christian churches gathering for a paraliturgical (non-sacramental) celebration of prayer, praise or study, and eventual "unity in the Spirit."

Yes, I am quite aware that some Christian communities do not have an open altar table for communion. I am not addressing such an issue here.

Attempts were made in past years to celebrate our Christian unity but there were usually more leaders present than laypeople, as when local communities gathered on Good Friday for prayers, hymns and spiritual reflections. So, too, was the situation when, for over 20 years, an "Ecumenical Way of the Cross" took place on Danbury's Main Street.

May we one day sing, and live out, the words to a song: "We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord and we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they'll know we are Christians by our love."

We have come a long way. Why stop now?

The Rev. Leo McIlrath, DMin., is ecumenical chaplain at The Lutheran Home of Southbury. He can be reached at 203-270-0581.

Dr. Fred Turpin
Dr. Fred Turpin


Praying through Poetry.

by Dr. Fred Turpin

Published: Saturday, January 5, 2013

Danbury News Times

As a clergyman in the United Church of Christ and a pastoral counselor, I've undertaken the spiritual practice of writing a poem on a daily basis. Often the poem integrates my inner quest with the world outside my door. My blog of poetry has had readership of over 40,000 visitors this past year from 133 countries. The poem below is an example of my work and is offered to illustrate how writing poetry can center one spiritually, like journaling or writing prayers.

"The Moon, Fog, Lake, Evergreens and Me"

I sit here wondering which came first
The full Moon I cannot see?
The fog which hides the Moon within a silent glow?
Water of the lake, waiting all this time as full moon and fog come and go?
Rocks and soil, which reveal the emerging
Hard surface of the patient Earth?

I identify with the evergreens,
Alive and witnessing along the shore...
All that moves yet does not move,
Waits and waits to know.

There are no answers.
Whatever questions may come are of passing concern.
But something is happening in this vibrant world,
Something far beyond what I can touch or hear or see...

Should I sit for hours and pray in silence?
Should I prepare a cup of tea?
Why is there no ritual for such reverent moments?
How could sages over centuries fail to prepare for this?

There is something ancient here
Far older than the snowy rocks.
And something completely new...
Given birth this very hour.
I sense it in the open heart.

It was never intended to be clear...
That's why the ambiguous fog is here.
It was not meant to be completely hidden in the dark.
That's why full moon illuminates the night.
It is not completely tangible, but separate from density of rocks.

I sense it in the cold breeze upon my cheek,
Faint, imperceptible yet real,
Present and trembling in the breathing fog
Stalwart and living as the trees.

Dr. Fred H. Turpin - 203-894-9489.  Pastoral Psychotherapist and
Marriage & Family Therapist, United Church of Christ.
His poetry web site can be viewed at: