The First Congregational Church of Darien

United Church of Christ

A community of faith since 1737

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Candlelight Christmas Concert:
An Evening of Festive Music
Saturday, December 16th at
7:00 pm
Featuring:  Darien High School Tudor Singers
Popular Christmas songs by choir soloists
Quartet Singing and carol sing-along
Accompanied by Maxim Pakhomov
Refreshments served
No ticket required, all very welcome. A freewill offering will be
taken to benefit Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield
County, a nonprofit organization that builds communities and
improves lives by eliminating sub-standard housing and creating
affordable homeownership possibilities for families in Fairfield
County. Help a family in need come home for the holidays!

Christmas Concert Poster 2017






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Our church together with Silver Hill Hospital, in New Canaan, have planned a panel discussion to address this dire problem, Sunday October 1st at 11 a.m.  Although our focus will be on teens, all of us are affected by this crisis. We are hoping that many from the Darien community will come.  Invite your friends in the community to join you.

Two professional panelists, who work in the greater Darien area, will talk about addiction from the scientific, prevention and treatment perspectives, There will also be two people in recovery telling their stories. Time is planned for your concerns and questions.

Our church and our community needs to be well-informed, support each other and learn how to deal with this epidemic.  Gary Morello, who is on the panel, commented, poignantly : “Every human being craves intimacy, and if not found in healthy places, people will do anything to find it.”

Statistics we all should know: In 2012, 259 million opioids were prescribed by doctors – enough for every American adult to have a bottle. (NYT 5/4/17).  A recent White House panel assessed drug abuse as a “public health emergency”. This designation usually is assigned to national disasters. (Harvey, Irma)  As we all have heard, prescription drugs are a big part of the problem. The following statistics, taken from a recent study by Johns Hopkins University Medical School are amazing! They state that from 42% to 67% of narcotic drugs prescribed for some operations, are not finished, and of those, 41% to 67% sit in unlocked medicine cabinets, without plans for disposal. They should be taken to the Darien police station.

The panelists:

Dr. Eric D. Collins is Physician-in-Chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan which specializes in addiction treatment. He is a graduate of Columbia Medical School and did his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Psychiatric Institution. He will present specific facts and up-to-date understandings from the scientific standpoint.

Allison Fulton has been the Executive Director of the Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Drug Abuse, since 2002, an organization that gives training, technical assistance and resources to many local prevention centers in towns of western Connecticut.  She is a strong supporter of local initiatives.  A certified prevention specialist, she is a popular keynote speaker and facilitator for “Parenting with Positive Discipline” and other programs.  She is a strong supporter of the power of local initiatives that are data-driven and collaborative.

Jen H. is in her late 20’s, working as a receptionist as she studies for her degree at Norwalk Community College.

Allan Griffin is a young man who is working for Aware Recovery Care,  an addiction center in New Haven.

Gary Morello is our Associate Minister.  He is deeply involved in community youth programs.

On Sunday our new Director of Christian Education was up front helping as liturgist.  Some have asked, wanting to know more about Christine. So I asked her a few fun and searching questions.


Did you have a favorite pet growing up?

Yes, a Border Collie/Blue Heeler mix named Lizzy! An outside dog, we only had her for a month. My sisters variously had parakeets, fish, and hamsters. My dream pet is an Australian Shepherd.


Tell us about your parents: what are they like and what do they do?

My parents are incredible! Mom studied computers and finance, and after marrying my dad in her late 20’s, became a full-time mom. My dad has been in fundraising, restaurant work, cross-country cycling, ministry, and investing! He is currently in ranching and real estate. I’ve learned so much from my parents. Dad is athletic and business-minded; mom is musical and hospitable.


Who was your childhood best friend?  What did you like most about her/him?

That would be my brother, Ryan. We are 21 months apart. We played sports together, solved computer/video games, built crazy forts, and competed in everything from music to academics to how many pancakes for breakfast. Ryan made me more competitive and an adventuresome.


What was the first job you had?  And what was the worst job you ever had?

It was as a part-time summer secretary at my Grandpa’s real estate/restaurant headquarters. I was 15. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt important! My worst job was typing hand-written notes from dad’s business meetings.   Dad has a bad case of “physician’s handwriting”.


Whom would you say you admired most as you grew into adulthood?

I’ve always deeply admired people who decline glamor in favor of staying in the trenches. As I become an adult, I watched important mentors go through this process. It formed how I see my purpose. Something in me always hopes for approval and recognition, but this cannot be my driving force. Recognition and actual fulfillment/impact are sometimes not mutually inclusive.


What was one of the biggest mistakes you made that you learned most from?

Early at college, I learned what it means to be in community with others in a fresh way. But then I began to conform myself to friends, hoping to win their approval. I lost my confidence and personality.  It took a difficult illness and a rough break from those friends to wake me up.


How have you and Benjamin experienced God through your recent move east?

We feel so blessed by FCC, by our new friends at Yale Divinity School, and by our supportive families back in Illinois and Idaho. I see God here in Connecticut each day through many gentle, loving people who want to give their absolute best to their community.


Is there a favorite verse of Scripture or favorite hymn that means the most to you?

I love Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It is Well”. My life’s trials are nowhere close to those Horatio Spafford experienced (extreme loss in the Great Chicago Fire and the loss of three daughters in a shipwreck), but I certainly have had to heavily rely on my hope in God throughout my life. As family members pass on, relationships change, and responsibilities become heavier, I must stay grounded in my hope in God.

One of the most common questions I get asked when in public goes something like this: “Gary, what on earth are you so enthusiastic about!”  Every time I get this question my heart starts to pump with joy and a smile instantly finds its way to my face.  My response, always: “I’m enthusiastic about life because I’ve found faith, hope, and love in Jesus Christ.  Holding close to my heart, Jesus’ most important commandment, to love God passionately and to serve my fellow neighbor as if he or she was family.

Friends, I see the face of Jesus Christ every single day of my life. Loving our neighbors and our enemies is apart of who we are as Christians. Joe Pankowski, recently posted a story on Facebook that I couldn’t wait to share on a flash. This story comes from a young man named Dylan, a U.S. veteran of the Iraq war. I hope when reading this story you too can see the face of Jesus Christ in the most beautiful way possible.

“Years ago, on my first deployment to Iraq, I befriended a local boy, Brahim, who would quickly become one of our interpreters. He was able to do so because the turnover rate for local nationals who worked with us was enormous. And not because they quit, because they were killed. Besides the money, we were able to get them to volunteer with us by promising them refugee status in the U.S. if they completed a tour. (But really, I think the chain of command knew that most interpreters wouldn’t make it through their contracts alive).

Anyway, Brahim would tell me about all the family members he lost in the conflict–brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, all of them. He told me how he lived in a one-bedroom house with 7 people. No clean water, power every other week because of the rolling blackouts, etc. He told me how they did have the basic necessities most days and that him volunteering with us was one of their sole sources of income. One day, I went down to the store and bought him $20, maybe $30 worth of toiletries. No big deal really. I just didn’t want the dude to smell bad. When I presented it to him, he cried. Literally bawled his eyes out and said he’d give his life for me. OVER SOAP. Completely sobering. He spent the next year acting as our liaison, providing us with valuable intelligence, and essentially saving our lives on a daily basis – at the age of 16!  At the end of my tour in Iraq, I knew I was leaving him to die. I knew I’d never see him again. I was just kind of like ‘take care kid.’

Fast-forward 5-years. And I’m flying home to Phoenix to bury my little brother who was brutally murdered. (Gun violence is another subject). I remember the day like it was yesterday. I cried my eyes out all the way from Hawaii to Arizona. Absolutely brutal. Spend 6 years fighting wars and you don’t expect to get a phone call that your kid brother was randomly murdered in a carjacking. Anyway, I land in Arizona and it’s pouring. Hop off and walk down to the taxi stand. I get in the first taxi that pulls up and we’re off. Driver starts to make the standard small talk. Where you from, what do you do, etc. I tell him I just got out of the military and blah blah. He says ‘Oh, great. I love the military. You ever travel anywhere?’ I tell him, ‘Sure. Been to every corner of the globe. Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.’ He says ‘Oh! I’m from Iraq! What part?’ I say ‘Kirkuk, mostly.’ And he says, ‘I’m from Kirkuk.’ And then it gets really quiet. Like awkwardly quiet. Making me nervous quiet. My first thought is I killed one of his family members and he recognizes me.

And now I’m literally getting ready to bail out of the cab. I see him staring at me in the rear view. I can see the anguish in his eyes. And then he starts to PULL THE CAB TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. He stops, turns around and says, ‘Dylan, you remember me? It’s me, Brahim.’ And I’m like Oh my God. And just start sobbing.

We got out of that taxi off the I-10 and Rural and hugged it out on a bridge in the rain. I didn’t even care, man. So I’m like BROTHER WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN ARIZONA?! HOW? MAN WHAT? And he’s like I did my 4 years and they gave me a visa. They gave him some cash and a 1-way ticket to the States. Asked him where he wanted to go, and he said where the weather is like Iraq. So they sent him to Arizona. 5 years after I left him in Iraq and a few days after my younger brother was violently murdered, the universe linked us up again.

Brahim literally saved my life, twice.”

America and Iraq. The LOVE of God is everywhere. We just have to open our hearts to see it…


Gary Michael


I am baffled by recently publicized attempts to keep refugees out of our country.  I am baffled as an American and baffled once again as a person of faith. I almost don’t know where to begin.

In the late 1600’s, my Rosenberger family was evicted from Switzerland because as Mennonites we “didn’t fit” in Calvinist Swiss cantons. Back then even different Christians hated each other with a cold-heartedness we today reserve for different faiths. So my family forebears—hapless refugees—settled in a devastated river valley in Germany where the 30 Years War was waged. Eking out a life, they were farming land that didn’t belong to them, land nobody else wanted, burned over by decades of warfare. I cannot imagine how fearfully tenuous their existence was.


Already for decades William Penn had been making forays into Holland and Germany to recruit for Pennsylvania. In the early 1700’s he came up that river valley and found my destitute but hard-working family. He spoke of a place where they could farm their own land. He invited them to a place where they would be fully enfranchised to vote giving them say in their destiny.


That was how my family fled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania before 1710.  Whenever I crossed the George Washington Bridge back and forth to Michigan in Yale Divinity School days, I would peer down the Hudson for the light upon the statue with these words, “”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


We Rosenbergers were wretched refuse.  But I felt somehow proud of that because America is built on these unlikely foundations.  The idea of giving broken folk a new lease on life is at the heart of the patriotism I feel for this country. Would we dare abandon what has made us great?


The refugees from Syria today are no more a threat to America than my family was back then. As our Senior Deacon wrote in a recent Facebook post, refugees are not immigrants.  They have been displaced by war or persecution and have nowhere to go. They are fleeing for their lives. Refugees undergo extreme vetting before they come here.  It takes years for them to enter to be approved.  No refugee has been involved in terrorist acts.  Refugees are no security problem.


Proportionally speaking, the US has received many fewer refugees than places like Canada or Sweden or Australia, only 100,000 last year, a miniscule portion of our population. As people enter America—like my forebears of old—they work hard to redeem the new chance. There is no reason to reduce this number, and every reason to increase it.  We are talking about families here, married couples with children, who want a better life.  Nothing could be more American.


As Gary Holmes said, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees into Egypt fleeing the persecution of Herod. Abandoning refugees today is morally equivalent to abandoning Jesus and his family.”

I don’t know how your feel about that, but it sticks in my throat.  Ironically, a letter written by former pastor Albert Schmalz came across my desk today.  He talks about bringing two anti-Nazi refugees, veterans of concentration camps, into Darien to serve as a butler and a cook. Pastor Schmalz sent regular food packages to their families in Stuttgart for their survival. Friends, refugees are who we are, who we’ve been, and who our faith points us toward. St. Luke’s has just welcomed their refugee family.  Noroton Presbyterian’s hopes for the same have been dashed by the executive action.  We had better remember who we are or we could lose it.

On behalf of the Music Committee, our Senior Minister, Reverend Dale Rosenberger and our Music Director, Dan Hague we invite you to join us this Sunday, January 29, for Hymnfest.

Members of the Congregation will speak about Hymns in which they will share personal associations, emotional ties, or just plain favorites among the selections.  Also, Dan Hague, will give a meditation on the history of hymns, why we sing them in church, and where this music comes from.

My Baptist grandmother use to say to me: “Singing a song is equivalent to praying twice!”  I believe grandma absolutely knew what she was talking about.  Music is the heartbeat of the church.  The First Congregational Church of Darien has been blessed with many talented singers and musicians – we must rejoice over this!

In the letter to the Ephesians 5:19-20 its states: “as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us give thanks this weekend to Jesus Christ and sing loudly the hymns of our faith.  Come, this Sunday, and “Sing Out”.


Gary Michael


Last Sunday FCC took a very real step forward. In the sermon and following renewal of baptism, we went a step deeper with God and one another. How that happened was equally remarkable. We shared the simple blessing of hearing spoken over us: we’re beloved daughters and sons of God and dwell in his favor.

If someone asked—informationally—if we already know that, we’d say, of course. But realizing that blessing, experiencing it, is something else altogether.  Last Sunday illustrates how grace is not something we mediate unto ourselves. It is something that gets mediated or imparted through living in authentic community. Living in a community where the avowed purpose is putting Christ at the center.

But where do we go from here?  Was it a one-shot deal? Last Sunday Dale said experiencing our belovedness in God’s eyes is the beginning of the spiritual life.  But what is next? You might not realize Dale’s sermon was based on the lectures and sermons of his divinity school teacher, Father Henri Nouwen.

Henri Nouwen, was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community.

Henri wrote the book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.  On Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017 at 11:15 am you’re invited to a discussion group to explore what began last week, the journey hinted at by our renewal of baptism. If what happened last Sunday resonated within you, let’s then follow this thread and see where it goes. Books are available ($10) at worship Sunday for the Feb. 5 class.  Confirmands will meet with Gary at that hour, so confirmand parents are doubly invited.  If you have more questions, please bring them to Dale or Sally Bassler.  All are welcome!


Gary Michael

Brace yourself, here we go again. We sense our approach to Christmas is fraught with peril and opportunity. So much depends on our angle of approach, more of an ellipse than a straight line. It is good to identify two horns upon which folks hope not to become caught and tossed in any season, but especially not in the run-up to Christmas.  We do not want judgment in the form of rejection and condemnation.   Neither do we desire to sink lost in a bottomless pit of nostalgia.

Let’s take them one at a time. Every church I’ve served, including ours, lives in dread fear of our saving faith in Jesus, personal and precious, getting drowned in personal rebuff. Divorced and remarried persons fear getting cast as irredeemable sinners (Mark 10.11-12).  Gays and lesbians fear being defined by what some construe as their sheer unacceptability (I Cor. 6:9).   Seeking and inquiring Christians fear a lock-step reading of God’s word sealing their doom (2 Tim. 3.16). Naturally, the faithful seek a spiritual community where they can fully belong and feel at home.

Then John the Baptist says in Sunday’s reading, addressing Judaism’s mainstream, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume…” Is John a toxic judge, scorning and condemning all unlike himself as lost? I don’t think so. For he says of himself in relation to Jesus, “I am not worthy to untie his sandal.”

John’s core message is very much like that of Jesus: “Repent, for God’s reign is near.” Repent is the single most misunderstood word in the Gospel, often warped by preachers who don’t get it.  Repentance is not about self-hate for our sins; not about lifting ourselves by moral bootstraps; not about wallowing in guilt and unworthiness; not about God condemning or damning us. In Greek, the word “repent” means turn your life 180 degrees and point it toward God’s promises.

Repentance conveys our lives into God’s determination to realign us with his life in Jesus Christ. Repentance is not about guilty reproach, but being remade in Christ’s sublime image. The dark word “repent” is actually the light of positive invitation to metamorphosis and transformation. Changing us is finally of God’s doing, not our own.  But we can shore things up, sift through our values, starting by refusing to presume sufficiency unto ourselves.  John puts us on our toes that God truly cares about what we do and how we act, if we want any real part in God’s new reign.

Turning from fearing judgment to dreading nostalgia, we often imagine that we want nostalgia. But nostalgia is a kind of spiritual junk food.  We consume more and more of it until we reach a moment when we realize it will never satisfy. Sifting back through Christmases past for an ideal and enchanted Christmas is particularly painful for people like me, having just lost my brother.  It’s one reason why in times of struggle, people dread Christmas. For it can all feel so dishonest.

No, we can’t freeze life in fond or favored moments of our remembrance to always be like that. Advent is about looking ahead, actually.  Advent shows us how, in the odd economy of God’s grace, we can only look forward, by looking back at the path John paved for the Messiah. Just like Dickens’ Scrooge had to look backward before he saw his unfitness for the future. Nostalgia is memory filtered through select and sentimentalized feeling. Faith is memory filtered through gratitude to the Lord for taking the initiative to do for us what we clearly can’t do for ourselves.

If you were to ask us, every pastor’s cherished desire is for our church to become a beacon of hope in a world up to its waist in despair. That is why we try to build trusted groups and ministries out of which unflagging hope can rise. It hurts us as some feel dejected, disappointed and cynical with our life in Christian community.
I want to dialogue on this with Sam Wells, rector of London’s St. Martin in the Fields, as he parses out six key assumptions and projections in his own church.

First, it’s possible to be a church strong in our faith without being closed-minded or defensive. Jesus unabashedly declared he came to bring us all life in its full glory. God made each one of us just as we are because God wanted one of us. God wants us to live fully in this lifetime and not just in the life to come. I propose as we all eventually meet our Maker, it will shock us how continuous eternity is with this lifetime. This world and lifetime are part of the eternal, not just a trial run.

Second, it is possible for us to care for the ostracized or troubled in ways that enhance community rather than diminishing it. Christian community differs from other communities in that the challenge of gathering many identities and races actually enriches who we are. Here caring for others has less to do with any self-important altruism and more to do with recognizing that we need the stranger to help transform us. Because we look for Jesus in strangers, we don’t dread them.

Third, if we make the effort, we can be aspirational, financially responsible, and fully participatory all at once. Many great ideas fall to the floor never to be picked up again because they focus on only one of the three, and overlook the others. All three are beautiful, having their reason, place, time and season within our life.

Fourth, it is possible to grow as a church without becoming impersonal, trite in our theology, or imperious in our attitude. Loving our spiritual home, we naturally want to share it—like any good thing. But we don’t want to get so large as to lose the joys of having a community that interacts in accessible and humane ways. We’ve all witnessed something spontaneous and responsive become formulaic or stilted. Living in true partnership, our faithful practices keep us honest like this.

Fifth, incredibly beautiful things can happen here if we begin and ever insist upon perceiving each other’s assets rather than focusing upon our deficits. Fear-based communities always begin with shortcomings or past hurts as proof that God will never transform us, individually or collectively. What happens as we peel off labels like liberal or conservative, evangelical or progressive, wealthy or frugal, and instead see what God sees in us: passion, enthusiasm, generosity, even humility? God has given us all we need to thrive and prosper. Do you embrace that? Are you willing to cleave to that as challenges seem steep and forbidding?

Six, in the face of the church’s decline writ large, we dare to believe that in Christ our future is bigger than our past. In a storied church like ours, it’s tempting to take refuge in the past, our centrality to Darien and former ways of doing things. So many churches are limping badly as public discourse pines for a golden age. We are founded on two convictions: the forgiveness of sins, always allowing for healing; and everlasting life, claiming a future with no end. Do you believe our future is bigger than our past? Do you find inspiration and energy in our church?

September is right around the corner, with the resurgence of life within FCC, D. As I look at all God has given us in the last five years, you all give me great hope.