I got a wonderful, affirming message on the answering machine from our congregation’s first called minister, Arnold Westwood. He said, “I just got two issues of Soundings and I read them from cover to cover, and I can’t tell you how proud I feel about what’s happening there. It warms my heart…” His affirmation was an end-of-the year gift.
I returned the call and told him how much his ongoing support, encouragement and frequent affirmations mean to me. The call prompted some shared reminiscence.
Arnold talked about Carl Charowsky, who was hired by the Board in 1952 to help move the church from the Fellowship organized in 1949, toward becoming a full-fledged church.
Dr. Carl, as he was affectionately known, was semi-retired at the time, but he devoted his full energies and well-honed ministerial skills to building the congregation to a size where it was necessary to move from meeting at the Women’s Club in Westport to rented space in the Saugatuck school.
Arnold recalled Dr. Carl’s fascinating story: his maternal and paternal grandfathers were rabbis in Russia; his father traveled to Germany to work on his rabbinical training and was converted to Lutheranism. His father never told him about his rabbi grandfathers, and Dr. Carl followed his father into the Lutheran ministry.
One day, the story goes, Dr. Carl got a knock on the door – it was his paternal grandfather, who told him about his Jewish ancestry. Eventually Dr. Carl left the Lutheran church and became a Unitarian minister, served congregations in New York, entered retirement and was asked to come to Westport on a part-time basis.
In 1958 Arnold was called by a vote of the congregation, then named First Unitarian Church of Fairfield County, and he proceeded to grow the church to the point where a decision was made to build the sanctuary we occupy on Lyons Plains Road. The building project began with construction of a parsonage to house Arnold and his young family. That parsonage, which I occupied during my first year here, is now our Meeting House.
It was appropriate that my conversation with Arnold was on New Year’s Eve, looking back, as it were, and thinking ahead to a brand new year.
Last year’s transitions included Barbara Fast’s decision to leave her position as Associate Minister to look for her own congregation, and Manish coming on as our interim Associate. A committee is working to find the right person to fill the position when Manish leaves in June.
Bob Perry’s decision to leave his position as Youth Group Advisor prompted another change—a committee has been working to decide how we can best serve our high school youth, continuing the youth group, of course, but expanding to a youth programming model that will allow us to offer more ways for youth to be involved.
Thanks for your holiday card and the warm note. I appreciate the support very much.