Green’s Farms church ready for renovation reveals

Every owner knows the drill.

The refrigerator needs to be replaced. Then you add the cabinets next to it.

Soon, you decide to redo the entire kitchen. When you’re finally done, you’ve renovated the entire first floor.

Green’s Farms Church is much older than most houses in Westport. Founded over 3 centuries ago and occupying the same historic location on Hillandale Road since 1853, it has a remarkable history.

Green’s Farms Congregational Church

The church was formed when locals grew weary of traveling by horse and cart to Fairfield every Sunday for services. The meeting place served as a site for important religious, political, educational and social gatherings. It was rebuilt when the British burned it down. After leaving what is now the south side of the parking lot off exit 18, it suffered more fires, hurricanes and everything in 311 years.

One of the most treasured items at Green’s Farms Church is a pitcher donated by Martha Washington. It honors Reverend Hezekiah Ripley, who served from 1762 to 1821.

Parishioners first gathered on June 12, 1711. This Sunday – June 12, 2022 – Green’s Farms Church celebrates its most recent renovation.

It’s thorough. It’s nice. It is part of the discreet congregational tradition. But it brings Westport’s first religious institution firmly into the 21st century.

Yet much of this would not have happened without our 21st century curse: COVID.

Several years ago it was time to replace the organ. First installed in 1964, it had outlived its lifespan.

Soon church leaders decided to also tackle structural issues such as drainage and leaks at the same time. When they examined the building – and saw that rooms like the social and banquet halls needed upgrading to better serve small gatherings like youth and Bible study groups, and 12-step programs – they have developed an integrated plan.

In 2019, architect Steve Orban and interior designer Betsy Cameron, both members of Green’s Farms, began their designs. The next big step – fundraising – has also begun.

A few months later, the pandemic slammed the door on all in-person worship and meetings. Services went virtual – and entrepreneur Rick Benson (also a parishioner) got to work.

The organ has been removed. The contractors dug down to the foundation. They were surprised to find not boulders, but piles of small rocks, supporting the structure.

Much of the work – steel, HVAC, drainage, fire suppression and more – will never be seen by the faithful.

But what they see is quite impressive.

Original beams from 1853 have been discovered. Quickly, they were integrated into the design of the vestibule.

One of the 2 original beams, now in the narthex. They extend to the 2nd floor.

The beautiful narthex leads to a large space which can be used as an art gallery. It opens this Friday (June 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m.), with an exhibition of paintings by Rebecca Swanson titled – aptly – “Emerging”.

The works will be hung this week in the new gallery.

At the back of the gallery is a full kitchen. Among its uses: cooking meals for the Gillespie Center in Westport.

Two new classrooms bring the kindergarten total to 6.

A beautiful table upstairs was donated in memory of Stan Atwood. The Atwood family lived near the church.

The meeting place itself feels the same. But it’s deeper than before. The stained glass window is much brighter (and integrated into a piece of furniture, with LED lights). The balcony has also been moved forward.

(Left to right): Diane Parrish, Peter Jennings and Claire England, in the sanctuary.

A view from the rear shows recently restored stained glass windows.

As for the Aeolian-Skinner organ, the genesis of the ambitious project, it has been fully restored. But, in a nod to history, music director Rick Tripodi named several stops after members of the choir. He won’t be there to use the new instrument, unfortunately; he died just before the renovation was completed.

The restored church organ.

The parish of Green’s Farms was the original heart of what is now Westport. More than 300 years later, “we want to be more engaged and integrated in the community,” says Diane Parrish, co-chair of the fundraising campaign and the renovation project.

“It’s such a wonderful place for events and gatherings. We hope everyone will use it as much as possible.

Several civic organizations do this. The Rotary Club and Sunrise Rotary meet weekly at Green’s Farms Church; the Chamber of Commerce will meet monthly. The Greens Farms Garden Club, Greens Farms Association and New Neighbors all use the space.

It will be the same for the scout troops sponsored by the church. Four 12-step groups and one focused on mental health have all been added.

A redesigned youth group room is also used for 12-step meetings.

“We owed the people who came before us the responsibility to take care of this building,” adds Parrish. “We owe it to the people here now – everyone at Westport – to be the best community members we can be.

“And we owe it to the people who come after us to make sure it’s a building that lasts.”

If it lasts as long as the current one, Green’s Farms Church will still serve Westporters in the year 2191.

(The rededication ceremony this Sunday, June 12 begins with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. by 1st selector Jen Tooker. Services at 10 a.m. led by the Reverend Jeff Rider feature music played on the restored pipe organ. A festival at 11 a.m. includes food, games, ice cream and cakes. The public is invited to all activities.

(Between the June 10 gallery opening and the June 12 ceremony, here it is: At 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, the Remarkable Theater screens “The Bad News Bears.” Green’s Farms Religious Education Minister David Stambaugh, played Toby Whitewood in the classic film. Click here for tickets.)

(“06880” relies entirely on reader contributions. Please click here to donate.)

A new curved wall in front of Green’s Farms Church proved to be a popular place to meet and relax. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Jerry B. Hatch