February 2022


“ 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” ~ Matthew 2:9-11, CEB


It is amazing how a simple paper star can hold so much meaning. On Epiphany Sunday, I spoke about star-gifts and encouraged folks to stop by the church or send me a message to mail out a star-word. And many of you have stopped by or had a star-gift mailed to you (they are still here in the office, if you would like one), and I have already heard testimony to how the star-gift has already spoken to you. A single word, written on a paper star cut-out. So ordinary, so simple, and so disposable. And yet, for many, the word will be a catalyst for change, for transformation, for a deeper understanding of self and of God that will lead to a strengthening of faith, as it challenges and encourages. The star-gift that chose me this year is “welcome”. What a perfect word to journey with as I live into this new call to be your pastor. A word that has already spoken so deeply to me in the warm welcome I have received from you all. The extravagant welcome of not only myself but my family, and especially Keadyn. It lays upon my desk at the church right now, near my rainbow-colored mouse pad that speaks one of the messages of the United Church of Christ, “Be the church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Love God. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritually resources. Enjoy this life.” This, in itself, is a message of welcome: extravagant welcome of creation and creation. This message, spoken and lived out by a faith community, is a gift to many who are seeking a spiritual home. It is also my reminder to be an agent of welcome in all that I say and do. I am not perfect, and there are times that I struggle to live into that “unconditional” welcome, but it is always the goal I place before me as a pastor, as a human being, as a beloved child of God. And so, this year, I will carry this star-gift with me and I will allow it to encourage me and challenge me as I seek to be light and love in this world. My prayer is that whether or not you stop by or ask to receive a star-gift, you will give space for the Spirit to speak to you throughout the year. Take time to gaze up at the stars, and as you gaze into the vastness of the night sky, allow space for the Spirit of awe and wonder. Take time to pause throughout your day, even for a moment, and as you take a deep breath in, release that breath and give space for a word or phrase to pop into your mind – for me, I find it is often “be still and know that I am God.” So, whether it be a star that journeys with you this year or a multitude of words and/or phrases, my prayer is that you allow moments for yourself, giving space for God to gift you with the Spirit’s presence. And may those moments challenge you, encourage you, and most importantly draw you deeper into your understanding of self and of God. May the star that guided the Magi to Jesus be a guiding force in this new year. Bringing you light and love and abundant blessing. ~ Pastor Abby

Pastor Abby was born in Kalispell, Montana. She received a B.A. in Elementary Education and Visual Arts from Whitworth College in Spokane, WA. It was while in Spokane that she met Ryan and started attending a UCC church. In 2005, Ryan and Abby headed to Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where they both, received a Master in Divinity. Following seminary, Pastor Abby moved to Vermont where she served as pastor of New Haven Congregational Church and the protestant chaplain at the University of Vermont. In January 2016, Abby, Ryan, and Keadyn moved to Sharon, CT when Ryan was called to be the next Executive Director of Silverlake Camp and Retreat Center. Pastor Abby then began her ministry as a Transitional Interim and served two churches here in CT before being called to Bridgewater Congregational. In her spare time, Pastor Abby loves to read, paint, make jewelry, and spend time out on the lake in her kayak. Her son, Keadyn, joins her in these activities and is becoming quite the artist. He also loves to play his video games and make up math problems to solve. Ryan loves to run, hike, kayak, and rock climb when he isn’t running around Silver Lake taking care of the site and their guests. Pastor Abby loves to think outside the box when it comes to the worship and life of the church. She enjoys weaving her passion for art and music into her sermons. Her hope for the church is that we continue to re-imagine what it means to be a faith community as we continue to strive to be relevant and vibrant, and welcoming of all.



The man who led the Bridgewater Congregational Church through the dark days of the pandemic will be deeply missed by the congregation. Reverend Daniel B. England inspired us, calmed us and made us laugh through the worst of times. Daniel’s farewell party on November 14th was a celebration of the legacy that he is leaving to our church. We fondly remember his “BE BETTER” sermon which led us to creating t-shirts with that logo. A banner now adorns our church that says, The Church that says, “YES”! “He was more than our minister, Daniel became part of our family”, said Larry Neary. We are all a bit better off from knowing Daniel, and we will be forever grateful.


Noreen & Alan Michener Noreen and Alan joined our church during a beautiful outside ceremony in our Meditation Garden about a year ago. They first joined us via Zoom and enjoyed it so much that when we started in person services once again, they decided to come. Alan is a builder and in 2016 remodeled the Bridgewater Village Store & Bistro. He has great tales about removing the south wall of the original store and replacing the old roof all while the shop remained open! His website states, “Our carpentry business has specialized in turning the dreams of its clients into reality for over 42 years.” Noreen loves all wildlife and told a funny store about feeding a few black buzzards with delicious suet she found at Stew Leonard’s. Well, the word got out among the bird community and soon she counted over 50 buzzards in their backyard. That was the end of the suet feast. The Michener’s back yard has another claim to fame. Hila Colman, the famed author who wrote 70 books, lived in the Michener house for over 50 years. Colman is known for her young adult books, including “Diary of a Frantic Kid Sister, “Benny the Misfit” and “Claudia, Where are You?” Much of her writing was done in the backyard while sitting on a large white rock. The Michener’s each have two grown children who also lead interesting lives. Alan’s daughter, Samantha, was home schooled and went on to graduate from WestConn at age 16. Samantha is a professor of Climate Studies at the University of Santa Barbara and studies coral reefs and lectures on climate change all around the world. Louise Johnson Louise is a dear friend of Candy and Alan Smith and was encouraged to visit our church. She attended a few of our events, and attended services via Zoom for the past few years. After enjoying many conversations with Daniel, she then made the decision to join when in-person services where once again available. We first came to meet Louise as she immediately offered to assist with our DRIVE-THRU NATIVITY by creating the wonderful entry sign: WELCOME TO BETHLEHEM. She also created our new welcoming sign: THE CHURCH THAT SAYS “YES”. In addition, she designed a card that was attached to The Pasta Dinner that we sent to Bridgewater Seniors. This ALL happened before she was officially a member of BCC! Professionally Louise is the Art Director for KatArt Graphics in New Milford. Some of her recent credits include the art work done for the curator of a new permanent exhibit about Slavery at the New Milford Historical Society; designed artwork for two Barn Quilts in this area; and loves drawing women in beautiful clothes. She recently completed some graphics for “coffee table” books for area writers, including a gorgeous book on Lake Waramaug. Her pastime activities include cooking and learning how to bake sourdough bread. Louise is a member of the Brookfield Lions Club where she lives; loves the outdoors, going to concerts, plays, museums, music – and just having fun! Her daughter is a teacher in Japan – and she hopes to be able to visit her soon. WELCOME to our Church Family, Noreen, Alan & Louise!



We all agree that the true treasure of our annual Tag Sale is the time we all spend together in good fellowship! Hard work is made easy with so many Church members helping. The treasures that we rediscover every year at Lea Kinstler’s barn feel like an early Christmas gift. Wendy and Dick Jones’ energy levels never cease to amaze us. They are our Everyready Bunnies! For days we eat together at a tiny table set up in the kitchen. We marvel at the treasures that keep coming in the door and reminisce about past sales. One can hear the name “JEAN” called out at least a hundred times a day: “Jean, what price should we put on this? Jean, where does this go? Jean, what is this thing?” Ladies in their 70’s (forever young) haul, sort, drag and price the merchandise. The actual day of the Tag Sale is fabulous…a party with a life of its own! This year the magic all happened with our masks on, and we made a record breaking



Some years ago BCC hauled 100+ trees over from New York State. Once we established an account, BCC got trees directly from Quebec. Huge trucks with trees top loaded. Many hands have been unloading trees ever since --- now 150, all top quality Fraser firs. Half a dozen trees are donated to families in Bridgewater and New Milford, families suggested by Social Services. Teams of church members have volunteered to sell, load, and occasionally deliver trees every year. Christmas trees are an important fund raiser for BCC, contributing over $4,000 annually. Heather Detrick will lead our efforts starting in 2022.



Our Christmas Shoppe had its best year ever! Of course, it would never have happened except for the hard work of so many people!! As you entered the Shoppe you were welcomed by a stunning array of beautiful items and friendly, chatty parishioners. This year the Shoppe included some new sources such as Casafina and World Market. Since so many of our shoppers are repeat customers, it is important to offer unique and different items every year. The church ladies had a jolly time shopping for inventory in West Hartford followed by a festive luncheon. The Silent Auction was a big hit with lots of creative items including a wonderful Hopkins Inn package. We also had a generous donation of gift cards for the Carmel Flower Shop. And now for the Christmas tree sales! Drum roll, please…………………! The trees were beautiful and were delivered flocked with glistening new snow all the way from Quebec. Many folks volunteered their time purchasing the trees and arranging for delivery, setting up the tree display, unloading the trees (thanks especially to those who went to the top of the tree pile to unload and went home sopping wet!). Kudos to the intrepid work of those who froze their b…s off until the very last tree was sold! The Christmas Shoppe provides income for our church but more importantly it offers a welcome and enjoyable experience during the Christmas season. Thanks to all those who organized, set up displays, knitted and sewed, designed beautiful cards, created beautiful glass Christmas trees and donated Auction items. Thanks also to the bakers and fudge makers, shop workers and cashiers. Only our Church Family and Friends could host such a memorable event. Chris Smith



About 15 years ago what is now the “garden” was littered with broken and unused nursery school play equipment. No one then could envision what that area is like today. The equipment was removed and it became a lawn. Large stone benches were installed by church members and used by Sunday school classes. The base of the stone wall was constructed by a stone wall class and finished by a church member. Arborvitae seedlings were planted and now tower over the south border. Another crop of eight trees were recently planted along the eastern border of the parking lot. The labyrinth has hosted many contemplative walkers since its completion over 10 years ago. It contains almost 1000 Belgian blocks which were set on crushed stone by church volunteers. The grass path leads to an enormous flat stone in the center. About 15 years ago no one envisioned such a dramatic transformation. Stone Benches No one knows quite where they came from … a quarry somewhere? No one really knows. A friend of a church member trucked them from Westchester County, NY where for many years they formed a winding garden stairway down to the majestic Hudson River. Restoration of that garden required the stones ’removal. A relative of a church member had the restoration contact and offered the stones to our church. The Meditation Garden! What wonderful benches they would make! A truck with a boom moved the stones to their places. Church volunteers dug holes for the vertical supports and struggled to set the stones into place on a layer of crushed stone. The single stone on the east side was tilted. While volunteers stood ready to level it, a young church member quietly braced himself and lifted the incredibly heavy low end while smaller leveling stones were quickly set in place. The huge stone was lowered. Perfect! Now a special place for reading and contemplation. A large flat stone became a footrest. A perfect place to sit and watch others walk the labyrinth. And enjoy watching children running in the grass on the labyrinth path.



The wall was built slowly using mostly donated stones from local residents, including several church members. Volunteers cleared the ground and set the base stones. Note: Connecticut is littered with rocks. When those rocks are harvested and are put into walls, they become stones. Our church wall sits 14 ’from the edge of Clapboard Road and is slightly less than 48” high, both as required by town zoning. The wall is “dry stack” i.e., no mortar was used as opposed to a “wet wall.” It’s held tightly together by the weight of the stones. The wall serves as a sitting and viewing place for the annual Firemen’s Parade. Some of the stones are smaller versions of the stone benches. Can you identify them? The ground under this wall is very soft, hence the taper (backwards slant) of the wall. And perhaps the best use of the wall is as a quiet backdrop of the lawn.



While taking a tour of the historic district in Kingston, NY, we noticed a crowd encircling The Old Dutch Church. The Church had built a prayer wall and people were posting their blessings, intentions and prayers. A little boy of about seven was diligently scribbling on a piece of worn paper and seemed very excited to find the perfect place on the wall to post his card. Once he walked away we read his prayer which brought tears to our eyes. He asked God to protect his grandparents in Ireland from the virus. Our Church needed a Prayer Box! Jean & Rick Jusko and Dick Jones came to the rescue. The box was painted by the Jusko’s and was installed by Dick in our Meditation Garden. It is filled with cards and pencils so that Parishioners and area residents can leave their blessings and prayer intentions. The intentions are anonymous but included in a special prayer on Communion Sundays. The box was handmade by the Bol Family of Minneapolis. The family makes lending library boxes, little free food pantries, seed libraries, little free art galleries, and blessing boxes. The proceeds go to a charitable Fund that incorporates all aspects of “front yard sharing”. Their mission is to support the community impact of neighbors sharing with neighbors. These community groups have made a huge difference by donating little free pantry boxes to communities in need. We invite you to stop by the Meditation Garden and walk around the Labyrinth. Labyrinth proponents claim walking a labyrinth can lead to deeper relationships, a stronger sense of community, a feeling of being on a spiritual journey, a sense of living in the present, greater creativity, and stress reduction. We all need some of that! After your walk, choose your favorite stone bench and just sit awhile. This is a perfect place to write down your blessing or prayer. The Prayer Box is there for YOU.



Every quarter our Newsletter will feature a column titled, “DID YOU KNOW?” The Imagination Committee hopes that we can get to know each other a bit better by sharing a fun fact or two that most people in the congregation do NOT know about you (a hobby, adventure, hidden talent, past job, “claim to fame”, etc). In this our 1st Newsletter, the Imagination Committee members have listed some fun facts about themselves, and we want to see if our readers can guess who said what? The following people have submitted a fun fact: Rev. Abby, Frank Kelly, Larry Neary, Chris Smith, Sue Stumpf, Jeanne Paparazzo, Cheryl Nelson, Ted Anson and Candy Smith. (Answers can be found on the bottom of the last page). No peeking! Now it is YOUR TURN: Please submit your fun fact to Candy Smith by April 15th. They will be published in our second Newsletter.

1)“I was a child model selling boots for a company called Footwear.”

2)“I was on a missile launch crew.”

3)“I was a jump rope athlete as a youth and competed in competitions as an individual and as a team.”

4)“My maiden name was Pray, and I grew up in a town named Hope.”

5)“I was a gofer for Mohammed Ali, and I also stumped the panel of the TV show TO TELL THE TRUTH and won a year’s supply of car wax.”

6)“I love trucks. Nothing feels as good as stepping up into the cab. Their beauty, strength and power can not be matched. What a rush! I have been given the opportunity to drive around the state, and I can’t wait for the next excursion.”

7)“I have a killer sweet tooth and my favorite is plain NY cheesecake, and I treasure my collection of handwritten recipes!”

8)“I spent two years in Germany as a guest of the US government and 3 weeks in China as a guest of the Chinese government.” 9)“My favorite vacations have been when we take only 1 grandchild with us and devote all our time to that child. I have memories that will last a lifetime.”



A thank you to all who help decorate our Church this Christmas. The beautiful poinsettias were donated by Greg and Joy Bollard of Maywood. We raised over $300 plus enjoyed the season of Christmas home and love. Jean



We are thrilled to announce a Summer Mission Trip to Philadelphia for teens 14 and older from July 31 thru August 5. The BCC has hosted many mission trips to Philadelphia in past years, and we have wonderful memories. We stay at the Old First Church (United Church of Christ) in inner city Philadelphia and serve at soup kitchens, community gardens, day care centers, etc. Some of our favorite venues are The St. Francis Inn and MANNA (see links below). Some things to note: We are looking for adults to come along as chaperones The weekly fee is approximately $100 for food & lodging We depart Sunday afternoon (July 31) and return Friday evening Teens do not need to live in Bridgewater in order to attend If you have an interest in attending or have any questions, please contact Rev Abby Gackenheimer or the BCC church office.



In each Newsletter we will include a QUARTERLY QUESTION. It is our hope that our readers will answer the question if they have an idea or an opinion to share. Please send your comments to: Our 1st Question is: What can the Bridgewater Congregational Church do to be more relevant and visible to the community?


Answers to Did you Know 1) Larry 2) Ted 3) Abby 4) Chris 5) Candy 6) Cheryl 7) Sue 8) Frank 9) Jeanne

March 13th - Daylight Savings Time (Spring ahead an 1hr!)

April 10th - Palm/Passion Sunday @ 10am

April 14th - Maundy Thursday dinner and service 

April 17 - Easter Sunrise Service and Traditional Worship Service

May 14 - Silver Lake "Let's All Go to Camp" - all church day

June 12 - Pastor Abby's Installation

July 31st - August 4th - Mission Trip to PA