First Parish Church in Weston

Why We Come to First Parish

On Sunday, January 30, 2011, five parishioners shared stories of their spiritual journeys that brought them to First Parish:

Sue Newbury (joined First Parish on May 11, 1980)
Margie Wiggin (joined First Parish on January 1, 1991)
Sarah Gardner (joined First Parish on January 13, 2008)
Melissa Greenlaw (joined First Parish on January 11, 2009)
Sissel Newcombe (joined First Parish on January 31, 2010)

On October 9, 2011 Guest Columnist and First Parishioner Laura Lamere's article appeared in the Weston Town Crier published by GateHouse Media:

Wanted: A church that meets the needs of every member of the family. A church that is open to new ideas and encourages young people to have a voice. And, oh yeah, a church that has beautiful music and facilities as well as a darn good sermon on Sunday morning! Are you looking for such a place? Well, it might be right here in Weston center – you know, the big stone church on the corner?

I didn’t know that I had found such a place when my husband and I began attending First Parish Church 12 years ago. They had a Christian-based church school, a beautiful building, and an articulate minister who could give a great sermon. Over the years, we attended sporadically, but each time we returned (after Pop Warner football or the town basketball season), we were welcomed back warmly. I remember arriving to drop off my elementary-aged daughter at church school after a long absence only to find that it was the day of the Christmas pageant (usually involving rehearsals). With no fuss at all, the teacher found her a costume, halo and wings, and off she went with the rest of the angels to be a part of the pageant! Years later, my seventh-grade son expressed interest in running the pageant. Without hesitation, the director of religious education embraced the idea and equipped my son with past scripts and any support that was needed.

Each of my three children spent their eighth-grade year in a First Parish Church program known as the “Covenanting Year.” Throughout the year, eighth-graders learn about many aspects of this church and the UU tradition, preparing them to become members of the church community as young adults. The highlight of the Covenanting Year program is the May church service when all of the young people address the congregation with their personal statement of belief. I was touched by the words of each of my children, but it was my daughter who succinctly defined the meaning of church for our family. In her words, church is community. It is the place where she sees her friends and engages in activities or charity work. It is her Weston connection as a student of a private school in a different town.

As my children grew into older teenagers, however, it became more and more difficult to make church a priority. They still considered First Parish to be their spiritual home, but unless given an ultimatum, they were choosing sleep over church (service is at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday except for special holidays). Many of my friends at church were expressing similar frustrations. They all wanted church to be a part of their teenager’s lives, but how to make it more appealing? How to bring the community to them? Remembering my son’s entrepreneurial spirit from years earlier, I stepped forward and designed last year’s All-Parish Project along with co-chair Leila Hooper. With support from a committee aged 14 to 80-plus, we called our project “AllGEN!” (short for All Generations United at First Parish Church in Weston), and we created a series of monthly speakers and activities that would focus on bringing the generations together. Throughout the year, we went kayaking; hosted a speaker and discussion series for adults wanting to connect with young people; celebrated Halloween with costumes and apple bobbing; brought together more than 60 parishioners of all ages in a drum circle; exhibited artwork in our gallery from First Parish artists ages 6 and up; made an AllGEN! video; and created YouthJAM!

YouthJAM! might have been the biggest surprise success of the year. The idea was to use the dusty stage in our Parish Hall for performances by young people. We planned to have a few events during the year and knew there were young talents in our community who might come forward. We hoped that these young talents would in turn attract an audience of teenagers looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night – and that they might not mind that this was all happening at church! Well, we were spot on! The Parish Hall (now dusted regularly and equipped with updated electrical, sound and lighting) resonated with everything from heavy metal to Dave Matthews Band covers and attracted hundreds of youth over the course of the year. As a bonus, the three YouthJAM! events raised about $1,500 for Heifer International.

The All-Parish Project is now complete, but the basic premise and many of the activities continue. The next YouthJAM! at First Parish Church is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m., and will feature four high school rock bands from the area. Proceeds will benefit the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund. As the Rev. Thomas Wintle of First Parish said, “AllGEN! has had an impact that will be felt for a long time to come.”

Found: Seldom do you find a church that meets all your needs – but when you do find it, you should hold on and become part of the change that is inevitable in any institution and in your own life. I’m here to testify that First Parish Church in Weston is one of those unique places that embrace Gandhi’s words: Be the change you would like to see in the world. If not you, then who?

Laura Lamere is a writer living in Weston. Copyright 2011 The Weston Town Crier. Some rights reserved

Sue Newbury

Sue Nuewbury at UUUM service projectI grew up in Wellesley and went to St. Andrews Episcopal Church where my parents, especially my Dad, were very involved. I loved our ministers and I loved singing in the youth choir. It was a big deal to get a small brown wooden cross for good attendance at the end of the first year. Each of the following years we received a different colored ribbon showing how long you had been in the choir. It was a proud time each Sunday to walk down the isle singing with the “grown up” choir before Sunday school.

I remember from a young age having to memorize what to say in church, not understanding or believing in some of what I was saying, I would just mouth the words rather than say them out loud. As a struggling student in school, I dreaded going to Sunday school where friends of my parents were the teachers. I always sat in the back of the room and prayed I wouldn’t be called on.

As time went on I felt I was told by the Church what to say, do and think. Once I graduated from Sunday school I only went to church for special occasions.

After I was married and moved to Weston I thought I should get involved with Church again. I soon realized my husband Tare was not comfortable with the Episcopal Church. He was bothered by the memorized ritual that had always bothered me and to come into church each week and ask to be forgiven for our sins when we both agreed couldn’t we just once in awhile thank God for a wonderful week? Again, I only went to church on special occasions.

Once we had children I felt it was time to try church again. I was hoping we could find one place for us all to attend together. So the hunt began. Talking to the ministers at First Parish we found out the service my husband had liked while in school was Unitarian. But many people had told me that Unitarians didn’t believe in Jesus. I knew I did. I was then told The First Parish in Weston was a Christian Unitarian Church and therefore Jesus was surely recognized. That was it - we had a fit!

When I came to First Parish I soon found I was surrounded by people from many backgrounds and beliefs; I was self conscious about getting used to a new and different church and kept wondering if I and others had some of the same questions. Once I began to join some church committees and teach Sunday school I met and made many new friends that I still enjoy today. I had a strong feeling of belonging to a community.


To begin teaching first grade Sunday school, I was quite nervous. I wanted to be sure I was teaching the right lesson and from the Unitarian perspective and not from the little I had learned from the Episcopal Church. I had gone over the lesson with the ministers and had a great hands on project all set up. So I began, with about 12 first graders looking up at me, In the beginning God made heaven and earth, whereupon one boy put his arm on the back of his chair and said, “you’ve got to be kidding!” I was very slow to comment. Guess what this boy/man’s occupation is today? He is a lawyer!

When I attended classes offered before or after church or Sunday evening talks I soon realized there are many answers, thoughts and beliefs to religious teachings and worship, not just right and wrong. One class I went to, Gail Haydock had read aloud a passage from the Bible that had been assigned to the group. Once she finished the minister asked us what we thought the passage meant. I was astonished and thought, “What do we think? You’re the minister, it’s your job to tell us,” a common reaction for me from my past. This has been one of the joys for me to be part of this church, to have my own opinions and to hear others. We don’t always have to agree.

For me, our choir is a strong part of why I am here. The time and care put into each Sunday is very obvious, especially the anthems and our call to prayer. As for the sermons, whether it is the whole sermon, the theme or just one word, I always come away with something to think about. Terry’s playing before and after the service pulls it all together.

Having taught Sunday school for almost two decades and having our children go through the system, I knew most of the families in church, and it was great. Recently I realized I was in another phase at First Parish. Once your family have grown and gone onto other things, have you ever walked into church and looked around and found you didn’t know that many people? This happened to me and it was uncomfortable just didn’t feel right. What to do?

Tom suggested the Spiritual Autobiography class and Holly Haynes with a twinkle in her eye gave me a friendly challenge. To my surprise, I had the most unexpected wonderful experience. I met the nicest group of active new younger members of the church. As we shared some of our life and religious experiences, once again I felt apart of a community. It was good and feels so right.

Margie Wiggin

Margie WigginMy spiritual journey began when I was a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. Paul Wiggin, my dad, was jumping out of airplanes while in the army to make the money to pay for my delivery and Mom’s doctor bills, and I think he was doing a lot of praying while in free fall. Phyllis Hunter Wiggin, my mom, was back at their small apartment, listening on a regular basis to the well-meaning neighbors in Southern Pines, North Carolina, who thought she needed to hear some of their Bible reading. My Dad went into seminary at Andover Newton Theological in Newton right after that and my parents were living on campus there when I was born. My mother’s parents were over in China, serving as missionaries in Beijing and Taiwan, and my father’s parents were living in Waban, MA, having regular theological debates about Grammie’s Episcopal Trinitarian belief versus Grampie’s Unitarian Universalism. You could say that religion and church attendance are in my blood.

I grew up attending the Union Church in Waban, MA, a non-denominational Protestant church only a 12-minute walk from my home. I stayed connected after 8th grade confirmation class, attending high school seminars in which adults with interesting life experience shared their wisdom with us through various courses. I was also part of their fun and active Youth Group which mixed group games with values clarification and other thoughtful spiritual and character building sessions and retreats. I attended throughout college when home on breaks and in the summer vacations.

Protestant ministers of different denominations were called into ministry at the Union Church, and in 1991, the minister was a nice person, but not inspiring. I found myself counting the number of times he repeated his key phrase, a preaching technique that made me want to look for another church in which to worship. While teaching at The Meadowbrook School in Weston from 1983 to 1988, I had listened with my class while Headmaster, Ted Rand, spoke admiringly of Reverend Harry Hoehler at First Parish Weston, and often based his weekly talks to the children on sermons that Rev. Hoehler had given. This intrigued and inspired me, so I went to listen to the Hoehlers’ preaching for myself.

I first experienced the lovely spiritual space, incredibly inspiring music and excellent preaching at First Parish Church in January of 1991. I was looking for a place to worship but also for a wonderful church school like I had experienced for my then 2 and a half year old daughter, Katie Frost. I was impressed with the classes and programs that I read about in the Church School brochure.



That first Church service itself was wonderful and I felt like I was attending a philosophy lecture. I gleaned bits of wisdom that I could use in my life and work and felt at home in the space and with the friendly people I met in the congregation. I had found my new church. Coincidentally, my dad, Paul Wiggin, started singing as tenor soloist that spring, having agreed to fill in as tenor soloist for Tom Best, during his soccer season. The position of Religious Education Director became available that spring as well, when Joan Hunt moved along to work at the Chestnut Hill Church, and in May of 1991, I applied and was accepted for the job of Religious Education Director. I steadied the ship through the interim year while the Hoehlers were on sabbatical and gave my humble opinion during Tom Wintle’s first years as Senior Minister. It was all good.

When my next child, Cyrus, was born in June of 1997, I decided not to continue as Religious Ed Director, and stepped down, but remained as a church member. I have been active in the Church School as a teacher, or committee member and have also been on the Intern Committee, which I am now on again, this time as Chair. I have loved writing and directing the annual Christmas Pageant for many years, which was originally part of my DRE job here. My service to this church comes out of my love and appreciation for what the church as a whole brings to my life. I give to the church and I receive from the church. This is my church home and family.

Cyrus and his baby sister, Maude Alice (Molly) were baptized by Rev. Sue Spencer in the Sears chapel on December 2, 2001. Cyrus and Molly, along with their older sister, Katie Frost, have attended First Parish Church School almost weekly, and Cyrus is now in his final year of Church School.

Just this year, in fact, Cyrus was a narrator in the Christmas Pageant along with other 8th graders, and Molly was a Grade 4 Villager. Cyrus helped serve at the Church Christmas Supper and Molly helped decorate tables at the Annual Harvest Pancake Breakfast. Molly sings in the Junior Choir, as did Cyrus until he got too old for it and noticed that it was mostly girls.

This Christmas season, my children and I lit the fourth Sunday advent wreath candles during the pageant, and college graduate Katie reprised her role of Angel Gabriel when last minute pageant substitutions were needed. Then, on Christmas eve, my three children and I arrived too late to be seated at the 4 PM service, but were told at the last minute that there were seats in the choir loft. Another First Parish miracle!! In closing, I have to say that I came for the preaching, and stayed for the people and the programs. I am honored to be a part of this service minded, faith-filled and loving church family. Thank you.

Sarah Gardner

Sarah GardnerI am at complete peace that my spiritual journey has led me to First Parish. I grew up as an Episcopalian and have always had spiritual roots. For a great deal of my childhood, church, Sunday School and brunch afterwards were a part of my week. In high school, I was part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and in college continued to turn to my faith. Like many of you, when Geoff and I brought children into this world, it was important to me that they be introduced to spirituality.

We visited several churches and became members for a few years at a nearby church but it never felt quite right, it didn?t feel like home. My aunt and uncle, Katie and Jonathan Moore have been members of First Parish since the 70?s. As a family, we had been their guests to a few Christmas Eve services. Geoff and I decided to visit First Parish and quickly knew that we had found our home. We have been members for three years and it has brought great joy to our lives.

First Parish is a sanctuary of peace, unity and service. For me, God is the the universe. God is in the stars, the ocean, the homeless man asking for change, the sound of music, and in my children?s eyes. First Parish recognizes and supports the beliefs of all that worship within these walls. My children have found a deep connection with the church school, the junior choir and the community as a whole.

In conjunction with my comfort in this space, my spiritual journey has also brought me to a complementary sanctuary of peace, unity and service and that is my yoga mat. Yoga means union, union of the mind, body and spirt. The goodness that I feel in church on Sundays, I feel on my yoga mat and throughout my day, every day. When I practice, it is a very spiritual
experience for me. Through the practice, I have learned to be present, patient, and peaceful.


First Parish and yoga have helped to create a shift in my being. I now know that it is not about me, it?s about how I can make a difference. Our reason for being is to help others and lead a life of service and gratitude. A year ago September, First Parish gave each family an envelope with a small sum of money in it. The intention was for each family to take that
money and create something larger with it that would help the community. The timing was God?s plan. I had just set my own intention of using my love for yoga and my calling to make a difference by organizing a yoga event that would raise money for children?s charities.

This past September, I held a yogathon at Gillette Stadium?s Field House and with the help of my family and hundreds of caring people, we took the $20 that was in that envelope and turned it into $235,000.

First Parish is a place that truly accepts you for all you have to offer because every person is possibility. I love my church home. My life is filled with great joy and gratitude, and I am so grateful for this community. This past Sunday in the children?s chapel with the help of Afton Cotton we sang the hymn, “Here I am Lord”. The words deeply resonated with my spiritual
journey. God has blessed me in many ways but not with the gift of singing so I have asked Afton with her beautiful voice to share a verse with you.

I wish for us all to radiate life. In the yoga world we end each practice with the salutation, namaste. Namaste means I bow to you and I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.


Melissa Greenlaw

Melissa GreenlawI was glad that Tom asked me to share my spiritual journey with you this morning. As there are many things about 1st Parish Weston that I’m thankful to have in my life. I feel blessed to have found this church and community of people.

My husband Mark and I have three children and live in Wayland. We have been attending First Parish for three years. I was raised and confirmed in an ELCA Lutheran church in Southern California. While growing up, much of my family’s social life revolved around our church friends. Many of my parents’ life-long friends were from their church experiences throughout their lives. Although I wasn’t always happy about it, I have been a church goer for most of my life.

In my adult life I took a hiatus from church after graduating from college. But after Mark and I were married and when our son was born we joined a Presbyterian church. It was a difficult time in my life. My father had died a couple years before, we had a new baby, I’d stopped working(at least, receiving a paycheck) and there was a restaurant burglary and murder in our neighborhood. Things felt fragmented and we needed more connection to our community. The congregation was strong and worked hard to be a sanctuary at a difficult time. Mark and our son Dana were baptized there.

After moving East finding a church was important to us. We spent several years attending a Lutheran Church where our two daughters were baptized. It was with a heavy hearts that we left that congregation, as during that time too, we had found strength and support there during difficult times in our lives. But as our family had grown, much had changed and we decided as a family it wasn’t where we needed to be and we began our church search.

We attended a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, a Congregational church and two Episcopal Churches. But we didn’t find the “just right” church for our family. I’m usually an optimist, but started losing hope that we’d find a church home. I thought maybe we were just too picky or didn’t fit in, maybe I didn’t really need to go to church…but something was missing from my life not having a church to call home. Then, one day, I picked up the Town Crier to see Geoff and Sarah Gardner’s photo as part of that years’ “new member” group at First Parish. I was thrilled to see this as they are neighbors that we’d shared a pew with elsewhere. I was very eager to hear their opinion of First Parish. They said we had to visit. The sermons were great, the services were Christian and the people were nice, not to mention the easy commute from our neighborhood. In my obsessive search mode I scoured the First Parish website to learn more about what it was to be a Unitarian. Could I be a Unitarian? Was it too different from the Lutheran or Presbyterian faiths? What would my parents have thought? I was thrilled to read about the Christian aspects of First Parish and to see what was going on with education, community outreach and social activities. I had always loved the exterior of First parish as I drove by, but when we visited, it was the inside that hooked us. We were looking for thought provoking, meaningful, relevant sermons that focused on spiritual ways to work with situations in our modern world. I find Tom’s sermons to be just that. Sermons that fuel me, challenge me and sometimes make me cry. The Service of Remembrance on All Saints Day means a lot to me as I hear the stories of those now departed and honor and remember them. On favorite Hymn Sunday, when parishioners share their connections to the hymns they selected, I find the personal comments bring the music to life. I love Family Sundays when the children are in the sanctuary. The sweetness of the Junior and Youth choirs and the children saying the Lord’s Prayer makes me feel good. I don’t consider myself the evangelist type, and yet I often share messages from sermons or interesting activities that we have going on at First Parish with friends and co-workers.


The strength of and commitment to religious education is another aspect of First Parish that is important to me. The curriculum at First Parish is so well organized. The parishioners of the church, under the organization of our Ministers, DRE Beverly and the Church School Committee, make the program function. Our daughter Claire is one of 19 members of the 8th grade Covenanting Year program. The fact that 19 families feel this is important says a lot. This program has three volunteer teachers and none of them has a child in the class. The Covenanting year curriculum, like that of the Neighboring Faiths journey, is challenging the kids to learn a lot about themselves and their faith and ethics as they begin to make decisions that have greater impact on their lives. As they make their way as independent thinkers in the world, these lessons will serve them well throughout their lives.

The physical space and historical significance of First t Parish, matters to me too. I feel like I’m in Noah’s Ark. Please don’t take offense; I’m not referring to you as animals. It’s the beautiful wooden structure and stained glass, the big windows and the pews with the comfy cushions. We are on a voyage together, sometimes it’s smooth sailing and other times in the midst of a storm. The Children’s Chapel is a wonderful space as well. It’s especially vibrant sitting amongst the kids as they read, sing and learn lessons from the Bible in terms they understand.

I love the longevity and historical connection of this church with so many generations of people that have worshiped here before me. It’s something to be the center of a town around which everything else developed. During church when I hear a siren going by outside, I say a quick prayer of safety for the responders and hope that when they reach their destination, my prayer will somehow help the situation they attend to…I’m guessing that there are several little prayers like mine that are dispatched at the same time from our church.

I like thinking of church as an extension of my home and family and do what I can to help as I’m able. I’ve been inspired by others’ talents, passions and creativity. When it comes down to it, the people of our congregation are our church - there are many ways to get to know others at First Parish. Participating in the Dinner Connections’ multi-aged group of couples and singles has been a wonderful connector with people that I otherwise might not have met. Teaching class and helping with various church school activities has taught me a lot and introduced me to parents and kids in our congregation. I found that helping with the Mitten Tree for Bristol Lodge this year to be a really heart-warming experience. The 6th graders were so energetic about wanting to make Christmas special for someone less fortunate than themselves. When they read the wish list, they were stunned to hear that all that one person had asked for was diapers and baby wipes. They were intent on choosing names from the tree that they could help. Hearing people tell me how their family discussed what books would be right for this child, or how they searched high and low to find the toy on the wish list are examples of the warm spirit of this place.

We so often hear the dark stories of our society, but it’s the care and passion of individuals as a community that makes good things happen. This gives me faith and hope for our society. I am thankful that there are so many transforming opportunities in which to engage at First Parish and look forward to many years of experiencing them.

Sissel Newcombe

Sissel NewcombeMost journeys in life are fraught with twists and turns, blind alleys and dead ends. Ours was no different. It took us many years to reach our destination. When we did, we knew we had arrived, like a ship that has found a safe haven.

I was never quite sure what I was looking for. Having grown up in Norway where the Lutheran Church is a state institution and the ministers are civil servants, where Christendom was a subject in school and Luther’s catechism a lesson to be learned by heart like the multiplication tables, I never had any direct and personal contact with our church. In my young mind it was a cold and dark place where the strict ministers told us to change our ways or we would forever be doomed. So we only went to church for family weddings, christenings and funerals. This indifferent attitude, however, did not mean that we were agnostics. We just did not go to church. My grandmother used to listen to the Sunday service on her radio. She knew and taught me many beautiful hymns and stories from the Bible. Bedtime prayer became a ritual from an early age. I did not dare go to sleep without asking God to bless my parents, my sister, my friends and myself. On sunny Sundays mother always told us to go and play outside and rejoice in the beautiful nature that God so generously had bestowed upon us. I guess it was our version of “freedom of religion.”

My husband’s family, however, attended the Congregational church in West Roxbury regularly. I came to understand that their church was much more than a building and a minister who preached every Sunday morning. It was a community of people who all knew each other. David never tired of telling me about sumptuous church suppers where all the mothers pitched in, about church outings and knitting circles and church dances. Imagine church dances! To me it was a total oxymoron.

During our long married life we moved several times. Whether we were too preoccupied, David with his career, I with raising our three daughters, to find a church to attend, I can’t say. We did try, but somehow remained undecided. Once, I remember fondly, we were invited to attend an African American Baptist church in Baltimore. I was totally mesmerized by the music and the voices. The Lutheran church we visited was too dogmatic, the Methodist not quite what we had in mind. So we politely shied away. I realized that joining a church in America was not an easy task.

Having come full circle back to the Boston area we started our search more earnestly. Our daughters were married in Congregational churches, yet for some reason we were not ready to join any of them. We attended various other services in the area but it was not until our daughter, Sarah, asked us to join her family for the Christmas service at the First Parish Church, that we literally saw the light. We returned several times and by the end of the year we knew. That is to say, David knew. He had found in this church what he had been searching for: a warm and sympathetic minister, a welcoming congregation, wonderful organ music and choir singing and last but not least the kind of church community that he so fondly remembered from his West Roxbury youth. We attended the Christmas supper. To our surprise and delight we were invited by friends to join them at the table set up in the apse of the beautiful Sears Chapel where David and I had only once peeked in. Its soaring Gothic- like architecture immediately reminded me of European cathedrals and gave me the same feeling of reverence and awe. For me personally that evening became the turning point, not only because of the beauty of the chapel, but for the immediate acceptance and warmth of the members we joined, for the commonality we found and for the joy I felt knowing that I had finally arrived.

How very fortuitous our decision was to join the First Parish Church last February, I did not realize at the time. Later on I have often reflected on God, on his divine grace and how in his loving, wondrous ways he has a plan for each and every one of us. As you may know, David passed away suddenly in June. The last Sunday service we attended together was in the chapel just a couple of weeks earlier. This has been a sad time for me but I have been comforted and strengthened by you as a congregation and as individual friends. So many of you have reached out to me in so many kind ways and it has touched me deeply. As I go forward I hope to give back some of these gifts that have been given to me so generously by the First Parish community. I praise our Lord for showing David and me the way and for giving me courage to continue.

May God bless this church and may his light perpetually shine upon us. Amen.

Created: Sep 25, 2000   |   Modified: Thurs., Aug.15, 2013