Character Number Four

And then there was Don Emig.

In January 1958, when Doris and I moved with four year old Nigel and two year old Nick from Montreal to Rowayton, CT so that I could commute to New York, we joined the United Church of Rowayton.  There we first met the pastor, Donald W. Emig.  The church met at the old school house on a small hill by the last mile of the Five Mile River on its way to the Long Island Sound.  Rowayton’s population was a mixture of crab fishermen, artists and artisans but Don realized that he had a new influx of young couples  with a few  kids, a dog and a station wagon, all buying their first house and he started a club for them called the Two-by-Two Club.  We met in the school house and had events like Show and Tell.  I took boomerangs and talked about them and one time I took my 3inch refractor telescope.  On another occasion, we had a night telescope event at our private Rowayton beach.  We also played a lot of volley ball and badminton.  We even had a revue we wrote and presented to the church members and we thought it was so good that we repeated it in public at the Silvermine Tavern restaurant.  Don Emig and his wife were constant participants and supporters.  On Sundays our congregation came by car, foot, bicycle and even by boat.  Coffee and food were served in the basement before and after services and the whole atmosphere was very social.  Don’s sermons were largely about events of the week and he always referred to the national news.  It was said, rather dis-respectfully, that the last time Jesus Christ was mentioned in our church was when the janitor fell down the stairs.  When our family left Rowayton in 1965, The Two-by Two Club members gave us a beautiful oil painting of Five Mile River showing the church in the background.  It is hanging on my wall as I write.

In 1961, Don was Chairman of the Building Committee and a new place of worship was contemplated. A Fund Raising Committee was formed and I was one of the members of what I thought was far too large a group.  Little did I know at the time, but because we were being lectured by a professional fund raiser, it became obvious slowly that we were the target of the brain-washing.  I know, because I had considered donating $250 originally and while listening to the classes I was shamed and wound up donating $2500.  Much of the success of our committee was due to the member’s donations, but to be fair, I must say we did learn how to overcome the initial reluctance of donors and we had great success with some of the very wealthy residents.  With money in hand, Don Emig searched for a building designer and settled on Joseph Salerno of near-by Westport.  Joe had never designed a church but that didn’t matter because Don did not want a typical New England church.  He wanted a design to satisfy the needs of our unusual community and stressed that we were unique.  Salerno came up with a remarkable edifice in which the congregation could sit in a circle and smile at each other around a table, a cross and a pulpit.  The outside was dramatic, looking a bit like a whelk with unique colored glass high above creating rainbow-like splashes that moved across the interior during the service.  Salerno had the privilege of receiving the highest award of the American Institute of Architects and having it presented in the presence of other architects like Eero Saaringen and Minoru Yamasaki.

One Sunday in early 1962, we all went to the building site with shovels and had a great ground-breaking with kids and old people all digging away. The church was dedicated in 1962 and Don Emig must have been a contented pastor.  He remained as pastor of the United Church for a total of 40 years, doing much more for the community by leading the project to build homes for lower income Rowayton individuals and families.

 

3 thoughts on “Character Number Four

  1. The church looked like an upside ice cream cone! I remember singing carols around a tree in the deep snow and then going inside for hot chocolate and donuts! Now, ONLY wealthy people can afford to live in Rowayton. Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes fame lived there for many years, I heard.

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