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First Congregational Church of Chappaqua

history of the church

The First Congregational Church (FCC) has a rich history of uniting together with those of similar minds and spirits, which began with the coming together of settlers in a second floor auditorium, travels through many stages of building and growing through the years to end in the beautiful welcoming brick edifice we now occupy. Over the years the changes of time and demographics have caused the membership to grow and change in many ways. Founded on the principals of the New England town meeting, whose precepts follow those of the Magna Carta, FCC allows and encourages each member to participate through informed opinion and devoted action, both during its annual meeting and in its various activities and board functions during the year.

senior ministers

reverend martha jacobs

2007 - Present

The FCC of today celebrates our founding and remains a pillar of this community, as we also seek to serve the wider community. With the 2019 pandemic, we entered the technological age and started livestreaming our worship services. So, whether we are worshiping in our Sanctuary or outside or in our air conditioned Centennial Hall, we are staying connected to those both near and far.

Our congregation is diverse, although we welcome even more diversity as we seek to fulfill our Open and Affirming Statement that all are truly welcome. That was made abundantly clear when we called as our first openly gay and female Senior Minister, The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs. Rev. Jacobs helped us revamp our by-laws and governance structure. She brought to FCC a spirit of welcoming and openness that was intentionally started by her predecessor, The Rev. Tom Lenhart. Rev. Lenhart led the congregation through its Open and Affirming process.

1960 - 2007

The Rev. Dr. Timothy Ives was called by the Congregation in 1988. He preceded Rev. Lenhart. Rev. Ives followed The Rev. Richard Ryder, who served the congregation subsequent to the Rev. Dr. Vernon Loescher. Rev. Loescher’s tenure saw the revamping of the organizational structure of the church, establishing the Church Council as the main governing body and giving various boards the responsibility of managing various aspects of church life. The change in the area’s demographics marked the end of the population growth at FCC, which prompted the changes in the Church’s structure. Rev. Loescher replaced the beloved Dr. Kenneth Nye, who retired in 1961.

earlier church history

The FCC of today celebrates our founding in 1911 and remains a pillar of this community, as we also seek to serve the wider community. With the 2019 pandemic, we entered the technological age and started livestreaming our worship services. So, whether we are worshiping in our Sanctuary or outside or in our air conditioned Centennial Hall, we are staying connected to those both near and far.

Our congregation is diverse, although we welcome even more diversity as we seek to fulfill our Open and Affirming Statement that all are truly welcome. That was made abundantly clear when we called as our first openly gay and female Senior Minister, The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs helped us revamp our by-laws and governance structure. She brought to FCC a spirit of welcoming and openness that was intentionally started by her predecessor, The Rev. Tom Lenhart. Rev. Lenhart led the Congregation through its Open and Affirming process in 2012, unanimously approving it in January of 2013.

The Rev. Dr. Timothy Ives was called by the Congregation in 1988. He preceded Rev. Lenhart. Rev. Ives followed The Rev. Richard Ryder, who served the Congregation subsequent to the Rev. Dr. Vernon Loescher. Rev. Loescher’s tenure saw the revamping of the organizational structure of the church, establishing the Church Council as the main governing body and giving various boards the responsibility of managing various aspects of Church life. Rev. Loescher replaced the beloved Dr. Kenneth Nye, who retired in 1961.

Our Church has had a long history of supporting our youth and children. The children have spurred mission and outreach work that has inspired our adults! They raised funds to donate “a gift ark” for Heifer International; helped rebuild communities from our more local disaster responses to working with Bridges to Communities; led an effort to raise funds for the Nyaka AIDS Orphans project with Author Twesigye Jackson Kaguri visiting FCC and speaking about his work to build schools, etc., for his village; supported local ASPCA needs; raised funds for Hospice of Westchester; and, most recently, are raising funds for The Fresh Air Fund. Each year they pick an organization that they want to support and the adults help them achieve their goal of helping others through supporting lemonade stands, bake sales, car washes, etc.

We continue to grow and change with the times and look forward to being in this community for another hundred plus years! Come join us in our efforts to create a place where, with open hearts and open hands, we care for each other and the wider world through prayer, connections and compassion.

To read our full history, please click here.

1911 - 1914

The founding father of FCC was Emilie Barnes Turner. She and her husband, Spencer, were members of the Madison Avenue Reformed Church. It was she who, on August 19, 1911, called on Clyde Nisbeth to broach the idea of a Congregational Church in Chappaqua. In less than a month (September 11) a small group – Clyde Nisbeth, Henry Pratt, Samuel Thompson, Dr. W. W. Mills, and William R. Coffee – had met with Mrs. Turner at her home, and agreed on a letter to be sent to residents of the community. They invited people to have an open discussion as to the advisability of starting a Congregational Church in Chappaqua. 30 people attended. Their enthusiasm led them to “gather the congregation” on January 21, 1912. The Rev. John Huber assisted the congregation.

During the next months and years, the new congregation, faced with limited membership and resources, worked to develop a meaningful program for the existing members and new members. They also planned how to finance and build a new structure for the worship and work of the church since they were worshiping on the second floor of a building.

At the first Annual Meeting on April 27, 1912, the following officers were elected: Deacons: Clyde Nisbeth, Henry Pratt, Dr. W. W. Mills, Warren Matthews, E.C. Haviland, Fred Sutton; Treasurer: E. R. Pratt.

The Rev. Tiffany Otis Barnes, a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, provided ministerial leadership until his death in 1918. The Barnes Memorial organ in the stone church (the first location of FCC) was dedicated to his memory.

In April of 1912, the Constitution was approved and discussions began on construction of a new worship space. Property on the northwest corner of Orchard Ridge and King Street was purchased for $2,700. Sufficient funds were raised by August, 1914, when the ground-breaking took place. The cornerstone containing a Bible, membership and Sunday school lists, pictures, a church calendar, and local newspapers, was laid on October 24, 1914. The stone church (as it came to be called) was literally built by members of the church.

1930 - 1960

In 1930, the Rev. Galen Russell began a pastorate that focused on the importance of lay leadership. He and his wife were instrumental in sponsoring an interdenominational youth group for 15 to 25 year-olds known as the Hillside Club, the Men’s Club of Chappaqua, Girl Scout Troop #1, and the Quaintance Club (predecessor to the popular Couples’ Club of the 1960’s) and other activities that served to attract many new members. His tenure ended in 1943.  Under various ministers, membership increased by 50% and the budget grew to almost $7000. Growth in the ensuing years forced the congregation to start considering finding a larger space. In 1945, a program was launched to fund the building of a new parish center.

The population increase (soon to be called the baby boom) caused the space-strapped church to send church school classes to the Friends Meeting House a block down King Street or the Baptist Church even further down the street. The arrival of The Rev. Dr. Ken Nye provided FCC with the impetus and excitement to embark on a project, which we now appreciate as our current worship space, at the other end of Orchard Ridge Road at Bedford Road.

The chronology for the new property and building was as follows:

  • February 28, 1948 – Congregation authorized purchase of property – $7,500
  • February 28, 1949 – Authorization of fundraising campaign – pledges were $79,000 received
  • May 30, 1950 – Construction of parish center authorized – $218,000
  • April 29, 1951 – Ground breaking service
  • September 23, 1951 – Cornerstone service for entire building (corner of Memorial Room)
  • September 1952 – Parish center completed
  • June 26, 1955 – Sanctuary completed

 

Many new classrooms for the church school and a new kitchen for the Women’s Society fostered even more activity and growth at FCC. These spaces and the Parish Hall were well used to house fund-raising dinners, Boy Scout Troop #2, the Christmas Fair and Barn Sale.

By the mid 1950’s, FCC had again outgrown its space and was holding two worship services and seating worshipers in the halls with loudspeakers transmitting the service to those who could not be accommodated in the Parish Hall. A church population of almost 1000 was worshiping in a space intended to accommodate about 250. In June 1955, a new sanctuary with an east-west aspect, a chancel for the organ and choir and link containing offices connecting it to the existing structure was dedicated. FCC became the social and spiritual hub of the Protestant community in the area.

Once the physical worship needs of the congregation were met, Dr. Nye, turned to improvement of its spiritual health. The Rev. Alfred D. Moore was called as Associate Minister of Visitation to assist Dr. Nye in ministering to the ever-increasing flock. In 1959, a much-needed increase in available church school space and the completion of office and choir and music rooms was undertaken. Membership had risen to nearly 1500 and Church School enrollment had swelled to almost 1000. In 1960, The Rev. Ed McLane arrived to sharpen the focus on Christian Education. He is perhaps most famous for his “Commuter Congregation” on the 7:05 train to Grand Central Station.

1960 - 1988

The change of the area’s demographics marked the end of the population growth at FCC and the retirement of Dr. Nye, who was replaced in 1965 by The Rev. Dr. Vernon Loescher whose tenure saw the revamping of the organizational structure of the church, establishing the Church Council as the main governing body and giving various boards the responsibility of managing various aspects of church life.

Dr. Loescher was replaced in the mid 1970’s by The Rev. Richard Ryder. When Rev. Ryder decided to move to Florida in 1988, The Rev. Timothy Ives became FCC’s spiritual leader, followed, in 2007 by The Rev. Tom Lenhart. Under Rev. Lenhart’s leadership, in 2013, the church passed an Open and Affirming Statement, intentionally welcoming all people into our church. In 2014, the church called its first female Senior Minister and openly gay person, The Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs.

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people gathered for outdoor worship
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keith robellard playing organ for church service

keith robellard

Keith has served as the Director of Music at FCC for over 30 years. In 2014, at a luncheon celebrating his 25 years at FCC he was officially given the title of Minister of Music. He was educated at Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory; Keith has worked for the Manhattan School of Music, where he was director of chamber music; the First Reformed Episcopal Church, both in New York City; accompanist-choir director at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester; and served on the faculty of Rippowam Cisqua School. He was dean of the Westchester AGO Chapter from 1997-1998.

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jonathan riedel with sunday school children in front of black lives matter sign

Jonathan Riedel

Jonathan Riedel, our Director of Christian Education, has been a member of FCC Chappaqua since 2018. A life-long student of Judeo/Christian traditions, he also studies Buddhist philosophy, world religions, yoga, meditation, Kung Fu, and considers the Arts and creative expression as integral to his spiritual beliefs, practices, and teaching.  

While undertaking his work with our children, Jonathan discerned a call to ordained ministry. He is currently under care of FCC and the Hudson Mohawk Association of the New York Conference of the UCC. He is enrolled at the New York School of Ministry. 

He began his professional career as a dancer with the Limón Dance Company (limon.org) in NYC, touring and performing throughout the US, Europe and South America. He then began his own company, Riedel Dance Theater (riedeldancetheater.org) that he helmed to critical acclaim for over ten years.  Jonathan has been on the faculties of The Boston Conservatory, Brown University, Pace University, and currently, his alma mater, Purchase College (BFA 2001, MFA 2011).  He has been a guest teacher at the Juilliard School, LABAN (UK), Good Moves Dance Consort (Atlanta, GA) and the Steffi Nossen School (White Plains, NY.)  An artist of many media, Jonathan also leads the industrial rock band, Rubber Skulls (rubberskulls.com). He creates original, punk-inspired hats and jackets under the brand, Righteous Stitch (righteousstitch.org). He is currently working on a series of fantasy children’s books and also refurbishes used stuffed animals with hand-made unicorn horns for his side project, Horns-A-Plenty (find them on FB!).  He is a proud son, brother, husband, father of two, and resident of Pleasantville, NY. 

Jonathan’s Sunday School classes explore prayers, songs, and stories from the Bible and what they might mean. He hopes to inspire in his students spiritual curiosity, self-awareness, inter-religious tolerance, and a life-long appreciation for God, love, and all things divine. He does so through his weekly youth messages, age-appropriate Q&A sessions, outreach and charity initiatives, art and crafting projects, and creating original plays with the class.  He loves his job, his students and the entire FCC community. If you have any questions about the Christian Education program at FCC, feel free to contact Jonathan.

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wedding ceremony reverend martha with bride and groom
reverend martha with confirmation class

the Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs

Martha has been our pastor since April of 2014. She came to FCC after a 20+ year career as a professional chaplain. Martha graduated from New York Theological Seminary with her doctorate in 2005. Her book, A Clergy Guide to End of Life Issues, has been a must-read for seminary students, clergy and lay people. She continues to teach and lead workshops both nationally and internationally on end-of-life issues.  For several years, she blogged about end of life issues for The Huffington Post. Martha believes that the greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is letting them know what our wishes are as we near the end of our lives.

Martha was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, the youngest of 4 children. She was raised Jewish, and converted to Christianity when she was 17, having been exposed to Jesus when a friend asked her to sing some solos at his church. She learned about a different kind of God than she had been exposed to growing up. She learned about a God who was inside of her. And, she learned about Jesus, who she uses as her role model, mentor and rabbi. 

Martha loved being a chaplain. However, after more than 20 years of being present with patients and families as they dealt with some of the most difficult times of their lives, she realized that God was calling her to serve in a church. Her greatest concern, when discerning her call to become our pastor, was that she would not being able to come up with a sermon every Sunday. But, so far, more than 8 years after accepting the call to FCC, Martha has had a meaningful message for us each Sunday. She relates it to what is happening in our world and in our lives and tries to give us some respite from the difficulties of our world. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t talk about the difficulties we face, but she tries to put them into perspective and brings God into the conversation around how we live our lives and how we function in our world and how we treat each other. Because FCC members and friends span the spectrum of political and social activists, she preaches about the issues, and how Jesus expects us to handle them and not the politics that can often divide people. 

Martha has a healing and loving and accepting spirit. She has helped us to accept that we are human and make mistakes and that God does forgive us for the things we don’t necessarily do that are in the best interests of ourselves or others. She has also opened our hearts and hands and minds to help us to not just tolerate people who are different from us, but to actually welcome and embrace them for all that they are. 

Martha has been with her spouse, Pat Yost, for more than 40 years. While Pat did not expect to be married to a minister (they met when they were both in the theatre), she has become an important part of our church in her own right. She pitches in and helps us, as does Martha, when we have our Barn Sale, Tag Sale and other church events. They are both hands-on, and have helped us celebrate all that we are. 

Truly, Martha embodies – no matter who you are or where you are on your life journey – you are welcome to FCC.