One hundred and fifty years ago, when the town of Darien was only 50 years old, there was a little church on Hollow Tree Ridge Road in Darien that local and area servants attended. The families they served went to the churches up on the hill in New Canaan.

“While the wealthy went to the bigger, congregational churches, a wagon would come around early on Sunday mornings and pick up any servants that wanted to attend church,” said Jennifer McCleery, a minister at Talmadge Hill Community Church, when describing the early years of the church, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

“This was the church they came to. There were people from every background,” added McCleery, of New Haven. “It was the church for the working families, the domestic help.”

In celebration of its sesquicentennial year, Talmadge Hill Community Church, at 870 Hollow Tree Ridge Road, Darien, has planned many special events throughout the year.

All the 200-member church’s anniversary events are centered on the theme Welcomed. Loved. Called. All events are free and open to the public. No RSVP is required for any of them.

Events

 Feb. 9, 16, 23 from 10 to 11 a.m. Courageous Conversations on Racism. This ties into February being Black History Month.

 March 15, 22, 29 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Speaker Series on Death, Dying and Grief

 April 19, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Courageous Conversations on the Environment

Other events, which take place later in the year include: Courageous Conversations on Forgiveness, Compassion, Change and Growth; and on Mental Health.

For more information, visit talmadgehill.org or call 203-966-2314.

“A lot of it will be interactive,” said Jon Morgan, chair of the church’s Unified Board. “We’ll create space for people to ask questions, voice their anxieties, their concerns, their resistance.”

Board member Lisa Michalski said the anniversary events “illuminate what is important to our community.”

McCleery said there are certain topics that society is grappling with as a culture. Among these are racism, climate control, gun control, the mental health crises, and anxiety.

“These are the conversations that people want to be having, and so we as a faith community wanted to go deeper into these topics with a spiritual lens,” McCleery added.

According to minister Carter Via, each topic will not only be introduced, but critical reflection will be encouraged, as well as action.

“We would like to come up with ways of saying ‘Here are some things that we might do as a community,’ and at least present those as options,” Via said.

Many of the events will be embedded into the church’s regular worship service.

“It’s our way of exploring during worship as a congregation, some of these difficult issues,” McCleery said.

Michalski said, “We are really listening and reading and learning — not so much for information and content, but for transformation. So, we want to create ways through these conversations of not just having more knowledge, but really allow that to change our way of seeing and change our way of being and change our way of living.”

Theme

In regard to the church’s theme, Welcomed, Loved, Called, “We use the past tense because we use the assumption that you’ve been welcomed before you even get here,” Via said.

When explaining “Loved,” Via, a Wilton resident, said, while “it’s easy to welcome anybody, sometimes, it’s harder once you get to know people, to love them. We assume that we’re committed to that when we know you with all your glory and all your warts. We’re still behind you. We still believe in you. We still want to help you discern your gifts and talents, and find ways to express those. That’s already happened before you get here. You’ve already been loved before you know you’re loved.”

When describing “Called,” Via said, “whatever experience you have in this place, it’s not just for you, it’s to be shared. We make this assumption that people have a purpose to give something back to the world. We hope that we do that with some consistency.”

“Unique”

John Morgan, Unified Board chair, said one aspect of the church that makes it unique is its size.

“We are small. We are a community. You can’t walk into this sanctuary and not be known or not become known,” Morgan said. “We go out of our way to make this a community of care and love and accountability.”

“We’ve turned a cute church on the corner into a really strong and deep community,” he added.

Michalski focused on the values of the church when expressing its uniqueness.

“In the middle of Darien, Connecticut, Fairfield County, in the United States of America, there is this awareness that the world encourages and rewards wealth and power and accumulation and striving for more,” she said. “We live a different way. There is a world that’s desperate for healing and for hope, and we try to encourage this in ways that are about humility and about honesty.”

Michalski spoke about taking action. “There’s this real need to figure out how to take those good intentions and make some real changes, and to bring them out into our lives and into our streets and into our shopping experiences and work.”

Looking ahead to the future, McCleery said the church should celebrate its birthday, “but we should also be turning out to the wider community and we should also be thinking about future generations,” she said. “We are just the current stewards of this church at this time, but they’ll be taking it over. We want to leave this place better than it is for the next generation.”

When describing the church’s 150th birthday, Michalski said, “The idea that a community of faith would have a continuing experience of gathering together for all of this time is pretty remarkable.”

sfox@darientimes.com