[This is a speech presented in Scarsdale Congregational Church on October 21,
2007, about his life relative to religion. It's pretty good and to the point.]
I, Glen Nygreen, have been a member of the Scarsdale Congregational Church for more than 44 years. How did this come to be?
When my paternal ancestors came to the United States in the late 1860’s they created the town called Cokato in Minnesota west of Minneapolis. The first community building they erected was a church. As a boy I asked my grandfather what denomination was it. It took some explaining but he finally understood. He replied dismissively “It didn’t make any difference as long as it wasn’t Lutheran.”
This puzzled me until I realized that in Sweden at that time the government paid the salaries of the clergy. When the government wanted to discourage emigration they pressured the priests to preach against emigration. The emigrants were incensed at this. They rejected the Lutheran church for using the clergy to thwart the will of the people. They turned instead to the American Baptist model of self-determining congregations.
I grew up in a Baptist church in the Pacific Northwest. I sang in the choir as a boy tenor. I studied in what was a “teacher training class.” It was the “great depression era.” Our congregation could afford only a semi-retired minister when a pulpit vacancy needed to be filled. The Rev. Eugene Carstens was in his seventies. He managed to be appointed to the Board of Directors of the local library and used that position to enforce his view of what was acceptable in adding new volumes.
James Joyce was the author of a controversial novel which was in the news. As a library patron I was privileged to file a written request for the library to add “Ulysses” to the stacks. When that request appeared on the Board’s agenda Rev. Carstens used the occasion to preach a fervid sermon denouncing any plan to purchase it for circulation. Now Rev. Carstens had a large scar from a carbuncle removal from his neck. From my seat in the choir loft I watched that scar become flaming red as he fulminated. I was the guilty party for having requested that book purchase, although he didn’t know that.
When soon thereafter I left home to transfer to the University of Washington in Seattle I couldn’t be comfortable with the evangelical posturing of the Baptist churches. I soon found the University Congregational Church (UCC!) to be an open, diverse, and community centered group. As my academic career proceeded and after naval service in World War II We moved to Kent State University in Ohio as a dean and professor. There the Kent Congregational Church was the same open and affirming congregation as the University church in Seattle.
When in 1963 I moved to what became the City University of New York as a Dean and professor we settled in Scarsdale/Edgemont and found the Scarsdale Congregational Church to be cast in the same mold of Congregational Churches.
Why did we stay?
The United Church of Christ bids its members –
“do justice –
seek peace –
We found the community members to be warm in fellowship, accepting of the views and life experiences of others, open to considering the convictions of others, and ready to explore ways to make a difference in the lives of those who come within our purview. We learn from each other.
How has this congregation changed during our years of sharing? In the beginning the worshipping services for adults was quite separate from that for children and youth. Today we begin our worship services with a time spent with children to the delight of everyone. We treasure our family oriented culture.
Why go to church at all?
We need the perspectives of others if we are to build community. I am blessed to be associated with a company of friends whose character and commitments enrich my life and challenge me to find new paths of service.