June 5, 2020

Letter to the Editor: Old Lyme Clergy Speak Out in Support of Affordable Housing

To the Editor:

On Tuesday evening, June 5, a public hearing was held in the Middle School Auditorium concerning the proposed affordable housing project, sponsored by the Hope Partnership.  As the clergy from the First Congregational Church and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, we sat through the meeting and listened to a very thoughtful and careful proposal from Hope, and from its team of planners.  We appreciated the structure of the meeting outlined by the Zoning Commission.  We also heard, by contrast, the comments and catcalls of residents, many of whom were vitriolic, spiteful, and willfully disruptive.  It was not a proud moment for Old Lyme.  It was, in fact, quite embarrassing, for it revealed some of the most dreadful tendencies that can emerge in small towns such as the one in which we all reside. 

It was apparent in the hearings that some residents had spent considerable intellectual energy to challenge the work that Hope Partners put into their proposal.  We can only wish that those same individuals used that energy to solve problems of housing, or poverty, rather than disrupting the work of a trustworthy organization focused on providing housing for everyone from firefighters to returning veterans, postal workers to retail workers and far more.  We could hope that they might have used their knowledge to solve some of the issues they claim to have uncovered.  We still hope that those individuals might use their wisdom and experience to help move a worthy project forward, helping to diversify our community, that others might enjoy what is truly good about this town.

As clergy, we believe we’re called to a better and higher way.  We believe there’s room for dialogue, respect, and civil disagreement in public forums.  And we believe that there are better angels within us all that may yet emerge.

We also believe that Old Lyme needs affordable housing.  We further believe that Hope Partners have carefully and thoughtfully selected an appropriate site for such housing in Old Lyme.  To provide shelter is an injunction and virtue at the center of all the Abrahamic faith traditions.  But it stands at the center of our democratic tradition as well.  There are those in our midst who desperately need shelter.  Some are elderly, as one person courageously reminded us on Tuesday.  Some are young families struggling to get by.  Some are recent college graduates, working several jobs to get a foothold in a shrinking labor market.  Some come to us from different parts of the world, striving to make a new life in the United States.  Affordable housing is a powerful way of providing shelter, when shelter is in short supply.

Every Christmas, each of our congregations rehearses the story of Mary and Joseph, turned away from their own quest for shelter because, the story tells us, “there was no room for them in the inn.”  We appeal to our fellow residents to seek a different, and better response, one that says, “There is room in our inn.  There is room in the town of Old Lyme.”

We believe that’s what the better angels of our humanity call us to in a moment such as this.

In faith.


Rev. Dr. Steven R. Jungkeit, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
Rev. Mark K. J. Robinson, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Old Lyme
Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
Rev. Carleen Gerber, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme



  1. Mary Waldron says

    There is a huge amount of room in my inn. And damn it, I try to be a better angel all the time.

    There are 4 special souls of God who are telling me I am wrongheaded, inept, against need and against poverty? This is insane.

    HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT? I am HUGELY AND PERSONALLY INSULTED, at Steve and Mark first, and for a long time to come. Where’s the Roman?

    Is that because we don’t agree with the way this town has been governed by leaders who threaten to fire employees who dare to disagree? Who keep news of events we might not like hidden from the electors? Who hide behind the “saintly” “compassionate” labels of not-for-profits who appear to be USED?

    I won’t be in the hallowed halls tomorrow, I will be home getting to know the mean-spirited new me.

  2. Paula Sadlon says

    It is time for these sanctimonious, self righteous “church” leaders to cease imposing on us their beliefs and social agenda. Perhaps it is the time for them to leave town.

  3. Tammy Hinckley says

    I cannot believe that four of our town’s relgous leaders wrote such a condemning and judgmental letter. It is a very sad sign of our current social climate in our country. Everyone wants diversity unless it involves diversity of thought. VERY SAD.

  4. Renee Durant says

    I don’t think it’s so much that the good people of Old Lyme are against affordable housing, I think their discontent is with the way this is all being presented. A lot of studies are missing or not presented. It gives the appearance that the developers are not being transparent. I think from what I observed that the citizens are distrustful. It’s not like you are building a trailer park amongst million dollar homes. There are a lot of average priced homes in Old Lyme, so I don’t think the people are against affordable housing, I think they are against feeling like they are being duped. If this is a good project, then everyone will embrace it, but I think the mistrust is that the developers are going to build it under the guise of affordable housing thinking that will get people to support it and then down the road, it will be something else. My concern is for the estuaries and the Connecticut River. I’d like to see the environmental studies of all the sewage and water drainage and the estimated water usage from the well sources and all of these impacts on the neighbours and wetlands.

  5. Jeff Flower says

    If just perhaps those higher Christians might just listen to the lower persons. They might begin to understand that the Developers have missed the point. Most of those amongst us are not against affordable housing, They are against this LOCATION, which if I am not mistaken, was described by their Traffic Engineer as dangerous, if the state would not change the Yield sign to a Stop sign. The State said NO according to his testimony. Why has the developer not withdrawn, after proving the case against the project.

    Most of you have not lived in the area long enough to remember there was a time with a Stop sign. During that time there was a backup of traffic which often extended across the bridge to at times Clinton and up rout 9 to exit 2. Usually from about 11am Saturday to about 2pm. Even that was not so bad, except for those who needed to use the travel or breakdown lanes to jump ahead of the traffic. Sundays reversed the problem. There were many accidents, injuries. The new bridge, with it’s dedicated exit lane and Yield sign, towards the beach, solved this problem for the most part. It did however, take 20 years or so for the majority to turn South without stopping. Now, you want to reverse progress so a developer can make a profit on a poor piece of land under the guise of affordable housing. Shame on you for not listening to your flock.

    • Renee Durant says

      Mr. Flowers, I remember those back ups all the way up Route 9 on Friday afternoons and the reverse on Sunday afternoons. It’s scary hearing of all the fatalities on 95 by Old Lyme as it is. I would think a Christian, especially a Congregationslist minister, would be concerned about the prospects of performing a service over a child’s grave when the school bus stop for at least forty children will be there on 156. I gasped when I heard the gentleman say that the school bus stop would be on Halls Road entrance. I happy when Jane Marsh took up the microphone and responded saying what we were all thinking. You can’t put the children on the bus at that entrance intersection on Halls Road. It’ll get hit in the rear.

  6. Mary Waldron says

    In my 76.5 years, I have never been called prejudiced, or selfish, or uncompassionate, by anyone, much less by the cloth.

    I actually don’t know how to work myself beyond this. Incredible disappointment with the men of God.

    I am training myself to believe that these people of the cloth have missed several large points in this whole mess. But God’s priests are not meant to misjudge the motivation of their followers. Or at least say it out loud. I feel I am owed an apology by them.

    Points they might have missed:
    – We don’t trust our elected officials; we don’t like the way they behave, and we are old enough and smart enough to know when our elected officials are not representing us the way we want. This is a democracy, right?
    – The project is a mess, and that’s not an intellectual statement. We are not going to accept a mess just in order to provide affordable housing, or any other kind of housing. This town is not that kind of town.
    – Whether we were born to founding fathers or to recent immigrants, we think this force feeding of errors is the wrong solution to the problem.

    Now how do I deal with my anger at holy people who are not meant to let you down, but have done so, egregiously?

  7. Mary Bauchmann says

    I am appalled by the letter from our town’s religious leaders. I cannot believe they want to portray the towns people as vitriol and spiteful idiots. I was at that meeting and found everyone wanting to listen and understand a project that has impact on our community. No one was rude. They all were respectful giving their opinions which this meeting is set up to express those concerns. No one opposed adordable housing just the location. I cannot believe our clergy can write such an opinionated and spiteful letter about the towns people. You are using your religious calling to push your own opinions and not really listening to the concerns made that night. It is clear which “ side” you are on about the Hope project and feel you can stand on your self righteous soapbox about what you feel is right and knock down others opinions. There was a “side” at the meeting about affordable housing in Old Lyme. People are concerned about the location.

  8. Jeff Flower says

    To complain about the boisterous comments, is to show your lack of understanding of New England Town Meetings

  9. Katy Klarnet says

    Thank you to the Reverends. Thank you for speaking up. I agree with everything you said, and I am sorry to see some of the comments that have been posted in reply. There are a lot of loud and angry people in this town and I’m sorry they’re so unhappy but I don’t think it’s because of this proposal. They don’t speak for many of us.

  10. Ann Hinckley says

    TO: Four Reverends
    RE: Lack of correct understanding of 5 June meeting
    1. The Four Reverends have violated our country’s sacred concept of Separation of Church and State.
    2. The Four Reverends completely and absolutely missed the entire concept that the resident with “intellectual energy” was trying to explain to us. You did NOT listen.
    3. The Tenth Commandment was egregiously violated. The Four Reverends tried to crucify the resident with “intellectual energy”——-who happens to be YOUR NEIGHBOR in Old Lyme.
    4. Abraham, I am sure, is most displeased in you. You have yet to be called to a higher way.

  11. Tammy Hinckley says

    Dear Steven, Mark, Laura and Carleen,

    I was raised Southern Baptist and converted to Catholicism after my first child was born. Needless to say, I have heard a lot of sermons and homilies over the years but I have never been judged or chastised by my clergy for voicing my legitimate concerns and ideas. In my opinion, you have forsaken God’s will for your own. You are valuing your own good intentions over the possible safety and environmental problems that may be present within this particular project site.

    Indeed, as clergy, you have been called to a higher and better way. I humbly suggest you take your own advice and prayerfully contemplate whether your letter and involvement in this matter adheres to your own standards. As clergy, I can appreciate how you would want to feed the hungry, cloth the poor and welcome the stranger. However, would you want to feed the hungry a steady diet of McDonald’s? Would you cloth the poor in rags? Would you welcome the stranger into a property that is potentially dangerous and unhealthy? We can do better. As clergy, you should do better.

    As for my husband’s expenditure of intellectual energy; I can assure you, he has enough to go around. He has performed such deeds as building power plants in Africa to teaching CCD right here in Connecticut. All while not allowing his left hand to know what his right hand was doing.

    I would love to be on board with the HOPE program if only they were not so short sighted and in a rush to get approval for a project without due diligence.

    As a native Houstonian, I love the idea of a diverse community. It was how I was raised. We regularly travel to compensate for the lack of diversity in our town. However, the issue of diversity is not something that is accomplished by simple importation. If we want to be a welcoming community, we should start with welcoming the diverse thoughts and opinions that already exist in our town.

    I look forward to your responses.

    Yours in Christ-
    Tammy Hinckley

  12. Christopher j morosky says

    I moved up here and struggled to find a church that I could truly worship God and be encouraged to have a personal relationship with my Savior. As clergymen, I understand that you are tax exempt which in my opinion excludes you from this conversation. As clergymen you are to teach what the Bible says and encourage others to live like Christ.
    We are so lucky to live in such a wonderful community with wonderful people with great ideas. There is no need to rush into a decision to have affordable housing, other than some people’s pockets. We are to serve others and love others but I don’t need you to tell me I am not a good Christian just because I don’t agree with your point of you. I think the government should look into your tax exempt status!
    You may not feel the brundt of any decision that is made regarding this housing project. But don’t expect the good people here to take your view lightly. You should be a person that is encouraging unity not division. You may leave Old Lyme and began preaching at another church sharing the same old rhetoric. Which by the way, preachers are not suppose to be weighing in on political matters.
    I lived down south where affordable housing equaled increased crime rates and higher drug rates. Not only that but I’ve never lived somewhere where there are so many deadly wrecks right at our exit. We can’t just pour more and more people here. Let’s investigate this, look how other communities are managing. No need to rush into something that may not be the best for our community.
    We have such a sweet, loving, wonderful community. We are by no means rich, but we knew this is where we wanted to raise our family. We are so lucky to have friends to call family!
    You will not bully me into agreeing with you just because you are a clergymen. Preach what the Bible says and you’ll be ok, not want you want your own agenda to be!

    • Mark kus says

      I am a lifelong resident of Old Lyme and I believe in helping those of our communities first and foremost .
      Has anyone given any thought towards the elderly in town who are also lifelong residents and would
      Like nothing more than to remain in town in affordable housing.
      And I also believe in helping others but it’s time to put our country and lifelong citizens first not people who will not assimilate to our culture and become a US citizen the proper way!
      We need to put our vets and elderly first and give back to them for all their sacrifices we owe them

  13. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    So, what is the clerical equivalent of barefoot and pregnant”? These clerics have the right to speak out on their social agenda. Those not sharing that agenda have the same right to speak in opposition. Perhaps the vitriol of Old Lyme’s collective response may emanate from the trickle- down of the ”new normal” of rhetoric from the White House. As often mis-attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

  14. sloan m danenhower says

    Don’t you church people get it? It’s the right church but the wrong pew! (L.O.L.!) By and large those in opposition to affordable housing, in THIS CASE, think so due to location, NOT the idea.

    The FACT that the state D.O.T. will NOT allow a stop sign to replace the yield at the end of the I-95 exit 70 ramp should be reason enough for DENIAL of that location in itself; never mind the other significant reasons.

  15. Maybe the clergy miss the point when referencing the Christmas Story. As I always saw it, as a child and an adult in the Congregational Meeting House, as a member of the audience and a participant, when the Inn was full Mary and Joseph were led, by a kindly innkeeper, to a safe place where Mary “brought forth her newborn son”. I never saw it as them being turned away just being led to a safe place, the place they needed to be. After all these years I guess I was wrong……..

  16. Nancy Bell says

    Thank you for posting a letter to remind all of us that we really need to stop and listen. And, most of all, live by the Golden Rule.

  17. I am very disappointed that Churches are engaging in political movements and insulting and entire community that disagrees with them. That action alone should remove them from tax exempt status. As a member of the community I kept quiet when the Church harbored wanted fugitives in the name of God. Which way does the Church want it? A place of faith and worship or political movement? I would find it very difficult to hear the word of God from a politically motivated organization.

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