Faith matters: Longtime religious leaders retiring
Published 10:48 am, Monday, June 17, 2013
Frank Hall, minister of Westport Unitarian Church, and Rabbi Robert Orkand, of Temple Israel, have presided over neighboring congregations at the intersection of Lyons Plain Road and Coleytown Road since the early 1980s.
The two clergymen, who have lunched together weekly for 24 years, are now retiring at the same time.
"It's time," said Hall, 72.
Hall and Orkand both said the interfaith cooperation between churches and synagogues has been a highlight of their ministries.
"The clergy (in Westport) are, by and large, very liberal in their thinking," said Orkand, 67, who came to Temple Israel in 1982. "Therefore it is easier to accept the presence of others."
Hall, who does not believe in God and does not consider himself a Christian, often uses poetry and metaphors to preach about the need for "salvation by character."
"Salvation isn't what happens after you die. It's what happens maybe after you're born if you live a good life," Hall said.
Most of his congregation would be considered religious humanists, he said.
"A religious humanist believes that whatever is divine is the spark that's within every human. It's not about what you believe, it's how you live your life."
Hall, who was raised a Congregationalist, said that along the religious spectrum, he's "as far to the left as you can get without falling off." Nevertheless, he has always felt respected by other Westport clergy.
"Here I have felt a legitimate member of the clergy. And while sometimes they kid about my approach to theology as metaphor, they respect it. It's been a wonderful, supportive, collegial group."
Orkand and Hall both knew little about Westport when they assumed their ministries here. Orkand, a native of Los Angeles, served in the rabbinate in Miami, Fla., and Rockford, Ill., before coming to Westport in 1982.
Hall, one of nine children, grew up in Massachusetts and had an early interest in the ministry.
"I grew up in a big, working class family -- and a church was a sane place."
He had reservations about coming to Westport in 1984.
"Westport had a reputation of being hard on ministers, tough, critical," Hall said.
But the bucolic setting of the Unitarian church helped persuade him.
"What was perfect about it for me is the architecture is a statement about the relationship between humans and nature," he said.
Orkand also had an early interest in becoming a preacher.
"Ever since I was a young child, I was very involved in my synagogue in Los Angeles, and I really liked being there," Orkand said.
He arrived in Westport as just the second senior rabbi in the 55-year history of Temple Israel and succeeded Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, who served for 24 years.
"What I figured out was to think that you can go into a place and immediately make lots of changes, it doesn't work," Orkand said. "I had to get to know people, listen to them."
Temple Israel was the only synagogue in town back then, but has since been joined by the Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston and Wilton, and Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk.
"It was a very eclectic place, trying to serve the needs of Jews from many different backgrounds. That forced me to listen as well," Orkand said.
Hall, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease five years ago, is planning to remain in Westport with his wife, Lory, a hospice worker. He has two children, two grandchildren and a stepdaughter.
He said he intends to write, and he is brainstorming a book about what it means to be spiritual without being religious.
Orkand is moving to Natick, Mass., with his wife, Joyce, at the end of June to be closer to their son, Seth, who lives in Boston with his family. Orkand said he's unsure how he's going to spend his retirement.
"I don't know yet. For a while I'm going to spend time figuring that out."
Permanent successors have not yet been named for Hall and Orkand.