Town, Church Reach Agreement on God’s Acre

The Summer Internship Program is sponsored by Carriage Barn Arts Center. The Board of Selectmen during its most recent meeting voted in favor of an agreement that’s expected to bring a lengthy legal battle between the town and Congregational Church of New Canaan to a close. The agreement (which can be read here in full) sets aside the question of who owns God’s Acre—a question that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan raised amid the legal dispute—and calls for creation of a four-person committee to make decisions about the hallowed New Canaan property, a burial ground for the town’s founders. Selectman Kathleen Corbet during the Board’s July 25 meeting cited this sentence from the agreement—“Whereas, for at least two centuries the church, the town and New Canaan residents have honored, maintained and enjoyed God’s Acre in a respectful and harmonious manner”—saying, “I feel this agreement moves forward with those intentions.”

Selectman Nick Williams added, “It’s an elegant and simple solution.”

The selectmen voted 3-0 to accept it. 

A dispute first arose in 2020, when the church opposed a town-backed plan to construct a stone terrace at the top of God’s Acre, saying that they were the legal owners of the property. The church’s claim was questioned by Moynihan, who noted that the town spends taxpayer dollars maintaining the parcel. 

While evidence has since been discovered by attorneys representing the Congregational Church that supports their claim to ownership, the new policy that both parties have agreed upon will override any previous claim to ownership in favor of both parties agreeing to hold joint stewardship of the property.

Congregational Church, Town Find Contractor To Repair ‘Wayside Cross’ at God’s Acre

The Congregational Church of New Canaan and town have agreed on a contractor to repair a damaged World War I monument on God’s Acre that was damaged during a police pursuit this past summer. The Wayside Cross (local history here) will be repaired by Lorton, Va.-based Rugo Stone, under a $31,166 contract that the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to take up at its regular meeting on Tuesday. The Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner, senior minister at the Congregational Church, told in an email when asked about the monument’s status that “the church and town have been working really well together” to try and get it repaired in time for the Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremony at God’s Acre. VFW Post 653 member John McLane, a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, said that the Wayside Cross at God’s Acre “has been a memorial to those who have lost their lives serving this country since right after World War I.”

“Our New Canaan VFW Post holds a service there every Veterans Day,” McLane said.

‘One of the Truly Bright Lights’: Amid Pandemic, Local Clergy Members Form Stronger Bonds

Even prior to the onset of COVID-19, New Canaan’s local clergy association stood out in the experience of the Rev. Stephen Chapin Garner. Collegial and kind, it includes unusually gifted people whose monthly gatherings are free of a type of guardedness can limit such groups, Garner said. As the pandemic set in this spring, bringing unforeseen practical challenges among other demands, New Canaan’s spiritual leaders began leaning harder into one another, according to Garner, senior minister at the Congregational Church of New Canaan. “We laugh together, we joke, we share the challenges of time and we have gone past ‘friendly,’ to friends,” Garner told “For me, some of these folks are people I would turn to if I had a complex issue in my life, let alone the church.

Congregational Church on God’s Acre: ‘It Is Our Church Cemetery’

Though the town’s highest elected official said recently that he doesn’t understand the Congregational Church of New Canaan’s claim regarding ownership of God’s Acre, an email obtained by shows that the church’s pastor had outlined the position to him early this summer. The Rev. Chapin Garner told First Selectman Kevin Moynihan in a June 9 email, “Our understanding is this: God’s Acre is not only a cemetery, it is our church cemetery.”

“Indeed, it is named ‘God’s Acre’ because that is the 17th century term for a church burial ground,” Garner said in the email, whose copied recipients included Town Attorney Ira Bloom, attorney Gabriella Kiniry, a congregant who has advised the church, and Nick Williams, a selectman who also is a a member the church. “We have had pastors and parishioners buried on that hill, and it is our sacred obligation to protect that hallowed ground in which they were laid to rest,” Garner’s email continued. “We do not want anything built on our ancient burial ground—not a terrace and not sidewalks. Not only is that our desire, but we strongly believe Connecticut State law prohibits any construction on an ancient burial ground.”

He referred to a state law that prohibits towns from using ancient burial grounds for anything other than burials.