STAMFORD -- The Rev. Cari Jackson thinks nothing of off-handedly addressing God in the midst of a conversation.
"Come on, God, I'm getting old here," Jackson joked, glancing skyward as she recounted the story of her 38-year journey to the ministry.
Nor did the First Congregational Church's new senior pastor pause before breaking into spontaneous dance moves when the sound of hip-hop music wafted into her Walton Place office.
However, the 52-year-old minister was more reflective as she discussed the circumstances that led to her becoming the first woman, the first African-American and the first openly gay senior pastor of the church that founded the city of Stamford.
"I think it's the same spirit that enabled 29 families to forge their way and found this city, the same way that all things are possible in God," said Jackson, who will be officially installed as the church's leader Sunday.
STAMFORD -- The oldest church in Stamford celebrated a new tradition Sunday.
After a congregation-wide vote last month to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies, the First Congregational Church in Stamford celebrated the marriage of parishioners Joseph Belisle and David Vintinner, the church's first gay union on the eve of its 375th anniversary.
In red boutonnières with their 19-month-old daughter, Faith, between them, the men were greeted with a raucous standing ovation from their family, friends and fellow congregants after the Rev. Cari Jackson pronounced them new husbands.
"This just feels right," Jackson said. "This is representative of that kind of spiritual integrity that has held throughout the church's history."
Yet for all its fanfare, the Valentine's Day wedding was bigger than its grooms, she said.
After three years of study, the church, a United Church of Christ congregation, voted to be an "open and affirming" church, welcoming not only those of all sexual orientations, but those of all ages, mental and physical abilities, races, social-economic circumstances and backgrounds.
STAMFORD -- Hoping to prolong feelings of unity sparked during an interfaith vigil last week, members of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths returned to First Congregational Church on Thursday evening to break the daily fast of Ramadan together.
"I'm hoping that this will take on a life of its own," said Zubaida Khan, who organized the event. "It will be in the direction of friendship."
Khan said she has been both disturbed by what she views as negative portrayals of Islam by the media and encouraged by support she has seen demonstrated for local Muslims.
The Aug. 24 vigil by the InterFaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut encouraged members of all religions to stand in solidarity with the Islamic community. The demonstration was organized as a protest of the controversy over the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, as well as an incident earlier in the month during which members of a Dallas-based Christian group yelled insults at worshipers entering a mosque in Bridgeport.
The parish had just learned a homeless man had died in a city park, said Cari Jackson, the church's pastor. In response, the church opened its doors to anyone who didn't have a place to sleep, and seven homeless men took advantage of the opportunity for several months.
"So the very first shelter in Stamford was here," Jackson said.
First Congregational Church will be the location of National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day in Stamford this year. The ceremony will be held Tuesday, the longest night of the year.