Dear friends and colleagues,
It was pure joy to finally get to celebrate with you on May 15th at our annual meeting. Finally, we were able to gather as a Fellowship after a long two and a half years of restrictions, isolation, and unease due to the COVID pandemic. Again, this was a beautiful moment in time as we journeyed to Preston City Congregational Church to meet and greet one another in Christian love. The day was warm and cooled by a summer breeze (keeping the bugs at bay). Mindful of the possibility of post COVID fears, we met beneath a pavilion in the “Field of Dreams” behind the church where the refreshing air and ample spaciousness could alleviate concerns. Guests were welcomed to sit at tables decorated with special placemats created by the host church administrator, Sandy Dudek. The placemat featured our keynote speaker, The Rev. Dr. Ashley Cleere, the Executive Director of the National Association.
Following an informal time of gathering, we began with an enlightening and well-expressed keynote address by Dr. Cleere. She shared notes of her interactions with churches across the country as the new (less than one year) Executive Director of the NA. More importantly, she reminded us of the uniqueness of being Congregational including our kinship with the bold and daring Mayflower Pilgrims. Dr. Cleere asked the question many of us have heard, “What defines American Congregationalism?” She says we start with churches. Quoting her remarks,
From time to time, I am asked, particularly by Christians in more structured church bodies, most recently by an Episcopalian: what is the unifying thread of Congregationalism? My short reply: the autonomy of the local church. What ties us together is our acceptance of our differences, our belief that each congregation is unique. It has been said,” she remarked, “that to know one NACCC church is to know one NACCC church. We Congregationalists cherish our ability to self-govern. We also are committed to connecting with and supporting other congregations. These intertwining principles – local church autonomy and voluntary fellowship with other churches – are the core of the Congregational Way.”
Dr. Cleere’s words clearly demonstrated her understanding of our belief in the autonomy of the local church. She continued for most of 45 minutes sharing notes of her role as the Executive Director and the desired role of the NACCC in assisting the member local churches. She has shared many notes with me about her desire to really connect the NA churches across the country. She has noted that we are fortunate here in the Northeast in several ways: one, we are fairly close to one another compared to the churches in the Midwest and West; and two, we have resources to help one another.
She and I have talked extensively about the beauty of our associations, both the NACCC and FNCCC. She agrees with me that the only thing standing in the way of beautiful and amazing relationships with one another is our autonomy. Sometimes, while a great blessing compared to the governing structures of other traditions, our autonomy can keep us stranded and alone. We miss the opportunity to bless one another with nurture, love, and care.
It is my hope that we can become more engaged with one another as we journey forward post COVID. I look forward to visiting and sharing the stories of other fellow Pilgrims in the near future. I am here to assist you in your journey and help connect you to the wonder and beauty of other congregations in our Fellowship and the NA. Please do not hesitate to contact me.