I was blessed to preach at Third Church Middletown on Easter. I witnessed an awesome moment when members of the church came forward to place flowers on the cross representing the beauty of the new day, the third day Jesus spoke of when he would arise. Decorating the cross – symbolizing the shift from the agonizing death of Jesus on Good Friday to his resurrection on Easter morning bringing new hope for the future. I believe that in reliving this event each Easter we are reminded not to allow the darkness and chaos of our current world events space in our hearts, but rather to celebrate new life, hope, love, and joy as we seek peace for our world in Jesus Christ.
Music and singing are essential elements of Congregational worship today. I have heard it’s often said that “music is the universal language” that unifies people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, traditions, theology and economic status. It is one way we can praise our God lifting the vibes of our hearts and our thoughts to our creator with voices collectively singing sweet melodies of love.
Third Congregational church of Middletown Connecticut is pastored by The Rev. Julie Olmsted who began serving as the Interim mid-March of this year. Rev. Julie asked me to preach Easter Sunday as she fell ill during Holy Week. I was pleased to assist and appreciated the opportunity to serve Christ on this most holy day. May you always carry the joy and hope of Easter in your hearts throughout the year.
Dear Brothers and Sisters (Delegates and Pastors),
The Annual Spring Annual Meeting is “in person” at Preston City Congregational Church in Connecticut. This is the first in person meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. I hope you will seriously plan to attend. Sandy Dudek, the church administrator and I have been working on this “celebration” since the first of the year. I am sure that many of you have missed the wonderful gatherings of the Fellowship.
I have invited some special people to share with us including our National Association’s Executive Director, Ashley Cleere who has brought amazing new energy and vision to the NA. I have also invited representatives from the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity nonprofit now housed at the Florence Congregational Church to share their vision presented to the church last summer. This group is bringing a unique transformation to the church and community of Florence. Sandy has arranged for a delightful chicken barbeque for our dinner. This includes salads, drinks, and a delicious dessert. If you are possibly worried about the residual effects of COVID, we are planning to meet outside in the pavilion which is a large open structure in the “Field of Dreams” at the church with lots of fresh air.
This is the official “Call to Meeting” of both the Fellowship of Northeast Congregational Christian Churches and the Ecclesiastical Society of Connecticut Congregational Christian Churches entities which are held simultaneously.
Here is the lineup of the afternoon of May 15th:
3:00pm Gathering and Missionary Tea (and coffee)
3:30pm Executive Director of NA, Rev. Dr. Ashley Cleere -words of greeting and vision
4:15pm Cofounders of Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity -sharing the ideas and vision for the Florence Congregational Church space. I have observed and participated in this transformation. It is an amazing time for the church. It is reuniting the church with the community and creating a new energy source for the membership.
5:00pm FNCCC Annual Meeting agenda (short and sweet)
5:30pm Preston City Congregational sponsored barbecue dinner
6:15-6:30pm depart for home
The May 15th meeting agenda is simple: We need to vote on the 2022-2023 budget recommended by the Executive Committee and presented by Treasurer Doug Loux and hopefully approve a couple of proposals from the committee.
If your church has a request or suggestion for this gathering, please forward notes to me prior to May 8th. I look forward to your in-person presence at this meeting on the 15th. Please do plan to come and represent your church.
Please RSVP me by May 1st with the number of people attending from your church. Please also note any allergies. As usual, your donation of $10 per person will defray the cost of the dinner. Please email me with your reservation for this grand celebration of congregational life, soon: ExecDir277@Gmail.com
Last Sunday I enjoyed a special “Palm Sunday” Service at the Union Congregational Church of Oakville Connecticut. Rev. Carmen Cavallaro, the senior pastor delivered a timely sermon beautifully connecting us to Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem. His words carried us to the streets of Jerusalem that were filled with thousands of people who had journeyed to the city for Passover. I truly felt like I was in the crowded streets of the city with people and animals all around me pressing against me as we moved about. (I have been there and know just how crowded the streets are firsthand.)
Pastor Carmen sharing his joy with my wife Brenda and his wife Diane. Carmen is by nature a joy filled pastor with a deep devotion to his work as a servant of Christ.
The front of the sanctuary was gorgeously decorated with Palms including the fan with candles. Each week a candle is extinguished as we Christians draw near to the cross where Jesus would give up his life for us.
A close up of the beautiful fan of palms
Pastor Carmen serves a flock of amazing people who are engaging and very interested in the lives of visitors. Brenda and I were warmly welcomed. Additionally, there was a very young boy in the service who made very joyful sounds of praise to the Lord. He is truly a recognized blessing to the congregation.
I write following a delightful visit to one of our sister Fellowship churches in New Jersey. Bound Brook Congregational Church, pastored by Rev. Andrew Smith hosts two services each Sunday including an early morning contemporary and later traditional service. Pastor Smith delivered a passionate message challenging us to use the spiritual gifts God has given each of us to further the Kingdom. He noted that he had a responsibility to share God’s word (“prophetic preaching”) and, that at times, this includes words that make us feel uncomfortable. But, one cannot water down the word and remain accountable to God. Pastor Smith has high hopes of re-growing the church as do many of our sister churches. Like many of us who have served congregations, he finds this task difficult given our times. Conversing with other participants, I did sense optimism, energy, and a vision for a new day. Carl Schmidt, the church delegate to the Fellowship Executive Committee introduced me to several members including two energetic youth directors. He, a member of the Board of Directors of the local Brook Theater shared his excitement of a growing interest for theater in the church through the youth programming. He is quite hopeful that young people and families will find a home at Bound Brook through theater, music and good preaching. Bound Brook is also facing some serious building maintenance issues as are many of our sister churches.
I believe many of you have heard me share words of hope and vision for our churches. I have really enjoyed visiting many of you this summer with growing concern for many congregations who have found attendance dwindling. Yes, we all realize that this is due in part to the ongoing pandemic. However, one must think about the post-pandemic days to come. What does this look like? Will things normalize (whatever that might look like)? Will members return to regular attendance? Optimistically, I think there are great opportunities ahead. However, I believe all of us need to be ready to accept the fact that we will not return to “business as usual.” We need to prayerfully reflect on the church’s future engagement in community… to recognize we need to think outside the box (or perhaps color outside the lines). What will we do? How will we engage? How can we share Christ’ message to the world in a new-age language (and technology) that people will listen to and connect with? How will technology fit in? The task at hand is to start asking the questions… to start discussing them within the leadership in the church… and yes, to accept the fact that we will need to do church much differently. As a friend once said, “while the message of the gospel remains the same, the delivery process must change to meet the ever evolving social construct.” What might this look like in your church within your community? How might you represent yourselves as the body of Christ… his hands and feet… in our twenty first century?
Until next time, may your journey through Advent begin with great hope for an amazing world filled with love, joy and peace. May you be blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit with an abundance of love that surpasses any other.
Transformation in the works… The Florence Congregational Church in Florence MA is currently engaged in a dialogue with a newly formed non-profit, Bombyx negotiating the future of the church building and the congregation’s vision and desire to faithfully serve Christ. The leadership is working out the details with hopes that the transfer of the church property will take place early in 2022. Here is a short excerpt from the non-profit’s new Facebook page:
BOMBYX is a non-profit organization established to steward the property at 130 Pine Street, in Florence, Massachusetts – a historic gathering place founded by abolitionists who championed anti-slavery, gender equity, and religious tolerance. Carrying these values forward, we serve our community as a venue for transformative arts experiences, spiritual growth, and challenging conversations.
CENTER FOR ARTS & EQUITY
A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1842, a group of activists, farmers, and silk manufacturers banded together to form the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (NAEI). Founded on the principles of abolitionism, temperance, gender equity, and religious tolerance, the group established a silk mill and utopian community in the village now known as Florence, MA.
Members of the community and their invited guests would meet under a massive old growth pine to debate issues of the day and hold important meetings. While the community lasted just over four years before disbanding, members of the group went on to establish the Florence Congregational Church (FCC) in 1861, bringing their radical values with them.
The FCC sat in the middle of a rare multicultural community for its time. The original church body consisted of nine denominations and, from the outset, women had full voting membership. Founding members John Payson Williston and Moses Breck were outspoken abolitionists, openly employing both free blacks and fugitive enslaved people in the construction of the new building.
A VIBRANT FUTURE
Today, the descendants of that original 150 foot pine tree sway in the grove behind the sanctuary. The property is home not only to its original congregation but also the reform synagogue, Beit Ahavah. It is also a world class performance venue, art exhibition space, and community gathering place.
The name Bombyx references the silk moth (bombyx mori) imported to the region in the first half of the 19th century – a profound rejection of southern cotton and the global economic power of slavery.
Many local residents are unaware of the town’s activist history. Fredrick Douglas gave speeches under that original pine, as did William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillps. Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles lived within walking distance and were active in the region for many years.
We are excited to knit together our global music offerings with the town’s deep history, creating an incubator for challenging conversations, spiritual growth, and transformative arts experiences. Issues of equity span time and geography. Our work is the next chapter in an already long history of bold, creative thinking.
I have had the opportunity to meet and converse with the two Bombyx co-founders, Cassandra Holden and Kyle Homstead several times over the past month. I am extremely excited to learn of their love of the church building and it’s long history in Florence, as well as their desire to continue to serve the Florence community as a resource center and sacred religious space. More to come…
The beginnings of a Blog. Who knew that at 62 I would be launching a blog. I have little knowledge or experience with the platform but will attempt to learn quickly and provide updates regularly. One primary goal for the blog is to provide insights from my visits to Fellowship churches and to inform you of their church activities and events. I expect to also share notes of interest, highlights of Fellowship meetings and other associations news. If you have important news, let me know at ExecutiveDirector@nefellowship.org.
In His service,
Rev. Dr. Irven A. Gammon, Executive Director of the FNCCC