Irv’s Blog

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.

In His Service,

Rev. Dr. Irven A. Gammon

Irv’s Blog

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.

BOMBYX Center for Arts and Equity

CENTER FOR ARTS & EQUITY

A BRIEF HISTORY

Florence Congregational Church, established in 1861, Florence MA

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…

In His service,

Rev. Dr. Irven A. Gammon

Irv’s Blog

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