Doc Irv’s Blog: The “Wonder & Awe” of the NACCC Annual Meeting

Truly, the greatest of these is Love! We gathered for the first hybrid NA Annual Meeting that provided for the adventurous attendee who would dare travel to Wichita KS in the heat of the blazing sun and the cautious attendee making use of Zoom technology from the comfort of their own home. It was an awesome in-person gathering that featured great hospitality by both the host committee and staff of the Drury Hotel. Along with some interesting and informative workshops and short purposeful business sessions, the meeting featured three talks reflecting upon the theme from 1st Corinthians 13. Additionally, our beloved Rev. Dr. Ashley Cleere shared an insightful Congregational talk that reminded us of our heritage, but also challenged us to think big and outside the box to our future (a common theme for us visionaries).

Diana Butler Bass [Love of God] spoke to the Love of God intriguing us with notes on God’s desire to be in relationship with us. She dovetailed notes from her latest book, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (Paperback – March 8, 2022). Bass, born in 1959 is an American historian of Christianity and an advocate for progressive Christianity.  She is currently an independent scholar who writes on American religion and culture, and the author of eleven books, many of which have won research or writing awards. Some of you may have read her books in seminary.

Valarie Kurr [Love of Neighbor] passionately spoke of our need to engage in the work of loving our neighbor in these trying times. Her pleas moved many to tears as she spoke of the harsh realities of our current cultural crisis in the U.S. She spoke of the need for revolutionary love. This is also very present on her website: https://valariekaur.com She shares, “This is a place for anyone who feels breathless. Your breathlessness is not a sign of your weakness; it is a sign of your bravery. It means that you are awake to what’s happening right now: The world is in transition. Out of this darkness, we have a chance to birth a new world — a healthy, multiracial, and sustainable future. But we need you to last. Your life matters. Your voice matters. You have a role to play. This is a place to nourish and equip you. Here you will find tools to practice revolutionary love — love for others, opponents, and ourselves — to transform the world around you and within you. It’s a practice that offers longevity, resilience, and joy. It begins with wonder.”

Mihee Kim-Kort [Love of Self] is a Princeton Theological Seminary alum, and is co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, Maryland along with her spouse Andrew Kort. “During her undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado in beautiful Boulder, she joined various Christian fellowship groups and majored in Religious Studies and English Literature. It was during this time, and then in seminary that she began to experience a shift from traditional evangelicalism to a progressive, inclusive faith focused on God’s Good News in the here and now as expressed through social justice.” https://www.ministrymatters.com/worship/author/mihee_kim_kort Kort reflected on this journey and reminded us attendees of the need to pay attention to ourselves in the mandate set up by Jesus: To love our neighbors as ourselves.

Sunday morning featured a short bus ride to Plymouth Congregational Church to worship with the members of both Plymouth and the other Annual Meeting host church, University Congregational Church. This service featured amazing music, singing, preaching and communion with 300 plus voices praising God.

Irv’s Blog: Delegates gathered at Preston City Congregational for a post pandemic in-person annual meeting on May 15th

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.

Best, Irven

Irv’s Blog – Ministers Connect at Convocation 2022

“Calling all Pastors and Ministry Partners”
Thirteen ministry souls joined together at the Camp Wightman Retreat Center in North Stonington Connecticut last month to relax and recharge the pastoral batteries following the long trek of ministry from Christmas through Lent, Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

Convocation Team 2022
Seminar/Workshop leader, Rev. Dr. Brett Younger pictured at the far right.
Worship leader, Rev Doug Gray is pictured in the far back in bright red (tallest guy). Folks arrived from Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

Rev. Younger, formerly at preaching professor, offers great wisdom and insight while truly engaging with the attendees. All participants noted the theme, “The Joy of Preaching” was truly refreshing, moving, and needed given the two years of stress and struggle dealing with COVID. Rev. Younger drew all of us into the conversation encouraging us to share experiences of preaching, “tell me, what about preaching brings the joy? Is it the discoveries made when preparation? Is it the stories of life you encounter and later weave into sermons? Perhaps it’s the quiet reflection time with the Lord? Maybe it’s the response of a member in church, or your experience and interaction with the Holy Spirit?”

Did I mention the need for relaxation and good conversation? Yes, we had one wet damp day that moved us to build a crackling hot fire. Some would talk, others play games, and others snooze for a bit. Warm, toasty, and comfy.

Most of us were totally delighted by the camp staff meals. While at the camp we shared in nine meals together in the dining hall. Of course, breakfast is always my favorite of the day.
Um… “bacon, bacon, bacon”.

The large spacious dining hall included a great fireplace as well. The dining hall looked out over Billings Lake towards the west….
And what would a great Convocation retreat look like without an amazing sunset our last night. Good times, good friends, and beautiful worship all in one place.

Perhaps you might consider setting aside a little R&R for yourself next year?
You need it.
Your congregation needs you to nurture yourself, so you can nurture and care for them…. Best Irv

Rev Irv’s Blog – Easter Celebrations

The beauty of the cross – physically and spiritually – observed and felt at the Easter service at Third Church

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.

Flutist accompanies Neil Dokurno, the Minister of Music playing the organ

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.

Joyfully posing next to the cross of flowers.

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.

Blessings, Irv

2022 Annual Meeting

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

Thank you

Best,

Irven, Moderator of FNCCC

Rev Irv’s Blog

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. 

Best, Irven

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