The First Church of Christ
The First Church of Christ (UCC), Simsbury CT
Someone on Long Island insisted we should include this church in our holy butterfly flitting from church to church in the season of my retirement. Just who the clam digger was we don't remember. Identify yourself, please, in the unlikely instance that you read this review.
The church is set on a hill overlooking a posh suburban village. The meeting house dates back a couple of centuries, long before incandescent lighting and air conditioning. A large parish house of recent vintage connects the worship with the church's several programs. The adjoining parking lot was filled, if not to overflowing, with SUV's, Volvos, and an occasional Buick like ours.
As Barbara and I drove home later that afternoon, I asked her, "Well, what did you think about the service?" It's always good to check the temperature of your companion in criticism, if only because she is among the small number of you who always read these reviews. When she paused to find the right words, I supplied them, Barbara concurring: "A lack of energy." Maybe it was the absence of children (the two sessions of Church School each Sunday morning coincide with the hours of worship). Maybe it was the choice of hymns (three of them from that insidious hymnbook UCC Churches have yet to renounce, the one which emasculates, democratizes, and sometimes completely rewrites texts, without so much as a footnote to indicate the changes), two of which no one else in the congregation, besides CCRWH and wife, could sing. Maybe it was the choir's dismissal in mid-service. And maybe it was the interim pastor whose sermon, if very listenable, was delivered in a voice more suitable to a group discussion than a pulpit proclamation.
Or perhaps it was just the arrival of the first warm day in four months of frigidity in the Northeast. Like when one has been going at top speed over a long distance and suddenly stops: an irresistible urge to nap overwhelms.
There are those for whom an hour of meditative peace, away from noisy children and high energy anthems, sounds like a visit to the pastures of heaven. But I look for, nay, need vibrancy in my worship. The sacred hour calms my soul by raising its awareness of transcendence and calling me to service. I go to church not in search of aspirin. I'm go hoping for a good strong cup of coffee... and not just at the Coffee Hour following the benediction.
Building: as already stated, a meeting house, with a wrap around balcony; plain glass windows; a new brass chandelier; heating-cooling fans in the ceiling; an adequate audio system; cushioned benches for about 300; a raised platform for the modest pulpit (no lectern); a pipe organ in disrepair, temporarily replaced by an electronic organ; and ancient, well-worn front doors. Simply stated, the church epitomizes the rest of the world's expectations for a New England church, steeple, white clapboard, and summoning bells.
Welcome: we made an entrance just as the announcements commenced. That is, the greeters had no time to size us up and ask us to put on visitor's nameplates. We sat a third of the way to the front. A woman sat at the end of the bench on the aisle. She sized us up as visitors, had us sign the guest book, and asked us where we came from. She eventually identified herself as an associate minister, a graduate of the Class of 1954 of Yale Divinity School. But since she failed to ask me the $64,000 question, "What was your work before you retired?" I did not "blow my cover." Seated in the row in front of us was a lineup of senior women (my age, that is) who, my wife, noted, gave me the once over. Following the rule of Matthew 7:2, that you get what you give, I cannot fault the Christians of Simsbury for not overwhelming us with their welcome: we weren't that cozy either.
Children: they were elsewhere, except for a couple of peeps behind me emanating apparently from a babe in arms. When the new pastor arrives, he would be well advised to persuade the church's governing body to allow him to make room in worship for the little ones. Added vibrancy, and all that. Besides, if young Christians need to learn the names of the twelve disciples, they also need to learn how to worship.
Music: the replacement organ sounded like it was borrowed from a member's living room. The choir, situated in the rear of the balcony, sang a familiar anthem, the Mason/Martin setting to "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." As noted in a previous review (Memorial UMC, Avon) more than a little of the nuances of the singing is lost on the congregant like me who sits too close to the back of the room, so that the choir's sounds go over, not to, the worshiper. The church has both a Music Director and an Organist, so I shall assume that this morning and its indifferent musical offerings may be an anomaly consequent to the pipe organ's collapse and the ennui which often accompanies a period of pastoral transition. That is, on the basis of the morning's experience, I could not conclude that music was this church's forte.
Sermon: the interim pastor, a man of greater age than me, spoke to a Lenten theme from a Lenten text, the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (that Jesus is Messiah) and the consequent command of Jesus to take up our cross. I suspect the pastor dipped into his sermon barrel. I heard the word "existential" twice, common enough in the 1950's but a curiosity to most modern congregants' ears. Albert Schweitzer was quoted. So was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Say, maybe it was my sermon barrel he dipped into! The dipping was done in the service of explaining personal and contemporary understandings of taking up our cross. The preacher concluded (as I would too) that service, to God and others, is what life is all about.
Computer: once the church had a website, but, I note from my attempt to access it through a link with the CT Conference of UCC Churches, it has been discontinued. I had to phone the church Saturday to find the hours of service. A church in the suburbs, made up of families with multiple computers in each home, should not risk irrelevance by inattention to the maintenance of a website... if only to clue visitors like me as to the time of worship. The Internet is where the world is going. Jesus commissioned his disciples to "Go into the world and make disciples of all nations." I take that verse as a summons to go where people are... like the Internet.
Rating: two and a half haloes. I am trying to be generous, with the thought that, at the moment, maybe, the holding of the fort until a new general comes, may explain the lassitude we experienced.