First Church of Christ
First Church of Christ, Congregation, UCC, Glastonbury, Connecticut
So many churches, so few Sundays! Choices are narrowed, however, by my reluctance to review worship in a church for which antipathy and ignorance disequip me. We look for a reason, however incidental, when we select Sunday's church on Saturday evenings. This last Sunday in February we thought to look in on our dentist and his family, or maybe find a parishioner who remembered my cousin from thirty years ago. To no avail. In fact, the attendance was very thin at the 10:30 AM service, maybe sixty souls; and we had the coffee pot and hour all to ourselves, except for a very gracious server.
There are (there always are!) explanations for the paucity of people. Church School and another occasion for worship are conducted simultaneously at 9 AM: families flock to that service. The coffee hour was deserted because a special communion service in the chapel was well-attended. But the empty pews and unused cups gave me pause to consider again how much livelier and upbeat worship seems to be when the rooms of prayer, praise, and camaraderie are chock full'o'people. Like I said at the beginning of this quest for five haloes, every Sunday should be Easter.
Good preaching covers a multitude of shortcomings. The pastor, who came to the ordained ministry after a stint in academia, presented his sermon in a literate, thoughtful, and quietly affirmative manner. It wouldn't be my style. I raise my voice more and tend to clue congregants with facial affect. But not every dog in the show has to bark the same way. Pastor David Taylor is an effective preacher, and, this morning, the biggest plus of the service. More below under Sermon.
Welcome: it was a busy morning, we arrived just minutes before the service started, the numbers attending worship were slim, the coffee hour was deserted, a bus transporting young people to the theatre to see "The Passion" was boarding as we left, and... well... maybe it just wasn't the most propitious of Sundays for a visitor. But I will say this: the follow-up was standout. Early the following week we received in the mail a brochure describing the church's ministry. A week and a half later I fielded a phone call from a member, Ian by name, who inquired as to our interest in joining the church. Someone had to do research to get our address and phone number, since, as is my practice, I signed on the attendance sheet only "Bob and Barbara Howard, West Hartford." Ian asked, when I told him I reviewed worship services, if I worked for a newspaper. "Not yet," I should have replied; "for now it's a labor of too much retirement."
Building: another Puritan meetinghouse, caught up in a Georgian revival somewhere along the line; with a divided chancel, a pulpit and a lectern, a (somewhat small) communion table, choir benches, and organ console. The room had obviously been recently renovated and repainted. White paint, translucent windows, and ample sunshine made for a very bright worship space. Retired fire department chaplain that I am, I worried about the absence of illuminated exit signs over the doors of the sanctuary. And if I were on the building committee, I would search post haste for a remedy to the clanking of the fins on the hot water pipes heating the room. Their noise intruded at the most inopportune moments and sometimes caused me to lose words from pulpit and prayer.
Children: once the Cherub Choir sang and then departed, the congregation was bereft of children. It was explained to me by our coffee hour hostess that loads and loads of children are present for half the service at 9 AM. I missed them at 10:30, although the worshiper behind us, with whom we shared the Peace, allowed as how she prefers the later service because it is quieter. Too quiet, I would observe. And I suspect this church will someday arrive at the conclusion reached at the church I served in Valley Stream, that one slightly noisy church service with vibrancy is better than two, one with and one (insufficiently attended) without that vibrancy.
Music: the Cherubs sang an Introit appealingly, accompanied by "krystal bells," which sounded like chimes. The Adult Bell Choir rang and an Octet sang front and center "On Eagle's Wings," a modern and tuneful anthem; and, for the Offertory, the Octet sang "Keep Your Lamps!" with Congo drum accompaniment. The hymn book in the rack, The Chalice Hymnal, preferred by many UCC churches in this corner of Christendom, is a publication of the Disciples of Christ. The three hymns selected were, appropriately for season and sermon, about the cross. The organist, whose rousing rendition of a Bach piece we had heard a couple of weeks earlier at an afternoon concert in New Britain, sandwiched the service with familiar selections: Franck's "Prelude, Fugue and Variations" and Pachelbel's "Toccata in G Minor."
Sermon: although the sermon had what my homiletic professor called "too big a front porch" (a long introduction) about five diverse threads including March Madness, the content was excellent. The texts, I Corinthians 1 and Matthew 16, about the "folly of the cross" and "taking up the cross," fitted seamlessly with a consideration of, among several timely issues, the release of Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of The Christ." Pastor David Trueblood (any relation to Elton?) Taylor calmly and carefully posited his view of the cross, that finally and forever it's all about life and love. No argument from me; in fact, I felt like adding a loud "Amen!" The "how" and "what" of the cross are secondary to the "why" of it. This sermon kept in clear view God's good, eternal, merciful purpose at Calvary.
Computer: one of the most extensive websites yet viewed. Everything you could ever want to know about First Church, Glastonbury, and more. And it is obviously maintained on a regular basis, maybe every other day, certainly every week. No anachronistic advertisements. Plenty of pictures. A long newsletter. If I have any quarrel with the website, it would be its overuse of different fonts and colors. But, all in all, among the best ever. Congratulations, I assume, to Ginger Lynn.
The Order of Worship/Bulletin deserves special note. A black and white drawing of the cross and uplifted hands sets the service theme for Lent, "Life with a Purpose, Led by the /Cross, Journey Inward, Journey Outward." Anthem texts were included, but not Scripture texts. The formatting made the service movements easy to follow. I'm not keen on Litanies, but the two used this morning, for the most part, avoided wordiness and read more like antiphonal psalms.
Rating: three haloes, on the strength of the preaching; it might have been three and a half haloes if the room had been filled and the murmurings of little children could be heard.