Rockville United Methodist Church
Rockville United Methodist Church, Rockville CT
In response to the article in The Hartford Courant last June about Critical Christian and how to choose a church, several readers contacted me and asked me to review their churches. Most were clearly proud of their congregation and its manner of worship and were, though they didn't say it, certain they were worthy of a handful of haloes. A couple of the invitations boldly (and bravely) asked for an evaluation from someone (like CC) who would come to their church like a newcomer, so that the church could see itself as others (not loyal to it) do. So it was that we arrived Sunday, October 16, 2005 at Rockville United Methodist Church fifteen minutes before the service started at 10:45.
In this review I shall proceed as requested, setting out my impressions as a newcomer to the church.
As I walked from the parking lot to the church and took the sartorial measure of those headed in the same direction, I said to my traveling companion, "It must be casual Sunday." Surveying the other men in the sanctuary, I counted maybe ten ties, greatly outnumbered by the proliferation of jeans and tennis shoes. I felt positively overdressed in corduroy pants and a cashmere jacket. I know that the day of "dress up to meet God" are long past. I know that Jesus, were he suddenly to reappear in Central Connecticut, would probably bottom off his long hair with blue jeans. I know that I am seventy-three and history. But if the NBA can direct its stars to give up "gangsta" garb, if middle school girls are prohibited from baring their mid-drifts, and if clergy still are expected to wear some sort of vocational clothing; then it would be nice, though, of course, not necessary, for the average lay person attending worship to forego worn jeans (however expensive they may be) and holey tennis shoes. The pastor, be it noted, was finely dressed in a brown suit and a tie.
If a sartorial rule is needed for worship, try this one: dress as you would if you were going to the boss' birthday party. After all, every Sunday is (isn't it supposed to be?) a celebration of Easter.
Talk about first impressions.
The second impression was, after glancing at the order of worship, "Oh, no, it's Laity Day." Which is not so much a judgment on lay preaching as it is our disappointment that we would not be able to make an evaluation of the pastor's preaching. Three people spoke, two on financial stewardship (1, the lay leader, with a tie, and 2, a confirmed tither), and the other on the stewardship of time, spreading the joy and gathering in new members. Any congregation would be proud to have these three represent their church. They were articulate, informative, personal, and appealing; my initial regret was mitigated.
The third impression concerns the music, specifically the hymns for congregational singing, all eight (!) of them. Six of them were in the supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing. That booklet provides only the soprano/melody line of music; but most of the songs distributed notes up and down the scale like "The Star Spangled Banner." This low baritone was not able, therefore, to make harmony in his range to avoid straining his voice singing the melody. The accompanist preferred to play the hymns up-tempo. During "Lord of the Dance" I had to stop and catch my breath for a whole verse. The explanation for the multiple hymns, if not for the speed at which they were played, is that the church is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first American hymnbook to include music bracketing the text, a work instituted by Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn under the leadership of its then pastor Henry Ward Beecher.
The United Methodist Hymnal is one of the best things the denomination has going for it. In picking Sunday hymns I would depart from it rarely and for extraordinary reasons only. Besides, it will keep me from getting a sore throat... if not out of breath.
The pastor gave the children's sermon. The morning's text was Jesus' run-in with the Pharisees about paying taxes. The pastor's visual aid was a dollar bill. What you can and cannot buy with it was the question he put to the young Christians. They had a lot of answers. But the pastor made the point that one thing you can never buy is love and, with the love of God, there's no need to try, since it is freely offered. Well done.
I found the person who invited me to do this evaluation serving coffee and brownies after the benediction in the assembly hall. She is also the webmaster for the church. She had read some of my other reviews and knew I would take exception to websites with dated material; so she admitted up front in her Email invitation that the website was out of date. She's right. I chose discretion over criticism and said not a word to her about this minor dereliction. Let's hope that by the time you go via the Internet to Rockville UMC, the site will be current: http://www.gbgm-umc.org/rockumc-ct/
My final and lasting impression of our visit to this United Methodist Church on the other side of the river is of being surrounded. Two retired clergy, one of whom, with his wife, was a missionary to India; the pastor; and the webmaster fixed me in their sights and, after the enjoyable and inevitable "do you know who's" we chatted away congenially until we were the only ones left in the room.
The two retired clergy wore ties.
Rating: three haloes, on the strength of the friendliness of the congregation... once they discovered my mission.