The Garden City Community Church United Church of Christ
The Garden City Community Church United Church of Christ (II)
Some sermons are harder to preach than others. Labor Day Sunday, for instance, because the Bible seems to take such a dim view of work, that it's a curse (see Genesis 3 and God's sentence on forbidden-fruit eater Adam). Mother's Day too, even though there may be a rich reservoir of material on which to draw, still it's hard to get variation in theme when the obligation is to explain just why Moms are wonderful.
But the Sunday most necessary, yet often most dreaded, is the one on which the preacher must talk about money, particularly why the disciple and church member should give freely and generously to the world, and especially to the church budget. We found ourselves on the second Sunday of November 2006 at a service in which, as is the pattern in most churches in the Northeast, pledges for the ensuing year were being sought.
We had driven to Rockville Centre the afternoon before to attend a wedding in a synagogue on Hempstead Avenue. The bride is the daughter of my life and traveling companion's commuter buddy for nearly twenty years when they were teachers in a New York City elementary school in Queens. The rabbi was voluble, the ceremony traditional, and the reception worthy of King Solomon. We drove to our lodging, the Garden City Hotel, before midnight, awoke in time for breakfast in a nearby diner, and arrived at Community Church in plenty of time.
We had been here before, twice, once the summer immediately following retirement (when I complained about the lack of air conditioning), and again this past summer (when A/C was now in place) following a wedding at Grace Church and a reception at the Swan Club in Glen Head.
By prearrangement we sat with a former member of Grace United Methodist Church, Valley Stream, who, she reports, joined Community Church because of the positive review from my first visit. Mary Carolyn Bishop moved and sold the family residence in North Valley Stream and relocated to an apartment in the town Alexander Turney Stewart built. We sat in the middle of the sanctuary, the better, I thought, to see the grand dame of the church, Peg Musil. She would be known to several of you on the web-posting alert list as the sister of the late great New York Conference (UMC) Program Director, The Rev. Dr. Burnie Kirkland, and the late Dr. Bryant Kirkland, once of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Peg proudly describes her heritage, that "she is a Hooker from Hartford." Thomas Hooker, that is. We did, in fact, find her holding court during the fellowship hour.
The attendance belied the sermon's subject matter, which parishioners avoid even more readily than pastors: lots of people, plenty of children, a good mix of ethnicity, and, as the pastor himself observed in his sermon, mostly upper middle class... which, to be sure, is what one would expect in a sacred place in Garden City. The associate pastor presented a brown bag children's message, about hats. After a lively exchange with the little ones about various head coverings, she pulled out the "best" hat. It looked to the children (and to me) very much like a Santa cap, but was, the pastor insisted, an elf's hat; that is, a helper's hat. And we are all, by God and Jesus, to be helpers.
The senior pastor, Jim Adelman went to his task this Stewardship Sunday not just dutifully but effectively, even enthusiastically. The lectionary scheduled, appropriately, Mark 12:38-44, about the widow who put in her two cents, which amount, her whole living, was, to Jesus' way of thinking, far more generous than the rich men's treasures placed on the same altar. The title of the sermon, "Habits of the Heart," was borrowed, however, not from Jesus but from Alex de Toqueville. Giving freely and fully should be that, a habit of the heart. Like all good habits, it grows over time and experience as the discipline achieves a history of its own. Somewhere along the way, those who have gotten into this habit, could no more think of withholding from others their time, energy, and money, than they could forego sleep. Pastor Adelman was especially impressed with the way in which an inner city congregation responded to the passing of the offering plate, worshipers dancing in the aisle exclaiming, "It is a joy to give." And so on this day of pledging the pastor could not resist, though he said he had tried, summoning the congregation during the offering to stand and say as loudly and as fervently as upper middle class Christians could, "Oh, I'm happy to give!"
We complied... smilingly.
The music pleased: an introit by John Rutter; a choir of small children singing a medley including "Jesus Loves Me" and "This Little Light of Mine"; an anthem by John Ness Beck; and two of three hymns I knew and sang a lot better than anyone else in the congregation, including the woman to my right (not to my left, where Barbara was), the pastor's wife.
The morning was well-spent. I complimented the pastor on his sermon suggesting that pledge Sunday was a tough assignment. "Not as hard as Transfiguration Sunday," he replied with a smile.
Rating: four haloes... especially since the church heeded my advice, endorsed and reiterated by Mary Carolyn, that air-conditioning was a necessity.