Garden City Community Church
Garden City Community Church, United Church of Christ
August 4, 2002
As we approached the church close to the sacred hour, I could see from a hundred yards away that we would be warm for an hour or so. All the windows to the sanctuary were 25% open. No air-conditioning! We noted that the west side benches were twice as full as those on the east in the glare of the ascending sun. During the punch hour following the service one of the longtime members reported (with a hint of annoyance in her voice) that the church council had recently voted down a proposal to install central air-conditioning. Those who have endured warm summers before apparently could see no reason to keep the present generation from the same invigoration of the spirit by suffering with sun and sweat.
Let me give a reason… for installing air-conditioning: because you want to have a future. The Unitarian Universalist Church a few blocks away, where the lawn was parched and weeds flourished, posted the message on the bulletin board: “Closed for the Summer.” I thought that he that “watcheth over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” By extension he also doesn’t take a vacation. Any church serious about its work and witness will not only keep its doors open on Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it will also do the necessary (not the optional) thing, find a way to cool the room. Young families, without ever saying it, insist on it. We have A/C in our houses, in our cars, and in our stores. Why should our churches be different? The parish committee wouldn’t insist the pastor ride on horseback. The worship committee would never switch to gas light for evening services. No one thinks the organist should pump the bellows with his own two feet.
If a church is serious about being a church, then it had better get A/C before another summer passes.
Which is a very long diversion for this review of a prosperous mainline church in the crème de la crème suburb on Long Island. So let me state right off that the hour was well spent, if warmly spent. I could worship regularly at the Garden City Community Church.
Building: though I am no student of architecture, even I could see that the church building dates to the “golden age” (said with a hint of sarcasm) of church building in the US, the 1950’s. GC Community Church is true to its Congregational roots by eschewing stained glass; but there is a divided chancel and Georgian columns, and the suggestion of a cruciform design. No meetinghouse this: it’s a sanctuary, and a well-appointed and maintained one at that, muted colors, a few paraments, fresh flowers.
Music: the organ was apparently on summer vacation: the music director led the singing, congregation and choir, from his perch at the piano in the chancel. The choir was really a quartet that sang somewhat uncertainly… but, hey, it’s August, and come September the choir will be crowded. A baritone soloist sang the Matthean text of Jesus’ invitation to “Come, all who labor and are heavy laden…” It was a persuasive performance that was greeted with applause, but I could have wished he had a music folder to cover the sheets from which he sang. One Praise Song, no one but the pianist seemed to know, followed the opening prayers. The hymns, the choral pieces, and the solo were clearly chosen with the theme of the service (sharing our bounty with others) in mind. The Pilgrim Hymnal, of ancient heritage if recently reissued, was used, without editorial corrections with an eye to gender neutrality.
Bible: RSV, and only (thankfully on so hot a day) one reading, from the ecumenical lectionary.
Sermon: the preacher’s style was engaging, thoughtful, and Biblical. The message exhorted those of us, with more than our share of God’s bounty, to be generous and giving. In a world where the evil and pain often seem so overwhelming, we should not lose heart or think that nothing we do will matter. “What God Will Do with Small Gifts” is a miracle. The message was repeated, if a touch too frequently, yet without ever being nagging. One had the feeling the preacher knew exactly where we were in this difficult and frustrating matter of doing good, because he was there himself.
Children: five of them, all of the others were probably frolicking in their backyard pools! Nonetheless the preacher offered a children’s message, really a Show and Tell for adults, about a piece of dried toast. It was a clever illustration of the feeding of the five thousand, the morning’s Scripture Reading. He explained the miracle without explaining it away. This child of 70 was edified.
Welcome: we signed the attendance roll and indicated we were visitors. Three people, having personally checked that roll, introduced themselves to us as they addressed us by our names. One woman well into her eighties pressed us about our present address, reporting that one of her ancestors was named Hooker, that he had founded West Hartford; and that she, once a teacher in that vicinity, was teased by schoolchildren because Hooker was her middle name. We also discovered that her father and brothers were preachers, Presbyterian (3), and Methodist (1). The Methodist was my colleague in the same denominational jurisdiction, and forty nine years ago presided at the communion services in the church where I was a licensed preacher without the privilege of serving the sacrament. So my read on the welcome of this congregation is given a very rosy cast by the lady with whom, due to the length of our small world discoveries, we managed to close down the punch hour.
Rating: three and a half haloes, assuming that the A/C will be installed sometime this coming spring.