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Proper 24

First Congregational Church of Greenwich II

    Out of the ether there arrived in my email box one day a message from the Minister of Communication and Adult Education of First Congregational Church, Greenwich, Connecticut.  He wrote to complain about a review of the church written and posted in early December 2002.  The Rev. Daniel England said the review was stale, that a new clergy staff was now in place, and there had been many changes.  What he did not say, but I surmised, was that as the staff member responsible for communications, he chafed at the Google listing of my lukewarm review directly below the two listings with hyperlinks to the church's website.  Fair enough.  I pointed out that the review was clearly dated and that in my introductory note to the Review archive I disclaimed judgment on any church's ministry based on one visit to a worship service.  Mr. England believed he heard me say I would remove the review, and, in another Email, reminded me of my alleged promise.  I responded that, to the contrary, the review would stay in place; but I would do another one.  I promised to slip in like a thief in the night to a Sunday service in the near future.  He was not mollified and, in so many words, called me a... well, reneger.

    As the current review unfolds you will want to have in mind the previous one, which can be accessed by clicking your mouse on this hyperlink: 2002 Review of First Congregational Church Greenwich CT 

     Sunday, October 18th, the reneger and wife drove to Old Greenwich CT in time for the 10 AM service. We slipped in and out of the side door, like thieves in the night.  The worship was a pleasant experience.  The congregants greeted one another with obvious affection.  The printed order of worship was professional, tasteful, and included the full content of Scripture and anthem texts.  The organ prelude was meditative and the postlude was stirring, both by Franck.  The children's choir was charming.  A wife and husband couple spoke this Stewardship Sunday on how very much the church means to them and their family.  The pastors presided with easy grace over four baptisms. Two of the three hymns were sung from that hymnal, the New Century Hymnal, which previously caused me so much consternation; but this Sunday's selections contained no obvious rewording of familiar poetry to meet the requirements of modern sensibilities.  The hour passed swiftly in this altogether delightful worship space.

    Had I any complaint to register it would be the preacher's practice of meandering down the aisle during his sermon.  The audio was terrific, no problem there.  But I do like to see as well as hear, and the formidable size of the congregants in the bench in front of me often blocked my view of The Rev. Dr. David Young.  I do understand that sometimes precision of expression must be sacrificed for immediacy of contact; but the pulpit, up front in the chancel, looked very lonely with its open Bible and no one to stand behind it.

    The text, if not the lection, for the morning was Luke 24:1-4, the widow's mite.  Dr. Young confessed to his difficulty with the thought that the woman laid on the altar "all she had to live on."  Additional study, however, persuaded him that what she gave was one week's wages; which is not quite the same thing as zealous clergy have sometimes insisted, that she gave everything she had... and we should do the same?  The preacher was easy to listen to as he gently encouraged the faithful on this Stewardship Sunday to provide the church with the wherewithal to continue its ministry in this corner of suburban America.

    Dr. Young shortened his sermon to accommodate the extra events of the morning service, advising us we could find the full text in written form on the church website: First Church Website.  At the time of the posting of this review the sermon, "There's a Place for You..In Giving," had yet to be added to the archive.

    I suspected that the chosen text was not a prescribed lection.  Not that I think any preacher should slavishly follow the lectionary; just that it seems to be pro forma in the modern church.  I went on the internet to the Vanderbilt Divinity Library website to see the Propers for October 18th.  Let me tell you, I would love to have had these texts on which to expound: Job 38:1-7, the Lord God addressing Job out of the whirlwind; Isaiah 53:4-12, the Suffering Servant hymn, an ancient anticipation of the cross of Jesus; and Mark 10:35-45, the dispute of the disciples about places of honor, corrected by Jesus' declaration that he is among us as one who serves (not preens!). Powerful evocations of this very human life in the shadow of a cross under eternity's gaze: themes to stir the soul!

    I wondered what Dr. Young could do with these texts as his platform.  Maybe he would feel obliged to stand behind the pulpit. But, of course, it was Stewardship Sunday; and, knowing as I do the necessities of paying the bills and fixing the leaks in the roof, I'll not fault him entirely for focusing on the widow and her mite instead of the cross and its shadow.  I simply missed, dearly missed, a strong representation of the extravagant and unmerited grace of God that embraces us in Jesus Christ, a theme always in order on any Sunday.

Rating: 3 1/2  haloes, which I calculate as the average of my personal response (2 haloes: think empty pulpit) and what I suspect would be the response of a suburban family looking for a successful congregation with many opportunities for mission and fellowship (5 haloes).

 

 

 

 

 

 


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