First Church of Christ Congregational, West Hartford CT
July 7, 2002
This very old and very large church belongs to a venerable New England tradition. The window panes are transparent in keeping with the Puritans reading of the second commandment. There are concessions to modernity: a large cross hung on the chancel front wall in front of a burgundy dossal; two candles burned on a communion table; and the benches sported cushions. A pageant or play must lately have been performed in that space. Silver stars hung on wires stretched across the chancel; and a large central chair had been festooned with fake rocks to make a waterfall. Cotton Mather must be turning in his grave! But Jesus would smile.
Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly usher providing the Sunday bulletin. I noticed immediately that most of the worshipers were my age (70) and they weren’t wearing jackets. Both particulars can be explained by an absence of air-conditioning. The senior pastor, in deference to a middle-aged body, wore brightly colored suspenders, which meant no A/C, no jacket, no sweat.
Let’s go directly to the bottom line: I could worship there regularly and feel very much at home.
Music: an accomplished handbell choir of mostly older adults played the Prelude (“Handel’s Allegro”) and a Musical Selection (the hymn, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”). The Director of Music played an opening piano medley and accompanied the hymns on an electronic organ. The congregation sang the hymns, one of them new to me, with the indifference customary in most churches. The hymnal in use was prepared for the Disciples of Christ denomination, suggesting that the UCC authorized hymnal, with its radical rewriting of many hymns from a gender sensitive perspective, was found to be unusable. But the Doxology was sung without reference to the Father or the Son.
Bible: the pew racks hold Revised Standard Version Bibles. The bulletin named the first reading as from the “Hebrew” Scripture and the second reading as from the “Christian” Scripture, a nod in the direction of cultural sensitivity.
Sermon: for whatever reason, probably the thought that “Sermon” is too heavy and forbidding a term, the message of the morning was entitled “Meditation.” One of the pastors, whom I assume from other events of the morning, is not the pastor-in-charge preached. She spoke clearly to the topic at hand, having a welcoming heart. She used few of the strategies of most preachers to hold listeners’ attention, and, quite frankly, lost me after the first five minutes of her ten minute speech. I could have wished for some humor and down-to-earth illustration.
Children: were it not for a large extended family present for a baptism there would have been just a handful of children present at the service; but, of course, it is summer, it’s hot, and there is no regular Church School. A special bulletin had been prepared for young Christians, with puzzles and drawings to catch their wandering attention. The pastor who seemed to be in charge gave the “Time with Our Children.” He spoke to the sad times everyone has, how they too, and we along with them, are embraced in the love of God. The children were invited to attend a special Church School during the remainder of the hour and a quarter of worship, where a teacher led them in a lesson on the mustard seed.
Welcome: worshipers were cordial, but only one elderly woman sought us out to find out if we were visitors. We did not sign the guest book or the attendance sheet at the end of the bench. And we did not wait in line long enough (why do some parishioners wait until Sunday morning at the door to lay their burdens on the pastor?) to greet the morning’s preacher. We did enjoy punch on the lawn. But we departed without leaving a trace of ourselves. Which is fine in our situation as church butterflies; but I do wonder why one of the pastors was not more vigilant in catching us.
Rating: two and a half haloes.