The First Congregational Church of Darien

United Church of Christ

A community of faith since 1737

All posts by admin

A very good time was had by all today at the Fat Sunday Jazz Service. Here are some snippets of from the special service:

The service started with “Standing in the Need of Prayer”

“Standing in the Need of Prayer” – FCCDarien Celebrates Fat Sunday from First Congregational Darien on Vimeo.

 

Then we enjoyed “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” as our next hymn.

“Just a Closer Walk with Thee” at Fat Sunday Service (2/8/15) – First Congregational Church of Darien from First Congregational Darien on Vimeo.

 

The choir sang “I Want To Be Ready” at the Offertory

“I Want to Be Ready” sung by FCCDarien choir at Fat Sunday Jazz Service, 2/8/15 from First Congregational Darien on Vimeo.

 

And the service ended with a rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In” with parade from the Church School!

“When The Saints Go Marching In” closes out Fat Sunday Jazz Service (2/8/15) at FCC Darien from First Congregational Darien on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Chris Coogan (of Chris Coogan Music) on piano and his maestros of music: Richard Denton – trumpet, Jim Royle – drums, John Mobilio – bass.

The heartfelt Step Talks our own gave last autumn, inviting us to pledge, impressed me. As I will say to anyone who will listen, stewardship and pledging are far more about faith than they are about money. I heard abundant faith in those Step Talks. Did you notice that two were by tried and true members and two by non-member fellow disciples? If we only enforce membership boundaries, we become like a club. But when it is also about discipleship, it rounds out into something more expansive, and more open to God.

Guess what. Projecting ourselves forward into 2015 isn’t only about “strategic planning”, but also faith, and our openness to God’s Spirit leading us in Congregational fashion. So I share Terry Brewer’s Step Talk, co-chair of our Pledge Committee, and a lover of our Church. He gave it one Sunday, despite his feeling ill. Not everyone was present to hear him. Listen for how the Holy Spirit crackles within it, sending us in new directions:

“I’ve been thinking about what makes this place special. What it is that makes me want to help keep the lights on here at the First Congregational Church. What is it for me? Is it the soaring musical gifts bestowed on us by Amy, and Dan, and Max, and our terrific choir? Is it the tear in the eye of our senior pastor, who wears his heart on his sleeve?

Is it the special sense of community I get when I look around and see so many really good people present? Is it the fact that I feel I am maybe a slightly better person when I am here? Yes, it’s all these things and many more. In fact, I imagine it’s a different and unique mix of elements for each one of us, But I bet there’s at least one element that each of our lists would have in common: the open arms of welcome we all find here.

As Don Longbottom used to say, ‘Wherever you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.’ That’s a mouthful, and it’s not said lightly. It is the same extravagant welcome that has characterized this place for 270 years as prior generations have taken their places in these pews and looked around and looked within themselves, just as we do today.

When I think about this welcome, I always think of our electric side door, the one that opens wide in silent welcome whenever we approach. To me it says, ‘Come in, you’re welcome here. Take some time, take a seat, take stock of things. Stay as long as you can.’ These doors speak to me of unchanging inclusiveness and love…things that are worth sacrificing to preserve. I have a brief prayer. Please bow your heads with me.

Dear Lord, thank you for this lovely place. It isn’t grand. In fact it’s quite plain. But, it’s warm in the winter here and cool in summer. And our simple, empty cross gives mute testimony to Christian love for all who will listen for it. May all here who are able to, experience the unique joy that comes only through giving. And may our gifts keep this place strong and healthy so that its doors continue swinging wide in welcome long after we are all gone from here. Amen”

Great words for us as one year hinges into the next!

Eight fourth graders will come forward this Sunday as we present to them their official First Congregational Bibles. I like the look on their faces as they do, as though this is really a big deal, like going on a voyage around the world, as though it marks a serious and public coming of age.

May I put this in context? When I served in Colorado, an NHL hockey franchise came to Denver. So the Denver Post had a contest asking readers to pick how the teams would finish. I was glad for this, as I was fluent in hockey, and they were newbies. So I entered all four family members with variations on final standings. Despite thousands of folks doing so, I was confident we’d hit one of them. Sure enough, my daughter Lise won a hockey stick autographed by Gordie Howe.

She treasures that hockey stick to this day. But it’s hard for her to see all that it means having never played. She doesn’t know this heavy Northland stick with a flat blade and a lie five is the same Gordie used. She doesn’t know what it is like to carry a stick to a pond in winter and use it to shovel the ice. She doesn’t know that when I was a kid, and broke a stick, I’d have to repair it with screws and glue, as we couldn’t afford new ones. (Gordie was raised in a prairie home in Saskatchewan with nine siblings, and no indoor plumbing, using catalogues for his shin guards.)

None of this is to criticize Lise. It is a little like saying, if you want to understand the music of George Gerswhin, you have to spend time in a big city. Or if you want to get what Johnny Cash was up to in his songs, you need to spend time in the Deep South. None of it is self-explanatory.

When we give Bibles to our children, we typically quote the aphorism about the Bible being the most published and least read book in the world. That is true enough. Let’s start there. If we do not use these Bibles, if we don’t read them to our children, then our presenting them is in vain.

But we must say more. The Bible only makes sense as our children live lives of discipleship, lives of following Jesus. The Bible isn’t self-interpreting. (Think Church School!) It needs a life context where we relate to Peter, denying Jesus by a late night fire; where we’re like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, with Jesus before us, but unable to see who he is. Otherwise, we say foolish things like we’d never deny Jesus, like we always see Jesus clearly in our daily walk.

People who believe the Bible is self-interpreting, skeptical of this context of following Jesus, say silly things like, “The Bible expounds universal life principles running through the morality of all world religions.”   I don’t believe that for a minute. I believe the truth of the Bible only makes sense in light of the people of Israel and Jesus’ earliest followers and our efforts to follow him.

All of this is to say, the Bible is a living word, requiring living interactions, not a dead rulebook. The Bible needs our transformation before it releases its secrets. Parts of the Bible never made any sense to me until I was sweating in a third world country, building footers for a house. As the Bible re-narrates our lives in light of Peter and Cleopas and the rest, we realize the story of our life is much bigger than we ever realized. As great as the God who is our origin and destiny.

Isn’t it great to have our Senior Choir back after the summer break?   Isn’t it exciting to hear talk of a new Bell Choir forming? Frankly, if we knew how essential our choir is to our life as a congregation, maybe more would consider contributing as our lead singers.

 

So here are five reasons to be grateful. 1) Choirs support good congregational singing. With only amplified soloists, it actually blocks the rest of us singing. The message is like a rock concert: sing along if you please, as unhelpfully and sloppily as you please. But with the choir, our voice swells as a congregation. It becomes primary, not secondary. It encourages us to lift up our voices, without overpowering us with a wall of amplification.

 

2) Our choir’s visual presence encourages us. I don’t get to see their faces, but you do. Choral faces remind us that faith is not first about our families, not about the individual, but about living in community. With only a few leading, we forget this, we feel alone. As we look up and behold a mini-fellowship of faces looking back, we are reminded that we are not alone. I love it how Dan grasps our Senior Choir is a fellowship group that sings.

 

3) Choirs increase repertoire available to us in worship. I hesitate to blend in new hymns when our choir is not with us. With a good arrangement, choirs can sing selections from practically any genre, from classical, to folk, to contemporary/popular music, something that isn’t possible for a contemporary “worship leader” and a praise band. I like Dan’s eclectic choices, how we don’t just work one genre. It shows the richness of Christianity.

 

4) A choir offers up more complex music than is possible for the greater congregation. Besides leading our moments of corporate singing, because choirs actually rehearse, they offer up musical praises on our behalf that would otherwise not be possible. In this sense, a choir can be a preaching and praying group, proclaiming God’s self-revelation, to which the congregation can listen, meditate, and respond worshipfully in their hearts.

 

5) Participation in choirs helps introduce outsiders to faithful living in the church. Many who have come into church by way of a choral ensemble, have experienced the gospel there, and deepen their commitment to Christ. Our choir connects people to the faith. Our choir actually cares about one another. They stick together. They take in musical youth early in life and stand by us when our voices are no longer what they once were. Such care for one another with Christ solidly at the center of the music, it builds up faith.

 

How does ISIS recruit? I wonder about this dark army. On what basis do they attract trainees to affiliate with their mayhem? It seems like an impossible case to make. It isn’t. Roger Cohen wrote in the Times that 500-800 youth in Britain, and another 900 from France, are headed into their jihadi ranks. Two girls, 15 and 17, were detained in Paris last month, conspiring with Isis.
 

“Many young British Muslims are confused about their identity, and buy into a narrow framework that can explain events,” says Ghaffar Hussain, who is with a British research group grappling with religious extremism. “Jihadists hand them a simplistic narrative of good versus evil. They give them camaraderie and certainty. ISIS makes them feel part of a grand struggle.”

 

In high school, I had teen friends who became involved in serious drugs. They were “expanding their minds,” they said. Others felt buried in loneliness or insignificance only to join bizarre cults like the Moonies, then a global force, where belonging seemed to promise self-transcendence.
 

Even if we have a job and get a leg up, we long for more than grinding like ants on a hill, and grimly putting up with one blasted thing after another. People yearn to belong, for a life that matters. Ghaffar Hussain called it uniting with “a grand struggle.” I call it living out of a grand narrative. We’re hard-wired for this, to glow with meaning, beyond existing within life’s tedium.

 

You can’t get this from sports. Sports can take us within ourselves, teach us about winning and losing, being part of a team. But they do not deal in ultimate concerns. You can’t get this from academic or job or financial success. These can enrich our intellect, secure a livelihood, or give us the earmarks of prosperity. But they’re not about ultimate concerns. Their focus is still “me”.

 

Living out of a grand narrative puts life on a greater grid than our ups and downs. It gives life a ceiling far above becoming a more enviable rat within the rat race of life. We get caught up in transforming life projects that truly matter, bigger than ourselves, originating centuries ago, and to continue long after we’re gone. Football and shopping can excite, but can’t give us this.
 

Britain and France have very little left of living breathing Christian faith, only cathedrals from an era when the people strove to do something so magnificent as styling cathedrals to praise God. We cannot just go through the motions. Faith in God is passion and adventure, or it is nothing. Nature doesn’t tolerate a vacuum. If we’re indifferent in our faith toward God, if we affirm it is just as easy to be good without Christ and church, if we imagine none of it matters, think again.

 

Let us notice that, shall we? If we neglect the grand narrative of “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (II Cor 5.19) something else will surely fill this void. That void won’t vanish. Last Sunday it did my heart good to see many eager children register for Church School, and 15 youth that night with parents preparing for confirmation. The grand narrative matters, whether we like it or not, whether we agree or not. Every weekend here at church, we are re-narrating lives, redeeming purpose, recasting horizons. Funny, this life is more about God than about us.

Welcome Back Sunday isn’t a church calendar fixture year like Easter or Pentecost. But the Old Testament’s most compelling story is Israel’s search for their home, the place where God wanted them, having been liberated from slavery. Retelling that story is what the Passover seder is about. If you found you missed something indescribable over the summer, if something was not quite right, maybe you missed your spiritual home, our First Congregational Church.

This Sunday is our Welcome Back Sunday. We will share a Jazz Sunday with our own Max Pakhomov, John Stuart, and the Dixieland style band we welcomed a couple years ago. We will welcome eleven new members into our fellowship. An ice cream social with face painting will follow. We hope you’re making plans to be with us as we feel this energy surge among us anew.

Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Mark Twain said that. So maybe it is fitting that my sermon theme on Sunday is authenticity. When people and places are real or genuine, we cannot always exactly put our finger on why. But our antennae are always out, searching and wondering, do they really mean it? Or are they just going through the motions?

So what does authenticity mean in a church? Will Willimon, of Duke University, shares this vignette. An irate father called him one day, exploding on the other end of the line. “I hold you personally responsible for this!” he shouted. He was angry because his graduate-school-bound daughter had decided to “throw it all away” in Haiti to do mission work with the Presbyterians.

“Isn’t that absurd?” screamed the father. “She has a B. S. degree from Duke and she is going to dig ditches in Haiti! I hold you personally responsible for this!” Willimon said, “Why me?” The father came back, “you ingratiated yourself and filled her up with all of this religion stuff.” Will didn’t back off an inch. He asked the father, “Sir, weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”

“Well…..well, yes.” “And didn’t you take her to Sunday School when she was a little girl?” “Yes.” “And didn’t you allow your daughter to go on youth mission trips back in high school days?” “Yes…but what does that have to do with anything.” “Sir, you are reason she is ‘throwing it all away.’ You introduced her to Jesus, not me.” “But,” said the father, “all we wanted was a Presbyterian.” “Well, sorry, sir, you messed up. You’ve gone and made her into a disciple.”

Since hearing that story, whenever I meet with the family before baptizing a child, I always tell the parents that by having their child baptized that if Jesus later wants or lays claim to her for any number of ministries, easy or hard, near or far, they must let her go. It’s a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace moment. They generally swallow hard and nod yes. In Colorado, a new member family told me a story some years after they had joined that First Congregational.

They joined wanting to baptize a child. I gave my usual spiel about the completeness of God’s claim upon his baptized. In the parking lot, the wife said, “Wow. That was a little over the top, don’t you think? Pretty intense.” The husband answered, “If he doesn’t really believe it, or only half believes it, then how much do you think we are going to believe it?” I am ok with that.

See you Sunday! One service only at ten am!

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.56.53 AMWelcome Back Sunday isn’t a church calendar fixture year like Easter or Pentecost. But the Old Testament’s most compelling story is Israel’s search for their home, the place where God wanted them, having been liberated from slavery. Retelling that story is what the Passover seder is about. If you found you missed something indescribable over the summer, if something was not quite right, maybe you missed your spiritual home, our First Congregational Church.

This Sunday is our Welcome Back Sunday. We will share a Jazz Sunday with our own Max Pakhomov, John Stuart, and the Dixieland style band we welcomed a couple years ago. We will welcome eleven new members into our fellowship. An ice cream social with face painting will follow. We hope you’re making plans to be with us as we feel this energy surge among us anew.

Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Mark Twain said that. So maybe it is fitting that my sermon theme on Sunday is authenticity. When people and places are real or genuine, we cannot always exactly put our finger on why. But our antennae are always out, searching and wondering, do they really mean it? Or are they just going through the motions?

So what does authenticity mean in a church? Will Willimon, of Duke University, shares this vignette. An irate father called him one day, exploding on the other end of the line. “I hold you personally responsible for this!” he shouted. He was angry because his graduate-school-bound daughter had decided to “throw it all away” in Haiti to do mission work with the Presbyterians.

“Isn’t that absurd?” screamed the father. “She has a B. S. degree from Duke and she is going to dig ditches in Haiti! I hold you personally responsible for this!” Willimon said, “Why me?” The father came back, “you ingratiated yourself and filled her up with all of this religion stuff.” Will didn’t back off an inch. He asked the father, “Sir, weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”

“Well…..well, yes.” “And didn’t you take her to Sunday School when she was a little girl?” “Yes.” “And didn’t you allow your daughter to go on youth mission trips back in high school days?” “Yes…but what does that have to do with anything.” “Sir, you are reason she is ‘throwing it all away.’ You introduced her to Jesus, not me.” “But,” said the father, “all we wanted was a Presbyterian.” “Well, sorry, sir, you messed up. You’ve gone and made her into a disciple.”

Since hearing that story, whenever I meet with the family before baptizing a child, I always tell the parents that by having their child baptized that if Jesus later wants or lays claim to her for any number of ministries, easy or hard, near or far, they must let her go. It’s a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace moment. They generally swallow hard and nod yes. In Colorado, a new member family told me a story some years after they had joined that First Congregational.

They joined wanting to baptize a child. I gave my usual spiel about the completeness of God’s claim upon his baptized. In the parking lot, the wife said, “Wow. That was a little over the top, don’t you think? Pretty intense.” The husband answered, “If he doesn’t really believe it, or only half believes it, then how much do you think we are going to believe it?” I am ok with that.

See you Sunday! One service only at ten am!

We are at that pivotal moment in the year when the children return to school, the caregiving parent ensconces into the home routine to propel the family forward, and the providing parent returns to the job routine–all with a vengeance. Have you ever heard anyone say at work, when something very bad happens, “Don’t worry too much about it, in a hundred years who’ll care?”

On the lighter side of Labor Day, here are some jobs that no longer exist, a hundred or more years later. I don’t offer these to diminish or relativize our work today, but to give perspective, even before we need it. Someone said, “American worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” Maybe we shouldn’t worship our work. Maybe we should relax more into our play. Maybe this is the time to get more serious about attending worship. Here goes…

 

  • An “eyer” was someone who carved out the eyes of wooden sewing needles.
  • A “knocker-up” tapped on windows to get people up before reliable alarm clocks.
  • A “papaya” man dealt in trade with New Guinea (the name is derived from Papua).
  • A “tasseler” made tassels for furnishings (I recall Illinois’ detasselers working cornfields.)
  • A “puddler” waterproofed channels, canals, and banks by dredging and piling the mud.
  • “Puddlers” worked next to “slubbers” clearing drainage channels (“slub” means ooze).
  • A “ballad-monger” made his living selling printed music throughout the city streets.
  • An “abecedarian” specialized in teaching children and illiterates the alphabet, of course.
  • A “hankeyman” was a magician who travelled about Victorian and Edwardian England.
  • A “bloodletter” opened veins or used leeches to let “sick blood” out of people’s bodies.
  • A “fear-nothing” wove wool into cloth fabrics called “fearnought” and “dreadnought”.

I am thankful for our jobs. Those without work truly suffer. On even my worst days as a pastor, I am glad to work in a job that has been around for 2,000 years and will be here for 2,000 more.

We are at that pivotal moment in the year when the children return to school, the caregiving parent ensconces into the home routine to propel the family forward, and the providing parent returns to the job routine–all with a vengeance. Have you ever heard anyone say at work, when something very bad happens, “Don’t worry too much about it, in a hundred years who’ll care?”

On the lighter side of Labor Day, here are some jobs that no longer exist, a hundred or more years later. I don’t offer these to diminish or relativize our work today, but to give perspective, even before we need it. Someone said, “American worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” Maybe we shouldn’t worship our work. Maybe we should relax more into our play. Maybe this is the time to get more serious about attending worship. Here goes…

* An “eyer” was someone who carved out the eyes of wooden sewing needles.
* A “knocker-up” tapped on windows to get people up before reliable alarm clocks.
* A “papaya” man dealt in trade with New Guinea (the name is derived from Papua).
* A “tasseler” made tassels for furnishings (I recall Illinois’ detasselers working cornfields.)
* A “puddler” waterproofed channels, canals, and banks by dredging and piling the mud.
* “Puddlers” worked next to “slubbers” clearing drainage channels (“slub” means ooze).
* A “ballad-monger” made his living selling printed music throughout the city streets.
* An “abecedarian” specialized in teaching children and illiterates the alphabet, of course.
* A “hankeyman” was a magician who travelled about Victorian and Edwardian England.
* A “bloodletter” opened veins or used leeches to let “sick blood” out of people’s bodies.
* A “fear-nothing” wove wool into cloth fabrics called “fearnought” and “dreadnought”.

I am thankful for our jobs. Those without work truly suffer. On even my worst days as a pastor, I am glad to work in a job that has been around for 2,000 years and will be here for 2,000 more.

– Dale

Rev. Dale Rosenberger and his co-author Verlee Copeland will be signing copies of their book – Sex and the Spirit – on Oct 25, at Barrett’s Book Store, at 10 am.  See you there!!book

Check out these recent reviews:

– Lincoln Temple: Let’s Get It On – A Review of Sex And The Spirit: The Romance of Heaven and Earth” and How To Use This Book In Church Communities