Until September

We must have one of the longest church names in Christendom. The Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ, is a mouthful. It is also a lot of letters to put on a church sign, or a bumper sticker, or on the letterhead. Some days I pine for a name like “First Church.” The length is the least of my problems, how about trying to explain it. My stock response when asked is “We were the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth rock.” That seems to satisfy most people.

I wish I had time to remind them of the complete history. For the fact is, I am very proud of our name—it says what we believe. The congregation is the most important part of the church, and we say it, boldly, in our name. To be congregational really meant something in the seventeenth century. It was a brave statement of the priesthood of all believers. It was an audacious affront to the prevailing political systems of the day. And it was an affirmation of the importance of being part of an independent religious community.

The first Congregationalists formed from a union of the Pilgrims and Puritans and they chose a name that said what they believed. They were separating from the religious institutions and beliefs that had been status quo for centuries. To state that the congregation was the ultimate authority before God flew in the face of autocratic religious leaders who insisted on dictating the will of God.

This was more than a religious statement. In early colonial America this was also a new relationship between state and religion. We celebrate the political revolution that formed this country, but it may not have happened without the religious revolution that preceded it.

To be a Congregationalist was, and still is, more than a religious and political statement, it is a personal commitment that God may be found in the sharing of community with fellow believers. This may be more radical today than when the name was first created. Then it was expected that one would join a church, today we are the exception. Religion has become a much more private matter. I am not judgmental about that, it is just a different way of seeing God. I find God in the faces of those around me, in common service to live as Jesus taught, and in the challenge of living into faith in community.

I am feeling particularly appreciative of this community of faith as I prepare to be on sabbatical this summer. I am glad to be in a church that values time for the pastor to learn and relax. This is important for my faith journey and I think it is for the congregation as well. I also appreciate the members of our church who are so eager to step up and fill in. By this we truly show our congregational nature. It is the congregation’s place—to gather and to lead.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful sabbatical that will include travel to Paris, Denver, and Martha’s Vineyard. I’m also looking forward to some time to do indepth study of the role of religion in helping solve our environmental problems. And I am looking forward to when I return in September and hearing the stories of all the great things that will happen at CCH while I am gone. Have a great summer. I’ll see you in the fall.

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