31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 6, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Pat Manchester, Chuck Snyder, Polly Wilcox, Edgar Buck, Alice Crosby, Barbara Place. These are not only names of saints who surround us from heaven. These are the names of people who surrounded us in worship when I first arrived at FCC. As did Phyllis Michaud who was also the first to do our birthday card ministry. And then there was Dick Carlson who came to FCC most days of the week, to do some building or yard project. Yes, he had his doctorate in physics from Colombia, was incredibly financially generous in his giving, and Dick regularly came to sweep the parking lot or pick up sticks.
Wally, Hap and Betty Barnes were also very financially generous with our congregation and our city. Their names are engraved on plaques all across Bristol. Their names are written on my heart because they all cared very deeply about others, especially their neighbors in Bristol and inspired me and others to do the same.
I could go on and on telling you about Adelaide and Frank Farken who worked hard all their lives and lived quietly and simply, generously leaving our church one and a half million dollars. I could tell you about Terry Fletcher, Laura Simpson, and Edna Tuttle who were faithfully committed to this church just as their families had been since the 1700’s.
Shirley Reynolds, Elly Loveland, Voncile Hartmann, Bill Greer, Betty Hinman, Fred Hyde, Mel MacCallum, Alleen Reid – all faithful, generous FCC members. Then there were saints like Ellen Nestico who amongst other things created beautiful gardens around the church and Jennie Webster who was such a fixture in our Children’s Ministry, and Jean Greger who was a founder of Century Nursery School and Dave and Shirley Powell whose handwriting is still to be found on building plans and financial records.
Those names are just a fraction of the saints I have personally known, who blessed our church community during their lifetimes and now surround us with blessings from heaven. They are our great cloud of witnesses.
Some of them blessed this church community and the world through their acts of service, like Gerry Syrett who began the Tower Lighting Ministry. Some of them blessed our church community and our world through their faithful praise of God – like John and Lorraine Lasnier who sat in the back on the north side and John Heiser who sat in the back on the south side or like Shirley Tubbs who rain or shine or sleet or snow would be in her pew. Some like Gabby LaChance and Hope Berry blessed our church with their prayers. Others like Jane Minor and Gui Carrier blessed us with their faithful friendship.
We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. We are surrounded by faithful and generous saints who role modeled for us what the Christian life of service looks like, and on this Sunday following All Saints’ Day, it is a blessing to pause and remember Betty Careb and her husband Bebs and sister-in-law, Suzi. It is a blessing to my heart to think of Marion Crumb, her mother Annie Gardinello, Bernice DiLena, Bill Katsaounis, and Mary Jones. It is with thanksgiving that I lift up the memory of Bob Williamson, Bob Hahn, Bill Treadway, and Clara Belle Brown. And it is with deep gladness for having known him and been blessed by his smiles, good humor, and faithful service, that I name Alex Cinotti as a saint who has joined the great cloud of witnesses, surrounding us with his love.
What names would you add? I invite you to share online or share out loud the names of faithful and generous saints who surround us.
God, we give you thanks for this great cloud of witnesses, and we remember that we are called to not just give thanks. We are called to be inspired.
These were wonderful people, giving, kind, faithful, Christ-centered people and so are you! Like this great cloud of witnesses that came before us, we, too, are called to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely… [and] run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We are called to be servants of Christ, ministering to the needs of our fellow human beings. Now, our service may look different than those who came before us. Maybe you are not be called to coach the church basketball team, especially since we no longer have a basketball gym, and maybe you are not called to start a coffee house for teens – actually, maybe you are- because while we no longer use the basement of the white house, we have lots of other great spaces where youth or youth non-profits could gather. As individuals and as a church community, we have an abundance of gifts to share.
On this Commitment Sunday, in this 275th anniversary year, we look back. We give thanks for those who came before us in this church community. We feel blessed by the past. Blessed by the firm spiritual and financial foundation laid by Christ’s servants who came before us. And blessed, not trapped by the past, we faithfully, generously move forward.
We faithfully, generously move forward in hosting the first ever Festival of Incredible Edible Creations, raising money and more importantly awareness about St. Vincent De Paul’s shelter ministries and the need for safe affordable housing in Bristol.
We faithfully, generously move forward in hosting the Blue Christmas worship service to walk alongside those who are grieving or depressed in the Christmas season.
We faithfully, generously move forward to….….what? What is next for FCC Bristol? What new ministry has God placed upon your heart and mind? A new style of worship at a time other than Sunday morning in a room other than the Sanctuary? A new ministry partnership with a faith community or non-profit? New uses for this well-maintained historic building? Maybe renovations to this well-maintained historic building so it can better serve our community?
We, the Christian community of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, Bristol, CT are faithfully, generously moving forward. Moving forward in ways we are already planning, moving forward in ways we are already dreaming, moving forward in ways we have not get discerned.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, blessed by so many saints, we run with perseverance, trusting that God is leading us forward into service, leading us forward into blessing, leading us forward into a future of hope.