31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 11, 2022
Psalm 90:1-4, 14-17
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Until about a hundred years ago and the creation of Church School and Children’s Ministry, Christian worship included people of all ages, all the time. In honor of the Church’s inclusive welcome of all generations, on Fall Fun Sunday, we gather together for worship and communion – as well as to picnic later.
On Fall Fun Sunday, I like to have a message that is particularly inclusive of all people and this one is really inclusive because I need you to participate or I just look silly. Every time, I raise my hands (like this), I invite you to join me in saying the title of the message – faithfully following God’s call. Try it with me now – even those of you online – faithfully following God’s call.
Once upon a time, almost 300 years ago to be exact, the Barnes, Manross, Brown, Messenger, and Buck families moved west from Farmington to find a new place to call home. Clip clop. Clip clop went the horses. Rumble, rumble went the wagon wheels as the families traveled up and over hills and mountains. Moving forward into a new life……Faithfully following God’s call.
And then each Sunday, well most Sundays, back again they went to Farmington for worship. Clip clop. Clip clop went the horses. Rumble, rumble went the wagon wheels as the families traveled up and over hills and mountains to praise God. Always……Faithfully following God’s call.
Until one day when they looked around their little community and noticed that five families had grown to twenty families. It might be time to begin worshipping in their own community, they thought, at least during the snowy winter and muddy spring months. They asked to become the South West Society of Farmington and then a few years later the West Society of Farmington, a community dedicated to loving God and loving all of their neighbors ……Faithfully following God’s call.
With a third name, that spoke of their dedication to God and neighbor, the Ecclesiastical or Church Society of New Cambridge called a pastor. They voted once; they voted twice; they voted a third time, and finally declared a winner, even though it meant the whole church community was a loser, with eight families, about 20% of the church society moving forward in faith by declaring themselves Church of England. The loss of those families must have put a damper on the joy of finally having called the Rev Samuel Newell as pastor, and yet in joy and sorrow, the church moved forward ……Faithfully following God’s call.
And they stayed true to their calling from God by creating a meetinghouse and then a second meetinghouse, and then a third meetinghouse, each a place where people could praise God and also gather as a community. They stayed true to their calling from God by welcoming new neighbors, creating schools, and caring for the roads and highways. With words and deeds, they loved God and lovingly cared for their neighbors, and even though their church name changed yet again, this time to the Bristol Congregational Society, always, always they were ……Faithfully following God’s call.
Even when it was challenging, even when there were disagreements, still this was a Christian community where differing theological beliefs were discussed, where the anti-slavery society was allowed to meet despite Bristol being fairly pro-slavery at the time, where women’s rights and an inclusive welcome for the LGBTQ+ community were wrestled with and in time, embraced. Because this community has always wanted to ……Faithfully following God’s call.
The path forward has rarely been direct or unanimous, though. At times, people have shown their disagreement in less then healthy ways – like in the early 1800’s when those who opposed singing hymns in worship stomped up and down the aisles during worship in protest; or like in the 1830’s when the pastor showed up for worship with his brand new wife and found the church doors boarded up because someone disagreed with his belief in human free will; or like in the 1870’s when the editor of the newspaper criticized the preacher’s sermons – in print.
Sadly, for 275 years, moving forward into the new has often led to community members leaving or the pastor being asked to leave, and yet despite the challenges, despite the strife, this community of faith continues to move forward into the new……Faithfully following God’s call.
While change brings loss, change also brings blessing, like the creation of the brick Parish House in 1914 for youth activities and community gatherings, which made possible hospital space during the pandemic of 1918, which fostered the creation of Bristol Hospital.
And the Parish House with all of that space led to the church hiring staff to share the good news of Jesus Christ with children and youth, blessing present day Bristol and the world with leaders who give of themselves in service to others.
And all of those leaders sharing their gifts and talents, led to the creation of a playgroup that in time became Century Nursery School, which has educated preschoolers for 70 years.
While it might have been easy to rest on our laurels, to be satisfied that we were doing enough to love God and love our neighbor, the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Bristol, CT has continued to move forward in faith, not only welcoming the LGBTQ+ community, also declaring that all people are God’s beloved children and an essential part of Christ’s community. Moving forward by taking the sacred and expensive step of making this church building safe and accessible for all, showing our love of God and our loving care of our neighbor, just as this church community has done for 275 years.
Even when it is challenging, even when it would be easier to settle for what is, always, always this congregation has listened for God’s still speaking voice……Faithfully following God’s call.
On the cusp of a new world, a new way of living, a new way of being, we continue to explore new ministry partnerships and new ways to show our love of God and love of our neighbor. We continue to move forward, creating an authentic community of God’s peace and love, seeking to bring healing and wholeness to our world.
For 275 years, the people of this Christian community have shown in word and action our love of God and our loving care of their neighbor. May we continue to create God’s inclusive community for all people, always……Faithfully following God’s call.