31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 23, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Faithfully moving forward! Doesn’t that sound encouraging?! Doesn’t that sound hopeful?!
As much as we may want to faithfully move forward, in this world of uncertainty, it can be challenging to have the clarity to faithfully move forward. There are so many needs in our world, so many ministry possibilities and opportunities. How do we know what God is calling us to do? How do we know where we, as individuals and a church community, are called to give and serve? How do we move forward in faith?…
We look back. We look back throughout these 275 years of ministry. We look back at why this Christian community was started in 1747. We look back at Jesus’ calling to us 2,000 years ago: Love God and love our neighbor. Love God and love our neighbors.
In 1747, loving God and loving our neighbors meant gathering to praise God in homes and then in the first meetinghouse built right here on Federal Hill. Now, thanks to the investments we have made in audio and video equipment and thanks to dedicated volunteers, our worshipping community extends well beyond the walls of this historic meetinghouse. We gather from across the country to glorify God together. We gather on Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday lunch to hear the good news of Christ’s love and connect with God.
Once upon a time, loving your neighbor meant your geographic neighbor. It meant caring for the whole community of New Cambridge, Bristol’s original name. This Christian community cared for our neighbors by caring for the roads in Bristol, by caring for the schools, by constructing a meetinghouse where the community could gather for worship, for meetings, for baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
Even as we are not charged with being the stewards of the roads and schools anymore, still, we continue to care for the whole community. We continue to care for our neighbors by welcoming families in for joyful celebrations like baptisms and weddings; and by welcoming families in their times of greatest sorrow, when they are grieving the death of a loved one. Here we are – open arms, embodying God’s unconditional love as made known to us in Jesus Christ. Here we are – saying ‘you are loved; you are important; you belong.’
It is in our DNA, going back 275 years ago when we welcomed all new settlers into this area, going back 2,000 years to Jesus Christ who welcomed children, outcasts, foreigners, and everyone else society said was not important. It is core to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ to say “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Even as we welcome people in to know God’s love and to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, we also love God and our neighbors by going out into our community, out into world. I sometimes lose track of all of the ministry partners we have – because we are in connection with so many churches and organizations, supporting them with our money, food donations, and time. What is easy to remember though is that here in Bristol, here in Connecticut, around the world, we are loving our neighbors by providing for those who are food insecure and hungry, by working with our community to provide meals and food pantries and school weekend food backpacks. We are loving our neighbors by providing for those who are housing insecure, by providing support to Family Promise, Prudence Crandall Domestic Violence Shelter, and St. Vincent DePaul Homeless Shelter so more individuals and families have a warm, safe place to sleep at night. We love our neighbors by responding to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine or due to natural disasters around the world.
We are not just dreaming of a world where all people live in peace and unity. We are praying for it, and we are faithfully moving forward, growing vegetables, making meals, renovating the white house on our church property, giving money, collaborating with fellow church communities. We are actively loving God by loving our neighbors, our geographic neighbors and our international neighbors.
And we are actively loving God by caring for the spiritual needs of our neighbors.
Spiritual needs are much harder to see than physical ones though. You can’t take a picture of spiritual needs like you can of boxes of cereal or of school backpacks filled with supplies. And yet, our neighbors, here in Bristol and around the world, are in spiritual need. They are asking questions like “why do tragedies happen?” “Why is this loss happening to me?” They are asking, “Am I loved? Does anyone care about me?”
And into that darkness, into that emptiness, we, the Christian community of the First Congregational Church, faithfully walk – holding Christ’s light high. Sharing with people Jesus’ words “Not only do I like you…I love you, and I will love you until the end of time.”
I know you are doing this. I saw how many people invited friends to the hayride a week ago. I saw how many people shared on our church’s words of comfort and prayer on Facebook last week. I listen to your stories of how you have offered patience, love, and compassion to others. I know how many Journey of Grief books we mail out to mourning families. I am very, very aware of how we are all faithfully moving forward, loving God and loving our neighbors.
And I am also very aware that faithfully moving forward, straining forward to what lies ahead, running this race with perseverance, takes a lot of hope, faith and courage. Hope, faith, and courage that I receive from being a part of this faith community. Hope, faith, and courage I find renewed in me whenever I hear our choirs glorifying God with their amazing music. Hope, faith, and courage I have nurtured in me at Bible study, Confirmation, Game Night! even committee meetings – because it is in these gatherings that I get to spend time with you all, one on one and in small groups, and you tell me what you are reading; you sharing with me how God is speaking to you; you nurture my connection with God and feed my spiritual needs, reminding me of Jesus’ words “I love you, and I will love you until the end of time.”
The journey of this Christian community has not been easy, and yet, we persevere, we faithfully move forward because we know that our ministry is important, our ministry is much needed. We are important; we are needed, and God is working through us to create a world in which all people have food, water, and a safe place to call home. A world in which all people turn to God in praise, prayer, and wonder, giving glory to God. A world in which all people know the life-giving love of God and live in unity and peace. God is working through us to create a better world. Thanks be to God for this blessing.