By: Rev. Pam McGrath
August 20th is the anniversary of when I came to First Church of Christ in Longmeadow!
This August 20, Doug and I will be driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ll stop to hear gospel and bluegrass music and watch buck dancing at the Floyd Country Store. We’ll hike paths through pine forests to raging water falls.
There are quicker ways to get from Longmeadow, MA to Atlanta, GA. But any travel that keeps me from this view is not how I want to spend my vacation. This photo is from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we’ll pass mile after mile of vistas, of the kind that literally take my breath away with their beauty. I expect to find myself, as I have in the past, pulling over at every scenic vista, getting out of the car, and breathing deeply—with the kind of breaths that let healing, peace and calm flood your spirit.
And I’ll spend quiet time reflecting appreciatively on the two years I have spent at First Church of Christ in Longmeadow as your Senior Pastor. I expect to find myself remembering times we spent taking deep breaths of healing, joy, sorrow and hope together. I’ll be interested to notice: since August 20, 2017, what will I remember most?
Just writing this, I’m flooded with images of our time together. Remember the Christmas pageant of 2018? We laughed and wept from the sweetness of little children dressed as sheep, angels, shepherds, the holy family and an innkeeper who tumbled head first through the cutout in a large box painted as “The Inn”? We sang and cheered—just like I think the angels did on the night Jesus was born.
Then there are the memories of Saturday Celebrations—a Bluegrass picnic on the lawn, a Mardi Gras bash and two Pride celebrations. We danced with the bluegrass band and the jazz band. We invited the whole town. We shared meals, laughter and a safe place for our LGBTQAI family. At both Pride dinners, folks from our town shared how important it was for them to know they were safe, welcomed, and loved at FCCL. I cried with strangers about the times they had been excluded from church. We took a deep breath and prayed together for healing.
Remember how we focused on storytelling? Every Sunday someone from our congregation shared their testimony. We learned about their lives, illnesses, times of pain or transformation. We made new “old friends” so that, when we turn to them for the sharing of the peace in worship, we can call them by name and remember who they truly are.
We hosted monthly Storytelling concerts. Professional storytellers prepared us and opened our hearts and minds so that everyone present could imagine standing up and sharing a story of their lives. And so many of us did! Every month about one-third to one-half of the audience were not FCCL members, but folks from the surrounding area. People from 6 to 80 years old offered to brave the microphone, to tell a memory or favorite story. As they told their stories, we laughed at the silly things they did; we cried when their parents died; we cheered when they bravely faced down their fears.
We have also tried new ideas and worship services. Remember?
We gathered with the town, Senior Services, Glenmeadow’s “campus for seniors,” Temple Beth El and Bay State University to begin the Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) project: pairing volunteers with those isolated and in need of a friend.
We had our first Blessing of the Animals in the sanctuary—with no messes!
We began new “All Age Worship Experiences” (AAWE) on the fourth Sunday of each month. Our children serve, read, usher, and participate in all parts of our 45-minute worship.
Our Music Director, our Sunday school lead teacher, and our Family Ministries Director have all worked together to bring us a children’s choir that skates, sings and dresses as pink unicorns. And didn’t we laugh when Dan worn a little girls’ bikini top over his shirt and tie?
These memories of how we are trying to make our children and families truly welcome has succeeded in bringing more children to church. We will begin a second Sunday School class in the fall!
Remember how we wept and cheered as Rev. Marisa was installed as our settled Associate Pastor? The whole community gathered to show her how happy we were to have her be a permanent part of our community. I have been delighted to have a clergy partner to plan with, pray with, share visitation with, and hear preach.
Even the more everyday events have brought smiles, friendships and thanksgiving. At the weekly Bible studies, we have a chance to doubt, discuss, and explore scripture and our own relationship to the texts. We disagree, see new perspectives, and wonder together.
At funerals for beloved members, we have wept together and remembered times of laughter and love.
During an Advent after-church program, we shared our personal stories of journeying like the Holy Family did when they were forced to flee Herod. Hearing our stories of moving from one place to another, of immigration, and of building new lives brought us closer together and reminded us how much we are needed by refugees and immigrants—just as baby Jesus needed those in Egypt who offered his family kindness.
Another moment that brought tears to my eyes was when, near the end of the budgeting process, we made a commitment to give just a little more “icing on the cake” during the Stewardship Pledge drive—so our dedicated staff could have a cost-of-living increase.
Remember our Friends Next Door series? Local interfaith leaders shared a weekly Bible study over 6 weeks in the fall and again in the spring. We listened to our neighbors and heard their understanding of the text and sacred times, and they listened to us. We built friendships and respect.
These are just a few of the hundreds of memories of you and our time together that I treasure.
Many years ago for my ordination paper I wrote:
My concept of church is a community of believers who gather to live out the kingdom of God brought by Christ. It is the enactment of the Body of Christ in the world through worship, social justice, education, transformation of lives and the building of faith.
The last two years with you have brought me much joy—and challenged me to continue to reach for this understanding of church. We are all works in process. And we will keep working on ourselves and our church community until the Kin-dom comes.