In a letter to the congregation at First Church in Middletown, Rev. Julia Burkey outlines the events celebrating the church’s 350
anniversary, the church’s ancestors, and the current community-building efforts as the congregation recommits itself to a covenant signed 350 years ago this Sunday.
Greetings in Christ!
Many of us are bustling around this week preparing for the November 4th 350th festivities. Choir members are going over music notes, staff members are working on programs and at rehearsals, church ladies are attending to the details of the reception and maybe even the ancestors are spiritually bursting from their graves eager to celebrate with us! I wanted to take a moment to pause with you in a spirit of gratitude and a spirit of abundance, to give thanks for this tremendous legacy we have inherited and to honor the beautiful work going into our celebration. Let me attempt to weave all these pieces together with you:
I am excited about our 10am communion service, because Nov 4th is literally 350 years to the day when the founders of First Church signed the covenant. Nov 4th is also All Saints Day where the Christian tradition ritually remembers the dead. Over a blessing of the communion elements, we will ritually call on and invite in all the ministers who have ever blessed the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper in any official capacity with us. The congregation will then bless and call on all the friends and members of the church who have ever received the cup and bread at First Church throughout history. We will unite ourselves with our ancestors in faith in a tangible way.
We will also hear from special guest preacher Dr. John D. Caputo on the “Weakness of God,” his signature philosophical and theological idea. Dr. John D. Caputo, American philosopher and Professor Emeritus of Religion at Syracuse University & Villanova University, is working to share the latest developments in philosophical theology with the public, in language that welcomes more people to the conversation. During Advent we will pick up on the theme of the “Weakness of God” by thinking about vulnerability as we anticipate the baby Jesus. The work of philosophy can be exciting, helpful, and fascinating—and yet it is also often couched in language that admits no entry. But by turning our attention to the most basic questions about reality, human existence, and God, philosophy can open up new ways of understanding the world and our place within it.
To have Dr. Jack Caputo come think with us about God, the world, Jesus and who we are in relationship to the cosmos, creates a bridge between the academy and our creative community. We are striving to become a cutting edge Christian community; a unique expression of walking the path of Jesus and a place that Dr. Caputo lifts up and sees as visionary in his thinking and work. He will learn from us just as much as we will learn from him. Dr. John “Jack” Caputo will join us for Second Hour as well.
We say in our mission statement that we seek to nourish the divine spark in all people and to create a spiritual home within and beyond our walls. At the 4pm service we will nourish the divine spark in all of us by uplifting local artists who are collaborating for the gift of ‘Vision of our Ancestors,’ composed by our very own Lee T. McQuillan, to the poem written by our very own E. Lenore Milling, and then our very own musicians and choir will sing in celebration! This piece has gifted us with a musical imagination about the beginning welcome of the church, bringing us to today. It has also given us a lot of hours in rehearsal, and as one of the singers, I can get uptight about getting all the notes just right. Lee came to rehearsal on Monday night and said it sounded great, now the most important thing to do: “relax and enjoy!” What sage advice!
At the 4pm service we get to celebrate our sanctuary as the, “Carnegie Hall on Court Street,” as Fred our local self-proclaimed “Bum with a Broom” calls First Church. How beautiful the new carpet sparkles in the sun and how spacious the front of the sanctuary feels and how tremendous the new accessible to all pews look! What a moment to share the Sanctuary within our walls. During this 4pm service we will do a blessing of the city of Middletown, the spiritual community beyond our walls.
We need church more than ever these days and I believe with my every cell in the importance of local church, because we are one of the only institutions whose primary role is to care for the common good in community. I am humbled and honored to be your pastor at this moment in history. Our commitment to nourishment and to justice make my heart sing.
Speaking of proclaiming justice, in both the morning 10am service and afternoon 4pm services we will hear from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, commissioned by the Executive Committee, to think with us about how our tradition and institution have at times in our history perpetuated harm and oppression. We will seek healing by making a pro-racial justice public statement denouncing oppression as well as hold ritual space for healing the wounds of our ancestors. This is to inspire us to see where our growing edges are today, and to empower us with a sense of responsibility and a recommitment to justice, laying a firm foundation for the next however many years are to come. We seek humbly to participate in the healing work of Jesus from our 350 year vantage point and to do our small part as an institution to bring about the realm of God. We thank God for blessing First Church for three hundred and fifty years, and ask for God’s blessing now, always, and in all ways.
Now, good people of First Church, in all our bustling and preparation, it is soon time to “relax and enjoy,” as Lee told the choir. Let us sing our praises to God in celebration, let us call on the Holy Spirit to join our song, and let us walk with this God and one with another in the path of Jesus, with grace and strength and great care for one another, as we recommit ourselves to our covenant on Sunday (or the parts that don’t ping us ;)!
Below is the First Church In Middletown Covent (with original spellings), signed and adopted November 4, 1668: