The Minister’s Musings
As part of my call agreement with First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, the Search Committee asked that I participate in the Boston Seminar. The Boston Seminar is an onsite, week long class in Boston, MA that focuses upon the history, theology, polity, and spirituality of the Congregational Way. I attended with other pastors, one seminary student, and one lay person.
We visited sites in Boston and Plymouth and had two full days of lectures at the Congregational Library. In four and a half days, we walked 25.5 miles (according to someone’s FitBit) and went from 8:30am – 9/9:30pm. It was an educationally packed time away that had me grateful for my church history and polity professors from seminary as I dusted off the knowledge I had gleaned from them. It also allowed me to reflect on the life of this congregation in light of all I was hearing.
One of the many sites we visited was Plymouth Plantation. We stepped back in time as we watched the character actors living as if it were 1620. The day we visited, the area was under a heat advisory (105 degrees “real feel”). Yet, here were the women in their thatched houses cooking lunch over an open fire in their long-sleeved, full length dresses and bonnets. They spoke of having to relearn how to cook after leaving England and their families behind. It had us reflecting upon whether we would have had the courage to leave behind all we knew in order to worship God freely.
We also visited Burial Hill in Plymouth. Some of the Mayflower passengers would have been buried here, but their markers (if they had any) have been lost to time. The earliest stone is from 1681; although there are memorial stones erected to those who traveled to Plymouth from England. It is thought that Governor William Bradford (first Governor of Plymouth Plantation) is buried close to his son and a memorial to him is erected at that spot.
At the foot of Burial Hill is a Unitarian Church. It had long been a Congregational Church until the church split over the theology of the Trinity; the Congregationalists holding onto the belief of one God in three persons (Father-Son-Spirit). Literally right next door is a Congregational Church which was built sometime after the split. It reminded me that, although we hold no creed and accept people in all their theological differences, our ancestors had some beliefs they would not compromise.
Speaking of creeds, although we do not use any particular creed as a litmus test for membership, the Congregational Church has had Statements of Faith and Covenants it has held over the generations. In these statements, they speak of such things as autonomy of the local church, the unity of the church universal, and our dependence upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All of these were very familiar as the United Church of Christ (UCC), which holds my ordination, uses these same statements. The earliest members had to demonstrate conversion uses these same statements. The earliest members had to demonstrate conversion before they would be granted membership to an individual church. It was not taken for granted that the children of long-standing members would themselves be allowed membership.
The Congregational Library and Archives is a sight to behold. It houses documents back to the earliest Congregations in the United States. They have handwritten sermon manuscripts from some of the cornerstone preachers of our church, baptismal archives, and membership letters which told of personal faith journeys. They are always looking for people to become members and contributors so that the restoration and housing of these historical documents can continue. The spirituality of the Pilgrims was very familiar to me as it is not unique in its influences. Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine, and Francis de Sales left their imprint on the prayer of the Pilgrims. They relied upon silent meditation, the reading of scripture, singing songs (especially the Psalms), prayer devotionals, practicing humility, and the celebration of the sacraments. Interestingly enough, there is study being done on Communion that points to the Pilgrims sharing in this Sacrament more often than we modern day Congregationalists!
All in all, it was a fascinating week. It reminded me again and again that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and we should hold onto our practices lightly as they can change and develop as we grow in faith and understanding. I offer you all a thank-you; for this opportunity to learn and for the opportunity to cultivate friendships with other Congregational Ministers.
God’s Blessings and Peace
Rev. Carrie Orlando