This Sunday we will read one of the most beautiful and comforting of the Psalms, number 84 that begins “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts. My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Last Sunday someone shared that they forgot we were worshipping in West Newbury on May 28th and came to find the doors closed and nobody here on that Sunday morning. He saw the sign and then remembered, but for a minute he experienced the pang of what it would be like if the church did not exist. The lovelier we make this dwelling of God, the more our soul longs to be here.
This Sunday we will celebrate all we have done and do to fulfill the goals of our Identity and Aspiration Statement that are about being “a loving church family where everyone feels welcome and at home, appreciated and supported…. where we feel joy, peace and a steady deepening of Christ-like love and faithfulness among us.” Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, June 11, 2017→
This Sunday we will celebrate the spirit of uniting and being united that we share with our denomination, the United Church of Christ. This Friday and Saturday the Vermont Conference of the UCC will be having its 222nd Annual Meeting at Lake Morey, which means the Conference was there to welcome this congregation in 1810 when it formed. Its history and our history are bound up together–the Conference and Association have played crucial roles at important times in the life of our congregation (such as during pastoral searches, like now), and the reverse is also true.
In fact in the past year the Bradford Congregational Church has contributed leadership to the UCC in two important ways. Being a uniting and united church depends on having healthy communication and building beloved community within the congregation, and the work we have done and workshops we have held on those topics have helped many churches in the Vermont Conference and beyond. We have also become one of the UCC’s Open and Affirming congregations, formally stating what this congregation has always aspired to be, a church that unites all people without exception.
“That they may all be one” was Jesus’ last prayer, and hallelujah! We will all be one at the Sunrise Service! It looked as if the Bradford Congregational Church and Grace United Methodist Church would break tradition and worship apart, but we have worked it out so that we can be together!
The service will be at 6:00 AM at 219 Summer Street. (Please leave the closest parking spots for those who have trouble walking.) It will be followed by Easter breakfast at 6:30 AM at Grace UMC. Please note that revised time.
The Sunrise Service will include a “Kindling of the New Fire” ritual, the singing of “In the Bulb There Is a Flower (The Hymn of Promise)” and “Fairest Lord Jesus,” the reading of the resurrection story from Matthew and a short reflection and time of prayer, as well as the beauty of God’s creation at Easter dawn, rain or shine.
Our regular Easter service will be at 10:00 AM with the resurrection story from John and a skit for the children. It will include the singing of three of the great Easter hymns: “Alleluia! The Strife is O’er” and “Come, Ye Faithful Raise the Strain” and of course, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” The choir will sing two verses of “Now the Green Blade Rises” as the Introit and Kopolyoff’s “Alleluia! Christ Is Risen” as the Anthem. John will play three beautiful organ pieces, “The Heavens Are Telling” by B. Marcello, “Christ Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” by J. S. Bach and “Allegro Maestoso” by G. F. Handel.
Below is an exuberant performance of the Handel John will play as we go out in joy.
Holy Week begins on Sunday, April 9th, with the Palm/Passion Sunday service at 10:00 AM and the Choir Festival at 7:00 PM. It continues with the beautiful Maundy Thursday service on April 13th at 7:00 PM in our sanctuary and a Good Friday service on April 14th at Grace United Methodist Church at 7:00 PM. It concludes with two services and a breakfast on Easter morning, April 16. For more details and some Palm Sunday music and art, Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, Holy Week, April 9-16, 2017→
The Fifth Sunday in Lent takes us into the depths of the suffering and danger that Lent represents. Jesus has been in the wilderness without food or water, exposed to the brutal elements, for a month. He is getting weaker and more vulnerable. Succumbing to temptation or death is an increasing possibility. The lectionary scripture passages have been leading us on a parallel journey toward the cross, with tension increasing around Jesus as he confronts the religious and political establishment with actions that threaten to overturn them. They are plotting his death even as he heals and raises people from the dead and lifts the hopes of the poor and oppressed.
Next week, on April 9th, we will follow the Passion Story from Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the arrest, betrayal, desertion and crucifixion on Good Friday. Here in the depths of Lent with all that coming ahead, Easter can seem impossible. How can the light shine in this darkness without the darkness overcoming it? The amazing thing is that even asking that question can raise a small, fragile but defiant candle in our hearts. Continue reading Service Notes, April 2, 2017, Deep in Lent→
Please mark your calendars and extend invitations to family, friends and neighbors to these services.
Palm/Passion Sunday, April 9th at 10:00 AM, a profoundly moving service that begins with jubilant children distributing palms and then travels with its readings and hymns all the way through the week to Gethsemane, the cross and the tomb.
Palm Sunday evening, April 9th at 7:00 PM, we will continue a tradition of 51 years and host the annual Palm Sunday Choir Festival for area choral groups and musicians. Choirs from Bradford and surrounding towns will present anthems, our own John Atwood will play the prelude and postlude and you will have five glorious opportunities to sing hymns. All donations go to the work of the Inter Church Council.
Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Service, April 13th at 7:00 PM in our sanctuary–this service rivals Christmas Eve in drama and beauty, with beloved hymns, readings and candlelight. It is a joint service with Grace Methodist.
Easter Sunrise Outdoor Service, April 16th at 6:00 AM at 219 Summer Street, the home of the Buttons–a little singing, a little reading and reflecting, and a whole great big vista of God’s resurrecting Creation!
Easter Service, April 16th at 10:00 AM in the sanctuary, full of the traditional joyous readings and music.
This Sunday will be a Service of Compassion. We will seek to open our hearts in compassion not only to the victims of oppression, discrimination and hardship, but also to those who struggle to help them. We know the heartbreak we feel when someone in our family is suffering and we are helpless to fix the problem–this is the heartbreak Christ calls us into for the whole world, a compassion we feel that makes us deserving of compassion for our own empathic pain. It is the heartbreak of the cross. It is the wilderness of Lent. Yet we know that there is resurrection, there is emerging from the wilderness full of the Spirit’s power. This Sunday’s service will explore where we can find faith and hope within the struggle to love a suffering world.
Lent does not deserve the reputation that it has for deprivation. It can be a beautiful, spiritually rich, powerfully moving season. This Sunday we will sing four beloved hymn tunes, we will read one of the most reassuring Psalms, we will hear the old familiar story of Jesus suffering real temptations just as we do and showing us a way to respond that brings angels to our aid. Yes, Lent leads us into a wilderness, but it is a lovely and love-filled and fruitful one.
Here one of the wisest perspectives on Lent that I know. After it I will give more details about the service and share three extraordinary recordings. This is an excerpt from the great Lenten book of daily readings, A Season for the Spirit, by Martin Smith:
“Perhaps the word surrender should be enough for my prayer on this Ash Wednesday. Not the surrender of submission to an enemy, but the opposite, the laying down of resistance to the One who loves me infinitely more than I can guess, the One who is more on my side than I am myself. Continue reading Service notes, March 5, 2017, First Sunday in Lent→
“Jesus took over the phrase ‘the Kingdom of God,’ but he changed its meaning. He refused entirely to be the kind of a Messiah that his contemporaries expected. Jesus made love the mark of sovereignty. Here we are left with no doubt as to Jesus’ meaning. The Kingdom of God will be a society in which men and women live as children of God should live. It will be a kingdom controlled by the law of love.”
A young student wrote those words for a course in seminary. No one could have known when he wrote them that he would help move the world so much closer to fulfilling Christ’s vision of the law of love. He became the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and called his entire life work “an experiment in love.” He believed America had the greatest chance of becoming a model of the realm of God of any nation in history because of its founding principles of democracy and equality and freedom for all. He had that dream, and he gave his life to fulfill it. He lived and died to extend the law of love to the kind of people Jesus always did, the most vulnerable, the oppressed and the outcast.