October 2023

Saturday, October 14, brought a leisurely visit to the Second Congregational Church of Biddeford, Maine (#40). The members, led by Rev. Cat Anglea, minister to the community by opening their space to addiction recovery groups and Bon Appetit, which provides dinners for 50-100 people on weeknights. On Saturday mornings, volunteers of all ages pick up trash in the town. A highlight of the year is Kids’ Shopping Day. Children can select items for their parents and others to discover the joy of giving. Our delicious soup lunch was graced with the youngest and oldest members of the congregation, spanning over 90 years in age.

On Sunday, October 15, I worshipped at the Second Congregational Church of Warren, Maine (#41). Following worship, we enjoyed beef stew with homemade yeast rolls and a selection of fall desserts, including pumpkin cake. Yum. During lunch, pictures of recent events scrolled on a television screen. The church takes pride in flowers and landscaping that complement recent improvements on the exterior and interior. Rev. Bette Bond and I made the short, uphill walk to a converted building behind the Baptist church. There, we visited a clothes closet, well-stocked with laundered garments available for free to local families. Displays included Halloween and Christmas attire and a fun tiger hat costume. Congregationalists and Baptists look forward to a shared Thanksgiving Eve worship service, one of many ecumenical collaborations in Warren.

Tuesday morning, October 17 (#42), I was in western Massachusetts. Robbins Memorial Congregational Church, an expansive Tudor structure, was preparing for pie sales. Members reminisced about selling pies at the fair years ago. On Sunday, they observed Pastor Appreciation Month by surprising clergy members of the congregation with a cake.

After a drive along the Mohawk Trail, I found myself at White Oaks Congregational Church (#43) in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I was ninety minutes early and was welcomed inside for freshly baked shortbread and tea with the moderator and pastor. Later, we were joined by other members. The church has experienced several deaths in recent years. It has carved out a unique ministry of providing storage and finding new homes for household items following those losses. Members were looking forward to an upcoming bazaar with a pancake breakfast.

On October 18, I spent a couple hours with leaders at First Congregational Church in Westfield, Massachusetts (#44). I enjoyed hearing about an upcoming Halloween party for EVERYONE – kid-friendly food, candy, and games for all ages. A significant outreach to the community is the Blessed Buys Thrift Shoppe, occupying an adjacent building with rooms designated for books, household items, clothing, and more! A walk through the historic meetinghouse included a stroll through the balcony with impressive views of the pews and chancel. Windows at the front of the church provide a prime vantage point for looking out on the town square.

Friday, October 20, carried me along winding roads to our newest (provisional) member church, Hadlyme Congregational Church in East Haddam, Connecticut (#45). Founded in 1742, this rural congregation calls itself the “small church with a big heart.” It comprises individuals who have been members for over eighty years, following in their parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps, and members who are new to the community or held membership in other historically Congregational churches in the area. The members enjoy fellowship and coffee after every service. I enjoyed homemade pie with freshly whipped cream – comfort food in good company on a rainy afternoon.

Florence Congregational Church in Massachusetts (#46) welcomed me on October 22 for one of their traditional worship services, held twice a month in conjunction with a restart. In collaboration with the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity, the church is planning a performance and discussion of the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Music for that occasion was a distinctive offering during the service. The sermon and liturgy acknowledged the conflict and crisis in the Middle East, with concern expressed for the Jewish congregation that worships in the same space. Longtime – and new – church members reflected on the strength of their relationships with one another and the clergy who have blessed them in the past and present.

Back home in Wisconsin, I worshipped with St. Jacobi Congregational Church in Richfield (#47) on October 29. This church, founded in 1851, joins other congregations and the fire department for fundraising breakfasts. Their minister, Jerry Eisner, is a graduate of the Lay Ministry Training Program. Beautiful banners made by a member of the church grace the walls of the sanctuary and fellowship hall. Like the Hadlyme congregation, this church in farm country rejoices in its identity as a “little church with a big heart.”

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