As of July 1, 2022, the NACCC comprises 312 congregations and 28,715 church members. Our former Executive Director, Ashley Cleere, kicked off an Executive Director Listening Tour with the charge to visit as many NACCC churches possible in the span of three years.

Revisit all the churches that were part of the Listening Tour: who they are, where they are, and how they live out the Congregational Way.

Listening Tour Statistics and Fun Facts

Churches visited: 65
States visited: 18 –  Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin

March 2024

After flying into Providence, Rhode Island, the evening before, I made my way to Taunton, Massachusetts, to visit West Congregational Church (#57). I appreciated the lively conversation with several members of this congregation, which joined the NACCC in 2021. In addition to the meetinghouse, the oldest church building in town, their campus comprises a former store that houses church offices and classroom space, a fellowship hall, a residential duplex, and an outdoor pavilion. The congregation was expecting 70 – 100 men people for a Palm Sunday weekend breakfast and worship service attended by Congregationalists in the region. Since the retirement of their longtime pastor, they have welcomed many area clergy and lay leaders to their pulpit.

I then headed southeast to Cape Cod to spend time with members of the First Congregational Church of Yarmouth. While #58 on the Listening Tour, this church, founded in 1639, is #7 after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. During a roundtable discussion, some leaders of boards and committees introduced themselves as a “wash ashore.” This allusion to debris that the ocean delivers to beaches describes people not born on the Cape. Their diverse backgrounds provide for meaningful theological dialogue and illuminate the congregation’s generosity of spirit. Describing themselves as a “tithing church,” the congregation raises money for community agencies through, among other initiatives, a popular thrift shop and a weekly spaghetti dinner during Lent, a meal and time of fellowship, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Members anticipated a sermon on Zechariah on Sunday. Their minister is preaching on every book of the Bible in sequential order.

On Saturday, March 9, I returned to Rhode Island to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Riverpoint Congregational Church (#59) in West Warwick. The meaningful worship service replicated the 100th-anniversary observance. The Rev. Gail Mills opened the service by reading excerpts from the church’s history and impact on the local community and preached a sermon emphasizing the importance of outreach. I was pleased to read a page from the church’s file in our national office appointing R. Vaughn Abercrombie as a delegate to the Council of  Concern held at the Hotel Fort Shelby in Detroit, Michigan, in 1955 to participate in the formation of a “national Association of Congregational Christian Churches.” Guests from the Northeast Fellowship of Congregational Christian Churches attended the joyful gathering. Over a sumptuous dinner, individuals representing many decades of membership reminisced and perused tables with myriad artifacts.

I was welcomed to the First Congregational Church of Fall River, Massachusetts (#60) on Sunday, March 10. Before the service, Rev. Andrew Stinson gave me a tour of the expansive building dedicated in 1913. It includes a gymnasium used by more than 20 groups each week for basketball; the church offers free yoga classes twice a week. He introduced me to their new religious education coordinator, who showed me artwork depicting scriptural messages created by children and their teachers. Andy reflected on collaborations with local partners, highlighting a coat drive with the United Way that engaged students from a nearby school. During the fellowship hour following the uplifting worship service, members told me about a monthly dinner for mothers. Many looked forward to an upcoming Lenten retreat, joining with Baptist church members at a nearby abbey.

After three days in the office, I flew to Wichita, Kansas, where I stayed for five nights and visited several churches within a 90-minute drive of the city.

On Friday morning, I drove north to get acquainted with the First Congregational Church of Emporia (#61). With enthusiastic dedication, the members described the impact their baby closet is having on the local community. 74 families received clothing, diapers, wipes, and toys in the past four days. The church partners with several local agencies to meet this critical need. On Sunday mornings, they are blessed with a choir of Baptists and Congregationalists, who sing weekly at both churches. After our gathering adjourned, several people headed out to a Lenten lunch hosted by the ministerial alliance. At the same time, the minister and moderator gave me a tour. In the narthex, I admired a dollhouse-like church used for offerings during the pandemic. The chancel features special overhead lighting with colors that complement the liturgical calendar.

I then journeyed west to Hutchinson, aka “Hutch,” where my hosts treated me to a tour of the Cosmosphere, an extensive space museum that draws worldwide visitors. The First Congregational Church of Hutchinson (#62) building was constructed in the early 1970s as a single-story structure to be accessible and accommodating. The floor plan is one of many ways this congregation lives out its moniker “A Soft Place To Land.” Symbolically, the trustees meet at a board table at the back of the sanctuary, visibly connecting worldly concerns to spiritual ones. As we walked down the hallway, we paused at a colorful map of missions supported by the congregation. Many are NACCC’s global mission partners. Others, such as a school in Haiti, originated because of a personal connection from a community member. It was delightful to socialize informally in the gymnasium before hearing about the congregation’s recent history, including the reception of new members. A pizza dinner nourished us to play various games with more chances to interact.

Midday on Saturday, I was greeted at the hotel to accompany Pastor Craig and Carol Reynolds to Sedgwick. Although less than 25 miles from the city, this community of 1600 has a distinctively different vibe than the city. A delicious lunch at the Meeting House, a non-profit coffee shop supported by local churches, preceded a pleasant walk to Plymouth Congregational Church (#63). The church was founded in 1872, the same year as the city, by a Vermonter on the hunt for his brother-in-law, who had absconded with his family’s cash. A direct descendant of the church’s founder was part of our gathering. The fellowship hall and sanctuary were adorned with paintings and collages created by members. During Lent, Pastor Craig adds another symbol from the passion narrative to the chancel each week. I left with a coin in my pocket commemorating Jesus’ journey to the cross.

On Sunday, another Congregationalist picked me up at my hotel to travel to another Plymouth Congregational Church in Wichita (#64), the site of the communion service at the 2022 annual meeting and conference. In anticipation of Rev. Don Olsen’s retirement in June 2025, the Transition Committee posted comments from focus group discussions around the sanctuary, another example (like Hutch) of connecting the church’s work to worship. That evening, I attended “A Taste of Ireland,” one of three events held each year as part of a Fine Arts Series. While listening to an Irish band, we feasted on Guinness stew and whiskey carrots. One soloist, the associate minister, Rev. Karen Robu, also auctioned desserts to raise money to support fine arts events.

Plymouth collaborates with the University Congregational Church (#65) in Wichita for special events such as Vacation Bible School and artistic performances. Founded in 1983, it is one of the youngest congregations in the NACCC. Their choir includes students from nearby Wichita State University. The Head-To-Toe Hygiene pantry, a prominent mission, supports over 400 families monthly. The eye-catching white brick building has prompted the leadership to make the space available for non-member weddings. I carried home with me a welcome bag. Provided to guests who attend worship, it contained literature about the church, Congregationalism, and some savory homemade jam.

Photos and Notes from Previous Months

July 2022   The Listening Tour kicked off in Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
August 2022  Visits in New York, New Jersey, and Wisconsin
October 2022 Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin
November & December 2022 Minnesota, Connecticut, New York, Georgia
January, February & March 2023 Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Alaska
April 2023 Back to Michigan
September 2023 California
October 2023 East Coast and back to Wisconsin
November 2023 California to Michigan
December 2023 Ohio and Wisconsin
February 2024 Minnesota
March 2024 From Massachusetts, Rhode Island to Wichita