Luke writes, “All who believed were together” (Acts 2:44). When I began at FCC we were not all together. I remember one particularly contentious Meet the Minister meeting in April 2016, a week or two after I began my work with you. A group of us was gathered in Bill and Maureen Matthews’ living room. There were complaints about the fact that the church had called a “Transitional Senior Minister” instead of a “Settled Minister.” There were arguments over music and worship style, the building, and the direction of the church. There were differing opinions on the virtues and faults of previous ministers. At one point I simply observed, “One thing is clear: we’re not together.”
There’s a difference between diversity of opinion and not being together. It has to do with mission focus. Acts chapter 1 tells us that before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers, “You will be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That was their mission focus. When in the next chapter Luke writes, “All who believed were together,” he was not only talking about physical proximity. 20+ years of ministry has taught me that people can regularly be “all together” in a physical space and nevertheless be “all over the place” when it comes mission focus. For some, the most important part of church is the historical building while for others the most important part is the pastor. Still others prioritize socializing with their friends or doing service programs. None of these things are bad in themselves, but if there is no shared sense of a larger purpose that all of these activities serve, it’s as if we’re two-year-olds engaged in parallel play. I’m playing with my truck while you’re next to me doing your puzzle. This is fine for two-year-olds, but the movement Jesus gave his life for was intended to change the world. And for that to happen, we need to be all together, not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual and missional sense.
This Sunday we begin our Silent Period with Home Worship. We will be gathering in three locations and at three different times across the city. See below for details. Even though we won’t be “all together” physically this week, the intimacy of home worship is intended to bring us closer together spiritually and in our mission focus: restart.
Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister
First Congregational Church of Stamford
Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday/Legacy Sunday
3 March 2019
Text: Luke 9:28-36
We are not closing. We are being transfigured. We are not closing. We are turning a page. We are not closing. We are restarting. We are not closing. We are being remade. What is closing is this chapter in our history.
What is ending is all of this. What is ending is our occupancy of this building. There’s nothing wrong with this building. It’s beautiful. It’s historic. It’s built on the best piece of property in the city. It just doesn’t serve us anymore, and we have too few resources–human and financial–to maintain it. So we are choosing to let it go. We have already done this six times in our history. And if we have any luck, any courage, any faith, we will likely do it again. It’s our spiritual DNA. It’s how we survive. It’s how God remakes us.
What’s ending is white, Euro-centric worship. There’s nothing wrong with that style. But Stamford is a young, culturally diverse city. That’s why everyone wants to move here. People like young. People like diverse. People like joy. People like freedom. People need silence. People like awe and a sense of the holy. People long to connect to God. And if people can’t see themselves, their lives, their concerns, and their cultures reflected in worship, they can’t see God.
What’s ending is the idea that Stamford owes us something. Being first is a proud thing. The story of those who sailed from England in the 1600s, gathered in Watertown, MA under the leadership of Sir Richard Saltonstall, and eventually made their way to this place should be remembered. The whole story. Including the story of the indigenous hosts of this land and truth of how our European ancestors came to possess it. But if the mission of this church is to found the City of Stamford, that was accomplished a long, long time ago. If the plumber would fix our building or electric company provide power based solely on the fact that this is First Congregational Church, we would be fine. But, unfortunately, simply being the first is not enough to sustain a congregation in the 21st century.
Neither is doing good things for people. First Congregational Church has done many acts of charity over the years. We have provided moral leadership at critical times. The city in general has a good opinion of us. But in the same way that the plumber won’t fix our toilets because we have the word “first” in our name, the groundskeepers won’t accept payment in good opinion and well wishes. While commendations from the mayor are nice, they do not pay the bills. The people of Stamford are not going to support our church just because we think they should. We are entitled to nothing.
I’ve been serving congregations my entire life from singing with the children’s choir to serving as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. And the nearest I can tell is that ultimately people sacrifice their time, talent, and treasure on behalf of a congregation for the same reason the saints of old gave their bodies to the lions and their flesh to the flames. Ultimately there is one reason and one reason only to be a church: to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are not closing. We are being reborn. We are not closing. We are humbling ourselves before God and the City of Stamford and saying, “Make us the church you need us to be.” We are joining Jesus in the garden, falling to our knees, praying, “Not my will but yours be done.” We are joining Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop in order that we, too, might bear witness to transfiguration.