O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Isaac Watts, 1719
Visiting old churches invites me into the historical divine silence of sacred space. Looking around a sanctuary, dark woodwork creates a sense of inviting warmth. Daylight shining into the stained-glass windows illustrates and celebrates our ancient biblical heritage. I often sense a warm spiritual presence created by faithful saints of the church who prayed, sang, and worshipped in years past. I also feel a deep sense of security within our Divine Creator’s mysterious guiding presence.
Installation of their pastor
Last weekend I was invited to participate in the long-awaited Installation of their pastor, the Reverend Dr. Douglas Williamson at the historical First Congregational Church UCC, Marblehead, Ohio. Doug had been called in the fall of 2019 by a faithful search committee. Their ministry together began with discussion and a plan for a Spring 2020 Pastoral Installation Service.
The rapid spread of Covid 19 and Pandemic safety restrictions created tremendous havoc within the pattern of our lives. The celebration of multiple major events and important rituals that mark important transitions in life were placed on hold. The congregation of Marblehead experienced a rapid halt to their Installation Celebration. And yet, faithfully pastor and new church family were committed to develop alternative paths to grow in ministry. Phone calls became an essential way to stay in touch. The leadership gathered socially distanced and tried zoom to brainstorm and develop strategies for worship through Facebook. As the community faced multiple logistical challenges, this faithful congregation stayed connected and persevered in their commitment to ministry and one another.
Growing Together in Faith
The congregation and their pastor created meaningful worship and community building that continued as the Season of Lent led into the holiness of Easter, through Pentecost, and Thanksgiving, even as the Winter of 2020 welcomed a new church year and Season of Advent. During stress-filled times as this, we are reminded of Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 13: 31-33: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The seed of Marblehead’s new ministry continued to be carefully nurtured and slowly grew to fruition. Entering the sanctuary on Sunday, August 8th, the congregational joy was palpable. Time had finally arrived for the congregation to formally welcome and install their already beloved pastor into the ministry of preaching and teaching at Marblehead. The bulletin was artistically created by the church clerk and colored by her granddaughter.
Worship began as a spirit of profound holiness filled the sanctuary with an organ-piano duet of Amazing Grace. Those gathered were embraced by the soul-filled spiritual energy of members, clergy, and the memory of faithful saints who had worshipped within that sacred space for over one hundred years. Ancient scripture, heartfelt hymns, prayers, and promises of commitment to the ministry of the church were faithfully exchanged by the pastor and congregation.
Celebrating Life Transitions and Blessings
Although it had been almost two years since Rev. Doug’s call to Marblehead, the small mustard seed of a new ministerial beginning had slowly persevered and was nurtured by the faithful commitment of the pastor and congregation. Generously shared tender love and care through the emotional tumult of the Covid pandemic, their relationship was officially honored and joyfully celebrated.
Despite the Covid pandemic’s tremendous disruption, loss, and multiple challenges, our communities have faithfully created alternative pathways that allowed society to honor life transitions and move forward. May we make time to harvest those special moments and transitions both past and present, always giving thanks for God’s abundant and amazing grace.