By Rev. Albert P. Watson, May 9, 1920
The Town of Hatfield and the First Congregational Church of Hatfield, United Church of Christ are both, simultaneously, approaching their 350th anniversary.
In Puritan Massachusetts, a community could not be incorporated until it had arranged the services of a settled pastor. Thus, the church and the town were born as one.
This history shares some amazing stories, and I would add inspiring too.
Rev. Hope Atherton, the church's first pastor, was the chaplain when Capt. Turner, of Turners Falls fame, led a group of Colonists to battle the Native Americans. The campaign did not go well. The Colonists retreated haphazardly. Rev. Atherton became lost in the dense woods of 17th century western Massachusetts. The pamphlet below tells the rest of his story.
There was also Rev. Joseph Lyman who swayed the people of Hatfield and convinced them to support the Revolutionary War. [He later supported Shay's Rebellion and meetings were held at the church.]
Rev. John M. Greene was a staunch abolitionist and was ready himself to fight to end the sin of slavery. He was also the trusted confidant of Sophia Smith of Smith Charities and Smith College. Rev. Greene is the one who helped her disperse her wealth so graciously and generously.
There's also the story of the silver Communion Service that is now on display at the Art Museum of Yale University.
The town's 350th Committee has planned a year full of events and the church will be a part of this milestone. There is a proud history here and one that should be remembered.
Here's the rest of the story ...
Today's New York Times: "On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people. ... 'It’s disheartening, I think, to see so many politicians just keep doing the same kind of wash-rinse-repeat kind of cycle of: mass shooting happens, and then it’s tweet about thoughts and prayers, and then it becomes, "We can’t talk about political ideology, we can’t talk about this and that,"' said Greg Cameron, 31, who does marketing for a bike-share company.
Laura Platt, 33, a physician, said she wanted to see better gun policies enacted but had no expectation that that would happen. 'Nothing happened after Sandy Hook, so I think nothing’s going to happen after this,' she said."
Yesterday morning in church we prayed - again - after a mass shooting. We prayed for those who died, who were injured and those of us who must live in this kind of society. Prayer and support are necessary, but it's not enough.
Gun violence is not only a political issue. It is a moral and therefore a religious issue as well. If we are going to follow a Saviour of peace, we have to stand up for peace, and we have to stand against the lawlessness of our gun culture. People in effected communities have begun to shout down their politicians by yelling "Do Something!" That's my prayer: "Do something!"
Every church is free to decide its own course. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/12/for-gender-fluid-pope-enlightenment-has-soul-crushing-limits/IhTx2PER9Lxo8VfyubY0AN/story.html)
One of the reasons why I am proud to be a member of the United Church of Christ is that it embraces Jesus' openness to all people, especially the ones most in need, the ones pushed to the side, the ones rejected in God's name. There is an alternate and valid reading of Mark 1:41 that goes like this: "Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]"
Jesus' anger is directed against a religious system that would cause a person in desperate need to wonder if God were also disgusted with him. Jesus doesn't only heal the leper, the man declared ritually unclean and unfit to be in God's presence, Jesus touches the person. Jesus becomes unclean. Jesus connects with the man and simultaneously destroys the notion that God rejects the ones we reject in His name. This is the Jesus behind Open and Affirming. ONA is not only "fashionable." It is gospel.
The UCC celebrates "Open and Affirming Sunday" this year on June 30th. I am not sure why this Sunday was chosen, but June 28, 1969 is the date of the Stonewall Inn riot in NYC, 50 years ago. I imagine there must be a connection. On this day we will celebrate Jesus' extravagant welcome of all God's people whoever they may be. This is the course that the UCC has decided to follow.
What would Jesus have us do?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard David Ortiz was shot, I was talking with someone who was considering the possibility of declaring bankruptcy because of medical expenses. The person has medical insurance through the employer, but the deductibles are so high that a serious medical issue that required extensive care may bankrupt that person. It is a blessing that Big Papi has access to the world’s greatest medical talents and institutions. However, is it conscionable that an organization like the Red Sox who can pay the astronomical amounts needed to have a beloved Boston sports icon flown on a chartered plane with all the attendant medical attention and equipment from the Dominican Republic to Mass General Hospital for extremely costly care, while others are locked out of far less because they have less? Is the value of people’s lives, like in some future science fiction dystopia, measured by wealth?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard about the shooting of Number 34, I heard on the news that the Vatican had declared an end to the discussion and treatment options for the transgender, declaring the issue settled by God at birth. On the same day, I heard an interview prior to the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention in which a church leader declared that the gospel needs to be preached with a male voice because that is what Jesus commands. Men must be unquestioned as Jesus’ mouthpiece. This is the same denomination at the same Convention that must also deal with the same male privilege tragedy of clergy sexual abuse that was tolerated for who knows how many generations by the Vatican.
Churches seem to be unhesitant in preaching gospel as what they want to hear it. But what about the gospel we hear in the Gospels? Doesn’t Jesus stand with the marginalized and the oppressed? Doesn’t Jesus warn against the selfishness that becomes more and more possible with the accumulation of more and more ridiculous amounts of wealth? If churches are so willing to intervene in the political discussion of issues of sexual morality with a male-centric bias, issues which are far from biblically clear, shouldn’t they also speak out and protest the morality of something like the divide in medical care based on wealth? Or is that just not the gospel that they want to hear? If this is the case, can we blame people for abandoning organized religion as hypocritical? Have churches become overrun with the very same sins that Jesus opposed?
Is it time again for reform fueled by Jesus’ example and Jesus’ presence?
Birthday Gift to the Church
The Christian Church was born on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was shared with Jesus' first followers. The once confused and timid, now inspired by the Spirit, began to share courageously the gospel and person of Jesus Christ - and the church was born.
Help us to celebrate the church's birthday by donating to the Strengthen the Church Special Offering, which helps our church to continue the sacred work started so many Pentecosts ago, but still alive and vibrant.
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Thank you for your generosity.
More Bible study - A book club gathering - Something else?
On May 20th, we will hold our last Bible study class as we have reached the conclusion of Mark's Gospel. We will take some time off, but then as part of our continuing adult Christian education, we will start sharing ideas about our next venture.
Maybe there is a book that you think would be beneficial for us to read and discuss, and which will hopefully make us more aware Christians and church. If so, please share that idea. If you'd like, send your suggestion along by adding it to the comment section to this post.
I would like to offer the possible read of the book being shared at General Synod 32, June 21st - 25th, Milwaukee, WI. Here's a link to it that can be copy and pasted in your browser: https://live.eventtia.com/en/uccsynod2019/Synod-Keynote-Speaker
Maybe we could choose our topic soon, read it over the summer, and come together in the Fall. If you're interested, let me know.
Today is Earth Day. Biblically we are stewards of God's good creation, not masters. As such we have a moral responsibility to care for creation, not rape it for our own momentary gain. For the sake of the generations following our own, let's hope and pray that it is not too late to save us from ourselves and the climate change we are not treating seriously enough.
Good Friday, April 19th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 19th: Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; John 18:1—19:42; Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is Good Friday. This will be the last of the Lent Blogs for this season. I would encourage you to continue with daily Scripture reading. If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: https://www.macucc.org/lectionary.
I will post occasionally, but these Lenten offerings were one of my ways to engage daily with God’s Word. For as often as I read the Bible, I am reassured constantly that it is God’s still speaking Word. There is always something new. I believe that comes in part from my own ever-changing relationship with God. Jesus speaks to me where I am, which shouldn’t be a surprise since that comes across repeatedly in the Gospel stories, but it is a matter of listening. And Lent is a very special opportunity to listen.
Our church will be open today from 9AM – 3:30PM. Mark’s Gospel informs us that Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9AM, that the skies grew dark at noon, and that He died at 3PM. These are contemplative hours. The silence and sanctity of place can help. Pew Bibles are available. Maybe read Psalm 22. Think back to the time before Jesus when this prayer of suffering and of faith was first uttered. This was a human in deepest despair. Then, read the Psalm again as on the lips of Jesus, the Crucified God in Moltmann’s turn of phrase.
Try to imagine that God in Jesus experiences forsakenness. Mark, the oldest Gospel, tells us that there is not a single comforting face for Jesus to look down upon from the cross and that painful cry of “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” means that there is no one above either. Jesus on the cross feels the isolation that can plague our mortal condition. He dies as one of us. His death is the perfect act of at-one-ment. Jesus …
“Though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 6-8)
Jesus forsakes everything, God forsakes everything, for us. There is no more perfect a love. God’s everything is everything, and this is all offered up for communion with us. If that were not enough, God even sacrifices His own self. In Christ Jesus we discover that God loves us more than He loves Himself. Think back to Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac and the repulsion the whole affair generates, and then look to the cross where the Son actually dies. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53), and yet He dies. The cross was accepted by Christ as a sacrifice for His gospel. Jesus’ lived proclamation is the only way we can survive as our better selves. It’s the only way to protect us from our more dangerous selves. And it cost Jesus His life, a beautiful life tortured to death in a most heinous way.
This is why today is a day of contemplation and self-examination. This cannot be like any other day. It must be treated with grave reverence. Jesus deserves no less.
Maundy Thursday, April 18th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 18th: Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; John 13:1-17, 31b-35; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is Maundy Thursday. The name is derived from the Latin Vulgate word mandatum, “commandment.” The commandment is Jesus’ “new commandment” that He urges upon His followers at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Lent is a holy season of introspection and meditation. Holy Week accentuates our spiritual exercises as Jesus ventures into Jerusalem and a confrontation with His powerful enemies. And now, from Holy Thursday forward, we are in the final stretch as we move from Last Supper to Jesus’ grave. Everything about Lent is compressed and amplified.
This evening we will gather for our Maundy Thursday Service. It is intentionally solemn. We will read the same passage from John’s Gospel that is shared here. It tells us that Jesus takes on the role of the humblest servant in the house and washes the feet of His disciples. It is an important lesson the meditate upon. We’ve been reading Holy Scripture passages of the Suffering Servant. The imagery is noble and self-sacrificing. This is different. Jesus honours service. It is the truth passed over too lightly in the often repeated statement: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” This sentence is interspersed in different situations in the Gospels from which we can infer that it was remembered as a key phrase because of its frequent usage by Jesus. It is the overturning of worldly order and priority. It is the replacement of human power with God’s reign. And God’s reign grows in breadth and depth when we not only watch what Jesus does, but when we imitate His embrace of servanthood: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Continuing in our Maundy Thursday Service, we will also share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This takes us out of John’s Gospel and on to another tradition. John is unique in that he situates the institution of Communion during the feeding of the thousands. For John, this sacrament is not limited to a few in a closed room at the end of Jesus’ life. For John, Communion is positioned in the midst of Jesus’ ministry among a multitude of people. Unlike the other Gospel accounts of the feeding of the thousands, Jesus Himself distributes the miraculous bounty. The logistics are problematic, which only reinforces the theological importance that Christ is directly available to the people through this sacred meal. There are no intermediaries in John. In John’s Last Supper, the institution of Communion is replaced by the “new commandment” to love one another as Jesus has loved us, which is exemplified in the washing of the disciples’ feet. Communion with Christ and service in the world are linked together in ways church sometimes forgets in both directions.
When we receive Holy Communion this evening, as we gather in church to remember the night of Jesus’ Last Supper, we fulfill another Last Supper commandment. The most ancient biblical source of the institution account is not found in the Gospels. It is conveyed to us by Paul in today’s selection. In his telling, Jesus commands, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and we have for some 2,000 years. This time span does not move us farther and farther away from the reality of Communion. It amplifies our connection with Christ through this sacrament. It was already a tradition at the time of Paul to gather for the Lord’s Supper, and it is a tradition still holy today. Jesus is just as real in our presence now as He was 2,000 years ago. Sacrament comes from the Greek word for mystery, and the timelessness of Communion’s sacrament is part of that mystery.
Any and all are welcome to join us this evening as we gather to remember Jesus’ Last Supper and the beginning of His Passion. As we say every time we share in Communion, “All are welcome at the Communion Table.”
Wednesday, April 17th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 17th: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21- 32; and Hebrews 12:1-3. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Did Jesus die with thoughts of Isaiah lingering throughout His last moments of consciousness? As soldiers and priests struck Him on the back tearing apart His flesh, as insults and charges of blasphemy were hurled at Him with utter contempt, as men spit upon the face of God, did Jesus find consolation in words He must have been familiar with from the Book of Isaiah: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”?
This hope melds perfectly with the accounts of the Johannine Jesus. In other Passion narratives, Jesus is not certain which particular disciple will betray Him, but in John nothing seems hidden from Jesus. He outs Judas to the Beloved Disciple, and presumably the Beloved Disciple shares the news with Peter that Judas is the traitor.
There’s a problem with this scenario, however. After clearly identifying Judas, the account proceeds by telling us: “Now no one at the table knew why [Jesus] said this to [Judas]. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor.” These logical interruptions are often signs that history and theology are being forced together and sometimes the fit is not seamless.
John’s theology is then said openly. The cross is Jesus’ glory not His suffering. Jesus has almost transcended His human nature and taken on more of His divine nature. John’s Jesus is in control even as they crucify Him. And isn’t this what today’s three other readings repeat, as well? Isn’t God there for the faithful even in their suffering? Wouldn’t this be a reassuring theology for those first generations of Christians dealing with a crucified Saviour? Wouldn’t this soften the scandal of Christ being disgraced as an executed common political criminal?
But what if that’s a preferred theology talking? What if the scandal was visceral? What if Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was real? What if Jesus faced His suffering and mortality by carrying His full human nature all the way to the cross? What if He faced death scared, alone and wondering what the future held? Can this scandal be an even greater glory? Can it testify to the intimacy of God’s connection with all of us through the very real human nature of Jesus Christ? The Bible offers alternatives. But either way, let us never take the cross for granted. Jesus deserves reverence, and at least He deserves to be remembered.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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