Faith Matters article from Greenfield Recorder
A member of the congregation shared this article with me yesterday after Service. The Greenfield Recorder runs a weekly column by a minister of a Franklin County house of worship. It's called "Faith Matters." It's a wonderful service to the community. I wish the Hampshire Gazette, a sister paper, would think about doing the same.
This is the article from the September 22nd edition, written by Rev. Barbara Seamon, pastor of the Sunderland Congregational Church. It speaks of the original American democracy, the New England Town Meeting.
I have hanging in my home a copy of Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" painting. It shows an ordinary citizen standing up at Town Meeting and voicing his opinion and the others present listening attentively. Except in our small New England towns, this may seem quaint. However, this is still the pure democracy by which we run the congregations and the denomination of the UCC. I truly appreciate this spiritual and religious freedom.
I thought her words on our church's democracy were well worth sharing:
As Andy Castillo reported in June 2017 in The Recorder, our church’s history and the Town of Sunderland are intrinsically tied. In the 1600s, all New England settlements were required to have a church/meeting house in order to be a sanctioned municipality. In 1673, settlers petitioned to become a town and were granted seven years “to attract enough settlers and hire a minister.” Church history records that after securing a learned and orthodox minister, the first meetinghouse was built in 1717. A few months later, with around 40 families, the first worship service was conducted by Rev. Joseph Willard in January 1718. Having fulfilled the requirements, The First Congregational Church of Sunderland and The Town of Sunderland had their beginning. All of these events happened before the American Revolution, and before Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper for the Declaration of Independence. Now, 301 years later, our church and town are celebrating. After more than 300 years, our church is still governed in the same way. Congregational churches do not have Bishops, nor do they have a Pope to oversee their activities and mandate theology. Congregational churches are governed by the democratic town meeting model today, just as they were 300 years ago. It is a challenging way to run any kind of institution, be it a church, a town or business.
But as Winston Churchill wrote: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I am the pastor of the church and although my name is on the sign, it is the people of the congregation who are in charge of this church.
Does that sound familiar? “Of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The Town of Sunderland, began with a petition and it is still active today because our congregation continues to labor and practice their devotion to that community model.
All these years later, this church still has a deep commitment to community. That is no accident. It is part of our bylaws and our theology.
The birth of this church, of this town, and the birth of this country were founded on what some have called “the democratic experiment.” And, yes, a few things have changed in 3 centuries. For example, 301 years ago, a woman could not lead worship. I am standing here as a testament not only to this church but to the congregational form of government that believes God is active and continues to guide us actively into the future in love.
We believe that God and Christ increase our capacity to love and to care for one another. We believe we have to learn how to discern and better practice that kind of love, through study and action.
Our church in Sunderland is not large, but we are always looking for ways to improve.
I thought the June article in The Recorder last year about our church was great, but it was missing one very important aspect. There were two pictures of our church building. As beautiful as our building is, it is nothing without the people. I have asked to include the above picture of this community.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, our church will have a special celebration to honor the Town of Sunderland’s 300th Anniversary. We will have special music from our choirs. Professor Emeritus of History, Ronald Story, will speak on the beginnings of the Congregational Church. Story spent 35 years at UMass Amherst teaching and writing books. Among them were “Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love.” The Rev. Kelly Gallagher, our conference minister, will bring greetings from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.
I hope you can join us for this important commemoration. I give thanks for this community of faith that has endured so many years, for the history and beauty of the Town of Sunderland, and that with God’s help we may continue for centuries to come.
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