BLOG: 293 Years and Counting....

by Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher

Our mission is still the same as it has been for nearly 300 years….

This Sunday we’re having a Homecoming service at our church. Local historian, and church member, Marshall Atwater has been busily collecting photos of the church’s history (my favorite is the one of the nearly-barren Green with a Model-T parked out in front of the church), a special coffee hour is planned for after the service, and we’re preparing to welcome back some friends that we haven’t seen in a few years. It promises to be a special, celebratory Sunday.

So in preparation, I have been thinking about the bell that has swung high above the Green for some 223 years, the different buildings that have housed our ancestors on different parts of the Green, the days when church membership dwindled and dwindled as our town seemingly “went to sleep,” and the thousands of people who have sought comfort and challenge within our sanctuary for the last 293 years (it’s true, there wasn’t an official church here until 1722).

And I quickly came to realize that times have changed. There’s the understatement of the last three centuries, I know! We’re no longer worshiping for six hours on a Sunday (yes, they did that). The sermons are no longer two hours long (yikes, right?). And we’re blessedly no longer publicly censuring people in worship for their transgressions (yes, they actually did that too).

But we are trying to do what I think our ancestors were doing—in their own, by our standards, rather curious way: we’re seeking to make our community—and by extension, our world—a better place.

And for me, that’s what church is all about. It’s not about securing your seat in heaven. It’s not about chastising people for their mistakes. It’s not about trying to seem holier than another by suggesting some are not worthy of God’s love by virtue of who they were born to be. It’s not about judging and condemning and excluding and everything else popular media wants to paint the church as being.

It’s about coming, as the imperfect, broken people we are, asking for God’s blessing to be the best people we can be, and supporting one another as we do just that. And it’s believing that our actions can bring the world a little closer to what God hopes and dreams it can be.

It’s true we may no longer have a Tythingman racing around the sanctuary trying to keep people awake—because worship is a lot more fun now—but really, our mission is still the same as it has been for nearly 300 years. And with God's blessings, this year’s anniversary celebration will be the start of at least 300 more.

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher
Written by:

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of the United Congregational Church of Tolland, and author of the book Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and Faith. An avid runner, New England sports fan, and Tolland Soccer Club coach, Jeff, his wife Kristen, and sons Noah and Jacob have been residents of Tolland for just over a year.