Celebrating 150 years
(Reprinted from the June 2009 newsletter)
As the words of Faith York’s anthem so eloquently painted the picture, “Here in this holy place, her in this sacred space,” the May 17 celebration of our 150th anniversary was a reflection of our deepest faith, our sincerest fellowship, and a palpable link between our past and future.
It was a special day from start to finish, beginning when members of the congregation were handed a 25-page bulletin, which included a detailed church history from 1859 to current day.
Lay Leader Steve Hill greeted the approximately 150 people in attendance while five ministers — Bishop Cliff Ives, Rev. Jim Young, Rev. Mike Davis, Rev. Walter Brown, and Rev. Ruth Morrison — gathered in the narthex and began the service by marching in procession down the center aisle to the beat of “We are Marching” (Siyahamba), a traditional South African hymn.
It was clear from the first five minutes that this was not going to be an ordinary Sunday.
Following a call to worship and opening prayer, Stephen Bither introduced Faith and the choir as they performed Faith’s original anthem, “Holy Place.”
in worship we come;
together as one.
a race to be run;
we follow the Son
age after age,
as our people have done.”
It should. Faith’s anthem is about us — our families, current and past, our friends, from near and far, brought to life and light through her gifted inspiration and words, and a musical score that echoed through the sanctuary like a familiar voice we had heard before; a comforting warmth . . . “here in this holy place, here in this sacred place.”
And how fitting was that . . .
If this had been a concert hall, Faith’s anthem would have been a showstopper and no other act would have dared to come on afterward.
But in church, there’s always the bishop . . .
Bishop Cliff Ives, who became our minister in 1962 when he was still a theology student at Boston University and who later led the campaign that moved our church to its current location in 1967, gave the sermon on Anniversary Sunday, mixing accomplishments and successes from the past with a blueprint of what we should move toward in the future.
“Not long after the church on the Cape was formed,” Bishop Ives said in his sermon, “poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘How do I love you, let me count the ways . . . Let me count the ways. I love you for 1962, when you took an untested preacher, when you were watching a very fine and wonderfully gifted pastor retire (Rev. Louis Staples), when you loved and cared for our little family as it grew and expanded in this place. And then, when it became necessary for us to part, you gave me wings to fly. I thank you.”
“How do I love you?” the bishop later said in his sermon. “Let me count the ways. Let me name the ones. Oh, I wish that there could be a place like this for every pastor, where she or he begins their ministry; a place where the tide is coming in, a place where people were willing to sing new songs and open new doors.
“Though, I’m not naive. I know that for 150 years, the tide has come in and gone out. And sometimes the tide has been high and sometimes the tide has been low. But God has blessed you and kept you through the years. And today, I sense, in this place, that as hard as it ti to be in ministry in the church today, it’s not like it was in the ’60s. I sense that the tide is coming in for you.
“You know, recently, the tide washed in a new character on your shores — the tide washed in Pinocchio. And you knew enough to invite the whole community to come and celebrate Pinocchio’s birthday in this place. And I learned, for the first time, that I’m Pinocchio’s older brother, by about a year. But you had the wisdom and foresight to say, ‘Let’s bring the community in to this event, which is happening in the world.’
“As the economy continued to produce lemons, you added lemonade pages to your newsletter. You have flown kites, you created and hung the world, you created Amazing Grace, you’ve been out there blessing the animals and blessing those and forgiving those who vandalized your building. You’ve been to Honduras, and you’ve made this place a child-friendly place.
“You have so much, so much to share. But it’s not just this building. It’s not just your pastor’s wonderful years, or Faith’s maravelous years of making music. It’s not My Sister’s Keeper, it’s not your witness for peace and the trees out there and on the street. It’s not your suppers, it’s not your collection of things for people who are poor. It’s not Amazing Grace and her collection of friends.
“The most wonderful thing that you have to share, the most wonderful thing is God’s love . . . John says, ‘Abide in God’s love, love one another.’ The church that loves one another and loves the world is surely a blessed and wonderful church.”
The congregation sat with rapt attention, listing to Bishop Ives’ words as they rekindled our past and reminded us of many of the good things that have happened within our walls — and beyond. But then it was time to look ahead; to think of what more we couild do while opening our faith to others.
“On your 150th birthday,” he said, “I invite you to rethink church. I love this building. I’m more comfortable here than in any other space, I think, because I watched it be created, helped create it . . . whenever I come in here, it’s a wonderful, marvelous, holy place that you sang about a few moments ago. It feeds my spirit.
“But like every church, it needs more doors — more doors that lead into the world, more doors that people can knock on to find their way in, to be in church with you. As you enter the last half of your second century, that you begin today, in a world that is increasingly divided and broken, that’s increasingly diverse, religiously and ethnically. As you live in a world that’s becoming more technologically impersonal and fractured, in a world where the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger all the time and doors to the church are being swung shut by some; to keep out the immigrants and those who are different.
“We must rethink church in our day. We must open new doors, we must find new ways to bear the fruit of God’s love in the world.”
Throughout that Sunday morning, we were reminded of the many gifts we have as a congregation, the ones to which Bishop Ives referred to during his sermon.
There was Stephen Bither, softly playing his own version of “Amazing Grace” during our time of meditation and prayer following Joys and Concerns.
There was Camille Braun gracing us with her special touch with the violin, while accompanied by her father, Mark, on the piano for a performance of Beethoven during the Offertory.
There were Steve Hill and Sue Lind, sitting on the steps in front of the altar, telling our children about Sunday School from years ago, when Sundays were truly a day of worship and rest and blue laws kept stores closed.
There were scripture readings from Jim Young, whom Bishop Ives fondly remembered for his ministry from the past at Grace Church in Bangor, and from Michael Davis, our district superintendent.
There was Walter Brown, who was our minister from 1986-92, offering the Benediction, in part saying “May there always be stars to guide us and smooth roads for us to travel. May we know the thousand blessings of God this day. May God give us the hope each morning and the peace each night. May God always walk beside us as we beging the ministry (for the next 150 years) today.”
There were the yellow roses on the altar, provided by Steve Hill, marking our special anniversary, but also recognizing his wife Judith’s birthday. “Yellow roses are her favorite.” he said.
There was longtime member Bill Lowell speaking out during Prayers and Concerns about his early connections with our church.
There was the procession that led to the altar following the service; people waiting their turn to sign the All-Saints Communion Cloth and become a part of our history.
There were the two cakes that Kathie Hackett prepared, celebrating our annivesary, but also honoring the 50th wedding anniversary of Cliff and Jane Ives.
And then there was Gail Parker, who played the organ and piano during the service, but most significantly, drove the planning that led to the 150th Celebration; an event that might not have occurred had it not been for Gail’s persistence and planning and her reminders that kept everyone on the history committee focused and on schedule during eight months of events and planning.
The Anniversary Service was followed by a buffet luncheon in the narathex, during which we all enjoyed good food, even better fellowship, and a time to be proud of who were were and who were are . . . in this holy place, in this sacred space.