We welcomed eleven new members last Sunday, many of whom are driving 30-40 miles to come to worship with us. In my sermon I spoke about why this congregation is such an important place, and why its bold vision has been so inspiring for so many decades. I spoke about why First Congregational is a beacon in our world today.
Here in our church, we have an aspirational identity as the Church of the Open Door. On committees and in conversation I hear people, all week long, weighing our deeds against this vision of the Open Door. That means we strive to respect and invite people of all economic backgrounds, all classes, every ability, and all races. We welcome people from every faith background and try to learn about their faith journey. We welcome people of every sexual orientation not as sinners who need to change, as some churches do, but as cherished sisters and brothers. We try not to judge one another but look for the gift in each other because we realize that we all thrive in a space where we know we all belong.
The first churches in the Bible were known for their outreach to the poor. They were not castles of privilege that pulled up the drawbridge on the moat of their entitlement, leaving those who’d fallen victim to misfortune on the outside. Neither do we. We are a church defined by our ambitious outreach to others. Every year we send adults on a mission trip to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS where they put their faith into action. We sponsor scholarships for 100 students in Kenya and strive to help them build educational bridges to a new future. We gave birth to the Samaritan Counselling Center, naming it for a story in Luke’s gospel. For decades its pastoral counsellors have helped people face their emotional problems and find hope for mental health issues. We teach our values to our children and youth. This week our youth are preparing dinner for 60 people in the Fox Valley who don’t have enough to eat. Every month our youth visit the homeless shelter at Pillars to play games and form friendships with homeless kids and their parents.
First Congregational Church is a place of true possibilities. We are a bunch of dreamers who like to imagine the kingdom of God blossoming here in Appleton. When you make a pledge to this church you make a commitment to all these ministries. You commit to something that’s rare in our world – a community that is as faithful to the Bible as it is progressive in its outlook. Our world needs churches like this, but churches don’t run on casual commitments. They depend on deeper ones and it’s the promises we make to one another that knit us together as God’s people – the promise to gather for worship, the promise to share our life’s stories, the promise to make a difference. As we gather in this congregation and share our time, our talents, and our resources we also deepen our connection to each other and our commitment to God.