This was originally printed as an opinion piece in the Herald-Dispatch. You can view the original article here.
The second Sunday in Advent, I decided to attend a Huntington church. I had learned that the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Fifth Avenue was the oldest continuous congregation in the city. I had also heard that a few years back, the church was about to close its doors, and its building was for sale.
What a marvelous experience! What a wonderful lesson (for me and the congregation) about the possibilities and the realities of expectation and renewal.
I write opinion pieces. That’s what I do; and so, I feel compelled to offer my opinion that First Congregational UCC is an incredible example of rejuvenation and the epitome of the hope engendered during Advent.
The pastor, Tim Dixon, opened the service with a question he had been asked by many parishioners. “Are we going to have services on Christmas Sunday?” A rousing “Yes!” came from the pews. He talked about the church’s congregation gathering to go caroling at two nursing homes, and he praised the children and announced their birthday party for Jesus.
Then, he talked about the choir’s (I counted nineteen in the choir) Christmas cantata and the opportunity to give to a homeless or needy child at Christmas.
The enthusiasm throughout the congregation was palpable. And I thought the church was near folding. Not so, by a long shot!
Actually, the church recently underwent a major renovation program both inside and out. However, one thing is missing. They have not yet raised the funds to light the unique architectural, one-of-a-kind landmark steeple across from the Cabell County Courthouse.
I learned that by Thanksgiving Sunday, the church had collected over 4,000 food items for the local food pantry. Apparently, this is an ongoing ministry of the congregation. They are also heavily invested in planting a new United Church of Christ in Charleston.
As organist Michael Campbell and Janet Bromley, a marvelous, gifted violinist, played meditation music before the sermon, I suddenly became aware of the energy and vivacity of this congregation. I knew this church was not dying. This church exemplified everything, it seemed to me, that a church should represent.
I looked around. I saw folks of all shapes, sizes and colors. I noticed some who were handicapped. I observed that some appeared to be street people. I thought to myself, “Jesus would like this church!”
Then, I settled down to listen to the sermon. Pastor Dixon talked about John the Baptist — not the John most of us are familiar with, but the John who was decidedly different: humble, arresting, proclaiming, and eager for the one who was to come who would be the Son of God.
So, an opinion about Christmas Sunday morning. If your church is taking the day off, you could do no better than to share Sunday on Fifth Avenue with First Congregational at 11 a.m. One thing is certain. You will be warmly and enthusiastically received. That I guarantee.
You’ll also get a taste of what Christmas is all about.