“The Gifts of the Spirit” Colchester Federated Church, May 31, 2020, (Acts 2:1-21) Pentecost Sunday (**Virtual Worship)
Today we’re celebrating Pentecost which marks the birth of the Christian Church. The liturgical color of the day is red to symbolize the individual flames of fire that seemed to alight on each of the gathered apostles of Jesus Christ. It’s a day where we especially contemplate the work of the Holy Spirit. Because on Pentecost a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where the apostles were staying. The flames of fire appeared above their heads. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak. Today is a day where we give thanks for the gifts of the Spirit, gifts that enable us to be the Church in the world even here and now.
Pentecost is the day that the Jesus Movement expanded at a much faster rate. Because this all happened during Pentecost when there were lots of people from all over gathered in Jerusalem. People were surprised and bewildered because they heard about the mighty works of God in their own native languages despite the fact that the apostles didn’t speak many of those languages on their own. The gifts of the Holy Spirit could be experienced. People witnessed the followers of Jesus speaking to others in a way that they could understand and take to heart. Meeting people right where they were to talk about the wonders of God—that’s the miracle of Pentecost.
We still need to meet people where they are in order to spread the good news of God today. For God is still speaking. It’s up to Christians in each and every generation to speak about the love of God and transformative Way of Jesus in a way that people understand. Perhaps out of this global pandemic will come the reality that we can’t go back to doing things exactly as they were done before. Because look at how much we have all adapted in a short amount of time to be able to be the Church in this time and in this place.
Maybe part of what we’re learning is that the Church is much more about the people of God than the buildings in which we gather to worship God, lovely and historic as those buildings often happen to be. The Church hasn’t been closed since March even though our building has been. When I say that I miss our congregation it’s about missing you—the people—my people. It’s our beloved community. It’s our church family. It’s the chance to week in and week out worship God together in person, side by side, sharing one another’s joys and supporting one another through life’s sorrows. At the end of the day, Pentecost and the gifts of the Spirit and spreading the good news in a way that reached lots of people and met them in a way that they could understand and take to heart is why today marks the birth of the Christian Church. The people of God did a whole new thing. It’s about a whole new way of life, of loving God and loving one another across languages and ethnicities and nationalities.
Now how have we been and will we be the Church here in Colchester, Connecticut? If we go back in our own church’s history we know that the Congregational/United Church of Christ side of our church began here in Colchester in 1703. The Baptist side of our church came to town in 1835. And our church became the Federated Church of Colchester in 1949 when the First Congregational Church and the Colchester Borough Baptist Church came together realizing that perhaps the differences paled in comparison to what we held in common.
Going back to the founding of the church—the first Congregational Minister who arrived in town was the Reverend John Bulkeley. We’re standing right next to his grave as he’s buried here in the Old Burying Ground which dates back to 1713. Rev. Bulkeley served as the Pastor of the Congregational church for almost 30 years. During his pastorate two different church buildings were erected—one in 1706 and one in 1714. It’s hard to imagine all the challenges that Rev. Bulkeley and his flock faced. Though part of me smugly wants to point out that he didn’t have to be a Pastor during a global pandemic, thank you very much! Nevertheless, to have not one but two new church buildings erected during your time as Pastor let alone all of the changes that were happening in Colchester itself at the time—well, it’s pretty mind-boggling to go back to those early days and contemplate what life must have been like.
Our current church building is the Fourth Meeting House we’ve had as a congregation and it was dedicated in 1842. Some of the timbers from the Third Meeting House were used to build our current structure. It was Revered Mills from the Baptist Church up the road at the time who gave the concluding prayer at that dedication service in 1842. Perhaps that collegiality among the ministers pointed to the Federation that was to come almost 100 years later.
In time there were lots of other milestones. Rev. Lucius Curtis was the seventh minister to serve here and he spent time as a Union Civil War Chaplain. The church received a pipe organ as a gift from church member Joseph C. Hammond in 1871. Our unique three sided clock was installed in the steeple in 1872. And the church was renovated with Victorian décor in 1885 including stained glass windows which were all eventually knocked out in 1929 as the church was remodeled to go back to its simple, classic New England Congregational Meeting House roots and the current look that we have in our sanctuary today.
Why give you this brief historical tour? Because it’s my contention that the founders of our church didn’t exactly know what the future would hold for their church anymore than we know what the future of our church will be in this present moment. Though here’s what interesting. This is our Fourth Meeting House. We’ve had church buildings come and go. We’ve even had a steeple knocked off completely in the 1938 hurricane! Yet here we remain, the faithful members of the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Churches, and the Federated Church here in Colchester who gather to worship God. And what we’re learning in these times is that our church is so much more than any one building—it always has been! Because this is the fourth building that we’ve had anyway!
Remember that rhyme we learned as children? Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors. And see all the people. The people are the heart of what makes Colchester Federated Church a good place to worship God and be with one another. The people are what makes this church family special. So on this Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the Christian Church. And we celebrate all of the ways that we have been and will continue to be the Church here in Colchester and beyond. Thanks to be God. Amen.