ABUNDANCE & GENEROSITY:
Carrie’s sermon on Epiphany Sunday emphasized the importance of giving to others and receiving God’s gifts. Our church community is strengthened when we share our personal stories of receiving and giving God’s gifts. From now until Easter there will be time during worship for many of us to be part of this community building opportunity. Please consider offering to share your personal story with our wonderful church community. Please contact Cyndy Hall via EMAIL or call her at (802) 985.3984. Thank you.
DAVE GRACE’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As we kick off our annual stewardship campaign, each week before the offering, a member of this church will share their personal story of how they have experienced abundance through God’s generous gifts.
I’d like to start with my story. Last summer we moved into a wonderful new old home as a direct result of being part of this church. We first heard of the house from a member of this church, who is now our neighbor, saying it would be listing soon. That early tip allowed us to formulate our plan to actually sell our old place and buy this new one, as well as gave us a connection to the neighborhood in a competitive real estate market.
While we moved our possessions, families from this church organized to provide meals to us for over a week, saving valuable time and effort during a stressful period. On the biggest day of our move, another family took our kids, gave them dinner and got them to bed so we could pull off a monumental task. And last, another member entertained our kids, planted tomato seedlings in our garden, and even later planted new flowers around our yard, making us truly feel at home.
As transplants from the Midwest, we have no family in New England, let alone in Vermont, so we often struggle with the logistics of raising kids with such busy lives, but this church has become our family, and it supports and nurtures us in so many ways. We really are blessed with abundance by God’s generosity.
Now, as we head into the stewardship season, I encourage you to remember Carrie’s sermon from last week, when she asked us to think of the gifts we have received from God as well as those we bring to others. Thank you. – Dave Grace
TONY HALL’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As a Partner In Pastoral Care at First Church, my visits to people in the hospital, rehab centers and nursing homes are a blessing. I have been called to do this work for many years. In this calling I see the Holy Spirit at work. The Holy Spirit leads me to bring Good News to those in need. The Holy Spirit not only comforts me but enables me to do this work. More importantly the Holy Spirit fosters an environment for healing. Just the act of being present to another human being is powerful and palpable. Just being present starts the healing process.While I’m not physician, the Holy Spirit helps me offer another kind of medicine; healing t hrough listening and the power of prayer.
Recently, I visited a member of our church in the hospital. That day found my friend looking all her 90 years; a bit frail and reticent. As we talked her story unfolded. The details rolled off her tongue as I listened and asked questions. She told me her story from day one to the present. The more we talked the more animated and engaged she became. I could see a change in her demeanor. Her eyes twinkled, she laughed and her salty personality was restored. I could feel her love for her children, the pride in her accomplishments and see her gratefulness for friends and First Church. Her vivid memories were a tonic for her soul.
After we prayed, I told her how meaningful our time together had been to me. “Let me tell you something” she said. “All day I have prayed someone would come to visit me. All of a sudden, here you are. My prayer has been answered !”
That’s when I knew the Holy Spirit was among us. That’s when I knew we both had been healed. What a gift. – Tony Hall
CYNDY HALL’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As we continue to think about ways God’s generosity is experienced in our lives, I’d like to share a short story.
Twenty years ago when I was teaching in Bridport, the school received a grant to fund after school clubs. Naturally, I offered hiking. I scheduled two afternoons, one for K-3 and another for 4-6. I taught 6th grade so I knew what I could expect of the older kids. But kindergarteners? It had been a long time since I had dealt with that age group. And sure enough, trying to get everyone ready for our walk was a challenge; eat a snack, bathroom time, shoes tied, find the missing jacket or hat, arguments about who’s first. I thought we’d never get going. Finally we were out the door and safely across the road to a sidewalk. Things evened out, although there was the constant “slow down” for the beginning of the line and “walk faster” for the dawdlers. Soon we were on a quiet dirt road lined with trees. Suddenly a little hand slipped into mine. At that moment I felt a surge of well being. To be so trusted and loved unconditionally was a surprise. Every time I remember that moment, I feel uplifted. That small child may have taken my hand to find comfort for herself, but in so doing, she comforted me. That’s the wonder of this circle of God’s love.
A trusting hand, a smile, a word of affirmation; these are some of the ways we allow God’s generosity to flow through us. It only takes a couple seconds, but the impact is great and long lasting. – Cyndy Hall
CAROLINE CRAWFORD‘S STORY of GRATITUDE:
When I was asked if I would be willing to share a few thoughts about my experiences with God’s abundance and generosity, especially as it relates to First Congregational Church, I thought, “Where do I start?”
My name is Caroline Crawford and I have been attending First Congregational since 1997—so, for much of my adult life. In those 21 years, I have experienced innumerable moments of generosity, both from individuals and from the church in general.
I am a people person, so for me, the moments that stand out are as interactions with people, about people. I think about Bruce Hewitt, who sold me my first house, and Nancy McClellan, who was the midwife present when my daughter Elizabeth was born, and Jamie Polli, who was in a play—It was “Lend Me a Tenor”—with me back in 1999. Developing relationships with these people, and countless others, within the church has brought me a depth of relationships that comes with seeing people week after week, year after year, that just isn’t possible with so many other social interactions.
In many ways, First Church has helped me raise my children—in the nursery, in Sunday School, in youth groups, in Super Bowl sub sales. Many of you have been coming here long enough to remember my son Carl’s lively contributions to Bob Lee’s Word of God for All Ages—and now at this very moment, he’s working at the security desk in the midway and helping to prepare the coffee for coffee hour.
My daughter Elizabeth was born six months after her father, my husband Alan, passed away, and the way that this church came together when I had her baptized here, by Adrienne Carr, ably assisted by Nancy McClellan, was a bright light for my whole family. And this morning Elizabeth is at work with the high school youth planning Youth Sunday in two weeks.
God’s abundance and generosity, as manifested in this church, has revealed itself again to me just in the past week or two. I am an outgoing person, but I always sit in paralyzed silence during the prayers of concern and celebration—I just can’t bring myself to open my mouth and speak of things so close to my heart in a group setting—unless I’m at a podium, I guess. But I filled out one of those blue pew cards two weeks ago, letting the church know that a beloved aunt had suddenly passed away, and that I had to travel unexpectedly to Florida to help my parents while my father was having some surgery.
The outpouring of support from this church has moved me deeply. I had phone calls, emails, and mail reassuring me of the church’s support and prayers. And it moved my parents too—and through that outreach, my mom discovered that she’s attending the same church in Naples Florida that some of our snowbird members attend, and she’s hoping to connect with them.
My question was where do I start, and now it is “where do I end?” I’ll end with the invitation to consider for yourself how this church exposes you to God’s abundance. I am grateful to each one of you for being part of my overflowing cup here.
– Caroline Crawford
DANIELLE ROCHFORD’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
My name is Danielle Rochford and I have been a member of First Church for almost five years now. I initially started coming here on Wednesday mornings for bible study. It was important to me to find a church that was opening and affirming, welcoming, and not just tolerant but accepting of others. The only church that responded to my email inquiry was First Church. This made my decision rather easy.
Cindy Hall asked me to speak today to share my story of gratitude. I’ve just shared my gratitude of finding a faith community that accepts me for me. However, this is about gratitude towards a community that has become my chosen family.
Two years ago, January 31st, my father passed away. My father died from complications with Parkinson’s Disease; there had been a sudden decrease in his health and his death was unexpected. I was feeling empty at 4 AM that Sunday morning in the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. I remember thinking on my way back to the motel that I was going to miss church that day. I didn’t grow up UCC and the task of finding a church that morning seemed daunting. Exhaustion enclosed me as I entered my motel room; I informed a few people about dad’s passing before I fell asleep after a long night.
I woke up later that day feeling alone, numb, and in need. As I started considering options for pastoral care while being four hours away from the church my cell phone started ringing. Lucy Samara was on the other end of the line. She let me know that the church heard of my father’s passing before 10 AM service. I was told that my family was being held in prayer and I was asked if there was anything the church could do right now. I can’t remember what Lucy and I spoke about, that whole day is still a blur to me, but what I do remember is that Lucy spent a significant amount of time talking to me. That following week, while I was still miles away, Rev. Sally May embodied our welcome of “who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” by coming to me via Facebook pastoral care sessions. Space was held, where space needed to be held, where it was most meaningful to me.
Returning to church after my dad’s death initially was anxiety-filled. I am a very private person and I dreaded constant questions surrounding dad’s death. Yet, pardon the cliché, home is where the heart is. I did not just re-enter a community, but I was surrounded by love and grace by my chosen family. In the year following my dad’s death chosen family unconditionally supported me in ways that my estranged family was unable to. Through condolence cards, conversations, hugs, and the question “how are you doing?” I am grateful for a church family that cares so much about me, who wants me to take a place at the table, and who continues to support me in my aspirations.
– Danielle Rochford