On the first Sunday in Lent, it was such a pleasure to worship with all of you – in the pews. The preachers, musicians, and liturgists for the day were our youth and children, and I had the rare luxury of sitting with my wife Martha while others lead worship. Leading a whole congregation in public prayer, as Jackson Viscomi did so well, can at first feel a little daunting. Many participants had a little performance anxiety as they put themselves out there to do and say something new. I was particularly moved by Olivia Wolf who, with such grace and honesty, spoke of her spiritual journey which had many twists and turns but during which she came to realize how much of the church is about caring for others and being a supportive community. I know how hard Olivia worked on that sermon to get it right. Paige Hauke read a beautiful poem she wrote which began with this beautiful image: “Thank you for taking a paintbrush and splashing water color into the sky…” There were a variety of musicians from experienced violinists like Marissa Kono or flutist Beth Moore, to kids giving their first public music offering after just a few months of piano lessons. I could go on and on about each young person who sang, read, or lead a prayer, but here is the point: our worship and our community would have been diminished if our young people had failed to take on risk and let their anxieties and fears get the best of them. Through their risk we were all enriched. This risk-taking was made easier because we as a faith community encouraged our young people and they encouraged each other.
At First Congregational Church, we strive to be a community where we encourage people of all ages to face their fears, use their gifts and walk the path of Jesus. We are here to accept the joys and costs of discipleship. In our common life, we only improve and grow when all of us are willing to take some risks, and when we are there to encourage one another in our ventures. A brave and vital church does not shy from a challenge but stretches, steps out in faith, and grows. We hold one another’s hands as we take the journey which goes with Christian discipleship. As it says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self – discipline.”
Many people at First Congregational Church take thoughtful risks for the faith, despite some initial discomfort. As we begin, we may feel a little anxious. When we undertake change, some people around us might not always understand or may be somewhat skeptical. We may even have our own misgivings. As we move forward, we learn to face our fears, listen well and adapt when it makes sense. At the end of the day, we are best served when we do what is faithful. Along the way, all of us are invited to listen to how God might be speaking to us and offering us encouragement.
It is a joy to be ministering among you in this wonderful congregation which is willing to take risks for the faith. May the peace of Christ be with you!
Rev. Peter Cook