First Congregational Church, UCC, Melrose, Massachusetts
Pillars & Foundations was started as an effort to explore my surrounding communities through their religious institutions, and to share my experiences at them with my neighbors and beyond. These organizations that are both social and spiritual, leave lasting impressions on the communities that they are in, and I find in my experiences that I've taken them for granted, and I suspect I'm not alone. What strikes me what all of these institutions strive to do is make a difference, and they do, regardless if it is one person looking for hope & community, or a with recipient of their charitable work.
Building & HistoryPeople who pass by the low profile octagonal church in Melrose should not be fooled by the contemporary campus. This organization has a long history (information on FCCM website) in the community dating back to 1848. The new building was constructed in 1970 following a fire that destroyed the prior long-term home in 1967. The seems deceptively smaller than it is, as it bears several facilities inside to support various community functions, as well as the main octagon shaped sanctuary complete with an octagon shaped pulpit and recessed lighting feature.
The pews, not pictured because I generally avoid capturing people in shots whenever possible, were angled toward the pulpit, leaving a pie shaped wedge in the center of the church where the choir, organist, pianist, and other musical equipment are staged.
Clear glass panes form the corners on either side of the eight support columns, high up in the sanctuary which seems to have more height than one would suspect from the exterior. Free-hanging stained glass images are suspended in front of each of these (from my recollection- you can't tell from the photos) with cables (see pictures below).
The grounds of the church are well maintained with flower trees, shrubs and benches.
The CongregationWhile not filled to capacity, the pews were all occupied, and the church while not as big as some I've visited there were many people in attendance giving a sense of vibrancy. Most people seemed to be there early, and to stay late for the coffee hour. The congregation was intimate enough to allow prayers to be volunteered for the people, but large enough so that you were a person in a crowd.
As a member of the UCC, FCC of Melrose is an Open and Affirming church, seeking inclusivity in their community.
|Organ pipes, note the suspended stained glass in front of the glass panes.
The ServiceThe theme on May 13th 2018 was Mothers day, and the way Rev. Dominic Taranowski and the FCC of Melrose staff structured a cohesive service that tied into a message of who/what God is, and oneness, the idea of God being in every person.
It was noted that Mother's Day was established after the close of the Civil War, and advocated for by Julia Ward Howe, the author of Battle Hymn of the Republic. As part of her advocacy for Mother's Day, she wrote a proclamation. This was read by a congregant Jaime McAllister-Grande. Touchingly at the close of the reading, her baby was making sounds from the front pews, and Jaime paused and smiled.
In the children's sermon Rev. Tranowski asked the children if God was a man or a woman. Ultimately Rev. Taranowski told the children that he would show them what God looked like, and he held up a mirror for them to look into. As an interesting activity he asked the children to say the Lord's prayer while replacing father with mother. The idea that God can be thought of as either gender, and that the feminine aspect which does have representation in theology. That perhaps by doing this we can appreciate more the nurturing side of God as our social biases may help us see things in that perspective.
The reading was John 17:20-26, and perhaps one of the most important lines from it is "
The music was phenomenal, with excellent piano pieces played brilliantly by Anna Buswell (excerpt of Chopin's Nocturne in C# minor), and William Buswell (Invention No. 13 BWV 784 by J.S. Bach). Their talent is truly astonishing and indicative of a great deal of hard work and dedication. Also performed was a re-interpretation of Ed Sheeran's song "Perfect," into a praise song. Adapted lyrics were given to the recognizable pop song by British Christian musician Philippa Hanna, and was powerfully delivered by Frances Garrett. (See Philippa Hanna's performance here) Looking around congregants were pleasantly smiling and fighting back tears to lyrics such as,
"I was so lost when I found your love
Standing against all odds
I know I’ll make it through somehow
What was once lost is redeemed
A heart once in chains now free
And I”m not afraid to testify."
What struck me about the song's inclusion in this service, intentional or not, was how similar Sheerhan's lyrics are, and how it related to the message. How his love interest was a savior or sorts. And how that related to the message of oneness, God being in every individual. In that way any person saving another, making them feel valued, important, is an act of the individual but also an act of a binding higher power.
Rev. Dominic Taranowski then took time to focus upon the often overlooked, and diminished female representations of God in the Bible such as El Shaddai which refers to feminine fertility, or the Wisdom Sophia.
In a light moment of humility Rev. Taranowski recounted a mortifying childhood memory where he was asked to say the very reading (John 17:20-26) in church without warning and he stumbled over all of the worlds. Amusingly he proceeded to do the same to the laughter of the congregation.
OutreachThe congregation inspires people and provides opportunities for people to give back to the world as detailed on their Ministries page. This outreach includes but is not limited to preparing meals with The Bread of Life, supporting two local food banks, assisting with services for those dealing with substance abuse problems, and supporting other causes such as helping refugees, and advocating for environmental causes.
The church also has various social events throughout the year. There is a Music Ministry directed by Mariko Matsumura, to help direct the impressive musical offerings of the church.
ConclusionI really enjoyed the service here and I met some wonderful people, a couple of whom I found out were neighbors that live nearly across the street from me. My wife and I had some nice conversation after the service. This is a warm, active, community church, that provides space for personal growth and contemplation, as well as advocacy for the greater good of the community. Melrose and the surrounding communities are very lucky to have FCC of Melrose contributing to the greater good.
Text and photographs by George Parks