I met Susan Corrigan in September, whose poignant poem, You Are Not Alone will be published in the next blog posting, as my wife Sue and I began attending First Congregational Church of Wethersfield. First Church had been on my horizons for several years. I had known that they dissolved their fellowship with the United Church of Christ several years previously and that in having a strong Bible focused center to their congregational life they would be quite conservative theologically, and most likely, I thought, politically and socially. What we found at First Church is a congregation biblically focused and strongly rooted in its New England Puritan and 18th and 19th century Congregational heritage, while very much attuned to the complexities and challenges of grappling with the Christian pathway in a contemporary, largely middle class suburban setting.
That is, in its social dynamic and church polity, First Church continues to share strong similaries with the UCC religious culture. The primary difference is its strong biblical focus, reflecting the larger Reformed, Puritan and Evangelical roots of New England Congregationalism shorn of much of the more recent theological focus of the UCC denomination which came into existence through a series of mergers in 1957. What I also discovered at First Church was a considerably diverse theological focus among the church members within a broad-based Bible-focused evangelical center that would be impossible to type cast as fundamentalist or narrowly conservative.
What stood out even more was the biblical and theological literacy of the laity, experienced through a Sunday morning adult study group and a monthly Christian book club in which the group discussions paralleled what one might experience or hope to within a seminarian context or in a study group for ordained clergy. In this respect, First Church clearly exhibits the core Protestant principle of the ministry of all believers. In fact, throughout this past year my wife and I spent at First Church, the only contact we had with the clergy was that of shaking hands and exchanging a few pleasntries after the workship service and that was alright with us.
Among much else, Susan Corrigan and I share a passion for English Puritan devotional theology. Susan introducted me to the important writings of Jeremiah Burroughs whom I spent the greater portion of the fall slowly reading--slowly, in order to allow his many profound insights sink deeply into my own consciousness. In the meantime I introduced Susan to John Owen's three volume classic, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. (http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Sin-Temptation-John-Owen/dp/1581346492)
Susan and I spent a couple of months slowly reading this text and finally meeting for an in-depth discussion, a text whose depths is literally incapable of being exhaustively plummeted. This type of biblical and thelogical hunger as exhibited in our theological fellowship is far from atypical among the lay members of First Church in Wethersfield in which the ordained clergy play an important secondary role in the life of the congregation.
The year that my wife and I spent at First Church was one of the most rewarding church-based experiences of our lives. Now it is westward ho as she and I begin our trek to San Diego. To learn more about First Church of Wethersfield, go here (http://www.firstchurch.org/).