Even the best changes are challenging. And challenge often brings unexpected blessings.
We were a growing congregation in an atmosphere of church decline. We had an exciting plan to renovate our church building. Fundraising was going really well.
Then, the construction was scheduled to start and we had to move out. That was actually fun. A church family working together to prepare for the future! We purged ourselves of a lot of junk and stored our best things away for the day we would move back in to our cool, new church home.
Old Ship Church (Unitarian) invited us to worship in their beautiful, historic meetinghouse for the summer. House of Prayer Hingham (Lutheran) partnered with us for vacation Bible School. When a beloved church member died, Congregation Sha’aray Shalom (Reform Jewish) welcomed us into their house like we were family. First Baptist Church (American Baptist) happily allowed us to celebrate a wedding in their beautifully redecorated sanctuary. Hingham High School provided space for us to worship on Sundays this fall when unavoidable construction delays meant we couldn’t return home until the end of October.
For an old New England church, this was a blessing — and it was difficult. People like us prefer not to ask for help, but we had to. In the process, we learned so much about ourselves, about our neighbors, about faith and humility, and about the meaning of community.
We Christians are taught about the importance of humility from our first day of Sunday School. From my perspective, the Jesus we encounter in the New Testament ranks humility amongst the primary Christian values of love, faith, social justice, and hope. Yet, as Americans, we struggle with the Christian call to meekness (as it is called in some older translations of the Bible).
Americans value confidence, strength, aggressiveness, and success, right? Humble people are losers in some people’s opinion.
With that said, as a congregation in need, we turned to our neighbors and they came through. We weren’t defined as losers; we were simply and kindly viewed as neighbors asking for help.
Thank you to my colleagues: the Reverend Ken Read-Brown (Old Ship Church), Rabbi Shira Joseph and Cantor Steven Weiss (Congregation Sha’aray Shalom), the Reverend Susan Henry (House of Prayer Hingham), the Reverend Gary Ludwig (First Baptist Church of Hingham), and all others who offered to help. I also extend thanks to the GAR, which is providing us space for Sunday School, and Monica Black in Hingham High School’s main office, who was instrumental in helping to arrange for us to worship there this fall.
It is very important that readers see the question mark after the title of this article. Have we been homeless or not? In a way, yes. In some very important ways, no.
Sure, we have not been able to worship in our sanctuary for several months. Yet, to compare ourselves with those individuals and families who truly have no home would be inaccurate and self-pitying to the extreme. We do have a home and we will be returning to it soon. On each Sunday morning, we are Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, no matter where we meet.
My hope is that our experience will spur us to redouble our efforts to prevent true homelessness and serve those who are currently without homes. I am also committed to doing more to connect with the other religious organizations in town to create deeper, more active ecumenical and interfaith partnerships.
Who knew what blessings a building project would bring?!