"A Love Letter"
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends... 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 12-13, NRSV)
Dear Church Family,
Last Thursday was Valentine’s Day, so I decided to write you a love letter. I’m sorry I didn’t spring for a Valentine’s card, flowers, or chocolates. Though, since you seem to have put on a few pounds over the winter, the chocolates were best avoided anyway.
Your history means a lot to me. You were born in April of 1941, some 23 years before I touched down on planet Earth. At first there was concern if you were going to make it, especially after our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December During the war years, you grew little by little. After the war ended, you had a major growth spurt that lasted several decades.
You moved around those first few years from the Munsey Park Center, to the Onderdonk House (circa1836), and finally the Antlers, a meeting hall in town often used by the Elks Club located on the corner of Northern Blvd. and Port Washington Blvd. Some of you might remember that it
became Patricia Murphy’s Restaurant before it was torn down and replaced by Benihana.
After the war ended, you started growing as suburbs sprang up throughout Long Island. Before long, you found a great piece of property which happened to be the tee on the fourteenth green of the Munsey Park Golf Course. Copley Pond was a water hazard. You purchased the property and, in 1949, broke ground for what would be our permanent home here at 1845 Northern Blvd. in Manhasset.
You grew up and became the go-to place for young couples and singles hoping to become young couples! You came to a crossroad in 1957 when the national Congregational Christian Churches voted to merge with two historically German denominations to form the UCC, the United Church of Christ. There was much discussion especially by those who were afraid of losing the independence of our church. With the assurance that the local church would be free and autonomous, our church opted in. I am so glad you did. I didn’t know you then, okay, I hadn’t even been born yet, but had you not become a UCC church we might never have found each other. Can you imagine? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I don’t have to tell you that the 1960’s were a trying decade for many Americans. With the Civil Rights Movement making progress on racial justice and college students protesting the Vietnam War, people were divided, families were divided, churches were divided. Somehow you made it through intact. It was also a decade of assassinations—John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve always been proud of your response to Dr. King’s death, the founding of Adventures in Learning.
As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, America’s Mainline Churches, including the UCC, began a slow but steady decline in members and in influence. With perfect timing, Dr. Parker retired. Other clergy came and went, Ray Fenner, who had been an associate minister under Dr. Parker, became the pastor. He is one of the most beloved of all the ministers who have served you. Sadly, due to health problems, Ray retired after a shorter tenure than many people had wished. After him, Charlie Calcagni served this church from the mid-1970’s through the mid-1980’s. Next was the Rev. Maurice Fetty who served here from the late 1980’s until the spring of 2001. He was the Senior Minister when I came as an Associate Minister in 1994.
I’ll never forget how I met you. I was due to graduate from Boston University School of Theology in May of that year. Colleen and I had so enjoyed being in the more open-minded Northeast, that we decided we would avoid any church south of Washington, DC. We also decided that we would avoid Southern Baptist churches altogether. The more progressive (ABC) American Baptist churches and the UCC were at the top of our list. Had you not been UCC, I would never have given you a second thought. I had heard of Congregational Churches, but knew very little about them. Luckily you were Congregational who had become UCC!
Here’s the story of how we, as a couple, almost didn’t get together. When I visited the BU School of Theology placement office for the first and only time, I came home with a few possibilities. I sent out a few cookie cutter letters of inquiry and resumes. For six weeks, information about you, my beloved church, sat on our dining room table. Why you may ask, because it was not a cookie cutter application. Instead there were four essay questions. I’m not kidding! The application was created by two church members who ran Policy Studies in Education, Regina Paul and Mitch Brickell. One Saturday in mid-April, Colleen said to me, “This information about that UCC church in New York has been sitting here for weeks collecting dust. Are you going to call about it or should I throw it away?” I decided in a split second to give you a call. It could have just as easily gone the other way and then I would have never met you, never come to Manhasset, and probably never have set foot on Long Island. But I made the call.And the rest is history.
I’ll admit I was nervous about that first phone call (around noon on a Saturday in late April). With my Southern Baptist background, I feared I might never get an interview with a UCC church. As fate would have it, my phone call was to Search Committee co-chair, Regina Paul, who grew up American Baptist in Philadelphia. Her grandmother was a Southern Baptist in Texas. My wife graduated from Baylor in Waco, Texas, the flagship Southern Baptist university. Regina and I talked and it became obvious that we were on the same page, sharing a sense of humor and a progressive outlook. From that point, Regina became a matchmaker trying fix us up, you and me.
I remember the first time I saw you on Friday, May 6, 1994. It would be an overstatement to say it was love at first sight, but it was darn close. You and I talked in person, talked on the phone, talked again in person, talked more on the phone. One thing led to another and in a very short time we got serious. Did I know you enough to be this serious? Did you know me enough to talk about a possible shared future? What can I say, you gave me the green light and after a very short courtship, we tied the knot and I moved in with you in early July, 1994, 25 years ago this summer. In the spring of 2001, we renewed our vows and have continued growing closer as a result. We are both blessed that our commitment to and affection for each other is still strong. Fortunately, neither of us has had a wandering eye. Okay, one time someone made a pass at me from a UCC church in Illinois and someone else from a UCC church on Martha’s Vineyard. I was flattered, but the two of us had a good thing going with no end in sight. I’m grateful to say that this is still true!
Like all couples, we’ve aged and changed over time. I’ve gotten bigger and you’ve gotten smaller. But we’re both lucky that many of those things that first attracted us one to another have deepened through the years. You are still warm and friendly. You still care about everybody, from Manhasset to Zimbabwe. You still love children and teens and work hard to bring them up as a good church should with lots of love and by setting a good example. I would say that you and I make beautiful music together but that would be inaccurate. It’s Craig Tocher, the Chancel Choir, and the soloists who make the beautiful music....oh yes, and the organ of course! You are the kind of church where everybody pitches in to do whatever needs to be done. Whether a Sunday School class needs a teacher or a PF trip needs a chaperone, you are there. Whether it is committed people to serve on our boards and committees, people to serve Communion in worship or cookies during Fellowship Time, you’ve always been there—for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health—you’ve been there for me and I’ve been there for you. You were there for our family throughout the milestones of life, the birth of Matthew in 1997 and the adoption of Alina in 2001. The deaths of Colleen’s mother and grandmother. I’ve had some health issues off and on through the years and your support was unwavering.
We’re lucky that unlike some churches, we’ve never had a big fight. Differences of opinion sometimes, but we always talked it out. We’ve taken some bold steps that I’m particularly proud of—hiring the first full time female minister, voting to become Open and Affirming, hosting weddings for everyone including the LGBT community, and opening our arms to comfort people during times of loss. It is in those times that we’ve learned to appreciate each other the most. We’ve stood together, wept together, and reached out to help together after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when we lost two of our own, after Super Storm Sandy in 2012, after the loss of members, some pillars of the church, who’ve known you since the very beginning. It wasn’t always easy, but I leaned on you and you leaned on me and we’re still here for each other low these many years later.
So, a little late for Valentine’s Day, I’ve written you this love letter to express my deep affection for you and the love we share. The future is unknown, but this much is for sure, I will be just as committed to you and your wellbeing in the years to come as I have in years past. When I look in your eyes, I know you feel the same way too.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only February 17, 2019 The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, on this brisk and blue Sunday morning, we pause to thank you for our church, its members and leaders through the decades. We are indebted to a legion of volunteers who teach Sunday School, sing in the Chancel Choir, serve on boards and committees, provide for Fellowship Time, and take care of our little ones in the nursery. We are thankful too for our ever faithful custodians, administrators, and clergy who have served you in this place. Please help our Church Family remain strong in mission and witness, love and justice, this day and every day. Through Christ we pray. AMEN.