Latest Blog

  • Join Us for Worship 1/17/21 at 10 am (1/15/2021)

    Please join us by watching the broadcast on MMTV or as we live stream from the sanctuary at 10 on YouTube. The link is:

    https://worship.fccmelrose.org/Jan-17-2021

    The hymn #s for this week are: 159 (v1, 3) “As with Gladness Those of Old,” 448 (v1,4) “Take My Life, God, Let It Be,” & 495 (v1,4) “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service.” Sing along using your borrowed hymnal, or access the password protected hymns on our Google Drive (link provided in the Messenger).

  • Christmas Eve Worship at 7 pm: Worship Link (12/22/2020)

    Virtual Worship at 7 pm on YouTube & MMTV
    Christmas Eve (with communion), December 24, 2020 link:

     https://worship.fccmelrose.org/Christmas-Eve-2020

    Special Note about Christmas Eve service: 

    This is a communion service, so be sure to have your bread and juice elements available.  Please remember the hymns are uploaded weekly to our google drive.   You may wish to download the lyrics sheet for the familiar Christmas Eve carols in addition to/in lieu of the sheet music, here.  In following our tradition, please light a candle and sing along during the singing of the final carol, Silent Night.

    Christmas Eve Offering

    By tradition, our Christmas Eve Offering is received as a straight mission offering during the service. That is, it is divided equally between Bread of Life, The Servant’s Heart Food Pantry, and The Pantry of Hope. This year, because we are unable to worship together in person, we are asking folks to make a direct donation to either or all of these important ministries. The addresses and websites for each are as follows:

    Bread of Life:   Click here  54 Eastern Avenue, Malden, MA 02148 

    A Servant’s Heart:  Click here  200 Franklin St, Melrose, MA 02176 

    Pantry of Hope:  Click here to donate through First Baptist, 561 Main Street, Melrose

  • Christmas in 1918 and 2020 (12/22/2020)

    Like every holiday since St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas this year is another strange one; not least because we are still unable to gather for in-person worship.

    But, we will get through this!  I say that because people got through a very similar kind of Christmas during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

    That Christmas, people did not attend worship at our church either.  And, unlike today, there was no live streaming of anything so people just missed out altogether!  

    The Spanish Flu was handled on the local level much more than Covid 19 is today.  Remember, the CDC didn’t come into being until 1946.  Still, the methods used to combat the Spanish Flu were remarkably similar to what we are advised to do today:  Wear a mask.  Limit social gatherings (including worship).  Wash your hands.  Quarantine if you have been exposed.

    Back then, people were much more likely to obey directives from local, state and federal authorities than they are today.  After all, the war effort was still an active part of people’s lives.  So compliance was high.  

    Unlike today, however, there was no vaccine on the way.  The Spanish Flu ended because it eventually could not find enough hosts to spread any further.  For those who, today, might advocate for “herd immunity”, it is important to remember that while 1.5 million people worldwide have died of Covid 19, the Spanish Flu took 30 million lives.

    So Christmas in 1918 was a somber one and it may be for you as well this year.  One thing that they had going for them back in 1918 was that the “pods” that people lived in (the people with whom they lived and essentially quarantined with) were much larger.  Extended families still got together for Christmas because they got together every day.  Generations lived together in the same houses.  That’s not the case for us today and I am aware of how lonely this Christmas will be for many who will literally be on their own.

    Yet the truth of Christmas in 1918 and in 2020 remains the same and it’s meaning is more powerful than in other years: God is with us as one of us.  

    I hope that truth sinks deep into your heart this Christmas; especially if you are alone or struggling with your health.  God is with us as one of us.  That means that God is born anew in your life this Christmas like never before.  You don’t have to go searching for God because God could not be closer.  

    There is no need for physical distancing when it comes to the incarnation.  And in that nearness there is comfort, healing, light and love.  

    It may not be a raucous Christmas this year and that’s okay.  In the subdued spirit of this year, remember that it was into the most challenging of times that Christ was born.  

    And because of his arrival, a new life and a new world are possible.

    Merry Christmas,

    –Rev. Dominic

  • Christmas Eve Worship Attendance Update (12/10/2020)

    It had been our hope to facilitate sign-ups for in-person attendance at our Christmas Eve worship service.  Due to rising Covid 19 numbers, however, we have decided that this would not be prudent.  Nonetheless, we hope you will join us for our Christmas Eve worship service at 7:00 p.m. on December 24th when it will be broadcast on our YouTube channel.  A link will be sent out ahead of time.  We plan to resume in-person worship only when it is safe to do so.  We appreciate everyone’s understanding. 

  • Advent Light (12/8/2020)

    We have been focusing a lot on the tradition of the Advent Wreath and Advent Candles this year.

    Trish Faro was inspired to yet again provide these symbols of the season as kits to be available in the church office and I have been using one as a theme for this year’s Advent Children’s Sermon series.

    One of things I like most about this tradition is that it is, well, a tradition!  It goes way back and anytime you take part in something that people have been doing for generations, it is deeply meaningful.

    Advent wreaths began in the 16th century but really only gained popularity in the mid-1800s in Germany.  They didn’t make it to the United States until the 1930s when they then quickly spread in popularity in churches and, subsequently, in private homes.

    Their purpose has always been to mark the weeks leading up to Christmas and to provide devotional meaning to those weeks.

    The meaning of the four candles (for the four weeks of Advent) vary by tradition.  In the United Church of Christ, they represent Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  Some traditions move those themes around by week; particularly flipping the order of the Love and Joy candles.

    An alternative meaning of the candles in some traditions is 1. The Prophet’s Candle (accompanied by readings from Isaiah), 2. The Bethlehem Candle (accompanied by the passage from Micah foretelling the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem), 3. The Shepherd’s Candle (honoring the first to receive news of the birth of the Messiah), and 4. The Angel Candle (honoring the heavenly beings who announced Christ’s birth).

    In modern times, people have taken the liberty of developing their own meanings for the candles to give them personal significance as well.

    The final, Fifth Candle, is always the Christ Candle.  It sits in the center of the wreath and remains unlit until Christmas Eve when Christ’s birth is celebrated.

    The candles are always surrounded by a circular wreath which symbolized the unending love of God.  That wreath is made of evergreens which symbolize the new life that is always available through Jesus.

    Maybe the thing I like most about this tradition is the progression of light.  December is the darkest month on the calendar and there is great meaning in the act of adding light each week to the deepening darkness prior to the winter solstice.  It is a great reminder of the light of God that cannot be overcome no matter how challenging things may become.

    So whether in our sanctuary or on your dining room table, I hope you will take advantage of this old–yet modernizing–tradition that will enliven your connection to both Advent and Christmas.

    In Christ,

    –Rev. Dominic

  • Advent Origins (12/1/2020)

    As I’m sure you know, Advent and Christmas have their origins in the Priscillian controversy of the fourth century.  What’s that?  You have no idea what I’m talking about?

    Well, read on then so that you can be the first on your block to learn more and impress your friends!

    Priscillianism was gnostic heresy.  Gnostics (the “G” is silent—no one’s sure why) were early Christians who didn’t think much of the gospels that made it into our current bible.  They had a pretty complicated view of the universe which was full of ranks of angels and demi-gods (Jesus being one of them).  

    To boil it down from sap to syrup, they believed that human souls were meant to battle the forces of darkness but kind of got caught in the material world.  We are stuck here and need to be liberated because the material world is straight-up evil by definition.  

    Unable to do this ourselves, Jesus came along to give us secret knowledge to free us (gnosis).  He appeared human, but really wasn’t.  Consequently, there was no way he could have been born of a human mother and no way he could have actually suffered and died on the cross.  And this not-tainted-by-anything-earthly Jesus Christ was a one-time event.  He certainly wasn’t going to show up again.  

    While there are hints of Gnosticism in John’s gospel and even in some of Paul’s writing, the four gospels that we know were of no help to the gnostics because they highlighted his birth and death and contained none of the secret knowledge he imparted (at least in their view).  

    As interesting as the Prscillian (Iberian peninsula) gnostics were, they were put out of commission by the Council of Sargossa in 380.  

    This Council essentially disconnected the gnostic’s car battery by saying that the idea of a dualistic separation between light and darkness, body and spirit is false.  

    To proof it, they formalized Advent and Christmas.

    This early version of Advent held that the first two weeks of the season were to focus on the Second Coming of Christ.  This rubbed the gnostic’s noses in a belief they wanted nothing to do with.  It is also why the first few lectionary texts for Advent are, to this day, filled with apocalyptic writings.

    The second two weeks of Advent were then focused on the incarnation.  The incarnation is the idea that, in Jesus Christ, the divine and human became one.  The Council reiterated that Jesus was fully divine (you got that part right, you gnostics) but he was also fully HUMAN (you swung and missed on that part).

    It is a shame that we have so little of early Christian gnostic writings.  It is also a shame that the early church “fathers” clamped down so hard on these so-called “heresies” because their doing so still limits our world view as Christians.

    Still, the power of these early theological teachings still rings true: Jesus was one of us.  Being divine didn’t prevent him from experiencing all of the joy and pain of human existence.  The merger, the incarnation, of divine and human, of heaven and earth, in his person gives us a companion on our earthly journey who knows us as we are and guides us to what awaits us.  He is the son of God but also our very human brother.

    Gnosticism is interesting, for sure.  But a Jesus who was never really human leaves you with nothing to grab on to.

    Advent and Christmas drive home the truth that because the dualities divine and human come together in Jesus Christ, we are never alone.

    And that’s something worth celebrating!

    In Christ,

    –Rev. Dominic

  • In-Person Worship Update (for 11/29/2020) (11/23/2020)

    When we began our move to in-person worship this fall, we committed to evaluating this in late November.  After much discussion among our Deacons of Worship, Senior Deacons, and staff we have decided to suspend in-person worship for the time being.

    The main reason for this decision is the rising cases of Covid 19 as fall ends and we head into the winter.  There have also been logistical challenges in arranging for pre-registered, in-person worship (extra staff and volunteers) while the ability and willingness of parishioners to attend has understandably been minimal.  

    Our hope is to have sign-ups available to attend worship on Christmas Eve after which we will make a further determination on the best and safest course of action with regard to in-person worship in the New Year.

    Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding!  Our live streaming worship services on YouTube and MMTV in Melrose will continue as usual.

  • A Different Kind of Advent (11/23/2020)

    This Sunday begins our Advent journey toward Bethlehem and Christmas.

    Like everything else this year, Advent will feel different.  

    The same challenges will be with us that were there on Thanksgiving: An inability to gather in large numbers, not feeling safe in public places including church, and squeezing the last drop out of yet another bottle of hand sanitizer. 

    Some things, of course, will be the same.  Christmas trees will go up along with many decorations and lights.  Our live streaming services will anchor the season and help you remember the true meaning and spirit of this important time of year.

    In some ways, I think our inability to do things “normally” during this Advent and Christmas season can be a good thing.  That is because the way we “normally” do things can keep us from the core purpose of Advent and the deep meaning of Christmas.

    Think about it: the old normal had us rushing around and out of breath for the entire month of December.  Maybe that won’t happen so much this year.  We took for granted the back and forth family visits—sometimes looking forward to them, sometimes dreading them.  Now, in their absence, we can more fully appreciate how important those visits really are.

    The crush of the season’s old normal kept us from any consistent, private devotions or family worship.  Maybe this year, that can take center stage.

    God is with us in whatever ways this holiday season will look different.  God is with us, especially, as we pray for too many who have fallen ill with Covid 19 and everyone whose lives have been altered by this pandemic.

    One thing I expect to see this year is the Joseph and Mary statues in public nativity scenes sporting masks.  In all honesty, I can’t think of a better symbol of the season.  It will certainly be a great visual reminder that God is right next to us in the midst of this on-going pandemic and all of the instability that it brings.

    Advent this year will be a wonderful way to remember that into the midst of uncertainty, suffering, and worry—Christ is Born.

    Nothing can change that.

    In Christ,

    –Rev. Dominic

  • QAnon: Eerily Familiar… (10/27/2020)

    Have you heard of QAnon?

    I have been aware of it over the past couple of years as a kind of right wing background noise, but it is only recently that it has adopted stronger Christian overtones.

    Whenever that happens, I see it as an invitation to comment!

    QAnon began in 2017 when an anonymous internet poster named “Q” began posting messages on 4 Chan; an internet site that the Guardian newspaper described as “lunatic, juvenile … brilliant, ridiculous and alarming.”  It is a site known for pranks, harassment, attacks against other websites and Internet users, and the posting of illegal content, threats of violence, misogyny and racism. 

    “Q,” assumed to be a single person, claims to have access to secret government files which detail a satanic cult among Washington democrats and Hollywood elites.  This cult is responsible for a large, well organized child sex ring.  Thanks to the efforts of Donald Trump, this cabal is being held in check but all of his attempts to dismantle the sex ring are met with attacks by liberals protecting this demonic, secret society.

    Obviously, none of this is based in fact.

    But that doesn’t stop the QAnon movement from growing.  Trump rallies regularly feature QAnon signage and supporters.  The online presence of QAnon has grown substantially during the pandemic: up by 175% on Facebook (before being banned) and 63% on Twitter, according to a British source.

    And, more recently, QAnon has metastasized into the evangelical, Christian church.

    “Q Drops,” messages posted by Q, are often viewed as quasi sacred texts that are picked up by followers to help recruit Christians to “Save the Children.”  Of course, everyone wants to save children and those who respond to this group’s efforts to do so soon find themselves descending a rabbit hole of nationalism, Christianity, the promise of spiritual knowledge and the primacy of scripture, and, finally, the desire to evangelize to friends and family.

    For those who follow QAnon, Q Drops are sacred texts and Donald Trump is a messianic figure who will conjure an apocalyptic “Storm” that will reveal the “deep state” of evil.

    QAnon would be frightening on its own but the fact that it has become legitimized is even more frightening.  

    QAnon is a consequence of our truth-starved culture that churns out social media echo chambers for the ignorant.  It feeds people’s deep seated, unfounded fears and then offers a cause, a community, a sense of belonging and a movement to fight those identified as responsible for those fears.  

    To anyone who has studied the origins of 1930’s nationalism in Western Europe and the rise of fascism, this should be alarmingly familiar. 

    In Christ,

    –Rev. Dominic

  • Black Lives Matter at FCC (10/23/2020)

    (As posted on the 9/25/2020 Messenger)

    At its September meeting, the Board of Deacons of our church decided to move forward with the placement of Black Lives Matter signs at our church. 

    This decision was taken not only at the urging of our wider denomination to become more publicly visible in our commitment to racial justice, but also because the Board felt it to be the faithful response to the current racial crisis in our country and community.

    I realize that this may be a controversial action not only in our wider community, but within our own church as well.  Consequently, I will be addressing this decision by means of the sermon this Sunday, September 27th, and there will be follow-up information here in the Messenger from members of the Board of Deacons. 

    The sign will go up immediately following the worship service this Sunday.

    In the meantime, let me try to pre-emptively allay any concerns about this decision by addressing some common questions that may arise out of this action:

    Question: What is “Black Lives Matter”?

    Answer: Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international activist movement, originating in the African American community, that campaigns against violence toward black people.

    BLM participants have demonstrated in response to numerous deaths of black people while in police custody and in support of economic and social equality for the black community.  Many in our congregation have participated in such demonstrations.  While a movement, it is decentralized and has no formal hierarchy or structure.

    Question: Why not say “All Lives Matter”?

    Answer:  Of course all lives matter!  There are times, however, when it is important to lift up those in a particular group who are not experiencing this truth.  A couple of things here:

      1. The language is not “Only Black Lives Matter” nor is it “Black Lives Matter More”. It is simply that “Black Lives Matter”.  Many African Americans do not believe their lives matter equally (and there is certainly evidence to support this) so it is important to state what should be obvious: Black Lives Matter.
      1. Black people are at risk from systems in our society that devalue or endanger them far more than any other racial group such as: mass incarceration, economic inequality, housing discrimination, inequality of educational opportunity, and others. The devaluing of black lives is a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow; systems that were in place for hundreds of years in our country.

    If your neighbor’s house were burning, you would not tell the fire department that all houses matter.  You would want them to direct their attention to the house in danger.  So it is with black people both in the US and globally today.  The house is on fire and we need to act!

      1. In the founding years of this nation, the same person could say “all men are created equal” and still hold some people in bondage, not seeing them as created equal.

    Frances Scott Key, who wrote our National Anthem, included the words “land of the free” in that song.  He was, ironically, a slave owner. 

    Because of this history “all lives matter” has too easily meant only the lives of citizens identified as white.

    Question:  What about the police?  Isn’t “Black Lives Matter” a statement against the police?  What about Blue Lives?

    Answer: No one is saying that the lives of police officers don’t matter.  Of course they do.  Any death of a police officer should be mourned.  Again, all lives DO matter.

    There are laws, policies, and practices protecting “blue lives” that make it highly unlikely that deadly violence against the police will escape consequences.  The reverse is not true for black lives.

    Black Lives Matter calls out the actions of those police officers who commit unjustified, extrajudicial violence.  It calls out the system that protects such officers from responsibility for their acts.  It calls for change in a justice system which disproportionately incarcerates people of color.  These ideals are not anti-police.  In fact, these ideals directly aligned with the mission of the police to “protect and serve” their communities.            

    Question:  Why is this happening now?  Haven’t we made great strides toward equality?

    Answer:  Strides toward racial justice and equality have always provoked an intense backlash. We are currently in a time of such backlash; a time when those who believe in racial justice and equality need to be visible and vocal as we stand in the public square.  

    FCC places the sign “Black Lives Matter” at our church to acknowledge that none of us are free until we are all free.  My liberation is bound up in your liberation.

    Again, while this may be difficult for some, the church leadership has decided that this is the right thing to do.  It may stretch us in ways that may make us uncomfortable at times.  It may call us to be courageous in ways that we are not used to.  But stretching and courage can be a very good things!  And this action is certainly in keeping with much of scripture including Paul’s admonition to the Galatians:

    “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

    In Christ,

    –Rev. Dominic


    The sermon about Black Lives Matter from worship on September 25, 2020:


    Contributions from our Deacons about Black Lives Matter:

    from the 10/2/2020 Messenger:

    Dear FCC Community –
     
    As a church we do a very good job of supporting individuals in need through programs like Refugee Immigration Ministry and Bread of Life – this need exists due to systemic racism (https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism). Systemic racism is the way racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society. Among other impacts, systemic racism keeps our communities segregated, causes disparities in health, and contributes to the massive wealth gap.  Looking at the wealth gap alone the numbers are staggering.  In Boston, while white households have a median net worth of $247,500, Black households have a median net worth of $8!  This summer the Board of Deacons began a conversation about how the First Congregational Church community can address and take more direct action to dismantle systemic racism. 

     
    After the deaths of George Floyd at the hands of police, Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of racist citizens, and too many others to mention, we felt our church could no longer be silent.  Our faith calls us to act in the face of injustice.  The Board of Deacons had multiple conversations over the summer about how to respond. One option raised was to put up a Black Lives Matter sign, as a number of other faith communities around us have.  Among the Board there are multiple views on this.  To clarify people’s thinking, and give everyone a chance to share and discuss their views, we asked each person on the Board to share how they feel using a 5 point scale ranging from “Fully Support Putting Up A Sign” to “Opposed To Putting Up A Sign.”  We were heartened and inspired by the open conversation that followed.  In the end, the Board decided that we need to show our support for the Black Lives Matter movement by displaying a sign.
     
    The Board also felt strongly that a sign was not enough – that the symbol needs to be backed with action.  As one step toward action, each Deacon is exploring how their area of ministry can play a part in dismantling the pervasive system of racial inequality.  One example of where this work has already begun is in Christian Education.  Over the summer, Laura Pollica and Jaime McAllister-Grande planned and implemented a book exchange for families that included books that uplift Black people in American history, tell the story to the Civil Right Movement and examine issues such as poverty.  Children each read two books and wrote a response that they shared with a book buddy.  One important way to take action is to educate our children about how we got here, how to talk about race and understand the privilege they hold simply by virtue of being white, and how to use their privilege to work for justice.  
     
    The Board of Deacons also feels it is important that everyone in our community understand that this a statement in support of the Black community; it is not a statement against anyone –  a common misconception of the Black Live Matter movement.
     
    Throughout the church year we will offer opportunities for education and participation in actions related to dismantling systemic racism.  The Black Lives Matter signs that went up on Sunday signals our commitment as a church to work for racial justice.  

    Stay tuned!
    Beth & Dan Hampson
    Senior Deacons  


    An Important Start

    Jaime  McAllister-Grande, Christian Education Co-Deacon

    (from the 10/16/2020 Messenger)

    When I was a student at Holy Cross College in Worcester, I elected to attend a trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico sponsored by the Chaplain’s office.  The focus of the trip was on learning about how faith, politics and poverty play out in the lives of families living in this area.

    As a person who valued her faith, as well as a student who was majoring in Spanish, I was excited and also nervous about the trip.  I worried about how I would feel visiting the homes and meeting the children of families who were living in poverty, coming from a very comfortable living situation at a selective college in the US.

    On the trip, and still to this day, the quote printed on the back of our trip t-shirts was what provided me the guidance I needed.  From Indigenous Australian artist and activist Lilla Watson, it said:

    “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time,
    but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

    As I sat with families in Cuernavaca, hearing about their struggles and their faith in God, it was clear to me that our wellbeing was tied together.  God made each of us and loved each of us.  I support the Black Lives Matter movement for the same reason.  I know from history and reading and lived experience that I have more supports, more opportunities, and more future potential in the US because my skin is white.  Conversely, I know that the past, present and future experiences of my fellow Americans who are Black are more difficult, more painful and more dangerous than what I experience.

    It is a painful legacy, and difficult to sit with.  But I believe that my faith calls me to not just sit with it, but to stand up in support.  I need to communicate clearly: The way things are right now, in housing and schools and policing and more, is not ok.  It is not ok that my life as a white person is more closely protected, and more highly valued, than yours.  I need to do better.  Not to ‘help’ you – but rather, because every life that God makes matters, and I have been part of a system that has not valued your life.  I need to do more to make sure Black Lives matter.

    Putting up a sign that says Black Lives Matter is one way we as a faith community can begin to ‘stand up’ in support.  There is much more to learn, to listen to, to do; I believe this is an important signal and an important start.


    from the Video Message posted on 10/23/2020 titled “Black Lives Matter”: