Identity & Communication Event held on 3-20-2004
"Tell 'em Who You Are!"
Verona Church uses two ways to “Tell them who we are”
The idea for a Thanksgiving Service grew, in part, out of a concern that people in the community hadn’t a clue about who we are. We decided to invite the community to a Thanksgiving Service and Feast. Families from the many groups that use the church (nursery, after-school, Scouts, etc.) were especially invited to attend, articles appeared in the newspapers and on the town cable TV, and invitations were prepared for members to give to friends and neighbors. All attendees were asked to share of their own bounty by bringing something for the local food pantry.
The whole church was involved. Church School students made costumes for themselves and for other community members. One child and a teacher searched the internet for appropriate, easy-to-make costumes. They made paper-bag vests and feather headdresses for the Native American guests, and hats and bonnets and large white collars for the Pilgrims, and had lots of extras ready for members and guests who came that Sunday. The children, the choir, and most of the congregation wore costumes, and processed into church following a student playing a drum.
Priscilla Alden and Squanto each shared their memories of the first Thanksgiving (emphasizing themes about UCC identity). George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (played by the town’s mayor) shared their proclamations of Thanksgiving celebrations in the past. John Robinson came all the way from Holland to deliver parts of the sermon he had delivered to the departing Pilgrims, a sermon that remains remarkably relevant today.
In conjunction with the celebration, the pastor, Jim Leamon, wrote four articles for the weekly newspaper giving the history of the holiday and connecting it with the UCC. This coverage along with the photos and article contributed by a reporter who attended the service helped raise both the profile of the church and of the UCC in the community. And at least one visitor asked “Do you do this every year?”
The congregation continued the Pilgrim theme when we launched our church and community study series this winter. On four Wednesday evenings in January, two classes were offered to church and community members, separated by a fellowship meal. A nominal charge was made for dinner, which was cooked and served by church volunteers, but the classes were available at no charge. The events were publicized in the church and throughout the community with newspaper articles and flyers.
The program began at 5:30 pm with a session on Spirituality, led by the Rev. Barbara Prince. Dinner from 6:30 to 7:00 was followed by a second session from 7:00 to 8:00 on Gangs in Suburbia. This session was co-sponsored by COPE, a counseling and drug treatment program in Verona and Montclair, who also helped with publicity. Each session featured a speaker, including a State Police and an Essex County Sheriff’s Department Gang Task Force Officer, as well as a former gang member who is now a counselor, and a current gang member serving time in the county jail.
Attendance was good and grew throughout the four sessions. The Gangs in Suburbia session, in particular, attracted about as many members of the community as church members, and resulted in an editorial about the concern in the local newspaper as well as a segment on the WBGO Journal radio program in which Jim Leamon was interviewed.
The congregation plans to offer Pilgrims’ Progress three times a year. We plan to schedule more time for dinner and we may begin a little later as well. The next series, in May, will include someone from Eastern Mennonite College teaching peace-making practices, and a series of speakers on Terrorism. We hope you’ll come!
First Congregational Church of Verona
For more information, contact Marge Royle at 973-628-6945,