|Sunday Morning Worship|
is the heart of our corporate life at First Congregational. We follow the
rhythms of the Christian Year, with its seasons of Advent, Christmastide,
Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost, and all their attendant major
festival days and observances: Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday,
Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and All Saints’. In addition, each
year, on the Sunday nearest Independence Day, we return to our original
house of worship --- Bingham’s Old Free Meeting House --- for a Heritage
Sunday service. Our Sunday morning services are at 10:30 from the second
Sunday in September until late May/early June; during the summer months,
we meet at 9:30, with a fellowship hour following worship.
During most of the year, we hear two or three Scripture readings at Morning Worship, appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary that is shared by Protestant churches around the world and is based on the Roman Catholic lectionary.
The order of our Sunday morning worship services follows a progressive scheme that includes praise, prayer, the hearing of God’s word, and response to the word:
Our style of worship bridges the formal and the informal, the liturgical and the spontaneous, the classical and the contemporary. We sing the great hymns of the Faith as well as praise choruses. Sometimes we join in unison prayers and litanies; sometimes prayer is offered freely and spontaneously. We say the Psalms and chant them. We listen intently and with seriousness, but sometimes we laugh out loud, too! Worship should be a thing of solemnity and of joy, and above all it should include the whole congregation and be centered in the praise of God. This is our aim as we worship together.
Communion is usually celebrated by our church on the first Sunday of each
month. Special Communion services are also held periodically, including
union services with sister Congregational churches in Somerset County on
Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.
Congregationalists observe the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples and his self-sacrifice on the Cross --- but it is more than merely symbolic. We believe in the real presence of Christ among his people as they gather in his Name. Thus we bar no fellow-believers from his Table. We welcome all who confess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to join us in our celebration.
in the tradition of the majority of Christian churches, Congregational churches
have baptized both infants and adults in recognition of their inclusion
in God’s covenant of grace, extended to all who believe as well as
to their children (see Acts 2:39).
Infant baptism has been practiced in the Church since its early centuries, as a carryover from the ancient Jewish rite of circumcision, by which infant boys were --- and are --- “sealed” as children of God.
It is the general custom among our churches to baptize by sprinkling, though in the case of older children and adults, allowance is made for pouring or full immersion, according to the wishes of the individual.
Adults who wish to be baptized, or who wish their children to be baptized, meet with the Minister for instruction prior to the rite.
|Symbolism in Our Sanctuary|
in the sanctuary of the First Congregational Church meetinghouse is the
cross, which hangs front and center in the chancel, above
the altar. As we enter the sanctuary, we are immediately reminded of the
One who died on the Cross of Calvary to reveal to the world the dimensions
of God’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19). The cross symbolizes the
promise of Scripture that “God so loved the world that he gave his
only Son” (John 3:16).
Beneath the cross is the altar, symbolizing two things: the presence of Christ among his people as we worship in his Name, and the sacrifice of worship to which we are called. The patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) regularly erected altars to God, and the ancient Hebrew temples were each constructed around a sacrificial altar. Upon the altar are two candles, signifying the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. With the whole Church, we confess our faith that Jesus is the “Word” --- God’s self-expression --- made flesh, who came to live among us to reveal God’s will and ways (John 1). To the side of the altar are two seven-branched candelabra, which recall the menorah candles of Jewish tradition and symbolize the fullness of life in God’s Spirit.
In front of the altar are the pulpit (to the left, nearest the choir loft) and the lectern (to the right). The Scriptures are read, and the worship service led, from the lectern. The pulpit is employed solely for the preaching of God’s Word. The presence of a lectern (or “reading desk”) and separate pulpit was something that was common in the earliest Congregational meetinghouses of New England; the desk was on congregational level and the pulpit, directly behind it, rose high above the congregation, symbolizing the centrality and importance of the Word. Later Congregational churches, like ours, have employed the traditional Anglican (Episcopal) scheme of a “divided chancel” with pulpit on one side, lectern on the other, and altar (or Table) in the middle.
The Communion Table is brought into the sanctuary for celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, during which it stands below the chancel and before the congregation. The Minister stands behind it, facing the gathered people of God. This emphasizes the Protestant concept of Communion not as a sacrifice (as with the Mass), but as a remembrance and family gathering. In recognition of that, at the close of each Communion service we join hands one with another and sing the old hymn “Blest Be the Tie”:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
--- Rev. John Fawcett, c. 1772
The pulpit and altar of First Congregational Church are decorated in the
seasonal colors of the Christian Year with hangings (antependia)
whose colors carry special meaning. The color for the seasons of Advent
and Lent is violet, which symbolizes both penitence --- spiritual
introspection and confession of sin --- and the kingship of Christ (“royal
purple”). The color during Christmastide and Eastertide is white,
indicative of the spiritual purity of Christ and the quest toward holiness
in our own lives. The color used for Pentecost Sunday, ordinations, pastoral
installations and church anniversaries is red, symbolizing the
fire of the Holy Spirit’s power. The color for the long seasons
of “ordinary time” --- the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost
--- is green, emblematic of growth in the Christian life.
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© First Congregational Church, Bingham, ME