Sunday Morning Worship
  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:

Greetings and Announcements
Call to Worship
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of Confession
Declaration of Forgiveness
Old Testament Lesson
Gloria Patri
New Testament Lesson(s)
Choral Worship
A Word for the Children
The Fellowship of Prayer

      Concerns and Celebrations
      Pastoral Prayer – Silent Prayer – The Lord’s Prayer (“debts”)
      Interlude or Choral Response
Worship through Giving
      Choral Worship
      Prayer of Dedication
Hymn of Devotion
Prayer for Illumination
Hymn of Discipleship

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.

  Holy 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.
  Historically, 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
  The focus 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.

On our stained glass windows there are also symbols to be found --- the star that reminds us of the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to the Christ child; the dove that leads us to recall both the story of Noah and the story of the baptism of Jesus; the cross and crown that speak of the rewards given faithful believers, mentioned in the book of Revelation; and the anchor, which is an affirmation that we have One upon whom we can anchor our lives.

The pulpit gown worn by the Minister is an academic, not a religious, vestment. It is identical to the academic gowns worn by professors in colleges and universities. The wearing of the gown is emblematic of the teaching role of a parish pastor. The crosses on the front panels signify that the wearer is a member of the clergy. This is also true of clerical collar. The linen bands, or “tabs,” properly known as Geneva bands or Puritan bands, hang down from the collar over the front of the pulpit gown. They hearken back to the days of the early New England Congregational clergy, and symbolize the “flaming tongues” of the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophetic preaching spoken of in the book of Acts (Acts 2). They are also commonly worn by ministers in other Reformed (Calvinist) churches, and by lawyers and judges in the British Commonwealth.

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