Advent Blog 2020 – Musical Moment

Did you know that our church recorded a CD of Advent and Christmas songs? This CD features our orchestra, bells, and choir and was recorded in 2007 & 2008! You may have this CD somewhere in your home. Go ahead and give it a listen this week to hear familiar sounds and voices in our sanctuary.

Don’t have a copy? We still have a few in storage and would be happy to share this musical gift. Just let us know!

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Advent Blog 2020 – #MissionMonday with the Reading Food Pantry

Our local food pantry is one of the most immediate ways that we can care for our neighbors. Currently, the Food Pantry serves over 100 clients, of which many are seniors. The COVID-19 Pandemic has seriously affected pantry clients as well as the pantry volunteers. Currently, the pantry is offering a curbside pickup system for clients, who are currently able to come twice a month so that numbers are staggered. Donations are able to be dropped off at the pantry at 6 Salem Street from 4-6 PM on Wednesdays. All the work of the pantry is done by dedicated volunteers.

Items the Reading Food Pantry is always in need of:
coffee, tea, cooking oil, sugar, flour, shampoo/conditioner, laundry detergent, soap, four-packs of toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels.

Did you know that the Food Pantry uses monetary donations to purchase items that they don’t get by donation? The Reading Food Pantry is able to purchase from the Boston Food Bank, but some items can’t come from that source.

In addition to food, pantry, and toiletry staples, clients also receive a Market Basket gift card ($15 for individuals and $30 for families) which can be used to help stipend the cost of groceries. The pantry can always use donations of Market Basket gift cards in $15 increments to help hand out.

How to donate to the Reading Food Pantry

Donate money
Donate online to the pantry by visiting its PayPal page here.
Or send a check made out to Reading Food Pantry, 6 Salem St., Reading, MA 01867

Donate pantry items like those listed above at the following times and locations:

  • Wednesdays from 4-6 PM at the Reading Food Pantry (located at Old South Church, 6 Salem Street, Reading, MA)
    • Please note: the last 2020 drop off will be December 16th, it picks back up again in the new year.
  • This week from 9 AM – 1 PM, Monday through Thursday, until December 17th at our office door on Sanborn Street (there is a box just in the doorway for drop-offs)
  • Any time at the Reading Stop & Shop and Market Basket locations

And follow the Reading Food Pantry on Facebook here.

Normally, prior to the pandemic, we collected pantry items weekly in a basket just outside our office and music room. Community members using our building as well as church members on Sundays knew they could leave items at that spot whenever they could. Just as COVID has affected pantry clients and volunteers, it’s affected how we are able to help take donations, too. Every once in a while a stray donation will still appear in that basket by someone who happened to be in the building as we are socially distancing and limiting time in the building.

We are taking a collection of bottled and canned items throughout December until December 17th as a part of our December Mission Ministry. You can drop those off just inside the Office Door on Sanborn Street. There is a …

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Advent Blog 2020 – Devotional Download

“A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for Davids throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever.” — the Book of Isaiah

During the second week of Advent we light the Peace candle. Jesus was called “Prince of Peace.” We can think of this as the metaphor of royalty in the Reign of God. This name as applied to Jesus points us to our role as those who help bring about a peaceful existence in which all people thrive. This is our prayer for our community, our nation, and our world.

Adapted from Dr. Marcia McFee’s Advent Resource

What is your prayer for peace this week? What was a moment this week that, looking back, you experienced a feeling of peace?

“from spiralling ecstatically this”
+ e e cummings

from spiralling ecstatically this
proud nowhere of earth’s most prodigious night
blossoms a newborn babe:around him,eyes
— gifted with ever keener appetite
than mere unmiracle can quite appease —
humbly in their imagined bodies kneel
(over time space doom dream while floats the whole
perhapsless mystery of paradise)
mind without soul may blast some universe
to might have been,and stop ten thousand stars
but not one heartbeat of this child;nor shall
even prevail a million questionings
against the silence of his mother’s smile
— whose only secret all creation sings
+ e e cummings…

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Advent Blog 2020 – Journey Through Advent in Art

When I was in high school, I thought that I wanted to go to art school for college. I took classes at the Currier Museum of Art art school, and so naturally, my first-ever part-time job was as a Gallery Attendant (aka security) for the museum, which was just a couple blocks from my high school. Working at the museum meant hours on my feet. I quickly became familiar with the museum’s collection.

Maxfield Parrish, “Freeman Farm: Winter,” 1935, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

This painting, “Freeman Farm: Winter,” painted in 1935 by Maxfield Parrish was one of my favorites to stop and admire when I was assigned to the gallery it was displayed in at that time. Parrish was an illustrator, a contemporary of Norman Rockwell, who used vivid colors and each piece of his feels like it has a touch of the fantastic. Yet, this painting is simple. It makes me think of the novel “Ethan Frome” or poems by Robert Frost. What I love about it is that you can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be twilight or sunrise.

Advent is the season of in-between, already-and-not-yet, and it coincides with this ancient moment of waiting for the solstice (the longest night of the year and the slow return of the sun). There is something powerful about this season and connecting to nature. As we head indoors, or busy ourselves with holiday shopping (although, this year it may be online), we might miss these moments of the natural world, like the last kiss of the sun on the horizon.

This painting also makes me think of this poem by Wendell Berry, who is a farmer himself:
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times Before),
might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

– Rev. Emelia…

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Advent Blog 2020 – Musical Moment

Do you miss singing with friends? We do, too. While we know it’s not wise to sing during the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are however extremely grateful for the work of all our musicians here at First Congregational Church. A huge shoutout to our virtual choir who record a new piece from their homes each week! And extra gratitude to Rev. Chad Kidd, our music minister, who organizes it all. Check out this virtual choir performance from the first Sunday of Advent, “Canticle of the Turning.” This song retells the Song of Mary (the “Magnificat”) from Luke 1:39-55.

Pssst … do you want to join in singing in this choir too? Curious about how it works or if you can do it? Contact Rev. Kidd or let us know and you could be singing in next Sunday’s worship service!

“Canticle of the Turning”
Words by Rory Cooney, based on Luke 1:46-58 Music: Irish Traditional; Star of the County Down, Arr. Rory Cooney. Arrangement 1990, GIA Publications, Inc. Permission with #A712439

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Advent Blog 2020 – #MissionMonday with Emmaus, Inc.

You can donate toiletries by dropping them off at First Congregational Church, 25 Woburn Street, Reading, MA Monday through Thursday from 9 AM to 1 PM until Thursday, December 10. Please use the “Office Door” (the one with wreaths and planters out front) on Sanborn Street. Just inside the door are boxes labeled for our December collections.

Each Monday in Advent we highlight a mission partner, and this week we want to share a little bit about the work of Emmaus, Inc. in Haverhill, MA.

Emmaus, Inc. includes emergency shelter services, access and education towards affordable housing, prevention and stabilization services, and the D’Youville Center for Social Justice. First Congregational Church seeks to support Emmaus, Inc. and its mission to serve the unhoused, unemployed, oppressed, families and individuals needing housing and support services. Throughout the year we offer drives for collections for shelter services and promote the annual Cycle for Shelter fundraiser.

Each December we collect toiletries for the emergency shelter services at Emmaus, and this year is no different! If you have toiletries of any kind (including those little hotel samples as long as they are unused and unopened) we welcome those donations.

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Advent Blog 2020 – Devotional Download

Each Friday we will share a devotional reflection. A devotional is something that you can use for spiritual reflection (writing, poetry, images, etc.) that help prompt your meditation, prayer, journaling, or just to ponder throughout the day.

“… an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’)”
— the Gospel of Matthew

This week we light the first candle on our Advent Wreaths and begin our Advent journeys. As we light our first candle of Hope, we recognize we need Hope in order to have Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope gives us the ability to aspire to these other three.

This week, if you are feeling despair, anxiety, or fear from the difficulty of this year (and the uncertainty of the future), allow this light to remind you that you are not alone. Remember: the angel’s message Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds was “do not be afraid.” We believe that the Christmas message of “God With Us” (Emmanuel) is why Jesus came to be with us. He was born into a world that was also experiencing trouble, unrest, oppression, and fear. God wanted to be with us then, and God still wants to be with us in a Spirit of Hope that never dies.

Adapted from Dr. Marcia McFee’s Advent Resource

What ways are you inviting hope into your life this week?
Write down a list of 5 hopes you hold in your heart today.

“Drawing Near”
A Blessing for Advent

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.
I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears,
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
you were born.

—Jan …

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Advent Blog 2020 – Journey Through Advent in Art

As a part of our Advent Blog series, Wednesdays will feature artistic renderings of the Advent story. This week, I want to share with you “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, which is one of my favorite paintings of this familiar Christian story. “Annunciation” paintings are a genre that depict the angel Gabriel sharing the news to Mary that she will bear God’s son (Luke 1:26-38).

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898), Philadelphia Museum of Art

Here in Tanner’s rendering, he steps out of the genre’s tradition which usually depicts Gabriel with wings, a dove descending, and perhaps a lily. Annunciation paintings also often picture Mary reading a Bible, praying, or often wearing the attire of a noble woman (as in many Renaissance and Reformation-era renderings).

Here, however, Tanner depicts a traditional Middle Eastern home with Mary listening closely to a soft glow of light. Here we feel like we can step into the painting and hear the conversation just as it appears in scripture. It seems Mary is just about to say “how can this be?”

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the son of an African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and one of the first African American artists to receive international recognition. He painted this piece just after a trip from Egypt upon returning to Paris. This painting is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Take a moment to read the story from Luke while looking at the painting. Use this practice of “visio divina” to invite God near in meditation and prayer.

– Rev. Emelia Attridge…

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