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First Congregational

United Church of Christ

... exploring the frontiers of faith in Jesus


But now they desire a better Country
that is an heavenly: wherefore God
is not ashamed to be called their God:
for he hath prepared for them a city

Do you recognize these words? They are printed on the plaque that hangs in the South Street entrance of our church, honoring our six charter members: Abram Hosford, John Leavitt, Joseph and Cynthia White, and Levi and Mary Worcester. I have often wondered when the plaque was placed and this week while doing my research, I found the answer. It was placed in 1912, in December or possibly November.

1912 was the church's fifty-sixth year. Walter Rollins was in his seventh year as pastor, and it was the year that the church published J. O. Stevenson’s history of the church in his honor.

Joseph White attended church on the Sunday the plaque was dedicated. He was the only one of the six charter members still living. He had been quite ill for several years, but made the effort to be there that Sunday. He died two months later, in February, 1913.

Joseph White was born in Massachusetts. I am guessing his wife, Cynthia, was born in Vermont, because they were married in Vermont. Joseph came to Waterloo in 1854 and brought his family west in 1856, the year he and his wife helped start the church. They were farmers and in the year of the church's founding, he was thirty-five years old and she was thirty-three.

Abram Hosford was forty-five, the oldest of the six. He also came to Waterloo in 1854, making his way slowly west from Vermont where he was born, with stops in Buffalo and Toledo and Lasalle County, Illinois. He made his way between Toledo and Lasalle on foot, walking thirty-five miles a day for seven days!

Abram was the only one of the six charter members who did not remain in Black Hawk County, moving on after just a few years to Clinton County. He owned a lumber yard and operated a saw mill and may have dabbled in banking as well. He was married three times, widowed twice. His second wife, Priscilla, who was born in Maine, did not join the church with him.

Levi and Mary Worcester came from Ticonderoga, New York. In 1855, they ventured west to Illinois and later that year, to Waterloo. After a year in Waterloo, they moved to a farm in Cedar Falls, where they spent the rest of their lives. They are both buried in Hillside Cemetery in Cedar Falls.

Levi was a farmer, and a poet. His obituary calls him "a man of unusual literary ability" who loved to quote poetry to his farmhands after dinner. In 1856 when they helped found the church, Levi was thirty-six years old and Mary thirty-four.

John Leavitt was born in Franklin County, Massachusetts, and came to Waterloo in 1854 when he was just twenty-three years old. He became a prominent banker and a leading citizen of the town, serving a term in the state senate. But when he joined Joseph and Cynthia and Levi and Mary and Abram one hundred and sixty-two years ago in founding this congregation, he was not the eminent figure of the painting hung across the hall in the Friendship Room. He was an unmarried, fresh-faced lad of twenty-five!

These were young men, young women, brave young men, brave young women, pioneers, pilgrims, leaving behind homes, leaving behind relatives, leaving behind the land of their birth for a strange new country. Like Abraham ...

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Did you hear it? The Word? Did you hear the Word? The Word that was there from the beginning? The Word that was with God? The word that was the same as God?

Did you hear it? Did you hear the Word still speaking? Taking new shape, addressing a new context, speaking new meanings through Meach Meacham's words?

For whom does Meach speak? He speaks, first of all, for himself: "I am ... descended from runaway slaves, guided by stars in the darkness." He speaks out of his own experience as a scholar, as a literacy teacher, as a black man, as a twenty-first century black man.

But he also speaks on behalf of others, for other African-Americans like him. He speaks out of a shared culture and shared traditions and shared suffering and a shared language: "We love the word."

To whom does Meach speak? This morning he spoke to us, to those of us gathered in the sanctuary of First Congregational United Church of Christ. But who is "us?" Some of us are black, some of us are white, some of us are brown. Some of us share his experience, as a black man, as a person living amidst a majority population of a different race and some of us do not. Some of us are teachers and scholars and some of us are engineers and salespeople. Some of us are young and some of us are old. Some of us are female and some of us are male. But we are all here, here waiting to hear the Word, wanting to hear the Word.

Well, did we? Did we hear the Word? Did the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, speak to you as you listened to Meach's words? Yes? How do you know?

We know because the Spirit in us recognizes the Spirit in him. Or, better, the Spirit among us, the Spirit present here among us whenever we gather in Jesus' name, empowers us, equips us, to serve each other, to encourage each other, to challenge each other, to help each other grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

The Spirit's presence is shown in some way on each person for the good of all.

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We wait for what God has promised


... new heavens and a new earth!

• Read my essay, Heaven can wait

Staff Corner

Grass is greening. Hyacinths are blooming. Farmers are out in the fields. Maple trees are not yet leafed out, but their red buds are swelling. Spring is here.


I don't remember an April like this during my time in Iowa. More snow in April than the rest of winter combined. Snow on April 18!

So, does the delayed spring make its coming all the sweeter? Or are you still grumbling about the lousy April? Or are you one who is already dreading the dogs days of summer, just around the corner?

But whatever you think and however you feel, that doesn't change the reality. Today, spring is here. And it is beautiful. So you may as well enjoy it! Forget April. Forget August. It's May!

Sometimes our capacity for seeing the big picture, for interpreting every moment of our lives in the broad context of past and future -- our particular past and our anticipated future -- inhibits our ability to appreciate the present. We carry burdens with us from the past, burdens of disappointment or bitterness or hurt or guilt, or even “burdens” of joy, of success, of moments of exhilaration and great satisfaction, all of which -- bad or good -- divert our attention from unique delights of this one moment.

Or we worry. Or we plan and dream and anticipate and miss what is happening today because we are so preoccupied with what may (or may not) happen tomorrow.

I am writing this to remind myself to enjoy today. Because my mind and heart are vey much taken up right now with both future and past. The closer July 1 comes, the more I am pulled backwards and forwards by a complex of emotions.

I am remembering, reminiscing, reliving so many of the experiences of the last twenty-four years. It is good, satisfying, gratifying to remember, but memory also brings grief, grief for those I have already lost, for those I already miss, but grief too for all I will be losing and all those I will miss.

And, of course, I am excited, too, excited about the new adventure of retirement, of having time to hike and paddle and fish and build and write and read and garden and photograph and explore. I am excited about having time! But I worry, too (of course, I worry!) about how it will work, about what I will do or about what I may not be able to do.

But it's May! Spring is here. And it is beautiful. And you and I have Sundays -- beautiful Sundays! -- still to enjoy together. We have a past, a past together we will treasure. And we have a future, you have a future, to be excited about: new adventures, new opportunities, new relationships, new directions, new experiences of the love and faithfulness and goodness of God.

But we have now this moment, these moments, to enjoy. Enjoy the spring! Enjoy this day! See you Sunday ...