Christ Church at 150
Time capsules have long fascinated me. The notion that one could take a memento from the present -- such as a coin, clothing, book, newspaper, or poem and bury it within a cornerstone of a building or deep underground -- with instructions to be opened long into the future by another generation. Often, no one living when the capsule is buried or hidden will be alive when the time capsule is scheduled to be opened.
If the founders had thought ahead and buried a time capsule, we can only wonder what they might have added from their day?
Parish anniversaries are tricky. On one hand they clearly provide a moment and festive occasion to look back over the past and lift up highlights, milestones, and accomplishments. They allow us to think back decades and centuries ago and imagine what may have been taking place in our society, culture and church. They remind us how much tradition and heritage shapes our living faith that seeks to straddle the ancient and the now.
Christ Church was organized as parish in 1865, the year that saw the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a famed visitor to Exeter, and the end of the tragic Civil War.
Some influences that formed the focus of life and ministry at Christ Church over these 150 years have clearly shifted. A congregation born from an initial purpose to minister to students and teachers at Phillips Exeter Academy has to adapt to new times. The students of the Academy are not the primary focus of our ministry today. Compulsory church attendance was lifted decades ago. Fifty years ago we relocated from the shadow of the Academy to our current location on Pine Street.
Exeter High School, for years only a few hundred yards from the church -- allowing students to wander over to our classrooms afterschool – moved across town ten years ago.
We know all too well that the centrality of the Sunday Sabbath in American life is no more. Young families and their children and teens juggle a myriad of choices and demands.
RiverWoods, co-founded by Christ Church member Rosemary Coffin, is a reminder that Exeter and the Seacoast has become a destination for retirees. We are blessed by the diversity of generations and experiences as we gather each week.
If we were to fill a time capsule on this anniversary and bury it deep into the ground with instructions to uncover it 50 or 100 years from now, what might we include and what might we want to say?
I would include pictures – paper and digital of course – of the faces of those who call Christ Church home.
I would include something to express our attention to the cares and needs of today:
v A picture drawn from a child at Sunday School
v A quilt or a healing shawl crafted as a sacrament of caring for another
v A menu from a meal prepared for our overnight guests with Seacoast Family Promise
v A souvenir from one of recent mission trips to Cuba
v A copy of the expansive list of names used by our Healing Team uses to pray each week for the sick and those in need of God’s grace
v An initial working sketch of a rendering of a possible new Parish Hall, as a way to convey that we too are people imaging a time beyond the life cycle of our buildings
v A recording of our congregation singing a treasured hymn at our fullest and most thankful
v A copy of the Exeter News-Letter and the Boston Globe from this day
v Finally I would include a list of those households that call Christ Church their spiritual home.
That would be my list. What would you include?
The test of anniversary celebrations is not merely look behind up and mark past achievements and milestones. They must also be about today and tomorrow. They must say something about who and whose we are. We are people of the Resurrection after all. People of the Way. People on a journey.
May we give thanks for our founders, pillars, forgotten faithful, children, teens, empty nesters and elders. We honor our lay leaders, our clergy and the bishops who encouraged and guided our work through these 150 years.
And may God in Jesus Christ continue to shape and inspire us.