Melrose Highlands Congregational Church, Melrose, MAThis is the second entry in my new blog project where I intend to explore and experience the services of many different churches, predominantly where I live in Massachusetts. My reasoning for this activity/journey can be found here. In short these churches are important, often overlooked and misjudged centers of our communities that seek to make a positive impact on their participants as well as others, and I'd like to learn about this and share what I find. It is possible that through this activity I may eventually consider a long term relationship with one of these pillars and foundations of the community, however I am eager to do a lot of exploring first.
The building:This congregation is housed in a large brick structure with wooden accents, off of Franklin St. in Melrose. I wish I could speak more to the architectural style of the building. As I continue in this activity perhaps I'll pick up more knowledge along the way. What I can say is that the white interior, both clean, and yet ornate when compared to more contemporary structures, strikes me as definitively protestant. The inside bears certain design reference to historical protestant church structures such as the white pew with stained accent combinations. While I can't find too much on the history of this actual building, I did find this great MIT paper written in 1951 by Charles Haeuser, which describes the need for a new building, and how it may be planned. Beyond the insight of Haeuser's comparison and reflection of protestant v. Catholic faith and how it might impact the design (individualist v. organizational adherence according to that author's opinion), what it tells us is that the congregation dates from 1875 and has been housed in a few structures. My assumption would be that the new building dates from the 1950s. Despite being fairly contemporary it is a beautiful fixture for the Highlands neighborhood. Easiest the tallest structure, and one that greatly impacts the character of its surroundings.
The building is laid out in an L, with one wing serving as a community space, which interestingly has a labyrinth designed into the floor tiles of the large event room.
Who Are The Congregation?
The congregation are a group of people from Melrose and surrounding communities, that were very welcoming and engaging to my wife and I on our first visit to their church. We had introductions from multiple people, unsolicited, and they left a very positive impression on me. It seems like a very active organization. The people here seek to make a difference and from everything I can tell, they succeed at this goal.
My wife and I have long been curious about the church as it routinely seems to bustle with activities and community events. The congregation appears to bring joyful, positive activity to its community.
Having grown up Catholic, it is always striking to see the different atmosphere of some protestant faiths. The relationship between the congregation, and the pastor, Rev. Beth Horne, was very casual. The service started with announcements, and in some ways it was more like a business meeting, complete with an interjection from a congregation member on a topic to be mentioned.
The warmth and comfort of the congregation was exemplified with how time was taken to have everyone sing happy birthday to one little girl who was very vocal throughout the service. The service was heavy on music, with a choir of excellent singers, at least one member who seemed professional trained. Organ music was also incorporated.
Rev. Horne's sermon was quite good, with a level of depth that went beyond referencing scripture. She entitled it "Along the Way There was a Star." This sermon focused on the individual path and finding your purpose. In it was references to "Theosophy," a practice of beliefs for those looking to find personal truth, a reading from Thomas Merton, and the story of Martin Luther discovering his purpose to bring the message of Christianity to people in new ways. The legend is that he prayed to St. Anna during a thunderstorm, in which he thought he would parish, that if he were spared he'd dedicate his life to God, and then proceeded to do so, despite having currently pursued a career in Law. The reverend also reflected on her personal struggle, and what it took to adhere to her goals of getting through seminary school while struggling to raise her children on limited income. The title of the sermon ties in the Epiphany, a star that led the Wise men to Christ, allowing them to then live with new purpose. Each person in attendance was given a paper star, and we were asked to write down a word that gives us hope, drive and perhaps a unique purpose, so that we could reference it during times in which we need to.
What does all of this mean to me? Every human being has intrinsic value in this world, and we all are capable of impacting others in positive ways. Sometimes we lose our way, whether it be getting caught up in ourselves, the pace of the world, or divisiveness of our environments. Churches, religions, as well as charitable secular organizations can remind us of the greater world around us. I know that I can use reminders from time to time.
What the Congregation Does:Melrose Highlands Congregation may be on the smaller size but that doesn't stop them from making a difference in their community and the world at large. For the congregation itself they have routine gatherings, which even includes monthly birthday parties for everyone born in a given month. But they fold their charity into such gatherings too. They are hosting a dance party soon with live bands, all proceeds will go to benefit Puerto Rico's continued recovery from the past hurricane season. Looking at their sponsorship of other activities, it includes fundraisers such as 5K road races to benefit the homeless, participating in Habitat for Humanity type activities, providing periodic dinners for those in need, food pantry collections, youth groups, and continued dedication towards promoting civil rights.
Conclusion: I enjoyed this second exploration of a different church, it tugged at my heart a bit knowing I wouldn't be back next week. I may need to relive such an experience again soon. But some day maybe I will go back with fresh eyes and a lot more experiences shaping my perspective.
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