At First Light
Reno First Congregational/Light of the Soul
Things evolve. Nothing living is static, and even most dead things, like stones, metamorphose. I think that might be the thing that makes life most worth carrying on, and people who are frustrated by change confuse me. Change is life.
Recently, I was invited to the First Congregational Church of Reno to document its change of pastors. I’d been to the sanctuary once before in August 2007, when I was reviewing Rev. Denise Cordova’s Light of the Soul congregation, which shares the space with First Congregational. And peculiarly, even though I attended another service in the First Congregational Church, I still haven’t seen a First Congregational service, since the two congregations joined together for a special service on Sunday for Thanksgiving.
(If you’d like to read what the church looks like, you can check out the first review: www.newsreview.com/reno/content?oid=455698.)
I can’t say precisely what was different about this service than First Congregational’s usual 10 a.m. Sunday service or the Light of the Soul 11:45 a.m. service. I do know the theme colors changed because the Rev. Rich Smith mentioned the red banners were unusual. Frankly, the two services meshed pretty well. I don’t know which group Kenya Glosen belonged to, but he sang a solo, “How Can I Say Thanks?” that was moving and beautiful. The band was comprised of electric (played by Rev. Smith), bass and acoustic guitars, keyboards and an organ, and two lead female singers, and I could hear drums, but from my vantage point, I couldn’t see them. Added to that was the 15-person more traditional choir. Anyway, First Congregational was jumpin’.
All the children were called to the front to listen to a bit of a conversation about Thanksgiving by Mike Hill. He talked about the siege of Leyden, The Netherlands, by the Spanish in 1574 or thereabouts. Turns out, our pilgrims—those of the buckled hats, Native Americans, the Mayflower and turkeys on Plymouth Rock—spent a few years in Leiden before making their way to North America. There were a lot of children hearing the story, which speaks to the youth and family circumstances of both congregations.
Rev. Smith got the honor of delivering the sermon. He spoke loosely on the topic “Overcoming A.D.D.,” which in this context was “Appreciation Deficit Disorder.” He related it to the week’s reading, Luke 17:11-19, which is the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus sent cured to the synagogue. Only one, a Samaritan, came back to say thank you to Jesus. No matter how many times I’ve heard this story, it seems there’s always a new angle to it. In this case, the reverend pointed out that the emphasis was not on the miracle cure, but on the cured people’s response. The scripture never says that Jesus healed them: “When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.”
(So, the one guy who disobeyed Christ’s commandment by coming back to thank Jesus rather than showing himself to the priests became the moral of the story—not that that was Rev. Smith’s point. I just find the idea provocative.)
I can see that Rev. Smith is a pastor who thinks of spiritual development as a current, living, growing thing. He brought many personal anecdotes and cultural references, including Bart Simpson, into his sermon, which, while deceptively simple, made certain demands upon his listeners. For example, he asked the listeners to identify five people who deserve appreciation and to act on that this week.
I’m not too sad that I’ll have to return to this church someday to see what a “regular” service is like. I can see that, while built on traditional, inclusive Christian styles, these are congregations evolving in positive directions.