A View From The Center of Town
Submitted by Pete Wilkinson
It’s fascinating being the minister of First Presbyterian Church here in Rutherford. I remember discovering soon after arriving from a small Illinois town in July of 2007 how life was going to be different here compared to what I had encountered in other parts of the country.
Leaving the church late in the afternoon on one of my first Fridays here, I was stopped by a woman who asked if she could come inside. She had recently moved here from India, hadn’t found a place of worship that was aligned with her faith tradition, was hoping to keep her spiritual practices alive and was feeling distressed.
We entered the church. I showed her our worship spaces and then left her in peace. She thanked me for the opportunity to pray on that day. The amazing part of this story is this person has been a “regular” at our church ever since. She does not come to our worship service, but we see her on Fridays when she stops in to pray. My initial encounter with this wonderful woman made me realize that my time in Rutherford would bring new responsibilities and opportunities for myself as a pastor and our church as a whole.
We put “walls” around ourselves. Mine is a lingering animosity toward the Mets ever since they dashed my teenage hopes for a Pennant in 1969 for my beloved Chicago Cubs. People’s “walls” can get in the way of their curiosity. I’m often asked what the inside of our church looks like by people walking in the area. Their concern regarding their welcome or acceptance defines whether they feel they can “stop by for a look.” There are “barriers” that people believe our church might place upon those who are not Christian, not Presbyterian, not straight, not white….. Not so.
We recognize that we have a community “gift” - the gift of space - and with that gift comes an obligation. We seek to provide space for people to “connect” in positive, healthy ways. This commitment comes from the recognition of our desire to be positive, supporting neighbors. We are intentional in providing spaces for people, and they will always be welcome. We are and will continue to tear down barriers that separate people. We will always seek to honor and respect all people.
This summer we are going to provide a different way for people to connect. We notice that summer weekends are heavily scheduled, and that many use that time to get away. We know that parents can find it tough to get kids up on Sunday mornings. On Mondays in July and August we are offering people who are either very busy on weekends or who are not sure they are comfortable with previous religious experiences a different way to gather. We hope these evenings will help people to get to know each other and the community better.
We will have a brief, casual service beginning at 7 pm in our chapel, and we are going to experiment by making food available beginning at 6:15 for those who are commuting or having busy days. It is in our DNA to provide opportunities and to provide space, and I am curious if we might continue to be good neighbors by providing this opportunity to be supportive. I am curious to see who I will meet next, in the center of town.