After the merriment of the Daffodil Festival on Saturday, on Sunday morning I headed up the hill to the First Congregational Church, as is my custom when I am on Nantucket. This is the place where I reclaimed joy after Lev’s death. This is the place where I found peace. This is the place where my soul found its home.
This time, though, I passed the iconic, 19th century “summer church” to go back to the simple Puritan meeting house of 1725, where about 100 people gathered for worship in its small, low-ceilinged, beamed vestry—the “winter church.” Though I had seen the interior on several occasions, I had never worshiped here—indeed, I had never worshiped in such an old American church—and I was excited by the prospect.
There were daffodils in the church garden and on the pulpit and communion table, and several worshipers were still wearing the bright yellow and green of Daffy Day. We celebrated spring and the Giver of spring. We celebrated the goodness of life.
As the Psalmist wrote, For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
“Why do we celebrate?” the minister asked. “Not out of duty and obligation but out of deep gladness at what God has done…. After the winter of despair, we long for spring…. It is good to give thanks.”
Eureka! That is what God did for me in and through this church. I moved from my long winter of grief to joy. And for that I give thanks continually.
Near the end of my second visit to Nantucket in 2014, on an August Sunday morning as gray as Nantucket’s old shingle houses, I walked up the gently sloping hill from my hotel to the First Congregational Church, its tall steeple dominating the skyline.
I immediately felt at peace as I entered the simple, serene, neoclassical church. The shutters were open, and light streamed in through tall paned windows, supplemented by a single large brass chandelier. The sanctuary had no heat or air conditioning. A breeze blew through the open windows as the pianist played a prelude by César Franck.
The theme of the worship service was peace, and every element of worship focused on peace—the peace of God and prayers of peace for the nations. During the sermon, the children’s minister took the children up the ninety-four steps to the bell tower. There, where they could see the entire island and the Atlantic Ocean stretching beyond to the horizon, they prayed in all four directions for peace for the world.
We read Scripture. We prayed aloud and sang hymns together. We passed the peace. A baby was baptized. We placed our offerings in traditional Nantucket lightship baskets. And then the senior minister, in his Geneva gown and stole, stood in the high pulpit to preach. We exited as the organist filled the sanctuary with Bach’s transcription of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor. In the narthex, church members served cookies, lemonade and coffee.
I do not know if Congregational churches have changed much since my Puritan ancestors proclaimed the Word of God from their high pulpits in colonial New England, but I felt a strong connection to my roots. I shed my anxiety and found peace there. This was the first place, the first time where I could imagine being alone on Thanksgiving Day or Easter Sunday. This was a quiet joy, where I could honestly say, It is well with my soul. After years wandering through a spiritual desert, I had found my soul’s home.
As I worshiped Sunday in the small winter church, greeted by friends from previous visits, I recalled those words I first wrote in 2014: I could imagine being alone on Thanksgiving Day or Easter Sunday. I have blogged before about how hard church is, how hard Easter is. Yet I know with more certainty than ever that I can imagine being alone here on a holiday and it will still be well with my soul. Why? I wondered. And then the surprising answer came.
I have no memories of a prior life with Lev here. I have no memories of six of us in the pew—parents, Lev, children. People here never knew me as half a couple. They never knew me as a young doubter or as a middle-aged leader. This is a place where I am only the me of today. I am not encumbered by the past. And this is a place where people have faithfully gathered for 300 years to celebrate…
God of daffodil and fun, garden green and summer sun,
Apples, hemlock, sacred space; all the signs of your embrace.
Lord of all, to you we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
- God of daffodil and fun…was written by Herb Brokering, sung to the tune and refrain of the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
- Parts of this blog are excerpted from my unpublished book, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS.
- Photos of a typical window box and the First Congregational Church were taken on Sunday, April 30, 2017, during the Nantucket Daffodil Festival.
- My photos of the merriment and daffiness of the Daffodil Festival—the Classic Car Parade on Main Street with the extraordinary hats and costumes of the celebrants, the huge community picnic at Sconset, all the flowers of early spring—are posted on my Facebook page.
- Links to two blogs are here: Solace or Sinkhole? Church Is Hard and Another Easter, Another Sinkhole.