Once a year, Old South Church (UCC) packs up handbells, brass choir, cookies, coffeepots, wastebaskets and more and heads across Boston to their original meetinghouse for worship. The congregation has in its DNA a predisposition to “mouth-off” as the British derided them. They spoke up against slavery, spoke up for an educated populace, spoke up for universal suffrage, spoke out against child labor, spoke up for justice and worked for the alignment of the government of earth with the government of heaven. Faith was a living reality.
Old South first gathered as a congregation in 1669, leaving their more orthodox and rigid Puritan kindred behind. The Puritans split over a theological controversy called “Half-Way Covenant and Full Covenant”. Basically, it was about who is in and who is out and this particular theological controversy emerged early in the “city on a hill” experiment.
Full Covenant required that baptized adults have a regeneration experience of God (a born-again experience) before they could have their own children baptized or be received at the Lord’s Table. They were not full members. Many adults did not meet this requirement but desperately wanted their children protected for eternity and for themselves, to participate in Communion. They supported a ‘Half-Way Covenant’ to allow those not yet “fully converted” to still participate.
According to the history of Old South:
Twenty-eight lay members of the First Church seceded and founded this congregation in the belief, consistent with the Halfway Covenant, that childhood baptism should assure young adults that they would be full members and could baptize their children, who in turn should automatically be members as adults.
It was bold of these people to step outside what had been perceived as their spiritual safety net to claim new and theologically unknown territory for the sake of their children. This boldness is built into their DNA. They continue to “mouth-off” and live their Christian faith in ways that seek to align of the government of earth with the government of heaven. They are living history.
It was a humbling and exhilarating experience to sit among the spiritual descendants of Puritans who initiated the shedding of spiritual tyranny. It was an affirming experience too, as I reflected on the story of Campbellite Christians gathered in 1883 in what would become the city of Pomona. They could not have imagined that because our own DNA opened the Table of Christ a little bit more, just how expansive it would become.
The impulse to offer Christ’s hospitality was lived out among Chinese immigrant workers in the Valley needing assistance. A welcome was extended to Filipino workers, all men, who were far from home. The congregation opened itself to the repurposing of a Scout house for an emergency shelter, in spite of objections from powers on city council and among the community. We continue to be a space, not only for us but for other faith institutions, where we consider and plan how to align the government of earth with the government of heaven. We dare to live out our faith in public. We too, are living history.
(To hear Senior Pastor Nancy Taylor preach at the historic Old South go to: https://www.oldsouth.org/podcasts/noble-inheritance. It is an inspiring message.)