Concord's Faith Community
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
-- Informal meetings of the Concord Fellowship in private homes
-- Personal background for 10 years in evangelist outreach and church plantings in Europe
-- Established in 1985 with 12 families, places of meeting at 51 Walden Street, Concord-Carlisle High School, Emerson Umbrella on Stow Street, children attend in Hunt Gym on Sunday.
-- Meet in small "life" groups with other members in their homes during the week.
-- Sunday is a celebration of the activity of God in members lives during the week
-- Nondemonational, no outside centralized overseeing body. No church hierarchy
-- "Every member is a minister and the minister is a member." Shaped by forces and adaptation of local community. 200 members.
-- Special ideology in settlement of Concord-a place of harmony.
-- New Life Drama Company- most recent musical in progress, Musdetaquid-
-- Concord's story and New Life Fine Arts. Outreach missions.
-- Purchase of Bypass Road property in Concord to build a church.
There had been a number of families in Concord meeting for a good number of years. It was an informal gathering of Christians called the Concord Fellowship. Many of them were attending churches outside of Concord and they invited me to assist them in pursuing plans for outreach and some sort of testimony as a community within their own locality. We met with them on several occasions, and we had a retreat in the basement of the Trinitarian Congregational Church. We had several outreach dinners. These were like pilot projects where we were sort of seeing the viability of reaching people perhaps who had never been to a faith community or have been part of a community in Concord. In 1986 while I was minister of evangelism and discipleship and missions at Grace Chapel in Lexington, a good number of the people there said now is the time to start a church. I suggested it would be a good number to have 12 families to start with. We had that number by the summer of 1986, and we started on September 14 meeting at the Alcott School on Sundays.
These were people who were seeking something that the existing churches were not able to provide them. Within Christianity you have a variety of traditions, liturgy forms, and different outreach approaches that are particular to the segment of society that they are reaching out. Even in a town of 17,000 people, there are a wide variety of worlds much less personalities. I think our community really provided something that was complimentary or was already going on with the various faith communities in Concord.
For ten years I had been in Europe and working particularly in London and Colchester. A lot of my outreach activities were with various denominations within the Christian faith from Church of England to Brethren, United Reformed, Pentecostal and House Church groups. I was working a lot with Asian communities. I really have a love for people from other countries. London itself is the world gathered together, and it was a very exciting time. I'd work a lot with students. So I did have sort of a grassroots approach to pioneering new works in the gospel. It has always been a joy to be able to share what the good news of Jesus Christ is. Sometimes with all of the activities that go along with Christianity, all the various forms and meetings and services, the message gets lost. I feel one of my roles is that of an evangelist, someone who comes along and makes clear to others what is the content of the gospel, what is good about the good news, and how is it relevant to our lives. I use the illustration of a messenger who comes from a far country representing the king on the battlefield. The word evangel actually meant the messenger, the courier, the one who would go out to see how the armies were doing far afield, and come back to the king or the sending society with the message. There is this cartoon of a messenger coming back from a far country and collapsing before the king and the king looks down at the exhausted messenger and says, "Well, then, what's the message?" The messenger looks up and says, "I forgot." And I think sometimes with all the activity and all that's involved in the process, we forget what the message is. So that's one of our roles here. I think the people in the Concord Fellowship really appreciated that and saw that was something that was needed in our society today.
As a person who was a seeker myself and my own spiritual journey, it was quite something having explored both eastern religions and Christianity to some extent. It was at one particular time in my life that I felt my ears were opened and I did see that the claims of Christ were coherent with reality. So I then went to the source documents and started reading the Bible, having read most of the time about the Bible through other sources and various theological works. It was great to get back to the Bible and discover afresh who Jesus is, and the impact of his life and teaching upon communities of people where it basically transformed society. The people who were followers of Christ were known for their love. Look how they love one another. That's basically the story that was left. There's also other sides of the story where love was not dominant in those that claimed to be followers of Christ, but certainly the teachings of Christ were revolutionary. The very commands he gave to love your enemies and the way he not only talked about love but the way he demonstrated love and willingly laid down his life in fulfillment of all of those prophecies, and the prophets in the writings of the Old Testament, which were the only scriptures that the early people had. They certainly were not irrelevant or put away.
In the early years of Christianity for as long as 300 years, there were no church buildings per se. That's something that excites us because it brings us back to the essential connection that the human being can make with God through faith, and how the Christian life is expressed in community, in relationships, and so much of the teaching of the New Testament is love one another, pray for one another, be devoted to one another.
So we found that buildings were not number one on our agenda and here we are 15 years later. We have a beautiful property and we have various facilities that we have been renting. But, most of our church life takes place in the homes and in the workplaces where people gather together. It is those vital intersections, heart to heart, spirit to spirit that enriches us, that really propels us to have our faith expressed where it really can count and make a difference. Even if we have a building, the building will not be our primary meeting place. We're still going to meet in homes. We have a system of small groups. It is a semi-formal organization of groups called life groups. Each one of them has a different complexion based upon the people in those groups and the particular mission that they resonate with. For example, we have some life groups that are attracting parents of young children and those kinds of groups will have different needs from a lot of our groups that do not have any childcare there, but in these small groups where there are little children, the children worship with their parents for a while, then the children have their own particular gathering. We like to see everyone in these small groups have their or what we call a 2:00 in the morning friend or someone they can really know and understands how they feel to walk in their moccasins. Even the children have that which is wonderful. We have seen these relationships now 15 years down the road and we've seen a lot of people have these continuing relationships that took them through their school days and into college and beyond. So it's exciting to see.
Now we meet on Sundays at the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts at 40 Stow Street. We started at the Alcott School in 1986 through 1987 and then we needed a little larger facility so we moved to the Concord-Carlisle High School auditorium. Some of the difficulties we had there were that the facilities were not available to us year around, so then we would meet at 51 Walden Street during the summer months and Concord-Carlisle High School during the winter months. We were able to get space year round at the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts, but even still there was a town rule that the building could not be open on Christmas or Easter, which are very important days in our calendar so we still have to use other facilities for some of our special gatherings. So the Emerson Umbrella is now where we meet.
As I tell those that are visiting or even regular attendees, what happens on a Sunday is really the icing on the cake. It's a celebration of what we see as the activity of God in our lives throughout the week. It's sort of the culmination. There is some teaching that is applicable hopefully to all that are gathered, but it's also a time where we can just share what has happened and also some of the needs that we see in our community that we might be able to lend a hand in meeting. So our small life groups meet in people's homes during the week.
The life in life groups is an acronym of some of the values of those groups. "L" stands for loving relationships, "I" stands for inspiration for life change, "F" stands for fellowship in God's caring purposes, and "E" stands for evangelism announcing the good news. So those are the values that we try to keep in balance in those groups that meet throughout the week. Some of them meet early in the day, some of them meet in the evenings, some of them bring together those that are involved in business, some are based on single adults, some are college age students. We have found recently that a lot of younger people are hungry for intergenerational relationships, so now a majority of our meetings are intergenerational which is really good. It seems that whereas in the past communities and society in general have benefited from extended families and having the wisdom of different generations and being able to relate to them. And now so many of them have moved from their families and pursued their careers, they don't have grandparents at hand, or grandchildren at hand, so it's nice to see that kind of interaction taking place.
Even though many of our congregation have come from all different denominations, New Life in non-denominational. We aren't anti-denominational but denominations have been spawned from various spiritual movements that have taken place throughout history. A lot of the outworking of that had been expressed through various styles of worship and particular fort6s and mission. We feel that every local community will have its unique complexion, so being non- denominational we do not have any outside sort of centralized overseeing body. We do have relationships with other churches. As you know, there is the Concord Clergy Laity Group, there is Vision New England which is a network of evangelistic churches, and there is the Willow Creek Association. These are all people who may have similar missions to us but there is no outside or externally imposed government. We basically want to see this community takes its shape from the members within. Our worship style is pretty contemporary although we have some classics. We have some hymns but a lot of them are with contemporary arrangements, which is probably unique to Concord at this time.
We believe that every person who has been engulfed by the spirit of God and has Christ living in them have the spiritual ability. We have this slogan which is on our bulletin where "every member is a minister and the minister is a member." Everyone is ministering together with their particular spiritual endowment to make a contribution that is vital. So whereas clergy comes from the Greek word that means "called", we believe that all believers are called, called to serve, called to love, called to a relationship with God most importantly. Whereas laity comes from the Greek work meaning "people", I always joke about that and say I'm not clergy people. So we believe that all are called, and all are people so rather than clergy and laity, we're "claity". I see my role as a pastor as being a person who can help shepherd the flock. But with all of these small groups, every leader is in many respects, or maybe in all respects, a shepherd. So parents are shepherds. I want to get the shepherds shepherding confidently as a coach.
That is something we always like to do to express love to our community in various ways where we feel we can do that. We try to meet where the community meets be it a peace day or a colonial day or the Fourth of July picnic in the park where we have this pilgrim's progress obstacle course. It's a way for meaningful interaction. It's interesting because the pilgrim's progress was the favorite book of the Alcotts as they were growing up and I'm sure in the Orchard House they were playing these games and acting out the pilgrim's journey. So we thought it would be fun to have the children take a journey or an adventure from the city of destruction to the celestial city. So that's been great fun.
Even though we could have purchased land less expensively elsewhere, there is something special about Concord and even the name. Concord is a wonderful town with a wonderful story. We have been intrigued from the beginning with the establishment of Concord as the first European inland settlement along the North Atlantic coast. The first settlement above the tide waters, and founded by people who had a story. The founding of New England took place with the puritan immigration, those that really had an ideal propelling them to settle in these parts, even with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There was a sense that some of the problems that they were trying to escape from in England particularly the hierarchical control. This state controlled religion, as particularly Archbishop Laud was persecuting the non-conformists in England, now even in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as different issues came to the fore, there was a lot of infighting that took place over theological issues. There was a lot of bantering back and forth. Simon Willard from my research was one who was a bit tired of that and Peter Bulkeley was looked to as a man fit for establishing a new community outside of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that was settling at Watertown at that particular time. So they ventured to this place Musketaquid Plantation, which was at the confluence of the two rivers and it was the first town really named after an ideal. All the other towns as you recall either take the Algonquin name or was named after a town in England. Here was one named Concord picturing harmony. Really that is something from all our research we can see did propel them. It was an important part of their thinking. Each of these communities really sought to be a covenant community under God, but this one in particular wanted to see the covenant of Grace, the coming together of humankind and God together in harmony. Also what was particularly interesting was the harmonious relationships that took place between the aboriginal people, the Musketaquid tribe, Tatawan and his extended family and all of these Indians for these first 40 years prior to the King Philip Wars. These harmonious relationships and later relationships eventually of common faith were one of the reasons why it is said anyway that Concord was the only town that was not attacked in the King Philip War.
It is an interesting story and I've acted upon this. I've had a long interest in drama and I've written a play about it. I grew up in the New York area so I was immersed in the theater culture. I have been a playwright and composer over the years, and we have performed with New Life Drama Company our own versions of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol and an adaptation of the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament and also Celestial City. Our most recent musical was called "Musketaquid". It's still in process but it's a very exciting project because it is involving the descendants of the Massachusetts Indians. In fact those in the Indian tribe are going to be singing a song from Musketaquid on City Hall Plaza in the month of September. It involves a blending together of their culture and the English culture even in the music. We find this story is inspirational because there was a struggle to maintain a harmonious relationship and isn't that true with all of us? We find that there are different obstacles to pursuing harmony. The built-in resistances and biases and prejudices that sometimes get in the way and need to be cleared out for the love of God. That is a story that I think not only is it Concord's story and it's Concord's roots, but I think it's something that we need to get back to today. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in our hearts. So the musical "Musketaquid" is about that. Hopefully it will resonate with contemporary audiences. Almost everyone I share this story with say we haven't heard this before, we need to hear this story. So I'm encouraged.
It was an interesting thing that through the preaching of John Eliot who learned patiently the language of the Massachusetts tribe and then translated the Bible into Algonquin, the first published book on these shores, that the first converts to Christianity were those that were originally from Musketaquid right here from Concord. Waban who was then at Nonantum, now Newton was the first convert to Christianity. He brought Tatawan who was a leader in Concord under the sound of the gospel and then they came back to Peter Bulkeley and others and Webbacowwett, the former medicine man said "Why did you not share the gospel with us earlier?" They had treated the natives Christianly, the best that they could from their various paradigms, but they did not give the content of the message. And they said if you had shared that with us sooner, you would have spared us much sadness as we've seen too some bloodshed. Again it reminds us today in the 2 1 century that whereas it is important for us to act Christianly, it's also important for us not to forget to tell the message. We combine both the evangelism and social action. Over history you've seen Christianity go like a pendulum swinging toward social action and swinging back towards more of a evangelical approach. Our purpose statement at New Life Community Church is to glorify God as a community of worshipers and disciples through both the demonstration and the declaration of the gospel. So we're trying to keep them in balance. That's what they tried to do at the beginning here and not without some failure. I think we can all relate to that too because we all fail as much as we try to live out our ideals, yet we do not give up the ideals.
We've started an outreach called Soul Food where we go out to areas where there is homelessness, in Boston for example, and we have given food and clothing and comfort and build relationships when we can. We have those who have started missions in Haiti, Hope for the Children in Haiti. The chairman of the board is now in Concord so we do a lot of mission trips. More locally we've been supportive of the food pantries here in Concord and in Maynard, Open Table. The members who started that were part of our community. There are outreaches that take place, for example, providing homes for birth mothers. We have been involved in prison ministry, so it goes on and on. We encourage everyone to get some cross-cultural mission experience. Even this summer we've had mission trips to Haiti and to Peru. We've had people working in the inner city as well.
We have a membership that is kind of loose in numbers. There are many more people involved in our small groups and ministries than we have gathered together. We have about 200 or more people that gather on a Sunday. We meet in two places. I did mention the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts, which is our major gathering and is where we have the 200 folks. But then we also have a ministry going on at the Hunt Gymnasium where we have the young people. Interestingly enough it's developed this summer that we have a teen worship band and they have their ministry Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, so it's beginning to spread away from the Sunday morning 10:30 to 12:30 service and is sort of taking over a Sunday.
Teen gospel music is very popular. A group from Concord did go down to one of those gatherings in Pennsylvania. We love the creativity that has come out of the teenagers. When I am preaching on a particular theme, some of the teens may write a song. This summer one of our preachers was speaking and there was a new song called Thief that was sung by one of the teenagers. Our teens are also involved in worship dance. We have a dance team that goes out and they were dancing in Kansas City this summer. We also have some that are pursuing this to a greater degree. A group is leaving this week to take six months of study in worship dance. That will be interesting. I think I had mentioned before with New Life Drama Company we've been going further afield and now we find there are churches that are gathering together in different areas who are uniting to sponsor New Life Drama Company to come to their area. So the next one is in Fitchburg. There are churches that gather together regularly and they have invited us to come and perform Celestial City in the spring. So that's exciting too to know that we can be of service to other churches.
The New Life Drama Company and the New Life Fine Arts have emerged from the ministering membership. That defines the mission and the complexion. The very name of the church was formed by the people here. That was an interesting process. Before we started on September 14, we gathered in the month of August and were praying about and discussing various names and it was not my idea, but it was a good idea. It's a nice name to define what we are about. Another theme that has been coming up recently and is something we're going to be featuring in the Concord Journal this year is real people with real hope. I think that's something we can do about our lives, that we don't want to be those that put on a Christian face, you know a Pepsodent smile and pretend things are all right. We're real people with real needs and the real struggles we face in the real world, but we recognize that God is real. God has a real answer and as he has made that answer known in scriptures and in the person of his son who is God's wisdom and is God's answer for us, our redeemer, we have real hope. And that's the good news.
The Bible has take-home value and that's what we want to emphasize. This is not theology for your head but this is something for your heart also. There is take-home value. We don't measure a sermon primarily by whether or not it's inspired or uplifted, although we hope it does that, we measure our message by whether it has changed lives down the road. Has there been some take-home value? We try to emphasize that also by publishing take home outlines of things families can use at home to explore these themes further. So we're trying to develop the accessibility of these kind of tools on the worldwide web at our newlife.org site.
Certainly it was that most of our members, the 12 families, from the beginning were from Concord, but we have seen that there are people in other areas that are looking for this. Whereas our intentions were not to have such a regional church, we really are becoming that. But ideally what would be wonderful is if these life group clusters become churches in the future so that there are other churches, not a new denomination, but just new churches bringing new hope and establishing a new community within the community. That's what we see in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. It is this amazing ability of people together salting the earth, creating a thirst for God, and savoring life, and also as salt keeps infection at bay and the spread of corruption at bay, I think there is that impact a redeeming community can have.
Being the newest church in Concord, we have been received very well. Before we even established New Life Community Church, Robert Stubblebine and I met with every minister. We had lunch with each of them, so that we would get to appreciate their particular contribution to what is happening in the area. That was very good to get to know a little bit of the theological and spiritual landscape before we launched this new project. Now we really didn't come from the outside because we already had the members from the inside. So it did get born from Concord and people in the group had relationships already with members of the various faith communities. So that was very positive also. At that particular time it was encouraging to be received by the various churches and to have cooperative ventures. The first year we were here we were involved with the Concord Clergy Laity Group and have been to various degrees. I was chairman during one of those years. There have also been opportunities for us to cooperate on many different fronts. We performed weddings in their churches and funerals, so it's been wonderful. We've participated in various forums and dialogues in the town. We've served with the superintendent on an advisory board on human sexuality and the substance programs. We've been involved with the Thoreau Lyceum. I don't know if they're still doing it. I haven't heard much about it lately, but we would have dialogues at the Colonial Inn on how faith impacts a community. That was fun and brought us together with the folks from Kerem Shalom. New Life Community Church was in Israel with the production of Ruth which we performed in Jerusalem, and while we were over there, we planted 100 trees in the name of Kerem Shalom, the Jewish community in Concord. I think there has been a lot of harmony, and it's encouraging.
Some of our founding members from Concord were Robert and Anita Stubblebine. They were involved in the community in many different ways from the Milldam Nursery School, the Concord Runners, the Real Estate Roundtable and all these initiatives. Robert had been a relatively new believer at the time in the 1980s and he had been involved in prison ministries in Concord Prison. So I got to know him through some of the outreach we were doing in the Concord Prison at the time. Also involved were Christi Lorum, the Wickwire family, Fred and Anita MacNeil, Leon and Karen Hughes. Some of those families have moved out of the area, but there were originally 12 families. I thought it would be a good critical mass to have at least 12 families to start the church. Why I wanted families is that I had been involved in planting churches before in Europe as I said, and I found if I started with a student community, I would tend to get so many young people. Sometimes people who were older or those that were married with children would say well, I don't know if this is the church for me.
We've had opportunities to develop this property, and one thing we have been thinking about is being able to do this without having to go to a bank for a mortgage. So far we have not had to do that. We've been able to raise the funds for the purchase of the property, and we have our first million for the building, but we also know this is a big project and we want to do it well. There are some difficulties with the site of the property on Bypass Road so that cars can enter and exit safely. We're addressing that, and we are addressing some of the problems where the parking will be. That is a very expensive proposition. Whereas we could be going before the town boards right now, but once you get that permit, you have to act on it and you have to build, and we don't know if we're really ready to do that. So we have sort of slowed down the process of going before the towns of Lincoln and Concord.
Purchasing this property in the early '90s is a very interesting story. When we first saw this property it was all woodland and we really loved it, but it was too expensive for us at that time. Later we were able to make a bid on the property and thought we had it. We had a church meeting and it was almost unanimous, I think there were several dissenting votes as to whether we should purchase. We found that someone else that very week purchased the property. We didn't even know there was another buyer. We then watched this land get cleared and we saw them build this structure, this barn, which became a doctor's office and a nanny's flat, and they were going to build a big house back here on this property. Apparently they violated the wetlands ordinances and there were some legal battles, and I think it was 1996 we received a phone call from the owners saying are you still interested in this property? All the meanwhile my wife and I would drive by this property and we would pray. We'd say "Lord, that would have been a wonderful place for you, but bless that family, bless whoever has that because we really think that is a beautiful piece of property." So we were delighted to receive that phone call that they were interested in selling this property. We gathered the church together and it was absolutely unanimous that we should go for it. And, at that time we had the funds in that we were able to wholly empty our building fund, absolutely gone. We put every penny into this. We use this barn now for our temporary offices, so we pulled our offices from downtown Concord where we were at the Livery and also at 27 Main Street and 6 Walden Street. These were our former office locations. This has again helped us to save money for the construction of the eventual property.