Thursday, June 25, 2009

350th Anniversary Worship Celebration in Norwich

I was nervous. For the last three months I was part of a small group working on an interfaith worship celebration for the 350th Anniversary of Norwich. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible while remaining true to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Putting together an event like this can be tricky. You don't want to offend anyone or make anyone feel left out. That was the challenge.

We began with some grand ideas and decided nothing was too big. We settled on having the service on the Norwichtown Green where many of the first settlers would have worshiped. Then the invitations went out. We included Dale Plummer in our early meetings to help us get a sense of the history. Each of us was well aware of our own particular stories but we wanted to know about the larger canvas we were working on. That was very helpful as we began to paint the broad strokes of what we were going to do.

Rev. Greg Perry, Rev. John Lancz, Rev. Bill Dunlap, Sister Maryann Guertin, Rabbi Charles Arian and I made up the committee. As we began putting the various pieces in place we wanted to keep the celebration aspect at the forefront of our thinking. We want to remind ourselves of the important contributions that the community of faith has made on the city. As we began thinking about this it became clear that just about every social institution in Norwich had its roots in the religious community. From the Norwich Free Academy, to the W. W. Backus Hospital to United Community and Family Services to St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen we saw this theme of the people of faith reaching out to share God's love with the community in concrete ways.

Once we had the concept we began putting the pieces together. We wanted proclamations. We wanted a litany of the contributions. We wanted to charge to people with continuing the good work in a new century. We wanted an offering (wink,wink). We also wanted lots of music.

The final piece of the puzzle was to encourage participation from as many people and congregations as possible. We made personal contact and sent emails to most of the churches and synagogues in Norwich.

After all was said and done, nearly two hundred people were present from over 17 different faith communities. We raised nearly $650 for the Norwich Area Clergy Association Food Bank and almost everyone walked away with a good feeling. It was truly an event worthy of the 350th Anniversary.

Here are a few photos from the event. Enjoy.