BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Church on the Green held a special service Sunday, April 24, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its merging with three other Bloomfield Presbyterian churches.
The merger happened 50 years ago to the day, but it happened in two parts. On April 24, 1966, the church held its first service with the former Westminster Presbyterian Church congregation. According to a newspaper account, there were two morning services that day with a combined attendance of 796 worshippers.
Two months later, in June 1966, this integrated congregation was joined by two other Bloomfield churches, Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and Ampere Parkway Community Church.
This past Sunday, in the chapel, while the church undergoes renovations, about 125 people attended a service that began at 10:45. Six chimes sounded and the choir began a prelude. Playing the organ was Timothy Witzal, the choir director.
Pastor Ruth Boling then welcomed parents and children.
“We welcome their giggles and wriggles,” Boling said of the children.
But she advised parents that, if necessary, there was also a handy nursery on church grounds.
Children played a significant part in the ceremony. A choir of children sang and when they finished, all children in the church were invited to participate in a little game.
“Anyone who’s a kid, come right up here,” Boling said. “We have children’s’ message time.”
Once they were gathered around Boling, she played an arithmetic game with them.
“We are 50 years old today,” she said. “I thought we’d do a little math.”
Boling wanted to know, if three hymns were sung in the church every Sunday for 50 years, how many hymns were sung altogether?
Nobody thought fast enough.
“Seven thousand, eight hundred hymns, at least,” she said.
And what about Bible readings? If there were two every Sunday?
Five thousand, two hundred.
“Two thousand, six hundred, at least,” Boling said. “And sermons last a long time. If each one is 20 minutes, how many minutes?”
This computation cracked up the congregates but Boling already had the answer. And there was more.
“But here is the math we won’t know,” she told the children. “How many of us did the right thing because of what they learned in this church? That is the math we cannot do.”
The entire program fit together just as well, with a reading by a former Church on the Green pastor, Rev. Kenneth Ironside, and the sermon by guest speaker, The Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada.
The reading was from Acts 11:1-18, in which the Apostle Peter had a vision of a great vessel coming down from heaven, containing animals, birds and insects. In the vision he was told by the voice of God to kill and eat the animals. Peter refused, but was told the animals had been made clean for him to eat.
Immediately afterward, Peter was summoned to a gentile’s home, where he saw the Holy Spirit fall upon them and understood the meaning of his vision: that God had given to the gentiles the same grace he had given the 12 apostles.
“Who was I to be able to interfere with God?” Peter told those who had questioned him.
The sermon by Yamada that followed was about living in a time of change.
He said he was suffering from transitional anxiety disorder — and said why: the Middle East, multi-religions, unaffiliated nuns who do not attend church, the decline of the baby boomers, and dwindling church attendances.
“But there is a hopeful demographic,” he said. “By the year 2040, we will not have a demographic majority in this country. What does this diversity mean?”
Yamada said he thought he could remember a time when the country was not changing.
“That’s how we think of the past,” he said. “We hold on to romantic minutes.”
But in reality, he said, no changes were not true.
“When is life not changing?” he said. “Changes are part of God’s redemption of us.”
He said the early Christians were a small group of messianic Jews.
“To teach Christianity to the gentiles was radical,” he said.
Yamada said he grew up in a Buddhist home but discovered Christianity and turned away from attending medical school and became a “Christian-obsessed rebel.”
He referred to the Scripture reading, saying that Peter never ate anything unclean.
“What Peter did not know was that God already had a plan that would transform the world,” Yamada said. “God was already at work and Peter had to catch up. It is the church that is converted. Who is chosen? Who is unclean? It takes the Holy Spirit falling upon the people. It is part of our Christian DNA to transform.”
“Friends, in a world that is changing quickly, we have cause for great hope,” Yamada said. “God is working. Our call is to enhance this hope.”
Yamada also spoke about his Buddhist grandmother, and recalled her words when he was courting his future wife. She had told him she would love anyone he married, adding, “But please marry someone Japanese.”
He said the greatest feast of the year in his home was New Year’s Day. He remembered those feasts, with his grandmother surrounded by her family, “Not the one she had hope for,” he said, “but the one with which she was blessed.”
In closing, Yamada told the congregates to live in hope and to remember who they are, who they have been, and the changes that surround them. He said that if ever they did not understand the changes, to remember that God was dreaming for them. Boling then asked the church to rise and “The Apostle’s Creed” was said by all.