Bahai News -- Church offers musical solace during Advent Community News

Church offers musical solace during Advent

By:Beth Anderson December 09, 2002

During the hectic, jarring pace of the holiday season, there is a place of respite in Ames. This is a weekly series exploring the beliefs of Mid-Iowans. Foundations are those building blocks of faith, hope and devotion which serve as an inner bedrock, allowing the people and organizations of this area to reach out into the world.

      During the hectic, jarring pace of the holiday season, there is a place of respite in Ames.
      Each Thursday evening before Christmas, the First Christian Church opens its doors for the holiday-weary to slip quietly into the pews.
      There, for a few minutes or an hour, downtown workers and community members can find a place of relaxation and musical solace during the Advent Refreshers.
      "It is not a performance, but a meditation," said Lois Miller, the church's organist who, with guest musicians, fills the evening with classical piano and Christmas favorites.
      "During the holidays, people are so pressed for time," Miller said. "They are bombarded with so many things to do - but the least of those things is silence. Music offers that and more."
      For Miller, the Advent Refreshers are a gift to the people of Ames out of her own love of music.
      Traditionally, Advent is a time of preparing the heart and soul for the celebration of the birth of Christ.
      Each of the four Advent weeks before Christmas has a theme: hope, peace, joy and love.
      At First Christian Church music is an integral part of Advent, as well as all worship throughout the year.
      "How do you defend yourself against music?" asked senior pastor David Digby. "It cuts through where words don't. It reaches places in the soul that nothing else can touch."
      Music is a touch of joy and good news in "a terrified, frightening world," he said. "Somehow, when people hear good news, it changes their reality."

History of hard work
      Miller sat down to one of the two classical pianos last week and the rich chords floated across the oak pews and up the stained-glass windows to the high ceiling.
      The Tudor-style sanctuary, with its creamy walls and warm oak trim, gives a sense of sanctity mixed with a good dose of comfort and common sense.
      It speaks of the hard-working, no-nonsense people who built the church in 1926 when, because of the Great Depression, it remained unheated and with only plywood over the windows for nearly 15 years.
      That same spirit of common sense came into play two years ago, when the congregation decided as a whole that their church was not where they wanted it to be.
      They closed the church doors in 2000 and took a one-year sabbatical.
      "What we were doing wasn't working," said Digby, who came to the church in 1983. "It arose out of a feeling that church should be fun. We weren't having fun."
      The congregates met over the year to seek the direction they wanted to take.
      "These are creative and interesting people who don't mind taking risks," Digby said, "We make our decisions by consensus, which isn't always easy. But we found that it was more important to be real than polite."
      When the best of the past came together with careful thought of the future, what evolved was a church that "is not very pious," he said.
      The dress code is casual and children are included in the service - even if they do like to play with the twinkling lights.
      Laughter and music are a real part of the worship, as are drama and even Power Point presentations.
      For his sermons, Digby has a self-imposed limit of 1,000 words, which means that after he writes them, he must "pare off all this wonderful stuff, (but) people stay awake."
      "People are free to follow or not," he said. "But I'm just amazed what I learn from them sometimes. Ministers vastly underestimate the people who show up in church."

Compassion and hospitality
      On a typical Sunday morning at First Christian Church, the pews are less than filled with about 150 in attendance. But that small group does mighty things.
      "This congregation responds in creative ways to fill human need," Digby said. "It is a spiritual community rooted in compassion and hospitality."
      A Thanksgiving dinner was served to 350 people from all walks of life, all across Ames.
There were homeless and those who couldn't afford a meal; Iowa State University students who couldn't make it home; and an entire family of 20 who couldn't fit in Grandma's new condo.
      As they ate their meal, there was one thing missing - the offering baskets.
      "We don't want even a hint of that," Digby said. "It wasn't something they had to pay for. It was that secret - that giving - that made it exciting."
      The church hosted an Inter-faith Prayer Service on Thanksgiving Eve.
      "There were Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha'i, Quakers and Christians all together," said Digby, who is president of the Ames Ministerial Association. "When people of good faith come together, you find a core of belief."
      Within the church, congregates pray, bake cookies and transport others around town.
There is a Ministry of Long-distance Nurturing, which meets to send cards to the housebound and those away from Ames in college or the military.
      In the summer, the church hosts a Festival of Neighbors where those attending sit according to the block they live on, and thus many meet their neighbors for the first time.
      The church is involved in community efforts, such as the Story County Habitat for Humanity, and in personal missions.
      Miller encourages piano teachers to hold their recitals in the sanctuary, free of charge.
      "The teachers have already paid by teaching these young students," Digby explained.
Worship is important and should be done well, he said, but there are other things just as important.
      "All that we do rises up out of our prayers," Digby said. "We give to the community from the joyous overflow of our hearts."
      For more information on the Advent Refreshers or the ministry of First Christian Church, call the church office at 232-5766.

©Copyright 2002, Ames Tribune (IA, USA)

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