MyStoryEveryone has a story to tell and this past year we began to share how we came to be here on Sunday mornings. The stories ranged from 3 minutes to 20, some were funny, some brought tears, all show what a wonderful community we have at First Parish Church here in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Read some of these stories below and if you are interested in participating contact the office 978-526-7661 ext. 1 or Mary Ellen Cook.

“My Story” begins again in the Fall.

“What First Parish Means To Me” By Jason Smith

Some days it is hard to come to church.

Some days you just don’t want to get up, you don’t want to shave, get dressed, and then wrestle the kids into the car. Some days you just don’t feel like making the effort.

Some days you don’t feel like hearing about Christian love or service. You’re not interested in fellowship.

Some days you sit in the pew and don’t feel like singing that unfamiliar hymn and the words John is speaking don’t make any sense and you wonder why it is you keep coming.

Some Sundays are like that.

Church is a relationship and like any relationship, it’s complicated. Like any relationship, some days it can be hard work to be charitable and patient, hard work to stick it out. But, if you do stick it out, some days you remember that your cup runneth over.

You remember that some Sundays you stand up before the whole congregation on Membership Sunday holding the hand of your wife, who is bald from chemotherapy and you are crying because you are welcomed with joy into a community that you didn’t know you needed just a few weeks before.

And then Sheila Kafer shows up on your doorstep with a meal prepared by the Care Team and, all of a sudden, you understand Christian love a little better than you did before.

Some Sundays are like that.

Some days you watch your son sing about “One More River To Cross,” or your daughter is Mary in the Christmas Pageant and you get to watch her perform the beaming smile at the baby Jesus that she has been rehearsing all week.

Some mornings your children wake up early and excited, not because it’s Christmas and they are going to get presents, but because it is the Christmas Fair, which they call their Black Friday, and they are going to buy presents for other people. And you think, “What kind of values are they teaching at that Sunday School? Kindness? Generosity? Love?”

Some days your whole family is baptized together and Jeff Bodmer-Turner and Mary Ellen Cook stand up with you and become your children’s godparents and your family expands a little more.

Some Sundays are like that.

Some days the words John Hughes is saying are exactly the words you need to hear and you can really feel that God does speak in this sacred place.

Some days Fran Bachman or Vin Terrill stand at this podium, they greet us all, pay their compliments to the choir, and then read the scripture with such power and conviction that you know that the gospel flows in their veins.

Some Sundays are like that.

Some Sundays, late in the afternoon I find myself humming “God be with you till we meet again” and I know that He will be.

Some days you need solace, as I did when ALS was slowly taking my sister away from my family, and you find it on Friday afternoons at Bible Study where George Nickless, Lelly Smith, Carol Christensen and many others provide you with companionship, deep fellowship, and truly healing conversations.

Some days are like that.

I am a contemplative person by nature and so one of my favorite services is the Wednesday evening Vespers service. On those evenings this altar is filled with votive candles and right in the middle is a single rose.

Near the end of his reflection, John will make a reference to the “rose that blooms in the midst of thorns.”

And that is what First Parish means to me.

Some days there are thorns and life at church can seem a burden, but if you are patient through those times, eventually the rose blooms, your heart opens, and you know that God is present in these very walls.

On those days I am grateful for all the Sundays.

On those days I am grateful for all of you.

“My Story – My Wish” By Priscilla Duda

Today I share with you My Story however I would like to rename it My Wish and this is the reason why;

13 years ago Brian and I moved with our three boys  who were 5 and 3 to Manchester by the Sea.  One Sunday morning I made the wise decision to check out the big white beautiful church in the middle of my new town.  When I walked in a gentleman that I sat next to extended his hand and introduced himself and expressed how happy he was to meet me.  The following week when I returned the same gentleman motioned for me to sit next to him, following the service he introduced me to a few of his friends including his younger brother.  He was kind, friendly and made me feel welcome in a sea of strangers – I wish everyone who enters a church could feel that way.

Time passed and eventually I was called by the head deacon and asked to become a member of the Diaconate – I commented that I would be gone for most of the summer and he said that’s OK we will make it work.  We did and I joined a group knowing nothing about them or what their role was and enjoyed every minute.  A group of 12 men and women helped teach me the ropes – our group was fun, professional and committed to making First Parish shine every Sunday morning.  I wish that all of us could say yes to opportunities especially when you know nothing about what you are about to try.

One year there was no one to be chairperson for the famous Church Fair and for some reason I said I would do it.  I worked so hard but it was nothing compared to so many of you out there that are unsung hero’s in my book- you exhausted me just watching.  I wish everyone has the moment to look back on something they were a part of that is a success with smile as you collapse into bed.

That same year the boys were older and it was the first time they went off shopping on their own surrounded by everyone watching over them – I will never forget the moment when they came bouncing in the house thrilled that at the fair they had purchased several great books and the man was so nice that they even gave them a tip – I was thrilled when I looked and saw that the books they purchased were the ones I had donated the day before.  I wish everyone has a moment when they are thankful that their children are surrounded by so many that watch over them.

A year ago when I was not able to be the mom that I try to be my boys saw so many of you show up at our home with meals, treats, and gifts for their mom – an incredible outpouring of kindness that they all experienced firsthand – I wish every child could see what true kindness is.

My boys are now 18 and 15 and I cannot tell you how many evenings at the Duda table someone from the church is mentioned – I hear the stories of the boys running into you at the grocery store and how nice you are I hear about when you congratulate them on something that you read in the paper, I hear when you say they look handsome, and most of all I hear when you make them laugh and smile.  I wish every boy and girl had so many people around them that are kind and supportive,

A few weeks ago when the Christmas Pageant was over and everyone had headed home the five of us were left alone in the church cleaning, picking up straw, putting things away, and chatting about the morning – not because we had to but because we wanted to and were having so much fun.  I wish every family loved their church this much, that it allows so many cherished family moments together, even when they don’t really notice it’s happening.

I am a mom who is raising three boys in a world filled with electronics, violence, and terror.  I wish every mom belonged to a church like mine that neutralizes all the bad – I wish everyone could experience what I have within the community of First Parish Congregational Church.