How many churches do you know who take "summer vacation" ??
Each year during the months of July and August, First Congregational Church suspends its formal services in the Sanctuary. This year is no different, as formal services conclude the last Sunday of June and resume on the first Sunday after Labor Day.
But do you know WHY??
Every new minister and visitor to First Congregational has assumed this is some kind of new tradition that we developed so we could sleep late on Sunday morning. Not true (well... not entirely true).
Summer vacation at First Congregational dates all the way back to the late 1800s. At that time, the concept of "summer vacation" was becoming quite popular with the emerging middle class. Changes in society led to the growth of "vacation time" to go on holiday, visit the countryside, spend time with family, or even just enjoy a little rest-and-relaxation locally. Meanwhile, churches around the country found themselves at odds with this newfound freedom as church attendance diminished and parishioners found themselves having to choose between their vacation time and their faith.
Fortunately, church leaders at First Congregational discovered an opportunity. The secular concept of going out on vacation and taking a step back from everything, could work the same for church. Church leaders realized that suspending services in summer months allowed the congregation to go out and BE the church in their community, putting to practice what they'd learned about compassion, forgiveness, and helping their neighbors in need. A "church vacation" also gave members the opportunity to take a "spiritual retreat" for self-reflection so they could return renewed and refreshed in September, ready to start a new church year.
In recent years, we've amended this somewhat and now offer informal summer services in Hampton Lounge in July. However, these services are extremely relaxed and very casual compared to our formal sanctuary services. Although this is one of our more unusual traditions, for over 100 years First Congregational has been proud to use Church Summer Vacation as a way to remind everyone that BEING the church in their community is just as important as going to church on Sunday mornings.