A new neighborhood brings a welcome wagon of churches

Being at a stage of life when it is prudent to live close to one of our children, my wife and I are moving to West Hartford, Conn.

Though we have lived in many places and are accustomed to the Welcome Wagon invitations from merchants, tradesmen and professionals, we have been pleasantly surprised by the welcome of various churches and individuals.

One invitation came in a handwritten envelope with the return address, "Come Grow at First Church," illustrated with the silhouette of a tree.

It contained a letter from Joan Hubbard of the membership committee of the First Church of Christ Congregational, in existence since 1713.

"Coming to church every week can pay dividends in peace of mind, an increase in spirituality and an opportunity to make new friends, "Joan wrote. "On Sunday mornings our van is available to bring you from your home to the church and back. Call by Friday noon if you want a ride."

Such service is invaluable for seniors such as my cousin Josie, a 90-year-old widow. Her six children became evangelicals and getting to Sunday Mass became a problem. Before her oldest daughter moved away, she often dropped her off and picked her up after Mass.

Another invitation came from Grace Congregational Church, "a small congregation of about 35 members" where every member is billed as a minister and where the Rev. Karen L. Roy is the worship leader. The invitation urges one to "come to our 10 a.m. Sunday worship and coffee hour for refreshments, meet others who found a family of faith at Grace Church."

Each letter or card invites the reader to visit the church’s website or call the pastor.

A more personal welcome came from our neighbor across the street, the Rev. Dana L. Hallenbeck, a minister at a Lutheran church. Last October, before we began to settle in our Connecticut house, an early snowstorm left the entire state a disaster with broken trees and downed power lines. I came up to clear a massive pile of downed Maple branches from our yard.

Hallenbeck, who became a minister after working 30 years as a West Hartford policeman, walked across the street the first afternoon and said: "I have wanted to help you, but I could not do it today because I was babysitting my grandson."

A few days later, he dropped by with a chainsaw and cut all of the logs for fireplace wood.

I do not know how the churches became aware that we are new in town, but if our local Catholic parish has the same information, we have yet to hear from it. That, of course, is the invitation we are looking for.

The Church of St. Peter Claver, a beautiful modern building about a mile away, seems to be our parish. I have gone by several times in my walks around the neighborhood — casing the joint, so to speak — for indications of what it would be like to go there.

I have timed how long it takes to walk there, and one of these days I am going to attend daily or Sunday Mass.

We hope the welcome is as warm as that extended sight unseen by our brothers and sisters in other faiths. And speaking of these other faiths, we think it would not hurt to get to know them better and perhaps participate in some of their activities.

We found spiritual benefit in a service we attended at my daughter’s congregational church. Faith and goodness are everywhere.

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