Founded in 1642, The FIRST Church in Albany is the oldest church in Upstate New York (Dutch Reformed). What a perfect church to visit on the FIRST of the year! Walking into the sanctuary I felt as though I was entering heaven itself. The beautiful, golden chancel arches reminded me of the streets of gold. I was in complete awe as I admired the amazing architecture and detail of this glorious temple.
The prelude music was fitting as the organ of 4,000 pipes played two classical Bach selections. With about 50 or so congregants in attendance, I looked above at the empty balconies and envisioned them once overflowing with people. I read later that in 1798 the balcony was intended for the slaves that were numerous in Albany at the time.
Reverend John Paarlberg began with announcements which included sign ups to make a dish or deliver a meal for their next overflow shelter dinner and a reminder for volunteers to deliver poinsettias to those who are home bound. I was impressed by the churches involvement with many ministries and groups that serve the community including a food pantry that is open every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 am to 11:30 am.
The sermon was based on Ecclesiastes. There is a season for everything (Ecc.3:1-13). Our lives are like a vapor and all is vanity. Verse 3:13 reads, “And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” Rev. John proposed these questions: “Then how shall we live? Is there any point to life? Does what we do matter?” He emphasized the importance of enjoying the current moment and seeing God’s blessings in the here and now. So much of our time is spent either thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Humans are often times preoccupied and this keeps us from “what is”. The only time we have is the present and that is where God meets us. We need to find and love God for what He gives us. Now is the time of our salvation! We need to enjoy His blessings and ENJOY THE DAY!
Following this message on the “Times”, in unity we repeated the Lord’s Prayer and shared communion (gluten free bread was offered). Then I heard that familiar benediction that I hear so often throughout my church journeys to many different Christian denominations:
“The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.”
Following the service we were all invited to join in the fellowship hall for coffee and conversation. I opted to stay upstairs and take the “self-guided tour”. There is a pamphlet made available to walk you through some of the historic gems in this church. It describes how certain sections of pews were set aside for the state and city officials, and points out the Governor’s pew that was once occupied by Theodore Roosevelt and his family while he was Governor of New York. Of particular interest was the “hour glass pulpit”. It is the oldest pulpit in the United States, originally imported from Holland in 1656 and purchased for 25 beaver skins!
The rich history of this church is enough reason to visit. This year marks the 375th year that the First Church in Albany has been serving the community and it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic places. Come by on a Sunday morning at 10:30 am for their hour long service. Or come during the summer months to experience “drive-in worship”, an outdoor 30 minute service held in addition to their regular indoor service where worshipers can stay in their cars as the minister preaches from an outdoor pulpit. When you visit, you will not only enjoy a friendly church and an in depth message with timeless hymns, but you will also see firsthand a well preserved piece of our Christian heritage.
Church Website – www.firstchurchinalbany.org
By Donna Hansen Munafo