Situated directly across from beautiful Washington Park, the First Presbyterian Church of Albany is in the perfect location for reaching the City of Albany with the love of Christ.  The warmth in this church also attracts individuals living in outlying suburbs. Founded in 1763, First Pres has played a prominent role in our Christian history. The pews, the Tiffany stained glass windows, the hymnals, the choirs, the organ … can take one’s soul to a place of humility and reverential piety.  While holding steadfast to meaningful traditions, they are a versatile church firmly ensconced in UNITY with the 21st century community of churches in the greater Capital District.  First Pres is a vital piece of the yet unfinished puzzle.

As our team arrived, we saw many people gathered in the assembly hall enjoying coffee and preparing for the service. They had Fairtrade coffee available for purchase, information and signup sheets for the annual CROP walk to help fight hunger, as well as some beautiful original paintings on display. The choir was lining up as we made our way into the sanctuary. There are two Sunday services, the first one being at 8:30 am with communion. We chose the second service at 10:45 to witness the hand bell choir.

Music is a vital component at First Pres. They have both adult and youth choirs singing a diverse repertoire of classical, contemporary, jazz and spiritual selections.  If you have a gift for singing, the choir always welcomes newcomers. The hand bell choir opened the service and played with captivating precision. Their practiced UNITY brought forth a brilliant melody.  Following, there was a plethora of announcements, the sign of an active and engaged church. From the rear of the sanctuary the adult choir sang a musical selection.  Afterwards, we took a moment to greet one another and offer signs of peace according to Matt. 5:9 and Heb.12:14. Then everyone stopped where they were, joined hands, and the congregation sang a short hymn together. This was an unexpected but pleasant surprise, though noted in their worship guide. As I looked around the sanctuary I saw everyone joyously singing with genuine enthusiasm. There was an obvious variety of cultures represented; another strong sign of UNITY among the brethren.

Glenn and Miriam Lawrence Leupold are a husband and wife team who also represent a beautiful UNITY by serving as Co-Pastors. They alternate their roles each week, one giving the message and one doing announcements, as well as other parts of the service.

This week Miriam gave the sermon, and a powerful one it was. It was Palm Sunday, and she spoke on the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (the city of peace) compared to the one of Pontius Pilate. Jesus’ procession was humble and non-violent, riding the gentle colt of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).  Pilate’s procession embodied the violent power that ruled the world.  With such a vast contrast between these two processions, the people had a choice of which one to follow. Today, we too have that same choice. Which power will you align with … earthly authorities or the Kingdom of God?

Following the service, I had an opportunity to speak with several members over coffee in the assembly hall.  Everyone was warm and welcoming, and you could sense the strong love they had for their church.  Pastors Glenn and Miriam also took time to speak with us as well. We received nice welcoming gifts including a coffee mug to remind us of our wonderful experience each time we drink coffee.

First Presbyterian Church of Albany offers so much to people locally, nationally and globally. They have wonderful programs and activities for the youth including summer retreats, regular service projects, an annual music production, an annual ski trip, work camps in and outside of New York State, and more. They offer Christian education for all ages.  First Pres works in lower income areas of Albany tutoring students, and they are highly involved in various school programs. They are also one of 12 communities that partner with FOCUS Ministry, working together in UNITY to serve the needy with a food pantry, a breakfast program and food advocacy.

This church is rich in history, strong in the Word and actively engaged in the spiritual and creative growth of its members. It is quite clear which Triumphal Procession they chose. As we departed with our hands full of traditional palm leaves, I was reminded that the entire Body of Christ has made the correct choice. IT’S UNANIMOUS … WE FOLLOW JESUS!

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By Donna Hansen Munafo
(Contributing writer Michael Frati)