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Saturday morning I woke up early—at least early for a Saturday—and headed down to the church to unlock the doors for the set-up of the Blackstone Neighborhood tour.  I made coffee, filled the fountain with water, and started opening doors and turning on lights.  Susan and Steve Dolezal were soon there as well doing the same things.  Susan has worked tirelessly for months to organize our involvement in the home tour, including sprucing up the church, which has involved many volunteers.  The place looks as great as it ever has (let’s keep it this clean and organized!).

We’ve been on other Blackstone Neighborhood Tours before, but this tour was big, well-publicized, and well-organized because the folks who used to do the annual neighborhood tours for Restoration Exchange got involved.  By Friday night the organizers were expecting the weekend crowds to number 2,000 people.

We didn’t just open the church.  There were displays throughout the building on our history, ministries, and current efforts.  Daryl Malena showed up to talk about the labyrinth.  Stephen Bouma played the organ almost non-stop from 9:45 to 1:15—an incredible feat I think.

As the tour began I was initially floating around helping with whatever task needed help.  Eventually I realized we had no volunteer in the narthex, so I thought I’d sit there for a while, and ended up there for much of the day.  Tour goers exited the building through the sanctuary and the narthex, so I soon realized it was the perfect spot for me, as many had questions by that point they wanted answered.

I found it interesting which topics came up and kept coming up.

There were lots of questions about the stained-glass windows.  People thought the side windows so different from most churches and especially one from the twenties.  I showed the examples of the original amber windows in the narthex and that the side windows were replaced in the sixties, but that also opened discussion of the church’s construction history and even how intentionally there isn’t representative art in the windows but only abstract images and colors.  I didn’t get into how that reflects centuries of Puritan iconoclasm.

Many had questions about the organ.  Where were the pipes, where was the sound coming from, they could see two consoles and were they connected and how?  One woman decided it must be magic.  I’m guessing as pipe organs become rarer and rarer they become exotic instruments to many.

Of course there were questions about the boarded up front entry, which allowed me to talk about our current capital campaign.

More than one person asked, “What is Congregational? What does that mean?” or “Now, what kind of church is this?”

But maybe my favorite set of questions were about the pillows in the pews.  One woman said, “They make the place feel homey.”  Jennifer Forbes-Baily later reminded me that the first pillow had been for Edie Godfrey when she was ill with multiple myeloma.  They’ve proliferated during my pastorate.  Jennifer said she’s brought many and just left them for whoever might need them.

Where I was sitting you could see everyone as they passed the display at the back of the sanctuary about weddings here.  Some asked about that, including the price (of course some thought it low and some thought it high).  But what I noticed was how many reacted to the message that we perform same-sex weddings.  I’d see them notice it and point it out to their friends.  Reactions were all across the spectrum, as you can imagine.  I did overhear one conversation “So, they are welcoming.  Good.”

By two o’clock I wrapped up my volunteering and went on the actual tour with a neighbor friend.

It was a good and exhausting day.  And many, many people heard and saw bits of our gospel message.  Thanks to all the many volunteers.


421 South 36th Street, Omaha Nebraska, 68131
(Located at the corner of 36th and Harney Streets)






First Central Congregational Church