June 29, 2021 by The Rev. Tim Schenck, Rector of St. John the Evangelist
I still remember my first Fourth of July in Hingham. My family and I had moved to town in August of 2009 and all we heard about for the next 11 months was just how seriously Hingham took its Independence Day celebration.
Our first July Fourth coincided with the town’s 375th anniversary, which meant freshly painted red, white, and blue street lines appearing on Main Street. That was the first clue this wasn’t some quaint homespun observance of our nation’s founding.
It also happened to take place on a Sunday. “But don’t worry,’ I was assured, “the parade doesn’t kick off until 12:15 pm.” Great! Since my new church was on the parade route, I envisioned a full morning of church, followed by patriotic festivities viewable from the front lawn.
Of course, I couldn’t pass up running the road race as well. With a start time of 7:00 am, I figured I had just enough time to run the race, jog back to the rectory, take a shower, and be ready to lead our 8 o’clock service. The timing was tight, but I was much faster back then.
I remember barely making it to church in time, and holding it together until I got into the pulpit to preach my sermon. It was then that I started sweating. Profusely. Oh, I’d stashed a bottle of Gatorade near my seat. But mid-sermon I had to send an acolyte in to grab me a towel as I started to soak right through my vestments. Suddenly, I felt like a Southern preacher in the middle of a summer revival. Well, minus the shouts of “A-men!” and “Preach!” — this was still stiff upper lip New England, after all.
Eventually I stopped sweating — at least after the early service — and enjoyed watching parishioners showing up for the 10:00 am service setting up lawn chairs on the gentle slope of the church lawn, before greeting them as they wandered through the front doors decked out in assorted shades of red, white, and blue. After the service, people hung around chatting, filled with anticipation, and waited for the parade to start.
It was a beautiful day in so many ways. The spirit of Hingham came bursting forth through the energy and excitement and anticipation as the drums started beating in the distance even before the first floats came into view. I admit I was expecting a typical small town parade with a few floats, a Cub Scout troop, and a classic car or two. But this parade was endless!
I was stunned, and my young boys were thrilled as band after well-drilled band marched by, along with Clydesdales, fire engines ancient and modern, lovingly-constructed homemade floats, a fife and drum corps, candy raining down like manna from patriotic heaven, Uncle Sam, and even a kazoo band from Crow Point. Mostly, I was struck by the pride and hard work that went into this parade and honored by the many citizens, town officials, and police officers who clearly put in countless hours to pull this off.
After last year’s parade was cancelled due to the pandemic, it was with great joy that I received news that the parade would be back in 2021. I love opening both the church’s front lawn and parking lot to the wider community. If there was ever a year our town could use a jolt of joy, this is it!
And so I admit I was disappointed to learn the parade will take place on Sunday morning at 10:00 am. You know, the same time we hold Sunday services at St. John’s. The same time many other faith communities in town do as well. The town tradition has always been to push back the start time when it’s on a Sunday to accommodate faith communities who worship on Sunday morning, as well as the multiple churches that line the parade route.
What was particularly disheartening, besides not being invited into the conversation, is that we are just emerging from the pandemic as a worshipping community after 62 straight Sundays of exclusively online worship. It’s been a hard year for everyone, and returning to some semblance of normal is so important in every aspect of our lives.
I’m not some extremist banging the drum of religious liberty, and I recognize that we live in an increasingly secular time. Just visit any little league field on a Sunday morning! But I am frustrated by a decision that feels like a declaration of independence from collaboration and sensitivity. And that’s too bad.
Though I wish the parade took place a couple hours later, I look forward to seeing everyone on the Fourth of July. You’re welcome to park in the church lot, join us for a streamlined (ie. shorter) 9:00 am service at St. John’s, and then watch the parade from our front lawn which, for my money, is the best seat in the house.
And the next time the Fourth falls on a Sunday, I hope we’ll once again embrace the town’s longstanding tradition of religious accommodation and acceptance.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, MA. Follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.