A not-so-blue Christmas this year.

An invitation to our Lessons and Carols service at 10am this Sunday (and Silver Tea afterwards at the Parish House at 311 Temple St.) and a church history blog article all in one.

This Sunday, December 9, the doors of both Center Church’s meeting house on the New Haven Green and its historic parish house down the street will be open to all for a traditional “lessons and carols” service, followed by the traditional Silver Tea in the missionary and parlor rooms of the former Ezekiel Hayes Trowbridge House at 311 Temple Street.

Center Church Meeting House Christmas 1929

Center Church scrapbook image.

Center Church New Haven Choir Oscar Maurer 1934

The choir that sang for the Christmas 1934 service at Center Church, posing on the south porch steps of the Parish House with the Rev. Dr. Oscar Maurer.

In lieu of the usual worship program with sermon, the 10am Lessons and Carols will be an alternation of familiar Adventide biblical readings and hymns. The Silver Tea, hosted by the Ladies Home Missionary Society (a quaint name for a powerful, female-led service and philanthropic organization dating back to the 19th century), is an un-stuffy opportunity to enjoy homemade Christmas cookies and tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off (plated on the aforementioned silver), washed down with punch served from a 100+ year old ceramic wonder and coffee or tea dispensed from silver samovars…all while perched on Victorian era furniture — in great company — under portraits of some of the more memorable Puritan and Congregationalist ministers of Connecticut.

Tiffany window installed 1894, depicting Rev. Davenport delivering his first sermon after landing here in 1638.

Tiffany window installed 1894, depicting Rev. Davenport delivering his first sermon after landing here in 1638.

“Traditional” is, at best, a dynamic, living concept, and at worst, a weasel word. There is no oil painting of the Reverend John Davenport–founder of the church and the New Haven Colony both–hanging in our parlor room; his priceless, 17th century portrait is on display at the Yale University Art Gallery. What we do have at the meeting house is the Davenport Window, which is the closest thing you’ll ever see to iconography in a Congregationalist heritage church. Davenport held such passionate opinions concerning the observation of the birth of Christ as a holiday — both on the church calendar and in the secular sphere — that he wrote an entire essay on this practice.

It’s entitled, “The Sinful Keeping of Christmas.”

Davenport’s views were party-line Puritan and echoed infamous treatises on the subject by more famous European and early American clergy, including Massachusetts Bay minister Increase Mather.  (Davenport wrote his own treatise during his final years spent in Boston, after leaving behind his failed theocratic experiment in New Haven in 1668.) The argument basically went like this: Christmas wasn’t a proper “holy day” per Puritan beliefs; it had devolved into a “time abused by all profane and loose-spirited persons unto gluttony, drunkenness and misspending of precious time in gaming at cards and dice, and other wickednesses!”; and December 25 is not the proper date of Christ’s birth. Davenport preached,

 Lay down therefore all former vain pretences, and yield to this Truth: That the keeping of “Christmas” in this season, is unseasonable, and in the manner as it is usually done, is unscriptural, irrational, and unlawful.

Our soul-patched Rev. Davenport declared his War on Christmas hundreds of years before it was cool.

This earliest North American “War on Christmas” (which we will not have any of our congregation leaders reference during this Sunday’s service as a lesson) is a reminder that Center’s identity and values will always be reflected in the traditions we have carried forward as well as left behind…and we may yet have beloved new traditions to look forward to in our future.

For more articles on Center Church history, click here.