Harford Church sees sign of the times

The Harford First Congregational Church – UCC is looking to forge community in the small town that has lost its grocery store and post office with the addition of a lighted sign serving as a beacon for events and connections.

The town of Harford is like most of our Susquehanna County towns these days. It seems to be getting smaller. If it isn’t shrinking in physical size, it’s spirits may be sinking—if, in fact, towns have spirits or souls.

This little town with its rich history is definitely quieter these days because like many of its neighboring towns—Hop Bottom, Brooklyn, Gibson, Kingsley and Alford—has lost its centrally-located, small business, grocery store and its post office.

The Odd Fellows Hall, a once tall and handsome structure, which also sat in the heart of Harford, was leveled years ago. The former Harford school is gone and its next-door neighbor, the Harford Garage, is now very quiet, too.

The Harford Church congregation is active, and led by God to be present and active in the community. This forward, visionary group did something big and bold. Over Christmas, it added a digital sign to its front yard.

“But it’s not just a sign,” Pastor Will Hagenbuch says, “it’s a sacred sign. It’s sacred because it’s a message board from God to all. It’s time for us to share what, how, and who God is to our neighbors and passersby. We call this vital ministry. The chance to have God heard in the world? Well, that’s exciting.”

The decision about the sign was not an easy one for the congregation. In fact, there were struggles along the way.

“It wasn’t that God wasn’t with us,” church member Craig Stout shared. “It’s that we had to take our time. Our struggles united us. Our differences about how to go about this sign—or even if to go about this sign enabled us to really listen to each other and discern what ministry is vital, and specifically where our ministry is vital—and that’s to those around us.”

Still, a sign in Harford? What does this say about the start of this new decade and how we communicate? Is the sign too big? Expensive? Ostentatious? Is it even necessary?

Stout answers. “When it comes to God, I have shared ‘we can go big or go home.’ Our decision to go big in our faith is out there—literally. We care deeply that this brand-new sacred sign meets the historical accuracy of the oldest church in the county. That cost us. We also wanted to make the sign artful, easy to use and change.”  

Spending countless hours bringing the sign to the town, Stout adds, “This sacred sign is for the community, and we wanted to give our neighbors the best gift we could.”

The sign was unveiled during the Sunday service on Dec. 22, 2019, just before Christmas. One of its first messages tied into the Christmas Eve message.

Brianna Boswell, 15, of Kingsley, believes the sign will inspire more people to participate in the community because community events—not just church happenings—will grace the sign.

She says, “This shows [the town of] Harford as more advanced and more willing to be a whole community. We become one voice through this sign.”

Re Fries of New Milford appreciates what can be called outdoor ministry. “I like to see a church community being joyful. Putting themselves out there. Doing things. This says so much, like churches are welcoming, alive, and vital.”

Tiffany Butler-Debish of Forest City often looks for church signs in her travels. “There are several churches I pass as I travel about. I do notice what they’re signs are saying. Inspiration and thoughts make a difference.”

Hagenbuch says, “We are about reaching into the community. Being the community. Hearing the community. Celebrating the community, and even grieving with the community. Anniversaries, birthdays, inspirational messages, special community events and words of God’s love are needed. And this is a place where people can find them.” 

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