Today in the Mission Yearbook

Returning to his Red Clay Creek roots


U.S. Sen. Chris Coons helps the church that nurtured him, Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, launch its 300th anniversary celebration

May 4, 2022

U.S. Senator Chris Coons preached Sunday at the church that nurtured him, Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. (Photo by the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann)

Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, turns 300 this year, and the congregation plans a yearlong celebration. Worshipers recently heard an inspiring and heartfelt sermon from one of its favorite sons, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, who deftly put into historical perspective the church’s lengthy history.

“What was here in 1722? A small hardy band of Presbyterian farmers in the new wilderness gathered on the banks of Red Clay Creek to worship without a pastor or a building for the first three decades,” said Coons, a product of both Yale Divinity School and Yale Law School. By the time a small group gathered at the Golden Fleece Tavern in Dover to ratify the U.S. Constitution and make Delaware the nation’s first state, “Red Clay was 65 years old,” Coons noted.

“I have great confidence in the spirit that has informed and sustained this congregation from the very beginning to today and into its future,” Coons said.

Coons says he draws on-the-job sustenance every Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, when about two dozen senators on both sides of the political aisle meet with the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, the Rev. Dr. Barry C. Black, for a prayer breakfast.

“We pray, talk about our families, sing a hymn, and then one of us stands up and witnesses about the role of faith in our life,” Coons said. “I have seen week in and week out over the 11 years I’ve been there the most remarkable moments of vulnerability and humanity.”

Senators “often talk about the loss of a loved one … and how their faith has challenged them, sustained them and moved them to service,” Coons said.

“And what do you think I talk about?” Coons asked. “I talk about you. I’ve talked about the powerful impact of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church on my family and my life.”

He’s shared the story from his childhood of how his father, who was part of the church’s prison ministry team, once welcomed into the Coons home a convicted murderer. He’s also described “dozens of different ministries over decades and decades, the ways you have done service and ministry, great and small, from coffee hour to bell choir.”

After consulting with friends who’d also grown up in the congregation, the group identified seven of their cohort serving in ordained ministry. “Others serve in more fallen ways,” Coons said with a smile, “yet do our best to carry forward what is so powerful about the spirit of this place.”

Coons then turned to the gospel lesson for the day, Luke 3:15–17 and 21–22, the account of John baptizing Jesus.

John, “the one who lays the path for Christ by calling the people of Jerusalem out to repentance,” baptizes Jesus in a “pretty remote, small muddy river,” Coons preached.

“This is the moment when Jesus, raised in his home synagogue, nurtured in Nazareth, certainly familiar with the Temple, and yet he launches his ministry in the margins, amongst the rabble with this wild-haired man,” Coons said. “Why? What does that mean for us?”

Coons said he took the opportunity before the service to return to his Sunday school classroom. “It looks exactly the same,” he said, chuckling. “As I talked with my cohort, the folks I grew up with, for each of us, there was a moment outside the ordinary when we actually encountered the risen Christ in others and thus in ourselves. On a mission trip overseas. Serving lunch with the homeless. Welcoming a refugee family. What has happened in this place over the decades of the lives of those who were raised up with me was risky encounters of Christ through moments of mission, bravery and risk.”

What the founders of Red Clay Creek sought — and what members still seek — is “the baptism and the presence of the risen Christ … that inbreaking, that moment of surprise and of hope that sustained them,” Coons said. “I don’t just pray — I know that if we will but open our hearts this year, we will be anointed for the 21st century in this gathering, in this congregation, in this place.”

Watch the worship service at Red Clay Creek here.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Sue Rheem, Presbyterian Rep. to the UN, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Katie Rhodes, HR Generalist, Administrative Services Group, A Corp

Let us pray

Almighty God, give us the courage to be partners with our brothers and sisters to promote peace and justice. We pray for peace in our country and among all nations. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.