Sunday, February 05, 2012, 4:59 PM
Diane and I first began worshiping at a United Church of Christ congregation in 1982. We felt warmly welcomed from our first encounter. We participated fully in the life of the church as we were able and quickly came to cherish all aspects of church life.
Yet, from the beginning, we knew that we were part of something greater. In those days, "AD" magazine was the official publication of the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church. It was exciting to learn how our church was involved in ministries throughout the nation and all over the world.
In 1984, the pastor invited us to attend an event on vitality for small churches sponsored by the Conference. The event was held on a weekend at a church in a neighboring town. About 5 people from our church went.
It was our first direct experience of the church beyond the local church. There were some presentations and some small group discussions. It gave me a whole new perspective on what it meant to be part of the United Church of Christ. We learned that our church was not the only one that was experiencing difficulties over membership, money, and relevance. But we also learned about some new approaches that folks in other churches were trying. We came away with some new ideas for our church to try and with a deeper sense of connection to members of other churches in different places that were facing similar circumstances.
This happened long before I even sensed a call to ordained ministry. But as I recall this event nearly 30 years later, I am again reminded of how a connection with the wider church can help lay leaders be more effective in their ministries in the local church.
On Saturday, March 24, the Connecticut Conference is sponsoring "March in the Son: Equipping Church Leaders for a New Decade". This event will include workshops on all aspects of faith formation and church leadership. It is designed so that a group of leaders from each church can travel together, participate in different workshops, and then share what they have learned with one another as they seek to implement some new approaches and ideas in the life of their church.
Registration information is available at:
While the training will be practical, there are additional benefits to attending this kind of event. Local church leaders need to know they are not alone. Your church's treasurer is not the only one facing the challenge of having to stretch precious dollars. Your Christian Education and youth leaders are not the only ones struggling with how to keep children and families engaged in an increasingly de-churched culture. Your trustees are not the only ones dealing with deferred maintenance for a building that seems to have turned into a "money pit". Yours is not the only sanctuary with more empty seats than ones that are filled on Sunday morning. You are not the only church that is both terrified and encouraged by the new social media whose influence is growing every day.
I strongly urge you to encourage the leaders of your church to participate in this event, and to attend yourself if you are able. The Connecticut Conference is committed to training and equipping church leaders for the work of ministry in challenging times. This is one of the ways we are trying to do this.
I hope to see you there.
Sunday, January 08, 2012, 5:36 PM
Chapter 23 of the Second Book of Samuel contains a list of the military leaders in the time of King David. The book names the leaders and talks about their exploits in support of the king. The story of one of these leaders, Benaiah, contains an interesting detail. In the midst of describing Benaiah's accomplishments, the text notes, "He also went down and killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen." [v. 20]
It is amazing that the details of one day in this person's life have been preserved for thousands of years so we can read about them today. While killing a lion was a remarkable feat in those times the details of the pit and the snowy day make the story more accessible to us. When we remember important events in our lives, we often remember trivial details along with the significant ones.
Those of us who serve as pastors of local churches may be remembered in a particular way. In many churches, there is a wall of pictures of previous pastors. Some of these pictures are hundreds of years old. It is quite amazing to think that, hundreds of years from now, someone may very well be looking at a picture of us, wearing that scarf or that tie, wondering who we were and what was happening in the second decade of the 21st century.
We do not answer the call to ministry in order to become famous or to get our picture on a wall. We answer because God invites us to use the gifts God has given us to do God's work in the world. Some of us may be remembered well beyond our time for some significant accomplishment. If we're honest, most of us will not.
In God's economy, earthly fame does not matter. What matters is that we serve faithfully, responding to the Gospel and the needs of the world, whether we serve in the pits or on the mountaintops, whether we are battling danger or offering comfort, whether it's a cold snowy day or a warm sunny one.
May 2012 be the occasion of many good memories as we continue to serve God faithfully.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 1:50 PM
For many years, I have been researching the history of my families of origin. This has been a slow and painstaking process. My ancestors passed along almost no written records and few photographs. I have memories of stories my grandparents and their siblings told me as a child many decades ago, but I also know that their memories and my own were faulty.
Diane and I have spent countless days visiting cemeteries, libraries, and archives. We have gently cleaned ancient gravestones and repeatedly searched the internet. We have paged through paper and microfilm copies of old newspapers, ships' passenger lists, city directories, and church records, looking for pieces of evidence of the lives of people that I never knew and that no living person remembers.
While some searches did not bear fruit, others yielded unexpected treasure. An exhaustive search of church records from the 1850's finally yielded my great-great-grandmother's maiden name. My great-grandmother's birthplace is listed only on the birth record of her seventh and last child. A word in a directory points to a mid-life career change that was previously unknown. A search of cemetery records revealed that three hitherto unknown children, whose names are not listed on the tombstone, were buried with their parents.
Imagination and empathy help us weave pieces of evidence into stories of lives lived 100-200 years ago, stories of people who lived and died, worked and played, went on long journeys to unfamiliar places, established homes and moved when they needed to.
The Advent texts from Isaiah speak to a people returning from exile. The prophetic words echo clearly through the centuries, offering God's promise of love and hope to a hurting people.
Most of those who returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem were 2 or 3 generations (possibly more) removed from the faith experiences of their ancestors who had been deported. Inspired by God, they painstakingly reconstructed their history as a people using memory and imagination, in much the same way that we might reconstruct the life stories of those who have gone before us.
The returning exiles stood in the ruins of the city where their ancestors had worshipped and tried to see what they saw and feel what they felt. Their study of the stories of their ancestors helped them discover who they were, who God was calling them to become, and how God was calling them to live in their time. They passed their stories on to future generations so that we, too, may read them and hear them and incorporate them into our own stories.
As we hear these Advent texts anew this year, let's remember that people in our time are also in exile. Many folks who have been involved in the church all their lives are feeling a profound sense of disconnect from church as they once knew it. Like the exiles long ago, they stand in the midst of declining institutions and wonder what happened. Others are in exile from their true selves, disconnected from the Christian story and the community of faith, unsure that there is a connection between their yearning and a God who loves and cares for them.
God calls us the church to establish or reestablish the connection between the Biblical Story and our own particular stories. Establishing this connection may be as difficult as trying recreate the story of our ancestors from incomplete records. But God still calls us to do it, to do it together, as we trust in the presence of God's Spirit to create and renew God's people in each generation.
May this season of Advent be a time for us to discover our connection with the past even as we seek to make God's story our own and write it anew in our time.
Friday, November 04, 2011, 12:31 PM
This has been a challenging week for all of us. The challenges have ranged from inconvenience and uncertainty to prolonged disruptions affecting the health and safety of our communities and those with whom we are in ministry. As of Friday morning, some of us have power restored while others do not.
Worship on Sunday in the Region's churches will vary. In some cases, things will be back to normal. Others may worship in unheated, unlighted meeting houses. Still others will share worship with another congregation or in another building, just as many continue to live in temporary quarters.
The stories of how we responded to the aftermath of the storm will be the legends we will tell in our families and communities for many years. I know that you have sought to minister to folks in your communities even as you faced your own hardships. In some cases, churches became day or overnight shelters or feeding stations because they were the only places with power. Pastors joined with other leaders in their communities to comfort and support residents and to help seek out those who were isolated. I know that many of you are involved with local fire and emergency medical services and that you provided support to responders as well as to those who needed their services.
One take-away from this week is how random and uncertain the basic circumstances of life can be. Regardless of our income or status, many of us had to leave our homes and seek temporary shelter. Others tried to make due in situations that ranged from the uncomfortable to the genuinely dangerous. Many faced the irony of having an abundance of food about to spoil and no way to prepare it. Even today, the question of who lost power and who has it back seems to be totally random.
While there are underlying issues of both climate and technology society will need to address, the bottom line is that, in times of crisis, we all need each other. We have a responsibility to care for our neighbors both individually and collectively.
MISSION ONE could not be more timely. Food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters need to be restocked for what is going to be a long winter. Even before this emergency, these local facilities were facing unprecedented demand. We need to challenge governments and corporations to be more attentive to human needs. We need to recognize that our neighbors include not only those in our local communities, but many in our nation and the world whose lack of access to the basic necessities of life is, for all intents and purposes, permanent rather than temporary.
Thanks, again, for all you have done and all you are doing in your communities, your churches, and the United Church of Christ.
You and all the members of your churches are a blessing to your communities in all seasons.
May God continue to bless you as you do God's work in the world.
Monday, October 31, 2011, 10:25 PM
My childhood was shaped by stories of heroes. Batman and Superman had a place in my imagination, but I was much more interested in stories of real people. The first chapter books I read were stories of figures from United States History. Daniel Boone, Buffalo Bill, Babe Ruth, Knut Rockne, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Abraham Lincoln, John Marshall, Helen Keller, Abigail Adams, Geronimo, Pocahontas, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King, Jr., were just a few that I remember.
As a child, I saw these heroes as people engaged in a struggle for what they believed to be right. They overcame obstacles and developed new ways of looking at the world. In different ways, their lives were adventures. Their deeds and their words impacted the world. Their stories inspired me to believe that I, too, could do something important, that my words and deeds could make a difference in the lives of others, and that my life also mattered.
Likewise, my most important childhood religious memories are of biblical heroes. I learned these stories watching filmstrips and listening to the accompanying recordings. (The "ding" meant advance to the next frame.) I watched filmstrips about Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Esther, and countless heroes of faith. I vividly remember a picture of Paul being lowered over the city wall in a basket to escape his enemies. Through these stories, I discovered that faith itself could be an adventure, that God challenges us to think beyond our limitations, and that God has a purpose for each of us and cares about the choices we make.
Like most people, I outgrew these childhood heroes and stories. History is much more complicated. Even as a child I knew that one side's hero could be the other side's villain. Human events are also impacted by the words and deeds of thousands of ordinary people whose names are not remembered. We live in an era when the flaws of seemingly admirable persons are mercilessly exposed. Songs are sung about the lack of heroes. Still, I believe we can appreciate someone's gifts and learn from their life even though we know their flaws.
The Feast of All Saints means many things. It is a chance to appreciate the ministry of all God's people because, in the language of Paul, we who follow Jesus Christ are all saints. It is an opportunity to give thanks for those persons who were important in our lives and who have completed their time on earth.
It is also an opportunity to recognize and appreciate those who are our heroes. All of us have been influenced by persons who have helped us recognize that life is an adventure, that we can challenge and perhaps overcome the obstacles we face, that we can look at the world in a new way and discover and create new things, that what we do makes a difference in the lives of others, and that every life matters because each of us is uniquely created in the image and likeness of God.
Some of our heroes are famous and long gone. We only read about them. Others are known only to us a few others. They may be our friends and family members or people we've heard others talk about. We may even be someone's hero and not know it.
May we, together, honor all those who have made us who we are.