Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Praising God and Singing Wordle

On the First Sunday after Christmas we had a Sing-A-Long! Everyone named off their favorite Christmas Carols and we sang them together. It was great! Big thanks to our organist Jerry Jensen for playing us through such a merry worship service. Instead of a full sermon, I simply offered a very brief homily on the joy and value of singing.

For the full (but nonetheless brief!) manuscript of the homily, you can click here to go to the church's website. For the full version of the Wordle, just click on the image to the right.

I've been thinking about...

...the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Which before it became an insanely long Christmas Carol with a great rousing cheer in the middle (FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!), was actually a liturgical season.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are in fact the dozen days that separate Christmas Day from Epiphany; that is the 12 days that bridge the gap between our celebration of the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi from the East. Or for those who are calendar people, the Twelve Days of Christmas run from December 25 to January 6. It is a time of celebrating!

In fact, in the Middle Ages the Twelve Days of Christmas was a period of continuous feasting and merrymaking which climaxed not on Christmas Day, but on the very last of the nights. Thus the setting for one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, “Twelfth Night.”

Our pilgrim forbearers actually brought Christmastide celebrations over to this land from Europe, but with the growing secularization of Christmas, commercialization of “After-Christmas” sales, and general revelry of New Year’s Eve, the Twelve Days of Christmas has faded to the background or disappeared altogether...
...well, except in our worship life!

For these two Sundays of the Twelve Days of Christmas we’ll celebrate the birth of Christ with just as much joy and merriment as we did at our Christmas Eve Service. We’ll recount the stories, sing the Christmas Carols, and continue to spread the good news of Christ’s birth.

Because the true lesson of the Twelve Days of Christmas is that the joy of Christ’s birth in our world and in our hearts is simply too big to be confined to single celebration!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mary's Christmas Carol Wordle

On the last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love, we finally get Mary's story. It seems a fitting time to pay tribute to the mother of our Lord after all. Advent is the time of preparation and anticipation and what could better fit that theme than the time of hope and expectation known as pregnancy.

Mary has much to teach us. And the Magnificat (this Sunday's scritpure) is a terrific place to start. Through it Mary stands as a sterling example of a person of faith. Lifting up for us the spiritual gifts of living a life that is faithful, thankful, and prophetic. Faithful, thankful, and prophetic – these are the gifts that Mary offers us this day.

You can find the full manuscript of the sermon by clicking here and visiting the church's website. Or to see the full sized Wordle rendering, just click on the image below.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I've been thinking about...


And as I do from time to time when I’m thinking about such monumental theological things, I turned to theologian, humorist, minister, and author Frederick Buechner’s “Wishful Thinking.” Here is an excerpt from what he has to say about it.

The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love…
To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth.
In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion but an act of will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends.

You’ve just gotta love Frederick Buechner ... even if you don’t like him!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Holiday Greeting?!? Wordle

This is one of my favorite sermons, despite the fact that things are so dichotomous on the third Sunday of Advent. When we light the pink candle and celebrate God's gift of joy, we have John the Baptist yelling at us "You brood of vipers!" while calling us to repent and using hellfire and brimstone images.

I take a non-traditional view in interpreting John the Baptist's "wheat and the chaff" imagery. For the full sermon manuscript, visit the church's website by clicking here. To see the entire Wordle rendering, click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...

...the Pink Candle on the Advent Wreath.

Two weeks ago I was asked, “Why is there one pink candle in the Advent Wreath?” I stuttered and stammered through an answer (in the process, mistaking the third Sunday as the Day of Love, not the Day of Joy!) before finally concluding, “That said, I don’t really know.”
I’ve been researching it since then and I’m proud to announce that I’m not the only one who goofs up an answer! Everybody has a different thought on this one and most have no idea!

The tradition itself is a Germanic one, and seems to be a pre-Christian one that early followers of Christ adopted and transformed. As such, the green of the wreath came to symbolize the eternal nature of God. The purple candles signify the royalty of Christ as well our own penitence in preparing for the coming of Jesus. And the pink signifies joy...or as it turns out, love! (Some churches light the pink candle on the third Sunday to symbolize joy, some of the fourth to symbolize love, go figure.).

Confused yet? Just wait!

There is some story about how the Pope used to give out a pink rose on the third Sunday of Lent and somehow that tradition was transposed to an Advent candle. I’m not sure I buy it. Which brings me to my least favorite answer for any question, “Why do we do it? Because we’ve always done it that way.”

This church has the tradition of lighting a pink candle on the Third Sunday of Advent, the Day of Joy when we rejoice at God’s promises that have been fulfilled and the blessings that we know are to come. That’s what we’ll do today.

Oh, and in case this isn’t confusing enough, the Pope has been using four red candles in his wreath for years. So go figure!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Three Things from Diaconate

The Deacons met on Sunday December 13 immediately after worship. Here are the three things you need to know about that meeting:
  1. We went over plans for the Christmas Eve Candlelit Worship Service. Worship will begin at 7:30 PM and it will be a traditional service of Lessons and Carols, where we will hear once more and all over again the story of Jesus' birth in combination with beautiful music and congregational singing. Please join us for this special time of worship.

  2. Laity Sunday will be on January 31 and will use "God is Still Speaking..." as the theme. See Cindy or Jane if you would like to participate!

  3. Rev. Brian is collecting "hamster stories." After raffling off a sermon as part of the 2009 Community Turkey Drive, Ted Shepherd's name was pulled out of the hat (actually, out of the collection plate!). And true to his promise, Ted requested a sermon about hamsters. His exact words, "Hamsters. Absolutely. Hamsters." The January date of the hamster sermon is still to be determined, but stay tuned for that announcement!

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council had their monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 9 at 7PM. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting.

  1. Church Windows database software has been ordered and will be installed on the church computer within a week. This new program will allow us to keep up with finances and payroll, membership trends, and new visitors. Hurray for Church Windows!

  2. We have scheduled our first All Church Clean-Up Day of the New Year for January 23, 2010 starting at 8:30. Trustees will begin preparing the list of things that need to be done -- please see a Trustee if you have anything to add to the list!

  3. After much prayer and deliberation, Rev. Brian submitted a letter to the Pastoral Search Committee indicating that he will not be submitting his name for consideration as the settled pastor at the Encanto Community Church. There is still much good work that we will do together during this interim time, and Rev. Brian will continue to hold the Encanto Community Church in his prayers and hopes you will hold his ministry in yours.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

John the Baptist Wordle

We get back-to-back Sunday's with the one, the only John the Baptist! So we use this first Sunday sermon to simply introduce the man who came to prepare the way. We lift up those things he did that we should do too (preparing the way, being filled with the word of God) and those things we might want to chalk up to ancient world eccentricities (locust lunches and camel's hair clothes, anyone?).

For the full manuscript of a Communion Sunday shortened sermon, simply visit the church website by clicking here. To see the entire wordle rendering (in exciting black and white this week!) then click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...


For the entire season of Advent we are collecting socks for Shoebox Ministry.

Shoebox Ministry is a non-profit service organization based out of Scottsdale with an ongoing program for the collection and distribution of personal hygiene kits to the homeless and working poor in the Greater Phoenix Area. Founded 21-years ago, Shoebox Ministry is the only agency in the greater Phoenix area that focuses on meeting this very important need. Though they are not a shelter, they do distribute the toiletry kits through agencies and shelters throughout the Valley that work directly with the homeless and working poor.

As part of their Christmas Sock Drive, new socks are collected, and distributed to over 40 valley agencies and shelters. Their goal is to collect 40,000 pairs of new socks (25,000 for Men, 15,000 for women) to warm the soles of the Valley’s 15,000 homeless.

Here at Encanto, we’ll be collecting socks for the next several weeks. When you are doing your Christmas Shopping please remember those who are in need and pick up a package or two of sturdy, warm athletic socks and then drop them off here at the church.

To remind us of the project, I’ll be wearing a different pair of crazy socks each Sunday during to Advent. I’ll be showing off my bright green argyle socks this morning. Thanks for your continued support of Shoebox Ministry!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anticipation Wordle


What's that, you say? It isn't New Year's yet? Well it is in the church!

This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent we begin all over again a new Christian Liturgical Year. As we slow-play our way to the celebration of Christ's birth in our heart and in our world at Christmas we take on the Season of Advent -- a time of anticipation and preparation.

Here is Wordle rendering of this past Sunday's sermon on anticipation. For the full manuscript simply visit the church's website by clicking here. Or to see a full-size version of the Wordle just click on the image below.

I’ve Been Thinking about...

...Turkey Tickets.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I was thinking about Turkey Tickets a couple of weeks ago and used this space to talk them already. But we’ve since completed the drive and that is why I’m using this space again, because I want to recap all of your hard work!

For folks who don’t know or don’t remember, this was the Encanto Community Church’s first time participating in the Community Turkey Drive. The effort is spearheaded by Ron Caputo (a member at Beatitudes UCC and a frequent visitor here at Encanto). For $5 you can provide a turkey to a needy family or individual who otherwise would have gone without on Thanksgiving. We were an authorized seller of the “Turkey Tickets” — a $5 donation gets you one ticket and provides one turkey to a person or family in need.

I’m overjoyed to report that as a church we raised $455. That is 91 families that had turkeys this past Thanksgiving because of your generosity.

When I met with Ron this past week to turn over our funds he told me that the total project raised over $12,000! That is 2400 families! Thank you for your hard work and generosity in supporting the Turkey Tickets. A special thank you to Arron Bradford and Jim Brooks who each took stacks of Turkey Tickets and sold them outside of the church.

As for our churchwide prize, remember that I put a sermon up for auction. For every one Turkey Ticket purchased folks got one entry into the raffle. Whoever’s name is pulled from the plate will have the opportunity to tell what I’m preaching on one Sunday in January. We’ll do the drawing today at Coffee Hour right after the worship service. See you over there!

{Editor's Note: I went straight in to the Trustees Meeting and didn't get out until everyone had left Coffee Hour! So we're going to do the drawing this coming Sunday instead...I promise!}

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks for Wordles!

On Thanksgiving Sunday we lifted up the blessings that we are thankful for. Like Wordles!

For the full sermon manuscript you can visit the church website here. Or to see the entire Wordle image click on the picture below.

I've been thinking about...

The Doorway Prayer.

It is a simple spiritual discipline about thankfulness, and one that just might turn your assumptions about prayer on their ear. You see, prayer does not have to be something done in silence or quiet meditation; limited to those times when we can get away from the world, bow our heads, and close our eyes. Prayer can and should happen all the time. The Doorway Prayer is one way of doing that.

Here is what you do: Find a time when you are up and around and active. It can be when you are busy at work, cleaning the house, running errands, or even coming in and out of church. Just make sure it is a time when you are walking around and have to go from room to room.

Then, each time you go through a doorway say a quick word of thanks to God for something good in your life. Every doorway equals one thing you are thankful for. Make sure you are as specific as possible. Don’t just say “For my family” when you can name specific family members, or “For the weather” when you can say dozens of lovely things about cooler temperatures.

Do this for every doorway you go through, every time you go through it. If you go from one room, through a hallway to another room, that is two doorways and two quick words of thanks to God. If you walk through a doorway, forget what you were going to do, turn back around, then remember what it was and walk back through it again then that is three doorways and three quick words of thanks. Begin by doing this practice for an hour a day, then slowly add more and more time until eventually you are able to do it for an entire day. You will be surprised how many doorways you walk through, and how many things you have to be truly thankful for.

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Transition and Transformation Wordle

Throughout my ministry at Encanto, I've periodically preached about the fundamental thing before us in our Interim Time together – change. Specifically the cycle of change, transition, and transformation. Today is another one of those days. A reminder of sorts, but one brought about by the new developments in the life of our church – the Search Committee formally submitting our Congregational Profile to the denomination, the advent of our Transition Fund, the lovely smiling faces of the new members we welcomed into full fellowship here at the Encanto Community Church last week. We've got change all around us, it would seem. So it seemed a good time to touch base again.

Here is the Wordle for this Sunday's Sermon. For the full text, visit the church website. To see the full sized Wordle rendering, just click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...

...“The Parable of the Trapeze” by Danaan Parry.

It is just long enough that the whole story won’t fit in this space, so here is how it starts. We’ll get to ending in today’s sermon.

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I'm merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of "the past is gone, the future is not yet here."

It's called "transition." I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council met on Wednesday November 11, 2009. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting.

  1. The Search Committee formally submitted the Congregational Profile to the Southwest Conference Office today! Which means they move on to the next step of receiving and reviewing information from pastors interested in serving as the next settled pastor here at Encanto! Thanks for the hard work Search Committee. And keep it up!

  2. We received an additional $6000 toward the Transition Fund.

  3. We intentionally spent the majority of the meeting talking about the work, structure, and future plans of Church Council after hearing a presentation based on Don Brewer's "Taking the Bored Out of the Board Meeting."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family of Faith Wordle

Here is the Wordle from New Member Sunday at the Encanto Community Church. We were thrilled to welcome five new folks into full membership in the church...and even more thrilled when a throng of young children attached to the new members came up with them.

On New Member Sunday we talked about family. The family of faith. The ways that we are connected with one another. The ways that trust, promise, and intentionality trump mere genetics and a shared last name when it comes to being family. For the full manuscript of the sermon you can go to the website by clicking here. For the full version of the Wordle you can click on the image below. Enjoy!

I've been thinking about...

Turkey Tickets.

Ron Caputo (member of the Church of the Beatitudes UCC right up the street from us, and a frequent visitor here at Encanto) organizes the Community Turkey Drive. Thanks to Ron’s hard work behind the scenes and years of experience putting this effort together, a $5 donation will assure a family or person in need a turkey this Thanksgiving.

I’m please to announce that the Encanto Community Church is proud sponsor of the 2009 Community Turkey Drive. Which means that we have our own stack of tickets to sell! For the low, low price of $5 a piece, each ticket helps to assure that a family or individual will receive a turkey to help them celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

100% of your donation will benefit charitable agencies including families and individuals living with HIV/AIDS, Homeless Outreach, Domestic Violence Centers, Child Welfare Agencies, and Displaced Families. Your donation is tax deductible.

Let this Thanksgiving Season be a time to give thanks and help others. Thanks for supporting the 2009 Community Turkey Drive!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Benefiting Charities Include:
AGAPE Network
Joshua Tree
Compassion in Action
Southwest Behavioral Services
Path Homeless Service
Once A Month Church
Ebony House
St. Joseph, The Worker
Interfaith Cooperative Ministries
Strengthening Families
Fresh Start Women’s Foundation
Sojourner Center
De Colores Center
Area Agency on Aging
Southwest Key
Crisis Nursery
Homeward Bound
AZ Adoption and Foster Care

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Transition Fund

On Sunday November 1, 2009 we launched The Transition Fund in the life of the Encanto Community Church. Our Moderator Cindy Walley kicked off the campaign with the following words during a Moment for (our) Mission at the beginning of worship:

Hello friends,
As many of you know, our Church Council and Board of Trustees met about a month ago to discuss the status of our church’s fiscal health. It was a wonderful meeting, full of insightful ideas and enjoyable fellowship. As we looked ahead to the exciting future we reminisced about the distance we’ve traveled in the past 14 months.

Was it only a year ago that we joined together for that first (after so many years) church workday that set in motion the breathtaking renovations that have made our fellowship hall a showplace? We all created that transformation. How about this past January during Church History month? How great was it to contribute our memories to the decades posters in fellowship hall? It was a fun and, for many of us newer members, educational way to anticipate our future by understanding our past. We all created that step in the transition. Can any of you think of a more active and vibrant Youth Group than the one we have here at Encanto? Clearly our adult leadership is second to none but how about these kids? They not only learn about what it means to embrace Christ’s teachings and understand the beliefs of others but they have a blast doing it. And even better, they graciously invite all of us old fogies to come along for the rid!.

We all grow together, we all change together.

Here’s one more, our Search Committee has done exceptional work preparing, inquiring, organizing and compiling the mountain of information necessary to recruit, call and hire our permanent pastor. It is important and meaningful work as they include us as we bring about this biggest transition of all.

We’ve made so much progress in a little over a year’s time and we are right on target to move to the next step in this exciting transition, but what an interesting time for us to take this on. As we all know, virtually every family, every community organization, every arm of government is struggling with the current economic challenges facing this nation. Encanto Community Church is not immune. Those of us who carefully read the Pilgrim have seen that our financial health is not as robust as it once was. We are currently running about $3000.00 under budget per month. That is a substantial deficit but we can do something about it. We can join together, just as we have to create a wonderful physical facility, a loving and supportive church family and a strong and sustaining spiritual climate! We can join together to improve our fiscal well being at this key time in our church’s history!

Beginning today we are introducing our new Transition Fund. During the month of November it is our goal to raise the $50,000.00 necessary to continue our progress toward a permanent pastor and ultimately toward the unique and important work we at Encanto are being called to do. Let us do our best and let us do it together.

You will be receiving a follow-up letter from the Stewardship Committee with more details about The Transition Fund. To give to The Transition Fund please make your checks payable to Encanto Community Church with the note “Transition Fund” in the memo line. We’ll be making weekly updates at worship each Sunday in November. If you have any questions please feel free to speak with Pastor Brian or any member of the Church Council or Trustees. Thank you for you commitment and generosity in this important time in the life of the church!

Wordle: For All the Saints

On All Saints Sunday we lifted up the saints that we have known in our own lives. Those individuals who passed on the Christian faith to us and stand as a sterling example for us. For the full manuscript, visit the church's website here. Or to see the full Wordle simply click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...


I’ve always been partial to the definition in the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. It reads:

Saints, persons distinct because of their relationship to God. In the Old Testament, two different Hebrew terms are commonly rendered by this English expression. One, derived from the word meaning “covenant faithfulness,” suggests that those who are so designated are bound closely to their God in love (eg Psalms 31:23, 148:14). The other, derived from the word for “holy,” identifies those so described as set apart and dedicated to the service of God (eg., Daniel 7:27). In both cases, the faithful of Israel are in view, and their “sainthood” consists in the relationship they bear to the God who has destined them for righteousness and salvation (Psalms 16:3, 132:9, 16).
The same associations are present in the New Testament, where “saints” always translates the Greek term for “the holy ones”...Thus, in Romans 1:6-7, the phrases “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” “God’s beloved,” and “called to be saints” are virtually synonymous.

On All Saints Sunday we celebrate those “holy ones.” The people of faith that we have known and looked up to. The ones that have helped us to understand the love of God and passed on their faith to us. Today let us remember the saints that we have known, and celebrate the blessings they have shown us.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Weekly Bibliography

I'm a couple of days late on this one, but here is what I've been reading lately.

Outgoing UCC Leader: Greatest Challenge Facing Church is Leadership
The greatest challenge the United Church of Christ is facing and will face over the next decades is leadership, according to our outgoing General Minister and President John Thomas.

Our Churches Wider Mission
A felt board, a goofy voice over, some worthy attempts at humor. Here is a YouTube clip that explains Our Churches Wider Mission in plain talk.

The Drum Major Instinct
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historical Drum Major Instinct sermon preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on February 4, 1968. It deals with the same sermon text we wrestled with this past Sunday (Mark 10:35-45) and got a shout out in the sermon.

UCC General Minister and President: I am excited about this church
In his first address to the UCC's Executive Council, new General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black commended the body Oct. 16, saying, "The UCC is an important voice in the church and society."

Wants and Needs

This week we talk prayer. James and John the sons of Zebedee turn to Jesus and tell him, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." Which is a trick my three-year-old tries on me all the time. And, is something we try all to often with our prayer life too.

For the full sermon manuscript go to the church website by clicking here. To see the full version of the Wordle click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...

...Wendell Berry.

His poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front is a favorite of mine that I can't get out of my head this week. Here is an excerpt that I keep coming back to; still as powerful as ever.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Yours in the journey,
Rev. Brian

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council met on Wednesday October 14, 2009 for their regular monthly meeting. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

  1. Church Council reviewed the Congregational Profile diligently prepared by the Search Committee. It is a 17-page document that details the life, history, ministry, and hopes of the Encanto Community Church as we search for the next settled pastor. The Search Committee will be meeting with our Conference Minister, Rev. John Dorhauer, to finalize and submit the profile on Thursday October 22.

  2. Church Council and Trustees will meet on Wednesday October 21 for a special joint meeting to talk about finances and the future.

  3. Rev. Brian will host a New Members Interest Session on Sunday October 18 immediately after the worship service.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wordle: Stewardship of Everything

Based on the Gospel story of the Rich Young Ruler, this week's sermon takes on the big themes of stewardship and grace.

You can find the full sermon manuscript on the church's website by clicking here. Or to view the full version of the Wordle just click on the picture below.

I've been thinking about...


Today we pick up the story of the Rich Young Ruler as our sermon text, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about giving, and all the things that we give. Money. Time. Love. Commitment. Talents. Prayers.

For whatever reason, I keep coming back to the start of Sharon Daloz Parks’ essay on Household Economics (you can find it in the excellent collection edited by Dorothy Bass called Practicing Our Faith). It starts like this:

Whatever the form of our household — an urban apartment, an upscale residence in the “burbs,” a farmhouse, a nursing home, a trailer, a brownstone, or the office where we find ourselves “living” — our homeplaces define basic ways of life. We count on the predictable motion of moving into, through, and from “our space.” The way we routinely approach our home and fumble for key or doorbell is coupled with a sometimes surprisingly fierce sense that it matters to us whether or not we have a Christmas tree in our window in December or candles on the table on Friday evening and food — indeed, the food we particularly like — in the fridge and cupboard. Home is where we let down and rest well — or fitfully. Home is where we figure out primary patterns of nurture and productivity, habits of need and desire, forms of rage and forgiveness, ways of “taking time” and discovering the people who “count” for us. Our households are anchoring places where, over time, we craft the practices by which we prosper or fail to prosper.

We pray that this place we call church, can be a home. A place of inspiration, spiritual practice, generosity, and love.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Welcome Wordle

World Communion Sunday is one of my absolute favorite times in the life of the church. We celebrate our Christian unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Different languages, different cultures, different traditions, different geographies; but one in Christ. And we do it by breaking the bread and sharing the cup.

Here is a Wordle rendering of my World Communion Sunday homily. For the full text, go to the church website here. Or to see the full-sized image, just click on the pic below. Oh, and if you don't recognize some of the words in Wordle or the manuscript, it is because they are the words for "Welcome" in 15 different languages.

I've been thinking about...

...Neighbors in Need.

It is the UCC-wide Special Offering that we will receive today. Here is the official description of the Neighbors in Need Offering that we read in worship last Sunday.

The Neighbors in Need offering, which we will receive today, supports the UCC’s ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. Two-thirds of the offering is used by the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries to fund a wide array of local and national justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects. Through, our national Justice and Witness Ministries office offers resources, news updates, and action alerts on a broad spectrum of justice issues.

Working with members of the UCC Justice and Peace Action Network (a network of thousands of UCC justice and peace advocates), Justice and Witness continues its strong policy advocacy work on issues such as the federal budget, voting rights, immigration, health care, hate crimes, civil liberties, and environmental justice. Neighbors in Need also supports our American Indian neighbors in the UCC. One-third of the offering supports the UCC’s Council for American Indian Ministries (CAIM). Historically, forebears of the UCC established churches and worked with Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arickara, and Hocak in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and northern Nebraska. Today there are 20 UCC congregations on reservations and one urban, multi-tribal UCC congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. These churches and their pastors are supported by CAIM. CAIM is also an invaluable resource for more than 1,000 individuals from dozens of other tribes and nations who are members of other UCC congregations in the U.S.

Please give generously to support this important ministry!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Being Salty

Mark 9:38-50 is a challenging text. We hear Jesus talking about cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye, referencing hell three times, and telling us to be salty. It was also this past Sunday's sermon text, that gave reason to talk about discipleship and the nature of our relationships with God, self, and other.

Here is the wordle rendering of that sermon. You can find the full manuscript on the church website by clicking here. And you can see the fullsized wordle by clicking on the image.

I've been thinking about...

...the calendar.

There is a lot going on at the church this time of year! Some familiar events, some brand new offerings, and a great new place to keep up with it all!

The company that hosts our website just made a whole slew of new features available to us. And what’s better, they did it for free! The coolest new feature is an online, interactive calendar. Just click on the new “Calendar” button toward the top of our website: You’ll see all the upcoming events in our church. And if you click on an individual listing it opens a pop-up tab with even more info about the events. Check it out and check back regularly!

Along those lines, we have a change in the regular calendar. Effective immediately I am changing my weekly day-off. I had been using Wednesday, but now I’ll be taking Monday as my regular day off. My wife was no longer able to keep Wednesday as her day off, due to schedule changes at her church, and we rather like having our time off together! That also means that Church Council and Trustee Meetings have been moved to the second Wednesday of each month.

Finally, many of you have noticed “Sandals AM” and “Sandals PM” showing up regularly on the church calendar. Those are the two prayer groups that Rev. Liana Rowe is holding at our church with local community organizers and activists. “Sandals AM” is the first Friday of the month at 7:30 in the morning and “Sandals PM” is the first Wednesday at 5:00 in the afternoon. Feel free to join them, they are both great groups!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekly Bibliography

Howdy friends! Here is what I've been reading this week:

Geoffrey Black's words of hope for the UCC
Our General Minister and President-elect (he'll fully assume the role in October) the Rev. Geoffrey Black recently posted an article on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. He talks about the realities and opportunities for the United Church of Christ. In many ways his larger vision reflects the kind of hope and energy we are feeling at the Encanto Community Church on a local level.

Neighbors in Need
We will receive our annual Neighbors in Need special offering on Sunday October 4. Neighbors in Need(NIN) is a special mission offering of the UCC that supports ministries of justice and compassion thoughout the United States. Follow this link for Neighbors in Need stories, FAQ's, resources, and even a secure place to donate on-line.

Working Preacher
Commentary on Mark 9:38-50 by Paul S. Berge, professor Emiretus of NT at Luther Seminary. It is a nice overall introduction to the Sermon Text this week. This thought provoking reflection really helped me organize my own comments for Sunday. (Note: make sure and click on the "Gospel" tab)

Salty Stewards Share Rev. Sharron R. Lucas' brief and poignant reflection on power, sharing, and ministry based on this Sunday's sermon scripture.

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple-forming Congregations
This one isn't a web article. It is an actual book. One that I'm reading this week. An excellent resource on discipleship and vital congregations by Jeffrey D. Jones. The link will take you to Alban's website where you can preview the book and order it for yourself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council met Monday September 21 for their regular monthly meeting. Here are the THREE THINGS you need to know from that meeting:

  1. The Pastoral Search Committee is putting the finishing touches on the Ministerial Profile. They will be meeting with our Conference Minister, the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, and submitting copies of the profile to Church Council before next month's meeting. Once the Ministerial Profile is officially submitted they will begin receiving packets of information from potential pastoral candidates.

  2. We agreed to place an order for Church Windows and begin using it as the church's database management software, pending a larger conversation on finances.

  3. Rev. Brian will be switching his day off from Wednesday to Monday. As such, Church Council and Trustees agreed to move their meetings from the third Monday of each month to the second Wednesday. Our next meeting will be Wednesday October 14.

Three things from Trustees

The Trustees met on Monday September 21 at 6PM for their regular monthly meeting. Here are the THREE THINGS you need to know from that meeting:

  1. Ted Shepherd will be doing his Eagle Scout project by building shelves in the upstairs education wing. Which means, we'll have a church library! Construction is scheduled to take place Saturday November 7, with wall painting and prep work to proceed the project.

  2. Trustees and Church Council will host a joint meeting to discuss future finances, the state of the church budget, and necessary plans to move forward.

  3. There was a detailed discussion of church expenditures, with particular attention to church energy use over the summer and our escalating costs in that regard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wordle: The Meaning of Servanthood

Here is the wordle of this week's sermon. For the full text, check out the church's website here. Or for the full size image just click on the picture below.

I've been thinking about...

...Today’s Justice and Witness Listening Session!

Don’t go anywhere after worship this morning. Just come next door to Fellowship Hall, grab a couple of cookies and a cup of punch and join us for an hour of good conversation!

We are hosting our Justice and Witness Listening Session today immediately following the worship service. Every single UCC Congregation in the Southwest Region has been asked to participate in one of these sessions, and today is ours!

It is a one-hour conversation built around two questions:
Can you tell me EVERYTHING that your congregation is doing for your community?

What issues are on your heart - locally, nationally and globally - that need to be addressed?

Those two questions are purposefully open-ended and vague. The hope is that they elicit good conversation and get us thinking and talking about the justice issues that face us.

This is grass-roots style organizing at its very best. Instead of our Conference Justice and Witness Committee telling us what we need to be doing and imposing actions upon us, they want to hear our voices. They want to know our passions. They want to help us share our stories with other UCC churches that we can build strong alliances and covenant partnerships together.

So don’t go anywhere after worship this morning. We need your voice and your story at the Listening Session!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Three Things from RE

The Religious Education Committee met this past Sunday immediately after our Justice and Witness Listening Session (full disclosure, we went to La Pinata for lunch; and yes, you should be jealous). Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:
  1. Sunday School classes are underway following Rally Day. The younger kids class will begin a series on Noah's Ark, featuring a wall mural that they will paint themselves week by week!

  2. The RE Committee will sponsor a trip to Greek Fest immediately after worship on Sunday October 11. Everyone is welcome. Come out and join us for some baklava, dancing, and Greek culture!

  3. Teddy will begin his Eagle Scout project (building a library upstairs in the church house!) starting in November. He'll meet with Trustees this week to present his full plan.
The next meeting will be on Sunday October 25.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not-So-Weekly Bibliography

I know, I know. I've been terrible about posting this supposedly weekly piece. Anyway, here is what I've been reading this week.

International Day of Prayer for Peace
World Council of Churches member churches worldwide are once more invited to pray for peace on 21 September 2009. The International Day of Prayer for Peace offers an opportunity for church communities in all places to pray and act together to nurture lasting peace in the hearts of people, their families, communities and societies. Overcoming Violence: Churches Seeking Reconcilation and Peace present resources for Monday September 21's International Day of Prayer for Peace.

JPANet: Pray and Act for Peace The UCC's Justice and Political Action Network's resources for the International Day of Prayer for Peace. It includes an email-able letter to President Barack Obama supporting his vision of a nuclear free world, and also has a prayer from UCC General Minister and President John Thomas.

i.UCC: Feed Your Spirit
The sermon this week draws heavily from Rev. Kate Huey's weekly blog at i.UCC. Her post this week is titled "First in Caring."

Diamondbacks 7, Rockies 5
It was Church Night with the Diamondbacks for the good folks at the Encanto Community Church on Friday night. It was a rough start for the Dbacks, but a big 4th Inning made a game of it and same late inning heroics put it away.

And speaking of late game heroics...

Cardinals 3, Cubs 2
Welcome to the rivalry, Matt Holliday. Let's here it for the good guys!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why We Worship Wordle

This past Sunday was Liturgy Sunday at the Encanto Community Church. I know, I know it's a terrible title. But we dedicated the entire worship service to walking through the Order of Service, and explaining what each part is about.

In that vein, here is a word of explanation about these Wordle renderings. These are graphical representations of my sermon manuscript from each Sunday. They couldn't be easier to make. You simply go to It is a program created by Jonathan Feinberg that visually represents written text in a graphical way. You cut and paste your text into the window, and the program does the rest. The more often a word is used, the bigger it shows up in the picture. You can mess with the colors, the layout style, and the font. Or, you can just let the program randomize all of that for you. Which is what I do.

To be honest, I started making Wordle's for my sermons as a way of making sure that my own verbal ticks weren't showing up in my sermons. But honestly, I kept doing it just because they looked cool. And it gave me something else to post on the Blog and another way of sharing what we do here at Encanto on Sundays. I hope you enjoy 'em.

For the full manuscript of this Sunday's sermon, click here. To see the full-size image just click on the picture below.

I’ve Been Thinking about...


And as I’ve said in the space many times before, when I think about heavy theological things like that, the first place I usually turn to is to author, theologian, and humorist Frederick Buechner. His book “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC” is an instant classic, and a mandatory resources.

When it comes to defining “worship”, Buechner says this:
Phrases like Worship Service or Service of Worship are tautologies. To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done — run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do — sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.

A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening — unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.

On this day may we be filled with that joy and foolishness that are the truest signs of love and devotion! We will dedicate time in worship this morning to examine exactly what it means to worship God and how we do it here at Encanto. Thank you for being here today and for adding your own gifts to the service of the Lord.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Extravagant Welcome Wordle

Here is this week's Wordle based on this past Sunday's sermon -- Extravagant Welcome.

For the full text, visit the church's website here. Or for the full sized picture just click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...


Next Sunday we mark the official kick-off of the Fall Program year here at the church.
  • Which means the Choir will be back!
  • The Sunday School Classes will start back in earnest!
  • I’ll start wearing my robe and stole again!
  • And we’ll have a delicious potluck luncheon to celebrate the new beginning of it all!
I hope you’ll join us! I hope you’ll bring your enthusiasm and excitement for all that God has in store for us in the coming months! And I hope you’ll bring a dish to share at the potluck!
It is going to be a great time, made even better by your participation in it all!

Yours in the journey!
Rev. Brian

Monday, August 31, 2009

You Aren't What You Eat

Here is the Wordle for this past Sunday's sermon based on Mark 7:1-23, called "You Aren't What You Eat.

This is my first sermon back after two weeks of vacation, thus the lack of blog entries for the past fortnight. But I'm back in town and back in the pulpit so you can expect a steady diet of new sermons on Sunday and new Wordles on Monday!

As always, you can find the full manuscript available on the church's website, here. And if you want to see the fullsized Wordle then just click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...

The Justice and Witness Listening Sessions.

The Justice and Witness Committee of the Southwest Conference is completely revitalizing. I’m not just saying that because I’m a part of the committee! Though, to be honest, it is exciting to see and be a part of.

No, I’m saying that because there is renewed energy and enthusiasm not only among members of the committee, but in our churches and amongst our church members as well.

You’ll remember that there was a Justice and Witness Summit back in February — a two day event to help churches and church leaders refocus our historic UCC commitments to justice. From that two-day event a new plan emerged. The Justice and Witness Committee asked that each congregation in the Southwest Conference (all 44 of us!) host a 1-hour Listening Session, where members of the Justice and Witness Committee could hear all of the exciting things that we are up to and about here at the Encanto Community Church AND so that they could hear the things that we are passionate about. It is a “Listening Session” because they are coming to listen to us.

On Sunday August 16th I helped to facilitate one such Listening Session at South Mountain Community Church. South Mountain is a small, aging UCC congregation in South Phoenix. But they are up to some amazing things! The hour flew by quickly and there were still more things to share and say! It was empowering for members of the congregation AND for those of us from the Justice and Witness Committee.

Here at Encanto we’ll be hosting our Listening Session on Sunday September 20, after worship. Please join us, and add your voice to the good work of justice in our church!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Bread of Life Wordle

Here is the Wordle from this past Sunday's "Bread of Life" sermon. For the full manuscript, click here. For the fullsize image, just click on the picture.

I've been thinking about...

...Three-hour time changes, 35-degree temperature jumps, and a distinct lack of Steak ’N Shake franchise locations.

Which is to say, I’ve been thinking about coming home to Phoenix from my 5-day stay in Indianapolis, IN.

I was in Indianapolis for the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It is the every-other-year national gathering of my “other denomination.” You see, I was raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I attended Disciples schools as an undergrad and a seminarian, and I was ordained by the Disciples too.

Yet, since my ordination, I have only served UCC churches! That is possible because of the unique partnership and historic relationships that the DoC and the UCC share. Both denominations pride themselves on Christian unity and ecumenical zeal. So we share — local pastors, overseas missions, even some global relief efforts and national structures.
I’ve joked for years that one glorious day the UCC and the DoC will finally follow through on our commitments to “unity as our polar star” by merging into one church. In which case we can finally get rid of our jumbled mouthfuls of names — the United Church of Christ is always confused with the southern, evangelical, ultra-conservative Church of Christ, and the Disciples have parenthesis in their name! — and as we adopt a more appropriate moniker: the United Christian Church.

Alas, that glorious day still seems far away. It wasn’t a topic of conversation at the General Assembly in Indy. But there was plenty of good work on the topic of church revitalization (a passion in the DoC and UCC). I look forward to sharing some of the highlights of that trip with you, as we share in the good work of being the people of God alive and at work right here in Phoenix. Even if we don’t have a double chocolate fudge shake from Steak ‘N Shake to help keep us cool in the summertime!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stick Figure Theology (vol. 1)

Sunday July 26th's sermon was something a little different. I used Stick Figures to illustrate Process Theology. Which is to say, as I talked through the sermon I also drew stick figures to (quite literally) illustrate the points about God's nature, human power, and the import of forgiveness, grace, and hope.

So instead of Monday's normal Wordle document, I'm posting the actual pages that I drew to correspond with the movements of the sermon.

Here is the flip chart page that greeted church folks on Sunday morning, announcing the title of the sermon while displaying the full extent of my artistic abilities.

During the Children's Sermon I asked the kids to help me illustrate the four classical descriptions of God. That is, that God is All Loving (thus the big heart in the upper left-hand corner), All Powerful (Jacob suggested "A little mustard seed growing into a big tree...or God throwing a car", so we ended up with God throwing a care in the upper right-hand corner), All Knowing (a big brain in the lower left-hand corner), and Everywhere (my own son Henry suggested "God standing at the corner of a street"; not bad for a three year-old, right?).

After reading the sermon text (2 Samuel 11:1-15, in which King David commits adultery with Bathsheba then sends her innocent husband to the front lines of the war to die) we took up the question of Theodicy (thus why you see the word written in the middle of the page). Which is to say, we asked, "If God is all these things, then why do bad things happen to good people?" To a certain extent that becomes our guiding question for the rest of the sermon.

This is you. I know, I know, the resemblance is uncanny. The stick figure in the middle of the page is you at this very moment, not only in your life, but if you believe it, in the history of the universe. Everything on the left of the dotted line is the past. Everything on the right is future.

The red and blue arrows on the left represent everything from your past that has led you to this very moment (from the seemingly insignificant, like your alarm clock going off this morning; to the existence altering, like the Big Bang that happened when God first spoke creation into being).

All the arrows on the right represent the choices and possibilities that exist in your immediate future. The BIG RED ARROW represents where Process Theology introduces God into the equation. In the technical sense, the BIG RED ARROW is God's Initial Aim -- God's best hope for us in each and every opportunity. God lifts up that vision for us. And even if we do not go down that road, if we follow another choice or possibility (represented by the second stick figure) then God doesn't simply give up on us. There is grace. There is mercy. And there is the constant presence of God in our lives. No matter who you are or where you are. God continues to lift up the very best for us. Which is good news.

This isn't you. This is stick-figure donkey. It's another way of illustrating the way God leads and directs our lives. It is the parable of the donkey. So the story goes, there are two ways to move a donkey -- with the stick (thus the person standing behind the donkey, trying to push it forward) or with a carrot (the second stickfigure, holding the carrot in front of the donkey). "The stick" represents all the events and actualities in our past that have propelled us into this moment. "The carrot" is the vision of the future, the best possibilities, the way that God directs us forward into the very best and brightest of the future. God isn't coercive in God's use of power (pushing us around moment by moment, or whipping us forward with the stick) but rather persuassive, drawing us forward moment by moment.

In the end, this is what it is all about. In a single word: Hope. The hope that we know through a God who loves us and never ever gives up on us, but continues to open the very best possibilities to us. And the hope that God has that we will listen; that we will step boldly into God's future. So that together we are co-creating the kingdom of God along with our all-loving God. Which is reason to celebrate, to join hands, to sing and dance, and give over our very best.