Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What I'm reading this week

Time for another new feature on the blog...one that I mentioned in my very first post and then have been too busy to actually get started!

Which means that I cannot promise that this will be a regular weekly feature, but that is certainly the goal. The "What I'm reading this week" feature is exactly what it sounds like, a list of articles, blogs, websites, and stories that I'm following this week. Many of them will directly relate to the sermon that I'm preparing this week (call it homiletical homework) but it will also include articles from the UCC's national website, interesting things going on close to home in the Southwest Conference, and (frankly) whatever other interesting thing I stumble upon that I think you might be interested in too. Some of it will be silly, some of it serious, all of it things I'm reading. You can click on the linked title of each piece, or just trust my own little snippet synopsis.

So with that word of introduction out of the way, here is what I'm reading this last week of January, 2009.

For my money, simply the best lectionary blog on the planet. I'll link to it often in this space, but just because it isn't here, doesn't mean I'm not reading it. I read it every week and I am consistently touched/challenged/inspired by what Sarah Dylan Breuer has to say. In fact, click on the link, bookmark it, and come back often.

Dan Clendenin is another favorite of mine, and he gets referenced in my sermons frequently. Bookmark this one too. This week he wrestles with the intriguing question: Who speaks for God? (Note: just because you see a picture of Pat Robertson right away, don't assume he's saying Pat Robertson is the right answer to the question!).

Heavy Hitters Planned for Synod
The General Synod Planning Committee has released their list of Speakers for this summers national gathering of the church in Grand Rapids, MI. The list is headlined by renowned journalist and author Eugene H. Robinson and also includes such familiar names as Ray Suarez, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, and Rev. Jim Wallis.

Harmonies on Liberty
The sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins (General Minster and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), my "other" denomination) at the National Prayer Service at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

Covenant Connections
If you aren't reading John Dorhauer's blog, then you need to start immediately. In fact, stop reading right now and click on the link...okay, you back now? Pretty cool, huh? It is the best way to keep with the Southwest Conference and the adventures of our Conference Minister. John does a tremendous job sharing the stories of our Conference and showing us the faces of the people who are making all that ministry possible.

An amazing graphics program created by Jonathan Feinberg. Insert any text into the CREATE window and it randomly renders it as "beautiful word clouds." Don't like the way it turned out? Hit the "Randomize" button again, or edit the type yourself. Hard to explain, but fun to use, and an easy way to waste a couple of hours. The pic at the top of this post is a Wordle rendering of last Sunday's sermon.

I've been thinking about...

...Ordinary Time.

That is the official name of the liturgical season we find ourselves in right now.

Ordinary Time. Not the most creative title, is it? And yet, it makes up the majority of our Sundays in the liturgical year. You see, any time that we are between liturgical seasons we are in Ordinary Time. So, for example, right now we have just come off the liturgical run of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany and coming up in about a month we’ll begin the next run of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

Technically speaking, we are in the third Sunday of Ordinary Time (if you must know, there are 33 Sundays of Ordinary Time this year, with a whomping 22 Sundays in a row coming up over the Summer and Fall that bridges the gap between Pentecost and Advent). And during Ordinary Time we focus on the teachings and ministry of Jesus...which is to say, the everyday, ordinary work that we as Christians and as the church are called to be about.

That is why the liturgical color for Ordinary Time is Green. Green is the color of growth, of new life bursting forth into its fullness. Think of the green grass that grows and grows and grows. Or the green leaves that shoot out from the trees. Or, since we are in the desert southwest, the green cacti that continue to thrive and grow. Just like those green plants grow in response to the light of the Sun, we too grow in response to the light of God that we have witnessed in Jesus Christ. So for these next few weeks we’ll walk along side Jesus as he calls his disciples, preaches and teaches to the gathered throngs of people, engages in his ministry of healing, and does the earthly work he was called to. And all along the way we’ll listen in for those ways that we too can continue Christ’s ministry in the world and grow in our faith as well. Happy Ordinary Time!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Three Things You Need to Know from Council

Church Council met on Monday January 19, 2009 and here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

1) We met with representatives from the Phoenix Mar Thoma Congregation and the Orthodox Church of India (both Indian congregations here in the metro-Phoenix area who are looking for a place to hold their weekly worship services). After receiving presentations from each group, Council agreed to allow both churches access to our building for their worship services with the Orthodox Church of India meeting here on Saturday evenings and the Phoenix Mar Thoma Congregation meeting here on Sunday evenings, for the fee of a regular offering made out to Encanto Community Church.

2) The All Church Clean-Up Day has been rescheduled for Saturday February 21, 2009 beginning at 8:30 AM. Council will put together a list of things to be done at our next meeting, and if you have particular ideas please let us know!

3) The Annual Budget Presentation has been scheduled for Sunday March 22, 2009 immediately after the morning worship service. That means that all budget items and requests should be submitted no later than March 1, 2009.

Three Things from the Trustees Meeting

The Trustees met on Monday January 19, 2009. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

1) Our insurance company has requested we fill out an annual financial audit, pertaining particularly to church employees and their salaries. Del referred the paperwork on to Rosi who has subsequently filled it out.

2) The company we have been using for memorial plaques in our Rose Garden has gone out of business. A new, local company has been found and will be used for all future memorial plaques, beginning with ones for Gwen Vowles and Ella Van Etten.

3) We had a follow-up conversation about the "No Parking: Any Time" signs that the city will put up on our side of Windsor. This is a safety issue, seeing as how it is impossible to pull out of the church parking lot and see oncoming traffic if cars are parked on the north side of the street. The discussion was brought to Cabinet who recommended that a letter be drafted and sent to our neighbors across the street on Windsor explaining the decision.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Three Things You Need to Know from the Deacons

The Diaconate met on Sunday January 18, 2009 immediately following a wonderful Laity Sunday worship service that highlighted our church's history.

Here are the three things you need to know about that meeting:

1) The Season of Lent will be here before you know it! And the Deacons and I had a wonderful discussion about the traditions and customs of the Encanto Community Church during this holy season. Ash Wednesday is February 25th and we will have our traditional soup supper at 6PM followed by a worship service at 7PM. We also discussed plans for Palm Sunday (April 5), Maundy Thursday (April 9), and Easter Sunday (April 12). My birthday on April 13 was not discussed, but feel free to add that date to your calendar too!

2) A small group of Deacons (Jan and Betty) agreed to help me revise and revamp our Wedding Guidelines and procedures. A new working document will be brought to the February Deacon's Meeting.

3) In wrapping up January as "Church History Month" at Encanto Community Church we discussed plans for the next step, which involves "Filling in the Gaps Sunday". During a Sunday in February (date still to be determined) we will take intentional time during Coffee Hour to walk from sheet to sheet in the Fellowship Hall, look over all the wonderful pieces that are a part of each decade's history here at the church, and ask ourselves, "What did we forget? What is missing?" Then we will fill in those gaps and write in those details on our History sheets. Look forward to hearing more about it, and keep in filling in those sheets until then!

I've been thinking about...

The Priesthood of All Believers.

What else would I be thinking about on Laity Sunday, right?

The priesthood of all believers is a foundational tenet of Protestantism. It is rooted in the New Testament, articulated fully by Martin Luther in his reforms of the church in the 16th Century, and a core principle for us still in the United Church of Christ as a denomination and in the Encanto Community Church as a congregation.

So, uh, what does it mean?

The priesthood of all believers means that we believe that all Christians have equal access to the love, grace, and mercy of God. It means that we do not need an earthly mediator to stand between us and God in order for us to have access to the gifts and blessings of God. We stand sure in our conviction that Christ is the only mediator that we need, and through him we know that the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God is offered to each and every one of us. In that sense, we are all priests given full access and authority to go directly to God with our petitions, prayers, and offerings.

We find the same conviction in scripture. 1 Peter 2:9 says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom." Revelation 5:10 says, "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings." 1 Corinthians 4:1 puts it like this, "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."

Protestantism does still have a high regard for clergy (I’m not encouraging you to wholly get rid of me or any future pastor who might serve this congregation!), but on Laity Sunday we have the opportunity to celebrate the gifts and good graces that the members of our congregation have to share and lift up in service to God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

3 Things You Need to Know from the Religious Education Committee

The Religious Education Committee met Sunday January 11, 2009. Here are three hightlights from that meeting:

1) Senior High Sneak Trip is coming up! From February 6-8 High School Youth from the Southwest Conference will gather in Albuquerque, New Mexico for this year's trip. You can find out more information and download all the forms you need by clicking right here. The RE Committee will pay for half of the total cost of all Encanto Community Church High Schoolers who attend the event.

2) After successfully hosting the Southwest Conference Youth Council at the church this past weekend, there are now discussions about hosting the Spring Middle School Retreat right here at the Encanto Community Church. These are just preliminary conversations, but if things move along we'll keep you posted with future details!

3) The RE Committee has secured a block of tickets for the March 15th matinee performance of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat" playing at the Orpheum Theatre. This is a professional production, and you are invited! RE will pay half the ticket price for church school youth and RE Committee members, but even if you have to pay full price it will be worth every penny!

I've been thinking about...


That season when we celebrate the light of Christ that illuminates the darkness of the world; when we commemorate the journey of the Magi from the East by thinking ourselves of what gifts we have to offer to the newborn Christ.

I have stumbled across a poem that I would like to share this morning. It is called “Epiphany 2000” and though the author, Christine McIntosh, wrote it to mark the turn of the millennium it still strikes resounding chords for us this Epiphany. It’s themes of change, faith, transition, and looking in hope to the future speak powerfully to our interim time.

Two thousand years after the
star's silent summons
light from the stable still
burns momentarily; the
impermanent Magi still
make their improbable journey.
Perched on the lip
of another era, we
strain to feel the faint
warmth of faith,
kissing the wind of
love's passing, yearning
from our pulsating circuits for
the connection to hold.
And as the moment passes
we look ahead, not at
light's comfort but at the
stark shadow on the hill.

May the light of Christ shine in your life, making all things bright.
Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A busy place

This weekend Encanto Community Church will be a busy place. Having been approved by of our Moderator and our Chair of Trustees, the Encanto Community Church will be hosting two different groups over the weekend.

The first group is the Southwest Conference Youth Ministry Council who will have their overnight planning meeting in the Church House on Saturday January 10th. Brian Gruhn (Southwest Conference Interim Youth Minister) is overjoyed to have Encanto Community Church host the Youth Ministry Council, particularly after he sent me an emergency e-mail on Monday when he learned that the previous plans had fallen through and now the Youth Council had nowhere to meet! Plan on coming to church Sunday morning to meet Brian and the entire Youth Ministry Council as they not only join us for Sunday morning worship but also lead our Children's Sermon!

The second group using our building this weekend is the Phoenix Mar Thoma Congregation, an Indian Christian congregation who will be renting our Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall this coming Sunday evening for their worship service. Church members will remember meeting several members of the Mar Thoma Congregation when they joined us one Sunday morning for worship. Members from their congregation met with our Chair of Trustees and myself on Monday afternoon and will also meet with Church Council on January 19 to talk about the possibility of furthering our relationship.

And of course, things are always busy here on Sunday morning at the Encanto Community Church. We will have worship at 10AM in the sanctuary, followed by Coffee Hour in the Fellowship Hall. Everyone is welcome to join us as we celebrate the extravegent gift of God's love that is known to us through Jesus the Christ!

Monday, January 5, 2009

I've been thinking about...

...Church History

One of the pieces that we agreed to as part of our interim covenant together was to “come to terms with our history as a congregation.” That is the official language of the Interim Ministry Network and, frankly, it sounds a bit persnickety. They use the language because some congregations enter into an interim time dealing with significant conflict and division over their immediate (or not so immediate) past.

We are fortunate not to be one of those congregations!

Nonetheless, taking some intentional time during our interim period to look at our history as a congregation is still an important step for us. After all, how is the church going to know where we are heading for the future if we do not know where we have been? Besides, the Encanto Community Church has some significant events and past milestones that are worth lifting up and celebrating again during this time of change of transition.

That is why we are making January 2009 History Month at Encanto Community Church! When you come in to coffee hour this morning you’ll see several great big sheets of paper taped up to the walls of Fellowship Hall. Each one represents a decade in the life of this congregation — from the founding in the 1940’s to the present of the 2000’s. And each sheet of paper is split up into quandrants with a specific section for: Global Events, Church Events, Church Membership, and the city of Phoenix.

Now comes the fun part…we get to fill in the blanks. You will find markers, pens, and tape next to each sheet of paper. Since we all carry a piece of the story of this congregation with us, we will all be the biographers of Encanto Community Church’s history. So join us in Fellowship Hall all month, and make sure to grab a marker!

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian