Monday, February 23, 2009

Wordle: From the Mountaintop

Here is a Wordle of last Sunday's sermon. Remember, you can see the fullsize image by clicking on the picture, or you can read the entire sermon by clicking on this link.

I've been thinking about...

...The Transfiguration.

“What’s that?” you say. Glad you asked!

Here is how the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (which is actually longer than the Bible itself) defines it (in a description that is longer than the actual scriptural account!):

The transfiguration is the title given to an event in Jesus’ life in which he was “transfigured” (or in Greek, “metamorphoo”), Moses and Elijah appeared to him, and a Voice spoke from Heaven. (See Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 9:38-36, 2 Peter 1:16-18)

The purpose of the transfiguration is primarily for the three disciples present. This is clear from the Voice, which is directed to them, and the frequent use of the pronoun “them.” What the Voice was for Jesus at his baptism, “Thou art” (Mark 1:11), the Voice at the transfiguration was for Peter, James, and John, “This is” (Mark 9:7).

The place where this took place is described as a “high mountain.” Suggested sites are Mt. Tabor (the traditional site but not a high mountain), Mt. Carmel (out of the way), and Mt. Hermon (a high mountain), but the lack of specificity indicates that what was important for the church was not where but what occurred.

Okay, so it isn’t the easiest definition in the world to follow, but hopefully it will all make a little more sense once we jump into the story together in today’s worship service!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council met Monday February 16, 2009. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

1) We are working on job descriptions for all church staff members. The Music Committee will prepare job descriptions for our Choir Director and Organist and the Church Council will prepare job descriptions for our Secretary, Treasurer, and Custodian. We started this work at February's meeting and will take it up again in March.

2) The church will be co-sponsoring the Conference Open and Affirming Resolution at the annual meeting in April. Check out the next post for more details.

3) Church Workday is THIS Saturday from 8:30 to Noon. We put together a working list of things to accomplish on Workday, and now we need your help to get it all done! See you Saturday morning, and don't forget to bring cleaning supplies and/or tools.

Open and Affirming Resolution

In the fall of 2008, the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ asked all of their Open and Affirming Congregations to consider crafting a resolution that they would co-sponsor at the 2009 Annual Meeting formally declaring the Southwest Conference as an Open and Affirming Conference.

At our February meeting the Church Council reviewed the proposed document, agreed to sign-on as a co-sponsor of the resolution, and asked that I submit the following letter to the Southwest Conference Office. The letter was mailed Tuesday morning, February 17, 2009.

Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ
4423 N. 24th St.
Suite 600
Phoenix, AZ 85016


On Monday evening February 16, 2009, the Church Council of the Encanto Community Church on behalf of the members and friends of this United Church of Christ congregation voted unanimously to co-sponsor the Open and Affirming Resolution that will be presented to SWC Board of Directors on March 14th and then brought before the entire Southwest Conference at the Annual Meeting in April 2009.

As one of the ONA Churches in this Conference it is with great joy and overflowing hope for the future that we endorse this resolution and ask that we would be included as one of the co-sponsors.

We look forward to sending representatives from our congregation to the Annual Meeting in April, and if we can be helpful in any additional ways in seeing this resolution through please do not hesitate to let us know.

Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray
Interim Pastor

Three Things from the Trustees

The Trustees met Monday night February 16, 2009. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

1) We looked over the portion of the budget trustees is responsible for (salary packages for clergy and professional staff, building and grounds expenses) and put together proposals for the 2009-10 budget.

2) The City of Phoenix will be replacing the current bus stop in front of the church with a covered bus stop while making the entire thing more handicap accessible. This will come at no cost to the church and will not infringe on our property or the entrance to our parking lot.

3) Some routine maintenance was finished and we received those reports (the sliding door in the nursery was put back on track, and the washing machine drain in the parsonage was cleaned out)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Three Things from the Religious Education Committee

The Religious Education Committee met on Sunday February 15 (my thanks to the Deacons for rescheduling so that I wasn't double booked). Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

1) We are choosing new Sunday school rooms and kicking around creative ideas to use all of our wonderful space in the Education Wing now that we have it all back!

2) The Little Heifer Project will be our church-wide Lenten Devotion. Starting Sunday March 1 and running all through the season of Lent we will collect funds for the Little Heifer "Kids to Kids" Project (that is, church school kids donating money to give baby goats -- get it, kids! -- through Little Heifer). Have your spare change and dollar bills ready!

3) Some things for your calendar:
  • Ash Wednesday is February 25 with a soup-supper at 6PM and worship service at 7PM.
  • The Church Yard Sale is Saturday April 4th.
  • The Ice Cream Social will be Sunday April 19th.

Working for Justice Wordle

Here is a Wordle rendering of this past Sunday's sermon, inspired by the Southwest Conference's recent Justice and Witness Summit. For the full text of the sermon click here. To view the fullsize Wordle, just click on the image.

I've been thinking about...

...The Justice and Witness Summit.

I’m writing this article immediately following the close of the event on Tuesday afternoon. It was a wonderful event, filled with many talented and passionate people, and you could truly feel the spirit of God moving among us.

Justice and Witness Ministries is one of the four covenant partners in the UCC. That is fancy church polity language for saying, the Office of Justice and Witness Ministries lives at the very heart of what it means to be the United Church of Christ. In fact, our history as a denomination really cannot be told separately from the stories of justice work that our brothers and sisters in the UCC have undertaken – from the first efforts to abolish slavery to modern day efforts for marriage equality, immigration reform, and environmental justice.

The Southwest Conference (of which we are a part, along with the 42 other UCC churches in Arizona, New Mexico, and even a little bit of Texas) also has a Justice and Witness Committee that is charged with empowering and enabling the work of justice in, among, through, and with our UCC Congregations. On Monday and Tuesday of this past week the Southwest Conference’s Justice and Witness Committee sponsored a Justice and Witness Summit. It was held at Shepherd of the Hills UCC, was attended by pastors and delegates from all over the Conference, and started to answer the question together, “If Justice were to be taken seriously as a mission effort in the Southwest Conference, what would it look like?”

We started to address that question (indeed it will take some time to unpack it all and prepare the systematic steps to really take that work seriously), but now it has me wondering, “If Justice were to be taken seriously as a mission effort at the Encanto Community Church, what would it look like?” I look forward to our continuing to answer that question together too!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weekly Bibliography

Here is what I've been reading this week.'s New E-Commerce Section
This is the exciting announcement from that we finally have a place on the web to do our one stop shopping! Click on the link to read the announcement, or follow this link to actually visit the new Online Store.

2009 UCC Church Leadership Institute
Another excellent online resource from our beloved United Church of Christ. This the "Grow the UCC" website, an initiative from the National Evangelism Team (I know, I know you think "evangelism" is a bad word...well guess what, that is part of the problem! check out the website and see). It also includes information about the upcoming webinar "Where are the 20-somethings" -- an online seminar for exploring ways of creatively engaging young people and inviting them to be a part of our churches.

Leprosy in the Bible
This week's lectionary offering is Mark 1:40-45 where Jesus cures a leper who begs for his help. So here is a nice article (with just a bit too much detail!) about the differences between "leprosy" in the Bible and "modern leprosy" (ie Hansen's disease). A little homework for the sermon and some akward cocktail chatter next time you bump into a dermotalogist.

Preaching Helps

Another site I visit weekly to help me hone in on the issues at stake in scripture. And don't hold it against them that it is a Methodist resource! It is a nice, concise engagement of the lectionary texts with some leading questions that are thought provoking (and ofter sermon-inducing). This week it does a nice job drawing the connections (and contrasting the differences) between the Old Testament and New Testament stories of healing a leper.

Zombies Ahead
Yes, this is my hometown. No, I wasn't the one who hacked into the highway warning signs in Austin, TX to make them display ridiculous warnings about zombies. But I do think it is funny and worth watching on YouTube!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wordle: A Ministry of Healing

Here is this Wordle version of this week's sermon. For the full text of the sermon click here. To make your own Wordle's click here. To see the full version of this Wordle, just click on the image.

What I'm reading

A busy weekend means I didn't get this page up by its regular Friday deadline. But here is what I've been reading this week:

Justice and Witness Ministries
A big chunk of the sermon talks about the importance of Justice and Witness Ministries in the life of the UCC. This is their website, which does an admirable job explaining who they are, what they do, and the ways that their ministry truly is our ministry.

The Politics of Coming Out
The "Out in Scripture" Blog is another blog that I frequent often. It tends to err on the scholarly side (two of my former professors, Charles Allen and Holly Hearon on the editorial board) but offers an insightful take on the weekly lectionary texts from an LGBT perspective. This weeks analysis of the struggle between human agency and divine initiative is a great read.

Compassionate in Word and Deed
I don't just read blogs, scholarly texts, and denominational websites. Sometimes I read other people's sermons too! This is John R. Donahue's sermon from this past week. He is a professor of New Testament studies at the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He offers a great take on the text and its parallels in our modern world. A gutsy sermon and well worth the read.

The NBA All-Star Weekend
Come on! It is happening right here in Phoenix! The Valley of the Sun will become the center of the basketball universe! Of course I've been reading all about it...and you should be too!

I've been thinking about...

...Fill in the Gaps Sunday!

For the last five weeks we have filled up the sheets of paper in Fellowship Hall. We declared January 2009 as Church History Month at Encanto, and we hung up one huge sheet of paper for each of the seven decades in the history of this congregation. Week by week those sheets have been filling up with the stories and memories and details that come together to make up the story of the Encanto Community Church.

Some of the things written on those sheets are silly (like my parents sneaking away on their visit to write down events from their lives) and some are serious (like the members of this church building the sanctuary brick-by-brick in the 1950’s). Some are global events (like World War II) and some are particular to this very place (like the names of beloved Sunday School teachers throughout the years). All of those events swirl together to make up the story of the faith here at Encanto.

So today we are going to celebrate everything that has been written down and see if we can’t unearth a couple of extra stories and details to help us Fill In The Gaps.
Immediately after worship please join us in Fellowship Hall for a special Coffee Hour where we will literally walk from sheet of paper to sheet of paper, read what each one says, and add any other stories, details, or events that we might have forgotten. This is our chance to fill in the living history of this church. And, it is going to be a lot of fun!

As we trace the stories of this congregation we will begin to see certain patterns and trends. We will come to understand the identity of this church a little more clearly. And we will recognize the ways that God has walked with us in the past, and walks with us still. Thanks be to God for the glorious history of this congregation! Now help me fill in the gaps!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Monday, February 2, 2009

"True Love" Wordle

Another new, running feature. I'll start posting weekly Wordle documents of my Sunday sermons. Don't know what a Wordle document is? Check out the thumbnail below (click on it to see the full-sized image), or follow this link. And if you want to create one yourself, go to

You can expect a new Wordle doc on the blog every week.

And as always, you can find the full text of the sermons at the church's website: and click on "Sermons" on the left sidebar menu.

I've been thinking about...


And as I’ve mentioned in this space before, when I’m thinking of something as theological, as significant, as impenetrable as something like this, there is always one place that I turn first — to Frederick Buechner.

Buechner is a pastor, prophet, and prolific author. My favorite book of his is the tiny little handbook called “Wishful Thinking” which is itself an abridged theologians dictionary. In it Buechner describes love like this:

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… Of all powers, love is the most powerful and the most powerless. It is the most powerful because it alone can conquer that final and most impregnable stronghold which is the human heart. It is the most powerless because it can do nothing except by consent… In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the 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...When Jesus talked to the Pharisees, he didn’t say, “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.” He said, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil!” (Matthew 12:34). And he said that to them because he loved them. This does not mean that liking my not be a part of loving, only that it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes liking follows on the heels of loving. It is hard to work for people’s well being very long without coming in the end to rather like them too.
Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian