Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Word from Our Conference Minister

Fellow Covenant Partner,

As the Southwest Conference:

We are extravagantly welcoming and affirming followers of Christ, called to embody God's unconditional justice and love.

I want to ask you all to think and pray very hard over that sentence.

I want to invite you all into a process of deep discernment over that sentence.

I want you all to participate in a dialogue about what the shared vision and mission of this Conference is, and whether or not that sentence captures that. As we come to the close of this year in which we were invited to discern the movement of God's Holy Spirit, I invite you to reflect on the power of those words.

But, before you do that, let me share with you how those words have come to us.

The Board of Directors made a strong commitment during this annum (which for us is April '09 - April '10) to identify and commit to a shared mission and vision for the Southwest Conference. And it has taken us almost the entire year to come close to that happening.

Key leaders met in the early summer months to build a year-long strategy for this. One of the results of that was a search for someone who could get us started down the right path. Beth Mohr, who works in the City Manager's Office in Albuquerque, and is a member of First Congregational there, was identified and interviewed. She spent a full day with the Board of Directors in the early fall helping us to learn a technique that has proven to be very helpful: Outcomes Directed Thinking.

While undergoing that training, we were able to articulate what we felt were the essential tasks of the Southwest Conference:

The Care and Oversight of All Authorized Clergy and Congregations

Building and Maintaining Vital Relationship Between Missional and Covenant Partners

I will pause here. There is a third essential task, but I need to talk about each of these before we move on to the third one.

These are broad categories that cover a wide array of smaller tasks that take of the life and time, the energy and resources, of the Conference leaders and staff. For example, when talking about care of clergy and churches, we think about the work of CoCAM and about Search and Call facilitation.

The vocabulary in the second item is important. In order to undertake the mission and ministry of the Southwest Conference, we have to build and maintain relationships. That is critical, and has been the single focus of my early ministry. There will never be a time when I serve among you that this will not be the case. Relationships are the sine qua non not just of Conference ministry, but of all effective ministry. Covenant is a term that refers to those partners that have their primary identification through the United Church of Christ. These would include all of our local churches, Associations, Conferences, CHISM agencies, National bodies, etc. Missional is a term that refers to those bodies outside of the UCC that we would rely on for resourcing, networking, and facilitating our shared mission. These might include government agencies, not-for-profits, ecumenical and inter-faith partners, or a whole host of others.

And now the third major task:

Encouraging local church discernment & participation in shared vision

About that last task: it is the one that most excites us. We know that those first two tasks are all about the maintenance of the Church and the Conference - important work, to be sure. But so much is changing so fast, and the Spirit is engaging the church is very enlivening ways. We want to be faithful partners with the Spirit and full participants in the shaping of the church that is emerging.

Ok. Let's take a deep breath. That's a lot to absorb - and very important work.

But we are far from the finish line on this.

After the Board did that work, it did two more things. It paused, and came back late in '09 to test with each other whether or not these were good decisions. They felt strongly that they were. After the pause, the Board decided it was time to focus all of this, and all of our future work together, around a single and shared vision and mission.

It was a mere two weeks ago that the Board met to do that last piece. On retreat together, the Board spent time in worship and discernment. We had a long conversation about what our shared values and non-negotiables were. In other words, as we proceed with whatever changes the Spirit may be coming, are there things that, under no circumstances, will be sacrificed.

On that list were the following: commitments to justice, peace, diversity, unity, to radical hospitality and extravagant welcome; a call to be open and affirming; the health and vitality of our churches; the voice of prophetic witness; a polity that acknowledges that God speaks through all, and that the voice of God is always tested in community; the vital role of youth and young adults in the shaping of our mission; courage.

That is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you a good idea about what our firm commitments call us to.

The rest of the time on the retreat was spent inviting the Spirit to share with us a vision and a mission.

Now we return to the top of the page, and that first sentence.

As the Southwest Conference, we are extravagantly welcoming and affirming followers of Christ, called to embody the unconditional justice and love of God.

As you discern, I invite you into the room and ask you to hear the voices of your called and chosen leaders, who:

Built this statement around two essential phrases, one following the verb "to be" which asks us to claim an identity, and the verb "to call" which asks us to claim a mission

Knew that the acts of both welcoming and AFFIRMING were essential to our identity

Debated long and hard about whether our welcome was extravagant or radical, choosing in the end the word extravagant because of the way it connotes joy and proscribes no limits, and avoiding the word radical because of its unfortunate and recent pairing with the word 'extremist'

Wanted our identity to be fundamentally Christian, and for whom the phrase 'followers of Christ' had more power because of its clear reference to movement, to journeying, to action;

Believed that the call to love and justice fully encapsulated everything that we are called to do in mission

Believed that love and justice emerge from the heart, character, and identity of the God we worship

Believed that love and justice are not things we do, but which we embody, which we take into our core identity - so that what we do emerges from that

Believed that both love and justice are offered without conditions attached

Intentionally placed the word justice after the word unconditional, because most people are accustomed to hearing the phrase 'unconditional love,' and there is something a little jarring about hearing the phrase 'unconditional justice' (in fact, some asked what unconditional justice was, and the reply came "Justice that is not mitigated by what privilege can tolerate at any given time").

Who believe that love and justice are what we are called to embody - and therefore called to offer as gift to all to whom we are sent.

In the same way that your called and chosen leaders have been partnering with the Holy Spirit to discern a true sense of call and mission, I now invite each and every one of you to do the same.

Reflect if you will on these words: We are extravagantly welcoming and affirming followers of Christ, called to embody the unconditional justice and love of God.

Do you feel a sense of call, meaning, and purpose in these words? Do you both feel the impulse of God's Holy Spirit in them, and hear your own call to mission and ministry in them?

Humbly yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
Conference Minister
Southwest Conference UCC
" . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4.3)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordle: Beginner's Guide to Lent

If you don't know what the "Season of Lent" is, and if you are wondering what the fuzzy stuff that accumulates in your belly button has to do with being a Christian then this sermon is for you! Click here for the full sermon manuscript of "A Beginner's Guide to Lent" from this past Sunday.

Here is the Wordle rendering the sermon As always, to see the full-sized version of the Wordle rendering, just click on the image. And scroll down for my favorite little random note.

{Note: My favorite detail about this random Wordle arrangement is that "Jerusalem" and "Jesus" are scattered to opposite ends of the frame. During Lent our scripture readings wind us closer and closer each week to Jerusalem, where Christ will be crucified. So it seems fitting that on the first Sunday Jerusalem and Jesus are so far apart...we'll see if the Wordle generator can keep being so theologically appropriate for the remainder of the Lenten season!}

I've been thinking about...


Alright, truth be told, I’m almost always thinking about chocolate. I am a choc-o-holic with a sweet tooth a mile long. Which makes what I’m about to say all the more painful — for the Season of Lent I am (gulp) giving up chocolate.

I figured I had been making my standard joke a little too often lately (“I hate it when Valentine’s Day is so close to Lent because it always makes me feel sorry for those folks who gave up chocolate.”). So I’m giving up chocolate myself.

Lent is a season of preparation. A forty day period (sorta, we’ll get there in a second) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday where we get right with God. During Lent we turn away from those distractions and everyday static that keeps us from listening for God’s holy word in our lives. Some folks do this by giving up something (eating meat, smoking, having chocolate). Others take the more modern approach of taking on something new and beneficial (praying daily, exercising, reading the Bible).

I alternate between the two practices. Last year I took on working out for 30-minutes a day. This year, I am (sigh) giving up chocolate for the 40+ days.

If you count carefully, you’ll see that the duration of time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is in fact more than 40 days. That is because, technically speaking, Sunday’s in Lent don’t count. Sunday’s are our day as a community to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and so they fall out of the total count.

Through these 40+ days may we open ourselves to all that God is calling us to be, and listen once more to the still speaking voice of God that calls out to us. Even without chocolate...

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras Fundraiser!

What do you get when you combine our monthly Youth Group Game Night + a Mardi Gras Celebration + a Fundraiser for Heifer International?


During the Season of Lent the church is raising funds for Little Heifer with the hopes of purchasing a cow (Don't know what HeiferInternational is or who we are buying the cow for? Click here!). So we transformed Fellowship Hall into a Casino Gaming Floor. Instead of wagering on games a $5 donation at the door got you a bag of chips, unlimited access to the snack bar (sandwiches, chips, even Red Beans and Rice!), and a chance to try your luck at the various gaming tables. All the proceeds go to Heifer International.

Here are some photos from what proved to be a great event and a huge fundraiser.

RE Chair Kathy ruling over the Roulette Table. Congrats, Kathy, it was a great night!

Eric making his donation for the night. Note: Check out the little cow banks at the front of the table; we call it "Feeding the Cow" here at Encanto when you make your Little Heifer donation.

Sunday school teacher Steve (complete with visor and arm band) instructs folks on the intricacies of Blackjack.

Who better to run the Craps Table than our Moderator and her sister. (There is a Moderator joke there somewhere, but I'm not touching it!)

Remember, we are accepting contributions for our Little Heifer Project throughout the entire season of Lent. So bring your spare change or loose bills each Sunday to Fellowship Hour after worship and "Feed the Cows."

LOVE! Wordle

For the first time since 1999 Saint Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday. And at Encanto we chose to celebrate by Saint Valentine's Day by focusing on God's blessed gift of love.

The good news of the Gospel is that You Are Loved! Truly, patiently, enduringly, by God. You are loved more than you will ever know. And the challenge of the Christian faith is to not stop there, but rather to take that love of God and share it with world.

Since I spend some time in the sermon picking on the pink-crepe-paper and overstuffed-boxes-of-chocolates that characterize St. Valentine's Day, I figured why not make a saccharine sweet, pink and gooey wordle!

Here is the Wordle rendering of Sunday's LOVE! Sermon. To see the fullsized rendering, simply click on the image below. To read the entire text of the manuscript, then follow this link to the church's website.

I've been thinking about...


Those three little letters are an acronym for the Center for Progressive Leadership. Or as folks here at the church know it, “That leadership thingy Brian did last Sunday that made him miss Coffee Hour.”

It is true, last Sunday was the Orientation Weekend for the Center for Progressive Leaderships 2010 Political Fellowship Program. The CPL Arizona Political Leaders Fellowship is a nine-month, part-time leadership development program for a select group of organizational leaders, future candidates, community organizers, and progressive activists across the state. The CPL isn’t a “church thing” but rather a non-partisan educational organization focused on creating dynamic, sustainable change in our communities, our state, our country, and our world.

The CPL here in Arizona has accepted 40 people into the 2010 Arizona Political Fellowship, and I am overjoyed and honored to be among them.

The United Church has had a strong presence in this program. Our current Conference Vice Moderator Brendan Mahoney is former CPL Political Fellow and I was nominated by the Chair of the Conference Justice and Witness Committee the Rev. Phil Reller who completed the program last year.

In my work as a CPL 2010 Arizona Political Fellow I’ll be networking with other progressive leaders from around our state, building my skills as an organizational leader, and speaking up in the name of the church. It should be a great time and I thank you all for allowing me the time to be engaged in such efforts!

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Three things from Trustees

The Trustees met on Wednesday February 10, 2010 for a supersized version of their regular monthly meeting. Here are the three things you should know from that meeting.

  1. Betty gave a detailed report of her meeting with the Phoenix Municipal Services (ie Water, Solid Waste, and Sewer Charges) explaining the regular charges and steps that have been taken to reduce our monthly bills. Thanks for all the hard work Betty!

  2. Our renter will be moving out of the parsonage at the end of March, which could coincide nicely with calling a new pastor (should the new pastor wish to live in the parsonage). Look forward to forthcoming details about an All Church Work Day at the Parsonage sometime in the Spring.

  3. Seeking to be good stewards of the church's financial resources and tighten up our spending, the Trustees spent considerable time putting together their components for the 2010-2011 budget.

Fishing for Wordles

We are invited to follow the call of Christ in the same way that Simon and James and John did. To hear the invitation from Christ and to respond in whatever way is fitting and authentic and true. This week Christ calls us to “Go where the fish are.” And don't forget to bring your net. Because there is an overflowing catch just waiting to be brought in.

For the full manuscript of the sermon, just click here to be redirected to the church website. To see the full sized wordle rendering, just click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...


Red Rock Canyons. Sweeping vistas. Sunsets that take your breath away.

I have returned from my week’s vacation with my family (my wife, my son, and my parents) up in Sedona. It was a wonderful time, and aside from one day’s worth of rainstorms we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We went on a Jeep Tour, drove up to the Grand Canyon (none of us had ever seen it with snow; Henry had never seen it at all!), hiked the canyons, shopped for trinkets, bought “Sedona Dirt Shirts”, ate too much food, and enjoyed a little time away.

I’m not writing all of this to brag (though it is starting to sound like, isn’t it!) but rather as a way of saying “Thank you.” Thank you for this precious gift of vacation time. A time to get away from the work-a-day world, relax, and unwind. A time to let my spirit rest and my body recuperate. A time to recharge my batteries, enjoy my family, and celebrate a part of the country that is still so new to us.

I return from my trip to Sedona energized and invigorated (and no, I didn’t visit any vortexes while I was up there; though I did stop by the local UCC Congregation, the Church of the Red Rocks). I’m revved up and ready to go for the good work that lies before us!
So thanks for the vacation time. Now lets get to work!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hamster Sunday Wordle

Never heard of Hamster Sunday? Well, until January 24th, neither had I!

The backstory: In November the church sold Turkey Tickets to support the 2009 Community Turkey Drive. To help spur on ticket sales I raffled off a sermon topic. So for a $5 donation (that would help a family or individual in need have a turkey for their Thanksgiving table) your name was also entered in the raffle. If I pulled your name out of the hat, then you got the right to tell me what I had to preach on. When I pulled out Youth Group Member Ted's name, he simply said one word, "Hamsters." And thus was born, Hamster Sunday.

You can find the full manuscript of the Hamster Sunday Sermon at the c
hurch website by clicking here. And to see the fullsize wordle rendering of that sermon you can click on the image below. Hallelujah! Hamsters!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I've been thinking about...

...the UCC Habitat for Humanity Home Build.

Our good friend Ron Caputo has helped organized the UCC Habitat for Humanity Coalition. And guess what...we are a part of it!

The Encanto Community Church is proud to partner with four other Phoenix area UCC Congregations (Church of the Beatitudes, First Congregational Phoenix, Shepherd of the Hills, and Shadow Rock) in helping to build a Habitat for Humanity Home in Glendale.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization building simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need. They keep the costs of building the homes down by relying on the efforts of you and me!

If you have never been a part of a Habitat for Humanity build, now is your chance. As a church we have agreed to provide 2 volunteers per work day. Those work days are:
  • Saturday February 6 from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Saturday February 20 from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Saturday March 13 from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Saturday March 27 from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Saturday April 17 from 6:30 AM to 2:00 PM
  • Saturday May 22 from 6:30 AM to 2:00 PM
  • Saturday May 29 from 6:30 AM to 2:00 PM
We have information packets available in the church office. Just see Rev. Brian if you would like more info or are interested in helping out. (By the way, for you non-builders we will need help providing food and snacks too. More info later.)

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian