Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I've been thinking about...

Euclid Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday March 23 a massive fire (apparently ignited by a lightning strike) consumed the historic church building that housed the Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC in Cleveland, Ohio.

The building was completely destroyed. Thankfully none of the 200+ members of the congregation were in the building and there were no significant injuries from the blaze.

The church was founded in 1843 and the building itself was some 133 years old. It was a beautiful structure. Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC was one of the first racially integrated churches in Cleveland, and counts among her members the Rev. Paul Sherry, former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

I’ve been thinking about Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC so much this week because I know their interim pastor. The Rev. Dr. Terri Young was the Interim Pastor called to serve Kent United Church of Christ for two-and-a-half-years while I was the Associate Pastor there. Terri and I worked together, prayed together, and under her guidance Kent UCC was transformed through the interim process. When her time with Kent was finished, she took the position as Interim Pastor at Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC.
The church has accepted an offer of worship space at the recently vacated First Methodist Church building, just down the street from where their building used to stand. Their first worship service in this different space will be today, Palm/Passion Sunday.

I hope that you will join me in lifting up our brothers and sisters in faith at Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC, their Interim Pastor the Rev. Dr. Terri Young, the church’s leaders, members, and friends at this unbelievably difficult time.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, March 25, 2010

3 Things from Deacons

The Diaconate met on March 21 after worship for their regular monthly meeting. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting.

  • 1) Holy Week begins with our Palm/Passion Sunday Worship Service on March 28. We will have a palm procession led by our youth and our choir and a dramatic reading of the Passion Story. On Maundy Thursday (April 1) we will have a Soup Supper at 6PM and a candlelit Worship Service at 7PM. Then on Easter Sunday (April 4) we will meet for breakfast in the Fellowship Hall at 9AM followed by worship (with communion) at 10AM with an Easter Egg Hunt in the church yard after worship. Please join us!
  • 2) The Easter Breakfast will be provided by the Deacons. Here is the menu: Bagels and Cream Cheese, Sweet Rolls, Fresh Fruit, Juice, Milk, Coffee, and Tea.
  • 3) At their request, starting next Sunday we will keep the Search Committee on our weekly prayer list. We will lift them up as a group in our "Prayers for the People" each Sunday during worship, and at the Tuesday Noon Prayer Group we will pray for the Search Committee Members individually by name as well. So please keep the Search Committee on your prayer list -- Mary, Madison, Jan, Ted, Ruth Ann, and Jill.

Wordle: Preparation

Preparation is the hard work that we put in that we might be able to live into God's own vision for the future. We know that the future is bringing a lot of change for the Encanto Community Church. The changes that lead us from Lent to Easter. The changes that come when new folks join the church. The changes that come when you call your next settled minister. We thank God for the hard work of preparation that you all have taken on already and for all the good work that is yet to come as we strive and struggle, listen and learn to live into God's vision for the future.

You can find the full sermon manuscript at the church's website by clicking here. Or to see the fullsized Wordle rendering just click on the image.

I've been thinking about...

...Holy Week.

Our Lenten journey culminates in Holy Week, where we endeavor to follow Christ down the hardest path — all the way to Jerusalem; all the way to the cross.

We will usher in Holy Week with Palm/Passion Sunday on March 28. We begin that worship service with the celebration of Christ’s own triumphal entry into Jerusalem — with cheers of “Hosanna!” and palm fronds waving. We will begin in celebration, but our worship service will slowly change as the shadows of the cross move to the forefront. Through the service we will hear all over again the entire story of Jesus’ own betrayal, sham of a trial, and crucifixion...all in preparation for the blessed gift of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

We will have a special worship service on Maundy Thursday (April 4) where we commemorate the Last Supper and share in a candelit worship service of Christ’s last words. There will be a Soup Supper at 6PM with worship to follow at 7PM.

We will not have a Good Friday worship service, but will instead give our worship space over to the Phoenix Mar Thoma Congregation for their Good Friday Service on April 5.

Then, of course, we will gather again for the joyous celebration that is Easter Sunday on April 7. Join us for Easter Breakfast in the Fellowship Hall, worship in the sanctuary, and an Easter Egg Hunt on the church lawn following worship.

I mention all of this because today after the Budget Presentation a whole swath of us will be going out into the neighborhood distributing doorhangers that share all of these dates with our neighbors and invite them to join us for Holy Week and beyond. Please join us today as we spread the word and share the invitation for Holy Week.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wordle: Embracing Love

We've heard the story so many times that it stops being surprising to us. The parable of the Prodigal Son is not only the longest of Jesus' parables, it is also the most retold, the most well known. It is a story about grace – about one son who needs to receive it and another son who needs to accept that is alright to give it. 

Here is Wordle rendering of this past Sunday's sermon. For the fullsized Wordle just click on the image below. To read the full manuscript of the sermon then check out the church's website by clicking here.

I've been thinking about...

...One Great Hour of Sharing.

And I hope that you have been thinking about it too! I hope that you took the envelope from your Order of Service last Sunday and have spent all week filling it up with coins and dollars and checks. In case you forgot to bring your envelope home you’ll find another one in the Order of Service this morning.

Because today we are collecting our One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering!

Here is a quick word of explanation about One Great Hour of Sharing from the UCC National Office:
One Great Hour of Sharing, as part of Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) , is the special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that carries God's message of love and hope to people in more than eighty countries.
The UCC works with international partners to provide sources of clean water and food, education and health care, small business micro-credit, emergency relief, and advocacy and resettlement for refugees and displaced persons. OGHS also supports domestic and international ministries for disaster preparedness and response.

Thank you for your donations and for the difference you are helping to make in the lives of others. May God take these offerings and put them to good work in the world!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This Week's Reading List

Here are some of the things I've been reading online this week:

OGHS 2009 Mission Report
We'll receive our One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering this Sunday at the church. Here is the excellent 2009 Mission Report from One Great Hour of Sharing that tells some of the stories (including one I used in last Sunday's sermon and one I'll be using this Sunday) of what exactly your One Great Hour of Sharing dollars are being used for. To give online, just click here.

Pew Forum asks, "How religious is your state?"
I could play on this website all day. Not just because it is an attempt by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life to answer the question "How religious is your state?" but also because when you click on the interactive buttons it has this groovy animation for rearranging the states depending on their rank in different metrics. Awesome! And in case you were wondering, Arizona ranks 33rd, right behind Iowa and just ahead of Nevada.

Getting through to Glenn Beck
You've probably heard that conservative political pundit Glenn Beck recently told his listeners to leave any church that teaches social justice, and to report its pastor to church authorities. Sojourners Magazine thought it was a better idea to encourage Christians who believe in social justice to turn themselves in to Glenn Beck! Follow this link to send a letter straight to Glenn Beck explaining that you are a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice.

"You Are Accepted" by Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich is one of the most influential theologians of the last 100 years and I take great pride in the fact that I am a theological grandson of his (I studied directly under Clark Williamson who studied directly under Paul Tillich). This is one of Tillich's more famous sermons, reprinted in his book "The Shaking of the Foundations." In talking about grace in this Sunday's sermon, I couldn't help but take a sizable quote from Tillich's own words...because I could not say it any better.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council had their regular monthly meeting on Wednesday March 10, 2010. Here are the three things you need to know from Church Council:
  • We adopted a "Safe Church Policy" and Kathy and John have accepted the roles as our Response Team. All of that will make much more sense once we finish the final edits and make the Safe Church Policy available to the church. For now, just know that we have policies and procedures in place to make the Encanto Community Church a safe, welcoming, vibrant place for ministry to take place.

  • The Transition Fund has raised $27,918.22 as of the end of February. We will continue to accept donations into the Transition Fund in order to assure a worry-free transition period.
  • Church Council will organize the Maundy Thursday Soup Supper for April 1. Remember the Soup Supper begins at 6PM on April 1 with the Maundy Thursday Worship Service to follow at 7PM.

Three Things from Trustees

The Trustees met on Wednesday March 10, 2010 for their regular monthly meeting. Here are the three things you need to know from that gathering.

  • We spent the majority of the meeting mapping out our procedures for hiring a new secretary. Rosi recently announcement that she will be stepping down as church secretary in order to focus on the 4 other jobs she is currently working (we are very thankful for the hardwork and dedication Rosi has put in to serve the church!). A full job description is being put together and then it will be publicly listed with interviews to follow as we work to fill this position.

  • The Roofing Company will be coming out at the end of this week to repair the leaky hole in the roof in the sanctuary.

  • Our renters at the parsonage will be closing on their new home soon and Del will schedule a full walk through of the parsonage with the expectation that an All Church Workday will be scheduled in order to get the place back into top notch shape.

Children's Mural Dedication

Check out those smiling faces! Check out that beaming Sunday School teacher! Check out that wall-sized Noah's Ark Mural!

This past Sunday we had the great joy of officially dedicating the Children's Mural in the Church House at the Encanto Community Church. For weeks upon weeks our young people (many of whom are pictured above) have been doing a rotation based Sunday School program built around the story of Noah's Ark.

They would learn a piece of the story, and paint a piece of the mural...hear a piece about God's covenant promises, and paint a piece of the mural...explore the wonderful love of God, and paint a piece of the mural!

Slowly but surely the mural came together until all of a sudden, TADA, we have this beautiful painting to commemorate the hardwork of our youth, the creativity and dedication of our Sunday School teachers, and the faithful promises of God!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Abundance vs. Scarcity Wordle

This sermon title -- "Abundance vs. Scarcity" -- came to me not from the concerns of balancing a church budget (Yes, we had our Budget Planning Meeting on Wednesday, but I promise I picked this sermon title weeks and weeks ago!), but rather as a jumping off point drawn from the contrasts in Sunday's scripture readings, and the way those contrasts are helpful in introducing our One Great Hour of Sharing Special Mission Offering that we will receive next Sunday.

And yes, I re-randomized the Wordle rendering several dozens times to get it to read "One Great Hour of Sharing" from top to bottom!

For the full sermon manuscript click here to visit the church website. Or to see the full size version of the Wordle rendering then click on the image to the right.

I've been thinking about...

The Church Yard Sale.

It is coming up before you know it. The Church Yard Sale will be on Saturday March 20th from 7AM until 4PM. As always, all of the proceeds will go to benefit the Camp Fund, which helps us to underwrite the cost for church camp for all of our young people.

Speaking as one who not only grew up going to church camp but discerned my call to ministry there, I promise you there is no greater investment the church can make than in helping our kids get to camp. It is truly a life changing experience and everything we can do to help them get there is blessed work.

So here is what you can do to help:
  • Drop off your gently used items for the sale!
    We are collecting goods in the basement in the church house. If you need help dropping something off or even need something picked up please see Kathy Van Etten.

  • Help with the yard sale prep on Friday 3/19!
    We’ll be pricing goods, organizing things, and setting up tables that night.

  • Come on Saturday 3/20 and buy some stuff!
    Spend a little money knowing it is going to a worthy cause. And it doesn’t just have to be on yardsale stuff. We’ll also have a hotdog stand and plenty of munchies for sale as well.
Thanks for all your help in supporting our youth!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Saturday, March 6, 2010

This Week's Bibliography

Here are some of the things that I've been reading this week.

Seeking a Moral Compass: Will the Recession Change us? by Julia Baird
A Newsweek editorial from a few weeks back that challenges us to learn the same kinds of hard lessons from the Great Depression as those who lived through the Great Depression took from it. A stunning article that wound its way into the opening of Sunday's sermon.

One Great Hour of Sharing

We introduce our One Great Hour of Sharing Special Mission Offering this Sunday (we'll be receiving the offering next week, 3/14/2010). So I've been spending a lot of time on the One Great Hour of Sharing webpage. Some of the highlights include the success stories of how your OGHS dollars are used, the wonderful worship resources that we'll be drawing on in the coming weeks, an invitation to get involved , and this fabulous One Great Hour of Sharing video...

The NEW Southwest Conference Website
Our Conference Communications Director Peggy Ice just launched the brand smacking new version of our conference website (note: you'll want to change your bookmarks, it is an entirely new web address too!). It is fabulous and even includes a tab specifically dedicated to the Conference Justice Witness Committee (that I serve on, so visit that page often!). Big thanks to Peggy for all the work that it takes in launching a new check it out and visit it often!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Not So Subtle Wordle

Okay, fine. Wordle's are never subtle. That is part of their fun. But in this case the sermon title itself is "Not So Subtle."

The life of faith is all about foreshadowing, really. We can't see around that blind curve into the fullness of what the future holds. But we strive and struggle to discern those images that will guide us and lead us, knowing full well that God will be with us each and every step of the way. These are the promises of faith that name us, claim us, and propel us forward. The future is yet unwritten, but through the eyes of faith we see the foreshadowed promises of blessing, life, and mission. And we step boldly into the unknown future.

You can read the entire sermon manuscript by clicking here to visit the church's website. And to see the whole Wordle rendering, just click on the image to the right.

I've been thinking about...

...the proposed Mission Statement of the Southwest Conference.

As a United Church of Christ congregation we are joined in covenant partnership with the 42 other UCC Congregations in the Southwest Conference (a geographic area that covers all of Arizona, all of New Mexico, and a small corner of Texas).

After much planning and discussion, praying and considering the Board of Directors of the Southwest Conference has proposed the following Mission Statement as a description of our communal identity and a guide in our future endeavors together.

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

Recognizing that we are a part of the Southwest Conference and that for any Conference-wide Mission Statement to truly be authentic and powerful, the Board of Directors has asked that each congregation spend time in prayerful discernment of those words.

Do they honestly capture the essence of who we are as the Southwest Conference? Are they helpful in framing the priorities for who God is calling us to be? Will they motivate us to step boldly into the work and witness that characterize us as the Body of Christ in the world?

Read those words again. As the Southwest Conference we are extravagantly welcoming and affirming followers of Christ, called to embody God's unconditional justice and love. And then pray for the Holy Spirit’s guiding power in helping us discern if this truly, authentically, deeply represents who we are as the Southwest Conference of UCC.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian