Category Archives: Faith

Musing: Sing

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – Psalm 95:1 NRSV

One of the best parts of leading worship last Sunday was being in a congregation that knows how to sing!  It was a small group (just eleven not counting the guest pianist, her family, my husband and me), but they knew how to make beautiful, joyful noise.

“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.”  – Psalm 96:1 NRSV

This week I provide Pulpit Supply (lead worship and preach) in another small congregation.  Having been there before I know they have amazing instrumental musicians and solid singers among their membership.  It’s too bad their numbers have dwindled and the choir has been disbanded.  But we’ll still make joyful music!

DSC02484

Kitchen Table as Makeshift Desk.  Photo: TLClark, 7/15/19.

On an entirely different note (pun not intended but noticed), here’s part of a paragraph from the book I’m currently reading.

“This is our role: To weave together those disparate energies.  To manipulate and mitigate and, through the prism of our awareness, produce a singular force that cannot be denied.  To make of cacophony, symphony. …”

– N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky (Series: The Broken Earth, Book Three), http://www.orbitbooks.net, 2017.

Our role:  “to make of cacophony, symphony.”  Such a rich image!  Especially since Jemisin is not writing about musicians.

Whatever the cacophony of your life, may you discover a joyful noise, a song, a symphony.  May you sing.

 

Musing: Cross

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  – 1 Corinthians 1:18 NRSV

DSC02379 (2)

Stained Glass Cross.  St. John UCC, Melbourne, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 7/7/19.

Crosses and stained glass windows are not unusual in a church.  But I can’t remember seeing another cross-shaped stained glass window.  Which is why I shared the photo on Facebook with a note of gratitude for being warmly welcomed last Sunday by the congregation where I provided Pulpit Supply.

It’s not a great picture but many of my Facebook friends responded to the photo with a “like” or a “love” or a “wow.”

The reaction to the picture has caused me to pause.  My Facebook friends who follow Jesus represent a broad spectrum* of Christianity.  We do not all agree on how to faithfully respond to the challenges in the world today.  We don’t even all agree on what some of those challenges are.  But we all claim the cross as a symbol of our faith.

President Lincoln’s words came to mind:

“Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Staying friends on Facebook with those with whom we disagree is hard.  It’s tempting to ‘unfriend’ them.  But many are part of my extended family.  And seeing some of their posts is helpful – if for no other reason than to remember there are well-meaning people who understand the world differently than I do.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

 


*United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, United Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Pentecostal, Nondenominational, and who knows what else.   There are, I’m sure, a few who no longer darken the doorway of any church.

Substitute Pastor

DSC02374

“Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2 CEB

Pastor S called late Tuesday afternoon.  “My son’s been in a bad motorcycle accident.  Can you cover for me this Sunday?”

Yes.  Of course.  I’m available.  And that’s what I do: lead worship and preach when one of my colleagues will be away.  We call it pulpit supply in the United Church of Christ.

“Oh,” one of my husband’s relatives said once she understood what I do, “you’re a substitute pastor!”   I’ve been called worse.

Pastor J called Wednesday morning.  “Is there any chance you could do some pulpit supply?”  She was asking for a congregation down the road.  They and their (now former) pastor have had a parting of ways.

Yes.  Of course.  Just not this Sunday or the 21st because I’m already committed.  But that’s also what I do:  step in as a stable presence to lead worship and preach, to love the people through an unexpected difficult time, to remind them they are not forgotten by God.

When colleagues are headed for a conference or taking a vacation, they ask early.  When there’s a family emergency, they call as soon as they realize they may need to be gone on Sunday.   When a church and a pastor have parted ways, Pastor J or someone in her position will call.

So today I’m looking at a bulletin that was handed to me, writing prayers, thinking of a children’s message, and trying to figure out where Pastor S might have been going with the sermon.  I’ve pretty much decided to ignore her sermon title.  But we won’t know the details until Sunday morning.

If you’re looking for a substitute pastor, I may or may not be available the 14th and 28th.  But I should know by Monday.

Blessings,
Pastor Teressa

Feeding the Hungry

Saw a sparrow feeding a young – though 3x larger – cowbird this morning.

Thought:  Wouldn’t it be grand if we fed whoever came our way?

Doesn’t matter how they got here.  Whoever ‘they’ are.  Wherever ‘here’ is.


Once upon a time I served as as associate pastor at a church that ran a food pantry and also administered an emergency fund.  There were rules, of course, for both.  The primary one used by the senior pastor was:

Error are on the side of generosity.

Those words have become a sort of mantra for me.  Whether working with a Food Pantry Board or an outreach committee of a local church or just trying to figure out how to respond to an appeal for help, error are on the side of generosity.

Today, as I think about the immigrants at our borders, my pleading, my prayer:  may we error on the side of generosity. 

Musing: Be the Church

UCC Sign at West Branch Friends Church

UCC Banner in front of West Branch Friends Church, West Branch, Iowa.  6/28/19.

As an ordained UCC pastor I was surprised – and pleased – to see this United Church of Christ banner in front of the West Branch Friends (Quaker) Church!

A similar banner – same words but printed on a rainbow background – was hanging in the Fellowship Hall at Congregational UCC, Newton, last Sunday.   At least I think it was a “Be the Church” rainbow banner.  As the substitute preacher for the day, I noticed there was a rainbow banner with familiar words.

What I remember clearly was a comment over coffee:

“After I saw the pastor from Ames UCC on TV, I wondered if we are too chicken to hang our banner outside.”

Ames UCC had a rainbow banner with the words “God Is Still Speaking” hanging outside, above the front door of the church.  It was torn down and burned in the early morning hours of June 11.  Though a bit shaken, the congregation has hung a new pride banner with the words “God is love.”

Both the Newton and Ames congregations have voted to be “Open and Affirming” (see below) congregations in the United Church of Christ.  So a pride banner is not surprising.

But it is a risk.  Not everyone agrees that our LGBTQ family, friends, neighbors, and church members should be fully accepted and respected as they are – beautiful, gifted,  valued children of God.

It’s hard, this business of following Jesus.  Of loving God and loving neighbor.  Of welcoming all – “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.”  Of not just going to church on Sunday but truly BEING the church all week long.

Whatever your faith,
however you understand God,
wherever you are on life’s journey,
I encourage you to
protect the environment,
care for the poor,
forgive often,
reject racism,
fight speak up for the powerless,
share resources,
embrace diversity,
and enjoy life!

DSC02357

My mousepad.

 


“Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,500 churches and other ministries in the United Church of Christ that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. More than 350,000 members of the UCC belong to ONA churches—and our movement is growing rapidly.

After a time of study, dialogue and prayer, churches adopt an Open and Affirming “covenant” committing their members to welcome LGBTQ seekers, support their relationships, and advocate for their basic rights. All sacraments and rites of an ONA congregation are available to LGBTQ people, including baptism, confirmation, communion, and marriage. ONA churches take seriously the Bible’s admonition to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7, NIV)

https://openandaffirming.org/ona/

ONA congregations are still a minority in the UCC denomination as a whole.  Some congregations have decided NOT to be ONA.  Some will not allow persons who identify as LGBTQ to marry in their sanctuaries or to be called as their pastors.  Many congregations have never had the discussion – it’s hard and it’s risky.  Some figure they are welcoming as they are and don’t need to do anything more.

Musing: Trinity

Sassafrass

Sassafras leaves.  Photo: TLClark, 6/28/13.

Trinity Sunday.  Always the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday in Christian congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary (a series of scripture readings that repeats every three years).  Focusing on the uniquely Christian, impossible to fully explain, doctrine that there is One God but the One God is three “persons.”  It took hundreds of years to develop, going back to the early followers of Jesus, and is something of an answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”

As a substitute preacher last Sunday I avoided pointing out that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 for many  Christians (but not all!) when talking about God.

I also skipped using any illustrations of three-in-one.  If I had, I might have used the sassafras tree with its curious characteristic of having three differently shaped leaves on the same branch: un-lobed (oval), bi-lobed (mitten-shaped), tri-lobed (three-pronged).  Like everything else a preacher might use, it’s imperfect.  But I think it’s kind of fun.

Though I was the youngest one in the building and there was no children’s message listed in the bulletin, I read the book In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and showed the beautiful illustrations done by Phoebe Stone.

God is One.  But God is known by many names.  Many of us favor one or two particular names for God – name(s) that sometimes change depending on our current life circumstances.  Sasso (a Jewish Rabbi) used these names for God in the book:

  • Source of Life
  • Creator of Light
  • Shepherd
  • Maker of Peace
  • My Rock
  • Healer
  • Redeemer
  • Ancient One
  • Comforter
  • Mother
  • Father
  • Friend

In the coffee hour following worship, I thanked the congregants for humoring me and listening to a children’s book.  Someone replied that that was the best part of the service!

The sermon was less memorable.  But I hope the scripture lessons, the children’s book and/or the sermon caused one person to expand the way they think of God.

Musing: Pentecost

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” – Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

DSC02146

Pentecost Sunday, Trinity UCC, Quincy, IL.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

Noise.  Like Wind.
Light.  As of Fire.
Thunder and Lightning?

I don’t remember ever thinking of the Christian Pentecost event as being accompanied by thunder and lightening.  But something the preacher said Sunday caused me to wonder … why hadn’t I thought of it before?  could there have been a wild storm?

Whatever happened, it transformed about 120 of Jesus’ first followers.
Fear flew out.  Courage blew in.
Timidity dissipated.  Boldness gathered.

Easter is the central event of the Christian faith.  But without the Spirit’s work at Pentecost, I’m not so sure the good news of resurrection would have spread very far.

DSC02130

Glass Wall.  Photo:  TLClark, 6/9/19.

If you haven’t guessed from the pictures, RED is the color of Pentecost.  Actually, red is the color most often associated with the Holy Spirit.  Since Pentecost is a celebration of the giving of the Spirit, red is assigned.  The sanctuary at Trinity UCC had dozens and dozens of potted geraniums with red blooms throughout the chancel (front of the church); they will be planted on the church grounds as a reminder of the Spirit’s work.

DSC02105

Centerpiece for Confirmation Breakfast.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

My youngest niece was confirmed on Sunday.  Since I’m not currently serving a local congregation we took the opportunity to be there.  Bonus: we were included as part of the family for the Confirmation Breakfast – a long standing tradition in that congregation where confirmands, their families, and their mentors are served a sit down breakfast before worship.  Added bonus:  just getting to spend time with family!


Note (because I know not every knows what “being confirmed” means): Confirmation is always associated with Baptism – a fact we sometimes forget when children are baptized as infants and confirmed as teenagers.  A confirmand/confirmation student usually goes through a season of education that lasts from a few months to a year to two years depending on local tradition.  Typically lead by a pastor, the class looks at key Bible stories and learns a little church history.  Sometimes they do mission or outreach projects.  Often there is a mentor who spends time with the student exploring questions of faith.  The process culminates in the Rite of Confirmation when the young people 1) affirm the baptismal vows that were made for them at their baptisms and 2) are welcomed as full members in the life of the church.