Always Reforming

Friends,
This October 31st marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, heralded by Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His 95 Theses were a list of propositions for academic debate protesting against the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences. Preachers sold indulgences, certificates believed to reduce punishment from sin committed by the purchaser or reduce punishment a loved one was enduring in Purgatory. In short, Luther’s 95 Theses argued that it was wrong to sell indulgences, especially to poor people, to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, that the pope had no power over Purgatory, and that buying indulgences gave people a false sense of security and actually endangered their salvation by inducing complacency. Luther sent a copy of the theses to Albert of Mainz, who then sent a copy to Pope Leo. Because the printing press was already in existence, the Theses were quickly reprinted and distributed throughout Europe. Luther was tried for heresy and excommunicated in 1521. As Luther continued to write, the selling of indulgences took a back seat to weightier theological matters like justification by faith or free will vs. predestination.

To celebrate the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary, last Wednesday night, a group of us from CCOV went to dinner at Byblos Restaurant and on to a concert at the Tempe Center for Fine Arts, which featured Music of the Reformation. A good bit of the concert was in German, and we were treated to a complex arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  We especially enjoyed hearing our own Bob Simington sing in the bass section! Following the Chamber Singers and Choral Union (and intermission), we were mightily roused by ASU’s Gospel Choir. Between each of their numbers, including “Lift Up Your Heads O, Ye Gates,” we heard the story of how the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) was founded in Philadelphia in 1816. Also born out of protest, the AME was organized by people of African descent, as a response to being forcibly denied access to the white—and at that time racist—Methodist church.

From what I know of the history of Christianity, God’s people seem always to be reforming, regrouping in some way. Reform comes by way of protest, challenge, and vigorous theological debate. The Church Universal’s issues are by no means settled, and they may never be—especially if God is indeed still speaking. We in the UCC have long been on the prophetic edge and forefront of change, challenging the status quo, moving forward, and striving for full inclusion. One day soon our church family should have a conversation about what new 95 Theses we might nail on the church doors of our communities. Would they have anything to do with environmental sustainability, the health and welfare of all people, peace and justice, radical inclusion, and all kinds of equality? What is the first thesis you would pound into the door? See you Sunday!

Always Reforming,
Rev. Sandi

Special Fall Sundays

Dear CCOV Family,
It’s hard to believe that fall is now upon us! Pumpkins are everywhere in the stores, and it’s been chilly in Prescott for some time now. I see that you are enjoying cooler temperatures in the Valley as well. According to the liturgical calender, we are in the green or growing season during most of the fall, but we do observe a few special Sundays. Last Sunday, Oct. 1, was World Communion Sunday. Did you know that World Communion Sunday was begun in 1934 by Dr. Hugh Tomson Kerr, minister of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church, with the vision to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity? On this fall date, many Christians all around the world participate in Holy Communion together.

The last Sunday of October is Reformation Sunday, which commemorates Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This event was the opening salvo of the Protestant Reformation, which occurred 500 years ago! You are invited to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in a special way this year by attending ASU’s Choral Union Chamber Singers and Gospel Choir’s Music of the Reformation on Wednesday, October 18 at 7:30 PM at the Tempe Center for Fine Arts. Our own Bob Simington is in the concert! We will have a 5 PM dinner first at Byblos Lebanese Restaurant in Tempe (bring cash for your check). Let me or the church office know ASAP if you plan to attend the dinner and concert, and I will buy a block of tickets. You can reimburse me later for the $10 cost.

On the heels of Reformation Sunday is All Saints, which many Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches typically celebrate on the first Sunday of November. All Saints is a time to remember the lives of Christian saints, particularly those who have no special feast days of their own. As in years past, we will have an opportunity in church to light candles in memory of our loved ones, the saints, who have gone home to glory before us.

Meanwhile, the preaching series on Women of the Bible continues. Next up are Ruth (by Rev. Dr. Dick Wing!), Rahab, and Deborah. Also, I invite you to continue giving through our www.ucc.org website to alleviate the terrible suffering in the wake of disasters all around the world, in particular Puerto Rico. Enjoy this beautiful time of year while being mindful of the suffering of others.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Women in the Bible Preaching Series

Dear CCOV Family,
I’ve especially enjoyed sermon writing lately as I continue the series on Women in the Bible that I started on September 10. Naturally, I started with Eve, whom we tend to remember for her mistake, but I hope you will now think of her as one created foremost to be God’s image-bearer. Then last week I preached on Sarah, who experienced what it was like to live all those years in God’s silence until bearing a son at the age of 90! This coming Sunday, come to hear all about Hagar, Sarah’s slave girl, and how even as a woman, slave, and a Gentile, she was seen and valued by God. You will also learn all about Hannah, Ruth, and Rahab in the coming weeks, and your faith will grow from their stories. Of special note is that Rev. Dr. Dick Wing (who is inhabiting our sanctuary office) will deliver the Oct. 8 sermon on Ruth. Don’t miss getting acquainted with this energetic, fun-loving pastor, who recently retired from his mega church in Ohio! I’ll see ya’ll down in the Valley on Sunday and at the upcoming church and conference events listed in our announcements!
Blessings,
Rev. Sandi

Great Expectations for Fall

Dear CCOV Family,
I’m so excited to be back with you for regular worship again starting this Sunday, September 10th, 10 AM! Choir will also resume practice at 8:30 AM although won’t have an anthem to offer quite yet. Expect to hear many new songs this fall in our choir’s repertoire!

You can also expect a new preaching series on Women of the Bible that will take us, by and large, up until Advent. Each Sunday I will preach from scriptural passages that tell a particular woman’s story, some prominent and some obscure. Through this journey, we will see just how human these women are, uncover God’s purpose for them, and explore the courage and wisdom born of their struggles, aimed at transforming all our lives today, men and women alike. This Sunday you will hear all about Eve. If you like to read ahead, you can read the first three chapters of Genesis. Now if men in our congregation feel at all slighted, don’t worry—I will preach a similar series on Men of the Bible during the weeks before Lent begins in the spring. We will get to know many personages in the Bible quite well in the coming months!

Sunday, September 10th is also the International Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope, and Life (Just Peace Sunday). In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, also September 10, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has invited faith communities across the nation to pray for those whose lives have been touched by suicide. You can expect our prayers to focus on peace, and you will also hear from Dr. Clint Anthony, who will spend a few minutes talking about suicide prevention during the service.

Also, please remember that although Hurricane Harvey has blown through, recovery will continue for years: Need remains dire. If you haven’t yet given or if you can give more, please visit our denomination’s disaster webpage and give https://transactions.ucc.org/CampaignForm/UCChrist/Hurricane+Harvey+relief. If you would prefer, you can send a check to our UCC Southwest Conference office in an envelope marked Harvey Relief, C/O Disaster Coordinator Phil Shea, 917 E Sheridan St, Phoenix, AZ 85006. Agencies are asking folks NOT to send items or supplies. Sending money is best.

I expect to see you very soon!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Servant Leadership

Dear CCOV Family,
It was so great to see so many of you in Hayden Hall last Sunday and hear about your feelings, practices, and experiences with meditation (getting quiet before God). A special thank you to those who have kept Sunday mornings going this summer. Making coffee, setting out food, offering prayer, fellowship, and leading and coordinating programs obviously have been a wonderful service to the church, as our community continues to grow and bonds get strengthened.

Earlier this month Clint and I had a refreshing time in the Canadian Rockies basking in the majesty of nature. Of course, when we got back to the hotel each evening and logged into Wi-Fi, we watched in horror the events unfolding in Charlottesville and in Spain. Inevitably, political and religious leaders weigh in with statements in the aftermath of horrific events, and as you know, some can be inspiring and others can be divisive and inciting. The pastor in the church where I was ordained once told me, “Organizations tend to reflect the characteristics of their leaders.” This can apply to churches, companies, and even countries. He told me this to heighten my awareness of what it meant to be a leader, but he also wanted me to understand the dynamics in human interactions: Gracious, thoughtful speech and actions can create a beautiful, unifying culture, but bombastic, divisive speech and actions can create chaos.

We all are leaders in our own spheres of influence and as such can make a difference no matter what is going on around us. You know what one of the best things about being UCC is? We are not hierarchical—we are all leaders in our own circles. We look to Jesus as our only head, and it is his example that inspires a way for us to be in this world. He modeled servant leadership in his life and death—his thoughts, even on the cross, were not on himself but always on others. We can always practice servant leadership even when awful events, beyond our control, are going down.

In difficult times, some people turn to prayer, others march, and some may just scratch their heads, because it often seems that these days, one tragedy begets another. No matter what, we can also continue to practice the message of Micah 6:8, which says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Perhaps in our Christian meditations this week, we can focus on Micah 6:8. I look forward to being back in regular worship with you all on Sunday, September 10th at 10 AM!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Supporting UMOM

Dear CCOV Family,

In less than a month we will be back to regular worship at CCOV!  Please know how grateful I am for how you have kept fellowship alive Sunday mornings in my absence.  I look forward to being with you all again on Sunday, August 20th  when I would like to talk about meditation (listening to God) and hear about any of your meditation practices or experiences.  We will even do a brief, guided meditation together.

One other thing I want to be sure you know about is the damage monsoonal flooding has done to the United Methodist Outreach Mission (UMOM).  UMOM, which is the largest of homeless shelters for families in the state, has been one of the central mission projects of this church for many years and one that our folks have gotten most excited about.  UMOM’s main campus was badly hit by the monsoon on Thursday evening, August 3.  Dozens of families and several staff members had to be relocated out of their flooded rooms and offices, and the elevator in the most affected building may need serious repairs. Staff also had damage to their vehicles due to the rising waters.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.

While the organization acquired flood insurance in June, damage is so great that UMOM will need to spend tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. They have reached out to their supporters for donations to help get them back on their feet.    Please consider sending them a gift so that UMOM may continue to offer a continuum of shelter as well as opportunities for folks to access education, skills, medical care, and quality child care so that they can go on to lead successful lives. You can donate by clicking here: https://umom.thankyou4caring.org/donate.  Michelle is forwarding an email directly from the shelter that will offer more information.

Again, I miss seeing you each week, but that will change soon!  Clint and I will be vacationing in Jasper, Alberta August 8-16 seeing parts of the Canadian Rockies.  I plan to post some beautiful pictures on Facebook or share them with you on Sunday, August 20.  In the meantime, stay cool!

Blessings,

Rev. Sandi

Prayer and Meditation

Dear CCOV Family,

I am so pleased to hear how you are all carrying on in my absence with programs, speakers, and a plan to get to know one another more deeply.  How I wish I lived in Scottsdale!  Even though I am enjoying summer travels, sometimes it is hard living 100+ miles away.

Last weekend my good friend Sharon and I traveled to Las Vegas to meet up with some of our other friends. The best part was time spent with Sharon riding in the car.  She is one of the wisest, most deeply spiritual and Christian of my friends outside of our own church.  While passing through the high desert scenery, we had an intense discussion about prayer and meditation.  Her church, Unity, teaches that prayer is asking God for what we need and want (what we are mostly inclined to do), but meditation is more like “being still and knowing that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  In other words, meditation is quieting our minds in order to listen to God speaking to us.  I just love the way that she differentiated prayer from meditation!  Immediately Psalm 19:14 sprang to mind: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Her words and this verse from Psalms reminded me that prayer is a two-way street.  We ask for things, but we also need to carve out time to listen to God.

I confessed to Sharon that I have terrible time quieting my mind and listening to God.    She suggested several, disciplined approaches.  Mindfulness is one, something increasingly prescribed by medical practitioners.  I downloaded an app on my iPhone that guides me through a daily mindfulness meditation, but I haven’t been terribly faithful.  She suggested I call the Buddhist Temple in Chino Valley to see about a possible class, to which I would commit.  I vowed to do that or find some other structured, in-person practice that would hold me accountable.

Quieting our minds has never been much of a practice in our Christian circles, but oh how we need to do this!  Yoga teachers have long taught that the mind is like a “drunken monkey stung by a scorpion.”  Our brains are full of chatter, consumed by our concerns, but not terribly attuned to God’s reality. My next goal is to open more deeply to God and have the “meditations of my heart be acceptable in God’s sight.”  Perhaps we can share with one another one Sunday later this summer what our practices are of listening to God.  I will be most interested.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi

Extending Community

Dear CCOV Family,

One of the things I like about living in North Central Arizona, especially Prescott, is the sense of community.  Soon after the Goodwin Fire began a few weeks ago, people quickly organized to provide as much assistance as possible to those in the fire’s way.  One woman set up a Facebook group to match those with needs to those who could offer varying types of assistance.   I was so impressed to see large animal owners in nearby towns like Chino Valley, Paulden, and even the Valley line up with horse trailers to evacuate horses and livestock from the affected areas.  Red Cross shelters for evacuees did not accept pets, so animal lovers all over the area thought to provide lodging for them.  Some people offered water and food or transportation.  Clint and I have two guest rooms and offered shelter as area hotels were full.  Our neighbors thought we were nuts because, well, it’s risky to take in strangers.  I learned ahead of time that we would be housing a Yavapai Sherriff’s Office deputy, who had only slept three hours in his car the night before and was pulling 17-hour shifts during the emergency.  He and his wife and young daughter turned out to be delightful houseguests, who were most grateful for a meal and shelter.  So many people in this community followed the scripture, “Do unto others as you would have them do.”  In truth, we just never know when it might be our turn to be evacuated.

I often marvel at how cooperative the vast majority of human beings really are.  Our view gets so distorted by the constant barrage of news that focuses on the rogue elements among us rather than the cooperation and kindness that are mostly extended.  One of the reasons I love our church so much is that CCOV is a caring community constantly reaching inward and outward.  I’ve watched all of you care for one another in many of life’s difficult seasons and also reach out to the greater community with our mission projects.  I am also reminded that new projects always carry an element of risk and need careful vetting, but the pay-off can be great when God’s Kingdom is furthered.  Jimmy Carter was once quoted as saying, “Go out on a limb.  That’s where the fruit is.”  So as we start planning again for the fall routine and possible new mission projects, let’s be bold and continue to extend our sense of community into the world.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi

 

Looking Ahead

Dear CCOV Family,

It’s hazy up here in Prescott because of a forest fire in the Bradshaw Mountains.  All weekend Clint and I could see tanker planes flying from the airport to the burning area.  At least the heat and smoke aren’t keeping me completely inside!  Early last week I met with the newly-retired, long-term music director from the church we attended in town years ago.  She gave me some great ideas for new choir anthems that go with particular scriptures and preaching themes.  Besides music for worship, I am also thinking ahead to preaching topics for the fall.  I really want to hear from you regarding what you would like to see in our services.  Do you want me to preach through a book from the Bible again or on a particular theme?  Is there a question you always had that you would like addressed?  Please feel free to reach out to me as I begin to plan ahead.  I hope you are enjoying your potluck fellowship breakfasts Sunday morning—I miss seeing you all.  Clint and I will join you next on July 16.  Meanwhile, enjoy your vacations and time away!

Blessings,

Rev. Sandi      

Interfaith Christmas Bazaar Opportunity

Dear CCOV Family,

Hope all of you are well and staying cool!  One way to cool off (at least in our heads) is to think ahead to Christmas.  I wanted to let you know that our church is invited to participate in an “Interchurch Christmas Bazaar” at St. Anthony on the Desert Episcopal Church on Dec. 2-3 that is open to the public on Saturday, Dec. 2.  Other invited area churches include McDowell Mountain and St. Bernard’s.  Each church would host its own bazaar and benefit financially from its own sales.  The community event would receive advertisement in traditional and social media sites.  The aim is to develop a sense of community, especially with all the new housing around us.  It may be a nice way to sell some items we don’t need and possibly some baked goods or anything else you can think of.  I imagine it would also be a great way to let folks in the community know about our wonderful CCOV!  Please let me know ASAP if any of you are interested participating in this event, and I will make the necessary contacts. 

I look forward to seeing you all Sunday!

Blessings,

Rev. Sandi