On Sunday afternoon and evening we had a wonderful time together decorating our lovely sanctuary and enjoying chilis with fixins’ as well as breads and desserts. It was a good time of fellowship and idea sharing for the future and direction of our church. One thing we all agreed upon was that we are truly a great place for folks to come for a sense of familial connection and welcome. We all know we have something good here and all feel it! The question always remains: How do we get the word out? Marketing and advertising are expensive, and the little we’ve tried hasn’t gotten us anywhere. Our best bet is personally reaching out to our unchurched friends and neighbors and offering to bring them along on Sundays. Advent is a particularly beautiful time to invite folks—especially with our now-decorated sanctuary and Larry’s upcoming Evening of Extraordinary Music on Dec. 17, as well as our Christmas Eve morning and evening services. Whom can you tell about our church? Who needs a sense of community, connection, and mission that we are eager to offer? I have a feeling that there are far more in our neighborhoods than we think.
Blessings on your Advent season!
Rabbi Sheila Weinberg of the Jewish community of Amherst in MA writes the following:
Two peoples, one land,
Three faiths, one root,
One earth, one mother,
One sky, one beginning, one future, one destiny.
One broken heart,
We pray to You:
Grant us a vision of unity.
My we see the many in the one and the one in the many.
May you, Life of All the Worlds,
Source of All Amazing Differences
Help us to see clearly.
Guide us gently and firmly toward each other,
Toward peace. Amen.
I know we are all broken-hearted over events in the Middle East. We can only pray and work for peace in our own spheres of influence, always realizing that our own peace is intimately bound up with the peace of those around us. When our neighbors live in sickness and poverty, the boiling point eventually comes, and whole cities are plunged into chaos. And so we erect walls, but walls are often angrily breached. Sharing, equality, and cooperation all address the root of the problems we face and are what our love of God looks like when consciously applied. Let us therefore pray and love where we are, with all that we are.
There is a legendary story about two dogs that sometimes circulates on social media. Both dogs at separate times walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling. A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so mad. To her surprise she finds a room filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him, while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. The moral of the story of course is what you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are. I would go one step further to suggest that we all have great power to shape our environment by what we chose to project.
The dog story reminds me of a woman named Josie, who was a resident in a nursing home where I worked as a teenager. She was one of the most delightful human beings I had ever met, and whenever I and other staff had a few minutes of down time, we were irresistibly drawn to her room to chat, laugh, and pass the time with her. Other residents complained that she got unfair amounts of attention from staff, which may have been true, but we were so attracted to her and the way she elevated our moods by aways radiating such warmth, joy, and love. It was a good lesson for a teenager to learn early in life—that we get back what we give out. What we project can make the difference between being surrounded by friends or suffering loneliness in old age.
I think of the simple spiritual principal set forth by Jesus in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” As we start fall, let us be reminded of the great blessings that come with giving and the great power we possess to shape our environments!
I hope this finds you all well and anticipating the resumption of regular services at 10 AM on Sunday, September 17! For a handful of us who remained largely in town this summer, we’ve continued to worship in person together at the Church of the Beatitudes UCC in Phoenix, and we’ve had some culinary adventures exploring midtown restaurants afterwards. The Church of the Beatitudes (CoB) planted our Scottsdale church over three decades ago, and it has been a privilege to fill their pulpit a number of times this summer. Their moderator recently approached Pastor Dick and me and asked if we could continue to help them out until they call a settled pastor in the spring. We agreed, each giving them ten hours of week including alternating Sundays. So Dick and I will continue to alternate Sundays at CCOV and CoB similar to what we did over a year ago for a few months when we helped out a Disciples of Christ Church in Mesa. We’re brainstorming some exciting ways we could enjoy some joint programming with our brothers and sisters at the CoB, so stay tuned! I excitedly await being with you again in our own worship space on September 17!
Grace and Peace,
I hope you are all staying cool! We had a meaningful fellowship brunch and Bible study last Sunday. It was good to catch up with one another and talk about Jacob’s wrestling match with God (Genesis 32:22-32)! One point we all took away is that there is no blessing without the wound—no resurrection without the cross. Even the name Israel, God’s new name for Jacob, means “contends or wrestles with God.” It seems that struggle is embedded into the very fabric of our reality! I take comfort in knowing that God brings us through all things (even this hot summer)!
On a personal note, God has even brought me through the struggle-filled years of raising a daughter. There were times when she was a teenager that I about pulled my hair out, and many of you listened sympathetically to my laments and told me not to lose hope. Yes, God was there, guiding all of us. Last November she married a nice man, and as a 60th birthday present to my husband Clint, she and her husband announced last night that we will become grandparents in March! Needless to say we are thrilled! Here is a wonderful example of struggle giving rise to blessing. God is GOOD!
I am looking forward to getting back into regular worship on Sunday, September 17 and seeing all of you on a consistent basis.
On Sunday July 11 at 10 AM, ten of us met for our first, monthly summer fellowship brunch and Bible study in Hayden Hall. We enjoyed good food, a time to check in and catch up with one another, prayer, and an engaging discussion centering on Acts 2:42-47. Luke wrote this passage to describe the fellowship of the early believers:
“42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.43 Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Words and phrases that stood out to the participants included “awe,” “in the temple,” and “added to their numbers.” We talked about the Spirit of generosity that underlies this passage as well as the challenge of living into this today (without becoming a commune). We agreed that a small church like ours does a good job of “walking one another home” and extending goodwill to our community through giving to Healthy Packs, UMOM, and supplying various community centers with nonperishables. We also noted that there is so much more we can do as God adds to our numbers.
We will continue with this brunch and Bible study format the first Sundays of both July and August (10 AM in Hayden Hall). I hope you will join us if you are in town. In the meantime, stay cool and hydrated!
I can hardly believe that our active season is nearly over! Many of our seasonal members have either flown to their northerly locales or will in the coming weeks. Looking back over the fall, winter, and early spring, I feel good about all that we have done together as we emerged from the height of the COVID era: We enjoyed two Extraordinary Evenings of Music, celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve, ate soup and studied the Gospel of Mark on the Wednesday evenings of Lent, continued our Women’s Discussion Group, collected 220 pounds of food for Vista del Camino prior to Easter, continued our on-line worship and Wednesday Three Good Minutes, held two wine tasting events, received new members, and celebrated the lives of loved ones in our congregation.
Even though our in-person worship will be on hiatus during the hot summer months starting the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, we will meet at least once a month in Hayden Hall for fellowship/prayer/Bible study/potluck brunch on dates yet to be announced. This way we can stay in close contact with the few who live here year round. For those of you in your summer locations, don’t forget to tune into on-line worship and drop us a line every now and then. We want to be connected with you, and your pastors are always available by email, text, FaceTime, and phone. Know that when you return, council is in the process of planning even more for our next active season. In the meantime, I pray for your travel mercies as you roam far and wide.
I’ve been reading articles and listening with interest as major news outlets report on an on-going “revival” at Asbury University, the institution whose seminary I attended from 2003-2007. While I went to the Orlando, FL satellite campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, it is the mother campus in Wilmore, KY that has documented a series of extraordinary events starting in an ordinary chapel service on February 8. Professors I remember and loved have described it as “a special work of the Holy Spirit” or the “beginning of the Third Great Awakening.” People are overcome with a profound sense of sweet Presence and peace and are having their spiritual passions reawakened and faith renewed.
From what I can gather, no one wants to leave the chapel, and people are coming from all over the world, even as far away as Singapore, to partake in the event. Reportedly, the movement of the Spirit has spread to other schools in the area: Lee University in Tennessee, Anderson University in Indiana, and Ohio Christian University near Columbus among them. This revival may not be what we sensible UCC-ers are apt to think: No one is swinging from the chandeliers; no one is running backwards over the pews in a trancelike state. The movement did not begin with a celebrity preacher whipping the gathered into a frenzy or employing big screens. For me, knowing Asbury like I do, the quiet event has a ring of authenticity to it. People have flooded the town, crammed into the regular wooden pews, and are praying, singing, and basking in something, well, supernatural.
Reading about it has given me hope. I am praying that the spiritual revival continues to spread during this dark time, when our pews are mostly empty and many people worldwide have long since left the church. I’m praying for a resurgence in interest in the church for both believers and nonbelievers. I picture our sanctuary full again, people fired up to serve God and one another, people repenting (thinking differently!). Won’t you join me in praying for renewal and revival—for ourselves, for CCOV, and for the church universal during this holy season of Lent?
Grace and Peace,
I’m writing this a few days after observing Martin Luther King Day (better late than never). Today I came across a line of one of MLK’s prayers: “Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.” I’m continually struck by his wisdom as one who responded so fully to God’s call upon his life. As prophets often do, MLK also paid the price for carrying such reconciliation within himself.
Richard Rohr calls akin prophets “followers of Jesus Christ, [who] are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world.” These are the ones who are truly awake, the ones who enter “into heaven much earlier and thus can see things in a transcendent, whole, and healing way.” In my view, MLK joined the ranks of saints in this life who are born again, born from above, or born anew, depending on the Bible translation you use. Christian saints, per Richard Rohr, include all of us who “wake up while in this world, instead of waiting for the next one.” Rohr goes on to say that those who are awake now don’t “feel superior to anyone else; they just knew they had been let in on a big divine secret, and they wanted to do their part in revealing it.”
I wonder what God reveals to us when we pray similarly: Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself. I suspect that as we identify our God-given gifts, that we too will awaken more fully to our own callings.
Grace and Peace,
During the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year, I often find myself reminiscing over holiday seasons gone by with all of their pleasures and pains. I wonder how many of us do this. I know my siblings do at least, as we exchanged may childhood memories in our group text last week. My sister Kristin wrote: “Remember Mom always putting pistachios in Joe’s stockings, and then there was Sandi playing Christmas carols on the piano, and Lori wrapping gifts the prettiest before anyone else was?” And then my brother chimed in: “She put red Twizzlers in my stocking as well.” I added, “Remember those candy toys on the coffee table we’d come down to on Christmas morning?” We shared sadder memories too: Our parents’ last Christmases when they were ill and way too young to be dying. We kids not knowing how to comfort them. And in between their deaths the coming of the blended family with all of its misunderstandings and hurts. I try not to dwell on the sadder memories, but they do creep in.
Much of my journey in ministry has been to find solace, context, and meaning in the ups and downs of life—not just for myself, but for everyone in my circles. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Wounded Healer, writes of a fundamental “woundedness” in human nature, but that woundedness can become a source of strength and healing in our interactions with others. We know that Christ is the ultimate wounded healer, the One who shows us that resurrection is the pattern of the universe: that all truly becomes well even out of abject suffering.
In our intentional reflecting and reminiscing this holiday week, we can all trace patterns of resurrection in the here and now. We can count our blessings each day and feel gratitude for all our good relationships, our comforts of home, our problems that do get solved, and even for the experiences that come out of our choices, both good and bad. All the while God strengthens our souls. Because we are a people of faith, we know that what isn’t resurrected in this life will indeed rise in the life to come. May this thought give us much hope, peace, and joy in the New Year.