Normal?

Friends,

Many of us are in a hurry to return to normal, and there are signs all around us of some kind of return. When I went to Fry’s this past week, for example, I noted that the vast majority, for better or worse, were not wearing masks.  It looked almost like old times.
As Pastor Dick and I begin preparations for in-person worship again, we have frequently mused over the idea that what was once normal in our churches may never quite be so again—not like it is at Fry’s anyway.  We know that we are still facing struggles (even though we are getting some things replaced and patched up around our campus that were long overdue).  Will people return to church again, we wonder?  Or is worshipping on-line and in our pajamas more comfortable?  Have new routines replaced old ones?

 
Episcopal priest, Stephanie Spellers is a leading thinker on change and growth in the church, and she sees the current challenges of church and society as a way of God “cracking open” people for greater possibility.  In commenting on her work, Richard Rohr expressed the typical, churchgoer mindset: “Americans and church folks have been tempted to replace, destabilize and re-center.  Let’s return to the building.  Let’s reestablish majority American Christianity in its former, privileged cultural post.”  Yet, he admits that God may indeed be doing a new thing out of the present unraveling.  Alen J. Roxburgh in his book Joining God, Remaking Church, and Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in Our Time says that American Christianity’s malaise may even be the work of God, nudging us on to something new.  He writes, “A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church.  It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality.  It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  That’s a church God can work with.”


My prayer is that God is at work doing something new and great in our humble little church.  Normal really wasn’t working well anyway.  I am reminded of the verse Isaiah 43:19:  “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Join me in praying for God’s in-breaking and a future at CCOV UCC characterized by something far greater than normal!

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Attempt Something BIG!

Friends,

The president of my seminary often puts a quote out on social media that goes something like this:  Attempt something so big that it is bound to fail unless God intervenes.  Of course his intent is to inspire present students and alumni alike to think big and and have faith that God will intervene for God’s own kingdom.  Admittedly, attempting something big is a pretty challenging sentiment, especially for risk-adverse people like me.  I’ve been thinking about my seminary president’s quote for a few weeks now, especially as Pastor Dick and our (present and former) council members have charged ahead with long-needed repairs, replacements, and a general sprucing up of our church campus.  We are all excited about our Sunday, Oct. 3 grand reopening, and we are attempting something big:  Get it ready and they will come.  We are faithfully expecting God to intervene.  CCOV UCC is going to have a future!


As I’ve been cranking on the quote about attempting something big, it seems like God continues to message me in a similar vein. Today while in the narthex, I noticed a plaque on the table off to the left.  I never noticed this plaque before.  It reads: “Going out on a limb is risky, but that’s where all the fruit is.”  We all want a fruitful future for our church.  In preparation for our post-COVID reopening, consider brainstorming with us ways to make Oct. 3 big!  Join with us in September as we work around the campus together, pledge additional gifts to cover maintenance and replacement costs, serve on council, and evangelize your friends and neighbors.  Tell them about our loving church family, our inspired music, our outreach, and our inclusive message.  Unite with us as we faithfully attempt a BIG future at CCOV UCC!

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi         

UCC Southwest Annual Conference 2021

Friends,

I want to report back to you on the highlights of the UCC Southwest Annual Conference that Clint, Pastor Dick, and I attended by Zoom over April 23-25.  First, our own Scott Greenwood was also in attendance as he serves as the conference treasurer and gave a wonderful and uplifting report on the financial health of the conference.  Because of the recent sale of several church properties, the conference has plenty of money and is able, among funding other new conference-wide ministries, to offer churches a $5000 grant for upgrading the technology we need to continue to offer meaningful virtual worship!

In fact, the theme of this year’s annual conference was hybrid worship models.  Perhaps if there is any silver lining for the church in this age of COVID-19, it is how it has catapulted us into the future of extending worship via technology to get progressive Christian message out beyond the walls of our own sanctuaries.  Brent Jensen will continue to video our worship and Three Good Minutes services even after we return to meeting in person on Oct. 3.  We have expanded our reach, and our services will still be available virtually across the country and around the world!  We were also inspired to see the creative ways our sister churches have done ministry during the pandemic.  One church in Albuquerque even did a socially-distanced baptism with ropes and buckets!  We enjoyed seeing a film clip of this.

A hearing that Clint and I attended involved a tweaking of conference by-laws to reflect more inclusive language in its on-going efforts to decenter whiteness and incorporate varied voices from all of its southwestern regions.  Be assured that our conference is actively grappling with the legacy of racism among other social ills in our society.

The conference concluded on Sunday, April 25 with an uplifting worship service you can access on YouTube by clicking here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sOYi3gajA0.  Don’t miss the clip of our own Scott Greenwood, the inspiring music, and Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Bill Lyon’s excellent message.

In His Service,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Breaking the Cycle


Friends,

A few months ago I got pulled over in Cave Creek for speeding.  Passing through unfamiliar territory, I wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit signs; I offer no excuses.  I took an on-line driving class so that the points wouldn’t go on my record, and that was that.  Those of you who attend our church (who have also seen those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror) know that sinking feeling that I felt, but I doubt you have ever felt the abject terror that an encounter with a police officer could possibly end your life.

    
I am writing in the recent aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and Daute Wright—and the longer aftermath of Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and so many others.  My heart just weeps when our brothers and sister of color are dying at a much higher rate at the hands of police than white people.  In fact, per a 2019 research article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the course of life than are white men.

 
That said, I also have friends who are police officers who are exhausted and feeling reviled and unsupported.  They lament the lack of respect for the law they are supposed to uphold and enforce.  Many are burned out, quitting all together, or retiring early.  That is worrisome because we know we need a fully-staffed, well-trained, and healthy police force to protect society.  It would be truly awful if we needed help and no one was there to respond.

 
In this most polarizing of times, it seems we are all caught in a vicious cycle of whose lives matter the most.  And that is getting us precisely nowhere.  Jesus knew and acted on this deep truth: His message, in both his living and dying, was to yield power and privilege for the sake of us (read Philippians 2:1-11).  I think of the whole biblical canon and all of the stories that tell the lengths God always goes to protect God’s people, and how quickly we forget that we are called to live into that image.  If God seeks to protect us, we must respond by seeking first and foremost to protect one another.  If we could all get on board with that message, what a radically different world that would be!  Blue lives would seek to protect black lives, and black lives would seek to protect blue lives. In fact, that’s the only way the world can truly work.  Someone has to break the cycle though.  May we all live lives of looking first to the needs and interests of others.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Staying in Touch with Dear Friends

Friends,

I learned late last week that long-time members, Bill and Nora, are traveling back to Ohio where they will explore a move into an assisted living residence.  They do not expect to winter in Scottsdale in the future, though they plan to keep their Scottsdale home for their children to use.  As you may recall, Bill suffered a number of health setbacks recently.  CCOV UCC has been a very important part of their lives, and they continue to enjoy our on-line services immensely.  I know that they will love hearing from all of us.  I encourage you to write them a card or phone them from time to time.  Please thank them for all of their service to our church throughout the years.  Clint and I will surely miss their lovely faces greeting folks as ushers and hosting all those fellowship hours. Their contact information is available from Michelle in the church office.

Let us be in prayer for the our dear brother and sister in Christ and for each other.

Co-Pastor Sandi

Holy Week 2021


Friends,

Here we are already in Holy Week, 2021!  While we are still worshipping virtually like we did last year, there is much hope on the horizon as vaccines become more widely distributed!  How I wish we could be together physically for Easter as well as the events of Holy Week, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  Since we cannot yet all be together, I will remind you of their meanings.


Maundy Thursday is our remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples when he washed their feet.  The world “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning mandate or command.  In modeling humble service, Jesus mandated that his followers also serve one another.

 
Following Maundy Thursday, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified.  We may ask, “Why do we call it Good then?”  I will offer two possible answers.  One, the word Good used herehas a more obsolete sense in that it connotes piousness and holiness.  Two, the origin of the term Good is often debated.  It may have come from God’s Friday.  In either case, the name Good Friday is apt because the suffering and death of Jesus, as awful as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s great plan for humanity’s salvation—which is the ultimate good.

 
After Jesus’s death, some Christians also hold vigil on Holy Saturday, which ends the Lenten season.  The vigil is the final (tomb-side) preparation for the resurrection, which we joyously celebrate on Easter Sunday.

 
It is my prayer that Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday this week remind you that we pass through many difficulties on life’s journey, but these difficulties are sure to end with the great joy of RESURRECTION!  Remember that love doesn’t end and life doesn’t end: This is our blessed Easter hope!

Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Loving the Immigrant as Ourselves

Friends,

I know that many of you are concerned with what is going on at the border, and some have asked if there is anything we can do to assist asylum seekers, who are suffering in many ways.  Though our little church is fully engaged right now with many other types of mission projects, if you want to render aid, you can help one of our sister churches in the conference in this very Christian cause.  First Church Phoenix (1407 N 2nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85004) is the site for a drive-by drop-off of basic medical donations this coming Sunday morning.  Here is specific information from the conference newsletter:

“The Immigration Task Force at First Church Phoenix invites everyone to drive through their parking lot On Sunday, March 21 from 8am-10am to drop off needed medical supplies and donations to assist families seeking asylum. The donations benefit One Hundred Angels, a local volunteer group that assists asylum seekers with basic medical care. Families making the long journey to the United States from South of the Border are exposed to extreme environmental conditions, experience poor nutrition, exhaustion, dehydration, and other issues that weaken their immune systems.  Items might include Cough Drops, Vitamins, Pain relief (aspirin or ibuprofen), First Aid supplies (bandaids, Q-tips, wound care, lotions), Stomach relief (Anti-acids and over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication), Pediasure, Baby Formula, and Gallon-size ziplock bags.”


Our Bibles have a lot to say about how to treat our fellow human beings who happen to be the alien, immigrant, and stranger.  In Leviticus 19:34 God says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  For an extensive list of Bible verses regarding the treatment and care of immigrants, please click here:  https://sojo.net/22-bible-verses-welcoming-immigrants.


I rejoice with you as you continue to get vaccinated!  That means we can soon start seeing one another’s wonderful faces in person once again!

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

One Great Hour of Sharing

Friends,

Each Lent during my childhood, our UCC would collect an annual offering in little globe-shaped, folded-paper containers.  In Sunday school class and in worship, even children were encouraged to allocate some of their allowance for One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS).  We all listened to moving stories about how our donations changed lives around the globe, and I remember how my Sunday school friends and I got so excited to participate with the adults.   

This time of year, our congregation typically joins with the greater UCC denomination in OGHS, which part of Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM).  OGHS is a yearly opportunity to give an offering that changes lives through the provision of clean water, food, medications, shelter, healthcare, education, advocacy and resettlement for refugees and displaced persons, disaster preparedness and response, emergency relief and rehabilitation—plus more.  Other denominations including the American Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, and Church World Service join together in this worthy effort.  You can learn more about OGHS and how to donate on line by clicking here:  https://www.ucc.org/oghs_resources_frequently-asked-questions/.  You may also send a check to church and designate the offering to benefit One Great Hour of Sharing.  All donations should be received by March 14.

I do realize that we have just pledged our usual tithes and offerings and are also participating in the Southwest Conference’s Lenten mission project to relieve medical debt, but I still want to encourage you to donate to OGHS if you are able—there is just so much need in the world!  May you continue to experience the deep joy of giving this Lenten season.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

UCC Campus Ministry at ASU

Friends,

Although it was many years ago now, I well remember how spiritually formative campus ministry was for me and other Christian students during our years at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.  Our campus minister was always available for guidance, support, and stimulating Bible studies.  He also planned and accompanied students on a number of well-attended off-campus retreats and adventures, which became some of my most memorable college experiences.


I thought you might be interested to know about a similarly vibrant ministry of the United Church of Christ on the campus of Arizona State University.  Desert Palm UCC in Tempe, in partnership with the Southwest Conference of the UCC, offers a campus ministry with a progressive presence and voice on the ASU Campus.  I have recently become friends with the UCC Campus Minister, Andrew Ponder Williams, who has acquainted me with his programs.  He offers support for students in the form of weekly small groups, monthly worship, and one-on-one conversations.  Because of COVID-19, Andrew and his students are mostly interacting right now by Zoom, though that will change in the future.  Besides advocating for ignored voices, fighting climate change, ensuring all people have housing, and advancing LGBTQ rights with his students, Andrew also leads Arizona adventures away from campus so that students can enjoy enriching spiritual retreats at low or no cost through scholarships.  All students are welcome—not just ones who are UCC.   He has prepared a video for you all to watch that describes his ministry.  I think you will enjoy getting to know him and learning about the work he does by clicking here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1P2jR9Z5b5T8Mvi3-OX4vUVKAGL_PVDB0/view.  When we can meet in person again, we will have him preach one Sunday.  In the meantime, maybe you have grandchildren at ASU or know of friends’ children who would benefit from such support and spiritual formation while in college.  

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Retiring Medical Debt as a Lenten Project

Friends,

Lent, you know, is a fairly somber church calendar season that begins this year on February 17 (Ash Wednesday) and ends with the great feast of Easter.  It used to be that people would “give something up” or fast from something for the forty days of Lent.  For some, this might involve giving up chocolate, omitting meat, or turning off the TV, perhaps to join in some small way with Christ’s suffering.  In recent years, people have begun adding a practice instead—like performing some sort of special service to benefit the needy or giving something away.  Rather than renouncing chocolate (which is a vegetable and, as it turns out, is good for us!), why not instead participate in CCOV’s debt-relief project, which will be so very liberating for burdened people?  Imagine what this will mean for area families who learn that their medical debt has been paid off by the members of our church!  Could there be any finer way to imitate Christ than through debt paying?  Please read more about this special project in your moderator’s newsletter column this week.   

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi