I am getting so excited to worship in person once again in our beautiful sanctuary! Here’s what to expect:
Our service will flow a little differently from days gone by; for example, you will hear Larry chime ten times to mark the ten o’clock hour and the beginning of worship. Either Pastor Dick or I will then welcome you and read the announcements and any prayer requests that you may fill out ahead of time and place in the narthex prayer box. Then Larry (or Larry and Friends on Communion Sundays) will offer a beautiful, meditative prelude without any rustling or distractions, because everyone will already be settled in. We will continue to hear a little more of Larry’s wonderful music as choir won’t be starting up again until COVID-19 caseloads begin abating and choir can sing safely near one another again. The Southwest Conference of the UCC continues to give us excellent guidance on such matters. On communion Sundays we will have sanitary, prepackaged elements. Two other differences are that the offering will occur before the sermon, and we will not continue with passing of the peace, which we can do informally during fellowship hour.
Fellowship hour will occur in the narthex, and when weather permits, we will have the doors open and can also mingle outside. Food and drink items will, by and large, be prepackaged. Inside we will require masks and social distancing—one person or family per pew. We realize that we have to stay flexible and fluid as we respond to the changing situation with the virus. We thank you in advance for your understanding. Again, it will be wonderful to be with one another again on Sunday mornings!
Grace and Peace,
Last weekend Clint and I had the honor of attending the wedding of two friends—both were in their mid 70’s. Both had been tragically widowed. Roger’s wife lingered for 11 years with Alzheimer’s disease and hadn’t recognized him for ten of those years. Patty’s husband died of pancreatic cancer right before I met her in 2014. She was my next-door neighbor in Prescott, and I remember sitting with her one afternoon as she cried in her loneliness. Fast forward seven years and Clint and I were witness to one of life’s most joyful resurrections: Roger and Patty tied the knot on the deck of their Wisconsin lakeside cottage with their closest family and friends in attendance! Patty walked toward Roger in a blue, summery dress and a crown of small red roses to the song, Everything I Do, I Do for You.
My eyes always well up at weddings, and this one was no different. As I watched, I recalled the quote, “No matter how dark it gets, the sun always rises” and thought about how this applied to both of them. Their sun was rising again last Saturday after all they had been through; what joy there was! Of course the story of resurrection is a motif woven through our Bible; we Christians indeed know that the Son rises after a time of darkness. That is why we can be a people of hope, even when passing through dark nights of the soul.
I know may of you are going through or have recently been through hard times, especially times of grief, so I write to encourage you. Resurrections eventually come, not always quickly and not always in kind. Eventually most bereaved folks find new places to invest their energy—sometimes in new relationships but also in new missions or undertakings. When we flew home from Wisconsin, I tuned into a program on the plane about new, successful restaurants. A trio of women from Oklahoma were featured for starting a successful, healthy pizza restaurant. Each of the women told their stories. One had been widowed, and she turned her energy and love of healthy food into this new venture. The woman glowed as she spoke. Patty too glowed under her crown of roses as I offered the wedding benediction. Have faith and take heart; resurrection is the pattern of life!
Two days ago we returned from our wonderful vacation in Italy and the Grecian island of Crete. In Italy Clint and I spent a full day touring the Vatican, the Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum, and our cell phone health apps registered nine miles of walking one day! On Crete we pursued an itinerary of visiting by boat the island’s most beautiful beaches and swimming in the clearest, bluest water I have ever seen. In both countries we were treated so hospitably by everyone we encountered: hotel, restaurant, and tour staff—all of whom spoke English and made us feel so welcome. Although we always try to learn some basic words like please, thank you, and good morning/evening in the languages of the countries we visit, I always feel a bit of embarrassment that we must rely upon others to speak our language when we go to their countries. I think about all the foreigners who come here and must navigate our country without the same kind of language hospitality. Indeed, it is such a privilege to be a native speaker of the international language, English! It’s a privilege Clint and I try never to expect or take for granted. In short, we are humbled by the hospitality consistently shown to us in our travels—and even for the three years when we resided in Germany.
While on vacation, we marveled at how generous everyone was to us, everywhere we went. Each night restaurant owners treated us to free desserts and raki, the ubiquitous Greek liquor, and even free wine in some places. Many took time to chat with us and wanted to know us better. I mused to Clint and my sister, with whom we traveled, that hospitality is such a high value in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, no doubt influenced by the holy scriptures of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In desert cultures especially, there have always been codes of hospitality: A resident was expected to offer it to a stranger who wandered in their midst. In fact, a stranger was seen to be one sent to a resident by God, and a resident’s failure to provide food and amenities for the stranger was seen as a hostile act. I think about Psalm 23 and the image of God’s abundant provision for (an albeit imperfect) David in the midst of enemies, the image of how God generously pours oil on David’s head in the hot dusty climate. God always shows humankind such abundant hospitality and grace, and we are called into God’s image—something the folks who hosted us in Italy and Greece must have deeply known, because they blessed us with godly generosity. The deep challenge for us is to do the same for the immigrant and the stranger, the visitor in our midst—to bless them with hospitality, endeavoring to speak their language, seeing to their needs, and connecting them to the culture. May we be aware of our great privilege both abroad and at home and extend godly hospitality to the ones who come here.
Grace and Peace,
Perhaps as we have been looking at skies over our beloved Valley of the Sun this summer, we have seen, if not smelled at some times, the smokey haze from the numerous wildfires burning in our state. It’s not just Arizona. In late July Clint and I visited Pastor Dick and his wife Shirley at their Estes Park cabin, and the Colorado skies were similarly smokey. Most times it was hard to appreciate the views of the great Rocky Mountains through the smoke. Concurrently, the news reported that on July 20, smoke from Canada and our western wildfires even darkened the skies over the Yankee Stadium in NY!
I simply don’t know how anyone can deny climate change any more; we are constantly immersed in its unhealthy effects. What’s more, I certainly don’t know how God’s People can deny or ignore climate change, believing that there is nothing we can do to stall it or mitigate its effects, which often impact the poor and marginalized the worst. I italicize God’s People, because for us, the Book of Genesis is foundational to our theology. God clearly entrusts the earth to humankind and calls us to steward it properly (Genesis 1:26-28). If you are reading a translation that uses the word “dominion,” please realize that “dominion” connotes RESPONSIBILITY to care for nature in a way that is consistent with God’s will.
Scientists tell us that we need to reduce fossil fuel C02 emissions by 65% by 2030 and then to 0% by 2040 if we are to avoid the displacement of 760 million people from sea level rise and a “hothouse earth” (see http://blueprintforbetter.org/articles/architectures-carbon-problem/). Christians need to be on the forefront of working for this. Rather than relying on cable news, I encourage all to read scientific sources (like the one in the link above) as well as professional journals and papers. Our denomination takes climate change very seriously, and at the July 2021 General Synod, the UCC became the first denomination to declare that NATURE HAS RIGHTS. You can read more about it here: https://www.ucc.org/a-new-first-united-church-of-christ-declares-that-nature-has-rights/. Let us all take the steps we can to care for God’s creation for the least of these, for nature, and for us all.
I start each day with Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, delivered overnight to my email’s inbox. I was especially struck with his July 16th mediation on prayer entitled “A Superior Lens” and this concluding quote in particular: “Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.” In particular I have often observed that prayer isn’t about wish fulfillment (as we are so apt to think it is) but about communing with God, who may feel hidden to us outside of applying our intention. Contemplative prayer opens God’s larger reality to us, a reality that we are apt to forget in the busy-ness of our lives.
Rohr goes on to define contemplation “as an exercise keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see hidden material.” I have to think that Christians could learn a lot from Eastern religions, which employ meditative and contemplative practices in everyday spirituality. Contemplative prayer reminds us of who we are—and more importantly, whose we are. Join me in resolving to set aside time each day “to be still and know…” (Psalm 46:10). To read “A Superior Lens” for yourself, go tohttps://cac.org/a-superior-lens-2021-07-16/ https://cac.org/a-superior-lens-2021-07-16/. While on the website, consider signing up for Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations. You will be blessed by them each morning.
Many of us enjoyed a special fellowship time together last Thursday evening in S & V Urban Italian Restaurant’s private dining room. It was wonderful to enjoy good food and wine together after over a year of not meeting in person due to COVID-19! In excellent company, we shared recent joys, sorrows, and told and listened to a lot of stories. We plan more of these dining out adventures now that we are vaccinated. Let me know if you have any favorite restaurants that can hold a small crowd. In the meantime, stay cool, hydrated, and keep the faith!
How many of you know that our denomination has a statement of faith? We do indeed have one, and it is printed in the back of our New Century Hymnal. I grew up saying the Statement of Faith at my United Church of Christ in Pennsylvania and always had a great appreciation for the wording. In particular, I love the part that says that Jesus has “come to us and shared our common lot.” It means so much that God descended from the heavenly realm to walk the human experience and knows so well life’s joys and sorrows. The Original Version was written in 1957 to express the common faith of our newly-formed denomination, from the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. The Statement of Faith was updated in 1981 using inclusive language and is in the form of a doxology, a fancy word for “a liturgical expression of praise to God.” I want to share the 1981 Version with you today, because it conveys who we are as a denomination and undergirds the Gospel message we share.
We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit,
God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God,
and to your deeds we testify:You call the worlds into being,
create persons in your own image,
and set before each one the ways of life and death.You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.You judge people and nations by your righteous will
declared through prophets and apostles.In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior,
you have come to us
and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to yourself.You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit,
creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ,
binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.You call us into your church
to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
to be your servants in the service of others,
to proclaim the gospel to all the world
and resist the powers of evil,
to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table,
to join him in his passion and victory.You promise to all who trust you
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
your presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you.
Peace be to You,
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!
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!
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,