EXTRAORDINARY TIMES call for extraordinary churches

In America and in much of Europe, right-wing politicians backed by screaming mobs of white nationalists are taking power. The anger, fear and hatred are so strong that democracy itself might not survive.

In America, life is about to get rocky for many. The elderly face cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare. Women face renewed pressure on reproductive rights and a prevailing attitude of     misogyny. African-Americans face overt racism and police brutality. Immigrants face deportation and public assaults.  Muslims face repression for their religion. Jews face overt anti-Semitism. Homosexuals face retribution for gains made in recent years. In moves that will surprise those who voted for the incoming president, working class whites will face loss of what few safety-net benefits they have, as well as unrealized promises on jobs.

That’s a lot of people heading into rocky times. Except for congregations serving the 1%, some of these people will be sitting in our pews, looking to us for hope. Many more are beyond our walls. They are our future.

In a time of extraordinary hurting, churches will need to get beyond “business as usual.” Here’s what would an extraordinary church should be doing in the years ahead:

  1. Look radically outward. Stop trying to make everyone inside the walls happy. Stop focusing communications internally. Stop allocating resources to serve the membership. Instead, see people outside our walls, recognize their needs, and gear up to respond to them. Understand it as love in action, not as a Membership strategy.
  1. Move beyond noblesse oblige. Stop playing “Lord and Lady Bountiful.” Stop seeing other people as “problems” needing to be solved through handouts. Instead, see them as neighbors. See “them” as “us.” Stop the once-a-year charities. Invest in people and in relationships.
  1. Ratchet down spending on self. Stop spending so much on Sunday worship and pastoral care. People need food, jobs, shelter, health care, safety, education – not better and better Sunday worship. To paraphrase JFK, ask not what your church can do for you, but ask what you and your church can do for a broken world.
  1. Form action-based partnerships. Stop hanging out only with your own kind. Extraordinary times make for strange bedfellows. Cross the boundaries that separate us. God doesn’t care who gets the credit, only that the work gets done.
  1. Strengthen faithful resolve for the resistance. Build up courage, build up determination, build up a faith that dares to be non-conformist in repressive times, build up voices that will speak when speaking becomes dangerous. Cut through doctrinal and denominational baggage, and form the oneness that has been God’s goal all along.
  1. Provide practical help. Stop the public displays of right-opinion. Stop symbolic actions. If people need jobs, help them to find work. If seniors need medical care, help them to find it. If immigrants need sanctuary, provide it. If women need ways to escape abusive men, open a shelter.
  1. Stop fighting. Just stop it. Stop worrying about who’s in charge. Stop pressuring your clergy to do your bidding. Stop settling old scores. Stop trying to hold on to power. Stop using church fights as a way to keep God small. God doesn’t need us to be right, God needs us to do kingdom work in a troubled world.

This is a lot to ask. Being an extraordinary church would stretch us in ways we have wanted to avoid being stretched. Faith is hard work.

About the Author:

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York.

He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine,

 author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.

 

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Rev. Nathaniel Stearns Klug

In lieu of an article this week, I would like to share some important and very exciting news with you!

Our Search and Call Team has chosen a pastoral candidate and their choice has been approved by the Church Council for presentation to the congregation on

Sunday

January 22, 2017

Rev. Nathaniel Stearns Klug

Nate will lead worship for us beginning at

5:00 pm

Following worship, we will hold a brief Congregational Meeting to elect Nate as our settled pastor.

The Congregational Meeting will be followed by a fellowship dinner that will allow you to begin to get to know Nate as he begins to connect with us.

ALL are WELCOME

You do not need to be a member to attend.

 

ABOUT NATE

 

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Nate Klug was born in Minnesota, grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and earned a BA in English at the University of Chicago and a Masters from Yale Divinity School. He is the author of Rude Woods (The Song Cave, 2013), a book-length adaptation of Virgil’s Eclogues, and Anyone (University of Chicago, 2015). In 2010 he was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation. A UCC-Congregationalist minister, he has served churches in North Guilford, Connecticut; Grinnell, Iowa; and Orinda, California.

He will be joining us a half-time settled pastor beginning on February 1.  The other half of Nate’s bi-vocational career is that of a writer and award-winning poet.  You can learn more about Nate’s writing career by visiting  https://w.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/nate-klug#poet.

We have found Nate to be a sensitive listener with a warm and welcoming nature who meets people where they are and accepts them with kindness and respect.  His writing background has enhanced his communication and preaching skills.

Nate and his wife, the Rev. Kit Novotny, currently attend the First Church of Berkeley, UCC, where Kit serves as the Young Adult  Minister.  They live in a pink house in Berkeley with Inky the terrier mutt (named after Increase Mather, the notorious Puritan. Do ask.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s News

 

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Finding Christmas in Dark Times

~ Ronald Zajac/The Recorder and Times

Recently, I had to introduce myself to a group of people and my turn came after a friend who was described as “the life of the party.”   I was not yet in a festive mood, so I reverted to my favourite refuge of irony.

“I’m a journalist and I tend to talk a lot about politics, so I’m usually the death of the party,” I quipped.

That’s right: At any given family gathering, I’m the guy who is likeliest to “go there.”  But this year, “going there” has reminded me more intensely of what Christmas really is.

The truth is, my thoughts, like my social media feeds, have mostly been hyper-political this year, and, if left unchecked by my better angels and a watchful editor, I could easily turn a Christmas column into the death of the Christmas party.

So, if you’re still with me at this point, let me go as far as this: The Year of Our Lord 2016 has not been kind to people of my  political inclinations. Those of us who sincerely fear for the fate of democracy have transitioned, in recent weeks, from despair to gloom to resignation to a nascent resolve to suit up for a fight, because we expect, soon enough, to see the fight come to our own corner of the Earth.

Christmas is supposed to be a beacon of light in the darkness, but this year that darkness has become particularly perilous, with intolerance of the racial or ethnic variety on the ascendant.  And so I hear the kind of sappy Christmas pop tunes I disdained in this same space last year and I think to myself: “What an   unforgivable waste of time.”

These are not the merry thoughts that go down smoothly with eggnog, but then, the original Christmas has about as little to do with eggnog as the original Easter has to do with the bunny rabbit.

I was reminded of this at what has become a favourite pre-Christmas ritual: Covering the Gathering for Peace at Christ United Church in Lyn.   To a Christian, at the heart of Christmas is the biggest contradiction in the world: A tiny, vulnerable child born in abject conditions in an occupied country, who also happens to be King of the Universe.  I was reminded of this by Reverend Wendy MacLean, who told the gathering that our presence at Christmas is a testament to how the birth cries of that child still call to us.  That is my own faith tradition, and suddenly it seems more relatable than ever.

When times are dark, I reflected, maybe the embers of hope that remain deep within us are a bit like that child: At once vulnerable and all-powerful, a contradiction of mortal flesh and immortal spirit.

The point of the gathering was to bring together many different faith traditions, something MacLean considered particularly important, coming on the heels of a small uptick in racist vandalism in nearby Ottawa. When people feel the need to be hostile, she said, it has to be challenged.  And it occurred to me that challenge is nothing grandiose or spectacular, but, like Christmas itself, something that starts small, like a gathering of three dozen people in a village church, but which has the potential to grow into the most important thing of all.

This is Christmas, stripped of the sappy music and consumer goods and endless parties: A light in the darkness that grows, a burst of good news in the fearful silence, the one time of year when, for a fleeting moment, “Peace on Earth” may have the potential to be more than an inscription on a greeting card.

And so, while for some of us the gaudiness of the holidays is something that is easily skipped, Christmas remains essential, a celebration of the light to come.

December 23, 2016

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Today’s Newsletter

2017

SING with JOY

by Kate Matthews

At Christmas, we gaze at the manger scene, we sing songs and re-tell the ancient story of the birth of Jesus: we celebrate, filled with joy at that amazing gift of God so long ago. However, our psalm reading for this day, Psalm 98, calls us to sing “a new song” not only because of what God has done in the past but   also because of what God is still doing today and will continue to do in the future. At the core of their religious observance, the people of Israel remembered God’s faithfulness in their past, but also recognized the presence of God in their present, in their midst at that moment, judging the people, judging the world God had created: in a sense, then, continuing to create and      re-shape, to re-create it all along.

We might be jarred by this notion of judgment entering our Christmas celebration, but Beth Tanner reminds us that the warmth of the Christmas season “gives way to the long, cold winter,” a good time to “change how we live so that others can live.” (This seasonal reference may not apply to churches in, say, Australia, where my grandchildren have 90-degree Christmas weather, but changing our lives in the new year certainly does.) Simply put, Tanner says, “The psalm calls on us to party for the equality of all.” That approach brings our Christmas celebration into the same rhythm, and singing the same melody, with the same harmonies, as God’s song of justice and healing and peace, not just for some, but for all of this world that God loves so well.

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, 20th century

“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning–not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”

 

Hamilton Wright Mabie, 19th century

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

Philip Yancey, 21st century

“Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.”

Bess Streeter Aldrich, Song of Years, 20th century

“Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart… filled it, too, with a melody that would last forever. Even though you grew up and found you could never quite bring back the magic feeling of this night, the  melody would stay in your heart always–a song for all the years.”

 

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (matthewsk@ucc.org) retired in July

after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel

at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio

 

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CALLED to VOLUNTEER

Volunteer, verb – To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and  without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one’s basic obligations. 

~ from the Introduction to By the People:

A History of Americans as Volunteers

by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell.

Volunteering is held in high esteem in the United States. It’s the backbone of support for countless churches and other nonprofits and is viewed as a good use of personal time. Volunteering can boost the efforts of many programs, from food drives to tutoring and fundraising, not to mention creating personal connections with others in the community. Many colleges place a high emphasis on volunteering among teens who apply to their schools, and for many volunteering continues into other phases of their lives.

Unfortunately, volunteering is in a bit of decline since 2002.  It’s only lower by 2 to 3 percent (depending on which poll you follow) but there are a few reasons to be concerned about the overall drop in volunteers. For one, based on 2014 data, it seems like the drop in volunteering could be the start of a larger trend. Another reason is that certain subsections of volunteers, namely those with more education and likely higher pay, are also reporting fewer volunteer hours.

Additionally, in California alone, just a few less hours by each of the over seven million volunteers here equates to millions of dollars  lost each year by the work those volunteers would have completed.

Looking at other California statistics, we see that volunteers spent a median of 52 hours on volunteer activities during the period from September 2014 to September 2015.  Among those who volunteered, median annual hours spent on volunteer activities ranged from a high of 94 hours for those age 65 and over to a low of 36 hours for those under 35 years old.  

It’s also interesting to note that nearly 60% of Californians who volunteer also participate in informal volunteer efforts such as doing favors for neighbors, etc.

Of course, volunteering is not just about the statistics.  All humans have a basic need to respond to the needs of others.  And as Christians, our need to help burns even brighter.  As it says in I Thessalonians 5:15, “…always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

~ Kathie

My Benefits of Volunteering

“Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”    ~ 1Peter 4:10

I learned, first hand, that the benefits of volunteering are good for your mind as well as your body. I got very depressed after a move to Reno NV in 2007 and started volunteering at a Faith based Clothes Closet.  After being there a while, my problems didn’t seem so big any more and the store became my “Happy Place”.  I soon was offered a job to run the front of the store and had to step out of my comfort zone of the “worker” and become the “manager”.

My husband of 43 years and 3 children and I have lived in one  foreign country and four states. I volunteered in each place.  One of my children gave me the title of “Professional Volunteer”.  I am new to Redwood City; the benefit of volunteering here is making new friends that are like-minded. I am learning my way around town and making connections with this community.  I found Street Life Ministries (SLM) by happy accident with  God’s intervention.  The Clothes Closet is allowing me to share and use my knowledge from my experience in Reno, and I am learning how SLM runs its Clothes Closet.

Another benefit of volunteering is the fun, fulfillment and work it brings to my life.  I went to a SLM volunteer BBQ before I ever did any work for them and had great fellowship and wonderful food. Chris Kempton and I have worked hard to organize a clothing drive.  I have never written nor received so many emails – or had so many meetings to make contacts, inform people and local churches, and find volunteers—-It’s coming together nicely.

Volunteering has a happiness effect for all involved. It fills my need to serve others, to do something for myself, to keep busy, to feel needed, to feel appreciated and to socialize.   I like the feeling that I am making a difference in people’s lives because I gave them some clothes, a sleeping bag or a hygiene kit.  I like thinking because. I spoke with them, shook hands with them, hugged them, made them smile, or laugh, I am bringing them happiness, It makes me happy.  I also love the interaction with the other volunteers on Monday nights.

I challenge each of you to think about the benefits you receive from volunteering.

When I get to Heaven, I’m looking forward to hearing   “Job well done good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:23

~ Joyce

 

Today’s Newsletter

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