This season of Lent, I’ve asked us to take on gratitude as a new spiritual discipline, rather than sacrifice even more than we have already this year.
Gratitude journals remain available in the Narthex of the church for adults (solid color books) and children (the smiley-faced ones) to use to write down each day things for which they are grateful. Suggestions for gratitude exercises are also provided.
We do have so much to be grateful for—vaccines are rolling out in greater numbers, we survived SNOVID 2021, our committees are organizing greater work and mission of our congregation, our financial giving is growing, and new members are joining!
There also remain struggles in our lives and our world that hurt our hearts, fuel our anger, leave us questioning where God and goodness are, and have us reeling to know how to even begin to respond.
In this month’s Glimpses of Faith Newsletter, you’ll read of the death of our former conference minister and friend to many, our current interim conference minister’s prophetic call to action in the face of yet another mass murder in our nation, opportunities to serve our faith family and our community, the chance to help teach our children how to engage in mission to support our world, and much more.
Joys and sorrows are interwoven, and yet we as a people of God look for the good not in a glory to come but in what is available to us in the gifts God gives each moment, even during the hardest of times.
As followers of that radical advocate of justice and love, Jesus, we seek to BE the good by the ways we show up as co-creators of equality, peace, and extravagant welcome to all God’s children and each part of God’s creation. For what are you grateful? In what ways do you feel called to BE God’s church in the world? Where can you be the good you wish to see? How can we follow Jesus in bringing change by changing ourselves, first, by loving and accepting ourselves and letting go of the fear that drives us to be less than our best selves? Let us begin, right now, to live out our hope for a brighter future as people of God’s resurrection.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.
Grace and peace to you in the name of all that is truth and light and life and love, and in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I am excited to have begun life and ministry with you after receiving your call to serve as your Designated Term Pastor effective January 1st. I appreciate your trust in me, your gracious welcome, your participation in worship and service leadership as we seek to revitalize our outreach, and your patience and support with my learning curve as I get to know each of you and the systems and needs of Faith Church.
As I reviewed the reports for today’s meeting, one word was constant—challenge. Certainly, our world has seen unprecedented struggle that has impacted us all in many ways. Families, businesses, and non-profit organizations, including faith communities, across the world have sought ways to survive. I understand the struggles of Faith Church in 2020 came on top of other challenges that were present in 2019.
Many of you know that my most recent ministry has been in teaching professional (doctors, nurses, counselors, lawyers, leaders, etc.) and family caregivers about the emotional competencies of showing up well for ourselves so we can show up well for others in a healthy and helpful way.
Understandably, since last March, the presentation I have been asked to provide most is titled, “More Than Survival: Thriving Through Challenging Times”. It takes the last 3 decades of my studies, research, and experience to describe practical ways we can each build greater emotional intelligence and practice the resilience that allows us to grow during and after potentially traumatic events.
One of the key factors of resilience is this: the stories we choose to tell ourselves about our circumstances can either make or break us. We can tell stories of helplessness—fear, anxiety, scarcity, and threat—or stories of optimism—hope, community, creative action, and opportunity.
Language is important as it impacts the direction our stories take. Therefore, I invite us to take as our word and focus this year not “challenge” but “opportunity”. For example, I am asking the congregation to call what is commonly termed the budget a Statement of Faith, instead.
As a people of God, we are a people of resurrection, but we know that first requires a letting go of what once was to embrace the new life that God seeks to bring us to. We have a unique opportunity to follow God’s guidance in:
*re-envisioning a congregation without walls as we make use of social media and invite our young to help us there
*re-imagining our Christian Education not in months or a year from now, but even now in a virtual and even socially-distanced outdoor world
*finding creative ways to make use of our outdoor space at Faith Church to draw people together and equip them to engage in justice for all of God’s creation
*letting new residents in our community, the 2nd fastest growing city in the U.S., know there is a progressive church with an alternative Christian voice available in New Braunfels
*reaching, through outdoor gatherings in our community, those who might not otherwise walk through the doors of a church
*supporting those isolated from others, including our elders, those sick, our children, parents struggling to work remotely while caring for loved ones, and more
* harkening back to the true origins of Sunday School as a means of serving the local community with education that helped folks in their daily lives
*expanding our understanding of what inclusive and diverse community means as we look to margins perhaps never before considered at Faith
*being a place of refuge and healing for those who never knew the word “family” could be a good thing
*offering a word of hope to a traumatized, divided, and anxious world
*continuing to feed, nurture, equip, and inspire our members to bring their best selves to the world around them and to engage in leadership of Faith Church, no matter what their gifts, talents, age, or ability
There are many things we are powerless to change in our present circumstances, but we are not helpless to take action on our own behalf.
Every one of us, empowered and equipped by the Spirit of God that exists within each of us, can take part in the opportunity we have to embrace the new things our Still-Speaking God wants to do in our midst, as we find creative ways to thrive and to BE the Church in this coming year.
What opportunities do you feel God calling you to in this year of innovation and growth? As we put our hands to the plow and do not turn back, we will face this year of opportunity with faith in God, ourselves, and each other, knowing we do not come to this task alone.
God is already in our future and waits patiently to meet us there. I am excited to see where the journey together leads us in 2021, and it is an honor to face each step with you.
What an incredibly insane time we have faced this past year and in the first several weeks of 2021!! As I shared in my Pastor’s Letter to the Congregation at our Annual Meeting 1/24/21 (see letter, here), our faith calls us to see such times as opportunities—to deepen our trust in God, to grow in our love for each other, and to learn even more effective ways to BE the church.
Faith Church has a long history of doing exactly that and, in this season, that will not change. Our methods may look different. Our format and places of service may not be the same as we get creative about ways to continue our Mission. Our heart for justice and unity in spirit, however, faithfully remain:
*We continue to have volunteers serve at the SOS Food Bank and we continue to pray for our friends at Family Promise until that mission can safely resume on a broader scale.
*I’m working to connect us with a couple of community coalitions in New Braunfels to work together on issues of hunger, solutions to homelessness, and other needs (stay tuned!)
*We continue to provide KIVA loans and, with the support of Mike Ziegler and Frank Dietz, will be engaging our young to meet monthly via Zoom to help decide how we will make those loans.
*We have a new Pastoral Care Team, currently led by Pastoral Assistant, Janet Sherman (NOTE: we need a congregant willing to help organize and lead that team) sending notes and making calls to those more shut in than others, those grieving, and those who are ill who are connected to our Faith family.
*We are adding members to our Tech Team, currently led by Joe, Mikki, and Sam Ward, and extending the reach of our unique message of God’s inclusive love through our recorded services via the website and social media, and will soon broadcast them on FaceBook Live.
*We are forming a Social Media Team to work with our Tech Team to increase our presence via uplifting, educational, and advocacy-oriented Facebook posts, Instagram and Pinterest memes, and tweets on Twitter (kids, youth, young adults, and ALL, we need your help…who’s in?)
*The COVID team is meeting to help guide us through safe outdoor gatherings, disaster response, and mission support.
*We are adopting a spiritual practice of Gratitude and giving up worry for this 40-day season of Lent.
*We are hosting a virtual Lenten Book Study of Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” for 6 weeks Wednesdays at 7pm with myself and Beth Bizer.
*With the help of Sam Ward and David Reed, we are updating the website to respond to needs, share information, let the community know who we are and what we do, and to help us gather information from our Virtual Worship Service visitors so we can follow up with them.
*We are working to create virtual experiences of worship to engage our members and new friends around the country and our young ones are helping lead by being liturgists each week, along with our adult scripture readers.
*We’re engaging our young ‘uns in safe ways during a Time for Children each week and also sharing our Joys and Concerns together via Zoom once the recorded portion of our service is complete.
*We are organizing music for our services that lifts us up, shares our message of advocacy and inclusion, and prepares us for the week ahead.
*We’re planning in-person, socially-distanced, outdoor social gatherings at the church for both Theology on Tap (bring your own beverage and talk theology with the pastor) and Faith Family Time (10 chairs 6-feet apart around each fire pit to visit safely).
And soooo much more!!
Thank you for your patience with me as I’ve been getting up to speed with the processes and needs of this congregation. My apologies for not getting a newsletter out to you for January and February.
If we missed a birthday or anniversary, please let us know. We’ll be asking for your help in updating the directory in the coming weeks to make sure we have those special dates and current contact info for our Faith family.
Moving forward, content for the newsletter is due to me by the 23rd of each month. Many thanks to David Reed and Sam Ward, who will help get Glimpses of Faith out to you the first Tuesday of each month.
As we recover from the tragic weather of recent weeks, look ahead to increasing unity in our country, and pray for extensive vaccination of our world, there is much reason to hope and to be excited about what God is doing and will continue to do in us and in our world.
We will not sit back and wait for the world to re-open in order to be about the business of God’s work. We will seek diligently to follow our Still-Speaking here and now, and to find opportunities in the midst of challenges to revitalize ourselves, our ministry, and, by the grace of God, the world around us.
The U…C…What?! For those not familiar with us, it can be a little confusing!:
“Oh, yeah…You’re Unity, right?” Nope. We share their focus on community, positivity, and education, but that’s not us.
“So, then, you’re the Unitarians?” Nuh uh. We share their value of other religions and spiritual paths, but that’s not us.
We are the United Church of Christ.
“Wait! You mean the ones who don’t use music instruments or allow women to preach?” Nope. While we love our conservative brothers and sisters (and man, can they sing!), we are waaaaayyy on the other end of the political and theological spectrum.
The United Church (pause here) of Christ, is a Protestant (like Methodists and Lutherans) denomination that began when 4 denominations united in 1957. There are tons of us in the Midwest, Northeast, West Coast, Hawaii (yes, please!), and we’re growing in the South.
We’re about as far left as you can go and still be considered Christian. Our Unitarian friends affectionately joke the UCC stands for “Unitarians Considering Christ” because we are similar, just with a much heavier emphasis on Jesus (as Trinitarians, we’re big fans of the Holy Spirit, too!)
The UCC is a mainstream Christian denomination with deep roots in social justice, peace movements, activism, and support for the environment. Our ancestors were educators, abolitionists, civil rights and healthcare advocates, and folks of radical love and extravagant welcome.
We ordained the first openly gay man in 1972, voted to affirm full rights and participation in the Church and society for transgender persons in 2003, and became the first mainline Christian denomination to support equal marriage rights for all in 2005.
We’re relatively light on dogma; extremely light on judgment (we try hard never to be but, hey, we’re human); and heavy on standing with people Jesus hung out with—those cast to the margins by society, those treated as any way less than, and those oppressed (like Dr. King, we even try to love the gremlins in our own and others’ hearts that lead us to oppress others).
We often say, “Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, and neither do we.” Micah 6:8—seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God—sums up what we seek to do, pretty well. We’re imperfect, ever-growing, and try to have a hella lotta fun together along the way. So, come hang out awhile, let us love on ya, and see if maybe we, and the UCC, are for you.