Dear Friends in Christ:
I trust everyone has enjoyed the beautiful September weather. God is great and each day is a gift from our maker.
Things at church are beginning to get busy. We started our Sunday School on the 8th and church is now in full swing, getting ready for the Thanksgiving and Advent/Christmas season. Of course, they stuck Halloween in there as well. I hope you will join us as we move toward the holidays.
We will also have the last of the year Tag Sale and the Rubber Stamp sale along the way.
Please do join on Sundays at worship. We miss you when you are absent.
Returning from my morning walk. I am reminded of the beauty of God’s creation. I’m also reminded that the morning chill is a harbinger of the coming of Autumn, my favorite time of year.
With our vacations, and summer travel behind us, we can now settle in for our regular worship attendance. Hope to see you all there with us.
Our Sunday School opening is scheduled for September 8th. A big thank you to all the staff that works diligently to bring the word of God to our children. It is a very important position that requires lots of patience and hard work. We will celebrate our Sunday School students and staff with a potluck luncheon following church on Sunday the 8th. More information in bulletin next week.
Enjoy the Labor Day weekend with family and friends and let’s hold all those in our congregation in our prayers.
Blessings to all,
To my Friends at WCC:
It’s been quite challenge getting through the HOT weather this summer. Having worship in the Hall worked out quite well. Hopefully most of the heat is behind us.
August will be a busy and challenging month for us, with the Barbeque and Auction to keep us busy. It’s a good time for fellowship and raising a bit for the church.
Speaking of the church, I wish to thank all who give their time and talents to make us who we are at WCC. Our working together makes us a successful, enjoyable place where we can all worship together. Thanks to all of you.
Here we are at the beginning of July, the year is half way over. My how time flies. I'm looking forward to the annual Chicken Barbecue coming up soon. It's a good time for fellowship in our church. Hope you can help.
Summer is of course a time for family gatherings and travel. I pray your vacations are safe and fun. Please keep in touch over the summer. Remember bills never take a vacation, so please remember we need to keep up with our budget.
In closing I want to thank everyone who works diligently to make our church a great place to worship our God. Without your efforts we would not have a church. Whether it be a position on the board of Deacons, Sunday School, Choir, Treasurer, fund raising, or making sure our buildings and grounds are kept up, everyone gives something to make us successful.
I’m so pleased with the hard work everyone put forth for the annual FNCCC meeting we had at our church. It was a huge undertaking with many hours required to pull it off. Thanks so much for all the effort from everyone, especially Ellie and Alice, who spearheaded the project.
With the coming of summer, some of the routines of church will be taking a vacation, along with many of us. Please hold the church in your prayers as you travel or vacation.
Thanks to all who work so diligently to keep Westchester CC a wonderful place to worship.
Please note that I am available through email, phone or text at any time.
Hi Fellow Travelers:
Hope you are enjoying the lovely springtime here in New England. Flowers are growing, the sound of mowers fill the air, farm tractors are beginning to wake up, and the birds are busy building nests and finding mates. What a great creation our Master has given us.
This is also time for paying tribute to our mom’s. Some of us may still have our moms with us, they are the fortunate ones. Those of us whose moms have gone to their rewards have the memories of their moms. My mom has been gone for a few years and I still have moments when I think she is right next to me, guiding me as I go through this life. I wish all moms a very happy day.
Had a great time at the Turkey Dinner the other Saturday. The food was delicious and the fellowship was wonderful. Thanks to everyone who was able to be with us. Thanks to all who make our church a place to worship our Lord and Savior.
Til next time I remain, Yours in Christ,
To My Friends at Westchester CC:
I would like to thank everyone for the warm welcome I have received as your Interim Minister. It is a humbling, and challenging experience to start anew in a church. You all have been very welcoming.
Spring is in the air, and with that, comes the wonderful Easter experience. It is a wonderful time of year, especially her in New England as we witness the resurrection of not only our Savoir, Jesus Christ, but the renewal of God’s wonderful creation. I’m anxious to see the gardens at the church as they come to life.
This is a good time to reassess our commitment to our faith. If you have been thinking of coming back to church or recommitting yourself to Christ, now is a good time to do it. I would love to see those, who may have been taking a break until we find a new pastor, join us, once again, in worship.
We will be celebrating our Easter here at Westchester as usual. Please see the time of our services elsewhere in our newsletter.
“This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
To My Friends at WCC:
Well I am finally getting a handle on things at church, I’m still learning names and which doors go where, and committee members. It’s my first time in twenty years that I have had to go through this. Thanks so much for your patience and understanding. It is still a work in progress.
This Month we begin our trek toward Jerusalem. Lent is a time for us to re-examine our faith and commitment to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Historically, Lent has been a season of giving something up, sacrificing, if you will, something that will make us a bit uncomfortable. I like to think of Lent as a season to give rather than give up.
I found this article and would like to share it with you for the beginning of our Lenten season:
“What should I give up during Lent?” The Lenten edition of the Family Life Newsletter gives the following suggestions.
Give up complaining – focus on gratitude;
Give up pessimism – become an optimist;
Give up harsh judgments – think kindly thoughts;
Give up worry – trust Divine Providence;
Give up discouragement – be full of hope;
Give up bitterness – turn to forgiveness;
Give up hatred – return good for evil;
Give up anger – be more patient;
Give up negativism – be positive;
Give up pettiness – become mature;
Give up gloom – enjoy the beauty that is all around you;
Give up jealousy – pray for trust;
Give up gossiping – control your tongue;
Give up sin – turn to virtue;
Give up giving up – hang in there
Together, let’s make an effort to make this Lenten season a very meaningful experience.
In Christian Love, RevRon
*Reverend Lake may be reached at any time at 860-428-3460 and is available for appointments, just give him a call. Office hours will be set up in the very near future. Reverend Lake stops in at the church occasionally and does hospital/home visits on Thursdays.
Beginnings are always exciting, and my beginning as your Interim Pastor, is certainly exciting for me. After twenty years at my former church, I look at things differently and with a new set of eyes.
Every church has it’s own personality, just as each individual has. Westchester CC is very unique in that it is a church “set on a hill”. You can’t get by it without seeing this beautiful building, inviting us to come on in and worship. Once inside we meet some very friendly and warm folks who worship as a family.
That’s my impression of our church. I hope to be an integral part of the future of the church.
So I hope you will take a few minutes on Sunday morning and join us as we worship as a Christian family.
The Prudential Committee Electors have signed a contract with Reverend Ron Lake to be the Interim Minister beginning January 6, 2019. Reverend Lake should be here until we find a settled minister. He will schedule hours at the church to be available to parishioners, and he will be our minister for the coming months. Rev. Lake has a Congregational background and lives in Niantic.
Due to Ron’s last service being October 28, the Prudential Committee has hired Reverend Nancy Lois to give the sermons on November 4 and November 18, 2018. On the alternating Sundays of November 11, and November 25, and for the month of December, Reverend Carolyn Johns will be with us. Both ministers are very familiar with Westchester. Reverend Lois has filled in as supply minister several times for vacationing ministers. Reverend Johns did her internship here under Reverend Ted Dole.
The Prudential Committee will be offering a contract soon to have an interim minister in place beginning in December and for the time it takes the Search Committee to find a settled minister.
If you have any questions about this process, Please do not hesitate to ask. themon ofDer
We have, regretfully, said our farewells to Ron and Kristy Thompson, after Ron’s all too brief ministry here at Westchester Congregational Church. On the last Sunday that Ron officiated the church was blessed with more than fifty worshippers attending.
As I looked around I realized that most of the faces were familiar, folks who were not new to these pews. We just don’t seem to get everyone together at the same time. It would be great if this happened every week, not just special services and occasions.
Now we embark on the search for a minister, a mission that can be lengthy, as it is a charge of such importance to choose the best minister for our little church. In the mean time there will be interim ministers to lead us each Sunday and available for spiritual counseling, as well as the usual group of committed church members to see that we continue to oversee the day to day church affairs and traditional services you all expect.
So please, don’t stop coming to church during this interim. We need our full congregation to keep us financially solvent and our spirituality strong, a continued strength in the community, the ever “Historic Westchester Congregational Church” to quote Pastor Ron, strong and enduring, here on our hill.
Running a holiday sale or weekly special? Definitely promote it here to get customers excited about getting a sweet deal.
I noticed that the leaves changed color a little differently this year. How can this be I wondered? They seemed to develop dark spots. I decided to take a look and “googled it” and a University science department confirmed my observations that it wasn’t “Global Warming”. Trees stop making chlorophyll, the amount of sunlight and moisture among other factors, all affect the fall foliage. We are just suspicious by nature when a change occurs aren’t we?
With transitions in my life, and the church, I was warned by a clergy advisor of myriad of reactions. Among his list were anger, fear, resentment, and abandonment. He was also very clear that some would leave the church. Much of this is very human and very normal he reassured me. It is also well known he said; that the church is one of the most change resistant organizations.
But, change is inevitable. I often wonder why the church has such high levels of what experts identify as fierce levels of resistance to any kind of change. Experts also suspect that our society and culture in the last 60 years has changed with such ever increasing speeds that perhaps the church is the only safe place left that people feel safe from change.
But the truth of the scriptures, the historicity of the events and the message of Jesus Christ is indeed one of change. Jesus was a Jew, and a reformer he made people really angry, many left him. What happened after his death and resurrection was more incredible change, but also drastic disappointment. The disciples expected a Messiah that would return any day and fix all that ailed culture and society, many still expect this. Add to the Messianic disappointment to what we have learned together in Mark’s gospel (Chapters 7 through 10) and perhaps our expectations not always being filled (even in churches) challenges us to grow up spiritually we need to fix ourselves with God’s help.
So my words of exhortation are to take courage as I write this, my last article in the Cornerstone as your Pastor. I sat with a caring medical professional recently we talked about how hard it is to give professional medical advice, a diagnoses, and things to stop. I hope that as you begin the search process you recognize your feelings, accept them, give them to God and remember it’s not about the Pastor: it’s about you. The Clergy are called as it says in Ephesians to teach and equip you to do the work of the ministry.
It has been my passion, honor and thorough enjoyment to open the Bible with you each Sunday and learn together how to be spiritually mature. I hope that as you search you also begin to open the conversation about the future of the church. I have told you the often harsh and not so happy statistics of church growth and decline, that’s what a professional does even when it hurts.
The leaves do change color differently when there is a lot of rain, but we don’t cut down the tree. Please as you move forward as a tree, oops, I mean as a church, look for a vision for the future it’s in you. Realize that you are indeed spiritually mature; you can interpret the scriptures and be the church not just on Sunday. Stay planted in God and find ways to serve the community with the wonderful place God has given you: Historic Westchester Congregational Church. May it be continue to be God’s open welcome to the community for all. Amen.
Have you heard your kids or perhaps even your grandkids say “I’m bored”? What adult wants to admit they‘re bored? Could you imagine telling your co -workers that? Instead, we adults seem out to impress each other with how busy we are. How many projects can I handle?
The world we live in spins at a slow steady pace. The universe, scientists tell us gives off a vibrational frequency that’s a slow steady pace. What’s your pace? Is it exhausting? Have you ever got to the place where you found yourself with an extra hour in between things? Perhaps the Doctor’s office called and they are running late?
That happened to me recently, in fact, twice in one day unexpected delays created gaps in my schedule. I sat in my car and wondered what to do. I suddenly felt bored! My mind was spinning with stops I could make, while thinking how productive can I be?
If I stop at the store, or hit the gym here in Hartford I’ll be ahead of schedule. It was a dilemma of epic proportions. I finally decided to drive down to my seminary library and pull up a sermon commentary, which would get me on track, ahead of things for the week.
I pulled into my seminary library. Its summer and I had it all to myself, but no sooner did I sit down, the receptionist walked by and we caught up. Next the librarian who serves a small NACCC Congregation like ours stopped by, and we caught up some more.
After all this wonderful unscheduled and unplanned conversation, I made my way to the bookshelf; by the time I picked a book and started reading I just didn’t want to read. I just sat back in that nice comfortable chair, and was bored for a bit.
Jack Kornfield one of my favorite spiritualist and meditative experts writes about boredom. You can look him up at Jackkornfield.com – he says: “embrace boredom, explore it, sit with it, invite it in, have tea with it”. I’ve never heard anyone say that, have you? He continues: “we get bored because we don’t like what is happening or because we feel empty or lost”. Jack is Buddhist, so it’s no surprise he would say these things. What happens inside you when you just take a time in between and sit? That two hours in the library was totally unproductive, or was it?
There are several times that Jesus tells the disciples to go on ahead and “wait for me”. What happens when we just wait? Were the disciples “bored”? Who said “bored” is bad? You might be just like the kids and say “I’m bored” at least they are honest about it. I invite you to think about that in this season of change. Maybe you need a dose of boredom, why is it such a frightening word?
I’d still love sitting with you for a cup of coffee? Please feel to call or text me at 239-250-6266
On our second day of VBS we had a special visitor, he was a little white bunny named “Bubba” who is a beloved pet of the Hunt family. Now Bubba taught us an incredible lesson thanks to the creativity of Jim Hunt.
Mr. Hunt explained to us that Bubba has an innate ability to determine what’s good and bad for him. To demonstrate this intrinsic knowledge Bubba was offered some cola, alongside some fresh water. The kids and most adults chuckled and joked about the cola, but as we all intuited the rabbit sniffed the cola, then the water and made the best choice. Next Bubba was offered a nice fresh piece of Romaine lettuce alongside a store bought chocolate brownie. We all know what the rabbit chose don’t we?
Bubba made me think as I watched the kids laugh for the final experiment of the “device”. Bubba passed up texting and gaming and was very content nibbling on the soft cool clover while the kids and VBS leaders watched and enjoyed Bubba’s “cuteness”.
I thought of Bubba as I watched and listened to the kids the past few days. I heard a few kids say how bored they were when a break or time of change was happening in our VBS schedule. I don’t offer this as condemnation of the kids, it was me that Bubba and the kids caused me to reflect upon. I asked myself some questions.
Bubba via Mr. Hunt made me ponder God that day. When I’m not busy what happens in me? Is it a struggle for me to be still, sit and be content? Is it hard to turn off the devices? Do you feel guilty about having “in between times” and pondering what to fill it with? I sure do.
We innately know just like Bubba, what’s best for us, we intuitively have a conscious ability to connect with God, and we are very capable of choosing to be like Bubba in these in between times. Bubba was content nibbling on the dew drops sprinkled on the green grass that glistens in the morning sun. So, perhaps God looks at us and says we too are so cute, God looks at you the beloved creation and simply enjoys you. But, alas I often say, there’s so much to do. I’m just like the little ones who said “I’m bored” but Bubba spoke to me with some science and spirituality.
Would you join me in being like Bubba, especially in those between times, you all know what I mean. It may not actually be boredom, it may be God calling, it’s innately in you, and you deserve it. I believe God does look at us and say we’re cute.
I was reading a book about spiritual transformation and the topic of perfectionism came up, the author asked me the reader to explore why we are so hard on ourselves. Why do we have so many unreasonable personal expectations in our lives?
Well of course there were many wonderful solutions offered most of which I quickly decided I have to get this and that done first. She really “got me” when a few stories were presented of great inventors and highly creative people who took six to ten minute breaks frequently and came up with amazingly simple solutions to complex problems.
Later that day the boys in the neighborhood came running in the house asking if I could take them for a swim at Day Pond. It was 2 PM and of course, my answer was “sure later”. That was the part of the book that hit me; sometimes it’s being in the moment, there may never be a later. It’s a nice summer day the boys will be teenagers soon, I thought. We wait all
year for the water to warm up, and not even four months ago that pond had ice on it!
I brought my phone and multi-tasked with my Kindle reading app, and watched the boys simply have fun. As I was watching I took a deep breath and noticed the amazing water flowers at the point of perfection, I had to get a picture. To get that picture I had to put my feet in the creepiest, slimiest, gooey, muck. I survived and took the picture. Later that evening I put both pictures on Facebook and the thought entered my mind “sometimes life is like that, we have to go through the muck to see the beauty.” God was speaking!
My pictures received 56 likes and 13 comments. People added to the story with their stories. So what’s your story? Live it, tell it, and embrace it. Whatever form “it” comes in. Ask yourself: is this task so important that an hour someplace right down the street, right around the corner a place that could change you and several others, is it really that important? That little break might be just the answer to the problem you were working on in the first place. Jesus said many times to look for moments like I described, what are you grateful for? When we decide to walk through the muck once in a while, when we are grateful for the slimy stuff in life we often find the beautiful things right in front of us. Be in the company of the greatest inventors, sculptor’s writers and industrialists; take a break once in a while.
I’d love to hear your mucky, yucky story; we could even sit on a bench at Day Pond, its right around the corner? Call me or text me.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, we made it many say. Summer is here, school is almost out, the beaches are open and it’s time for a long weekend trip. But it’s also a time to remember; Memorial Day is a day when we realize that we live in a troubled world, and you certainly don’t need me to point that out. Four years ago on Memorial Day weekend Kristy and I went on a study trip to Israel, it was a dream come true.
But the dream was also frightening when we learned early in our trip planning that Pope Francis was due to visit Jerusalem during our tour. Our itinerary was shuffled around to avoid the nightmarish traffic and security issues. But as we flew out over the blue Atlantic the excitement and anxiety was high.
During the trip I tended to do what I do best, meet people. There were soldiers with fingers on the trigger everywhere. We dared to attend Palestine areas that taught the poorest of the poor job skills for the new economy that was so obviously vibrant in Jerusalem. When you talk to people and just listen to them, amazing things happen. They tell you stories.
Just like our country, Israel is full of cemeteries with flags lining graves. There are reminders of battles, many of the same battles that have been going on for thousands of years. Is this about religion? Are they fighting over freedom? The issues are complicated.
It’s Memorial Day, a time to remember those who have fallen, would you take some time and pay a visit to one of our cemeteries and say a prayer? If you are reading this, I’m sure it’s a few days past Memorial Day, but it takes 10 minutes to pull over at one of our local cemeteries and say a prayer for peace. We need peace in our world, and especially in our own families.
Our faith is one of spiritual transformation, we believe in a God that dwells in us and works through us. We have had the song “they will know we are Christians by our love” the past two Sundays. Ask God to make us people of peace in our homes, in our schools, at our traffic lights and in the line at the store. I’d love to have a cup of coffee with you, please call or text me at 239-250-6266.
I just completed what are probably my last two “in class” courses for the special program I have been working on at Hartford Seminary for almost 3 years now. Hartford Seminary, hidden in West Hartford right across the street from UCONN Law School is a “gem” in the world of religious education. Back in the late 1800’s this institution was one of the first to train missionaries and include women, and later minorities. In the early 1900’s studies of Arabic and Islam began as the early missionaries struggled to convert the Islamic nations to our views of Christianity.
Many missionaries came back from the field and found that conversions were far and few between. They found that our Western ways of looking at God, even among the Orthodox and Middle Eastern Christians were not working. Scholars and missionaries took a step back and began to ask questions and study the other religions. The results emerged with several specialty subjects that have grown to what is now one of the most successful programs of inter-faith dialogue and learning that I am aware of in the Western world. That’s a tall order!
I will specialize in inter-faith dialogue, transformative leadership and spiritual practices. I thank you for support of the time I was able to spend and am excited about the knowledge we will share together. One of my last classes was titled: Leadership for Change: Navigating the White Waters of the 21st Century. This class was led by the now retired Senior Pastor of the 4,000 member Cathedral of Hope (United Church of Christ) in Dallas, Texas.
I will share with you just a few of the things that deeply impacted me:
• I’m not the church, you are, the most successful churches grow when members visit the sick, contact new visitors and those in need.
• When our focus moves from inward, (buildings, policies and procedures) to outward focusing on outreach growth comes.
• The hardest thing to fix in a church is moving folks from consumerist attendance to producers.
• Leaders respond to “why”, managers respond to what and how.
• Dying churches manage, and micro-manage themselves to a quicker death.
• Having a clear mission statement with even clearer values and goals is VITAL!
We have added new recovery groups, reached out to our Scout Troops, seen increased attendance in Sunday school; you added a knitting group, created a “blessing box”, you created a family Sunday and much more! We are headed in the right direction, and this is “being the church”!
I look forward to sharing the things I’ve learned from leaders of other congregations and Professors that shared their practical experience of what it takes to move together through these turbulent waters the church faces. We shared practical experience of what works and what doesn’t.
Keep moving forward, we are headed in the right direction.
If you’d like to have a cup of coffee please call, or text me at 239-250-6266.
It is an honor to serve with you as ministers together.
Easter is a season of change; rooted in Christ’s resurrection and the Jewish feast of Passover a profound turning point for a people enslaved. There are many arguments that trace the origins of Easter to early European tribal rituals. Often in church history borrowing from culture was common. Our modern Easter is filled with rich symbolism. We have colored eggs, spring flowers, sunrise services and bunnies in abundance.
But what about the old fashioned, giant sized solid milk chocolate bunnies? As a child I remember meeting the family at church with our new Easter clothes. We would cautiously walk down the aisle, and kneel before reverently entering our pew. The guys donned white shirts and ties, often with shiny new Buster Brown shoes. Ladies and little girls arrived in new dresses with vibrant colors, ribbons, matching hats and perhaps a new purse.
As we observed and participated in the ancient ritual while getting “the look” from our elders to sit still and behave, all I could think about was being first out the back door. My mind couldn’t help wander of the service being finally over, running into Grandma and Grandpa’s house to gaze upon the centerpiece, yes, the giant Easter baskets. I looked past the little chocolate eggs, skip those jelly beans. The center piece loomed in each of our Easter baskets. Of course, the solid milk chocolate bunny.
As I squirmed in church and dreamed of that first bite of chocolate, wondering if I would bite the ears or the really thick bottom of that milk chocolate delight I remember looking up at the center piece of the church. Above the altar Jesus hung on the cross, and above my head beautiful paintings of his resurrection. The prayers of the priest sounded like the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon: “wamp, wamp wamp- a-wampa”.
Times changed, we grew up and chocolate became bad for us. The once solid milk chocolate bunnies became hollow, smaller. Maybe it seemed that way because we were growing up? We were changing. I share this Easter memory with you because you made it through Lent, a winter with four late snowstorms. Here we are on the verge of a change in seasons, one of light bright colors, new things.
Times do change don’t they? Dark chocolate and real cacaos are now our friends. Take time to look at the centerpiece of our faith, we are called to be part of a ritual rich in tradition, a solid tradition if you will. We participate in a family and gather as a Christian community to become disciples. Jesus says you will do greater works. So skip the jelly beans and the peanut butter cups, take a big bite of the solid milk chocolate centerpiece: love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe those who have none, visit someone, read to a kid, attend a town meeting, just be present, listen to someone. These are the solid milk chocolate bunnies, so much better than the hollow ones. May this be a season of solid Easter and Passover for you, rich with meaning and flavor.
With so many traditions and practices falling by the wayside in our fast paced and high tech culture many sociologists say we are the most connected, but the least connected. I think the metaphor makes sense. We have every device connected and connecting us, but we end up high tech but low touch.
This might be especially true for guys. Sports has emerged as one of the dominant connection points for men. Do we really connect with one another over sports? Growing up around the farm as a kid we had sports but we connected with chores. Chopping wood, yard work, gardening or repairing things.
Much of these chores are now outsourced. How often outside of the office or sporting events do a bunch of guys get together and just “be”? I wonder if many guys even know what that means.
I keep and treasure the church tradition of a men’s get together in the form of a monthly men’s breakfast. Most of the time we meet at a restaurant and have casual conversation. That’s exactly as it should be, just “be”, come and talk guy stuff, tractors, cars, technology and where to get a good steak.
Sometimes I change the dynamic and we meet at church. I cook a good breakfast and we talk about a controversial article or I show a conversation starter video. Last month we watched a video about a Dad, who asked: how do we handle our kids asking for things we know they don’t need? A simple conversation amid a theme of father and sons. It was great conversation among four generations of men.
In our wide world of sports, high tech and low touch maybe it’s time for you to join us at men’s breakfast. Some of my best memories of connecting with my uncle’s and my Grandfathers were sitting at a picnic table after working on a tractor eating sliced cucumbers and drinking lemonade. It was a great time to just be a guy.
Join us next month on Saturday, March 17th at 8 AM Diane’s – I’ll be on vacation, but join the guys if you’ve never done it. Join ‘em and just be.
As we begin a new year in the church the annual meeting we recently held was a remarkable event. We took this time as a Congregational Church to celebrate self-governance, autonomy and elect new leaders to guide us with God’s help through another year.
This is the time of the year we ask: what have we done together in 2017 as a church? But, the bigger questions we must ask as we begin 2018 is what will we do as a church together, this year? Who and what will this church be in 2018? These are the questions we must ask as February is before us. We all know the dismal statistics of churches in decline and closing in record numbers. Be encouraged because together we overcame much.
I asked myself some of these same questions recently and I was able to answer many thanks to an iPhone app I purchased in late 2016. This app keeps track of my time, in order to see where my time was spent. I tracked just about every area of my life for 2017. I was very pleased with the nice pie graph that emerged when I ran the report of my “time tracker”.
My highest occupational percentages came from:
• Sermon study, writing and practice
• Devotional time
All of the books I read, classes I attend and discussion amongst colleagues suggest that these are the keys to a healthy growing ministry, which pleases me. But as one called to preach, teach, equip and empower the body of Christ I think the spotlight is on us, collectively, we the people. What did we do together in 2017?
We were organic. This an all too familiar buzzword which is taken very seriously in the food industry, but how about in the church? As a benchmark to critique myself as a minister I should be looking at the organic things that happened in our church. In other words what did “we the people” do as a result of being equipped and empowered?
Here is a short list of our organics:
• Several highly successful and redesigned fundraisers
• Summer Vacation Bible School
• A continuing high quality kids program on Sunday morning
• We brought our church community and the greater community together to restore the exterior of the meeting house
• We welcomed new recovery groups and scout groups
• Created the “Blessing Box”
• We welcomed four new members in 2017
• There were four baptisms in 2017
• Two weddings were performed in 2017
• There were five funerals in 2017
If you would like to have a cup of coffee sometime, please feel free to call me at 239-250-6266
I write a lot, and with frequent writing many report the experiences of ups and downs. These can come from a mind overloaded with wonderful ideas contrasted with the frustrating lows of a mind that has gone for a walk. How about a mind that can only seem to stare out the window? In other words your mind just goes blank.
Writing coaches tell us that this comes with the territory. The advice always given is to ride those ups and downs, resist, and learn, they say, what inspires you. Many an English or composition teacher will tell you about writing prompts. I had a big writing prompt just the other day.
One of my best writing prompts is usually a movie; I hardly ever go to the real movie theater any more. But I had to see the new Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” in 3D, at the fancy movie theater. Who can resist feeling like a galactic battle cruiser is going to crash into my seat? I took my nephew who is 11 and we had matinee time and almost the entire theater to ourselves which was quite the surprise. I was procrastinating actually going to this movie during Christmas break. I imagined lines of kids, sitting next to teenagers on Instagram. I created such a horrible experience that I simply told myself “after the holidays”.
I can’t tell you how many times during Christmas I heard someone say: “after the holidays” and usually it’s followed with another classic line: “when things get back to normal”. Well, things get back to normal very fast don’t they? I am looking at my calendar and January 2, 2018 is a Tuesday, it’s coming fast! School starts again, people start to think about taxes, and when will this cold ever end? What are your ups and downs this past year? Even the Christmas story with its stars, angels, newborn Jesus wrapped in a manger, has its ups and downs. If you look in Luke’s Gospel through chapter 2 you will see in verse 21 that the manger is empty. The wise men went back to “the East” and the star faded. But check out the back story here; remember the violence of King Herod, right after the Wise Men stopped in Jerusalem and were guests in his palace, they returned to looking for this newborn King. The narrative says “they left by another way” and mention spies. Herod wanted to eliminate this newborn king; he became obsessed many believe with making sure these rumors of a Messiah would not spread he wanted no resistance.
Many write about the theology of Star Wars, and the rebellion, the resistance. This is a theme throughout this movie series. If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you. I will stick with Jesus. Jesus is the resistance. Jesus is indeed the reason for the season. But the relatives, the three wise men, the shepherds all went home. If you look in Luke 2:21 right after the glorious birth announcement, the story shifts to the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus needed to check into the Temple in Jerusalem and meet their legal obligations presenting Jesus to a priest. The holidays are over, things are back to normal fast.
But Jesus is the resistance. The Empire stops at nothing when it is threatened this is the metaphor of the Gospels and the Star Wars series. Jesus is not, was not and never will be normal. Jesus is a different way of life we take on this new life and we behave differently. We have ups and downs but something on the inside of us changes. In the Last Jedi, the resistance had to let go of much, they suffered, they lost, and they sure had a lot more lows than highs. But they used the force. May the force, the Holy Spirit of God in you, guide you safely through another year. And last of all: find what inspires you, create a good experience this year.
Happy New Year is the title of this Cornerstone Article for December of 2017. Why on earth would I be writing happy New Year the first week of December? Aren’t I the one complaining about retailers putting out Christmas stuff before Halloween? But I am writing to you about the church new year. The church New Year starts with Advent the first Sunday in December. If you are like me the panic set in before the Thanksgiving dishes dried. Christmas is almost here.
With wet dishes still lingering I have to ask - time seems to just fly by doesn’t it? It seems like the older I get the year is like a blur. How many songs can you name about time? Pink Floyd if you are a rocker; Cher asked in the early 80’s about turning back time, Jim Croce in the 70’s sang about time in a bottle.
The holidays, to me, is a signal for some change. We just changed the time a month ago. I change my routines; there are some extra days off, extra budget items seem to pop up. What changes your view of time as the holidays approach? How many times have you
heard someone say, “after the holidays we’ll do that”?
An article I read talked about why time seems to speed up when we are older. The author’s research suggested that time is constant; the problem is we pay so much attention to time when we are adults. The author suggests we go back to our childhood and pay more attention to unusual and especially new things we feel curious about. After I read the article I wondered what kind of life a neuro-researcher leads where he or she gets to practice that kind of stuff.
Many of the answers to this time perception problem many of us face, according to research, comes from certain spiritual practices, not unique to Buddhism, mindfulness crosses many spiritual platforms. Being thankful for things in your surroundings, a focus on the here and now will all make our perception of time slower the experts tell us.
One my greatest discoveries to slow down time is meditation. Meditation is wonderful but difficult. It takes practice to “not think” and clear your mind. I often have to tell my mind to simply “shut up”. What will we do to change our views of time this beginning of a new year?
I suggest we start with the Advent that is upon us. The Advent stands for the coming, the expectation. Are we looking for something new? Jesus was called “the Emmanuel”; God with us. We celebrate the Christ-Mass, a time when God broke into our realm in the form of Jesus Christ. What can this season do for us? Perhaps we need to take some time. I started to dig out extra change during the holidays and slowly walk up to the Salvation Army Bell Ringer and put in some change, hearing it clank as it falls in. I take it a step further start a conversation with the volunteer. It’s the little things.
When I was a young Catholic school kid the church was often open and people would stop in and pray. As I looked across the street instead of paying attention to my lessons I saw people go in and out of the church. Maybe we need to revive that practice in our new year? Anyone interested? If the experts say “the new” the meditations, the notice of new things slow down time, then I’ll take it.
Thanks for reading and Kristy and I wish you and yours a very merry time of Christ -Mass. We look forward to seeing you, and slowing down time with a cup of warm cocoa or coffee. Call me and we’ll get together.
November is usually the time of the year I take a vacation here in the warmer regions of South Florida. The days seem to go by faster on vacation. Does it seem like that to you? Why do I try and pack so many things “to do” in my vacation schedule. Being here in Naples, Florida and having served in three large churches it’s often hard to decide who to visit, what church out of the three to attend on Sunday. It’s like going home to visit relatives. Being the visitor often creates a whole new host of problems. We all know these situations, “we are just up the street from you”. Quite the dilemma visiting creates, and the last thing we all need is the guilt associated with not seeing Aunt Sally and the kids.
But alas, what do we do? I love the example Jesus showed us in self care. Jesus was busy, masses of people sought his healing and teaching. Many places in the Gospels mention Jesus retreating. Jesus took care of himself. So I ask why is that so hard? I am sorry to report to you, even the Pastor isn’t very good at self care. But I am asking the right questions. I have mentors, people I talk to about my spirituality and self care that ask me tough questions. The tough questions are very simple. Question one: why do I not practice self care? Question two: what does self care look like? Question three: how does it feel?
Most of my answers to these questions seem to be centered on two big issues. I find that I react to doing things for myself with fear and it’s partner guilt. Have you rehearsed these kinds of phrases when you need a break? I have to get this done for … you put the name or the people in the blank. How about this one: I’ll get all of this done and then I can relax.
November is usually the marker. I mark my calendar in fear that the holidays are here. This year I am going to borrow my Buddhist friend’s advice and say “it is”. What does that mean? I am still learning. It just “is”, maybe we need to live in the “is”? I was at the gym here on vacation yesterday and the trainer told me everything that had happened in his life since we last talked (a year ago). It took all I had to not look at my watch and think about what was next on my vacation checklist (I shouldn’t even have one) but I practiced the “is”, this giant sized body builder hugged me said goodbye and said “thanks for listening”.
What’s the “is” for you as the marker on your journey towards the sacred Advent approaches? The time we stop and say welcome Emmanuel, the God with us, the God that says “I am glad you stopped and just enjoyed the “is” with me”.
Join me in taking care of yourself, this often guilt and fear driven time of the year. Take a deep breath and when what will I don’t rises up, breathe out and say “what if I do”. Peace be onto you.
Transformation. What does that word mean to you? Some would say it’s their goal, others find it frightening. We find that many of the Apostle Paul’s letters challenge us to be transformed, most Bible translations say renewed and this phrase is almost always linked to our minds.
We humans sure don’t like change, especially us older folks. I don’t even like to change my gym routine. But change is inevitable. Why does Paul talk about being transformed or renewed so often? He constantly linked this concept to the mind. Our minds should take on the same mind as Christ Jesus according to Philippians. What kind of mind did Christ have? That’s an entire Bible study, but also worth researching in our spiritual lives. Basically this concept of transformation is linked to what is inside us. How we are on the inside greatly affects what’s on the outside. This all begs to ask: what’s in our deep inner attitude? I am often asked why I preach solely from the Gospels. My answer is one word - behavior. How we behave towards one another and the world we live in is clearly an important matter to Jesus thus the Gospels are my go to place.
We will complete the painting of the outside of the church soon with a ribbon cutting service in November. It is too much of a coincidence that we renewed and transformed the outside of the historic meetinghouse this close to when we celebrate Thanksgiving.
As we give thanks for what God has done through the community and those who call Westchester Congregational Church home. Give thanks for what is changing on the inside. I would invite you to meditate on that. Have you seen evidence of your faith? Have you noticed you think differently? Are there changes you need to make?
Throughout history you can find evidence of reform. The Protestant reformation opened great doors in 1517. In 1964 the Catholic reformation of Vatican II opened the mass. Today we hear over and over about tax reform, healthcare reform, and churches needing to be reformed. We are great reformers indeed. My question is: are we renewed and transformed on the inside?
What we do each Sunday matters, it affects how we are the rest of the week. We are exposed to one hour of inner transformation that leads us into greater depths of spirituality. Yes, let’s celebrate the restoration of our historic meetinghouse, but don’t forget to celebrate and be thankful for the daily transformations in our “inside”.