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Dennis H-L's Blog

Pastor Dennis writes a special message each month, for Wayside's Newsletter, and for this column on the website.  Previous messages can be found below the current one.

Publish Date: May 1, 2013  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Construction

   You won’t find it too hard to believe that construction has been on my mind lately.  Our “Stepping Ahead” building renovation has been under way since February and every day there are changes with de-construction and construction.  Many times there are things “going in” as other things are “coming out”.

   The building and physical structure have not been the only things on my mind in terms of “construction”.  For the past two years, I have been a part of a group in Federal Way called “City Vision”.  Phil Wamba, Pam Taylor and Amy Johnson have also been involved with this group.  Some of you met the president of City Vision, Greg Vicars, when he spoke at Wayside.  I don’t have any leadership responsibilities with this group (Pam is the vice-president and Phil is the treasurer), but I sit in each month to listen to other parts of our community discuss the challenges facing our city and what we can do as a community to address those challenges.

   A few weeks ago, Louis Guiden, another participant in City Vision, spoke at Wayside about his vision for helping at-risk youth and how various agencies / churches can collaborate in efforts to make that happen.  We don’t all have to be on the “front line”, but we do need to come together for the common good. This can help construct a stronger community.

   On Monday (April 29th), the Rev. Nancy Ferree-Clark, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Federal Way; the Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto, pastor at Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church and I have a meeting with Chief of Police, Brian Wilson.  We want to propose a practice in Federal Way called “A Moment of Blessing”, modeled on something the Associated Ministries of Pierce County has been doing for over 15 years.  The idea is simple-publicly “reclaim” the space where a homicide has occurred.  Usually about a week after the homicide, people of the community are invited to gather for a brief (10-15 minute) ceremony of blessing. As part of their liturgy states:

“That which was taken from us by violence and death we reclaim as a place of life, community and hope.”

   There is no judgment about the act or the people involved in the homicide, but a reclaiming of the space.  In Pierce County, they print the name(s) of those who have been killed on a white piece of cloth and add it to other names on a bamboo pole.  This might help construct a stronger community and build some bridges.

   On Tuesday evening (April 23rd) I attended a seminar sponsored by the Federal Way Public Schools about refugees.  The speaker, Ms. Beth Farmer, who works for the Lutheran Community Services as the Program Director of International Counseling,  spoke about the difference between “refugees” and “immigrants”.  A young man whose family came as refugees to the area from Iraq, talked about his experience of transitioning to a new culture—the struggles and the rewards.  Listening to other’s stories can help construct a stronger community.

   As our project gets near completion, folks at Wayside will be asked to come together to clean and paint.  This will give us an opportunity to work together, inter-generationally, and listen to each other’s stories.  Some members have histories to tell and others have visions and dreams to share.  All of this can help construct a stronger community.

   So whether we are constructing people or structures, there are many similarities.  Sometimes things get messy before we start seeing the end result. This is what construction is all about.


 



Publish Date: April 1, 2013  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Sweat Equity

I think I first heard the term “sweat equity” when I became acquainted with Habitat for Humanity. When a house is being built by Habitat volunteers, the new owners of that house have already been chosen. They are required to put a minimum number hours of labor toward building their new home, along with other volunteers. This is their “sweat equity”—an investment of their time and labor in their new home. Once they move into the house, they are also required to put more “sweat equity” into helping another family build a home. The idea is to give new home owners a sense of pride in their own home as it takes shape.

As we proceed with our “Stepping Ahead” renovation project, sweat equity will come into play for Wayside. We can’t throw together the steel beams for the Fellowship Hall support or pour the concrete, like they did this morning, but we can paint and we can clean. Our opportunities to do this will be coming before too long.

In our case, sweat equity will not only give us pride and physical investment in our project, it will help hold the cost down. We have agreed to do the final cleaning of the renovation and to do the painting, inside and out. As the wood trim for the project is milled and cut, it will be available (probably in Fellowship Hall) for people to paint before it is put up. That way, we don’t have to be quite as careful with edging. It also means the big expanses of wall will be easier to paint as well.

HHJ anticipates that the construction will fall into at least three phases. For example, the restrooms might be complete before the kitchen. In that case, we would need to clean the restrooms and get them painted. As phases of the project are completed, we will need to do our part.

So set aside a set of “work clothes” and some paint brushes and rollers.
We will need your help.

I would like to carry this idea of “sweat equity” a step further and suggest that our faith is strengthened by this concept. Not the painting and cleaning, but the idea that we need to invest our physical selves as part of our faith journey. Faith is not just a set of ideas and a way of thinking-- it is a way of doing. It is investing ourselves into life by “practicing what we preach”.

   Several years back, the UCC was promoting a bumper sticker that read:

     To believe is to care.
          To care is to do.
           United Church of Christ

   In the post-Easter story, Jesus didn’t ask his followers to sit around and think about how wonderful he (Jesus) was, but rather “to go”, to “feed my sheep”. By investing ourselves, by living faithful lives, by putting some “sweat equity” into our daily living, we proclaim the “Good News” without saying a word. It is not so much a question of “Did I do a good deed today?” as the question, “How was I a Christian today?”
 
 



Publish Date: March 1, 2013  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Lenten Thoughts

     We are in the thick of the Lenten season—that time in the liturgical year when we focus on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and our own journeys to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
  When Wayside members picked the themes for this year’s preaching, there were several topics that needed to be placed in the Lenten schedule. We began the first Sunday of Lent talking about SUFFERING.
   On Feb. 24th, the focus was on FORGIVENESS—what it means (and doesn’t mean), how it frees us and how to practice forgiveness in healthy ways.
   March 3rd is the third Sunday of Lent and we will explore THE LIFE OF PRAYER. There are many ways to pray and be aware of our relationship to God. In a Congregational tradition where prayer and spirituality has sometimes been placed on the back burner, a reminder about the practice of prayer might be interesting.
  I know it seems a contradiction in terms, but on March 10th we will be talking about SILENCE. Maybe you can confer with some of your Quaker friends and bring their wisdom along with you. Of course you have to get the “silent” Quakers and not the “preaching” ones. In our culture, silence is a rare commodity.
   As we move closer to Easter, the fifth Sunday of Lent we will deal with THE WOUNDED PLACES. Psalm 147 declares, “God heals the  brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” We will think about our wounded places and the healing that can happen.
   Already we are at Palm Sunday and the theme will be FAREWELLS. Jesus knew his earthly time was drawing to a close and walked that week between Palm Sunday and Easter trying to prepare his followers for what was to come. I plan to use our Lenten banner and the symbols of Holy Week as a backdrop for the meaning of this week.  
 
  With five Sundays in the month, Easter falls on March 31st this year.  We will celebrate the resurrection with Communion and lively worship. Our focus for the morning will be DYING INTO NEW LIFE. We don’t have to literally die to be born into new life. I also don’t believe that dying is the end of our existence. As David Searls says, “Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean.”

   During the next few weeks we will cover a lot of theological ground. Some topics may carry more weight and meaning for you than others, but come ready to engage in worship and the topic for the morning.
us knew his earthly time was drawing to a close and walked that week between Palm Sunday and Easter trying to prepare his followers for what was to come. I plan to use our Lenten banner and the symbols of Holy Week as a backdrop for the meaning of this week.
 



Publish Date: February 7, 2013  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

A Tribute to Vern

   I intend this column to be a tribute to all of the pastors, church leaders and churches who have changed the lives of people in their midst. It is especially a tribute to my pastor, mentor, friend and colleague, the Rev. Vernon (Vern) C. Clausing, who passed away on January 14, 2013, at the age of 80.

   Much of my life (5th grade-high school) was spent growing up in the southeast corner of Iowa—the town of Denmark to be exact. If you were protestant, you attended the Denmark Congregational UCC. During my time there, the church was served by different pastors but the same people worked to support the life and mission of that church. It was not a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination but I would say it was fairly typical.

   I can’t tell you exactly when Vernon Clausing came to town, but I do know he had an impact on that town. Whether that impact was positive or negative depends on who you ask. Vern made many friends and more than a few enemies. He stood for the equality of all people in a community that had a history of both KKK and abolitionist leanings. That may be another column at some point, but let me get personal for a bit.

   The first encounter with Rev. Clausing that sticks in my mind occurred sometime after one Christmas. I had agreed to take a speaking part in the Christmas Eve program. At the last minute, my parents decided we were not going to church. I decided it was not important to make a phone call to let anyone know I would not be there. I thought they would just ask someone else to fill in. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I am attending my weekly Boy Scout meeting in the church basement. Vern found me and asked to speak to me. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, “What in the hell do you think you’re doing? You agreed to have a part in the Christmas Eve program, then you don’t show up. Is that the kind of person you are?” Somewhere along the line I apologized for my behavior and that began a life-long friendship with Vern.

   Over the years, Vern and the church did many things to support me on my faith journey. The church made sure I and other youth in the church received camperships to attend the UCC Camp at Pilgrim Heights. Vern talked my mother into helping with a weekend youth retreat. That was something she would have never done of her own volition. Vernon

encouraged me to serve on church committees and gave me guidance in leadership skills. A few times I was allowed to be a delegate to our Iowa UCC Conference meetings.

   In 1996, the national UCC had a youth program called Caravaning, which extended six weeks over the summer. Vern made a personal visit to the house and convinced my parents to let me apply. When I was accepted for the program, he made sure the Women’s Fellowship paid for my round-trip bus ticket to Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

   Vern was with me when I went before the Association Committee on Ministry to ask for “In Care” status. He and his wife (Kay) took another young man and me to Lakeland College (his alma mater) and see the campus. I attended Lakeland and graduated in 1971. When I was ordained in the Denmark church in 1977, Vern was serving a church in Wisconsin. He flew down to preach my ordination sermon.

   Our paths crossed many times over the years. Vern and Kay adopted and raised two wonderful sons—Jon and Joel, both who have families in Wisconsin. Kay later had health issues with a brain tumor and passed away in the late 1980’s.

   I had an opportunity to visit Vern in Bensenville, Illinois, in the late 1990’s while he was serving St. John’s UCC. He “came out” and we talked a lot about his life journey and his struggle with sexual identity. This was still a “secret” and he intended to keep this a private matter that only a few friends and immediate family would know. Last October, I received the “coming out” letter that Vern sent to everyone, letting the world know of his journey. He closed by saying, “Presently, I’ve chosen as one of my daily tasks—‘Making Necessary Things Beautiful and Making Beautiful Things Necessary.”

   I just want to remind pastors, lay people and churches—you do make a difference in people’s lives, through your presence and through your encouragement. Thank you, Vern. Thank you Denmark UCC.

 

 

 
 



Publish Date: December 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Christmas Reflections

Once upon a time, in a far away country, in a tiny village, in a stable, a baby boy was born. Stories of this birth are recorded by Matthew and Luke and they are part of the sacred writings of the Christian faith. When some are asked, “Who are Matthew and Luke?”, they might in their confusion think they are guys for whom they forget to buy presents. Others might think they are members of a band, but they just can’t remember the band’s name.

And so it goes—this wonderful time of year when the secular and religious are so intertwined it is difficult to unravel. Growing up in the Congregational (UCC) church in Iowa, there was a special Christmas Eve service. At the end of the service, Santa Claus would come down the aisle and present small treat bags to all of the children. Talk about mixed metaphors.

The other day I was reading an article written by a young adult, who identified herself as an atheist, explaining why she celebrates Christmas with her Jewish family.

 I say we need to share Jesus anyway we can.

 I think all of this confusion started when the Magi visited the Christ Child and his family. They were aliens, you know. Or illegal travelers or undocumented star gazers, I’m not sure which. It was the Wise Men who brought the presents and started all of this commercialization. But I digress.

My struggle at Christmas time (actually Thanksgiving through New Years), is not to get others to understand the true meaning of this Christian holy day, but to try and understand it myself.  I wade through this time when the hustle overruns the hope and the jingle-jingle often overpowers the joy. In these days, the pace of things precludes the peace we seek and the lunacy overshadows the love we profess. The most difficult part of the holidays is to slow down and appreciate the people, the wonder of the season and the child Jesus who grew to be a teacher and healer, bringing a whole new way of thinking about his faith.

At this time of year, it is fun to think about Christmas past and how my response to the season has changed over the years. It is a joy to see the delight and amazement in the eyes and actions of the children. I will never forget the amazement of a young boy at a Wayside Christmas Eve service. This was the first year he was allowed to have his own candle. As his candle was lit, his eyes seemed to grow bigger and they remained that way through the singing of “Silent Night”. I don’t know if he will remember that moment in the same way, but it seemed to make an impression on him that night.

This is also the time of year for some wonderful music—at least much of it. I’m not too thrilled that at least one radio station begins non-stop Christmas music the week before Thanksgiving, but for the most part, it is inspiring to turn on the radio (or other listening devices) and hear the familiar carols resounding. I also love the congregational singing at worship, especially the Christmas Eve services. Each year we battle that age-old question, “Do we have to wait until Christmas to sing the carols? What’s with all these Advent songs?” Yes, I have mellowed over the years or maybe succumbed to pressure from the congregation to temper Advent with our Christmas favorites.

Time has a way of changing our views of the holidays. My prayer is that I grow to appreciate the meaning and sacredness of this season all the more, and not let myself turn into a crotchety, Mr. Scrooge type of person.
 
Have Merry and Blessed Christmas!
 



Publish Date: November 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Giving Thanks

   Thanksgiving?  Isn’t that the day before Black Friday?

 

   I guess it all depends on your perspective when it comes to observing and celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was all about the food and the family. It was the one time of year that everyone got invited—even those relatives who didn’t get along with one another. We seemed to be able to tolerate each other for a few hours and be civil about it. Of course, it was still that time in our history when the women were in the kitchen and the men were in front of the TV. It was still a day when someone said a prayer before we ate. That was a rare occasion at our house.

 

   Over the years, I have come to better understand some of the history and meaning of Thanksgiving.  It is useful for us Congregational types to be able to remind people that we trace our roots back to the Pilgrims. If that doesn’t ring a bell with people, you hope they have a recollection of Thanksgiving. It doesn’t give much of a theological perspective but at least they can relate to a point in American history.

 

   Many people do not recall that in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of Thanksgiving. After writing about being in the midst of a civil war, Lincoln had this to proclaim:

 

   “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

 

   As we observe Thanksgiving this year, I think Lincoln’s words are timely. We will be finished with this election cycle, which has at times seemed like a civil (or uncivil) war. We are still a nation that has widows and orphans because of our involvement in wars around the world. We don’t seem to live in a time of “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

 

   So however you observe Thanksgiving Day, I would encourage you to remember the beginning of the second verse of “Come, O Fount of Every Blessing”:

 

   “Here I pause on my sojourning,

   Giving thanks for having come,

   Come to trust, at every turning,

   God will guide me safely home.”

 
 



Publish Date: October 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

In Support of R-74

   As a non-profit, 501-(c)-3 organization, a church is limited in what it can and cannot do regarding the political process. We are not allowed to promote a political party or individual candidates, but we could host a candidate forum, as long as all candidates are invited to participate.

   Another thing we can do, is to encourage our members to vote and to help register new voters. We can’t wear political paraphernalia while we are doing this. As a church, we can’t stop our members from wearing political buttons on Sunday morning, but to me, it just makes sense to leave our political preferences at the door when we come to worship.

   Even though churches cannot advocate for a party or candidate, they are able to take a stand on social policies that are before the public. R-74 (marriage equality) is a good example. In 1991, Wayside voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ. Among other things, our official policy states that all people are welcome to worship and participate fully in the life of this congregation. From 1995-2005, we supported the life of “Spirit of the Sound” under the leadership of the Rev. Cathryn Cummings. This was a weekly worship time primarily (though not exclusively) for the GLBTQ community.

   When the Washington legislature passed the bill to allow marriage for same-sex couples, Wayside stepped forward in May of 2012 to reaffirm our stance as an ONA congregation and to  clearly state that we would encourage our clergy to perform weddings for same-sex couples when that becomes a law in the State of Washington. Following that action, the Church Council voted to be a congregation that actively supports the passage of R-74 in the November 2012 voting process.

  Kim L., our Open and Affirming liaison person at Wayside, has been working in conjunction with Washington United for Marriage to keep us informed about the up-coming R-74 vote in November. A couple of weeks ago she obtained a yard sign and placed it near our church sign on Dash Point Road. My first thought was, “I wonder how long that will stay put?” As I pulled into the parking lot the next day, the sign was still in place..and the next day…and the next. The sign is still there. It has not been defaced and the rainbow stickers on our front sign have not been bothered.

   I think there are at least two possibilities. First, no one is paying attention. I don’t think that is true, because people have had many opportunities to mess with the sign. We have groups that regularly meet at Wayside. There are people who use our parking lot and attend sports events across the street at the Lakota field. Decatur High School students and students from Lakota Middle School walk past the sign on a daily basis. It is still standing.

   So a second option could be that many people in the area agree that it is time to make marriage for all a reality. For many young people, this is a non-issue. What’s the big deal? Other people have struggled with this issue and have come to the conclusion that it is the right thing to do. Our President and our Governor are two of the people that come to my mind.

   Before this goes to press, Wayside will have hosted a “Who Ever You Are” House Party in conjunction with the Pride Foundation. Kim L. and Amy J. organized this event (Sept. 27th) to invite the wider community to be in dialogue about marriage equality.

   As we approach the November elections, the church does not tell you how to vote, but we do believe in and support the passage of R-74.

 

 
 



Publish Date: September 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Three Requests

“Day by day, day by day,

O dear Lord, three things I pray…

To see thee more clearly,

Love thee more dearly,

Follow thee more nearly,

Day by day.”

--from “Godspell”

(based on the Gospel of Matthew)

   In American culture, a major influence on the ebb and flow of life is the school year. For much of the nation, it is still the September – June rhythm of children and young adults back in the classroom. I am aware that it varies greatly across the country. I see Face Book postings from friends in the Midwest whose children started school three weeks ago. Some districts are experimenting with year-round classes with a different style of vacation schedule.

   The church gets caught up in this seasonal change in that we have little programming over the summer and then begin to ramp up activities when fall rolls around. We're careful to not plan major things for a UW Huskies’ home game and plan nothing for the Apple Cup Weekend. Soon (Sept. 9th) we will observe “Rally Day” and the beginning of a new program time. Sunday School will be back in full swing, our Youth Group will meet on a regular basis and the Tuesday Study Group will gather to contemplate a variety of topics over the next nine months.

   In the midst of this seasonal rhythm is a more daily connection to our faith journey. We don’t need to wait for new programs to bring us together in order to practice a steady, deliberate and focused growing of our inner faith. The “Day by Day” music from “Godspell” is a constant reminder that faith is practiced each day. It does not wait for Sunday morning, it does not rely on a Tuesday Study Group. It does not depend on getting to the Men’s Fellowship or the Book and Breakfast Club. All are great activities and a time to share our faith with others, but there is something more grounded in a day-by-day walk with God.

   I want to reflect for a moment on the three “requests” of the song.

 

   “To see thee more clearly.” Have you ever noticed that some things in your surroundings are ignored until someone points them out to you? It may not be a great example, but until we purchased a CRV (car) a few years ago, I was not really aware of their existence. Once we owned one, they seemed to be everywhere. It is the same with God. Unless we focus on seeing the presence of God in other people and in life’s everyday living, we will miss it. Once we become aware, we seldom miss it. If you look around daily to see God at work, you will see more clearly.

   “Love thee more dearly.”  How does one love God more dearly? “Godspell” is based on the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus proclaims to his followers”

“I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”

   Jesus also taught the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.” Love your neighbor as yourself.

   “Follow thee more nearly.”  This can be the tough one because there are too many things vying for our attention and our allegiance. I also believe that following “more nearly” means different things for each person. We have different gifts and abilities, so our path of following God will look different.

   For those who didn’t get into the “Godspell” thing, these sentiments are also wrapped up in the American traditional song “A Closer Walk”:

Just a closer walk with thee,

Grant it Jesus is my plea,

Daily walking close to thee;

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be. 
 



Publish Date: August 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

In Sha' Allah

On Sunday, July 22nd, Carlos Madrazo spoke at the 10 am worship at Wayside.  His message was “Being a Lay Person in Missions”.  Carlos just finished five and half years working in East Timor as a partner of the Global Ministry Board. His involvement in missions stretches back to the time he was 17 years old and leading a mission project on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

 

Since Carlos was not speaking at our 8:30 a.m. worship, I had prepared some remarks and reflections about the United Church of Christ and our history of mission work.  In the last few years, another missionary couple that has been to Wayside was Elizabeth and Doug Searles. The first time we heard them, they had just finished an assignment in China.  When they finished their speaking tour (aka “itineration”), they accepted a call to a partnership in Poland. When they spoke to us in December of 2011, that ministry had come to an end and they were awaiting their next possibility.

 

As I was preparing my remarks for Sunday, I came across a newsletter from the Searles dated March 2012.  Their plans were still up in the air.  They were living in Louisville, Kentucky, in “furlough housing”, but at some point they had to go back to Poland to sell their car and retrieve their belongings.  They had still not received a new assignment.  In their article, they referenced a piece of scripture from James 4:14-15:

 You don’t know the first thing about  tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of  fog, catching a brief bit of sun before  disappearing… Make it a habit to say: “If  the Master will it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.” (MSG)

The article went on to say: “Arabic-speakers say: “In Sha’Allah” (God willing).  In this passage, James is saying “If the Master wills it…”In Sha’Allah”.

 

August seems to be one of those “In Sha’Allah” seasons.  As a church we are beginning to focus on our fall programming and church school year.  We are thinking about worship and our youth program.  We are in the midst (or beginning) of our Stepping Ahead Renovation Project and there are many questions about when things will begin.

 
It seems to me that “In Sha’Allah” expresses the notion that we are not really the ones in control.  We have meetings, we plan, we fund programs and we dream. Then we say “In Sha’Allah”.

 

 If God wills, the Chapel skylight will be replaced before the rainy season sets in again. Right now we’ve been given a date August 10th for the start of a three-week project.

 

If God wills, the process on our loan from the UCC Cornerstone Fund will keep heading in a positive direction and the loan will close.  When that happens, the construction firm of HHJ can be released to finish the more detailed plans they need before they can approach The City of Federal Way for permits.

 

If God wills, the city will move through the permitting process and give HHJ the green light to actually begin our Stepping Ahead Renovation Project.

 

In the meantime, we will enjoy the moment and this summer season of re-creation in the Pacific Northwest.  We will hold in our prayers all of those who need the strength to make it through.  We will lift up all that is good, and noble and truthful. “In Sha’Allah”

 

 
 



Publish Date: June 29, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Wayside on a Mission

   If you didn’t participate in the recent Wayside mission trip, there is no need to feel guilty. Like every other activity sponsored by a church, it meets the needs of some and not others. Not everyone sings in the choir, being a Council member does not fit the talents of everyone. So when it comes to mission trips, everyone is always welcome to participate but we don’t expect everyone to do so. Serve and participate where your talents and passion lead you.

   Having said that I want to reflect a bit on our first mission trip to White Swan. Many Wayside members are active in local mission projects—FUSION, the Federal Way Care Giving Network, Community and Schools, etc. This is good. The idea of a mission trip is to move outside of your local community and many times, outside of your comfort zone. I want to thank Jack Anderson for having the vision and the passion to put this trip together. It’s one thing to trek off on your own to help others, but to lead a group of seven other people into a project that is not totally “nailed down” takes courage and a lot of faith. I must say, however, we were a wonderful group.

   The city of Yakima is spelled with an “i”. The Native American people in that area identify themselves as Yakama, with an “a”. We were housed at the “Log Church”, about four miles south of White Swan, WA, and we were working under the auspices of theYakama Christian Mission (http://www.disciplesnw.org/Yakama/), a program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Our three contacts on the program were the Rev. David Bell and the Rev. Jill Delany, who volunteer to oversee the YCM and the Rev. Derel Olson, pastor of Wilbur Memorial United Methodist Church. A summer intern, Daniel, had only been in White Swan for about two weeks, but worked closely with us. There was another group of 10 people (five adults and five youth) from the First Congregational UCC of Portland, OR, housed at the Log Church as well. We shared sleeping space, meals and work. We were a good fit for one another.

    Our typical day began with waking up at 5:30 a.m. (except for the youth). Some of the early risers plugged in the coffee pot so things were ready for breakfast. We prepared meals and dined together. We had both men and women who knew their way around the kitchen. It amazed me that we had a suggested menu to follow but no roster of who had to do what and when. Everyone just pitched in to help or stayed out of the way if someone else had things under control. Breakfast was finished and cleaned up by 6:45 am so we could be at the Methodist church by 7:00 am. This time of discussion and questions lasted until 8:45 am, when work assignments for the day were negotiated. We originally thought that we might be working to build a new house, but the county had not yet approved the permit. The work day was from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. One evening we ventured to Fort Simcoe for a cook-out. Another afternoon we visited the Yakama Cultural Center in Toppenish.

Everyone (except the youth) was usually ready to call it a day by 10 pm. We headed home early Friday morning.

    On Thursday evening, Maria, a friend of Jill’s and a farm worker, stopped by to teach us how to make tortillas. She and Jill’s husband, David, ate with us and shared their stories of working the fields and living in an area with many undocumented workers. It became more apparent that immigration is about laws, but it is also about people.

    Several people on the mission trip took photos to document our week.  Eric Johnson has volunteered to piece them together into a digital slide show. Our hope is to find a date this summer to host a co-ed steak night and talk a bit more about the details of our trip.

    Jack is willing to coordinate a group to work on a mission trip for next summer. If you have suggestions about what we might do or where we could go, please let Jack know.

 
 



Publish Date: June 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Life-long Learning

   For my thoughts this June, I want to give a tip of my hat (if I wore one) to our graduates and all who taught them along the way. Learning and teaching are not easy tasks and when someone graduates, you know that there have been a myriad of teachers along the way who supported them through thick and thin.

 

   As I think back over my life, there are special teachers that I remember. Some took the time to listen and understand. Some laid down the law and didn’t take guff from anyone. Some taught us the bare essentials, some challenged us. Many teachers nurtured us and there were many who had to put up with our behavior. (I think middle school teachers will have a special place in heaven.)

 

   Not all of our teachers are/were found in classrooms. I am thinking of scoutmasters, coaches, Sunday school teachers, pastors, neighbors, grandparents, camp counselers and supervisors on summer jobs. So many people have an impact on our emotional, intellectual and spiritual formation. Sometimes I think it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a city.

 

   When I think of our congregation, I remember all who have been and are the classroom teachers. Thank you for your dedication over the years to the schools and students of our community. Your work has impacted people in ways that you may never know. The other day, a member sent me an article from “The Auburn Reporter” about Janet Ash—Wayside member and instructor at Green River Community College. I want to share some of Janet’s words from that wonderful article:

 

   “I’ve taught for 20 years. Learning is really tough, and we personalize it when we don’t understand something and think that when we get something right it’s easy, and when we don’t get something right, we think we’re stupid. We don’t understand that we learn from our mistakes. It’s really hard not to take that personally. I just look at people who get really beat up, and they think, ‘I can’t do it because I’m stupid.’ And they don’t realize that they can’t do it because it’s hard. My job as a teacher is to break it down, and to encourage people, because I really believe it’s the road you go on to learn something that’s the big deal.”

 

   Oh that we could all approach life and learning with that attitude. As I think about this year’s graduates and the young adults in our midst who launching into the world, I hope that they will find the encouragement and support they need to navigate through this time in their lives. I’m not convinced that the world is “getting tougher”, but I know that each generation faces different challenges. Sometimes as older adults, we don’t understand the nuances of our young adult’s world. My hope is that they have encountered the teachers along the way that have equipped them with the tools, the self-esteem, the drive and the chutzpah to keep at it.

 

   My other observation about learning is that it is a two-way street. For teacher and student to flourish and succeed, there has to be a give and take on some level, as one navigates the levels of education. Yes, when we are in elementary school, it is mostly an opportunity for teachers to pass along the information and tools we need to learn what we need to know. By college and grad school, it turns more to a mutual learning/teaching model. One thing I really appreciate about the adult studies I teach as part of my ministry is that I learn so much from other’s life experience. Yes, I have some knowledge that may be new to them, but their lives are so rich that they give back in abundance.

 

   So remember that learning (and teaching) is a life-long experience. There should never be a new day without a new discovery of wonder.

 
 



Publish Date: May 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Standing for Women

   This quote, attributed to former President, Jimmy Carter, has been popping up on Face Book recently:

 

   “The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.”

 

   “Women of Faith and Our History” by Barbara A. Withers, is a small booklet, copyrighted in 1976 by United Church Press. It is one of several publications in the “Heritage Series” that was printed by the UCC. In her opening, Withers states:

 

   “At various times and in various places women stepped outside of the roles proscribed by a predominantly male culture. By choice or by circumstance, their ideas and abilities brought them into the public sphere. Many distinct contributions have been made by women throughout our history and their stories are being recovered through their diaries, journals, letters, and other sources. But the very existence of written materials by and about a woman tells us she was atypical. She had the leisure and ability to write. She had the opportunity to experience something other than a life of reproduction and household management. She lived in a family conscious enough of its heritage to preserve family records.”

 

   The United Church of Christ has by no means had a perfect record when it comes to standing up for/with women, yet we have been on the forefront of many “firsts”. Anne Hutchinson stood up for religious liberty and the right of women to have opinions about religious matters. For this, she was banished to Rhode Island. Antoinette Brown (Blackwell) was the first woman to be ordained to ministry by the Congregational Church in 1853. The 13-pages of this fine-print booklet go on to name and describe the accomplishments of over a hundred women in our UCC history who took leadership roles in various areas of public and private life. All-in-all, it is the theological stance of the UCC that women and men are co-equal partners in God’s world. We take that to mean that where there are inequalities, it is our task to step forward and work for justice and fairness.

 

   What disturbs me most about Withers’ introduction is the fact that many women today still do not have the leisure to write or struggle for the justice they deserve. Too many are so burdened with raising families, putting food on the table and making ends meet, that they do not have the luxury of pushing back when things that can make their lives a bit less complicated are taken away.

 

   In this month when we honor mothers and women—past and present, it is clear that the fight for equality and justice is not over. In fact, it seems that we take two steps forward and one step back. It also appears these days that some would like to push the clock back even further when it comes to equality and justice concerning women’s issues.

 

   The United Church of Christ has stood—and will continue to stand—on the side of women and equality. Not only will we stand, we will push forward and be pro-active in assuring that rights won over the years will not be rescinded. We will continue to challenge those who want to take away a woman’s right to choice about health care. We will advocate for equality in the workplace as well as up-lift the value of those women who work at home.

 
 



Publish Date: April 1, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Thinking Critically - Living Faithfully

I subscribe to and faithfully read “The Christian Century” magazine. It was established in 1884 and renamed the “The Christian Century” in 1900, with the thought that the twentieth century would find Christianity flourishing in the world, and especially the United States of America.
 
As the twenty-first century approached, the editorial board gave some thought to renaming the magazine. The 20th century had not turned out the way people imagined it in 1900. Christianity was still alive, but our nation had become more religiously diverse than people could have imagined. The board decided to keep the name and the purpose: “Thinking Critically. Living Faithfully.”
 
In 1959, when Wayside United Church of Christ was established in Federal Way, no one could have predicted what things would like in our nation or our community in 2012. Like our nation, we reflect the diversity of culture, religion and economics of a different world. Our children and grandchildren have/are growing up in a world and society that is anything but static.
 
I point this out, because as we find ourselves in the midst of a capital funds campaign to renovate our facilities to serve us and the community for the next fifty years, we might wonder what things will look like in our future. Can a progressive, protestant church survive in these changing times?
 
The answer to such a question may have to wait until 2062 to be answered. In the meantime, there are other questions to be answered.
 
Question 1: Are we thinking critically? There is a big difference between critical thinking and skepticism. If we are assessing things in a critical manner, we keep our minds open to new possibilities and a changing world. We cannot stop things from changing, but we can use our brains and powers of discernment to evaluate the world around us.
 
Question 2:  Are we living faithfully? We are not called simply to think about the world. We are called to act. The UCC Statement of Faith declares, “You (God) call us into your church… to be your servants in the service of others…”  We believe that this community of faith exists "to offer God our praise on a regular basis, but also to offer God our lives on a daily basis.
 
Question 3:  Are we fulfilling our ministry in our community? Ministry is done when we find a need and respond to it. Sometimes the needs are very specific — house the homeless, clothe the naked or feed the hungry. Sometimes the need is a bit more elusive — to help people on their spiritual journey. From decade to decade, those needs may change and way we minister may have to change as well.
 
When Wayside began over fifty years ago, people gave generously of their time and resources to make a vision a reality. Over these last five decades, people have continued to support a ministry to our members and the wider community. As we continue “Stepping Ahead” in our capital campaign, we are being asked to make a generous commitment to our next fifty years — whatever the future may hold.
 
Our campaign is the first part of a process that will put us on a path of finalizing/approving construction plans, seeking permits, living through dust and dirt, and making all of the detail decisions along the way. Hang on! Here we go!
 
In the midst of all of this, we will continue to think critically and live faithfully.
 
 
 



Publish Date: February 2, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Stepping Ahead with Gratitude

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”
 
-Jean Baptiste Massieu

 

   Wayside has undergone many changes in the last six decades. It all started with the Congregational Christian Conference of Washington-North Idaho in the early 1950’s. They decided to plant six new churches in the Conference, Wayside being one of them. For that decision, you can be grateful.

   An area (Federal Way) was designated, appropriate land (our present space) was set aside, a parsonage was purchased (later sold) and a pastor (Roland Schlueter) was selected. On October 12, 1958, the newly forming congregation held its first service of worship at Mirror Lake Elementary School. On September 27, 1959, Wayside was officially constituted as a congregation of the United Church of Christ in the Washington-North Idaho Conference. For that decision, you can be grateful.

   Over the next three years, people worked on building up the membership and programs of the church, at the same time engaging the congregation in a building program. On April 15, 1962, the first service of worship was held in our present Chapel. The buildings consisted of the Chapel, the Fellowship Hall, restrooms and kitchen. For that you can be grateful.

   In1967, 900 square feet of additional education space was added. In 1979, a capital funds drive helped add another 1800 square feet, which included more classrooms, the offices, Memorial Lounge and a kitchen up-date. On October 4, 1981, the new spaces were dedicated and a celebration was held to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the original groundbreaking, plus the fact that all mortgages and debts were paid in full. For that you can be grateful.

   Things didn’t stop there. By 1986, Wayside gave up on the metal folding chairs and dedicated new pews in the Chapel. 1988 saw a new electronic organ dedicated. The grand piano was dedicated in 1989. For that, you can be grateful.

   Some of you are long-timers and some are new to Wayside. Some of you helped found this church, some of you were children. Maybe you have raised your children here, been baptized here, married here or made a commitment to your partner here. Maybe you found us because you were having a life crisis and needed space to be safe. Maybe your children were involved in Sunday school, youth group or Our Whole Lives. Maybe you were looking for a church where you could think about your faith and ask questions about God and religion. Some of you are here because Wayside is an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation. For any and all of that, you can be grateful.

   We are now stepping ahead to the challenge of renovating parts of our facility. We are doing this to provide some more space, bring things up-to-code, be more energy efficient and provide restrooms that are barrier free and ADA compliant. When this is accomplished, future members will look back and they will be grateful.

 

 
 



Publish Date: January 12, 2012  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

A New Year

   Some people awaken each morning with an attitude of anticipation and expectation of what will unfold in the day before them. Can you imagine how excited they are when they have a whole New Year to think about? Well, that’s what we all have now that 2012 has rolled around.

   As we enter this New Year, there are some things we know will happen. The days will begin getting longer, even if ever so slowly. We know that the political landscape will heat up even more as things escalate toward a presidential election. We know that our taxes are due on April 15th, our families will have birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate and the 4th of July will be here before we know it. There are people who have all of their travel plans laid out for 2012. I’ve never been one to do that, but it is probably good to know where you are going and when.

    In other words, there are things we can count on as a new year rolls around. What will challenge us in the New Year is not the things we have planned, but the things we have not anticipated. Some people are getting bent out of shape about the Mayan calendar and the fact that it does not extend beyond 2012. I can’t say that I am any more worried about that than I was to make the transition to the year 2000 and a new century.

   There are things, however, that concern me as 2012 presents its self. One of those concerns is the poor among us. When he wrote his encyclical, Pacem inTerris, in 1963, Pope John XXIII stated:

  “Human beings have the natural right to free initiative in the economic field, and the right to work… Furthermore, there is the right to a working wage… a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person…”

   I believe this will be a year of examining what we believe as individuals, and as a nation, about the worth of each human being. There will be some basic questions before us as a nation. Who has a right to a basic education? Who has the right to basic medical care? Who has the right to a living wage? Who has the right to marry? Who has the right to basic housing? Who has the right to basic nutrition and food?

   These questions can be asked at a purely secular level and also (maybe more importantly) at our personal faith level. For those of us who profess a faith in a higher being, how will our beliefs translate into actions in the world?

   There are times when we take our beliefs to the ballot box, as we attempt to elect public servants who reflect our outlook on people and the world. Sometimes we take our belief into our local communities as we volunteer to help with various civic programs and projects. In 2012, some Wayside folks will have the opportunity to take their beliefs on a mission trip that is being coordinated by Jack Anderson and other interested members. When and where, have not yet been decided. This will be one of those unanticipated events that could change your life.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

 

 
 



Publish Date: December 1, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Time Famine

 
Our Tuesday Study Group has been using the “Stillspeaking Bible Study” resource, produced by the Stillspeaking Initiative Writer’s Group. Last week, the focus scripture was John 2:1-11, the story of the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine. The Rev. Donna Schaper, pastor of Judson Memorial Church in New York City was the author who wrote the reflection on the scripture. In her reflection, she wrote this: “"For those of us who live in times of spiritual famine—most notably expressed in the epidemic time famine of first world people…the story is a glorious antidote.” It was in our discussion (which is the part I appreciate most) that a younger member of the group put those words in perspective for us. He pointed out that because so many people today live a structured, calendared, appointment-filled life, they are hungry for time. If only we had more time to do this or do that. Not only do we fill every moment for ourselves, but we do the same to our families and children. Time is often in short supply. He commented that sometimes he hears from his friends about everything they did while they were on vacation and wonders if they ever took the time to relax and be renewed. As I think about the “time famine”, I also think about the time of year we are moving into—Advent and Christmas. When we add expectations of a church community to the extra time commitments to family and work place, things can get hectic. While Advent is a time to reflect about the meaning of Christmas, we often don’t have time to turn around before the next event is awaiting our presence. One thing I appreciate about Wayside, is that this faith community takes the season seriously, but we try not to pile tons of extra activities into the month so as to add to the “time famine”.
 



Publish Date: October 29, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Testimonies of Faith

Last week I skipped out on Men’s Fellowship (sorry guys) to attend a lecture at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma. The presenter was a UCC pastor, the Rev. Dr. Robin R.  Meyers, author of Saving Jesus from The Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. For most people who attend Wayside, Meyers is saying nothing new. What you need to understand, however, is that he is pastor of a UCC church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The topics he writes about in his book are very controversial there.

After his presentation, there was time for questions and answers. Since one of the adult classes at Immanuel is using Meyers’ book for their study material this fall, people were familiar with his material. During his presentation he said something that hit a nerve for the Presbyterians—“at Mayflower UCC we never recite creeds.” Evidently, Presbyterians  recite the Nicene Creed on a regular basis. If you grew up in the Evangelical and Reformed branch of the United Church of Christ, you probably recited the Apostles’ Creed every now and then, if not every Sunday. Both of these creeds, by the way, are in the back of the New Century Hymnal if you want to check them out.

During the Q&A time, several minutes of discussion surrounded the creed issue. From the beginning, the United Church of Christ has always claimed that we believe in “testimonies of faith rather than tests of faith.” Let me quote from a UCC brochure:

“Because faith can be expressed in many different ways, the United Church of Christ has no formula that is a test of faith. Down through the centuries, however, Christians have shared their faith with one another through creeds, confessions, catechisms, and other statements of faith. Historic statements such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Evangelical Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Cambridge Platform, and the Kansas City Statement of Faith are valued as authentic testimonies of faith.”

 In the Congregational tradition, Wayside has never used a creed as a test of faith for people to accept before they can become members. We do have a covenant, based on the Salem Covenant of 1629. As presented in our Bylaws, the covenant of membership states:

“I, by my signature, in the presence of God, do agree to covenant with the Lord and other members of this Church, to work together in all those ways, as revealed to us as God’s word. I understand that in joining this Congregation, I am committing my time, my talent, and my money in promoting the purposes of this Church.”

The other “testimony of faith” we use is the UCC Statement of Faith, which I will not reprint here. You can view that on our website (www.waysideucc.org) or read it in the back of our hymnal. I’ve always viewed this statement as being more fluid than a creed. It does not prescribe what we should believe, but rather describes how the UCC views God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the call we are issued as members of a congregation.

Sometimes I wonder if Martin Luther knew what he was starting when he nailed his statements on the door of the Wittenberg castle. We’ve come a long way from papal authority to this claim in our Bylaws:

“We believe in the freedom and responsibility of the individual soul, and the right of private judgment. We hold to the autonomy of the local church and its independence of external control. Each member of this church will have the undisturbed right to follow the Word of God according to the guidance of his or her own mind and conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.”

 
 



Publish Date: October 1, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Perpetual Stewards

This Sunday (Oct. 2nd), the title of my Morning Message will be “Perpetual Stewards”, based on Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:33-46. As Wayside moves toward our Consecration Sunday on October 23rd, this might be our mantra along the way—we are perpetual stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

One of the under-lying myths of the American culture is that we are all “self-made” women and men. For most of us, this is not really the case. We have been raised and nurtured by families and communities. We have been nourished by public schools and either public or private colleges and universities. Many of us have taken advantage of community groups such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, or sports teams. All of these things were possible because other people were paid or volunteered their time to make this happen. So I am always dismayed when someone comes along to declare that he or she is “self-made” and sees no reason to pay the bill for other people’s roads, schools, health care or you name it.

As I wrapped up my sermon series last week, I mentioned the final major theme of our Sunday School material—“We are part of God’s great BIG world.” This means that:

We can care for God’s creation.

We can show God’s love to others.

We belong to the community of faith.

All of this is a far cry from declaring we are self-made women and men. It is rather a declaration that we are stewards of God’s world. We are called to care for what we have inherited as individuals, churches and community.

As we move through the remaining months of this year, there will be plenty of opportunities to practice our stewardship. In the broad sense, stewardship is not just giving to a budget or financial campaign. Stewardship is caring for all that is around us.

At the beginning of October we acknowledge that we are part of God’s wider community through our observation and celebration of World Communion Sunday. We will receive gifts on behalf of the United Church of Christ for the Neighbors in Need offering. On October 23rd, we will gather for our Consecration Sunday as we bring commitments to the church for our 2012 fiscal year.

In the midst of all of this, repairs are being made to our building from damage incurred last March. Roof tile are being replaced, the spotlights on the cross have been replaced and the skylight repair is being pursued. All of this is stewardship of the facilities that we have inherited over the last fifty years.

Our stewardship also has included sharing our facilities with other groups. They share in the cost (rent) of caring for the building, but it also provides them space to worship and grow. A stewardship of faith, if you will.

Another opportunity to practice our stewardship of resources will come up with MISSION 1—a time of learning and having an impact on hunger in our community and the world. Wayside will focus on gifts of food to our local Food Pantry and gifts of letters to Bread for the World.

Stewardship is not only caring for, but also building on the resources we have so that future generations might benefit like we have.

 



Publish Date: August 31, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

In-Put and Out-Put

Genesis 12:1-3 1The Lord said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

 

   When I get to the office in the morning, my routine is to first make sure my computer is up and running. I briefly check Face Book chatter, look at headline news, see what’s happening on www.ucc.org, then I check my email. Many of the emails require a response. Sometimes that response is an email reply or sometimes it is a telephone call. It dawned on me that my day, and really my life is based on in-put and out-put. I’m either taking information in or dispensing information.

 

   When God made a promise to Abraham, it was to bless him (in-put) so that Abraham and his descendants could be a blessing (out-put).  It seems to me that is what a balanced life is all about. When we are self-centered it is “all about us”. Our question is most often, “What’s in this for me?” If the answer is “nothing”, then forget it. We become so self-absorbed that we forget the purpose of living is community.

 

   On the other hand, if we are only concerned about giving and caring for others, and we do not renew our own spirit and energy, we soon become burned out. As noble as selflessness might seem, even Jesus needed those times alone and apart to renew himself. If we only give, we miss receiving the gifts that others have to offer.

 

   The idea of in-put and out-put, being blessed and being a blessing, receiving and giving, applies not only to individuals but to communities of faith. I can hear God’s words to Wayside,

   “I have blessed you that you will be a blessing.” Not only is this an affirmation of God’s love and concern for us, but also a reminder of our mission and responsibility.

 

   To remain a vital and healthy church, we need to find those opportunities to both give and receive. When we hear the word “give” in church, many people reach for their checkbook. But giving is so much more. As important as our financial contributions are, our other gifts are just as important. Our presence on a Sunday morning, our work on a board or committee, a phone call to a member you haven’t seen in awhile—all are part of our being a blessing. Along the way, we also need to renew our spirits. Sometimes that is in worship, sometimes in private study and reflection, and at other times it is playing and having fun. (Think about our recent Wayside picnic.) For me, a yearly trek to our Conference Camp at N-Sid-Sen is a way to renew myself.

 

   As we begin a new “school year”, programs at Wayside will get underway. Please take advantage of those things that will help you grow in spirit. Look for some new opportunities for adult education and more accessible links to what is going on in our Sunday School programs for children and youth.

 

   You are blessed to be a blessing!

 
 



Publish Date: May 1, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Now What?

So what do we do now?

In the cycle of the church year, we celebrated the birth of Jesus in December then followed his ministry as he preached, taught and healed. During Holy Week (April 17-23) we shouted “alleluias” (or at least spoke loudly) when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Many gathered around the Communion Table on Maundy Thursday to commemorate the meal Jesus shared with his disciples. On Sunday we gathered on Easter to proclaim with Christians around the world—“He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

So what do we do now?

Depending on which Gospel you read, we might consider ourselves in a “holding pattern”, waiting for the Spirit to be poured out on Pentecost (June 12th). If we follow John’s Gospel, God’s Spirit has already been breathed upon us.

I’m of the mindset that post-Easter is the time we continue the ministry that Jesus had begun. With their teacher, rabbi and friend no longer with them in body, the disciples became the Corpus Christi, Body of Christ.

Likewise, as the disciples of the twenty-first century, we as individuals and as communities of faith continue the ministry. What we believe is important, because it shapes who we are and what we do. But what we do is paramount, because it is in our work and actions that people will see the living God. It is not a question of beginning afresh, but rather a time of re-focusing our priorities.

We are helping to shelter the homeless through our affiliation with FUSION (Friends United to Shelter the Indigent, Oppressed and Needy). Is there more we can do? We are helping to feed the hungry through our affiliation with the Multi Service Center and the Federal Way Caregiving Network. Is there more that we can do? We are helping give meaning to those who are often marginalized in our society through our affiliation with Valley Cities Counseling.

Is there more that we can do? Members of Wayside are involved in many “ministries” throughout our community that have an impact on individuals and the wider Federal Way area. It is in these tasks that each of us becomes the “body of Christ” in the world.

For a little over fifty years, the physical facilities of Wayside have welcomed the community and provided many groups with a place to meet—Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, AA, AlAnon, the Federal Way Islamic Center and various arts groups of Federal Way. Our worship has been open to all people of the community and we perform baptisms, weddings and funerals for people, even if they are not members of our congregation, while many churches will not.

We are all aware that our facilities are a bit worn and tattered around the edges. That is to be expected when you open your doors. I think of it has the difference between the “family room” and the “parlor”. In homes where teenagers and guests are welcomed freely, things become worn, even with everyone on their good behavior. In some homes, the parlor is spotless with everything in its place. It is used only on special occasions and with strict rules.

I see Wayside as the “family room”. We are on the path to renovate our facility and make it welcoming for the next 50 years. This will be an exciting venture and sometimes a daunting task.

We can work together to make Wayside a place that we can share pride in and a place that is welcoming to others who see our “light” and respond to our welcome—“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
 



Publish Date: April 1, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Paul Who?

Recently I’ve been working my way through The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I’m not a speed reader and some of the constructs take time to digest. They are really helpful in seeing Paul in a new light. Crossan takes the history of the Roman Empire seriously, especially as it impacted the events of Jesus’ life and the early communities that followed his teaching. The earliest groups were not known as Christians, but rather followers of “The Way”. One of the hallmarks of “thinking Christians” is that are willing to accept the Bible as sacred text, but to also be open to new information about the authors, the language and the circumstances surrounding the texts.

One of the first reminders from Borg and Crossan, is that not all of the material attributed to Paul in the Christian scriptures (i.e. New Testament) is actually Paul. Scholars know that there are at least three categories of letters:

Authentic Paul—These are the letters that most scholars agree Paul actually wrote or dictated to a scribe. They are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians and Philemon.

Disputed Paul—There is no clear consensus about this group, but many scholars believe these letters did not come from Paul: Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. Borg and Crossan believe these writings are “post-Paul”.

Not Paul—Another strong consensus is that these letters were definitely not written by Paul, even though they are attributed to him: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

Why is all of this important? It is important because Paul is the earliest source of writing and information about followers of “The Way”. This doesn’t make other writings less important, but the authentic Paul gives us insight into the earliest understandings of Jesus’ followers, their thoughts and their organizations.  Even though the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) precede Paul’s letters in the layout of the New Testament, Paul’s writing came first, written in the 50’s of the first century. (Mark, the first Gospel, was written around 70.)

The First Paul is intriguing to me because it is giving me a new way to look at Easter and the meaning of resurrection through Paul’s words and thoughts. Borg and Crossan spent two chapters of the book exploring this subject and I won’t be able to do it justice here, but let me try to summarize. It was important for Paul to declare “Christ crucified”. It’s not just that Christ died, but he was put to death by Imperial Rome, for crimes against the state. Christ died because he challenged the political powers of his time and place.

Another important aspect for Paul was that the resurrection of Christ was grounded in his own personal experience of the risen Christ. The risen Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. This was not a story that Paul heard from someone else, but a first had experience. It is in the resurrection that God had initiated the “clean-up of the world”, as the book puts it. For Paul, this was one of those “God is still speaking” moments.

Another important phrase for Paul was “Christ is Lord”. In the crucifixion, Rome said “no” to God. In the resurrection, God said “yes” to life--the vindication of Christ if you will. When Paul declares, “Christ is Lord” he is also declaring “Caesar is not Lord”. That was a radical and dangerous statement in the first century.

As we approach Easter, we will share many stories and traditions, but for Easter to have real meaning in our lives and faith, there is a need for that personal experience of the risen Christ. When we declare “Christ is Lord” we are also saying “the world is not”!  As we continue on “The Way” toward Jerusalem, Holy Week and Easter, it is important to remember that the risen Christ walks with us—again.

 



Publish Date: March 12, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Compassion

The word compassion is derived from the roots com=together + pati=to suffer. In our usage it has come to mean deep sympathy.
 
As I think about the season of Lent, the idea of it being a season of compassion toward Jesus makes sense to me. The other word that I would link to this season is companion, com=together + panis=bread. For me, it is helpful to think of Lent as as an opportunity to walk more closely with Jesus. It is a journey of opening our eyes to the reality of his adult life and ministry, and a time of breaking bread with the one we follow.

The season of Lent is not prescribed in Biblical teaching but rather a season developed by the Church over the centuries. As we observe it today, it is the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It begins on Ash Wednesday. Because Easter is a “movable feast”, not a fixed date, the beginning of Lent varies from year to year.

Easter is the first Sunday, following the first full moon after the spring equinox.  This year, Easter is on April 24th, so count back 40 days plus six Sundays and you should land on March 9th.
 
Lent is the more somber time of the liturgical year. Some churches will drape a cross in black. Other churches do not put flowers in the chancel during Lent. Often the music takes on a more somber tone and more songs are sung that are written in a minor key. Even if churches do not have a on-going, mid-week service, many will add a Wednesday night worship for Lent.
 
The tradition at Wayside has varied over the years. On Ash Wednesday we gather for a Meager Meal of soup and bread, followed by our Ash Wednesday worship. At that worship, we use ashes for those who wish to receive them and share Communion. 
On the Sundays of Lent, we follow the appointed Lectionary readings for the season.  Like many churches, we have merged two ideas on Palm/Passion Sunday.  The worship begins with the children and a Palm Processional, reminding us of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. The latter half of the worship turns its attention to the passion of Jesus—his arrest, trial and execution.

Our next mid-week worship is on Maundy Thursday (April 21 this year). This is the traditional gathering of Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room for the Seder Meal and what we now call “The Last Supper”. We exit worship in silence, awaiting our return on Easter morning.

So what do we do with the rest of Lent? As I said at the beginning, it can be a time of compassion. It can be a time to reflect more deeply on our Christian faith and our relationship with the one who gathered disciples and taught them. It can be a time to think more deeply about whose we are and our path in life. We can deepen some of our spiritual practices—prayer, meditation, journaling, fasting, etc.

Instead of giving something up for Lent, try adding something. This might be extra giving, it might be acts of kindness beyond what you normally do or a time of learning about an aspect of faith that you want to strengthen. I really think that during this time, Jesus would ask his disciples to “keep on keeping on”. Carry out your ministry day by day and be a companion to those who can use your help and understanding.

Lent always reminds me of that song from Godspell, “Day by Day”.
“ O dear Lord, three things I pray…
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.”

However you chose to observe Lent, may your walk be one of compassion and companionship.

~Dennis Hollinger-Lant

  
 



Publish Date: February 7, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Environmental Justice

 
If you haven’t heard the good news, Pilgrim Firs, one of our Conference camps, has been designated as an Immersion Center for Environmental Justice. This approval comes from the Board of Directors of both the Pacific Northwest Conference (PNC) and the Justice and Witness Ministries at the national level.
 
There are three other immersion centers designated by the UCC:
  • One for justice advocacy in Washington, DC;
  • Another for racial justice at Franklinton Center in North Carolina;
  • Centro Romero, a center in California that focuses on immigration justice issues.
These immersion centers have been established as educational resources for all of the United Church of Christ and the public. Pilgrim Firs will continue to operate as a camp and conference center of the PNC, but set aside some time and space each year to offer educational programs focusing on environmental justice.   
 
To learn more about the workings of an immersion center, our Conference Minister, Mike Denton, recently spent a week at Centro Romero. The group he participated in was not too far from Tucson on the day of the fatal shootings. Mike said that folks in Arizona were not surprised that this happened. The real surprise was that the shooter was not from one side or the other of the immigration debate.
 
I don’t think it is news to any of us that there are many issues in our nation right now that are divisive—immigration, the economy, state budgets, health care reform and marriage rights for same gender couples, just to name a few. We sometimes divide ourselves over issues, over political affiliation or religious belief and are often more articulate about our differences than the things that bind us together.   
 
In the final session of our “Living the Questions” study, DVD presenter, Walter Brueggemann, retired professor of Old Testament at Chandler School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia, suggested that there are three practices of the early church that could bring us together:
  • First, Paul calls the church to practice radical hospitality. This was not heard of in the Roman world, especially when the hospitality also extended inclusivity. The wealthy of the time may have practiced hospitality among themselves, but it certainly was not extended to the poor and enslaved.   
  • Second, the church members were called to practice generosity. Here again, not a quality that was widely practiced in the first century. People were encouraged to share what they had for the good of all.   
  • Finally, Brueggemann states that the church was called to not practice vengeance. 
His perception is that if the Christian churches in our time practiced these three things—hospitality, generosity and no vengeance—it would bring us closer together. If our energy was used to make these things happen, we would haven’t energy left over to parse about the secondary issues. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Publish Date: January 12, 2011  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

A New Year

A couple of weeks ago I received two periodicals in the mail on the same day.  That’s not unusual, but the content of both struck me with a bit of irony.  One publication was “The Christian Century”.  I think I have been a subscriber to this magazine since I graduated from seminary. This periodical brings biweekly news about what is happening in the religious world. The tag-line for the title is: “Thinking Critically.  Living Faithfully.” 
 

The second publication was the “Intelligence Report.” This is published quarterly by The Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ve been a member of TSPLC since about 1995. The “Intelligence Report” educates people about hate groups in the United States. There is information about who the people are, where they are and what kind of hate they peddle. 

Whereas the Christian Century tries to keep people aware of what is going well (and not so well) in the life of faith communities, the Intelligence Report is a reminder that there are a fair number of people who use their faith to promote white-supremacy movements in the name of God and religion. 
 
I am celebrating as I listen to news of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy of the military. I realize that it may take a bit of time to fully implement this policy, but the hurdles have been removed and the implementation is now on the flat track. As one commentator talked about some of the responses to this action, he commented that he thought much of the resistance was a generational thing. For people under twenty-five, he said, the gay issue is no big deal. I’ve known that for awhile and am glad to hear someone else say those words. At Wayside, we have bridged that gap and find a community of faith that embraces the innate worth of each person.
 

The thing that worries me in all of this is the response of the hate groups across our nation. One of their many “targets” for hate rhetoric is the GLBT community. I think this mind-set is just as present in the military as it is in our general public. Once a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person is free to openly embrace who they are, this doesn’t mean they will be any less of a target—maybe even more so. I also think that the military will have things in place to counter any crimes against GLBT military personnel.

The repeal of the DADT will be a new page for a new year. This is one step forward. Other information indicates that a committed partner of military personnel will not receive any benefits from the government. Committed partners will be treated as single people in a relationship. Needless to say, there are more steps to be taken.
 
This May will mark the 20th anniversary of Wayside being an Open and Affirming congregation. Many things have changed in the last 20 years and many things remain the same.  It was a bold step in 1991 for this congregation to step up and be counted among the ONA churches. How will we meet the challenges of this decade and this century?
 
Have a blessed New Year!

 

 

 



Publish Date: December 1, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

A Christmas Hope

During the Advent season, leading up to Christmas, we will be lighting the Advent wreath on the Communion table. For four weeks, beginning Nov. 28th, a new candle will be lit—each representing a different theme of Advent and Christian expectation. (I don’t think these expectations are limited to Christians, but for Advent they are our foci.)

                  HOPE                      

                             PEACE            

                                         JOY             

                                                 LOVE  

Each week we will have the opportunity to ask ourselves a question:
  • For what do we HOPE? We do focus on ourselves, our church, our community, our family? Is hope just a way denying the reality of the world around us and hiding from the problems that face our world?
  • What is PEACE?  What is this shalom that is described in the scriptures? Is it something that is individual or is there a wider sense of what peace is all about? We know that as individuals, we don’t have the power to stop armed conflict half way around the world, but how do we bring peace to ourselves, our communities, our schools and our nation?
  • What is the true meaning of JOY? We know that joy is different than happiness, but what exactly is the difference? How can we be joyful (joy-filled) in hard economic times? How do we imagine joy being a part of each day of our life?
  • How do we regain the meaning of LOVE in all of its forms—our physical passion (eros), our brotherly/sisterly compassion for one another (filia) and the self-sacrificing love,  (agape) described in the Christian scriptures.

So please take some time this Advent/Christmas season to imagine that another world is possible. Imagine not only what that world would look like, but think about what part you play, as the Body of Christ, in bringing that world about. I believe it is true…

             Without you God won’t.  Without God, you can’t.

Have a blessed and peaceful Advent and Christmas.

 



Publish Date: October 26, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Stop the Bullying

 
   Most of us grew up in schools where everyone knew who the bullies were. As we managed our way through the system, we developed methods to avoid those people who were capable of giving us grief. Of course, not everyone was able to avoid the bully.  Fortunately, I don’t remember any of my classmates taking their own lives because they were being bullied, but I’m sure there were tough issues that confronted them. I also grew up in a time when teachers were allowed to pull the paddle off the wall or from their desk and mete out corporal punishment on the spot. It was a time when parents were held accountable for their child’s behavior. But bullying still happened. Students were harassed for their lunch money, called names and sometimes physically accosted. 
    Something seems to have changed over the years. Bullying has not stopped, but we hear about more students who are taking their lives because of these situations. One thing is for sure, communication has changed things. Bullying can still be done face-to-face, but now it can also spread via the internet.  We hear about bullying in our own communities, but also in communities around the world—sometimes within minutes of the event.
    In a recent issue of Christian Science Monitor (Vol. 102, Issue 47), Patricia Kelley Criswell wrote an article entitled “What works against bullies”. Criswell is a licensed master social worker and teaches at Western Michigan University. She suggests that many of the adages we grew up with can make things worse.
    The advice to “Just ignore them” often makes the situation worse. Bullying is about power and if someone can silence you, that is pretty powerful. “Sure, there are times when doing nothing makes sense—for example, if the bully is older or you’re in an unsupervised area—but over-all…ignoring isn’t an effective strategy.”
   She suggests that another misguided adage is “Mind your own business; don’t get involved.” Half of the time, if someone intervenes, the bully will back down.
    We were all taught not to be a tattletale, but Criswell says we need to teach our children the difference between tattling and reporting. “Tattling is meant to make someone else look bad; there’s not a victim involved. Telling, or reporting, is done in the service of others; it’s meant to help someone.”
    She also suggests that we need to teach the difference between “being nice” and “setting boundaries”. The article goes on to say that it is important for parents to help their children role-play situations that might happen around bullying behavior and teach them what they can do to help diffuse the event, whether it is happening to them or to someone else.
    When Eboo Patel spoke recently at the University of Puget Sound, he explained why he founded the Inter Faith Youth Core. Basically it was out of guilt. In high school he had a Jewish friend who was being bullied and Eboo did nothing to stand up for his friend. Several years later when the two reconnected, his friend told him that the thing that hurt most was the fact that Eboo did nothing to come to his defense. Out of that grew the IFYC.
    If you are involved with a school, whether as a teacher, a parent or a student, you need to ask about the school’s bullying policy and how they enforce it. If there is not a policy in place, help them work on one.
 



Publish Date: August 26, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Faith and Reason

 

We are all products of our up-bringing in one way or another. I grew up in a rural Iowa community where the United Church of Christ was and still is, the only church in town. The size of the congregation equaled the population of the town. Beginning in junior high, we “farm kids” were bussed off to the next larger town for our education, as part of a consolidated school district. It was the best of both worlds. I could take advantage of the educational opportunities of the “city” while enjoying my youth group and Scouting friends in the smaller setting. 

   During that time, the U.S.A. was caught up in the space race with the USSR. That meant an emphasis on math and science in the schools. Iowa was already known for its high literacy rate among the states and the educational system did not disappoint when it came to math and science. At the same time I was enjoying and excelling in these areas, my faith was being nurtured by members of my faith community. People at church did not shy away from the science that was rapidly opening new ways of thinking about how our world began and how it operates. 

   In college, although I took the mandatory science and math classes for a liberal arts education, my interest fell more into the humanities, which led to my major in sociology. I was fascinated by people and the bonds and institutions we form. All through my education, I never felt (and I still don’t) that I had to choose between my faith and reason. Guess I always thought that a person could have a “reasonable faith”. In my faith journey, I was never asked to take the Bible literally. Until I arrived at seminary, I still used masculine pronouns to refer to God, but never really thought of God as a “person”, let alone a man. I think being opened to refer to God as God, freed me to accept a broader concept of what this creative force is and how God works in the world. 

   As I stated in my message on Sunday, our faith should not be something that binds us to a narrow way of looking at the world. Rather it should be a factor that liberates us to explore the complexity and grandeur of the world in which we live. Yet we live in a world that is fractured. The reality is that there are groups within every religious context that use their faith to “bind” rather than “set free”. My faith calls me to work for a world as it should be, rather than simply accept the world as it is. Some people think the solution to solving our planet’s problems is simple, just do away with all religion. With this accomplished, we would all be reasonable, rational people. I don’t think so. People are much more complex than that. 

   I would much prefer to live in a world where people respected each other as human beings, no matter if we are scientists, theologians, teachers, farmers, politicians, poets, engineers, and you can add to this list. I would prefer to live in a world where I can be a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Wiccan, agnostic or atheist. A world in which we are all “Mr. Spock” with a high propensity for rationality and reason, mixed in with a slight bit of emotion, does not appeal to me at all. Life is more of a quilt than a monochrome blanket.

 



Publish Date: August 4, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

TMI

      If you hang around one of the social networking sites or text or Twitter or Tweet, you recognize the “shortcut” for “too much information”. It is usually meant to imply that what you have read provided you with too much detail or simply information you really didn’t want to know. You often see those letters when someone feels compelled to tell you they are going to the bathroom or something like that.  
    In this day and age, I think TMI can also be used to express the reality that indeed, many people are literally inundated with too much information! Most people have email. Some people Tweet and Twitter. Many people have social networking sites (Facebook, My Space, etc.) and some people are out there on several sites. A few people Blog or have formed a group on one of their sites. All of that is in addition to the radio, the television, newspapers, magazines and news sites on the internet. In other words, there are multiple ways to connect to one another. Trying to keep all of this straight is a feat unto itself. Did I email that person or did I leave a message on Facebook for them? Did they phone me or text me?  
   In a recent strip of the “Zits” comic, Jeremy’s cell phone was ringing. After a couple of frames, his mom asks,    “Why don’t you answer your phone?” 
   “Oh,” Jeremy replies, “it’s not important.”
   “How do you know it’s not important?” his mom inquires. 
   “If it were important” he says, “they’d  text me.”  (Note: In my 1979 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, “text” is only listed as a noun. How 20th century ! ”Text” is now a verb as well.)
    So as we, as individuals or churches, try to disseminate information that we believe is important, we have no shortage of ways to communicate. The important questions to consider are:   
   >What is the message/information we want to
        send?   
   >Who are we trying to reach?   
   >What will be the most effective way(s) to get
         the information to them?   
   >How can we be sure that the people we are
         trying to reach are getting the
         message?   
   The questions are the same for the Pacific Northwest Conference. In order to have a better understanding of how churches communicate with their members and how churches communicate with the Conference, the PNC has hired a consultant to help answer some of the questions. Kathleen Hosfeld was introduced at the Leadership Retreat in June. Since that time, she has been working with a Conference appointed Task Force (which includes Myrna Harrison and Robbie Gilchrist) to begin this study.   The following was included in a recent Conference email:The Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC has commissioned a study to identify needs and solutions for communicating within our region. Churches within the Conference are separated by mountains, miles, time and unequal access to or comfort with technology. In the spirit of our denomination's mission -- "that they may all be one" – this study seeks to identify the resources that will support our work together as a faith community. Results may help churches gain access to resources that will help local congregations communicate more effectively with their congregations, and feel more closely aligned with UCC Conference and National initiatives. Please add your voice to this assessment by taking our survey, located at http://pncucccomtech.blogspot.com/   I hope some of you will take the time to explore this site. Hard copies of the survey will be available on Sunday morning or Chris can mail you a copy from the church office.  
   In all of this, it is important to remember that communication is not a substitute for community. We use these communication tools to keep the membership informed about who we are and what we are doing together. No amount of social networking will ever take the place of a hike together around Naches Peak in the moonlight, worshiping together on Sunday morning, grieving together when we lose a member, rubbing elbows at a pot-luck or discussing what our church budget should look like.
 



Publish Date: July 1, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

God and Country

Call it fate, karma, predestination or a matter of discernment, but the combination of being a Boy Scout, a church geek and a “know it all” teenager converged to propel me into ministry. 
 
Why do I tell you this as I write for a July Newsletter?  Because these factors had a profound effect on my priorities of God and nation.  As an Eagle Scout, the “Boy Scout Promise” was as ingrained as the Lord’s Prayer…   
“On my honor, I will do my best,   To do my duty to God; and my country…” 
For some reason, it jumped out at me that God was always first.  Even on the Scouting religious award, it was “God and Country”, not ”Country and God”.  So in the midst of my love of this nation in which I live, I’ve always been aware of a larger calling by God, a calling that transcends national borders.
 
As we, the citizens of the United States of America, celebrate the anniversary of our independence, I always hope that it is an opportunity to reflect on what that truly means.  I’m realistic enough to know that like so many other observances, the 4th of July is just another party weekend for many Americans. I think that the true greatness of our nation rests with those who grapple with the meaning of patriotism and nationalism.  In his final book, Credo, William Sloane Coffin has an entire section of quotes about “Patriotism”, which I’ve just re-read. One quote states:
 
“There are three kinds of patriots, two  bad, one good.  The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics.  Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with the country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”     1 (p. 84)
 
Many people in the United Church of Christ carry on this “lover’s quarrel” with their nation, a quarrel that dates back to the founding of these United States.  Many of our founders had it right in principle, but not in practice.  This quarrel continued in the midst of many national struggles: slavery, voting rights, women’s right, civil rights, education and human rights.  The quarrel arose over use of military power, solely for the purpose of national gain.  Questions arise as we deal with our national economic downturn and an unprecedented environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
 
A much longer quote from Coffin puts things in perspective for me: 
 
“So where then in America does God dwell today? 
 
I would say that God dwells with those in America who feel geographically at home and spiritually in exile.  God dwells with them for going about doing good, repairing a broken world, for opposing America’s entrenched fondness for subjugating nature in the name of progress and for keeping the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing.  
 
God dwells with those who seek God’s face, those who may doubt the quality of the bread but don’t kid themselves they are not hungry.  
 
God dwells with every committed Jew, Moslem, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu who believes religious pluralism to be God’s will, but who knows, as did Rabbi Heschel, that ‘the first and most important prerequisite of interfaith is faith.’  It is so easy in a time of paucity of faith for interfaith to become a substitute for faith, suppressing authenticity for the sake of compromise.   God dwells I’m sure with all who in wonder, reverence, and gratitude sing a new song in verse or prose, music and art, seeking to end the self-deception that tempts us all.  1 (p. 85)   
 
So when we gather for worship on July 4th, we will celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s Independence, we will celebrate Communion at Christ’s Table, we will seek God’s guidance through word and song and sacrament.  When we sing the words, “America! America! God mend thine every flaw”  2, we will hear in them a call to continue to work toward “liberty and justice for all.”
 
--Dennis Hollinger-Lant
 
1  William Sloane Coffin, Credo, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2004.
2 Katherine Lee Bates, “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies”, Pilgrim Hymnal, The Pilgrim Press, Boston, 1965.
 



Publish Date: June 14, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Transitions

 
   Life’s transitions are inevitable. Some are easier than others. Although they happen throughout the year, springtime seems to bring many of them into focus.
   In some families, this time of year means educational transitions. Students are graduating from high school, college and university. For some, this means a transition into the employment arena. Hopefully the job will fit the person’s passion and training. Sometimes it’s a job that will pay the rent and put food on the table until you can break into the profession of your choosing. Some students will be transitioning from one level of education to another, looking forward to a different school, different students and different challenges come fall.
   Springtime means transition for Wayside’s Church Council as new members come on board in June while others take a break from their positions or renew their commitment for another two years. The tasks of what needs to get done may remain the same, but people bring different skills and maybe new ways of doing things to the job. The task at hand does not have to met with the thought that we’ve always done it a certain way. Rather it can be a question of what is the best way to do this for this time and this place. Thank you to those who are transitioning off the Council:  Kim L. (Past Moderator); Nancy K. (Secretary); Anne V. and Nancy P. (Dirs. of Worship); Dot W. (Dir. of Fellowship); Claire S. (Youth Rep). Newly elected people include: Pam T. (Vice Moderator); Gail S. (Secretary); Rosemary H. (Dir. of Fellowship); Bonnie G. (Dir. of Worship); Effie B. (Dir. of Facilities) and Davante’ T. (Youth Rep).
    On Sunday, we celebrated the transition of our Confirmands from students about the church to new members in full standing. We welcomed Valerie D., Michael N., Patrick P., Claire S. and Davante’ T. We also received Steve G. as a new member during our Service of Worship.
   One of my favorite springtime transitions in the Northwest is to experience the temperature trying to move from spring to summer. It can never seem to make up its mind to be cool, warm or hot. It’s also never quite sure whether to be partly sunny or partly cloudy. I never knew there were so many ways to describe precipitation until I moved to the Northwest. It took me awhile to really appreciate the meaning and joy of a “sun break”.  
   At Wayside, we are well aware of that other transition—from this life to a different realm. We have celebrated the lives of Carol W., Silversity M. and Beth B. Each of these women touched the life of our congregation in unique and meaningful ways. They will all be missed 
   No matter where we are on life’s journey, we can count on a new transition coming our way. I believe it is our faith and hope that keeps us anchored through these times of change. 
 



Publish Date: June 7, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

May Flowers

I know it was a bad riddle, but I couldn’t resist.  When talking to the children on Sunday morning about the beauty of nature someone had to bring up the topic of Seattle rain.  Ergo, the riddle:
 
Q:  “If April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring?”
A:  “Pilgrims”, of course.
 
By now you know that I spent way too much time on the joke page of “Boy’s Life” when I was a Scout.
 
   Just the week before in Confirmation, we had been discussing how Wayside and the United Church of Christ fit into the bigger picture of faiths around the world.  We watched the DVD from the UCC’s 50th anniversary in 2007.  Already that seems like ancient history.  We talked about the Pilgrims and the Puritans, the Salem witch trials and how missionaries were sent to Hawaii, Samoa and then on to the Marshall Islands.  With a Marshall Islands UCC congregation using our building for worship on Sunday afternoons, things have come full circle or at least looped back.
 
   As I write this, I am in the midst of final preparations for this week’s Board meeting of the Pacific Northwest Conference and our Annual Meeting in Wenatchee.  I have had the privilege and task of being Moderator for the last year.  In that position I have had the opportunity to see first-hand, individuals and committees devoting time and energy to the life of this Conference.  The UCC is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest.  It is all about connections, especially in a denomination where each local church is free to determine its own structure and life.  We live in covenant with one another, to fellowship and work together on those things that we cannot do by ourselves.  When we become insular and forget that we are called to go into the world, I think local churches begin to implode.
 
   In the midst of this we have lost a friend and colleague, the Rev. Silversity Madrazo.  Silversity and her husband Carlos are members of Bethany UCC in Seattle.  Because of transportation issues and the fact they live in Federal Way, Silversity often attended Wayside for worship and Study Group, while Carlos was serving on behalf of Global Ministries in East Timor.  Silversity’s cancer returned last year and she bravely fought a good fight against it.  Her attitude was that if she could fill her body and spirit with good things, they would drive the bad things away.  Carlos and their son, Joshua, were at her bedside when she died on April 20th.  In her life and ministry, Silversity touched many lives in many ways.  Here again, the world is small.  Friends and colleagues from the Philippines went on to serve around the world and in national positions of the UCC.  For a few years, Silversity served as pastor of the White Swan church on the Yakima Indian reservation near Yakima.
 
   Her life and death are a reminder to me that we are all connected through the love of God to those around us.  From the Pilgrims to the Philippines, God works with us and in us and through us.
 
Peace, salaam, shalom.
-Dennis Hollinger-Lant
 
 



Publish Date: April 6, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Body of Christ

One of the most poignant metaphors of the early church was that the church was the Body of Christ. As Jesus embodied the love and teaching of God in his life, so the church embodies the love and teaching of Jesus in what we say and do.   In thinking about this vision of the church, the apostle Paul reminded church members that, as part of the body, we have different functions and roles. No one part of the body is the complete body and the body needs all of its parts to function properly. I have been reminded of this in many ways over the last year.   
     First of all, as Moderator of the Pacific Northwest Conference since last April, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of individuals who volunteer many hours on behalf of the conference. Some people work with budgets and figures, others work at calling forth the skills and gifts of people to serve on committees of the conferences. Another group of people deal with the authorized ministers of the conference as they come into ordained ministry, serve churches in the PNC and retire or move out of state.  The UCC saw a change in leadership this last year as the Rev. Geoffrey Black was elected to the office of General Minister and President. He is presently traveling the U.S. on a “listening tour” of UCC Conferences. I’m certain he is seeing and hearing the various parts of this Body of Christ.  
     Of course this image needs to be extended beyond the UCC into our local communities. Our churches may operate independently, but are still part of the body. The recent shooting incident at Calvary Lutheran Church was a reminder that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Calvary has been very active in the community, serving Thursday evening meals and housing the homeless. A recent email from someone at the church put it this way:  
 
 “I share this with all of you because without all of us working together, the community meals would not be served. The churches would not be open to provide places of refuge for the most needy in our community. I know we cannot meet all the needs, but we are right where we need to be, where some of the most basic needs can be met. It is okay to leave it to others to work on transitional and permanent housing, job training, counseling, etc.”
 
    Too often we ask the question, “How can we be like such-and-such church? They seem to be doing things right.” The more obvious question to me is, “What gift do we offer the Body of Christ in our community and are we doing it well?” One gift that I know we offer is being an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation. As far as I know, we are the only church in Federal Way to offer this life-affirming gift. This is not the only function we offer, but it is one.   As Paul pointed out, for the body to be healthy, all parts must be healthy. We cannot neglect ourselves or our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. This means UCC. This means local community and yes, I believe it means the world. As we celebrate the resurrection of Easter, we experience the resurrected Body of Christ in our midst every time we gather as church.
 



Publish Date: January 28, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Lenten Study Options

    In his book Religious Literacy, Steven Prothero argues that Americans are a religious people, but also not very literate about their own faith or the faith of other groups. His book is subtitled: “What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t”. Prothero will be the guest speaker at the University of Puget Sound Swope Lectures coming up on February 15th and some members of our Tuesday Study Group are planning to attend. To me, his plea raises yet another question. How do our communities of faith help raise the awareness of our members? 
 

   Sometimes worship is an opportunity to pass along bits of information about our faith and the workings of other groups. The Sunday “Morning Message”, however is not primarily designed to be a lecture about religion. Some of the membership has taken classes on comparative religions or on the Judeo/Christian traditions in their undergraduate years, but things change along the way. From time-to-time, Wayside offers adult seminars on Sunday morning, following the 10 a.m. worship. The attendance at these offerings varies widely. 

 

   We have also talked about evening gatherings to focus on a subject. That has happened from time to time. So as Lent approaches, my offer is this: If at least 6 people are willing to commit for a period of six Wednesday evenings, we will gather to talk about a mutually agreed upon resource. Our meeting dates would be Feb. 24th and Mar. 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th and 31st. We can decide if we want to meet at 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m.

    Yes, I have some suggestions for material:

    “Faithfully Facing Dying: A Lenten Study Guide on Critical Issues    
        and Decisions for the Members of the United Church of Christ.”
            This on-line study was developed in response to recent resolutions that have
            come before General Synod around a person’s right to die. This study
            focuses on a wider range of topics, but does include a section on physician
            assisted dying.
   Religious Literacy. A book by Steven Prothero (see above).
   “From Jesus to Christ”, a video series produced several years ago by PBS,        
            but now being re-run. We have the videos.
   “The Heart of Christianity” a book by Marcus Borg that outlines what it means
            to be a progressive Christian. This would be supplemented by a DVD of
            some of his lectures.
   The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. A book by Marcus Borg and N.T.
            Wright. Borg and Wright offer two distinct visions of who Jesus was and
            what that means for our faith today.   
 

   There will be an insert in this Sunday’s bulletin for your response, or you can email me about your interest at dennishl@waysideucc.org.

 



Publish Date: January 14, 2010  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

In the Wake of Disaster

  

   When the forces of nature are calm, it is easy to look around and give thanks to God for this beautiful planet that we inhabit. Here in the Puget Sound, I look forward to those days when “the mountains are out”, blanketed in glistening snow and the varied shades of green surround us. But when this planet rumbles and rolls, when the seas tempest, the winds rage with gale force or the rivers rise to consume entire communities, our ability to give thanks to God wanes. Instead of giving thanks, we begin to wonder about the concept a beneficent God.

    Some theological perspectives strain to claim God’s acts of judgment in the wake of natural disaster. I do not. As we continue to receive news about the destruction caused by the earthquake and aftershocks in Haiti, I can only believe in a God who weeps and mourns with the victims and their families. This earth is what it is—a living planet, governed by laws of physics that, for the most part, give us peaceful surroundings. On those occasions when nature rages, we are reminded that we are inhabitants of this earth, not its controllers.

   In the wake of these disasters, God does not call upon us to judge, but rather to respond to human need, realizing that none of us live in areas free from potential destruction. In Haiti it was the earthquake, in New Orleans and the southern coast it was hurricane Katrina, in other parts of the world it is tsunamis, droughts or volcanoes. We are called upon to respond in ways that we can. For many individuals, it is giving financial assistance through their local churches, civic groups or non-profit responders. Sometimes people with special skills are dispatched to meet grave personal needs.

   For the United Church of Christ, we have connections already through missionaries on assignment in Haiti from our Global Ministries Board. We also channel disaster relief funds through Church World Service and rely on their network of ecumenical partners. If you wish to respond with your gifts, here is how you can do so:

HAITI Earthquake Relief Appeal  - 

   How You Can Help:
     1)    Prayers for the people for Haiti and all those rushing to their 
 2)    Donate through Wayside – mark your envelope or check
            OGHS--Haiti Appeal 
3)  Send gifts made out to Wider Church Ministries and with
      memo line of OGHS-Haiti Appeal
          Send to:            Wider Church Ministries 
                                         700 Prospect Ave
                                         Cleveland, OH  44115
    4)    Donate Online via link at:  www.ucc.org/disaster

 



Publish Date: December 24, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

The Tensions of Christmas

 
 I know that by the time you read this we may well be into a New Year and a new decade (depending on how you calculate decades). For those who are tuned into the church calendar, Christmas doesn’t close its door until Epiphany,
Jan. 6th and even then hangs on as a post-Epiphany season until the Sunday
before Lent--Feb. 14th this year. So let me talk a bit about the tensions of the  Christmas season. 
   As conversations crop up around the celebration of Christmas, people seem to make the distinction between the “idealized” Christmas and the reality of families getting together—or not.  If you have a large extended family that lives in the same area, there are the constant negotiations of where, when and with whom you will gather. From my childhood, I remember the logistics of family time and grandparent’s time. Then there was always the hassle, at least with the adults, about the present you had to buy for your least favorite relative.
    In some gatherings there is the tension over food. Once upon a time it seemed that food was cooked, put on the table and everyone ate and enjoyed—or at least gave the impression of enjoying. In today’s world there seems to be a balancing act of who can eat what. With so many food allergies around, a Christmas meal is not easy to plan. It’s always the question, who will be here and what can they eat. That’s enough to make any cook pull out her/his hair. Another tension that certainly arises is that of gifts. Beginning around Halloween, we are made to feel personally responsible for the survival of American retailers. We have moved from gifts of what people need, to the gifts of what people want and beyond to the gifts of what people don’t need and will never use. But there is always that tension to keep buying. 
   As if that is not enough, what about the music of the Christmas season? If I hear “Santa Baby” one more time I think my head will explode. When some radio stations and malls begin to play Christmas music on “Black Friday”, one can get worn down and overwhelmed by Christmas. Then try finding a Christmas song on the radio on Dec. 26th. Everything shuts down at midnight on Dec. 25th. 
   So with all of these stress inducing cultural practices, does the meaning of the season get lost? Sometimes I’m sure it does. But I like to think that in the midst of the craziness, a bit of sanity makes its way into the world. There are those who really “get it”. Especially as family members mature in age, the gift giving becomes more meaningful. Many families have turned to “alternative gift giving”. Instead of purchasing “stuff”, people donate money to worthwhile causes in the recipient’s name. Somehow a gift to an international or a local cause seems to convey the meaning of Christmas in a very real way.
 



Publish Date: November 29, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Christmas and Culture

     Thanksgiving and Advent/Christmas have something in common. Both are reminders of what can happen when cultures and ideas collide. The back of Sunday’s bulletin (Nov. 22nd) reminded us that in both the early settlement of Jamestown and later in Massachusetts, the colonist survived because of the hospitality and knowledge of the Native Americans. Not only did the indigenous people provide food, they offered their knowledge of agricultural practices that would work in their area.  The history of the United States is filled with stories of the clashing of cultures and how those differences were resolved—not always a history we like to remember.  
    As we move into Advent and prepare for the celebration of Christmas, it is not just the observance of a birth, but the birth of a person who will grow up to bring new ideas about the practice of faith that will shape civilization for centuries to come. At first, Christianity was a clash of ideas within the Jewish community. When it moved outside the sphere of Judaism and into the Gentile world, there were sometimes clashes of culture. 
   Today in the United States, we are even more tuned in to the differences in cultures as we continue to become a nation of diverse people. In our own community we meet people from other countries, who speak other languages and practice different faiths. While we acknowledge and celebrate the richness different cultures bring, I think we sometimes are overwhelmed by the ways in which “our” country is changing. Yet there is no way to turn back the clock to make things the “way they were”. We are called upon to deal with the here and now, and to figure out a way to live into the future.   Advent and Christmas remind us that there are some common themes that bind the people of the world together. No matter what language we speak, the color of our skin, our country of origin or our faith practices, we all live with ideas of   
            hope, 
                    peace, 
                             joy and 
                                    love.
   When we are at our best and try to understand those around us, looking through these lenses, people become people. When we can see the “God light” in each other, then we begin to have some compassion for fellow travelers upon this earth. Christmas can be a reminder of what “our best” can be. For a time, our hearts become a bit softer, our compassion grows a bit, we think beyond ourselves and open our eyes to the needs of others. Yes, this is the time of year that often either makes or breaks small businesses, but it is also the time that churches and other non-profit organizations have an opportunity to put their best foot forward.   Our mantra at Wayside (and the UCC) for the last few years has been, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” As we practice that in our church and in our community, we silently proclaim those Advent beliefs of hope, peace, joy and love. We are often the ones who have an opportunity to build the individual bridges that can bring people and communities closer together.   May the spirit of this season live within you and shine brightly in all you do.
-Dennis Hollinger-Lant
 



Publish Date: October 26, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Time to Vote

   Putting faith into practice has been a dicey issue since the time of Jesus. He was constantly getting into “discussions” with those people who followed the letter of the law, but by doing so, were able to circumvent the basic tenets of their faith. He particularly got upset when the “law” was followed while widows and orphans were left uncared for and impoverished.

   Another challenge that Jesus often laid before those in power was the issue of justice. He did not dispute the fact that those who were ready to stone the woman accused of adultery had the “right” to do so. He did, however, call them to a higher sense of accountability. She was being punished because of her sin, but Jesus pointed out that those who willing to carry out the sentence were not without sin themselves.    ]
     It seems that throughout history, those who are satisfied with the laws of the land are always those who find benefit in the legal process. If the cards are stacked in your favor, don’t rock the boat. In fact, you want to do everything you can keep the status quo and retain your rights and privileges. As time marches on, each generation needs to look at how they govern themselves and ask that question, “Is this just?” That is where our faith assumptions come into focus. What do we actually believe about God, Jesus, the social order and justice?
   Let me speak for a moment for myself. Not the Christian community, not the United Church of Christ or even for Wayside, but for myself. I believe that on this planet earth, we are all God’s children. By accident of birth, we were born in different countries with different colors of skin and different religious up-bring, but in our DNA, we are all related. I think that because of  my belief in the teachings of Jesus, I am called to work for a more just society, calling attention to the needs of the marginalized and working to assure that all people have access to basic human needs—food, shelter, safety and healing.
   How does this happen? In the United States it can happen on an individual basis, depending on how I use my time and energy toward others. On a broader scale, it happens when we have laws that are just and fair for everyone. In this I see the evolution of our country. Throughout our relatively brief history, we have tried to live into the image of who we think we are—a nation where everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A nation where all people are created equal and should an equal shot at making something of their lives. It is obvious that on this planet, not all nations believe in those concepts. But I live here and not there.
   So as I sit down to vote in this election, I use my basic faith assumptions to guide me in my votes. I ask myself some questions:
    -Is this law/proposition one that is just(ice) for all or is it just for some?
    -Is this candidate a person who will act fairly and ethically on behalf all people?
   The answers are not always clear-cut. Once laws are in place, it takes people with integrity at all levels to be sure their intention is carried out. At least I feel like I am trying to put my faith into practice where it can be felt on a wider scale.
   Don’t forget to vote.
 



Publish Date: September 23, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

50 Years Bold!

"Fifty Years Bold! "
September 27th
1959-2009

   That is one of the slogans the United Church of Christ used to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2007. It was an apt description of the UCC and I think a good slogan for Wayside’s 50th Anniversary as well.   

   When I came to Wayside I discovered that the first service of worship had been held in rented space at Mirror Lake School on October 12, 1958. I wrongly assumed that this was our anniversary date. It was only a couple of years ago, while looking in the “UCC Yearbook”, that I noticed the founding date of Wayside listed as 1959. With further investigation and a phone call to our founding pastor, the Rev. Roland Schlueter, the “mystery” was solved. In the UCC, the anniversary date of a church is determined by the date the church is “constituted”. For Wayside, that was September 27, 1959. During that interim period, the church worshiped and grew in numbers until it reached a critical mass of members for a congregation. People worked on the Constitution and By-Laws for the new organization and plans began to form for the future.  

 

   Wayside was “planted” in South King County to be a Congregational presence in a growing population area. In the late 1950’s, as well as today, the United Church of Christ stood for bold ideas. The UCC itself was born out of the idea and hope that Christian churches could set aside some of their  differences and could “all become one”. The Congregational Christian churches and the Evangelical and Reformed congregations talked long and hard about their differences and those beliefs they held in common. Eventually, this new denomination—the United Church of Christ—was born. That was a bold move!  

 

   For the last fifty years, the UCC and Wayside have walked a path of being a little ahead of the curve on social justice issues. Sometimes small things, sometimes steps that were bolder than some would have liked.  

 

   As members have looked through the archival material, someone noticed that in the early days, none of the women at Wayside had first names—they were all someone’s Mrs. In our newsletters, in the local newspapers and even in the membership register, if you were a woman, you were Mrs. Somebody. Maybe you’ve noticed that in the church directory Wayside prints now, not only do women have first names, their name is listed first. Maybe it’s a minor detail, but a statement none the less.  

 

   In 1991, Wayside was the first church in Federal Way to proclaim itself “Open and Affirming”. (We are still the only one.) We proclaimed that we welcomed all people and our statement of inclusion covers many areas. In 1995 we began a cooperative ministry with “Spirit of the Sound” (1995-2005) to open our worship space to the GLBT community for Sunday night worship. When the Church Council was talking about this possibility, one member said, “If this ministry can helped build a bridge between God and a community of people that has been so mistreated by the Church, then we need to support this effort.”  

 

   It was in 2005 that we opened our doors to another religious group on a weekly basis, a congregation of the United Church of Christ of the Marshall Islands. This was a big step for Wayside. In 2008, we began renting space on Friday afternoons to the Islamic Center of Federal Way—an interfaith venture. I still hope that some kind of dialogue can grow out of this relationship.  

 

   As Jack Anderson reminded us on Sunday morning during the opening of worship, not every church is willing to say,

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey,
you are welcome here.”
Not only do we say it, we try our best to live it. How will the future call us to act in new, bold ways?  
 

   Happy Anniversary Wayside!

 



Publish Date: August 17, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Year of Jubilee

Leviticus 25:10-13

10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. 13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.

   When I visited the Best Western Hotel, where Wayside’s  anniversary banquet will be held on September 26th, I mentioned to the person showing me around that this would be the church’s 50th anniversary. Her question was, “Is that a big deal?”

My response, “Well, to us it is.”

   Since that conversation with her, I have visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Craters of the Moon National Monument. There you talk in geological time, where 2,000 years is a recent event. More than not, time is registered in millions of years. When compared to that backdrop, fifty years is less than a blink of an eye. Yet the book of Leviticus reminds us that for the Hebrew people, 50 years marked a time of jubilee when special rules and regulations were applied to people’s lives. It was to be a holy year.

   A couple of years ago, Martin Motu’ahala of the Marshall Islands UCC asked me to preach at one of their worship services. He informed me that this was a special occasion because it was a Year of Jubilee, commemorating the 150th year of the Gospel being brought to the Marshall Islands by the people from  the ship Morning Star.

  I know that in the UCC we tend to shy away from the book of Leviticus because of some the rules and regulations people quote to us. But I think it is good to remind ourselves of the significance of jubilee—a year that is holy. Even though the first worship service of Wayside was held at Mirror Lake School in October of 1958, it was on September 27, 1959 that Wayside was officially constituted as a church of the United Church of Christ. As we move into our jubilee year, I hope we can use it as a time of charting our path into the next 50 years of Wayside. Our church and our members have had an impact on the City of Federal Way over the last five decades and I think we can continue to be the progressive voice in our community. Our members have been active in support of public education, women’s rights and equal rights for all. We were there when the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network was formed and we were part of the organizing group that founded the Joseph Foundation (now FUSION).

   What will it mean to us in this year of jubilee to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants”? Our 50th Anniversary can be a celebration of what we have done, but as a year of jubilee, it can also be a time to dream about what we will be doing with our future. How is it that we can/must  change to meet the present needs of our members and community?


-Dennis Hollinger-Lant

 



Publish Date: August 4, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Drawing the Circle Wide

We often sing a song for worship that was first introduced from Seasons of the Spirit material.  The name is “Draw the Circle Wide” and the lyrics to the chorus are:
Draw the circle wide,
Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song, no one stands alone,
      standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.1
As we sing this song at Wayside, we like to think of our Open and Affirming congregation. We open our arms to AA groups and AlAnon folks. We rejoice in the Marshall Islands UCC congregation that uses our facility. We are proud of the fact that people are welcomed and affirmed, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender issues happen to be.
 
As I think about this, I often find myself defining my “openness” in relationship to others who I consider more “closed”. My “progressive” bent is viewed in light of others who are more “traditional”. Today I found myself in one of those situations where I was the one who was included. The circle was drawn wide enough to include a progressive UCC pastor. The event was a community “Coffee Circle” sponsored by the Department of Human Services of the City of Federal Way. People from faith based organizations were invited to City Hall, by Human Services Director, Lynnette Hynden, to dialogue around five questions:
  • What does your faith-based organization look like here in Federal Way?
  • What does your organization regard as concerns in Federal Way?
  • What does your organization consider are the up-and-coming issues in Federal Way?
  • What shared visions exist among the faith-based groups that would provide a joint supportive activity or environment that would lead to a coordinated systems change?
  • What partnerships are needed between organizations to sustain measurable change?
The Council Chambers was filled with about sixty people, who came to share their stories. In our allotted two-hour period, we couldn’t cover everything, but there was a shared commitment to work together for the betterment of the community in which we live and serve. As I looked around and listened, it was quite obvious (at least to me) that the room was not filled with progressive Christians. The circle, however, was drawn wide enough to include me. I’m not sure what part of the “Body of Christ” I would represent—I’ll leave that to your speculation. I did meet many people I have worked with over the years who are still working to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and dealing with the marginalized people of our community.
 
This was the first of the “Coffee Circles”. In October, people from the public schools will gather. Later on, people from the business community will be invited to dialogue. The hope is that eventually, these three groups can lay a foundation to be working together for the good of our community.
 
Some common themes arose from today’s conversations. Better communication is needed between groups. We see ourselves as having some common goals. No one group can do everything for everybody, but working together we can help. We need to address the causes of today’s fractured family systems and not just address the need.
 
Drawing the circle wide is the first step. On-going communication and cooperation will be the keys to moving forward.

-Dennis Hollinger-Lant
1  Seasons of the Spirit
 



Publish Date: July 9, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

General Synod

From the Pastor’s Desk…

   I’m looking forward to General Synod this year for several reasons. Even though I am head of the delegation from the Pacific Northwest Conference, I am not officially one of our six delegates. Part of my responsibility is keep track of the delegates and the business that is going on, but I don’t actually have a vote. It’s not clear yet to me how I fit into the whole committee and deliberation process that happens at Synod.  

  At General Synod 26 in Hartford, Connecticut, the UCC celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was a good celebration and a time to reflect a bit, but this year is a time of looking forward. John Thomas, our present General Minister and President is not eligible for another term, so there will be a transition of leadership in this office. He recently sent a message to churches entitled, “Beyond Hanging On!” in which he described some of the areas of concern as our denomination continues to move into the 21st century. Basically, we cannot continue to keep doing things the way we have always done things. It’s not clear what the “new thing” is, but it will have to be different. There are many factors that play into this situation—some in our control and some not. I think the same thing can be said of our local churches.

   I will attend a pre-synod event for conference moderators. This should be interesting as we compare notes about what our conferences are doing and what challenges we face. The PNC is relatively healthy compared to some other conferences, but we have the constant challenge of building relationships between our churches and our members. We talk about being in covenant, but many church members may not be able to name the three UCC churches that are closest to us. (Normandy Park UCC, Lakeview UCC and  The United Church in University Place.) This should be a useful time to glean ideas from other moderators as I move into my year of this responsibility.

   General Synod is also a good time to reconnect with friends from around the country and meet new people. Already, Judy Anderson has me looking for Robb Kojima, from Hawaii. I’ll be sure to look him up, because the Hawaii Conference usually brings boxes of the chocolate covered macadamia nuts. Robb will be a good friend to have.

    Beside’s John Thomas’s article, I have been reading a speech give by John Cobb to the Annual Meeting of the Southern California Conference, “A Challenge to the United Church of Christ.” Cobb (a Methodist) is one of the “movers and shakers” in the progressive Christian movement and believes the United Church of Christ is uniquely positioned to be a leader on a national and international scale as we deal with creating a world that is truly responsive to the needs of all people. I’m not sure I agree with all of his thinking, but I do agree that the Church needs to step up to our calling of being bearers of the “good news” in our midst. He sees the UCC as a denomination that has moved beyond the thinking that we have all the answers and that Christianity is the only way to make things work. You can read his article on the UCC website (www.ucc.org).

    You will hear more about General Synod once I return.

Dennis Hollinger-Lant

 



Publish Date: June 6, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

From the Pastor’s Desk…

   In my Morning Message on May 24th, I cited the “Serenity Prayer”, written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the last century. For those who may not be familiar with it, these are the words…

   “God, give us grace to accept with Serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

   There is more to the prayer than these words and in the near future, Kathy Green will focus her Morning Message on “The Rest of the Serenity Prayer”. For right now, however, I want to reflect a bit on this first paragraph.

   In our particular time in history, there seems to more emphasis on the serenity part of this prayer. Little or no attention is given to the courage and wisdom parts. As we try to put some stability into our often hectic lives, we seek the serenity we desire through the commercial packaging that is before us. We are offered “get-a-ways” to serene and exotic places or medications to calm the troubled soul. Maybe the correct diet or right physical workout will achieve this serene state. All of this is presented in such a way as to suggest that this blissful state of calmness, peace and tranquility is the ultimate goal for our lives. In Niebuhr’s prayer, that is only the first part. He is reminding us that when we come across a situation in life that cannot be changed, it doesn’t do any good to get ourselves all worked up. Thus, there is a sense that we need this gift of serenity and calmness to deal with life’s challenges.

   Niebuhr doesn’t stop there. He goes on to suggest that there are things in our world that should be changed. The world is not the way God intended and when we encounter inequity and injustice we shouldn’t just throw up our hands and plea for God to grant us serenity. This is where the courage comes into play. If you read any biographical material about Reinhold Niebuhr, you will discover that he did not shy away from the major issues of his day. His daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, spells this out in her book The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War. He and his brother (H. Richard Niebuhr) disagreed about the role of the United States in World War II. He was often at odds with colleagues around issues of working for social justice in our world.

   The third key word in “The Serenity Prayer” is wisdom. How do we distinguish between what cannot be changed and what should be changed? Some people want to change everything and others see no reason to change anything. Again, I think it comes back to the questions of inequality and injustice. What is it that God is calling us, as individuals and as communities of faith, to do in this world?

   As we work to invite people into the life of our church, we should be clear about what that invitation includes. It’s not just that they are welcome to join us (which they are) but they are welcome to join us so their lives might be transformed. They are welcome to join us as we discover what it means to “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” In our life together we can seek the knowledge and wisdom we need to courageously take a stand for issues of justice. What does it mean to work for peace in Palestine/Israel? What is the best way to insure that all American people have access to adequate medical care? How do we fairly deal with issues of immigration?

   So yes, God, grant us serenity, courage and wisdom.
-Dennis Hollinger-Lant
 



Publish Date: May 12, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Technology and Communication

From the Pastor’s Desk…

   First, I want to let you know that we had a very good PNC Annual Meeting. Our delegates were engaged in the activities and were able to connect with other church members and glean resources that can enhance our own ministry. At the end of the meeting, I transitioned from Vice Moderator to Moderator of the Pacific Northwest Conference. This will be very similar to being the Moderator of a local congregation with a broader geographical range but many of the same challenges.

   Communication and technology are topics that are on the radar of the PNC Board of Directors and I would dare say on the minds of most church boards these days. Let me share some thoughts about communication first. The fact that communion and communication are derived from the same root words is duly noted. Communication is simply the sharing of information. In any organization, whether it is a family, a church or a conference, it is always a challenge to pass along information is such a way that others will receive it, understand it, remember it, and if needed, respond to it. For those who seriously study communication, we are told that individuals have to hear a message several times and often in different forms before they will integrate the information and be able to use it. Whatever happened to the idea that “I told you once and I don’t expect to have to tell you again!?” Do you remember when you used to make an appointment and you were expected to put it in your calendar and show up at the correct time? These days, a person or an automated phone machine will call you a day or two before your appointment to remind you.

     We communicate in many ways—verbally and non-verbally, face to face and by phone, in print that is “hard copy” or digital. There are so many, and often too many, ways to keep in touch. Several times I have sent emails, thinking my message was getting out, only to find out later they went somewhere into cyber space. 

   Which brings me to my next topic—technology. Let me propose a modest definition. I would like to think of communication as the information we want to share and technology as the means of disseminating the information. You can have “low tech” communication such as talking to someone or “high tech” with something like Twitter or Skype. The first thing that becomes obvious is that there is a technology gap in our society. This gap can be generational. Often youth and young adults have the latest gadgets and seem to be “hard wired” in their understanding of how to use them. I think they were born with technology genes. Older adults often don’t understand it and even if they did, they don’t want it. When you see the letters CD, are you thinking compact disc or certificate of deposit? The other cause of the gap is economics. Not everyone can afford to keep up with fas- paced change and cost of all the new technologies. Just as a new car depreciates once you drive it off the lot, the technology of a new computer or cell phone is passé in six months. You can still use them, but something faster, with more bells and whistles is on the market. 

   The challenge for our churches and our Conference is to grapple with several questions:  

1. What do we want/need to communicate?   

2. What is it that people need to know?  

3. Who are the recipients of the information? 

4. What technology are we going to use to reach people?  

   Let me give you a specific example. After the next issue of the “UCC News”, there will no longer be “hard copy” news sent to households. There may be some kind of print material, but it is not certain how often it will be published. So our Conference has to deal with the problem of continued communication with our members. How will that happen? How can we assure that people all along the technology spectrum will receive (and pay attention) to the messages we want to communicate?  

   The other piece about technology is to discover ways that it will help us connect more people over long distances in ways that can reduce travel costs and time commitments. It is all a matter of using resources wisely and for the common good. It needs to be about the communication and not technology for technology’s sake. I will probably have to talk to a few people about this, because they will not have read this article.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

 



Publish Date: March 12, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

Mysteries of Lent

 

  I’m waiting for the day that someone proposes that this “movable feast” called Easter be given a permanent date. About the only celebration we have that takes place on the date it actually happened is the 4th of July, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone suggested we celebrate it on the first Monday of July and call it July 4th  (observed). 

   Many people are already aware the date for Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon, following the spring equinox. This year Easter falls on April 12th. But I don’t want to get to Easter until April’s newsletter. We do need to set the date for Easter so we can figure out when to begin the season of Lent. The UCC Book of Worship has this to say about Lent in the “Introduction” (pg. 21-22): 

   “Lent is a penitential season of self-examination, prayer, and fasting that precedes the observance of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter which begins on Saturday night). In Western churches, the season opens on Ash Wednesday and consists of forty days excluding Sundays. The term Lent is derived from roots that mean to lengthen. The Lenten season points to the spring of the year and to the increasing daylight hours which spring brings.” 

 Lent is first clearly documented in Canon Five of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). However, the practice of a pre-Easter period of discipline is much older. A century earlier, Hippolytus of Rome mentioned a two-and-one-half-week fast prior to Easter. In some places this season was the intensified period of preparation for those who were to be baptized on the eve of Easter.” 

   As this season has evolved, different churches observe it in different ways. Lent is often as close as get to talking about or at least acknowledging some of the “ancient” spiritual disciplines of the church. Our Tuesday Study Group is in the midst of looking at some of the major World Religions. In the first two segments about Hinduism and Buddhism, worshipers are shown burning incense or sitting in meditation. At times, I think modern Christians look at these practices and think, “Wow! That must be the secret to the mystery of life! If I can practice Hinduism or Buddhism, I’ll be able to be closer to God and the meaning of life.” What we often forget, those practices exist in our Christian faith, even if we have discarded them for more modern expressions of worship. Lent is a time to remind ourselves about practices of prayer, meditation, fasting, surrender and obedience. 

   Before you run out, put on your sack cloth and sit on a pile of ashes, let’s talk a bit about balance. In any religious experience I think there is the balance of the known and the unknown, the now and the not-yet. We have gone through a period on our cultural history in which we expected science to give us all of the answers of the universe. We have a much fuller grasp of our world than we did a century ago, but keep discovering that there is much we do not know. In many respects, life (and what is beyond) is still a mystery. We have tried so hard to make everything rational and knowable, were have lost the ability to stand in awe of the unknowable. To me, Lent gives us permission (not that we really need it) to stand before God in our befuddlement. 

   Christian tradition and history is filled with the stories and writings of the mystics—those women and men who have relied on intuition, contemplation or meditation of a spiritual nature to bring them closer to understanding God. In her classic book, Mysticism (1911), Evelyn Underhill took over 450 pages to work through the subject of Christian mystics from the beginning of the church to William Blake. 

   So before we think we have to abandon the Christian faith to be in touch with more mystical practices, we might first try to discover, resurrect and practice our own disciplines. The Lent season is a great time to begin this journey. 

Peace,
Dennis Hollinger-Lant 
 



Publish Date: February 8, 2009

Pastor Dennis gives Senate Invocation

Pastor Dennis was invited to open the February 6th session of the Washington State Senate, with an invocation.  The text of his prayer is given below.
 
Invocation
Washington State Senate
February 6, 2009
Rev. Dennis Hollinger-Lant, Pastor
Wayside United Church of Christ, Federal Way, WA
 
   O God, as my forbearer’s in faith worked to construct the foundational documents that would govern their fledgling nation, they did not dream that one day, their country would stretch from sea to shining sea—and beyond. Yet we gather this morning to ask your blessing on the women and men who have been elected as Senators of the State of Washington and their deliberative process.
 
   In these times, the issues before them are not easy, but no one ever said being a Senator was an easy task.
 
   In these times, some of the choices they will be called upon to make will be painful, but no one ever said decisions would come without a certain amount of agony on the part of those who govern.
 
   We ask that these Senators use their knowledge, their wisdom and their experience of years, to govern wisely.
 
   We ask that these Senators patiently listen to each other, to their counterparts in the House and to the people of this great State, so they will able to make decisions that will be fair and just for the common good.
 
   We ask that these Senators will have hearts of compassion and be able to discern the difference between charity and justice. That they will be mindful of the struggles of so many of our families and see people’s faces reflected in the legislation before them, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
 
   O God, we thank you for the wisdom and service of these Senators, our Governor, our Lieutenant Governor, and the Pages who have helped with the work of  the Senate during the week.
 
   May we be blessed and strengthened to faithfully do the work to which we have been called.
 



Publish Date: February 1, 2009  ::  Author: Dennis Hollinger-Lant

From the Pastor's Desk... 02/01/09

The church year has a rhythm and flow to it, and as I write this morning, we are in the season “after Epiphany” moving toward Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25th) and the season of Lent. Even though the structure of the church year doesn’t change, our life circumstances are different from year to year and sometimes different from day to day.

   In one congregation I served we had weekly services during Lent that were worship, but also topically relevant. Due to the make-up of the congregation, we scheduled a morning and an evening service, both with the same format. On one particular Wednesday, we had invited Ron, a local artist who worked in water colors, to come and talk about his faith and how it related to his work. As he told his story, he painted.  At both events, he spoke about and painted Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. The scene depicted a man in the foreground with a winding road before him. At the end of the road on a hill, stood not a city, but rather three crosses. As he talked and painted, the story and the scene unfolded.

   Something happened that day in this man’s life between the morning and evening sessions. When Ron returned home from the first program, he received a phone call from his best friend. His friend called to say that life was not worth living anymore and that he was prepared to end it—right then. He was calling Ron to say good-bye. Ron stayed on the phone with his friend for three hours that day, talking to him and reassuring him. Before their conversation ended, Ron was able to talk his friend out of his plans and get help to the house to insure his friend did not follow through on his plans.

   Ron thought about calling the church and cancelling his evening commitment, but he didn’t. When he arrived, he didn’t say anything about what had transpired that afternoon. His program was the same, his story was the same and the water color was the same—but not quite. In the evening, the man in the picture didn’t stand quite as tall, the road before him had a few more twists and turns, the crosses on the hill were a bit more prominent and the over-all background of the painting was darker.

   As we approach and journey through Lent, it should not be a matter of walking through the same old thing. Our lives have changed both individually and nationally since Ash Wednesday 2008. We are in a “different place” than we were a year ago. The economy of our nation (and world) has taken a tail-spin. Yesterday, the leadership of our nation was transferred from one person to another. What the road ahead holds in store, we are not quite sure, but we do know that things have changed. The picture of life we would have painted last year is probably not the same one we would paint today.

   I’ve never viewed the Lenten Season as a time to “beat ourselves up”, but rather as a time of reflection on our lives and the world around us. Where ever you are on life’s journey, may the Lenten path be one of reflection and renewal.
 
 











Wayside United Church of Christ