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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
(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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.”
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“ 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
“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.
“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)
“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)
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:
There will be an insert in this Sunday’s bulletin for your response, or you can email me about your interest at email@example.com.
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 -
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.
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,
Happy Anniversary Wayside!
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?
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
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.
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.
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!
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.