Heading to the Conference Annual Meeting on Friday and Saturday. Church democracy at work. Then starting next week off with "Exploring the Bible" study group on Monday. If you have questions, or if you want to learn more to then ask questions, I'd love for you to come and join us at 7PM.
Back on October 6th our congregation accepted donations for the "Neighbors in Need" offering of the UCC. Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants.
This morning when I was listening to "Morning Edition" on NPR I heard Rev. Traci Blackmon, the acting executive of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, speaking about helping to eliminate $5.3 million in medical debt belonging to 5,888 people.
They received a card in the mail announcing this gracious gift with a note reading, "Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving."
Thank you to everyone who donated to this collection. Christian charity means we give without expecting anything in return. We helped the church help people we will probably never know, and Jesus smiled.
In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace: An update on America's changing religious landscape from the Pew REsearch center
I invited you to follow this link to the Pew Research Center's site:
Then I invite you to come and join us Sunday. Let's talk a little bit more about this. Member of our church, interested, inquisitive, a "None," non-believer, I invite you to join us on Sunday at 10AM.
This is our current reality. Why? I'll share my thoughts with you and I'd love to hear yours.
By Rev. Albert P. Watson, May 9, 1920
The Town of Hatfield and the First Congregational Church of Hatfield, United Church of Christ are both, simultaneously, approaching their 350th anniversary.
In Puritan Massachusetts, a community could not be incorporated until it had arranged the services of a settled pastor. Thus, the church and the town were born as one.
This history shares some amazing stories, and I would add inspiring too.
Rev. Hope Atherton, the church's first pastor, was the chaplain when Capt. Turner, of Turners Falls fame, led a group of Colonists to battle the Native Americans. The campaign did not go well. The Colonists retreated haphazardly. Rev. Atherton became lost in the dense woods of 17th century western Massachusetts. The pamphlet below tells the rest of his story.
There was also Rev. Joseph Lyman who swayed the people of Hatfield and convinced them to support the Revolutionary War. [He later supported Shay's Rebellion and meetings were held at the church.]
Rev. John M. Greene was a staunch abolitionist and was ready himself to fight to end the sin of slavery. He was also the trusted confidant of Sophia Smith of Smith Charities and Smith College. Rev. Greene is the one who helped her disperse her wealth so graciously and generously.
There's also the story of the silver Communion Service that is now on display at the Art Museum of Yale University.
The town's 350th Committee has planned a year full of events and the church will be a part of this milestone. There is a proud history here and one that should be remembered.
Here's the rest of the story ...
Today's New York Times: "On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people. ... 'It’s disheartening, I think, to see so many politicians just keep doing the same kind of wash-rinse-repeat kind of cycle of: mass shooting happens, and then it’s tweet about thoughts and prayers, and then it becomes, "We can’t talk about political ideology, we can’t talk about this and that,"' said Greg Cameron, 31, who does marketing for a bike-share company.
Laura Platt, 33, a physician, said she wanted to see better gun policies enacted but had no expectation that that would happen. 'Nothing happened after Sandy Hook, so I think nothing’s going to happen after this,' she said."
Yesterday morning in church we prayed - again - after a mass shooting. We prayed for those who died, who were injured and those of us who must live in this kind of society. Prayer and support are necessary, but it's not enough.
Gun violence is not only a political issue. It is a moral and therefore a religious issue as well. If we are going to follow a Saviour of peace, we have to stand up for peace, and we have to stand against the lawlessness of our gun culture. People in effected communities have begun to shout down their politicians by yelling "Do Something!" That's my prayer: "Do something!"
Every church is free to decide its own course. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/12/for-gender-fluid-pope-enlightenment-has-soul-crushing-limits/IhTx2PER9Lxo8VfyubY0AN/story.html)
One of the reasons why I am proud to be a member of the United Church of Christ is that it embraces Jesus' openness to all people, especially the ones most in need, the ones pushed to the side, the ones rejected in God's name. There is an alternate and valid reading of Mark 1:41 that goes like this: "Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]"
Jesus' anger is directed against a religious system that would cause a person in desperate need to wonder if God were also disgusted with him. Jesus doesn't only heal the leper, the man declared ritually unclean and unfit to be in God's presence, Jesus touches the person. Jesus becomes unclean. Jesus connects with the man and simultaneously destroys the notion that God rejects the ones we reject in His name. This is the Jesus behind Open and Affirming. ONA is not only "fashionable." It is gospel.
The UCC celebrates "Open and Affirming Sunday" this year on June 30th. I am not sure why this Sunday was chosen, but June 28, 1969 is the date of the Stonewall Inn riot in NYC, 50 years ago. I imagine there must be a connection. On this day we will celebrate Jesus' extravagant welcome of all God's people whoever they may be. This is the course that the UCC has decided to follow.
What would Jesus have us do?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard David Ortiz was shot, I was talking with someone who was considering the possibility of declaring bankruptcy because of medical expenses. The person has medical insurance through the employer, but the deductibles are so high that a serious medical issue that required extensive care may bankrupt that person. It is a blessing that Big Papi has access to the world’s greatest medical talents and institutions. However, is it conscionable that an organization like the Red Sox who can pay the astronomical amounts needed to have a beloved Boston sports icon flown on a chartered plane with all the attendant medical attention and equipment from the Dominican Republic to Mass General Hospital for extremely costly care, while others are locked out of far less because they have less? Is the value of people’s lives, like in some future science fiction dystopia, measured by wealth?
God as my witness, on the same day that I heard about the shooting of Number 34, I heard on the news that the Vatican had declared an end to the discussion and treatment options for the transgender, declaring the issue settled by God at birth. On the same day, I heard an interview prior to the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention in which a church leader declared that the gospel needs to be preached with a male voice because that is what Jesus commands. Men must be unquestioned as Jesus’ mouthpiece. This is the same denomination at the same Convention that must also deal with the same male privilege tragedy of clergy sexual abuse that was tolerated for who knows how many generations by the Vatican.
Churches seem to be unhesitant in preaching gospel as what they want to hear it. But what about the gospel we hear in the Gospels? Doesn’t Jesus stand with the marginalized and the oppressed? Doesn’t Jesus warn against the selfishness that becomes more and more possible with the accumulation of more and more ridiculous amounts of wealth? If churches are so willing to intervene in the political discussion of issues of sexual morality with a male-centric bias, issues which are far from biblically clear, shouldn’t they also speak out and protest the morality of something like the divide in medical care based on wealth? Or is that just not the gospel that they want to hear? If this is the case, can we blame people for abandoning organized religion as hypocritical? Have churches become overrun with the very same sins that Jesus opposed?
Is it time again for reform fueled by Jesus’ example and Jesus’ presence?
Birthday Gift to the Church
The Christian Church was born on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was shared with Jesus' first followers. The once confused and timid, now inspired by the Spirit, began to share courageously the gospel and person of Jesus Christ - and the church was born.
Help us to celebrate the church's birthday by donating to the Strengthen the Church Special Offering, which helps our church to continue the sacred work started so many Pentecosts ago, but still alive and vibrant.
Copy and paste this link into your browser to learn more: https://youtu.be/gsM8uIuNJI4
Thank you for your generosity.
More Bible study - A book club gathering - Something else?
On May 20th, we will hold our last Bible study class as we have reached the conclusion of Mark's Gospel. We will take some time off, but then as part of our continuing adult Christian education, we will start sharing ideas about our next venture.
Maybe there is a book that you think would be beneficial for us to read and discuss, and which will hopefully make us more aware Christians and church. If so, please share that idea. If you'd like, send your suggestion along by adding it to the comment section to this post.
I would like to offer the possible read of the book being shared at General Synod 32, June 21st - 25th, Milwaukee, WI. Here's a link to it that can be copy and pasted in your browser: https://live.eventtia.com/en/uccsynod2019/Synod-Keynote-Speaker
Maybe we could choose our topic soon, read it over the summer, and come together in the Fall. If you're interested, let me know.
Today is Earth Day. Biblically we are stewards of God's good creation, not masters. As such we have a moral responsibility to care for creation, not rape it for our own momentary gain. For the sake of the generations following our own, let's hope and pray that it is not too late to save us from ourselves and the climate change we are not treating seriously enough.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Sunday 10-11am (9:30am July + August)
Children Sunday School 10-11am
Nursery care available during worship