Whoever you are,
wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!
Business Office Hours
Tues. - Fri.: 9am - 2pm
We strive to apply Jesus’ teaching by recognizing that every individual is a child of God and we welcome all to join us on our faith journey in providing guidance, love, and hope to our community and the world in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
993 Main Street, P.O. Box 165
South Windsor, CT 06074
Follow Us on Facebook at First Congregational Church of South Windsor
Business Office Hours -
Tues - Fri. 9am-2pm
We joyfully announce our resumption of in person worship services on Sunday May 30, 2021 with no reservations required. We will continue to be mindful of social distancing and masks will be required. We plan to also continue streaming our services. If you are interested in joining us for online worship, please email the church office at for the link.
The office team is working remotely but monitoring phone messages and emails during this time. Rev. Nina will be available should any need arise. Please call the church office at (860) 528-7992 and your call will be returned as soon as possible. Have a blessed day!
WEEKEND OF JUNE 18, 2021
The incredible Isley Brothers did a song in 1959, titled Shout!* Some of you may remember this hard-driving song of joy, some may not. Whether you do or not doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the sentiment – the guy in the song is so happy that his childhood sweetheart still loves him now they have grown up. He is so joyful and in love, his body and voice explode into song and it makes him “wanna shout!”
If you have ever been to a wedding or party and this song is played, you know what I mean. It inspires even the faint-hearted to get on the dance floor and move their body at unheard of speeds and in unfamiliar gyrations and uninhibited dance moves, even by those who aren’t dancers. It takes every ounce of your body and energy to dance to this song. The spirit definitely moves! And its fun! It makes you wanna shout!
Lately, there are a lot of things that should make us wanna shout as loud and gyrate as much as the Isley Brothers roaring anthem of love! Going somewhere without a mask – makes ya wanna shout! Eating dinner with friends in a restaurant – makes ya wanna shout! Hugging and kissing your grandkids – makes ya wanna shout! No ‘Wrong Way’ signs in the grocery store – makes ya wanna shout!
Graduations with all the graduates there – makes ya wanna shout! Going to anything with everyone there – makes ya wanna shout! Being vaccinated – makes ya wanna shout! How about getting on an airplane again? Makes ya wanna shout! Going to school or church in-person – makes ya wanna shout! Going to a baseball game – makes ya wanna shout! There is so much to be joyful about; so much that makes us wanna shout! And, as we should. And if you’re not shouting yet, what are you waiting for?
We are so lucky to be gathering together again. How about just being alive? Makes ya wanna SHOUT! As we remember all those who have not been lucky enough to make it through COVID, and as tired as we all are of thinking about this past 18 months, going forward, let’s savor every single thing that makes us wanna shout!
What makes YOU wanna shout? Think about who or what you’ve missed the most, and how it makes you wanna shout that you can see them or do whatever it is again! Shout! Shout! Take your cue from the Isley’s and SHOUT! Get out on that dance floor of life and SHOUT! If you are unable to dance on your feet, dance with your heart, your head, mind, body and soul! Dance like you’ve never danced before!
There’s one more thing that should really make us wanna shout. That is the love that is promised to all of us by our Lord Jesus Christ, forever and ever, Amen! Now there’s something worth shouting about – that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, that unconditional, unfathomable, infinite love is yours for the taking! Shout it from the rooftops to the high heavens!
I hope that all you hold dear makes ya wanna shout! I pray that the knowledge that you are held dear by God in heaven makes ya wanna SHOUT! I invite you to offer up the life-giving, soul-shaking joy that lives in each and every one of us – let it out! Doesn’t that make ya wanna SHOUT???
LOUD AND CLEAR,
*Written by Isley; O'Kelly, Jr., Rudulph, and Ronald. RCA Victor: New York City. Released August, 1959.
WEEKEND OF JUNE 11, 2021
How Has Your Spirituality Been Impacted By This Time of Pandemic?
This week in the worship bulletin for Sunday, June 13, 2021, keep an eye out for a paragraph printed in red following the musical citations. It starts with the words “Food for Thought: How has your spirituality been impacted by this time of pandemic?” Feels like a loaded question, right? What is meant by it? Who has the answer at their fingertips? What exactly, is “your spirituality”?
Be not afraid, friends. The question has no right or wrong answer. Consider it an exploration; a taking stock of where you are now and where you were spiritually when this pandemic began. Even if one is unaware of the answer to this question, the reflection and assessment time involved are well worth the effort. Again, there is no wrong or right answer.
There are a zillion explanations of spirituality. Here are a couple that might be helpful. One definition of spirituality offered at the website of Dr. Maya Spencer reads as follows:
“Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature. ... An opening of the heart is an essential aspect of true spirituality.”*
In addition, Daniel L. Migliore, in his seminal book “Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology,” reminds us that spirituality consists of “practices that cultivate and strengthen Christian life.”**
Some of the practices which ‘exercise’ our sense of the holy are praying, going to church, serving others, worshiping God in and out of church, meditation, yoga, and other contemplative practices. Spiritual practices are not limited to the Christian denominations. They exist across the board in most all faith traditions: Buddhist, Judaism, Baha’i, Shintoism, Protestantism, Muslim, and multitudes of others. ‘Contemplative’ simply means giving something continued, thoughtful consideration; reflecting on, and applying learnings which enhance our spirituality.
You might be thinking, “Whoa, this sounds heavy duty.” Well, in essence exploring our spirituality is a serious endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be daunting and it happens all the time, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Most spirituality is built on the simplicity of everyday things, not some scary, mystical, Hollywood dramatization, although life does hold dramatic moments, of course and who knows how the Holy Spirit will move!
Think about it: have you ever lit a candle in memory of someone during a ritual, or for the peace of watching the flame flicker and glow? Certainly, even the shortest or most spontaneous prayers or queries to God, like “What’s going on, God?” are spiritual offerings from your spiritual self to your Divine One and the Cosmos. Even those are acts of exploring your spirituality.
Certainly, most of us have walked through a beautiful garden or stretched ourselves in a yoga position or tennis game that opens the body to the spiritual effects of exercise. If unable to move physically, through whatever senses we possess, we can still explore our spirituality. Peace and calm, or perhaps, stimulation and energy, result from practices of spirituality and open our hearts, minds, body and spirits to the Divine.
At our monthly Church Team Meeting the other night, I asked those attending to start thinking about the question, “How Has Your Spirituality Been Impacted By This Time of Pandemic?” over the summer. I invite you, too, if you weren’t at that meeting, to take some time over these summer months and consider where you are spiritually now, following these 18 months of pandemic turbulence and wonder.
Did you start any rituals that helped you through, such as more outdoor time, or more prayer? Listening to old music, helping people, exploring and explaining things to your children or grandchildren? Sorted through those old photos or papers? Whatever you did, how has it enhanced your experience of the world as one of God’s children? What have you learned? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. Maybe your spirit feels fuller and more vibrant, closer to God. Or, perhaps you feel empty and lost and are searching for words and answers. Maybe your spirit is in need of some practices that will restore and refresh.
As it says in this week’s bulletin in the red print, there is no wrong or right; no proper or improper way to answer the question posed. There is, however, an opportunity for discourse and discussion; to get closer to each other as members of the body of Christ, involved in the work of Christ in the world; to wake up our spirits together, with joy and delight, contemplation and discussion.
Let’s walk together on this journey of spiritual learning and see what kinds of fun we can have with it in the fall, as we aim for higher ground and new horizons. Should you have thoughts or experiences you would like to share, feel free to write them down and keep them ready for some excellent conversations to come! Be not afraid!
**Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. Second Edition 2004. 425.
WEEKEND OF JUNE 4, 2021
The Already and the Not Yet
Yes, folks, we’re in it. The ‘already and the not yet’…a time of wondering, when we can look back over our shoulder and see where we’ve been, then turn forward again and wonder where we are going; the sacred pause; the in-between. Humanity has experienced the fire and is beginning to pick up the detritus of this pandemic, holding it in its hands, sorting out the threads and pieces.
This ‘already and not yet’ time is not new. Scripture – history – life- are all filled with what theologians call these eschatological moments; both present and future on the horizon in which both future is born from ending and realized – fulfilled - from history in God’s time and God’s ways.
I remember meeting a German woman who was a patient where I once served as a chaplain. Her story epitomized this ‘already and not yet’ time of life in an excruciating way. I will call her Helga. She was in her eighties at the time I met her about five years ago.
During WWII, Helga was a teenager and became an orphan due to her village being bombed and completely destroyed. She lost all thirteen of her relatives, including her mother. Her father, a soldier, had been killed in the German North African campaign.
Helga was assigned to a German orphan work camp. She recounted what her daily life was like. The children were woken up at 6 a.m. every morning. After a meagre breakfast, they were loaded onto trucks, where they were taken to bombed-out villages to dig through the rubble to collect bricks that were still usable. After working until 6 in the evening, they returned to the camp.
Then Helga told me something that stopped me in my tracks. Helga told me that she would never forget digging through the rubble in her very own village – the very village where her mother and thirteen loved ones were killed. Brick by brick, she turned over pieces of her past life to face her present life which was now her future life.
When Helga told me this, I was struck dumb. My imagination ran wild picturing a young girl, winsome and persecuted, suffering under forced labor conditions. Bending down, over and over again to lift up the bricks of her life, remembering, wondering; looking over her shoulder and ahead to…what? Surely, her heart must have cracked a thousand times. I was overcome with grief at the very thought of her suffering soul.
Helga survived. She met and married an American GI and came to the U.S.A. with him after the war. They raised a family. Now, a widow, she faced the waning years of her life with the wistfulness of a young, hopeful girl and the wisdom of an elderly, faithful woman. She told me how wonderful their life had been. It was miraculous how her life had gone from horrific to happy; from the in-between unknowable, to the now.
The moment begged to go deeper. Though hesitant, I couldn’t help but ask her how she overcame such a horrible experience that put her life on pause; surely, a moment that embodied the horror of the ‘already’ – those terrible conditions she experienced – and the ‘not yet.’ There was wisdom there to be shared.
Surely, she must have wondered what could possibly lie ahead for her? How did she slog her way through that mud of inhumanity and tragedy and come out the other side, an intact, feeling, loving, human being, with hope to go on? Helga’s answer was: “You just have to keep going. You keep going, that is all.”
The simplicity and profundity of her answer bowled me over almost as much as her excruciating story. At once, Helga had looked over her shoulder, acknowledging the past, while standing what had become her future. The holiness of that sacred ground was heart-stopping. What lessons it held! What fullness and fulfillment it offered! How inspiring and yet, tiring, to face backward and forward at the same time!
Friends, that is what we are doing now. May we do it with the hope and faith of Helga, as we recover the threads of the fabric of life we once knew, hold it in our hands, in the present while looking backwards and forwards at the same time. There is much wisdom and grace to be gained in this ‘already and not yet’ moment. May we all seize it with everything we’ve got, as Helga seized those bricks, and made a new life.
Our faith requires that we “just keep going” and Jesus leads us on through ‘the already and the not yet’ to the present future – hope in the unseen; hope in the unimaginable. Yes, it is hard. And, yes, it is possible. Fulfillment awaits to spring forth and amaze us all.
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.” – Psalm 130:5-6
Remember what Helga said: “You just have to keep going.”
WEEKEND OF MAY 28, 2021
“Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As God has sent me, so I send you.” John 20:19b-21 (Adapted)
“PEACE BE WITH YOU”
Memorial Day Weekend honors those who have given their lives in military service to their country. This year, we can add the names of Capitol Police Officers Brian Sicknick and Howard Liebengood, who, though not in the armed forces, died serving their country at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 or as a result of that incursion…peace be with you.
These two particular gentlemen came to mind on this Memorial Day Weekend because the events that caused their deaths (Liebengood was off duty and later died by suicide) were a result of defending this country not on foreign soil, but on its own soil, from its own citizens… peace be with you.
From a non-military point of view, there are many others lost across this nation who could be included in this Memorial Day’s tributes, whose service and/or loss of life occurred on U.S. soil, including those who were victims of racism and so many other travesties…peace be with you.
Wednesday, May 26th, this country experienced its 232nd mass shooting in San Jose, CA. According to a May 26, 2021 article online at thedenverchannel.com: “The FBI says a mass shooting is any incident that involves multiple victims of gun violence. It defines victims as both people who are killed and those who are injured by gunfire. Three people must have been injured or killed for the incident to qualify as a mass shooting”…peace be with you.
Rather than approaching this discourse from a political or “us vs. them” attitude, let us simply ponder the reality that ‘peace is not with us,’ at least not in a secular or temporal way; in other words, it ain’t happenin,’ friends. At least, it doesn’t feel like it. Though there are many peaceful moments, personal and worldly, private and public, which we are to be grateful for, the idea that peace reigns is, well, rather absurd, don’t you think? Peace be with you.
We are all elated to be able to “get out of the damn house,” as CT’s Governor Lamont recently proclaimed, to have picnics, gather for parades where permitted, and simply take a walk outside without having to mask up if we are vaccinated; to enjoy life! Thanks be to God! Peace be with you!
However, there is still far too much that is not right with the ‘house’ of humanity. It is way past time to put this house in order. We rightly should ‘go for the gusto’ and soak up all the goodness we are blessed with in this second summer of pandemic, in far better shape than last year…have fun, let our hair down, let the “lazy, hazy days of summer” begin, as Nat King Cole sang! Let them begin in a new way that proclaims life, not death! Of course, we would much rather not even be reading this, or thinking about it. God knows we’ve had enough serious stuff to think about the past 16 months! Peace be with you!
That said, this extra-special Memorial Day Weekend, it is all too easy to sweep the lack of peace in the world – rather, vicious hatred and its results - under the rug, hidden by the joy of feeling human again. Well, we can try it; but I bet it won’t all fit under that rug. It will continue to seep out and dust everybody up until we are able to truly say to one another as all God’s children…peace be with you…and mean it, and live it. Granted, it’s a tall order. Granted none of us are perfect. God made us human, thus and so. No one is expected to do it all or do it alone. No one can do it all or do it alone. Thus, the plea.
In this appearance after his resurrection, Jesus stands, wounds visible. He sends the disciples out into the world to teach love and forgiveness. He assures them of his holy peace, that it has been breathed upon them in the form of the Holy Spirit, directly from him. All they have to do (right?) is receive it and it will live in them. And, offer it to others. He blesses them with peace and directs them to go into the world in confidence of that peace. He allays their fears, telling them his peace is with them.
This is such a pure peace that it eludes our sense of human understanding. It is beyond anything we know. Jesus shows his wounds as signs. I can imagine him saying to his disciples, “Look I’ve done this at God’s will; now, go. I have received God’s true peace for the world. I am God’s peace for the world! All you need to know is that my peace is with you. True peace! The only peace! Receive it into your spirits! Harness it! Make it work for you! Make it work for humanity! This divine gift is yours for the taking! Yes, there will be much work and difficulty. But, in the end; no, in the new beginning, peace will be with you. Peace is with you now. Now, go, and be fishers of all people. Go, practice peace. Peace be with you.”
This Memorial Day Weekend, please get down on your knees if you can, or however you do it, and offer the deepest prayer to God that you can muster, for peace. Ask God to continue to show us how to do better. Say it every day from now on, not just this Memorial Day Weekend, please.
Along with that, say “Peace be with you” to all the people you meet from now on. Think it if you can’t say it. You will be surprised how it will become second nature over time, if it isn’t already. You will be amazed at how it empowers love, not hate. It’s not just a Christian thing, it is a Godly thing. It is a gift for the universe we inhabit. It is, as Christ tried to tell us, a real thing!
What if we all greeted each other inside and outside of church by saying “Peace be with you.” And if we answered each other, “And also with you.” And meant it. What if….? The possibilities are endless…this is what Jesus offers us! As God sent Jesus, so Jesus sent the disciples to do the job; and…us. After all, who else is going to do it? God help us.
Peace be with you! Amen!
WEEKEND OF MAY 21, 2021
One of the most common interactions between human beings is the experience of inadvertent incursion. In other words, people do things to each other, and have things done unto them, on many levels, but without realizing or worse, acknowledging it. Inadvertent incursions in daily life have been the basis for many ensuing disagreements or quarrels - even wars.
The key ingredient here is that the damage, wound, misunderstanding, insult or injury is not something the perpetrator intended. It does not involve an intentional act. Inadvertent incursion can occur verbally, non-verbally, physically, emotionally and other ways. The resulting perception, real or not, of feeling ‘incurred upon’ usually involves some sort of hurt, anger, resentment or misunderstanding. There exists also the imagined incursion – a close relative.
These unintentional infractions are typically undergirded by some form of ownership, literal or otherwise (psychological, emotional, physical, etc.), on the part of both the offender and the recipient – the ‘incurred upon.’ The very fact that most of us feel that we have dominion or ownership over things, both tangible and intangible – whether it is ourselves, our yards, our house, our feelings, our children, our pets, our cars, our shopping carts, our beliefs, friendships, or many other things, creates invisible boundaries.
When these boundaries are crossed, intentionally or not, it can be problematic, with potential for lasting damage. Even more problematic are unexpressed, or improperly expressed, feelings resulting from an incursion. Or, an offender may be unknown, as is the case when we walk out into a parking lot and see a dent in our car, no note attached. Hmmm…
Everyone treads on another’s sphere of influence at one time or another. It is pretty much unavoidable. Raising our awareness in a situation, thinking before we speak, considering the other – all of these are ways to avoid being an offender. We are imperfect human beings, after all. Things happen.
I remember one instance when I was in seminary. Every year, students were invited to take part in some sort of contest to enlighten the student community. The winners were awarded prizes and typically there was a keynote speaker. This particular spring, the subject was student loan debt. The contest venue was crockpot cooking. The hope was to demonstrate economical ways of cooking for those struggling financially with the exorbitant costs of higher education. That struggle usually involves student loan debt. The speaker that day was there to explain the pitfalls of long-term student loan debt and ways to live smarter.
Well, several of my friends and I entered the fray. One friend, my next-door-apartment- neighbor, happened to have the exact same, no-frills crockpot as mine, both which were vintage 1975 wedding gifts. This was 2013 and they were still going – 28 years - no planned obsolescence there (although both the marriages had ended – unplanned obsolescence!).
At any rate, we proudly went about our preparations excitedly in the midst of heavy course work, welcoming the diversion. The event was to take place in the dining hall across the campus. We had to get our loaded pots in place late one evening, then get back over there around 6 a.m. the next morning to check on our masterpieces. I was making a Mediterranean chicken stew. My friend was making a no bake, blueberry cake (she was a Maine girl) and in another pot, a main course. The cake was in the pot that was identical to mine.
Next day, I rolled out of bed in my PJ’s, and shuffled over to the dining hall in the early morning darkness. I was the only one there. Half asleep in the dim lighting and without my glasses, I went over to what I thought was MY crockpot. I lifted the lid. I peered in. It seemed like the contents had shrunk quite a bit. I remember thinking, “Wow, this really cooked down. Oh well, hope it tastes good.” I gave it a good stir, put the lid back on and went back to my apartment.
A few hours later we all arrived to set up for the presentation. As we went about our preparations, I heard a good amount of cursing coming from the other side of the room. It was my Maine friend. She was hovering over her identical crock pot, lamenting the implosion of her no-bake blueberry cake! When I went over to help her, I saw what had happened in the wee hours of the morning. I had stirred the blueberry cake, not my Mediterranean stew! It was now a blueberry buckle instead of a nice, rounded cake!
Abashed and greatly afraid of this disgruntled chef’s wrath, I tried to explain to her that because our crockpots were identical, I never even realized what I did. She looked at me in utter disbelief. I was sure she was thinking I was very stupid or not telling the truth. It seemed like she thought I had sabotaged her blueberry cake on purpose!
I can’t blame her. A stream of pathetic utterings flowed through my lips. “OMG! I am so sorry. I would never! Gosh, you would think I would have smelled the difference? It was so early in the morning. I was exhausted! I was in a hurry! There were a million smells in here. I should have turned on more lights! I should have worn my glasses! I should have, I should have!” Excuses, excuses, excuses. With a look of one utterly betrayed, she turned away. I felt terrible. The show continued, both of us angst-ridden: the incurred-upon and the incurr-er. The worst part is that she didn’t believe I had done it by accident!
Here’s the fait accompli: my Mediterranean stew won first prize! OH NO! And, my friend’s now blueberry “buckle” won second! Talk about adding insult to injury! It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I don’t remember how I made it up to her, but I did. It was incumbent upon me, the inadvertent incurr-er, to own up, apologize and try to make it right. Ultimately, she believed me. We don’t see each other very often due to geographic location, but when we do, we laugh about it. Thank goodness!
What is the point of this story? Mostly, that we can avoid the resulting pain of unintentional, incursive behaviors if we make it a practice to raise our awareness of how our actions affect – or could affect others - beforehand. If we do end up as party to an inadvertent incursion, we must ask ourselves how we can transform it into a grace-filled encounter, rather than a war-starter.
Holding ourselves accountable, even when we didn’t mean to hurt someone; reflecting upon a better way, provides a grace that may not have existed in us before. It provides grace for the other party, and God’s grace-space for all. But, it isn’t always that simple. Our personal needs and desires can often overrule our sensitivity to possible outcomes. Making it a point to practice becoming more conscientious about our own boundaries and others’, we can lessen our incursive impacts on each other, Creation and the universe.
This may sound like a silly incident, but it truly illustrates how inadvertent incursions can happen, and how we can try to be more sensitive to others. It was eight years ago, and I still remember it. Ultimately, we may have to be accountable, even if it was an accident in our eyes. Being accountable and grace-based, even if we feel hurt too, is essential. It provides the basis for being the body of Christ, and living as the community of God. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of restorative strength. God’s grace enables us to offer grace to others and ourselves. We all want – no, need – God’s grace. Praise God for God’s grace to us. Amen.
“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9-10
Grace and peace,
WEEKEND OF MAY 7, 2021
Going the Extra Mile…
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. – Matthew 5:41
These words of Jesus from the Beatitudes exhort us to the lofty ideal of giving of ourselves in even fuller measure when we would prefer otherwise. We are encouraged to dig deeper; to stretch ourselves by giving more; doing the right thing for the sake of somebody, some cause, or the common good.
Certainly, we can all identify with feeling care-worn, but grateful, as we forge ahead navigating necessary pandemic prohibitions and protocols. COVID-19 has robbed many folks of many things and required much sacrifice on everyone’s part.
“Going the extra mile” is a common phrase which denotes exactly that: doing more; continuing ahead with something, even when it may not be our choice. It mean giving more when it may be inconvenient, or we feel like we don’t have a lot left to give.
Truly, this concept is not unfamiliar to us as Christian people. The hospitality we are to show to our neighbor is our credo. It is alive and well at FCCSW because of our diligence and commitment to going the extra mile. Though a less familiar form of hospitality, it is life-giving,
This past Sunday, after having been forced out of our sanctuary by the pandemic for thirteen months, we joyfully resumed in-person worship at First Congregational Church of South Windsor. What an historic occasion!
This homecoming inspires great excitement and acclamation, but it also requires acclimation – being in church in ways that we just aren’t used to doing with rules that are new to us. We are asked once more to adapt to the situation; to go the extra mile – for each other, the community, and the world. Together, we have made this commitment.
While this adaptation process and the protocols may feel uncomfortable and inconvenient, that’s all they are: an inconvenience. When considered at face value, inconvenience for those of us well enough to attend is a small price to pay temporarily, when over 3.8 million people have died world-wide from this pandemic: 579,000 in the United States alone.
We should all be proud to be a part of this time of going the extra mile and proud of our Ad Hoc Pandemic Team whose members have worked tirelessly since October, 2020 to be able to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our congregation. Please take the time to offer your thanks to your fellow members for their endeavors.
We shall continue to be required to practice patience, get acclimated, adapt, and adhere to rules as they evolve and change, while respecting each other and our fellow human beings by doing the right thing – the Christian thing. We do it with the special knowledge in our hearts that we are digging deep, as Jesus asks of us; going the extra miles until we can be sure everyone is out of harm’s way.
May Jesus walk with you on each and every mile, no matter when or where.
Announcement of Resumption of In-Person Worship
It is with great joy and gratitude to God that the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team and Rev. Nina announce the resumption of in-person worship starting Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. We will continue to provide Zoom services for those who choose to worship from home. Even with Gov. Lamont’s most recent updates, there are still state guidelines which we have to follow to allow us to meet inside. There is no distinction in the state guidelines for vaccinated or unvaccinated people so we will follow the guidelines for all congregants. The highlights of the process are detailed below.
You will have to make a reservation. Reservations and seating are by family group of the people you share a household with. See below for the required information to make a reservation which is the same as it was for Easter Sunday.
Church seating is limited due to social distancing and you will be directed to a pew upon entering and released by an usher upon departure.
Masks will be required inside the building.
Attendees will have to follow the temperature checks and questionnaire guidelines upon arrival.
Air flow is required so we will have windows open in the sanctuary and the front door open throughout the service. You may wish to keep your jacket on depending on the weather.
Expect the service to be modified: shorter, with no singing and other adaptations as needed.
The Church's offering plates will be provided on the way out of the Sanctuary.
We will all be very happy to be together again! However, we still need to keep post-service chat and visiting to a minimum.
If there is a change in the COVID situation in Connecticut, we may have to adjust our in person worship accordingly.
You can email (preferred) or call the church office to make a reservation after noon on a Sunday for the following week (email@example.com)
All requests prior to 10 am on Tuesday will be treated as occurring at the same time. There is room with the required spacing for 14 family groups.
The last time to place your request is 10 am on Friday. After that time, it will be walk-in only if there is room.
The following information is required for contact tracing and seat planning:
I/we want to come to in person worship on (Date)_____________
The total number of people in our family group is __________________
The first and last names of all attending are :________, _________, _________, etc.
The contact phone number for this group is _______________________________
I/we am/are aware of the health questions and will not attend if we do not meet the criteria.
I/we understand that our temperature will be checked and mask and sanitizer use is required.
WEEKEND OF APRIL 30, 2021
The Power of Story
Everybody loves a good story, right? A novel, a film, a piece in the newspaper or on-line, heard around the firepit; a good story never fails to entertain, touch our hearts, make us cry or laugh, ponder or wonder. Stories can be spoken, sung, rapped, tapped, drummed, danced, woven, sewn, drawn, dreamed, schemed or memed!
Stories have power and they elicit power; the power that can take us to other lands, other dimensions, through a myriad of emotions and experiences without ever actually having the experience ourselves. The power of story transcends limitations and transports the hearer or reader to new places: “speeding us on to fresh and newer spaces.”*
What is wonderful is that we all have stories to tell. Our lives are one, big, constant stream of stories, connected by the very fact that we are all in this humanity thing together. They are gathered into a tapestry that makes up our life-story. All of us are living, walking stories! Stories connect us with each other – often in ways we could never even imagine.
Another wonderful thing is that you don’t have to be an accomplished writer or story teller to share your story. Story-telling is not reserved for published authors writers or professional story-tellers only. Anyone can share their story!
It is in the sharing of our stories that we enter into true human communion with each other. A person is invited to participate in a story in whatever manner they are inspired to – or not. The magic of story meets the imagination. Hand in hand they stride the open road of life, death and everything in between. Eyes and hearts are opened. The possibilities are endless.
The Bible is a perfect example of the power of story. It is chock full of life-changing stories told by those whose lives were changed – for better or for worse! Think about all those we meet in the stories from the canonical works – Adam, Eve, Moses, Pharoah, psalmists, Kings David and Solomon, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jonah and others; Ruth, Hannah, Esther, warriors like Samson and evil ones like Herod; Mary, Joseph, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus – a cast of thousands!
In fact, if it weren’t for these stories, which began as oral history and then were written down by scribes, the authors themselves and others, think of all that would be lost to us and to the world! There is much to be learned from them. It is the sharing of these stories which inform our very being as Christians and members of the human race.
The tellers and writers of these stories were no different than we are, except for the times and contexts in which they lived. They were humans living their lives, seeking God, sinning, fighting, loving, dying. The memorializing and sharing of stories by those having lived experience is essential to the historical understanding and perspective of human history – each other.
Our shared humanity compels us – exhorts us – to share our stories with each other before they are lost forever. What would we do without the stories of the human and divine Jesus, the Christ and those he came to save – all of us? What would we do without the stories of those who lived out the annals of biblical times?
Everyone - grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, children, friends, strangers, siblings, teachers, mentors, enemies – all of us have stories just bursting to be birthed into the cosmos! The stories of our COVID experiences alone are priceless.
The power of story lies within all of us. Think about taking the time to share yours with those you love – with the world. They are God-created and God-given from the One who knew us before we were even born. Let us honor God by sharing our stories with each other – they are like the wine of life, waiting to become the vintages of the future, for those who won’t have known us personally, but will through our stories.
Adapted from the poem “Stages” by Herman Hesse.
WEEKEND OF APRIL 16, 2021
Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer
Junk drawers are ubiquitous. Most homes have one or something akin to one, where the flotsam and jetsam of daily living gets stored or accumulates over the years. A good junk drawer usually has a plethora of one-off useful and useless items, like those hotel sewing kits or half-used note pads; maybe a battery or two – how long have they been in there? Pencils, leaky pens, a dried-up Sharpie, match books, old business cards from now-defunct entities, that Chinese restaurant menu from the last town you lived in – they had the best dumplings! – forgotten decks of cards from Disney World that were going to be stocking stuffers, an antique Ballantine Beer bottle opener, Grandma’s broken teacup that needs mending with that now petrified Super Glue and, oh yeah, there’s that ‘missing’ Allen wrench and oh so many more wonderful treasures!
A good junk drawer can inspire a walk down memory lane. Moving to a new home can inspire that perusal. A lot gets chucked, a lot just can’t be let go. I remember one time when I moved, I just left the junk drawer as is in the sideboard it lived in, and it arrived intact and ready to serve at the new place! It was just too taxing to sort through once I started, so I took the whole thing, as ‘was.’
There was that little red plastic wind-up chicken that laid mini-yellow eggs when it walked; the old leather collar of a beloved family dog; a wooden bird-call whistle that made chirping sounds when you twisted the tiny metal handle; old brochures about a historic house I loved; twine and colorful ribbons awaiting re-purposing; a leftover plastic egg full of my son’s Silly Putty; a few antique marbles, including an agate “shooter” (that’s a larger marble used to hit the smaller marbles, in case this is out of your area of expertise – chuckle, chuckle); one of those tiny hurdy gurdies, a colorful stone that must have been kept for some meaningful reason, an expired ID card from an extinct library and oh, so many semi-discarded things that evoked a mixture of emotions.
We human souls carry many ‘semi-discarded’ things within our personal ‘junk drawers,’ our hearts and memories. These inhabitants of time can evoke a mixture of emotions when we pull out our ‘mental’ junk drawer and start sorting. Some things are delightfully recalled from the land of memory – oh, how lovely. Others are too painful to think about and get stowed once again under that protecting rock – too painful! Quick, put it back! Either way, we carry them with us forever, which can be both a comfort and a burden, the warp and woof of our personal life-story tapestries; the stuff of our earthly life.
Though meaningful material reminders, this seemingly incidental stuff can become overly important, overshadowing our spiritual lives. Hopefully, we all will wisely come to know that ‘things’ are not the stuff of life, but that which connects us to each other is the stuff of life – God, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the ‘super-glue’ of the Trinity); relationship and life together as an Easter people.
We will recognize that it is ok to turn our junk drawers over to God; to re-purpose all the various foibles, tribulations and joys into the universe for safe keeping in eternity, the Great Junk Drawer in the sky; to let go of that which is intrinsic, and yet not truly necessary for a happy life.
When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and “preach the kingdom and heal the sick,” according to Luke 9, he commanded them to “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” All they needed they had, in the very stuff of which they were created by God. No junk drawers here.
How preciously God has woven each of us with our very own knots, dropped stitches, smooth, silken ribbon edges or stiff, scratchy fibers, raggedy holes, exquisite threads and textures beyond our imagination. God’s holy work. Friends, this is all we need to wrap our souls in and carry with us, not our junk drawers, as fun and special as they may seem.
As wonderfully and frightfully full as our junk drawers can become, there comes a time to dump them out with gusto and release your inner junk to the Holy One! Take nothing with you but your very bless-ed holy self and share it with the world!
WEEKEND OF APRIL 11, 2021
“The Scattered Church”*
The Rev. Traci Blackmon, M.Div., R.N., is the Acting Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ’s national organization. She is also Senior Pastor at Christ the King UCC of Florissant, MO, a neighboring city to Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was shot by police on August 9, 2014.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ informs Blackmon’s work on behalf of racial justice, all social justice issues, and spearheads her intentional and passionate efforts to exhort solidarity among Christians and people of all faiths to care for the least of these. She is a gifted and impactful, front-line spiritual leader.
Blackmon was a guest panelist recently on a virtual forum for Eden Theological Seminary’s Spring Convocation, 2021. The subject of this particular session was “Launching Into Solidarity: Community Partnerships & Congregational Purpose.” Blackmon, as always, named some concepts which are well worth noting and sounded quite rich with possibilities for congregations everywhere – not only UCC Protestants, but all “gathered/scattered” communities of worship, no matter what the denomination or faith.
The first is visualizing the church as a “launching pad” rather than a destination; a beginning place rather than an end or culmination of congregational mission or purpose; a space where ideas are born, flourish and are relevant to present action needed in the world; a place of active-inspiration, as opposed to passive waiting to be inspired. Just the term “launching pad” inspires!
Two other very pertinent concepts are what Blackmon called “the gathered church” and “the scattered church,” terms especially apropos during this time of COVID, where congregations surely have been and are still scattered, but gathering as best they can.
Unable to meet in-person for some time, houses of worship have had to learn and adapt to worshipping via on-line platforms, some in-person, some via ‘drive-in church,’ and many other ways, eventually perhaps offering a combination of applications: ‘hybridization.’
These phrases “the gathered church” and “the scattered church” can be seen as their own hybridization of the manner in which the body of Christ has taken shape and been transformed most recently by the events of the pandemic.
Surely, we have had more than our share of being scattered from one another bodily, emotionally and spiritually, whether as worshiping companions or family members. Unable to hug each other, have dinner, collect offering, share communion or receive the words of a sermon in-person with our whole selves, scattering has affected all of us across the globe in all settings, secular and religious. Though we are “gathered” in some ways, we still feel “scattered.”
But wait! The good news is that “scattered” can and should be seen as a positive opportunity to relate to the church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in new and life-giving ways! A “launching pad!” Being scattered throughout the world with an agenda of compassionate caring and justice for all allows for renewed commitment to discipleship across the board. A new chance for solidarity!
Granted, Christians are scattered all over the globe and have been for centuries, but Blackmon’s concept of it as a tool with which to renew the church is refreshing, to put it mildly. As a matter of fact, it just might be the fresh perception we need right now – the new thing that God is doing for the church and the world.
After all, is not the church “scattered” anyway – meaning spread around the globe? How many times does Scripture name the gathering of nations and peoples? Soon Pentecost will be here – May 23rd – the spiritual birthday of the church. If that wasn’t a gathering of the “scattered,” what is?
Even though we are scattered physically, we are still gathered in the eyes of God, and are offered incredible opportunities to re-examine how we do church; “launching pad” or resting place or both – a holy union of commencement. Why not?
Being scattered does not have to mean that we are shattered as a church. Yes, our emotions or well-being are greatly impacted by this pandemic, some shattered, most certainly. However, being shattered does allow for the re-gathering of the pieces in new and healing ways. Might it not be wise and wonderful to follow Blackmon’s lead and let this “gathered and scattered” theme inspire us to new and greater heights – perhaps that which we’ve never envisioned before! Being scattered places us in the perfect situation to be in the world, enacting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as his followers.
In these minus-50 days of Eastertide and counting, let us be vigilant to the spirit as it moves among “the gathered and the scattered.” Let us prepare ourselves for a Pentecost on May 23rd such as the world has never seen since the very first Pentecost and going forward!
Come; rest; be renewed and go out into the world as church that matters in new ways. Be launched by the Holy Spirit “launching pad!” Are we not all the scattered seeds of God? Wouldn’t we rather be remembered as a church that mattered in a new way, even though scattered?
Blessings and thank you, Rev. Blackmon!
Thanks be to God,
*Eden Theological Seminary. Spring Convocation, 2021. April 7, 2021. “Launching Into Solidarity: Community Partnerships & Congregational Purpose.” These are paraphrases and a few quoted words of the Rev. Traci Blackmon, Panelist, heard and noted as important ‘take aways’ by this writer.
EASTER WEEKEND - APRIL 2, 2021
An Easter Streaker
Bet you didn’t know there is a streaker in the Bible? And during Holy Week, no less! Yes, Mark 14:51-52, The Message, says this: “A young man was following along. All he had on was a bedsheet. Some of the men grabbed him but he got away, running off naked, leaving them holding the sheet.”
The Gospel of Mark is the only one of the four that includes this… incident, event, sighting? Some commentaries suggest Mark was an eyewitness, thus the reason it is included in his version only. It takes place after Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested, and everyone has deserted him, including his disciples.
There are, of course, many interpretations and much conjecture out there about the meaning of these verses. No one is certain of the man’s identity. There are some who say perhaps the “bedsheet”, or “linen cloth” was the one they ultimately used to wrap Jesus’ body.
Some posit that the man was the only truly authentic disciple, because he was following Jesus’ directions literally as spoken in Luke 9:3: “And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” It is obvious this guy had none of those things, and he certainly didn’t have two tunics! He didn’t even have one tunic! All he had was that cloth!
Remember the streaking fad of the 1970’s which originated on college campuses? Usually, one person would disrobe and ‘streak’ through a spectator-filled baseball stadium or other public venue for the satisfaction of the shock value. Mobs of streakers would also congregate for communal ‘dishabille.’
Think of flash mobs of the 21st century, where large groups of people orchestrate some activity, whether musical, social justice-oriented, or just for fun, to ‘pop-up’ as though spontaneous in the public square (with clothes on). You may have heard of the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma blessing his vaccination station with a one-man, spontaneous mini concert a few weeks ago; that sort of thing.
Was our young man’s act only for shock value, to emphasize the enormity of the situation? Somehow, I doubt it. God was about to provide that cataclysm herself, in the act of Jesus’ crucifixion. Something else had to be going on…in fact, it was…of a much more serious note, the persecution, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We can only endlessly conjecturize what his role was or was meant to signify in the midst of such horror. Was he a lost soul? An outcast of society, perhaps another also to be punished only to escape? If not, why did he run away? Why was he unclothed? Though, the social norms regarding nakedness at that time are unclear, surely if everyone else was dressed, he would stand out.
All notions of streaking fads aside at this most holy time for Christians, perhaps his nakedness is a symbol of encouragement for us to bare ourselves down to our very souls before God, as God made us? Right now! Maybe the very idea of that is so terrifying, we might run away, too! After all, everyone else ran away at Jesus’ greatest time of need – even his closest friends and followers, the disciples. “All of them deserted him and fled.” – Mark 14:51.
Friends, no matter whether we are naked or clothed, God knows us inside and out, before we were even conceived. Be not afraid. Now is the time…God implores us to take note and come clean with God, right down to our bare-naked skin and our bare-naked souls, for Christ’s sake.
Remember, Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, naked and afraid and made themselves loin cloths from leaves because they now knew shame. Better clothing of skins was then provided by God to protect them in what became a wily world after the Fall. “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife and clothed them.” (Gen 2:21) – God’s shameless, protective love.
All we have to do is show up and follow the Son’s example of everlasting, unconditional love for everyone – the New Commandment: “Love one another,” naked or not. All we have to do is clothe our spirits in God’s armor – God is doing the rest. Now is the time, if ever there was one. May you experience the naked joy of a Savior who loved us enough to die for us.
In Easter reverence and Christian love,
WEEKEND OF MARCH 26, 2021
“From Here To Eternity”*
Yes…From Here To Eternity is the title of the 1953 Oscar-winning Best Picture set in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, surrounding the infamous December 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese. The film highlights the WWII life and times of base personnel, interweaving military life, war, romance, cruelty and passion. It has a jam-packed, star-studded cast: Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra (Best Supporting Actor), Donna Reed (Best Supporting Actress), Montgomery Clift, Ernest Borgnine, Deborah Kerr and many others.
What resonates about this title as we enter into Holy Week is it’s metaphorical meaning as a literary bridge from the now to the forever, not unlike what we are about to experience in this liturgical leap from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what happens in between now and forever? Palm Sunday and Easter? If we didn’t learn about Sgt. Warden, Prewitt, Maggio, Alma, and the other characters’ lives in between the ‘here’ and the ‘eternity,’ would it be the same experience? Without the beginning and the ending would we get the whole story?
We know in the movie a lot happens to the main characters which embeds them in eternity from a historical standpoint. The same applies to Holy Week – a lot happens to the main character, Jesus, from a historical standpoint – but more importantly, from a religious and spiritual perspective – the holy, sacred moments that produce an earthquake of eternal proportions; to get him – and us – from here to eternity; from the inhumanity of humanity in this earthly life to the promise of eternal life.
These days, much of the ‘holy’ has gone out of our traditions. Church-goers attend Palm Sunday to cheer Jesus’ parade through Jerusalem on a cute donkey, palms in hand, while anticipating Easter Sunday services for jubilating in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the season of Spring.
That’s not to say there is nothing to cheer about or that there is no personal meaning in our experience, but we all know religion and church have taken a back seat to a lot of other things. Jesus’ triumphant and some say, foreboding, procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, culminates in his resurrection on Easter morning. But wait – what about the rest of the week? What about the dying part? What about getting from here to eternity? A lot happens in between these two feast days!
There is much more to this world-changing story. It’s not called Holy Week for only those two place-holder Sundays, as meaningful as they are. The build-up to ‘holy’ continues through Holy Week.
Theologically, if we do not attend services on Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper and Good Friday, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death at Calvary, or at least read about them or recall them in communion together, along with Palm Sunday and Easter, we are completely missing the theological and literary ‘bridge’ of that leap ‘from here to eternity.’
This bridge, like any well-written epic, contains the meat: the gut-wrenching, horrifying, abusive, power-mongering, spectacle-causing, heart-breaking, “what you are about to hear or see contains graphic language and depictions and may be offensive to some” disclaimer for the scourging of Jesus the Christ. My fellow Christians, this bridge is the Passion!
There is the Anointing, the Last Supper, the Arrest, the Denial, the Garden, and the Betrayal, etc. – these are the scripture headings from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is also silent on any recounting of details of that grievous Holy Saturday.
The Passion also includes moments of human compassion, to name a few: Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross to Calvary along the “Way of Sorrows,” the Via Dolorosa; the crucified thief to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom;” and of course the women, his mother Mary and other grief-filled witnesses who helplessly attempted to minister and pray for Jesus throughout.
Without sharing it, we miss out on the communal grief and joy and everything in between; the relational nurturing; the main course or the main event; the play-off, if you will; “the rest of the story” as journalist Paul Harvey used to say.
Yes, we can still wave palms on Palm Sunday and shout “Christ is Risen” on Easter but how much more meaningful it can be if we at least attempt to grasp what the experience must have been like for all those watching over 2, 000 years ago and what it means to us as Christians today?
We all have different learning styles. If you are less prone to attending Zoom services or church in general, read the stories in the Bible. If the language throws you off, Google The Message, written in common English. If you prefer visuals and music, watch one of those old epic films like The Robe, The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, Barabbas, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus Christ Super-Star or Jesus of Nazareth. Some are corny; some are well-done and others not so much. National Geographic Magazine usually publishes an overview this time of year which you often see in the check-out line at the grocery stores.
Take what you will from them and consider the source of everything you watch or read, but hear the stories. There are lots of ways to connect to and experience Holy Week, in addition to church. Most of all, pray.
This year, of all years, are we not deeply and desperately in need of hearing every detail of this story more than ever?
It is epic. It will take you from here to eternity. Let it. For Christ’s sake.
*. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Lenten Worship Schedule 2021
LENTEN WORSHIP AND PRAYER SERVICES SCHEDULE
First Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2021 – Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Still Seeking Easter…
Last year, our Lenten journey, “Seeking Easter,” was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an ‘exile’ from our sanctuary amidst much uncertainty on March 12, 2020. We continue to walk this wilderness with God’s help. We have learned that we can worship God in many places, including on Zoom, all year long!
Easter still happened in 2020 and will this year, too, praise God! Jesus’ time in the wilderness; his persecution, crucifixion and resurrection once again lay before us. In this second pandemic Lenten season we are, “Still Seeking Easter…”
This year, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, was celebrated on-line, with two services: one brief prayer service at 6 p.m., followed by an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. with the Congregational Churches of Vernon, Broad Brook and Griswold. Though unable to distribute and receive ashes, we remain, “Still Seeking Easter…”
PLEASE JOIN US FOR THE SERVICES LISTED BELOW VIA ZOOM INVITATION AT 10:00 A.M. ON SUNDAYS, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Sunday, Feb. 21 1st Sunday in Lent The Beginning Mark 1:9-15
Soloist: Bradford Wright
Sunday, Feb. 28 2nd Sunday in Lent The Foretelling Mark 8:31-38
Sunday, Mar 7 3rd Sunday in Lent The Truth-Telling John 2:13-22
Sunday, Mar 14 4th Sunday in Lent The Life-Light John 3:14-21
Sunday, Mar 21 5th Sunday in Lent The Glorification John 12:20-33
Sunday, Mar 28 Palm Sunday The Procession
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11
Thursday, Apr 1 Maundy Thursday Tenebrae Prayer 7 P.M.
Friday, Apr 2 Good Friday Meditation Time Noon
Sunday, April 4 Easter Sunday The Resurrection! John 20:1-18
“HOW DO WE WELCOME EACH OTHER?" -
2021 LENTEN SPEAKER SERIES via zoom
Wednesdays - March 10, 17 & 24th - 6:30p.m.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Matt 22:39
Humanity continues to struggle with true acceptance of others unlike ourselves. We all have moments of uncertainty when we meet people unfamiliar to our ways of thinking and being and who look and believe differently than us. Devastating effects of hatred and rejection in all forms have existed throughout human history to the present-day. As human beings and Christians, it is our responsibility to welcome and steward all peoples, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
The Diaconate and Rev. Nina are pleased to announce the 2021 speaker series which picks up where we left off in 2020. The focus will remain on encouraging openness and unconditional welcome through understanding of differences, with practical nomenclature and behaviors to support that welcome.
The awareness that all people possess visible and invisible uniqueness is essential for the enactment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Open and Affirming status ‘affirms’ that credo.
Please come join us in sharpening our welcoming skills as we learn together. This year's presenters are:
March 10 – Ms. Liz DeRosa, Director of Institutional Development
American School of the Deaf, West Hartford, CT
March 17 - Mx. Elliot Altomare, Organizational Consultant
March 24 – Ms. Barbara Bergren, Award Winning Author
“Witness For My Father”
During this time of Lent, we reflect upon the many ways in which God can be found in our world around us.
Near the River by Lilly M.
Sunset on Christmas 2020 by VIcky M.
Prayer Place by Adrienne A.
Peace by the Pond at the Park by Lee and Rachel A.
Welcome to Our Lenten Speaker Series for 2021
Wednesdays March 10, 17 & 26 at 6:30 pm via zoom
Join Us on Wednesday March 26th at 6:30 pm for a special presentation by Award Winning Author, Barbara Bergren.
WITNESS FOR MY FATHER is a true story of the worst and best of humanity where two men are touched by war, discrimination, and —through acts of kindness—recovery. In history’s unending struggles illuminating the cruelty and horror of war, based on a belief in nation and race over people, this is one story where hope prevails.
Please join us for this zoom event with award-winning author Barbara Bergren to discuss her book, Witness for My Father. Published one year ago on International Holocaust Remembrance day, Barbara will share her father’s experience, and honor survivors, liberators, and those who perished during WWII.
This story is one of devastating loss, but also one of hope, heroism and the triumph of human kindness. Learn how a Jewish survivor and a Black lieutenant prevailed against genocide and racism.
You can purchase Witness For My Father from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or independent book stores.
*If you would like to be included in our zoom invitation list for our Lenten speaker series or our Sunday worship service, please contact the church office at or call 860-528-7992.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 19, 2021
Are You Historic?
The other day in a meeting, I heard someone mention they work for an organization that provides assistance to congregations and houses of worship whose buildings are historic. Services range from financial advice and grants for maintenance, supporting the yoking process between two churches, credentialing and preserving their historic status or all of the above.
What struck me was that they indicated that a building could qualify as historic if it is at least fifty years old. Fifty years? Here in New England, that is just a drop in the bucket! In other parts of the world, fifty years of history is laughable when held up against 1,000-year-old temples, ancient ruins and a recently discovered ‘intact’ basket believed to be 10,000 years old.
This same person offered that they had just turned 63 years old, to which another person quipped, “You’re historic!” Needless to say, this garnered a good laugh from all of us.
Later that day, I started thinking about people being “historic” as opposed to aging. People have done and do historic things, and are part of history, but the notion that we as individuals can also be seen as “historic” intrigued me. Are we not witnesses of history if not vessels of history?
We nominate buildings to the National Historic Register. Historical societies exist to preserve historic buildings and artifacts. Shouldn’t our lives be registered as “historic,” too? Young and old alike, why not name our life and aging process a ‘historic’ process, rather than a denouement from youth to old age? If buildings can be considered historic, certainly we are, too!
We are conceived, born, and raised. We learn, work and contribute. Some are taken care of, and some do the caring. We suffer and cause suffering. We spend time isolated or in community. We live on the streets and in some of those historic buildings! We traverse the mountaintops and the valleys. We grieve and we exult. We laugh, we love, we live. We run our course. We die. We stand as part of history, like a stately old building. This is all historic!
However, sometimes we don’t feel grandly historic, like a stately old building, standing graciously in our space. We don’t feel part of a grand plan in life, especially in these continuing pandemic days. We may simply feel lost, despairing, worn out, sick and tired – maligned. I am reminded of the suffering and exasperated Job, who after much misfortune and illness, queries his God: “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every minute?” (Job 7:17-18). In other words, “Really, God?” Is this all there is?” Job challenges God.
Let us not forget: no less historic, and amazingly miraculous, sacredly historic, even, is that we are created by God and honored as God’s beloved children – yes, honored. As the psalmist writes: “What are human beings, mortals that you care for them? Yet, you have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Ps 8:4-5). Did you know your very creation and existence is an honor from God and honored by God?
Yes, God cares for us! Yes, God created us and honors us as God’s beloved children. We are the pride and joy of our Creator. We are God’s historic human edifices! For that very thing, we need to glorify God in everything we do. As we stand tall or short, slender or stout, crumbling or bursting with new life, we are beloved to God.
As we approach this Fifth Sunday in Lent, we recall Jesus’ speaking of God’s glorification through Jesus’ very existence, death and resurrection. Let us remember Jesus’ words in John 12:23: “And Jesus answered them, “‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”’ Jesus’ historicity is about to be established in the world.
Jesus then speaks specifically of his coming death to his Heavenly Parent, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘“Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven and said, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (12:27-29)
We, too, search for our purpose in God’s sight, and though perhaps not as evident as Jesus’ purpose, we do have one. As we lean-in to our own historicity, how about instead of saying “I’m getting old” we say, “I’m becoming historic?” Perhaps, in that way, we can honor God in return and live in to our historicity, with grace, laughter and love. May it be so.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 12, 2021
Beneath the Snow
Many grew up being taught that it is our responsibility to care for the needs of animals within our personal purview as best we can, before we tend to our own needs; to aid the least of these, those who depend on us, and especially those who cannot fend for themselves. Before we feed and water ourselves, we feed and water them. So, when we turn off the light at the end of the day, we know we have been good stewards of God’s creatures, as Genesis tells us.
It is important to tend to them when food is scarce, such as winter and before or during a storm. This especially applies to our wild-bird friends. Earlier this winter, during one of our heavier snow storms, I ventured outside to refill the metal suet holder that dangles from a tree in the backyard with one of those bird-ready, seed-coated suet blocks. The snow was coming down pretty good. There was already about seven inches of fluffy, “poor man’s fertilizer” on the ground, but out I went anyway.
I made my way over to the tree and reached up, fitting the block into the holder. When I went to shut the little door that holds the suet in, I realized it was missing. “Drat,” I thought. “This suet is just going to fall out into the snow without that little door.” I started rummaging all around in the white stuff for it in a wide circle beneath the tree.
I spent a good 20 numbing minutes up to the elbows, but to no avail. I never found it. Finally, I said to myself, “Well, I’ll find it when the snow melts.” I hoped the suet would stay in the holder, and left things to the birds to figure out.
The snow has melted. Harbingers of spring are all around: delicate and brave white starflowers; green grass shoots; red buds up high in some trees, bird calls and sunshine. I stood, one day, peering out the window at the tree where the suet holder hangs. As my eyes moved down to the ground, behold, I saw the missing piece! It had been lying on the ground all that time beneath the snow. It had surfaced at last. Gratified, I went out to put it back. All was well.
This discovery, simple and uneventful in the overall scheme of life, sparked some wonderings and wanderings in my soul; this finding of the ‘hoped-for’ after the storm, out from beneath the snow. Might it be seen as a metaphor for this pandemic that has subsumed our living – and the lives of so many? This overspreading of the familiar, concealing our hopes and all we knew in a storm-cloud of loss? This fog of grief.
What hidden gifts might lie beneath the snow of this pandemic, blanketed, yet awaiting re-discovery? What shall we reap after this tempest? Will there be surprises? Affirmations? Miracles? Will we locate the missing piece(s) amidst the flotsam and jetsam of disaster….or will there be things we expect to find that just aren’t there anymore? Things we must let go of forever? When all is said and done (not to be misconstrued as “getting back to normal;” that is no longer an option; more like embracing the new), what shall we reap after this storm?
There are losses, no question. There will be missing pieces, for sure. But, there will also be that which we didn’t expect; renewed revelation at the goodness and mercy of God, who never leaves our side, even though at times, perhaps obscured from our senses, we doubt and long for God’s presence. Surprises will abound!
Just like the missing piece beneath the snow, God’s love will spring up in overwhelming acclimation that we are God’s beloveds. God’s assurances are ever-present, whether beneath the snow, the pandemic, whatever storms come our way. Our Creator tends to us first, keeping us fed and watered during the tempest. Let us embrace this new time and go forward in love and peace. We’re going to find just what we need in the snow-melt of this pandemic; in God’s unconditional love. You can count on it.
WEEKEND OF MARCH 5, 2021
Shutting Off Our Thinkers
So much to think about, so much time! Certainly, the ongoing Great Pandemic of 2020 has given us more opportunity and time to ponder the state of humanity, what the ancient Greeks might call “navel-gazing.” We think about everything under the sun and all manner of possibilities, both concerning and hopeful, probably ad nauseum to ourselves and others. Navel-gazing, or omphaloskepsis, by the way, was a real method of self-absorbed meditation employed by the ancient Greeks. The modern reference has morphed into a description of a way of thinking that is focused exclusively on the self, at the expense of others.*
We think and think as we try to solve the many-layered problems presented by this new way of living in these COVID-19 times, personally and collectively. We think about solutions in our minds, at least, if not in reality. I am reminded of what A. A. Milne’s gentle honey-eating bear named Winnie the Pooh always utters when faced with a problem: “Think, think, think.”
Isn’t it wonderful that we have been given such wonderful brains to do the type of thinking that is our uniquely human attribute? The kinds of brains that can figure out how to crawl, speak wisely to a young child’s confusion, or design a spacecraft capable of landing on Mars! Kowabunga!
Of course, there is productive thinking and non-productive thinking. Productive thinking is creative, calming, inspiring, maybe agitating – many things. Productive thinking ultimately bears some form of fruit; even fruit which is still in the ripening stage. There may not be a concrete solution or outcome, but the process of thinking affords a benefit of some sort. Productive thinking leads us somewhere.
On the other hand, non-productive thinking is the kind of thinking that sets us going in circles. It can confound and lead us nowhere except to being more worried, excited, frustrated, anxious or whatever the case may be. This way of thinking may involve worry about family, job or no job, loss, fear, grief, health, safety, preparation for a presentation, vaccines, and on and on it goes. It is safe to say that most people have experienced times when their ‘thinkers’ just won’t shut off, no matter what they do. It can happen any time whether under duress or surrounding good events, too. For many, it happens in the middle of the night, when things seem more unsure, impossible, perplexing and yes, scary.
If you’ve had it happen to you, you know what I’m taking about: tossing and turning relentlessly until we are forced to resign ourselves to being wide awake, as the non-stop movies continue playing in our heads, most of which are unsolvable anyway. We grab our phone to read the latest newsfeed, blog or music; read a book; maybe turn on the TV. Finally, as the thoughts swim in our heads and it is obvious the solution is not immediately at hand, or is completely out of our hands, we give in and get up, maybe go get something to eat. Our thinkers just won’t shut off!
While these times can be trying, they are also opportunities in and of themselves to welcome the fodder of nighttime wondering which can foster sacred moments of quiet and solitude. Moments of unrest can be a perfect time to cultivate spiritual practices that bring us closer to God; that bring us peace.
Restless times are perfect times for exploring and honing spiritual tools which can relieve the anxiety that accompanies the cycle of overthinking and sleeplessness; to ‘shut off our thinkers.’ Rather than resorting to human distractions, it is helpful to embrace other methods which lessen the alarming-ness of these moments. If we develop a couple of rescue aids for our anxiety and use them, they will become part and parcel of our spiritual and emotional coping mechanisms – an automatic spiritual practice, rather than just more noise in our psyches.
Some of these are as simple as praying silently or aloud, all or part of the Lord’s Prayer; maybe a passage from Psalm 23: “He leadeth me beside still waters; he restoreth my soul;” repeating over and over again, “All shall be well” or “Lord, have mercy.” Choosing a word which is connected to a comforting pastime, such as ‘ocean’ or ‘pasture;’ laying out your flower garden in your head, or imagining a crackling hearthside fire. Imagine sitting with Jesus in front of that fire, giving him respite from his lonesome, wilderness journey; letting his overwhelming love pour over you. Perhaps, you pray together.
The Book of Job, 7:3-5 identifies the plight of the sleepless, suffering Job: “So I am allotted months of futility, and nights of misery are appointed me. When I lie down I think: ‘When will I get up?’ But the night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.”
Psalm 130:5-6, offers this: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
Wait for the Lord; let the Lord’s peace be with you; let the Lord “shut-off your thinker.”
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 26, 2021
Spiritual Grocery Shopping List
How do you shop for groceries these days? Do you choose to go physically to the store or not? Does someone go for you? Are you an on-line shopper with a delivery to your doorstep? Maybe you order on the phone and do curbside pick-up or go to a food bank.
There are lots of options. Isn’t it wonderful that one of the weird side effects of this pandemic nightmare is that in some ways, customer service in the retail realm has improved greatly?
First of all, how grateful we all are if we have the means to shop in any form: the money, the transportation, the time, the ability. And God bless the food banks and co-ops of all shapes and sizes that are working tirelessly to fill the gaping hunger in this land. God bless and keep them and all whom they serve in these desperate and hunger-filled times.
Whatever way you shop, it is helpful to make a list first. Hmmm….let’s see…milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, TP, PT, meat or not, detergent, toothpaste, etc., etc. Then, there are the things that we are finding great comfort in these days - the ‘non-essentials’ – Mounds bars, Pascki donuts, chips, dip – you know what I’m talking about – junk food, not a necessity or good for us, but a treat. Some things besides our bodies and spirits get fed with food.
That said, how do we feed our spirits, not only during Lent, but regularly? Do we make a ‘spiritual shopping list’ of needs? Are we aware of our spiritual needs? Do we do the shopping? Just like the lists we make for bodily sustenance, there may be some things on our spiritual shopping lists that are not good for us (the ‘Mounds bars’ of the spiritual list) or we do not even know are spiritually nutritious (moments of quiet, lighting a candle, etc.). Our spiritual shopping list, if we have one, may range from having no spiritual shopping list at all to one overflowing with entries.
Some things that might be on this list are praying, actually asking God to spend time with you, reading Scripture or other sacred texts and writings, experiencing nature, meditating, lighting candles, exercise – running, walking, other sports, fly-fishing – using natural oils, fasting, sleep (love that one!), listening or making music, reading fiction, dancing, yoga, tai chi or sitting quietly in a favorite spot contemplating the universe. These are all things that help us access our inner selves, as God created us.
These are just some of the spiritual practices which feed the spirit. You may have or find rituals of your own. Though the awareness and act of spiritual feeding may not be an intentional priority, making it intentional proffers gifts from the universe that are not yet visible to us; not yet known or experienced; gifts beyond our wildest imagination – connection with God in new ways. God loves us to connect!
Why have a spiritual shopping list? A grocery list accomplishes the goal of feeding our bodies. The goal of a spiritual shopping list is to help us connect with the spirit of God and our own spirits; to expand our awareness of what our inner being yearns for and isn’t receiving; to feed the aching hunger that material things and substances, like food, alcohol, drugs and ‘stuff,’ do not: the burning grief and hunger for love that leave holes in our psyche: the times when there is no human we can trust or want to trust; the times when we are completely alone…
Spiritual feeding also helps us be more present for God, ourselves and each other. If our own spiritual houses are in order, we are that much more receptive to living the life we are instructed to do as Jesus taught: to love our neighbor as ourselves. We then have fuel for the journey, and enough to share – reserves. Individual and communal spirituality are the lifeblood of a worshiping community.
Spiritual practices are not usually complicated. They are not just for those who study religion, or are authorized ministers. Spiritual practices benefit all and can lead us to fuller, richer, holier lives. Spiritual practices are not spooky or scary; the negative connotation of negative reference to ‘spirits’ in literature, movies and modern culture can often get in the way of the true meaning of life-giving spirit from God – the Holy Spirit.
Awareness, feeding and growth of our spirituality is not a competition. There is no judgment about being more spiritual, less spiritual or spiritual but not religious. There are no requirements. A simple longing to be with God, for that inner peace feeds us and fulfills our place in the world as a spiritual being. Whether very spiritual already or just starting to wonder and learn, the practice of spirituality is a gift which enhances our bodies, minds and you guessed it – our spirits!
We are all God’s children on this spiritual journey, whether we are aware of it or not. Why not bring food for the journey?
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63
“Like newborn infants long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1Peter 2:2-3
P.S. Let us pray for our grocery workers, many of whom have been at the frontlines since the early beginnings of this pandemic, and who now may have been bounced to the back of the vaccination line in CT, along with others.
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 19, 2021
Did you know that tulips, when cut and put in a vase, continue to grow, even though they are no longer part of the bulb that gestated the stem, the leaves and the flower? Sure enough, if you buy or cut your own tulips, stick them in a vase with some water and watch them over a few days, you will see how they bend gracefully as their stems elongate. This beautiful tulip ballet takes place right before our eyes, though we might only notice it upon closer inspection. Supposedly, they can grow up to six inches while in water.
This profound miracle of nature doesn’t seem quite believable, but it is the truth. A general perusal of several websites explains that this phenomenon is attributed to something called “auxin,” which is a hormone in tulips that promotes this magical growth. It also is the catalyst for phototropism, the process in which plants grow in the direction of a light source.*
It doesn’t seem logical that tulips can continue to grow, even when cut off from their main source of nourishment, but they do. However, they don’t grow indefinitely. Supposedly, they can grow up to six inches while a cut flower. Then, like all things disconnected from their source of life, they die.
Sometimes humans can be fooled into thinking that we, too, can continue to survive and grow indefinitely without being connected to our main source of life – God. However, like tulips, we can only last so long - metaphorically, six inches worth – until we wilt and die from lack of sustenance.
Wilted tulip blossoms fade, wither and die, literally. Wilted ‘people blossoms’ will fade, wither and die spiritually, and sometimes, literally, when cut off from God. Though we may feel as though we can handle this distance from our Creator, in reality, our spirits grow weak and tired; our spiritual ‘stems’ grow limp.
The burdens of earthly life become more than we can bear. We search for relief in all the wrong places: things, wealth, greed, power, addiction of all sorts. The fleeting sense of satisfaction which tempts us at the time may seem right, but in the end, it is an empty vase, with not even a drop of water. No matter how one might try, tulip stems can’t be reconnected to the bulb they were cut from. Despite taping, gluing or stapling it to its mother bulb, no tulip is going to keep growing.
However, our deep spiritual connection to our Mother Ship is not that easily defeated. Our bodies are created from the cosmic stuff of the cosmos, just like tulips. What is different is that humans have spirits, born on the breath of God, blown upon and into us. It is life – ruach, in Hebrew. It is resilient. Our stems may be hanging by a thread, but never disconnected completely from God. They cannot be. We are God’s and God’s alone. We still have a chance to keep going – and keep growing.
People, we must never forget that we can recharge our wilting spirits even when the conscious thought of God is buried under the entrapments of our earthly life; when we are lost in a wilderness, consciously or unconsciously wandering; spiritually or physically depleted, or both; at the end of our ropes. We may forget God, but God never forgets us. Unlike the wilted tulips, we can still grow.
This is especially important to remember during this time of Lenten repentance, and always. God’s forgiveness is an ever-gushing source of life.
“I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
Just look what God is about to do…a new thing! By Easter, we will have received that message again. Prepare to keep growing; for new life - fresh water - the living water. Amen.
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 12, 2021
A Change …
… has begun …in the light…and the birdsong. Yes, it is happening. A subtle movement towards spring is afoot. Spring? Yes, spring! As far back as a month or so, the plaintive sound of a tufted titmouse’s mating call wafted in on the breeze. Other bird friends are making their spring songs known, too. Spring, Lent, Easter – they are on their way. The first official day of Spring is March 20…only 37 days!
There is a difference in the intensity and brightness of the light. The grapevine reveals that new lambs are being born on Main Street – two sets of quadruplets, even! In spite of the heavy snowfall, and more to come, the harbingers of spring are decorating our doorsteps with hope!
Along with seasonal hope, there is another phenomenon happening all around us – a perceptible lightening of mood that has sprung up in those who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations. Though many have yet to receive this blessing, there seems to be an expectation in the air of better days to come. Let us be grateful to the creators, distributors and dispensers.
Surely, we are much better off than we were last February at this time. Little did we know that we would be exiled from our place of worship for going on a year now; that our lives would be so devastatingly impacted. And that so many would be lost. May they rest in God’s peace. This somber sky still hovers over us despite the arrival of the vaccine. Though we must continue to mask, distance and sanitize, the step is a little lighter; a future is a little more visible; there is a ray of hope.
What a different perspective we have now as compared to last year! How do we navigate this both-and of expectancy and loss? How do we honor the grief and still carry the birdsong of spring in our hearts? It is one of the challenges and mysteries of life.
Ecclesiastes tells us: “To everything there is a season.” We are meant to be born, and to die; to laugh and to cry, to honor the purpose in every phase of life, no matter our inability to understand or change that which is out of our control – and that is mostly everything, despite our staunch belief we humans are at the helm! Hope in all seasons of life can sometimes feel out of reach. Hope is a word we need more than ever.
Every year, Lake Superior State University makes a list of words/phrases called the “Banned” list that the ‘deemers’ deem subject to “Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” The intended consequence is that they should be ‘banned’ from the English language. W.T. Rabe of the University began this exercise in 1975 at a New Year’s Eve party, so much of this is probably tongue-in-cheek, fun, but relevant.*
Here are this year’s top ten words starting with #1: “COVID-19” and all related-abbreviations; social distancing (Oh yeah!); We’re all in this together; In an abundance of caution; In these uncertain times; pivot; unprecedented; Karen (had to look that one up); Sus (that one too) and ta-daa: “I know, right?”**
Of course, a top ten list of overused or misused words can be amended and amended and amended. Here are a few more that come to mind: ‘iconic’ (#1 in my opinion!), ‘beloved;’ ‘Zoom;’ ‘quid pro quo;’ ‘normal;’ and “absolutely.” Of course, I am guilty of using many of these words out of habit or need, but the one I REFUSE to use is ‘iconic!’
Thankfully, the word hope, and all things related to hope, aren’t on a banned list, nor should they ever be. We need hope! We must enact hope. We must hope for hope. And, to quote Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Let us continue to gratefully receive the harbingers of spring and the harbingers of hope; to seek and pursue the word in all its forms, meanings and effects. Most of all, let us place all our hope in God, who is and was and ever shall be, our One and Only Hope. Amen.
Alright…one more time…hahaha…
WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 5, 2021
Blinded By the Light*
The combination of pristine, white snow covering the ground, the brightly beaming sunshine reflecting off of it, can be hard on the eyes; blinding, in fact. The usual reflex is to blink repeatedly and turn away, as our vision adjusts.
Brilliant sun broke through the wintry cloud cover for a few minutes this morning, launching my eyes into a split-second of that snow blindness. Then the sun receded once again behind the clouds. How lovely to catch a glimpse of that golden orb after several days of stormy and cloudy skies!
I was struck by the combination of emotions which accompanied this bursting of vivid light: elation at the sight of the blue sky and sunshine; the surprise of being taken aback by such brilliance, avoiding looking directly at the snow, which reflected that brilliance, yet being drawn to it again and again – a mixture of joy, challenge, a little uncertainty, caution, and again, joy – blinded by the light.
This Sunday, February 7th, is the last Sunday of Epiphany – the season of light in the liturgical Christian calendar when it is revealed that God is made manifest in the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us. This ends the celebration of the Magi having located where Jesus lay after their treacherous and almost-disastrous encounter with Herod. They deposited their gifts, offered their praise and went home by another road in secrecy and jubilation.
The Magi might have experienced a similar roller-coaster of feelings, as they asked questions and directions, spotted the pulsating star and ultimately arrived at the site of the Holy Babe’s birth: joy at the good news, uncertainty and challenge at the task, then caution and again, hope and amazement - the brilliance of it all – blinded by the light.
The season of Epiphany may come to its conclusion on the liturgical calendar, but this theme of blazing light will remain prominent in the scriptures. Next Sunday, February 14th is Transfiguration Sunday. This is the commemoration of Jesus ascending to the top of a mountain (Mount Hermon) with Peter, James and John, as described in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
There, Jesus is suddenly and brilliantly “transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Gotta love that clever literary tool which points out the inferiority of ‘earthly-launderers’ to come anywhere close to ‘bright-white,’ and then lifts us up again to the transcendence of Jesus, who can brighten like no one before or after Him!). We are mere earthly beings who could never possibly whiten garments such as Jesus’ – now that is a bleach commercial if ever there was one! Clorox should change their name to “Transfigured!” (Wasn’t there a bleach called “Dazzle” once???).
Moses and Elijah make their appearances, then a voice booms from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah are gone, and the disciples stand, with the countenance of Jesus still before them. Scripture tells us they didn’t know what to say, “for they were terrified,” - struck dumb by this holy light show! Blinded by the light.
In the Gospel of Mark, this event follows on the heels of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, which is barreling along at full bore after calling the first disciples. Before and after this Sunday’s scripture where he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, on through the many healings and miracles, including but not limited to Jesus walking on water and the feeding of the thousands, the amazing stories abound. Many are blinded by the light; astounded, excited, frightened, doubtful, mouth-droppingly astonished – hopeful.
So, you see, just as Jesus came to earth in the light of a brilliant star, so too does his ministry evolve in a dazzling succession of acts and messages to humankind, specifically his call to us to, “Follow me.” There are choices to be made by all of us as the dust settles (if you can call it that – maybe it is stirred up!) after Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Hermon. But, the brilliant light continues.
At times, this dazzling light may seem to waver or appear faint in the shadow of Jesus’ persecutions and trials. The call to follow him continues. We enter the Lenten time of repentance and discernment on February 17th. Wouldn’t it seem that now, more than ever, we must grasp with everything we’ve got, the unfathomable and disruptive love of Christ in and for the world? That every ounce of our beings be dedicated, avowed, committed to enacting love in this world?
Doesn’t it seem absolutely right that we, in this 21st century, are bowled-over once again with mouth-dropping amazement at God’s love for us? Despite all the darkness that surrounds, the imperative is that we touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, in faith, and pray for healing; for us and the world. Isn’t it simply a no-brainer that we become blinded by the light – again and again and again – until we get it right! Amen!
*Reference to the phrase/song-title: Blinded By The Light. Bruce Springsteen. Columbia Records. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Released 1973.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 31, 2021
The Sign of the Covenant
New Revised Standard Version
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19 God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22 And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; 27 and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
The Covenantal Life – Has It Been Forgotten?
Covenantal relationship is the basis for our ministry together in the United Church of Christ. Article III of the UCC Constitution reads: “Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the Church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole Church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission…”*
Though covenant is a basic tenet of our denomination and biblical grounding, it seems as though it is forgotten. How often do you hear anyone say within the church community, ‘This is the covenant between us” or, “We are all covenanted with God to do God’s work in the world;” Another thought might be, “Oops, we’ve forgotten our covenantal and covenanting relationship!” Using the word and knowing what it means is vital. It is time to reclaim ‘covenant’ within the body of Christ; the church.
The Old Testament is loaded with covenants offered by God to Abraham, Noah and others. For instance, in Genesis 17, God tells Abram (soon to be Abraham – his new ‘covenantal’ name), that he will be “exceedingly fruitful,” fathering nations and kings. God also promises Abraham that 90-year-old Sarai (now Sarah), will bear a son! This covenant requires Abraham to be righteous and follow God’s ways, including the circumcision of all males. Abraham obeys.
What is covenant? Unlike a contract, someone promises to do something not because they have to, or are being paid in a pre-meditated benefit, but in a way that is gift and grace, promise and oath; because they can and will, freely. Covenants are agreements made with boundaries of love and spirituality, unlike other kinds of agreements, such as contracts. Covenants are promises.
Covenant and covenantal relationship require keeping promises, committing, living out faith and works between everybody, resulting in love. ‘Everybody’ is subject to the church’s covenant between God and us, with Jesus at the head of the Christian faith. It includes covenant with each other, our denomination (the United Church of Christ), neighbors, community and the world.
Coming from a place of covenant creates an atmosphere of kindness and compassion, honor and respect, consideration and awe of God’s work within us and the world. Open hearts, minds and spirits allow God’s covenantal work to take place between all parties. The results are spiritual growth in the Lord and within ourselves and fruitfulness in the world. Covenant should feel good, unlike other behaviors. Covenant isn’t always easy. But, it is always beautiful. God’s words from Genesis like, “between me and you” and “with you,” are assuring and sweet with future.
Scripture such as Genesis 17 certainly brings the word ‘covenant’ into focus, ‘Covenant’ is used four times in the first seven verses. Beyond verse 16, ‘covenant’ appears nine more times. Typically, repetition in the Hebrew Bible is a signal to pay close attention to the meaning behind the repeated word or phrase. Take a moment to read it over and count…are we paying attention yet?
Abraham and God covenant to accomplish God’s work on earth based on God’s leadership and Abraham’s trust in his Creator (Trumpets blaring!). They join in covenantal relationship, a two-way street. Though, rightly so, God’s street is on much higher ground. Sweet, sweet, covenant. Might we remember covenant and do the same?
Let us re-remember covenant and become re-educated about what it truly means. Let us continue to be brave, like Abraham and Sarah, falling flat on our face, astounded and amazed at God’s promises. Let us renew true covenantal relationship on every level, that two-way street, rather than follow that one-way street which can tear down and destroy. May we remember and re-enact our covenantal relationships with God and each other; as individuals and, as the Body of Christ.
“Between you and me,” as God says in Genesis 17; it’s the only way to go.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 22, 2021
There Is A Tree Across the Way
There is a tree across the way. Writhed and twisted, it stands to the southwest of here, a dark countenance rising up stoically still from the naked winter pastures and fallen trunks; the wizened briars and dried grass windrows that know time as it passes. Surely, it has stood for a hundred or two years. Its trunk tells that story.
Though not a close friend, it is one of many arboreals that dot the landscape, a distance from the river, but close enough to be called ‘near’ the river. I did not make its acquaintance until this year – this God-awful, unraveling and impossibly possible year. I do believe it found me - not me, it.
This tree is not one that would be noticed for its spectacular foliage or blooms anymore, though it once may have worn that crown. Surely, I never noticed it in the days of summer fruitfulness. Rather, the scourged trunk stands out in its stark blackness against any sky – billowy blue or fading evening. As a matter of fact, that is when it made itself known to me, silhouetted against the molten canary satin and strawberry bedclothes of the setting November sun. That sunset took my breath away.
Already in awe of the scene before me, I was suddenly startled by that singular, stark silhouette, rearing up from the landscape; two long, sinewy ‘arms’ arched fully out and down, elongated woody fingers sweeping the earth. The tree appeared to be gracefully straining to embrace its surroundings; posed in a holy invitation for all to come within its sphere.
The sun and sky continued their dramatic dance. The light changed. The form darkened. There was a sense of things slipping away, yet things moving closer. At once, the arms and trunk bespoke their purpose in the night: “I am The Tree.” The Tree.
Shadows lengthened. The outline of the head and neck-shaped zenith of the tree’s peak remained upright and sure; or, did it? In the deepening shadows, was the neck bent with its head drooping in the throes of death between those weary
arms? Bowed down in righteous suffering, calling in the night? Were there tears flowing in the dark for me, for all of us? Was this Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” with hands outstretched in compassion rather than hands clutching the head in agony? Which way, O Lord, which way?
The Tree beckons. The Tree assures. The Tree is there always. The Tree brings us closer to God and sustains us in our despair. The Tree, though its surroundings are fickle and unsure, is a certain promise on the landscape of our souls.
When darkness falls and worry beckons, invite The Tree into your heart. Watch it become the dominant silhouette in the darkness, as it was on the hill at Calvary. Take in the fading light and the brilliance to come. Wonder, “Is the head drooping in sorrow and pain, or lifted up in light in love?” Is it not both? Let the soothing balm of its promise pour over you in your times of grief and joy.
Somewhere, just as The Tree stands across the way, it also stands in the landscape of your heart and soul. No matter the time of day, it is always there, light or dark, stormy or calm; steadfast and true – the Resurrection Tree. Hold fast to it.
Weekend of January 15, 2021
When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit and the leadership of our Church had to make the decision to temporarily discontinue use of the building on March 12, 2020, the decision was difficult and came with much uncertainty. Ten months later here we are, along with many other worshipping bodies, still unable to resume in-person worship. It is an unhappy but necessary reality.
Along with that decision, came many challenges for ministers. One of the major ones was, and still is, being unable to provide in-person pastoral care to those in need. Not being able to stand vigil by an ill or dying person’s bedside, hold someone’s hand, give a supportive hug, dry someone’s tears or just sit together is a painful thing for a pastor. It is the key tenet of care for others and how many pastors and congregants are fed spiritually. Much sacred ground is shared in those moments.
A facet of this pastoral care at First Congregational Church of South Windsor has been Wednesday morning drop-in hours over the past four and one-half years. This was a time to visit the pastor without an appointment. Wednesday morning drop-ins were always such a joy for me as your Pastor because the potpourri of people who stopped by offered a wonderful opportunity to catch up on a casual basis. Folks wandered in and out of the church going about their business. Some visits were intentional; some spontaneous.
COVID-19 arrived and changed everything. Ministers had to scramble and become creative to continue pastoral care in new ways. One of the new ways this minister came up with was to offer a Wednesday morning on-line hour called “Chapel Chat” from 9 to 10 A.M., along with creating a volunteer “Care Team” headed by Moderator Terry Belknap to minister by phone, packet deliveries, etc., to those who cannot or prefer not to take advantage of on-line worship.
I would like to update the congregation on what a rich and meaningful time Chapel Chat has turned out to be for all of us, if I may speak for those who attend. A few have mentioned how much they look forward to this time every week to ‘see’ fellow members and friends. New folks arrive looking for connection. The flow of visitors, along with the solid core-of ‘every-weekers,’ is fun.
When we first started this COVID journey, the Chapel Chat time was basically a check-in time to catch up on how people were coping, feeling and understanding this pandemic and its effects. Then, as the Holy Spirit tends to inspire, gradually our conversations have morphed into something unexpected and uplifting.
Along with a basic show and tell about our previous weeks, we pray together, read and connect with scripture and its relevance to daily experiences, tell funny or poignant stories, hear about friends and family in distress, discuss how our relationship with God has been affected by this time of duress, hear excerpts from various spiritual and secular writers and even sometimes have a story read aloud.
This combination of participants being willing to share personal feelings and thoughts, fears and sorrows, and joys and griefs in a safe and respectful place has offered spiritual nourishment and deeply relational connection beyond what the name “Chapel Chat” implies.
What a joy it is to see those faces pop up on Zoom, and see the reactions of all of us as we share this stimulating and sustaining time together. So, if you have been wondering what Chapel Chat is all about, come find out! It is more than a ‘chat.’ It is human relationship with God and each other in the time of COVID.
It would be lovely for your fellow members and friends to have more of you visit during this special time if you are able. All are invited! If you are unable to do so, please know you are prayed for and held close by this group, as is all of our congregation.
On another note, we all must pray without ceasing for God to be placed above all else; for an end to violent unrest; that peace may come to this country and the world, for COVID to be harnessed, and that love wins.
WEEKEND OF JANUARY 08, 2021
Changing The Station
Recently overcome by nostalgia, I purchased a “new” vintage radio/CD player, designed like an old car dashboard; the kind where you had to turn dials to get a station (called a ‘site’ now), not push buttons or digital indicators, or, give it a voice command. The needle points to the numbers on the display. I know – pretty sad, right? Is this a regression? It’s the 21st century! The 21st year of the 21st century, in fact! (For any of you who are truly bemoaning any lack of sophistication, it does have Bluetooth capability!).
Well. The first time I hunted for a favorite station on this ‘device,’ I was a little annoyed and thought maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all. I realized I had to pay attention. It took patience; something not in great abundance these days. To my dislike, the needle didn’t line up exactly where it should have to the station numbers. Finally, turning the knob v-e-r-y slowly, I zeroed in on my target. A jiggle here; a jiggle there and voila, there it was! The goal was reached…my favorite music broadcast. It just took a little longer and required a bit more focus. Efficiency and new ways were traded for nostalgia; some harmless comfort, no less, but food for thought.
It might be that this simple little exercise carries some hidden wisdom below the surface; a metaphor for obtaining balance in life, in particular, church life. There is nothing wrong with reaching back with heart and mind to days gone by. Even preserving, yes, definitely preserving history, artifacts, old ways. It is meaningful to revere that which has gone on before, as long as it doesn’t render one ‘stuck’ in the past, or obscure the new path ahead. There is power in changing the station.
A balance must be reached. Life is about balance, as much as possible, although we have all been struggling to keep our footing during these truly uncertain and upside-down times. Between the pandemic and civic unrest alone, we’ve been knocked for a loop – bigtime. It seems balance is a precious commodity.
Bravely, we have adapted on many levels because there is no choice. This forced adaptation has brought new things we can see and will bring that which we cannot see. Think about what possibilities lie ahead, if we but intentionally focus on willingly adapting beyond what we have already been forced to do; really stretching the fabric of our beings to welcome even greater newness, while holding the nostalgic dear. Changing the station.
The unknown can be frightening, but it can also be thrilling and invigorating…just like the push it takes to accomplish a new thing: finish a race, try a new hymn, worship on Zoom (really?), envisioning the role this church can play out there in a staggeringly suffering world not just within the walls of our building! How can we shape who we are now into how we become the requisite church of the future; support the way we feel called by God to be in the world as a church first, which will then feed this church. What is God calling this church to be in the midst of this chaos?
“Really?” one might ask. “We are already stretched dealing with this pandemic: energy-wise, people-wise, financially, and whatever other things we can come up with. How can we possibly change more, or do more?” Yes, it seems impossible; not even desirable. Maybe it isn’t doing more, but changing the station. Doing things differently. It would be wise to ponder these things while we wait out the storm.
As a member of this church over the next few months, invite yourself to diligently and seriously pray over these questions: What does God mean to me, or not? What does Jesus mean to me, or not? What does God-in-the world mean to me, being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ? What do I put first? What do we hold dear as a congregation? What inspires us? What can we do without? What might we try? What gifts might arrive when we clear the “but we’ve always done it this way” path and embrace the “let’s try this new way” path? Am I willing to truly embrace new possibilities? To embrace the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the storm, which shall someday be calm.
Ponder the unknown gifts that may lie just beyond our reach – not for us first, but for our calling as a church in the world. Then, yes, gifts from the universe will arrive for our church, too. Ponder changing the station, to listen for that newness, while enjoying the time spent finding it.
Friends, I exhort you. Let us stretch ourselves to look beyond the here and now to the unknown so pregnant with possibilities. Let us change the station together, in unity and love. Let us tune in God’s radio waves loud and clear…let us strain with all our beings to hear that message…that heavenly music of the Holy Spirit which will lead us to our destiny if we only listen. Let us engage in changing the station together in this 21st year of the 21st century! Ready, set go, start your engines! (and don’t forget to tune your radios, no matter what ‘vintage’ they are!).
Christmas Week, 2020
Happy Christmas Week To You All!
There are many ways to offer greetings of the season: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! God bless us, everyone! Have a Holly Jolly Christmas! God Rest Ye Merry Everyone! You get the picture – you can come up with some of your own.
It could be said that the Angel Gabriel offered the first greeting of Christmas when he announced to Mary that she would bear God’s gift to the world, the Christ Child. In the Gospel of Luke, New Revised Standard Version, Gabriel says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Then, “Do not be afraid, Mary…” and goes on to disclose the great surprise. In Matthew, Joseph gets the tidings (a little more patriarchal!).
I like what the late Eugene Peterson wrote in his translation of the Bible, The Message. His version of Angel Gabriel’s greeting goes like this: “Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.” Isn’t that just the loveliest?
Friends, please remember that you are all beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! Though it may be something we don’t think about that often, we are created in God’s image – with God’s beautiful intentions for us. Each and everyone of us is a work of art in God’s cosmos.
It is good to recall this; not in a self-centered sort of way, but in a way that is healing, soothing and encouraging. For, if we can see ourselves in that light, no matter what our quality of life or our abilities, we reflect that image of inner beauty to all we meet and to the world. Recognizing that quality in others is mirrored from us to them to God and back again.
Why don’t we acknowledge our goodness in the world this Christmas? It honors God’s gift of life to us. It honors all of creation. It honors the Christ Child who comes to lift goodness up and overpower evil. Perhaps the best Christmas greeting you could give is one to yourself, with all the beauty it holds for the betterment of each other, as the energy of that beautiful affirmation radiates throughout our souls and the souls in and of the world.
Speaking of the world, by the time you read this, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will have ‘conjuncted;’ that is, it is the first time they will have passed each other so closely while visible to the human eye in about 800 years. What a cosmic event!
It is said that this type of visible conjunction may have been what appeared to the shepherds, watchers and all of Earth’s unsuspecting humanity as a Christmas ‘star’ on the night Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago. Though these two planets do not actually touch each other (still remaining eons apart), when they cross each other’s paths, it looks like one brilliant and mysterious star-message from heaven!
Please know that as this portentous and highly unique event unfolded, I will have hopefully been outside viewing it (if it was clear!), while praying for all of you, for healing, the end to suffering, an end to hatred and all ills that humanity afflicts upon itself and are afflicted upon humanity. I will have prayed especially for this planet Earth and the Universe God has created and that there may truly be, someday, peace on earth and good will towards all.
In the meantime, we continue to miss all of you who cannot join us on Zoom. May you enjoy yourselves as best you can and give thanks for all blessings, in whatever form they come. May you revel in yet another Christmas-tide, and find peace despite life’s crushing blows. May God’s beauty shine through on Christmas Day, and all days! Amen.
JOY TO THE WORLD! FEAR NOT! CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO! HAPPY NEW YEAR!
PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT EXPECT CARE TEAM PACKETS FOR THE WEEKS OF DECEMBER 27TH AND JANUARY 3RD. Dedicated church staff and volunteers will be receiving a much-needed break from worship service preparations for those two Sundays.
The congregation will be treated to two recorded services developed by the SNEUCC and the national UCC for the purposes of providing this respite on December 27th and January 3rd, respectively. Links will be sent out via email blast as the times draw near. January 3rd service will include Holy Communion. Live Zoom worship and Care Team Packets will resume for Sunday, January 10, 2020 at 10:00, when we will greet the New Year.
Yours truly will be on break following the Christmas Eve service through January 4th. For any true emergencies or pastoral concerns, please call the Church Office at 860-528-7992 and you will receive instructions on how to contact our Deacon Chair, Lauren Horsfield, so she can respond appropriately.
Carrie, our Administrative Assistant, will be off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of course. The following week, continued remote coverage of the office will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, December 29 through Thursday, December 31 and closed New Year’s Day.
Thank you to the Trustees and all of you for caring for your Team!
Weekend of December 18, 2020
On The Brink
Yes…with almost a year of pandemic living, it may seem we are on the brink...of dealing with even more suffering, loss and pandemic punishment. On the brink of being more disheartened, frustrated and at a loss for words to describe the experiences we have all been sharing. On the brink of not being sure where we are headed in this season of deep darkness.
Being ‘on the brink’ typically means teetering at the edge of pending disaster; on the verge of falling off the metaphorical cliff, so to speak. Here’s a thought: what if we took the phrase, ‘on the brink,’ and thought of it as being about to experience something wonderful and miraculous, rather than something terrible…on the brink of receiving goodness and mercy, peace, love and joy?
This Fourth Sunday of Advent, we may still be teetering on the brink of a lot of things unknown. Yet, there is one thing that is not unknown. It is the knowledge that come one week from the day I am writing this, the Christian world will be reminded that we are no longer on the brink, in spite of what our current circumstances seem to indicate.
We shall be gratefully and joyfully on the brink of welcoming the birth of the Christ Child, and all the glory that surrounds the arrival of the Son of God incarnate on earth; the divine and human being who gave up the glory of remaining in the divine realm to join humanity in its struggles and suffering; on the brink of salvation, redemption and hope.
This march through the four weeks of Advent allows us the opportunity to relive what it must have been like for those who resided in the darkness of the world prior to the coming of Christ; the same, but different, uncertainty, fear and wondering of what was to become of the world, for it surely seemed to be in trouble then, as it does now.
The oppressive Roman government ruled with force and terror. Taxation was heavy. Conquered lands and peoples were forced to be allegiant. Slavery was rampant and the empire was built and maintained on the backs of those slaves and the poor. The wealthy grew wealthier, and the poor grew poorer. The sick got sicker, the lonely got lonelier and the weak got weaker. Perhaps it seemed there was no hope. Perhaps they felt they were on the brink of permanent darkness.
Friends, let us look to the promise of Christmas to remind us that the darkness is not permanent. Though there is still struggle, sickness, poverty and oppressive governance in the world, there is also hope. Hope in the Light of the World for whom John the Baptist prepared the way, and for whom we are to prepare the way.
Let us throw off the shields of fear and want and put on the armor of God, as we commemorate the birthday of Jesus. Let us receive the gift as we are meant to do; with hearts full, fears released and faith unleashed; arms open wide to welcome that which is the greatest gift to humankind in history.
Let us recognize that we are to prepare now, at this moment, to receive and love, with all our heart and all our soul and all our might, Emmanuel - God with us. Let us trust that, yes, we are surely ‘on the brink’…of rejoicing in the most miraculous gift ever given! Amen!
WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 11, 2020
Shout for Joy! (Or, You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!)
The United Church of Christ’s theme for the Third Sunday of Advent is Shouts of Joy. The lectionary selections featured in the bulletin today lean towards a more positive bent following the despairing, then somewhat hopeful, readings of the First and Second Sundays’ titles of Where Are You God? and Messengers of Hope.
This joy is also a reflection of Gaudette Sunday, or Laetare Sunday. Gaudete in Latin means, ‘rejoice.’ Laetare Sunday signifies movement towards the light; a ‘lightening up’ of the darkness of Advent as we approach Christmas. The lighter pink or rose-colored candle of joy we light Sunday is a symbol of these ideas.
The phrase Shouts of Joy may seem peculiar as we continue towards the darker days of Advent, winter and a prolonged pandemic. Shouting for joy is something that, right about now, sounds alien. “Shout for joy? Why? I am still burdened, exhausted, worried, uncertain and grumpy (out of work, quarantined, grieving, and so on). It’s Christmastime and I don’t feel one bit Christmas-y. Shout for joy? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
According to on-line etymologies, the phrase ‘to kid somebody’ supposedly derives from treating someone jokingly, to look down on them as child-like; as though they wouldn’t understand; treating them like they are a kid. In other words, in a sarcastic and derogatory manner. Certainly, when we say, “You’ve got to be kidding me” it has those overtones.
We are not the only ones in history to be feeling ‘kidd-ed.’ Perhaps Mary and Joseph thought God was kidding them, too, when God said they were going to be the parents of God’s son. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” they might have exclaimed. Then, when they had to trek to Bethlehem for the census: “Really, Joseph? I’m about to have this baby! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Mary may have exclaimed. In return, maybe Joseph said, “I get it. I’m flabbergasted, too. You’ve got to be kidding me!” The circumstances are, in some dramatic/comedic way so ridiculous, they are laughable and cry-able at the same time.
Circumstances surrounding our current plight reverberate for us in similar ways. Getting through the simplest tasks can seem monumental. People are dying by the hundreds of thousands. Folks are afraid to eat out or hug a family member. No Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings? No church? No singing? We might rather shout, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Certainly, none of us is faced with the daunting task Mary or Joseph had before them. Definitely, we are not shepherding the literal birth of the Christ child. But, let’s stop and think for a minute. What we are being asked to do is to shepherd His metaphorical re-birth and ultimately, do what Mary and Joseph and the whole world eventually did: shout for joy! Rejoice! “Look, Joseph. He is fair and mild. Yes, Mary, the King of Peace. It was all worth it!” Rejoice!
Yes, friends. Our task is to re-birth and welcome this child in the midst of a pandemic, the likes of which no one has witnessed in a hundred years! Our task is to be the Mary’s and Josephs of 2020, clearing our hearts no matter what, to receive Jesus in even greater earnest than 2000 years ago. Just as the pains of the world in those times were excruciating, the pains of the world in our times will bind us together as we experience the labor of birth together. A birthing that is a re-birthing.
Our task; no, our faithful response to God, is to shout for joy, no matter what! Light that pink candle of joy! For, Jesus is coming, no matter what! God’s not kidding you! Amen.
With deafening shouts of joy,
DECEMBER 4, 2020
Feeding The Spirit
Spiritual practice is an important dimension of growing our faith and being church. Just like other practices, medical or law practice, basketball practice or practicing the piano, spirituality takes practice, too. Toddlers practice walking and teens practice pushing back on boundaries. Learning about things takes practice. Our spiritual well-being and growth takes practice.
A question might be, “How do you practice spirituality? Isn’t it a feeling or experience, not a tangible thing to be practiced?” Well, yes and no. Actually, all of the above. And, another question often asked is, “What is spirituality, anyway? Don’t you have to be involved in the religious life to be spiritual – like a minister, rabbi or imam? Isn’t it a mystical or ‘come to Jesus moment’ that is a revelation – it only happens to certain people?”
According to on-line definitions, ‘spiritual’ means “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; relating to or religion or religious beliefs.” So, the spiritual is accessible via practices, some of which we call religious.
Interestingly, some scholars believe the word religion evolved from the Latin root word ‘ligare’ which is also the root of ‘ligament’ – “to bind.” “Re-ligare, therefore, would mean to bind us again, perhaps in a ritualistic manner, or in meaningful practices.”*
The ligaments of our body connect bones to other bones. Religion connects souls to other souls through spiritual beliefs and practices. Thus, we become the body of Christ - church. What a powerful metaphor! God’s children are already bound to God – God created us. Therefore, if we are connected to each other through our religion and spirituality, we are re-connected, re-bound and hopefully, stay connected, to God and each other.
A saying often heard in the past couple of decades is the statement, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Whatever someone’s preference and/or definition of that is, the question then becomes, “How do you practice that? Do you practice that?” It isn’t necessarily about what you believe, but how you practice it; how is your belief (or non-belief) given the chance to grow within your heart and spirit, so that it feeds you and others, connecting you and them to the Divine?
One of the Christian traditions in Advent is to read a devotion based on Holy Scripture every day to deepen our connection with God, the impending birth of God’s Son, and all the surrounding darkness that descends, only to burst forth on Christmas morning in the light that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
Each week of Advent, you are receiving either via email or hard copy, a set of seven daily devotional readings published by The Presbyterian Outlook and purchased by the church for your reading pleasure and reflection. I encourage you if you have not already, to set aside a time each day to read them. This, friends, is a spiritual practice. There will probably not be any singing angels, banging gongs or bright stars that appear, but who knows? There isn’t anything wild or exotic about it, but it could be revelatory! You may find you are more spiritual than you realized, after all, and just didn’t know it!
Don’t feel like you have the time or interest in this or any spiritual practice? A wise thing to do is to schedule it on your calendar. Give it a space in your life that you commit to every day, just like tennis practice, working out, making sure you watch your favorite news or TV show, getting the kids ready for school or an appointment with your doctor. Read it with your morning coffee, at the end of the day before bed or maybe at the dinner table aloud.
Some of you may already take part in certain practices to celebrate Advent. Some of you may not. If you have never before read a devotional, you may be pleasantly surprised at the respite it gives your soul, the stimulation it gives your mind and the questions, reassurances, and longings that might come up that you can ponder and discuss with others. Then you can graduate to devotionals for other seasons, like Lent, and all year through!
We are created as relational beings. It is good to nurture your connection with your spirit and the Divine during this Advent season and always. Even though we may not like to admit it, we are all spiritual beings, because we come from God.
Spiritually and religiously,
*. February 23, 2013. Accessed December 4, 2020.
“CHRISTMAS UNPLUGGED: LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT”
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS SERVICES OF WORSHIP FOR 2020
(All services will be conducted via Zoom for everyone’s safety)
November 29th, First Sunday in Advent: “Where Are You, God?” – 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
December 6th, Second Sunday in Advent: “Messengers of Hope”
– 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 85:1, 8-13; Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
December 10th, Christmastide Service of Reflection - Christmas Unplugged
- 5 P.M. Zoom
(This is our annual quiet time for everyone who is feeling overwhelmed – or underwhelmed - by the season. That may be all of us this year! Though there is much to grieve, there is also much to lift up in gratitude and hope to God.)
December 13th – Third Sunday in Advent: “Shouts of Joy”
– 10 A.M. Zoom
Psalm 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 20th – Fourth Sunday in Advent: “Birthing A Promise” – 10 A.M. Zoom
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Luke 46b-55
December 24th – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols
– 5 P.M. Zoom
“For Unto Us A Child Is Born”
Guest Musician: Ms. Debbie Vinick, Harpist
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 27, 2020
The First Christmas Wasn’t Any Joyride Either!
It is hard to believe Advent begins this Sunday, November 29th and Thanksgiving, such as it was, is already behind us. One comfort of these crazy COVID pandemic times is that time has flown by as we ride the roller coaster of mutating information and adaptations required to help us cope the best we can.
Current challenging circumstances remain in the forefront of our days. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, changed and are changing every day. Heaps of grief on many levels greet us at every turn, whether we are mourning those unknown to us, loved ones, the loss of a job or every day occurrences, like going out for coffee with friends or attending functions of our choice.
As the economy struggles under the weight of thousands of businesses closing or cutting back, the spectres of hunger and homelessness have been elevated to a national crisis. The sad truth is that hunger and homelessness existed prior to the pandemic, but are now off the charts in the richest country in the world. Even sadder is that it doesn’t have to be that way if food was resourced and distributed properly. These are just a few of the real-time conditions people are facing.
All of this certainly poses the question, “How we are to celebrate a joyful Christmas on this juggernaut of a journey, with its dire predictions of spiking COVID cases and deaths, new restrictions on gathering and general inhibition of the flow of daily life?”
This question, though valid, should kick us in the shins of our Christian biblical and historical sensitivities and memories! It should raise another, perhaps more profound question in our hearts and minds about another “juggernaut of a journey!” “How did Mary and Joseph face making their treacherous journey to Bethlehem under such dire circumstances?”
“Dire?” one might posit. “But, it was the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior! A brilliant star appeared. Angels sang in the heavens and played their harps. Animals, shepherds and kings gathered to pay homage, bringing gifts of all sorts, from humble to high-end. The world was transformed! Now, we put up Christmas trees, sing carols and give each other presents to celebrate. What is so dire about that?” ….pregnant pause….
Let’s think about it: if we ‘zoom’ back in time to the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, things were far from great. Mary, unwed and a teenager, was pregnant, though still a virgin (you can imagine the talk that went around about that!). Joseph, also subjected to societal scorn, almost deserted her, but decided to do the right thing (yay, Joseph!). It wasn’t a good idea to mess around with the Angel Gabriel’s prediction, which had come directly from God, as true as the swelling of Mary’s belly.
All of that said, the Roman Empire, Emperor Augustus, ordered a census to be taken of all citizens. Rome needed to assess how much tax revenue would be forthcoming from their already oppressed citizens. Approximately 70-80 miles between Nazareth and Bethlehem had to be negotiated on foot and donkey in frigid winter temperatures and weather. (Mary was nine months pregnant, no less…picture that ladies, who have experienced the discomfort and urgent calls of pregnancy!). Food was scarce, as were warm clothes. Life was hard.
Then, because of the swarms of census travelers like themselves, Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a room in the house of a relative, which would have been the custom, and ended up in a cave, stable, or underneath the house where livestock were kept; no one really knows for sure. Mary labored. Jesus was born, praise God! But, this was no easy journey to what we now call Christmas.
When we consider the bumps and roadblocks set before us with this pandemic, things can seem insurmountable. Our spirits are tired. We are facing the shorter, darker days of winter and its icy weather, the predictions for a let-up in this pandemic still uncertain. It appears there is more darkness to endure before the light prevails.
How will we celebrate a joyful and light-filled Christmas commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago, when we are dispirited and fearful of what is to come? Sing carols? Put up the holly and greens and lights? No Christmas parties? Limited shopping and gathering? Really? How do we have any Christmas spirit?
Friends, let us remember that those things, as wonderful and traditional as they are, are not what bring us the true Christmas spirit. Though they represent that which make us comfortable, festive and merry in our current traditions, they are not the end-game. They are not the be-all and end-all. Hard, yes. Reality, yes.
When you find yourself feeling at a loss or down, wondering how to be ‘merry’ in a not-so-merry-time, please give yourself permission to weep, listen to sad music, talk with someone you trust, write a poem or just sit with your thoughts. Pray! Allow yourself to lament the challenges and losses of this unusual Christmas season.
Most of all, I invite you to take an armchair journey in your imagination with Mary and Joseph as the icy rain fell and the snow crunched, the donkey braying, treading carefully; Mary’s swollen belly bumping, in pain and great discomfort. Both of them, wanting to bring this child into the world safely, as God had charged them. Recall them searching for a safe place to lay their heads and the head of the babe to come; the cold…the lack of food…the darkness…the fear of unjust governmental powers…the fear of the unknown. When would it all end? Would they make it?....then what?
Friends, do not despair! That first Christmas was not birthed easily. Nor will this one be. The good news is that we know they made it; the Christ child was born! The star shone in the sky! The angels sang! The whole earth cried out in jubilation!
Surely, despite everything, we can muster the strength and faith to do the same! Let us not let the loss of earthly and temporal trappings and traditions weigh us down, when the First Christmas was a tender burden carried by Mary and Joseph and a donkey through the cold and dark for all of us. But, they were not alone. God guided their every step, just as God guides ours.
Soon to come, is the light burning brightly we so desperately seek. Just as we searched for it at Eastertime and our lives were so devastatingly interrupted by the pandemic, let us continue the search for that light we know will arrive on Christmas Day. Glory be to God in the highest! Thank you, Mary and Joseph for persevering! We can do this! Whatever it takes! Holy! Holy! Holy Child! Emmanuel! God-with-us! Amen.
In fellowship and hope,
WEEKEND OF THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2020
Let’s Not Beat Around the Bush!
Www.theidioms.com indicates the saying “Let’s not beat around the bush” derives from the medieval custom of servants beating around the bushes to flush the game birds out so their wealthy masters could hunt them. So, to not beat around the bush would imply not getting to the job at hand – getting done what needs to be done right now. To not beat around the bush avoids the task at hand, apparently much to the hunters’ dissatisfaction! The idiom has grown conversationally to mean “Get to the point!”
It follows that the sentiment of this message should not “beat around the bush” either. Rather, let’s name the un-nameable! This is not a normal Thanksgiving week coming up, nor is it a normal day, month or year! All of us are still reeling, adapting, grieving, wondering, grappling, worrying, masking, distancing and a multitude of other adverbial expressions as we navigate this pandemic.
The guidance is clear: we should not be gathering…period. For those who do not understand why, all you have to do is ask someone who has had COVID and survived, or ask those who have it right now, who have experienced the loss of a loved one from this deadly virus, or a medical professional on the front lines. It is nothing to mess around with. We can ‘unmess’ this mess by following the guidance.
In order to do that, we are being asked to curtail our Thanksgiving activities and limit gatherings to 10 or less. “Wahhhhhhh! Wahhh! But that’s not what we want or Thanksgiving is supposed to be!” we cry. No, it isn’t. However, this year we just don’t have much choice in the matter. No beating around the bush – this is reality.
The question then becomes, “How can we adapt to make this as enjoyable a Thanksgiving as possible under the circumstances?” There are families meeting via Zoom, Facetime, teleconferencing and in person in two by two’s or a few more.
These technology fixes are wonderful innovations, for those who have access.
But whether we meet via technology or in tiny groups, it does not remove the ache in our hearts to welcome in the stranger, that daughter or son we see once a year or others who are apart from us; to share a meal, shoulder to shoulder, with all the lovely smells, conversations, over-eating and napping. No “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” this year!
For some, this alone-ness at Thanksgiving is not new. Many will remain alone, are alone for the first time or experience loneliness, even when with others. The phenomenon of alone-ness occurs with and without others in our presence. People of all ages long for that which once was, or was never. The ache goes deep.
There is, however, another way to view these interruptions of heart. Did anyone ever tell you as a child that the best way to take your mind off your own troubles is to help someone? Or, at the very least, think about others who are alone, hungry, homeless, ill in mind, body or spirt, or simply lost in life?
We cannot know all who suffer or solve all the suffering in the world by ourselves. Certainly, God does not expect us to be able to help every single person on earth by ourselves. However, God does instruct us and hopes that we will not turn our hearts and minds away from those in need when we can turn to them, either by thought, word or deed.
This time of thoughtful Thanksgiving is a time when we can spend more time reflecting upon and praying for the suffering in this world. As we forego special festivities that are traditional to our families, we can apply some of that aching we have in our own hearts to the situation of others.
One of the ways we can do this is by intentional prayer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, long or clever. It doesn’t have to be words, even. It can be as simple as breathing in and out slowly for 15 minutes, eyes closed, sitting with God in silence with the intention of offering healing into the world. It could be a prayer of gratitude for what beauty surrounds you, and offer that energy up to the Universal God-Creator, to be spread through-out the universe in joy and true thanksgiving.
Another way is for us to join in prayer together, even if we can’t be ‘together’. In that light, you are all invited to join in a communal time of prayer at 12 Noon on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26th, either privately in your own homes or via a special Zoom time led by yours truly.
We shall light a candle, pray and visit for half an hour or so. This gesture is offered to all - those who may be physically alone, alone in spirit or just in need of a distraction from this highly unusual Thanksgiving time, even if gathered with a few family members or friends (emphasis on the word few).
For those of you on-line, keep an eye open for the Thanksgiving special Zoom invitation. For those of you not on-line, know that at that hour we shall all be joined in prayer, and you shall not be alone in spirit. We shall be praying for all the peoples of the world, and, for each other. May the light of thanksgiving burn brightly in all hearts, no matter what surrounds, as we take stock and realize things are as they are, and let the freedom of acceptance and peace surround instead.
Attached is a profoundly beautiful poem by the French 19th-20th c. idealist philosopher, geographer, paleontologist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It speaks to the state of waiting and “to trust in the slow work of God” which we shall read on Thanksgiving Day. May it be so.
Prayer by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
To reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
Unknown, something new.
And yet, it is the law of all progress
That is made by passing through
Some stages of instability
And that may take a very long time.
And so, I think it is with you;
Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
As though you could be today what time
(that is to say grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
Will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
Gradually forming within you could be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
That his hand is leading you,
And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
In suspense and incomplete.
First Church DRIVE THRU Food Collection for South Windsor Food Bank
In keeping with our Thanksgiving Food Ingathering Tradition, the Missions team is holding a Drive Thru Food Collection to benefit the SW Food Bank on Saturday November 21, 2020 from 10:00 am – 12:00 noon in the church parking lot. Please place items for donation in a bag in your trunk prior to your arrival. Once you arrive, you will be instructed to pop your trunk and your items will be removed for you. PLEASE do NOT exit your vehicle. We All Want To Stay Safe! We will take care of everything for you! The food items will be loaded into waiting vehicles and transported to the community center at the conclusion of the event.
Thank you in advance for sharing with those less fortunate.
Your Missions Committee
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 13, 2020
Being A Bridge
PBS is currently airing a four-part series titled Primates,* including all the members of the family (of which we are also members) from monkeys to apes to lemurs. Perhaps you have been able to view it. It is a remarkable culmination of 2 years and 28 treks around the world, capturing primates on film in all their flamboyant and ingenious God-given glory.
The most recent episode, titled Family Matters, is an in-depth examination of the meaning of family relationships for these animals. The tenderness and vigilance with which these primate parents instinctively and tenderly tend to their young is beautiful to glimpse, and important. One is reminded of our very own caring instincts as human primate parents.
The last few minutes of this episode focus on a newly discovered species, the Tapanuli Orangutan, one of three Orangutan species which resides on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Tapanuli species was designated as such as recently as 2017.
One scene in particular is moving and amazing to watch. The narrator is describing the dedication Tapanuli parents have for their young, right down to ‘being a bridge’ when your youngster needs one. You see a bright orange Tapanuli mother, stretched out across the wide expanse of the lush green canopy, holding on to a branch of two separate trees on either side of the chasm, while the baby Tapanuli climbs across the limbs and back of the mother to reach the other side. The mother becomes a living bridge! It is quite a sight to see; a sight that set this minister’s heart a-glowing and prompted thoughts of the metaphorical message being sent by God, Creation and Nature.
Just this past Sunday I preached on how we need to reach out to each other with new hopes for unity amidst continued division in our country. Although I hadn’t yet seen the Tapanuli Madonna and Child (my words), the metaphor is all too clear. Why not reach across the divide and become living bridges ourselves, not in the trees (unless that’s your thing!), but as human messengers of reconciliation. Why not invite someone to tell you their side of the story; to become a living bridge of healing?
It would seem the message is this: an active effort must be made by all of us, no matter what side of the ‘tree’ we are hanging on to. We must encourage healing conversation and acts. For instance, saying to a friend, neighbor or family member, “I know you are deeply disappointed..grieving…angry…at the outcome of the Presidential election. I’d like to hear more about that; to try to understand.” Or, “Congratulations! Your candidate won. I know this means a lot to you. Even though we disagree, I can appreciate how happy you must be!”
Right? Ok – this is hard. No doubt about it. And, risky. There is no guarantee anyone would be receptive. But, where else do we start if not with each other? I can hear the groans and disgust now – “Oh, sure; a conversation is going to solve everything.” No, of course it won’t. But we can strive to become living bridges for each other, crossing back and forth upon each other’s shoulders to view the other side.
Will we resolve every issue? No. Should we expect to be able to change people? Definitely not. Will we go away infused with love and becoming living bridges to all we meet? Probably not. But, it’s a start. No pain, no gain. The late Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman, also a family therapist and leadership consultant, said something about not being able to change people, but changing how we react to them.
I see this as an opportunity for room to promote dialogue and disagree with respect and mutual learning. The alternative is to remain a deeply divided people down the middle, with no hope for reconciliation and rebirth, or take a chance on empathy, compassion, understanding and love.
Good people: Love is not only a physical entity. Love is a way of living. Love is what Jesus teaches us and we are still learning. Love wins. If we could simply agree to disagree in civilized ways, with love as a peace offering, what a wonderful example we could be of primates who are willing to become living bridges, like that Tapanuli mother.
Pie in the sky? Tapanuli in the treetops? Yes, all of the above…and more, if we are willing to live out the Gospel. Why not shoot for the sky and the treetops?!?
*All references to the Primate series and information accessed November 12, 2020 at
WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 6, 2020
The Blank Page
One of the things that can make a writer squirm with dread is the blank page. Whether someone is a student, an amateur, a professional, volunteer, or a person writing a simple letter to a friend (anyone still writing letters???), the vast wilderness of an unfilled sheet of paper or whitespace can send a person into a spiral of self-doubt, panic and fear, even if writing is the be-all and end-all; someone’s calling or passion.
Where do I start? What will I say? How many re-writes? Am I getting my point across? What exactly is the point? And, of course, will it be good enough? These are just a few of the thousands of apprehensive queries that can plague a writer at the get-go. This unknowing can paralyze the best of them. We’ve all heard of writer’s block. The blank page…..
Out of fairness, there are likely many disciplined writers who did not or do not have this experience. However, by and large, of the majority of amateur and professional authors who have spoken up, whether obscure or unknown, this sometimes debilitating, but also creatively stimulating angst comes with the territory.
The late, 20th c. Chilean author Isabel Allende, (House of the Spirits; Island Beneath the Sea), once described this relationship with writing as something like this: Writing is like being in love with the wrong lover.
Wow! If you’ve ever been in love with the wrong lover - someone who didn’t love you back, or with whom you discovered star-crossed love with fireworks a-cracking, only to find out after you are well-entrenched that it is all completely, excruciatingly wrong, you get this. Remember the song by Gladys Knight and the Pips, If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right?” – you know what she’s talking about. Ouch! Long or short-term ouch!
Well, the blank page and writers often exist in that space. It is blessing and curse; joy and anathema; muse and muse-less; a state of being that tortures and lifts up. Still, as in any process or journey, the ultimate destination is likely unknown.
In thinking about the blank page and the inability to see where things are going, 2020 thus far has been a blank page. The pandemic has wrought an environment in which we cannot know the outcome until we get to the end – or what might be called a type of ending, only to lead to more adaptation. Just as we await the outcome of the Presidential election, we won’t know till we get to the end of the process. Every day we are living with a blank page. We join the writer in the unknowing, and if allowed to get out of hand, paralysis, of the blank page.
All of this talk inspires the question, “Is this a new phenomena for humanity?” Obviously, it is not. Not knowing what is going to happen next has always existed. “If I only knew that” or “If we only knew this…” Humans have always lived in a decidedly uncertain state. What might ebb and flow more excruciatingly are the emergent times like 2020, when there is a desperate desire to know.
Thoughtfully speaking, who, in recorded history, has ever known their fate? Not many. There have been those who have said they have an inner knowing of their life’s path exactly. There are those who are clairvoyant or have a connection with the cosmos that they are born to listen to and use for the good. Some can predict the future, and others are just plain conjurers out to make a buck.
If we think about it, the Gospels are about one who knew without a doubt what would happen next in his life – God’s Son, the human and divine Jesus, the Christ. Jesus tells us repeatedly in various scriptures that he will suffer, die and be resurrected. He predicts his own death. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
(Mark 831-33)…definitely not a blank page before him.
Jesus had divine knowledge of his story and things to come. Even though Jesus shared much of what he knew, and exhorted the love of God, the Holy Parent who wrote Jesus’ and writes all of our stories, no one else truly knew the portent of his words except him. Even though Jesus’ life was definitely not a blank page, he also experienced anguish. The knowing didn’t eliminate the anguish.
Doesn’t this encourage us to accept the blank pages we have been given – whether writing a book or living? Isn’t it wiser to embrace the present and the unknown, as difficult as it is? To look for what is between the lines and fill our blank pages with love, hope and trust in God, rather than desire knowledge of outcomes that only our God knows? To pay attention to the already, and not fret about the not yet?
There is much richness and gift in welcoming the unknown. The blank page awaits. Let us go forth trusting in the lessons of Jesus Christ’s knowing, and loving our own unknowing, despite the tangles and snares along the way. It is a gift to not know. I invite you to embrace the blank page with everything you’ve got! Amen.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 30, 2020
REMEMBRANCE, GRATITUDE, EXPECTATION and PRAYER (RGEP)
October is coming to an end, ushering in the secular tradition of Halloween and the commemoration of All Saints Day this Sunday, November 1. We will be marking it with a special Remembrance Day and Holy Communion during Zoom worship at 10:00 a.m. We shall honor of all those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and others lost to members and friends of our church community. We will read their names and ring a chime after each one, with a special time of silence for COVID victims.
November is a season pregnant with remembrance, gratitude and expectation. We honor all those who have gone on before, who shine their lights to guide us onward. The days become shorter (remember to set your clocks back this Saturday night!) and we begin the journey towards Thanksgiving, Advent and the birth of Christ. Advent begins on November 29, in just one month. This particular November, 2020, we face what is the most contentious and historic election in the history of our country. (Remember to vote on November 3!).
We are doing all these things in the midst of a pandemic. Our collective expectations are mounting to new levels of angst. We hold in our hearts the hope of a return to a semblance of order or normalcy, or if not a return, a healthy re-working and re-consideration of how we do things, revere God, take care of each other and this planet and of what is truly important.
As we do this remembering, thanking and expecting, a key word and action to employ is prayer - prayer, a spiritual practice which can sustain us in all times and affords us the opportunity to be with God. When was the last time you prayed, not asking for something, but on bended knee, either in body or spirit as you are able, with a heart full of gratitude and love in thanks for all God has enacted in your life? Even expressing thanks for what we call the bad things? Perhaps embracing everything. Maybe you can’t get down on bended knee, but the spirit of humility resides within you as you consider the marvels and wonders of God’s creation. Acceptance is powerful.
Someone, and I don’t know who, once said, “I surrender to achieve victory.” This doesn’t mean giving up as in all is lost; packing it in. And, it doesn’t mean victory in the sense of winning over someone or something with violence or gloating. Surrendering “to achieve victory” is about apprehending that which we are wrestling with, and giving it rest within ourselves; offering it up to the Universe for resolution with love and peace.
It means accessing the grace that we are all given through Jesus Christ; releasing the pride, fear, ego and angst; the victory is in the surrender, which empowers that which is good and right, even if we cannot fully grasp it at the time. Someone else said, and I think this comes from the tradition of Buddhism: “The greatest victory one can ever achieve is victory over self.”
How difficult that ‘self’ can make our lives! How many roadblocks we put up for ourselves, as we wrestle, lament and search for what we want, not what we need! What if we ultimately expect the good outcome, rather than the bad? What if we trust someone, rather than assume they are out to get us? What a relief to be able to bless ourselves and others with a grace of surrender and victory over self and the things we hold within, which can lead us to a peaceful path.
RGEP (REMEMBRANCE, GRATITUDE, EXPECTATION AND PRAYER) can help us do this; remembrance of all those who have gone before and their legacies; gratitude for them and everything in our lives, no matter what; expectation that surely God will make good out of whatever comes along, but that we need to help! Expecting the best outcome and the unexpected and rolling with it as best we can; and of course, prayer, prayer, prayer! Prayer that is spirit-filled. Time with your God, who knows you inside and out. Precious rest-time to refuel and set aside those distractions. Prayer that sustains, emboldens, soothes, stirs you up, energizes, gives you peace and brings you to that home-light that burns within everyone.
And, let us not forget WONDER! The WONDER of God and God’s presence in the world! The WONDER of life in all its forms. The WONDER that the mystery continues, and yes – yes – we surrender to achieve victory over ourselves, so that we can be open to what God, grace and the Holy Spirit have in store for us. Hold fast to your God, grace, and love. Do not be afraid, for you are not alone. Let us all unify and enact RGEP and – W – in earnest!
For all of you and all the Saints, with RGEP, and W!
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 23, 2020
THE LESSON OF THE BROKEN BLUE JAY
It is no secret that if we pay attention, Mother Nature (or Father Nature, if that is your preference), has valuable lessons to share with us. The key is paying attention, of course. Sometimes, the message is so clear that we are bowled over by it, or so subtle, it takes time to dawn on us. This story of the Broken Blue Jay is one of those slow, but profound messages.
Late this spring, I began hearing a strange-sounding birdcall I could not identify. I am no expert, but I am familiar enough with most of the birds in our area to recognize who is around. This particular call was what I would call “truncated.” It felt abbreviated and left you waiting for more. Sometimes, it was soft and sometimes loud, but never did it seem complete. It intrigued me…who was it?
Every once in a while, I would hear it in the morning off in the trees, or sometimes near the bird feeder in the bushes, but I could never spot it, as hard as I tried. Soon I forgot about it.
Then, one day this summer, that truncated call caught my ear again. I saw a flash of blue over in the corner of the yard, and sure enough, there was what turned out to be a Blue Jay, squawking in its own unusual way. Blue Jays usually have a raspy, two-beat call described as a “loud jeer” on one birding website. You’ve heard it, for sure, whether you know it or not. There are lots of them here in New England.
I was so delighted to discover the source of what I thought were weird little jeeps and squeaks! As I watched the Blue Jay, it would stand up proud and strong on a branch, singing its heart out with what looked like a whole lot of effort and joy.
What struck me was that the bird seemed to be so proud, despite its ‘broken’ song. It gave its all, no matter that its song was different from the other Blue Jays. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how we are all broken in some way or another.
The beauty of this Blue Jay was that it kept singing – singing its heart out, despite
the fact it was different. Brave and true, it never gave up. It trilled and squawked to its heart’s – and my – delight. What a wonderful lesson provided by Nature. What a revelation to realize that broken-ness is beautiful – as it should be, because we all have something broken about us, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or psychological.
The metaphor is powerful – sing if you’re broken! Everybody sing in a chorus of creational cacophony! Sing however you are able. Sing whatever song is in your heart. Sing the song God has given to your soul! Sing it! Sing it!
Because, no matter what the shape or sound of your song, in God’s eyes you are loved! Just like The Broken Blue Jay, who knows no difference, and sings its most beautiful song always: no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are loved by God.
“Broke, busted and disgusted,” as the Mamas and Papas sang, however you are abled or whatever state you are in, you are a beloved child of God!
This is the lesson of The Broken Blue Jay, who isn’t broken at all. Amen.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 16, 2020
“What Is An Ad Hoc Pandemic Team???!!!??”
It has been said that a good idea often dies in the process of “death by committee.” In other words, original energy and creativity gets lost and dies by the human habit to question it to death before it gets a chance to be born; mostly because of subconscious fears like, who will lose power and who will gain power if this is done? Is it in the best interests of all? Is it benefiting a particular special interest or group? Should we be afraid of this? If not, let’s come up with a whole bunch of reasons why we should be afraid! (Ha, ha – human nature again!).
Flourishing conversations can be weighed down by over-emphasis on the unnecessary. Ordinary, but time-consuming discussions that lead down rabbit holes (which we know go on and on….and on) are common. Right now, there are no ordinary decisions; everything is extraordinary. Don’t we wish we were only worrying about ordinary things like what dishes to make for Thanksgiving?
Cooperative, timely discussion begets good results. However, an awareness of keeping the focus on task is essential, with a nod to life-giving, rather than life-draining, energy. If the small stuff gets in the way and becomes large stuff, with unnecessary diversions or divisions along the way, a project has the potential to derail due to lack of support and trust.
All that said, most of you are aware of the emergency-based committee in our midst – “The Ad Hoc Pandemic Team.” Many versions of pandemic committee titles are being used by churches – ‘Re-opening Committee; COVID-19 Guidance Committee; Up and Running Committee; Resumption of In-person Worship Group; We’re Not Closed, Just The Building Is! Committee;’ you can imagine the variations.
In today’s world, institutional committees and guidance groups are faced with a serious element of mistrust by others. This is partially due to a corrosive and gradual erosion over decades in this country regarding institutions and governing bodies in general and a tendency to put special interests above the common good.
Questions such as, “Why am I not on this committee?” or “Doesn’t my voice count?” are commonly posed, mostly within oneself rather than out loud – left to simmer on the back burners of our prideful selves. Some say with great relief, “I’m glad I’m not on that committee!” So, in case you have simmering questions, are feeling left out or are just curious, it is the hope the following information will be helpful.
As you were notified in May, 2020, the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team was formed due to the very pressing matters facing the church regarding the pandemic and how the church acts responsibly to protect as many people as possible. Ask any Team member; the available guidance information is voluminous. At that time, the Team voted to close the church buildings and resume in-person worship in January/2021, with staff working remotely from home.
Their charge is: “With Jesus Christ at our head and the Gospel teachings at our side, the stated goal of this team should be to guide the congregation through this time of pandemic going forward; to make recommendations based on information presented as it pertains to the ongoing life of this worshipping community for the common good of all including our greater community, by first honoring public health guidelines, while maintaining worship, spiritual care, pastoral care, partnering and care of the building and the financial implications of same” (May 20, 2020).
FCCSW’s Ad Hoc Pandemic Team is made up of the heads of these committees representing our congregation: Moderator Terry Belknap; Trustee Chair Carroll Stearns; Deacon Chair Lauren Horsfield; CE Chair Edie Starr; Missions Chair and UCW Co-Chair Rachel Anderson (wearing two hats); Treasurer Lee Anderson; Document Writer/Alternate CE Rep Vicky Margiott (two more hats) and yours truly. Jean Jackson graciously serves as recording secretary and a guiding hand.
Friends, your fellow members have stepped forward to serve YOU and keep you safe. They are faced with much research, reading, formation of guidelines based on many resources, and discernment, as we look forward to resumption of in-person worship in January, 2021 (Only 75 days away!).
Your help will be needed later! There will be an opportunity for volunteers to execute the tasks and duties required to provide a safe church environment once the guidance is written for our church community, so keep your eyes out for the recruitment and mobilization effort. You will be needed, if willing and safe.
The good news is that this Team effort is alive and well and will remain so with your trust and respect. It is with deep appreciation for these volunteers that I, as your Minister, ask for all of you to pray for your Team, respect them and their decisions and most of all, TRUST them. They are your very own – God’s-own very own, as are all of you.
The Team has everyone’s best interests at heart. Not all decisions will be popular, but they will be prudent and carefully decided. This plea comes to you sincerely and openly for unity. We cannot afford to have petty or major differences at such a time.
Remember: This is not about planning a church social event; this is about planning resumption of in-person worship in January, 2021, during a global life and death health emergency.
Please know that the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team thanks you in advance for your loyalty, trust and as ever, your steadfast cooperation. Questions are always welcome and updates will be issued periodically.
We have been a very lucky congregation, thanks be to God. And, we are in this together! This is hard, but we can do hard things!
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 9, 2020
If we were to try to find the meaning behind everything that has been happening in 2020, from the pandemic to the political landscape, continued racial injustices to natural disasters and compounding events, we would probably need several centuries of concerted research and reflection.
Along with a multitude of descriptors we can come up with like weird, frightening, portentous, grievous, egregious, apocalyptic, disastrous, end-times, frustrating, opportune, unifying, horrible, enlightening, disheartening and so on, the word ‘puzzling’ persists.
I have mentioned from time to time, that puzzling over it all and attempting to assign meaning to all things can be an exercise in folly. As comforting as it is to repeat some of the more oft-spoken aphorisms such as, “God only gives God’s strongest soldiers the most difficult tasks;” “God is angry at us;” “What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger;” “Everything happens for a reason;” “God gives never gives us more than we can handle;” “We are being punished by God,” “God is angry,” and so forth – you get the picture – most of these sayings have been dredged up over time to provide some form of comforting explanation for the inexplicable; what is beyond explaining; what scares us; what is truly happening; what we cannot fathom, no matter how hard we try. Why, even Albert Einstein is attributed as saying, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”* OK – Albert was a genius – and a believer – but, how did he know?
Just like we tell our children that the bogey-man has come out from underneath the bed and gone downstairs to have cookies and milk, we tell ourselves things to relieve the angst of the moment. Sometimes they provide momentary conversational relief; sometimes they are truly believed. Other times, they are written off as blather. This is not to say that this custom is wrong or right; simply that if we really stop and ‘puzzle’ over our puzzle-ment, it is even more puzzling!
What is interesting is this proclivity to speak for God. Many of these sayings involve “God” and they involve humans attributing, rightly or wrongly, what humans think God might be doing, meaning, trying to say, acting out or dealing out. How dare we? Some might consider this arrogant – how can a human possibly know what is in God’s heart and mind? If we did, we would be God. As I heard someone say the other day, “I’m so glad God is God!”
Of course, if someone has a direct link to God, like an Old Testament prophet of old who is told by God what to say on God’s behalf, who are we to question? “Thus sayeth the Lord!” However, suggesting, lightly or otherwise, that we know what God is up to because of what we think or want to believe, that is another. We all have our own personal concepts of God and how God operates. Even a profession of non-belief, whether atheism or agnosticism, is a relationship with God, of sorts, which involves speculation.
To get back to the puzzling part, it is clear that humankind is not meant to know, nor can it handle knowing, the reason for everything. It’s rather confounding, isn’t it? Human minds yearn for and are equipped for wondering, but we remain puzzled about many things, all the same; God’s intentions and actions included.
The fact of the matter is: God and God’s nearness, yet distance, is puzzling to us. The very act of attempting to grasp the enormity and simplicity – is puzzling – majestically puzzling, like imagining Moses and the Burning Bush, or rolling away the stone to find an empty tomb on Easter. Now, those are puzzling!
The mystery and wonder of God would not be so mysterious if it wasn’t so mysterious. (Huh?) If we didn’t wonder about God, we would be less in relationship with God. The very beauty of the concept of God is exactly that unknowing, which keeps us faithful, questioning, striving, yearning and – making up human explanations for that which is Divine – and that which may have nothing to do with the divine. So, keep the puzzlement coming, the aphorisms flowing and the wondering going – live your faith with gusto, in all its questions and comforts. Amen.
“Oh Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
My soul is like a weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” – Psalm 131.
WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 2, 2020
The peace of Christ be with you…
As I wrote this message, September 30th turned into October 1st. The calendar beckoned to me to be brought up to date. I turned the page to the new month (which happens to have TWO full moons – one on the first of the month and one on the 31st – great fun for Halloween!).
The particular calendar I refer to is put out by Dave Raymond and Jessica Glass, who operate the sheep farm on Main Street, South Windsor. The photographs are idyllic – sheep grazing at sunset; new lambs frolicking; Colossus the Former Lamb, now Sheep, surveying his realm. (Many of you met Colossus the Lamb at Easter/2019 on our church lawn). It is always fun to see what the photo is as the month turns.
Along with sheep photos, each day’s ‘square,’ has a bit of trivia. The notation for October 1st is: “Edgar the Peaceful becomes King of England 959.” Edgar the Peaceful – I greeted this historical tidbit with a sigh of relief and envy - “Ahhh, a peaceful ruler” - just as I imagine that perhaps his subjects may have received the information that Edgar was a peaceful king.
I found that the sense of well-being and peace that came over me by just reading and imagining a peaceful leader resonated meaningfully for me, albeit momentarily. As a matter of fact, I found myself yearning for a peaceful king, queen…. Aslan the Lion! Hmmm….
Granted, this event was centuries ago and times were quite different. I took it upon myself to google Edgar the Peaceful to find out how peaceful he really was, and, what was going on during the Year of Our Lord 959.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_the_Peaceful).
As it turns out, Edgar himself was not as personally peaceful as his name implies but he became known as such because “his reign was peaceful.” According to the website, though he carried on in the typical robust manner of a 1st century king at times, he did reconcile the conflicted previous reign of his deceased brother, Eadwig, by recalling their exiled adviser Dunstan and making him Archbishop. (Of course, the conflict under Eadwig involved the Church, which is a common power struggle known by any of you who are history buffs). King Edgar’s act of reconciliation established unity in England, bringing a significant period of peace to a now unified Kingdom of England.
Yearning for a peaceful king is not a new idea, of course. The Bible speaks often, especially in the Book of Psalms through what are classified as ‘Royal Psalms,’ about what constitutes a true king. Some well-known examples are Psalms 93-99, but there are many other scriptures and psalms with important references to this theme.
A true king is described as a spiritual king who is loyal to God first; a king who provides for and protects their people; compassionate, caring, equitable; righteous, ruling with justice and promoting peace among the nations.
Another important characteristic is making sure people have enough food; that the powerful don’t hoard it, along with money, goods and land, etc., while others starve or have no homes. Clearly, a good king is to rule peaceably, fairly and wisely.
Yearning for peace and leaders who lead equitably and compassionately may resonate with many of you. It is good to remind ourselves that our leaders need to fulfill these obligations described above, but so should we, as good people and Christians, promote and work towards the well-being of all – the Kin-dom of God.
It is a good thing to remember that choosing competent, just leadership is important. More important, however, is putting faith in God before all else and realizing that no one human being is going to solve our problems.
Working together for a just and peaceful world will bring forth God’s kingdom on earth. We pray this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Choosing leaders imbued with a sense of something greater than themselves is essential.
After all, Jesus was sent to show us how to love beyond all understanding with justice for all, compassion, and forgiveness. When I yearn-n-n-n for a peaceful leader, I realize we have one in God; we simply have to turn our eyes and hearts to the goodness of God first, above all else; the true King/Queen/Lover of All. Psalm 97:1 reads: The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice! Amen!
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
Do you remember the children’s program, Mr. Rogers? One of the most meaningful quotes from Fred Rogers, the show’s creator and host, is as follows:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”*
Surely, “the helpers” are everywhere during this pandemic – from medical professionals to the local librarians offering curbside pick-up of most-coveted reading adventures. Helpers have always been everywhere, as Rogers’ mother points out.
Being a helper is a key tenet of living a good life, not only as a Christian, but as a member of humanity and God’s Creation. The Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Moslem, Native American and many other faiths and belief systems subscribe to being helpers to Creation and each other.
It is one thing to be a helper – to be willing to give, and to put others’ needs before your own. To paraphrase words attributed to the remarkable Howard Thurman, doing what is needed at the time it is needed most is the closest thing to redemption.
We know helping each other is vital. Helping ourselves is vital, too. We feel strong, confident, in control of our destinies. However, it is one thing to be able and independent enough to help ourselves thrive and survive. It is another to have to accept help from and depend on others, especially at times when we are vulnerable.
As much as we might grouse, our injured pride and egos kicking and screaming all the way, there are times everyone needs help, whether getting a ride from a friend when our car breaks down, or being the recipient of the beneficence of a kind nurse when we can’t raise our head off the pillow.
This brings me to the grace of accepting help. Accepting help is one of the most precious gifts we can give to others and ourselves. Rather than writing off someone’s act of kindness by saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” or, “I don’t need any help,” accepting help with grace can be a freeing and life-giving gesture. When we realize we are in situation where we truly cannot make it without assistance, whatever it might be, we own up to reality and are able to free ourselves of the trappings of human hubris.
The Henri Nouwen Daily Devotional for today reads: “Our weakness and old age call people to surround us and support us. By not resisting weakness and by gratefully receiving another’s care we call forth community and provide our caregivers an opportunity to give their own gifts of compassion, care, love, and service. As we are given into their hands, others are blessed and enriched by caring for us. Our weakness bears fruit in their lives.”**
Surely, whether we are old, young, or in-between, on a personal or worldwide level, in whatever situation we might find ourselves, “looking for the helpers,” acknowledging their help and accepting that help with the grace it is given is creational and relational…the Gospel of Christ Jesus in living color.
So, the next time you are about to say, “You shouldn’t have” or, “I don’t need any help,” it might be harder, and grace-filled to say, “Thank you. How thoughtful of you” or, “I don’t want or like getting help, but I need it.” This harder, grace-filled way opens us to giving and receiving…a mutuality of spirit. May you receive the help you need when you need it, and accept it with grace. Amen.
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 18, 2020
I hope this finds you well and sustaining all the possible measures for success in your bodies, minds and spirits. Whoever you are or wherever you are on life’s journey, in whatever circumstances surround you, may you be hopeful and well.
Though the pandemic marathon is not yet over, and we cannot see the actual finish line, I encourage you to be hopeful and present in the moment. Do not despair. If you must despair, which we all do at times (tears and lament lead us closer to God and the physiology of crying sends out calming hormones), despair knowing that, as Julian of Norwich stated, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
For truly, is this not the same strategy in which we run the race of life? How often do we wish we knew outcomes for sure? Isn’t it commonplace for us to wish we could see the future and be sure of this or that? As Christians, our whole journey is based on faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
The United Church of Christ writers offer a UCC Daily Devotional (ucc.org) based on daily scripture readings that provide comfort and words of wisdom, along with opportunities to question and wonder. I found the entry for September 15 by the Rev. John Edgerton, First United Church of Oak Park, IL titled, “Would Paul Wear A Mask” to be particularly compelling and enjoyable. I hope you do, too. It is offered below.
In the meantime, things or people, even ourselves, may not be ‘well’ in the way we need, want or envision. Let us remember, however, that they are well across the continuum of God in the universe in ways we cannot see or imagine. Take comfort. Trust. Have Faith.
May the comfort of wellness to come be yours,
“Would Paul Wear a Mask?"
September 15, 2020
Written by John Edgerton
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If one of your kindred in Christ is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. - Romans 14:14-15 (NIV)
What Christians could and couldn’t eat was a divisive question in Paul’s time. Some felt that the dietary laws of the Hebrew Bible were still binding. Others felt those peccadilloes were just for those who lacked faith. Paul, for his part, was adamant: Christians were free to eat whatever they chose. Bacon. Lobster. Bacon-wrapped lobster. Bon appétit!
However, Paul said, some of the “eat what you want” types went too far. They were eating foods that some people considered unclean, and they were doing it in front of those same people to make some kind of point. It was the first-century equivalent of bringing a rack of ribs to a vegan’s housewarming party just to prove how tasty ribs are. Or of entering a business, refusing to wear a mask, then screaming about “rights.”
Paul’s point was simple: If I distress other people because of how I’m living, then I’m making the wrong choices. What I’m free to do and what I ought to do aren’t always the same. Being Christian means willingly giving up some freedoms in order to better care for my neighbor.
Paul would not need a primer on microbiology before deciding whether to wear a mask. Paul would wear a mask because if he refused to wear a mask, he would cause people distress and risk. Paul would wear a mask because it’s the Christian thing to do.
"Help us love our neighbor at least as much as we love our own freedom.”
PASTORAL MESSAGE - WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2020
The date of today’s pastoral message is an evocative one – September 11th. We remember the 19th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and crash of Flight 93, which will stand etched forever in our memories.
Like the dates of so many other infamous events, most people remember where they were and what they were doing when the terrorist attack occurred. I was sitting in my small, two desk-office office that I shared with my colleague on the second-floor of the Fishers Island Ferry District building. It was a spectacular early fall day. The panoramic view of Fishers Island Sound and Long Island Sound was breathtaking. The sun shone with intensity in a heartbreakingly blue sky. The water sparkled like diamonds.
Next thing I knew, I heard a car screech up in front of the downstairs entrance, with the radio blaring. “Turn the radio on! Turn the radio on!” my colleague yelled as he bounded up the stairs. We tuned in WCBS Radio. We sat at our desks listening, with tears of unbelief pouring down our faces.
Many Fishers Island summer residents lived and/or worked in Manhattan. Because of the intimacy of island life, most of us had friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends, relatives of relatives, employers or employees, acquaintances, etc., who may have been affected (many who were, as it turned out).
From the political assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, along with others, most remember where they were and what they were doing when these egregious happenings took place. Those of you who are reading this will probably recall your won memories.
There was another such political murder over 2,000 years ago which is remembered by Christians, for some similar, but radically different reasons. In fact, it is the culminating be-all for the meaning of what it is to be a Christian - Jesus’ condemnation, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus’ act of salvific redemption of and for humankind speaks for itself.
Some may see Jesus’ story as strictly a holy, religious story, and, that is one way to view it. Another integral part of his story profoundly involved the human politics of the times, just as those whose losses were mentioned earlier involved human politics of their times. This cannot be ignored.
The fear the Romans had of Jesus – ‘the Messiah King’ – was very real and very great. Anyone that could stir the hearts of the people with such fervor and unrest was most certainly seen as a dire threat to the power of the Roman Empire in Jerusalem and what is now called the Holy Land. Jesus’ presence was worrisome. His reputation, miracles, healings, parables and preaching against injustice and oppression were anathema to everything the Romans believed and forced upon others. Jesus turned the tables. In a realm where only Roman Emperors were considered God’s right-hand men, the possibility that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God, was both terrifying and troubling. He had to be eradicated.
Jesus’ life-death-life was political for God’s purpose. Jesus’ destiny was divine and human for God’s purpose. Jesus’ earth-shattering message was for God’s purpose. Upon Jesus’ resurrection, divinity overcame human sin, setting aside the importance of all else. As the centurion at the foot of the cross cried, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Though there is no exact calendar date and we centuries later cannot say we actually witnessed Jesus’ life and death on the cross, we try to witness to Jesus’ life, in this one. We remember his story (‘his-story’ – interesting). Unlike experiencing a loss at the time it occurred, we experience it through those who recorded it, and through the belief of the gift of Jesus from God to us.
Rather, we recall our own journeys with God, in particular with Christianity, and perhaps other faiths. Some might remember moments of revelation when Christ became real to them, or accidents of providence that were not accidents, but God-incidents. Maybe we recall our own dark nights of the soul, our own brushes with death, our own experiences of exuberant joy and grace pouring over us and seeing us through – our own walks with Jesus.
Remembrance is powerful. Let us use it to witness to Christ’s love, and be the hands and feet which spread the word that love wins.
In remembrance of all,
WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 4, 2020
“Alius Manum Lavat – One Hand Washes Another”
Good Day, Good People!
Here we are heading for Labor Day Weekend, 2020! If anyone had told us last year we would all be dealing with a pandemic, we would have scoffed. As a matter of fact, I understand there have been scientists and researchers who warned that this could happen anytime over the past ten years. Apparently, no one listened nor believed.
At any rate, we’ve washed our hands, worn masks and socially-distanced the summer away. And, there is yet more to come. However, sacrifice for the common good is the right thing to do. My prayer is that all will honor their better angels and keep doing what we have to do until these boundary lines are no longer needed in an emergent setting.
Speaking of washing hands, the French doctor, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), is considered the pioneer of proving that “germs cause disease.” The 1936 movie, “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” portrays his life story and is as relevant to today’s COVID-19 ‘washing hands’ guidance and its origin as it was then.
This highly renowned microbiologist and chemist’s work is described as having “changed medicine. He proved that germs cause disease; he developed vaccines for anthrax and rabies; and he created the process of pasteurization.”*
A memorable scene in the movie involves a physician colleague who comes to deliver the Pasteur’s first child. When the colleague heads in to the bedroom with his unsterilized instruments (remember this was the time when you had babies at home), Pasteur is adamant that they must be sterilized in boiling water first. He vociferously explains to the other doctor that there is no room for equivocation – do it or get out!
In addition, he insists his friend WASH HIS HANDS! Pasteur unceremoniously demands that the doctor remove his suitcoat, roll up his sleeves and commence washing with soap and water! The colleague thinks Pasteur is obnoxious and that his science stinks – but he relents. Obviously, Pasteur proved otherwise.
Thanks to Pasteur, washing hands is now commonplace to us, but, at the time, Pasteur was highly persecuted amongst the French scientific acadamie for his unusual hypotheses regarding several subjects, including how germs cause disease. The loss of three of the Pasteur’s five children to typhus inspired Pasteur’s work in epidemiology, the study of infectious diseases and their prevention.
So, next time you wash your hands or make your kids do it again for the 300th time in a day, remind yourself that there was once a man whose insistence on hygiene has been one of the greatest gifts to the modern world. Pasteur’s hunches and God-given faith in his work and himself surely are one of the most miraculous stories where faith and science are united in the common good for all God’s children.
Though the task of washing our hands is simple enough, the process of proving “germs cause disease” was long and arduous for Pasteur. Thankfully, he was ultimately recognized during his lifetime by the science establishment with many of the world’s highest honors.
I find it providential that Louis’s surname, Pasteur, means ‘pastor’ in French. And, the word ‘pastor’ is derived from the word meaning ‘shepherd.’ Pasteur’s ‘pastoring’ of humanity towards a better way surely exemplifies the epitome of pastoral care – and he did it through his God-given passion and gift for science. Praise God!
Pasteur’s faith endured. Pasteur never gave up - period. Nor, can we.
*. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Weekend of August 14, 2020
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”
– Matthew 11:7
Hello Fellow Reeds, “Shaken By the Wind!”
Hurricane Isais has passed. THAT storm is over! And those of us who are still standing, are still standing, like “reeds shaken by the wind,” but not broken, thanks be to God!
In Matthew 11, we find Jesus is teaching and preaching in Galilee after instructing his disciples. Jesus addresses the crowds gathered about him, scolding them for their misperceptions about John the Baptist, who is now in prison and hears of the works of the Messiah and his healing ministry. John sends his disciples to find out about Jesus – is he the One? The crowd wonders about John, the Prophet – is he the One?
Jesus reminds them that John is no push-over; not robed in “fine clothes” living in luxury nor a “reed swayed by the breeze.” John has stood his ground, baptizing and teaching of the One who comes after him; searched out, he is thrown in prison. John is stalwart. John fulfills his purpose, as prophesied in Malachi 3:1 and quoted by Jesus. He does not waiver. John is no push-over. Nor is Jesus. This is their story and their sticking to it!
These days, we may feel as though it is hard to stand our ground. Blown by the winds of life in the days of COVID-19, along with the winds of Isaias, we may be feeling quite tossed about. That’s because we are quite tossed about.
But, one thing remains: “No matter who we are, or where we are on life’s journey,” to borrow from the UCC, we are all being tossed about together. We ‘reeds’ are seemingly at the whim of these winds, but all the while being weathered into a new thing. We are strengthened; bent but not broken.
The times require much flexibility and faith. They require the will to not lose hope in the overwhelming despair brought on by nature – the nature of humans and nature’s reaction to human nature. It is hard not to be broken by the overwhelming news of continued precaution, political divisiveness, corruption and the physicality of the effects of a hurricane and COVID-19 over time.
But, just as John the Baptist did not waiver from his proscribed call to be the one who comes before the One, so, too, we must not waiver in our call to remain faithful and hopeful; faithful disciples of Christ, no matter the storm-blown reeds, bent double by the winds, but not broken; fulfilling our generational roles and lives as they are set out before us.
No matter the course set before us, we must remain stalwart as did John and Jesus – to fulfill our destinies. They knew theirs. We do not know ours. But we do know that God walks with us, despite our woes, and that this too shall pass. And there remains promise for the Good News ahead.
We may be shaken by the winds, but not broken.
With strengthening prayer and hope,
P.S. Our Pastor is scheduled for a break beginning this Sunday afternoon through August 31. You will receive a message packet on August 21, but will not receive one for the weekend of August 28. Don’t worry, you are not forgotten – just a short hiatus for the Care Team and the Pastor!
Also, calls from the Care Team will be slowed down for August into early September. However, should you need anything at all, please call the Church Phone which is monitored constantly: 860-528-7992. If it is a true medical emergency, you should call 911. Should you like a clergy person to know or talk to, you will be routed to the covering pastor, the Rev. Pamela Rose Vollinger via the Deacon Chair, Lauren Horsfield. Thank you.
Weekend of August 9, 2020 - Since so many are without power, we will hold a brief prayer service today at 10 am for anyone who is able to join us.
Prayers to all.
WEEKEND OF JULY 31, 2020
Feeding Each Other
Cooking and eating have become the national pastime! The onset of the Pandemic of 2020 has brought with it the curtailment of entertainments, distractions and activities which has led to the collapse of a lot of healthy, or shall I say, ‘reasonable,’ eating regimens. Now, eating IS the regimen. These last six months (six months! – can you believe that?), the refrigerator has become our best friend.
Frequently, the subject of “Pandemic Pounds” comes up in casual conversation. The phrase, “the Pandemic 19” (named for COVID-19) has become all too familiar on the waistlines of the world. There is a joke going around about the woman who said she is having more and more trouble social distancing six feet away from her refrigerator!
The enthusiastic acquisition, growing, preparation and consumption of food is obviously not something new, but pandemic conditions have certainly elevated gastronomy to a new level. “Another stacked burger? Sure, why not? Hmmm, how about that snack before snack time? Wow, with all this time on my hands, I can try out all those recipes I’ve been saving.”
There is a commercial which depicts a couple coping with working at home, taking care of their kids, home-schooling and feeding everybody all at once. The mealtimes seem to come faster and more regularly each day. After a series of high-paced visuals, of shopping, kids crying, cooking, dishes in the sink, etc., the camera zooms in on the disheveled and exhausted Dad at the end of the chaotic day. His little girl peers up at him hungrily and says, “Dad, what’s for supper?” By the expression on poor Dad’s face, Dad has had it!
I think we can all identify with that feeling. We’ve had it. Yet, we know there is more inconvenience, discomfort and sacrifice to come. With much of the country experiencing grave surges of COVID, there is ever more vigilance required as we respect one another by honoring the 3 “W’s:” wearing masks, washing our hands and watching out for social distancing. If these simple remedies are done religiously, we have a chance of beating this thing more quickly; a small sacrifice as compared to many others that are far more dire.
It is all well and good to joke about the pounds we’ve put on and the new dishes we’ve tried out, but amidst all of that abundance for some, there is great lack for a multitude of our brothers and sisters. With so many out of work and the economy deeply affected, food insecurity is off the charts.
Though food insecurity in the United States is not new (unfortunately – and yes, surprise, surprise, there ARE people in our own town of South Windsor who are hungry!), the pandemic has created a food emergency. There are people across the nation who do not have enough to eat. Families are living day to day and children go to bed hungry. The jobless are forced to choose between food on the table or paying the rent in order not to be evicted.
Attached is some information released today from Food Share. Blessings upon all of these and others. I’m sure you have all read or heard about the massive food supply efforts by local agencies such as Food Share, the South Windsor Food Bank (many of you donate to that one), the Salvation Army, Hands on Hartford, MAAC, and multiple food pantries at local churches. Blessings upon all of these and others. Volunteerism and inventory have both increased as generous folks step up to the plate.
Amidst all this talk about an abundance for some and lack for others, of course the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be ringing in our ears and hearts. The parable of the feeding of the five thousand comes to mind.
This Sunday, we celebrate the beautiful Christian ritual of the Lord’s Supper, a meal of unimaginable abundance. All of our minds, bodies and spirits are fed with a simple piece of bread broken for us and a sip from the cup poured out for us, with the promise of eternal life from Jesus Christ.
As we prepare to feed our own souls, let those of us who have put on Pandemic Pounds be grateful. Let all of us remember that there are many whose stomachs are empty and need both spiritual and bodily food. Let us all do what we can, whether prayer, volunteerism or donation to relieve the suffering and make the baskets overflow. Amen.
WEEKEND OF JULY 24, 2020
Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, professor, author and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass*, about the disparities between a “gift economy” and a “market economy.” She draws from her background as a member of an indigenous people, and her studies as a scientist, weaving together new hope for a recovery of an economy of respect, love and gratitude for the earth and unity for its people.
Kimmerer goes on to explain that a “gift economy” engenders the passing on of gifts from the earth, nature and each other and back, so that a full circle of reciprocity is created, whereas a “market economy” subsists of commodities for sale, that once, purchased do not create reciprocity; the relationship is transactional; finished.
She cites the gift of the wild strawberry in her youth, which she and her siblings harvested for their father each Father’s Day. Their mother would then make him his favorite wild strawberry shortcake. The receiving of that delicious gift of nature, passed on to their father, fostered a relationship between the blessing of the wild strawberries, the author, her father and all of her family; a moment to step back, appreciate, receive and express gratitude; to give back in spirit and in kind.
As a child, Ms. Kimmerer gave back by carefully checking on those strawberries and spending time in the fields, listening and watching them grow, hoping to see the miracle of ripening in real time happen right before her eyes. Of course, it was happening every second, but not in a way the human eye could see. Only in a way heart-sight could see.
It is this heart-sight, this soul-seeing, which enables us to connect with our Creator and all of creation. It is this heart-sight that speaks to us from the wild strawberry and the full moon; the ocean wave and the deep night. It is this heart-sight which imparts sustaining life to all and the earth. The transactional consumer economy we live in and exists globally, strains all of the earth’s sacred resources, and drains our spirits. Anything for a price.
I bid us to think about this a little more. I ask: What soul-stirring, heart-sight is generated in buying a new car, a house, clothes, stocks and bonds, toys, things? Yes, these consumer items are signs of hard work perhaps, luck, privilege and for the have-nots, signs of not-having. Though they may give us satisfaction or pride, what heart-sight, what soul-stirring reciprocity that will endure far beyond the life of the item, is generated and passed on?
These things are commodities only. They are obtained transactionally. There is no eternal give and take between a car and its owner. As much as those of us who are privileged to have things (some far more than others), and are comforted by and attached to stuff, our consumerist society does not proffer soul-stirring heart-sight.
What transactional consumerism does proffer is selfishness, greed, grabbing for more, not sharing, not giving back, and fear of losing what we have. Thankfully, though many can see beyond this consumerism and are not simply focused on accumulation and do much good in the world, the basic tenets of thinking we are ‘owners’ of everything, does not engender reciprocity.
It does not allow for full relationship and reciprocation with God, in gratitude, to the earth in care and soul-stirring love for each other. It encourages, subtly and not so subtly, grabbing for more, holding fast to what we do have, for fear someone else is going to come and take them; not sharing with the least of these and having far more than we need.
Let us pray that all of us will use more heart-sight to see the gifts of God and the earth to us. That all of us will feel that soul-stirring pull away from transactionalism and towards giving back – not just things – but listening for and seeing these gifts; the vital importance of the rhythms of nature in all that we do, and living with gratitude; living with heart-sight and soul-stirring reciprocity.
P.S. Though I have just begun reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braided Sweetgrass, I highly recommend it!
*Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. © 2013. Text by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Milkweed Editions: Canada. 2013. P. 26 and any other references.
WEEKEND OF JULY 17, 2020
“It Will All Work Out”
This was one of my mother’s favorite wisdom sayings. More than that, it was an expression of her undying faith. I recall her saying it out loud repeatedly, but not overtly. She saved it for times when things seemed particularly overpowering to her children. I am very sure she prayed it silently as a mantra during the many tribulations of her life, when things were particularly distressful to her. In other words, “Trust in God.”
To this day, I find myself pulling it out of my own cupboard as my mother did, to provide hope to others, just as much for my own comfort. “It will all work out” can sound trite and too all-encompassing for many; dismissive, even. I realize these words can be viewed as Pollyanna-ish; far too fantastical to acknowledge reality; arrogant and all-knowing.
Saying, “it will all work out” can be a few words spoken into the air offhandedly. Believing “it will all work out” is a different thing entirely. It probably boils down to what meaning these words have for us. What is “it”? How will it “all work out?” How can everything possibly always “work out?”
That may be precisely the point. They don’t. Earthly matters can’t possibly always work out the way we would like or can comprehend. We cognitive human beings can see facts or circumstances and assess an outcome in many instances, and therefore, we think we’ve got it all locked up. We do very well at solving things and helping them “work out” to certain specifications, dreams, desires for ourselves and others, if we have anything to say about it.
It is obvious that things don’t always work out in the world that are just, fair, equal, loving, peaceful, helpful or logical and explainable, or to our liking. In fact, most of the time they are far more the opposite – unjust, inequitable, unfair, hateful, war-like and violent, egregious and unthinkable. From pestilence to war to annihilation to natural disaster to tragic accident and illness, things certainly do not always “work out.”
When I ponder the phrase, I realize that in its simplicity, it covers everything and nothing. Everything, because it provides some semblance of balance and comfort towards the imbalance of life’s myriad experiences: this too shall pass, even if the outcome is one not to our liking.
Nothing, because it empties us of human control, leaving us feeling out of control. That’s just the point! It points us to that empowering gift: the very lack of power human beings have to control outcomes. It directs us to that Higher Power; the Divine Being that stands transcendently distant, and at the same time, imminent; as close as our breathing, yet “as distant as the distant star” (UCC BOW); the unifying, universal heartbeat of God which resonates and vibrates in us and the universe, and has from the beginning of time. In the Holy One’s sight, all shall work out.
We are freed. Freed to seek higher ground, a place where the Holy One will bring us if we simply will it. Freed to not only lean in, but lean on our Savior Jesus Christ. Freed to offer up the worry, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that plague all people at one time or another, whether self-acknowledged or not. Freed to let go; to trust in God, having faith that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Or, in my dear mother’s words, “It will all work out.” Amen.
WEEKEND OF JULY 10, 2020
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”
HUNGER AND THIRST
One thing I’ve discovered I am not hungering or thirsting for is news…television news, news feeds, radio news, text news, online news, newspaper news….breaking news. I wonder who first coined this phrase that is now part of our lexicon?
How many times can news be breaking news? It seems everything is now considered ‘breaking news,’ from the trite to the truly noteworthy. If a child becomes potty trained, it is breaking news on Facebook. If it’s a pandemic, it’s breaking news. And, OMG this particular TV station just got a new weather-tracker vehicle – Holy Smokes! Grab the steering wheel – we’re not safe unless we have that weather tracker! How can these and everything in between be ‘breaking news?!’
“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” as Chicken Little cried in one old fable! Chicken Little was wrong, by the way. She got her fellow barn-yarders all hepped up that the world was ending and then found out an acorn had dropped on her head…hmm…is there a metaphor in there somewhere for us chickens today?
It gets to the point where the things that are truly important are overwhelmed by massive infusions of nonsense. It’s kind of like another old fable about crying wolf; if you repeatedly cry wolf when you are not really in trouble, everyone will stop running to help you. Whatever happened to non-breaking news???
Now, I like to be well-informed on what is going on in the world, for better or for worse. And, as a pastor and preacher, it is important to be informed to be relevant. After all, the brilliant 20th c. Swiss Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, advised preachers: “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”*
I wonder what he would say now that we have so many ways of getting news…take your I-phone, your TV, your radio (if you still own one), your laptop or tablet, your newspaper, and your Bible?
My point is that I recently decided that the mainstream news, and all the ways we receive it, are too overwhelming if we avail ourselves of many of them much of the time. There is too much to absorb, cogitate, ruminate and digest. Too much for our minds, bodies, spirits; too much for our brains and hearts. Just too much!
This has nothing to do with journalists or free press or any of those things. We are lucky to have so many options and free speech. This has everything to do with managing the input. It has everything to do with what is healthy, or not.
Consider this: we don’t just hear and see the news. Whether happy, sad, momentary or prolonged, whatever the news is that we receive, we humans have a physiological response to it. When constantly bombarded by our medium of choice, we don’t realize that the processing can become injurious to our very beings.
For those who are keeping in touch via many on-line platforms for work, play, school and connection with friends and family, screen time has increased exponentially - again. Our children are Zoomed or Webx’d out, along with adults who must use such platforms.
A good thing right now is that the pandemic, ironically, offers opportunities to opt out; to make use of more free time through accessing quiet time, reading of all types (including the Bible!), getting outdoors, exercising, sitting on the porch, family-time, naps, etc., in order to avoid over-exposure to breaking news – to protect our spirits from being inundated with too much information which requires immense amounts of psychic energy to process.
Make no mistake, being informed during this time of pandemic and disaster is critical. Knowing what is going on politically, economically, and socially is an important responsibility. But, getting information and becoming a media-worshipper are two very different things.
Suggestion: If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed when you access your favorite mode of news, and next thing you know an hour or two or more has gone by, STOP! STOP yourself before that happens. Set up a chosen time and increment of time to check-in to remain informed each day, then move on to something else.
Our souls are thirsty for connection and peace. Our spirits are hurting from the many physical, psychological, emotional and mental wounds of this pandemic. With the uncertainty of these times swirling around us, clear away the flotsam and jetsam of breaking news, and allow your spirit to thirst…in silence…quietly.
Rather than satisfying an appetite for media, trade some of that breaking news time for Good News time. You may discover what you are truly hungering and thirsting for is genuine breaking news…news that has been in the headlines for thousands of years…time with God. May your thirst be quenched.
*https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/668096-take-your-bible-and-take-your-newspaper-and-read-both. Accessed July 9, 2020.
WEEKEND OF JULY 3, 2020
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND!
It is hard to believe it is Fourth of July weekend already! Time seems to be strangely flying by and, standing still. This early summer holiday seems to have crept up on us. Like many events and rituals of ‘normalcy,’ much seems to be out of whack or misplaced, whether in an abstract way or tangibly.
The Rev. Ruth Shilling-Hainsworth, Pastor of the United Congregational Church of Pawcatuck, recently wrote in her blog about this phenomenon of all things ‘misplaced’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m told that in her message she refers to the ‘misplacement’ of her vacation. In it she writes, to paraphrase, ‘I seem to have misplaced something...it’s my vacation!’ Will there be one? How will it work? Where would you go? Who would cover? All of these questions are asked not only by this clergy-person of the SNEUCC, but by all of us in all walks of life, who are trying to make plans in a rather ‘unplannable’ world…the operative being ‘trying.’
I’ve heard from friends’ of their extended family members in other parts of the country who are planning vacations with no regard for their own safety or others’, convinced that they won’t get the virus, even taking elderly family members with them…
No matter what your situation is, whether you are retired, getting ready to retire, raising a family, live alone or many other scenarios, much of what we are used to is not accessible.
It might be a family vacation or feeling comfortable enough to have a ‘safe’ picnic or go to a restaurant. Luckily for those of us who live in CT, we are in great shape right now, but vigilance is still the word of the day as much of the country and world explode in COVID-19. Perhaps your vacation is ‘misplaced,’ too.
Vacations aside, this past week at our Chapel Chat group that meets via Zoom on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m., inspired by Rev. Ruth’s idea, I asked folks what has been ‘misplaced’ or is missing in their lives as they navigate the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
The answers were poignant and not unexpected: hugs and shaking hands; physical contact including massages; seeing someone’s whole face, not just eyes peeking out over the top of a mask; lack of traditional family gatherings; eating inside a restaurant, being with people and socializing in general. Our whole way of relating seems to be ‘misplaced.’ Relational people that we are created to be, we are restricted from much of what makes us relational.
I have noticed that when I run into someone I know unexpectedly and actually get to be with them in person, it is such a joy – even at 10 feet! More than a joy! It feels like a party! Extroverted people love parties! I’m guessing that even introverted people are beginning to long for something more than isolation.
However, all is not lost. ‘Misplacing’ can lead to new appreciation and filling the gap of what is missed in other ways. Nothing can replace real relationship, but let us not become despondent. All is not lost.
Isn’t it wonderful that amidst all this ‘misplacement’ and ‘displacement,’ that we have our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who never changes, wavers or disappoints?
Isn’t it wonderful that God is there for us, if we but ask, 24-7, in all times and through all times?
That, friends, is something we never have to doubt or worry we shall lose. Nothing can replace, misplace or displace that promise.
“Neither height nor depth, nor anything else, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:39.
Blessings and joy to you.
With Gratitude for all of you,
Weekend of June 26, 2020
“My eyes are ever on the Lord” – Psalm 25:15a
Wearing masks has put our eyes much more at the forefront of communication these days. Our eyes have always been the loci of truth. Looking into someone’s eyes is revealing – the ‘eyes’ have it – to morph one saying; the eyes are a window unto our souls, is another. Eye-to-eye contact is powerful. The combination of facial expressions and the look in our eyes is critical to human communication and relationship.
The advent of donning masks for protection of others and ourselves in this time of COVID-19 has made our eyes the front and center of non-verbal communication. Facial expressions are rendered unrecognizable. Masks cover everything but our eyes, making them the high and low beams of our inner light, or darkness, as it were; often revealing our inner unspoken feelings more intently than we realize. For those who are lucky enough to be able to see with their eyes, this is like having our privacy shield ripped away – we are exposed.
One of the first times I ventured out in search of some basics - toilet paper, paper towel, handwipes - the stresses of our new, multi-layered existence were acutely felt. The specter of COVID overshadowed everything. I was irately reminded by another shopper to navigate the one-way aisles correctly. I was trying to find what I wanted in haste, so exposure would be limited; keep my mask from bumping my glasses out of whack; and just navigate the taken-for-granted act of grocery shopping without having a melt-down.
At one point, unable to find an item, I asked an employee (I thought politely) where it might be. He was across a wide aisle, but he took a step back as he answered me. He looked wary and began explaining employees were working as hard as they could under the circumstances. I wasn’t quite sure why he was telling me all of that but I listened. Then, I was directed to the location of the item, thanked him and went on my way.
On my way home, I reflected on the exchange. Somehow, it didn’t sit well with me. Had I been rude? Did my body language display my frustration and fear of being in a public place with all the dangers of COVID? Maybe he was just strung out like everybody else.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that my eyes were probably reflecting everything I was feeling inside. Because of my mask, all the store clerk could see were my eyes…eyes filled with frustration, anxiety, fear and fatigue. My soul-windows were revealing my inner feelings. Maybe, it seemed like all of that eye-angst was directed at him?
Since then, I am acutely aware that the expression in my eyes, sitting above that mask line, is far more noticeable. I now remind myself that whatever I am feeling is going to be reflected in my eyes, and the same in reverse: what I see in someone’s eyes above their mask-line will be a window unto their soul, even more angst-filled in these times. We all need to be aware of our non-verbal, ‘eye-talk’ during these masked times more than ever.
When we see into others’ ‘soul-window,’ we see their divine heart light. When we look into each other’s eyes, we see each other, created in the image of God, imago dei. We see God. Our eyes are “ever on the Lord” as Psalm 25:15 tells us.
It is our job to keep our eyes “ever on the Lord” in order to love and live as God wishes us to do. Perhaps this whole face-masking exercise is directing us to keep our eyes on each other, in these naked and revealing moments, and therefore on the Divine Being that shines within all of us. So, turn on your high-beams! Let your lights shine with kindness and love! Try smiling with your eyes above that mask!
Surely, the Lord is looking back at us, walking with us, leading us through all of this, reminding us to be kind, as we stare into the eyes of the Divine.
Till we meet again,
WEEKEND OF JUNE 19, 2020
Good Day to All of You!
I continue you to think of you all and miss you as we continue this virtual church journey. For those of you who are not in our ‘Zoom church’ mode, we have been hearing a lot about Abraham and Sarah in the lectionary readings for the past couple of Sundays. This week the story is about the expulsion by Sarah of her servant, Hagar, and baby Ishmael, from the home of Abraham.
The saga of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar in Genesis is certainly fraught with all the elements of human drama – jealousy, love, slavery, grief, duty, suffering, exile, faith and more.
In Genesis 16, barren Sarai, Abram’s wife, ‘gives’ her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to her husband to protect the covenant promised by God that Abram would have more descendants than stars in the sky (Gen. 15). Because she has not conceived, she is taking matters into her own hands so that they will have a son and heir. The deed is done. Ishmael is born to Hagar and Abram.
Then in Chapter 18, miraculously, God informs Abraham and Sarah (name-change in Chapter 17) that they will indeed become parents in their dotage. “Is nothing too wonderful for the Lord?”
With the birth of Isaac, Sarah is overjoyed, as is her husband. But, there’s a glitch: Sarah is jealous of Ishmael, the firstborn, and his mother, Hagar. She doesn’t want Ishmael to receive Abraham’s inheritance, known in the ancient patriarchal system as his birthright. She demands that Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to die.
Abraham is sorely conflicted. He does not want to cast them out, as this will mean sure death for his son, Ishmael, and probably for Hagar, too. God intervenes, assuring Abraham that Ishmael will live and have his own nation and descendants. Abraham trusts God and does his wife’s bidding.
We see that Sarah’s enmity for Ishmael and Hagar is all-consuming. So consuming, that she sets the scene for what could result in horrific tragedy – in fact, that’s her intent. She knows full well they cannot survive in the desert for long. Her desire to protect Isaac’s birthright and legacy looms above and beyond all else, even in the face of the incredible blessing of Isaac’s birth. She is driven to make sure they are removed from the scene. Jealousy can get out of hand, as Sarah’s machinations demonstrate. Without God’s intervention, tragedy would have ensued. Sarah’s jealousy was evil.
This human characteristic is put on display early in the Bible when Cain murders his brother Abel because of his jealousy that God accepted Abel’s offering over his own. His pain of rejection turned to anger and his anger to jealousy, which birthed his sinful and evil act of murder, just as Sarah’s jealousy warped her thinking.
We’ve all been jealous of someone or something at one time or another. When we covet that which we cannot have, our unsatisfied desires are thwarted, are hurt by rejection, feel overlooked or left out, the tentacles of unchecked jealousy can easily become dangerous to ourselves and others. The spark becomes a flame, the flame a roaring fire, burning to destroy. When we allow these reactions to control our own actions, this is a sin against ourselves, others and God.
It is good to be mindful of our own soulful selves; to be aware that we are all too human, and can all too easily become instruments of pain and hate, rather than instruments of peace, as St. Francis so beautifully prayed.
When those first tiny inklings of envy and jealousy take hold; when those tempting feelings begin to burble up into our hearts and minds, let us pray to God to help us overcome the darkness in our hearts. Let us petition God to help us find a way to let the light of love shine through and overcome the dark places of our human souls; that we make right that which can become all too wrong, before it is too late; that we have the foresight and fortitude to remember these biblical lessons on living.
May God be with you,
WEEKEND OF JUNE 12, 2020
And the beat goes on…praise God for that! Though we may be a little tattered and worn, we continue to foray onward through the pandemic, the historic protests against racial injustice, reform and healing in the name of George Floyd and so many others, and the Summer of 2020.
In case you are wondering about the smaller packet this week, I have scaled it down because our Administrative Assistant, Carrie Morse, was hospitalized for a brief time, thus we have fewer hands. Thankfully, she is doing better and hopefully will be home by the time you get this. We pray for her speedy and complete recovery, and send coping prayers for her family.
We also want to remember the Addington and Belknap families, as they grieve the loss of Betsy’s daughter, Linda Addington, and our Moderator, Terry Belknap’s, sister. Let us keep them in our hearts during this time of loss.
As the rhythms of life course through us and around us, I have been thinking about the incongruity of many of the things we are experiencing. One of the lectionary readings for this week is Genesis 18:1-15, “Sarah Laughed.” It offers us a chance for profundity, but also some biblical humor; dramatic and comical at the same time. It is the story of Abraham’s wife and the visit by God and some angels, where it is predicted that Sarah will give birth in her old age. It is full of incongruity; an approach I personally like to think that God enjoys using.
Sarah hides behind the tent doorway and hears the prediction of fertility in her old age. She laughs to herself in total amusement at God’s folly. The complete, ridiculousness of God’s ideas stops her in her tracks. No way! She’s way beyond childbearing years. Yet, it comes true. Sarah gives birth to Isaac, which in Hebrew comes from the root “to laugh.” God has the last laugh on Sarah. It is incongruous, but it happened.
Incongruous things continue to happen in these days, too, some of them mind-bendingly tragic. The world has witnessed the unexpected, but raging arrival of COVID-19 and all it has wrought; Ahmaud Arbury and Breonna Taylor, hunted down; George Floyd murdered in cold blood on live video cam, lynched on the pavement by then-police officer, Derek Chauvin: eight minutes and 46 seconds of pure hell to watch – and beyond pure hell for George Floyd as he succumbed to evil.
In response, the world has gone wild with anger and frustration at the long history of murderous treatment of African-Americans at the hand of the law – and, at the hands of self-proclaimed vigilantes and outlaws. This renewed uproar by already active and newly aware supporters is overdue, as citizens of many nations proclaim solidarity with all African-Americans and people of color. The dark shadow of slavery as a means to prosperity for this country looms large. The idea of surrendering one’s white privilege is becoming more and more a reality – and a necessity to make things right.
The incredulity of all of this happening in rapid-fire succession has our heads reeling. Not only that, this country is in the midst of an economic crisis and an already unusual political nightmare and election year, fraught with daunting deficits in leadership. This hazardous state of affairs certainly can leave you shaking your head and wondering where it is all leading.
It is said drama and comedy are very closely related; that where there is deep human despair, there also can be deep human laughter; irony, even. Just like the comical irony of Sarah laughing at God, there is the drama of God questioning her laughing. She then becomes pregnant with Isaac!
There is an element of irony that in one of the worst times in our country’s and world’s history, we are being brought together in uncanny, incongruous ways. Virulent disease rips through the world, yet the movement to end racism is re-charged; birthed in a new way with a vengeance by George Floyd’s martyrdom.
On the one hand, we are being attacked by a renegade virus, and yet, on the other, coming together to lift up the life of George Floyd and others. The catalyst for change was born, in no way condoning that evil murder, but in spite of it and resurrected out of it, super-charging the movement to surrender our white privilege and say with truth and repentance: “Black Lives Matter.” The masses have had an epiphany – one already all too familiar a reality to African-Americans.
The incongruity, mystery and gravity of all these circumstances conjoined gives us weighty cause to reflect. Sarah didn’t believe God would do such a miraculous thing as give her a son in her nonagenarian years. She laughed at the impossibility of the idea. She could only understand in human terms, not in God’s terms, until it happened.
I am sure none of us expected to be brought low by COVID-19’s “Stay Safe Stay Home,” then led out of that paralysis by multiple atrocities like George Floyd’s pavement lynching. Not one of us knows how God moves and I would be the last to be so arrogant as to say how God is involved. I cannot presume to do so. I do believe with all my heart, however, that God does not cause bad things to happen, but works in, through and around them to make good out from bad.
Sometimes things seem so incongruous, we can only shake our heads in awe and wonder, as Sarah did when she heard the life-changing news of pregnancy in her future. She laughed it was so ridiculous. Then it was her reality.
Of course, the situations we find ourselves in today are radically different than Sarah’s in terms of context and events. There is nothing laughable about any of it. What is the same is the very incongruity of good springing from barrenness; ironic possibility; of hope and new life - resurrection. May it be so.
Eternally Surprising God:
Give us the eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to feel your incongruous, hope-filled work in our weary, wounded world. Keep us open. And continually remind us that we must help with the heavy-lifting. Amen.
It is with great sadness that we share the news of the recent passing of
the Rev. R. W. Nelson, Jr.
Rev. Nelson proudly served the First Congregational Church of South Windsor for 6 years in the 1960's. Please join us in sending your thoughts and prayers to his family.
Please check out Rev. Nina's interview with the Journal Inquirer that was published in the Saturday/Sunday, May 23-24 2020 edition:
Message from the Pastor
Weekend of June 5, 2020
“What’s in Your Garden?”
Tis the season of gardening. For those who are able and have somewhere to sow, tend and reap, it is a gift of the body, mind and spirit to commune with the sights, sounds, and smells of God’s Creation. In the planting and tending, sacred life courses through our bodies into the earth and back again, a growing and sustaining of that life through this husbandry.
For some, having something to tend is essential to that communion with the growing season in God’s green earth. This can happen on a roof-top, in a green house, a coffee can or in a plot. Tending allows us to feel needed and also to contribute to well-being. To tend is to care for; to look out for; watch for needs and changes, feeding and watering as you go, or whatever the particularities of the situation require. It is a labor of love. We become engaged with our tend-ee.
Some tend to people. Some tend to their machines. Some tend to the needs of an institution or business. Some tend to ideas. Many tend to many things at once. Some are born to be tend-ers, and others aren’t so natural about it, depending on what they tend. One thing for sure, a truly vital garden lets you tend in a soul-feeding quietude that not all ‘tending’ provides.
I ask you to consider the idea that everyone starts out with a garden to plant and take care of, though it may not be a literal plot of ground. What I mean is that our very lives are gardens. We are born sown with our spirits and our gifts and growing edges. We are tended by God, first and foremost, along with someone, hopefully, who feeds us, teaches us and cares for us, although these tend-ings come in all shapes and sizes, not necessarily ideal environments for flourishing.
This metaphorical garden we all have is a garden of possibility. It overflows with potential. Some of what goes into this garden derives from circumstance. Much of what goes into and comes out of our garden, however, is chosen by us. All the ingredients are important, but as Jesus says in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (NIV).
So, can we apply this idea to our gardens? Can we make what comes out of our gardens better, to contribute to improving our lives and the lives of the people around us? The world’s? There may be much beyond our control that has gone into our gardens, but we can fertilize and re-shape the fruits.
Yes, the quirks of nature and our own ‘natures,’ also shape the fruits, but we have immense opportunity to work with nature and our own ‘natures,’ such that what a garden starts out to be, can be miraculously and radically changed by the tending that takes place in our hearts. Digging, planting, weeding, transplanting, harvesting – all of these things are chances that our individual gardens offer for us to start again.
We all know farmers face many challenges, often including re-sowing after the loss of a crop. Sometimes, it is too late in the season to do so. The farmer must absorb the loss and the experience; learn patience, deal with frustration, disappointment and loss; to be ready to overcome. A good farmer develops wisdom and is adept at changing things up, adding a little of this or that, trying something new, realizing their mistakes, substituting new ways for old.
Readers: we are at a time that requires substituting new ways for old, not only in our personal gardens, but in the gardens of the world. COVID-19, though some choose to believe is over, still wreaks havoc. In that havoc, we all have experienced change, some far more deeply than others.
COVID-19 has unveiled the inequalities and inequities of this society ubiquitously, in ways that are stark and undeniable. The temple of complacency and hate are under siege. Institutions that have been held dear for centuries are actively under scrutiny for their contribution to the success of this country having been built in good part upon the backs of African American slaves and others treated inhumanely.
The protests that have stretched for nine days in the wake of George Floyd’s lynching on the pavement are evidence, sorrowfully far too familiar, that things must change now.
Systems that have been accepted and work for most, have not and do not serve or work for blacks and others. Not only that, disallowance of human rights on many levels effect people of color disproportionately, along with immigrants, the poor – too many to name here. White privilege has reigned far too long.
Society’s – and our own individual gardens – are in crisis. They need to be re-planted: re-planted with deep soul-searching self-examination fertilized with love, truth, honesty, justice, righteousness, and action. Until we truly admit to ourselves that we are all capable of contributing to this degradation, have contributed whether knowingly or unknowingly and are culpable in one way or another, and take action to rectify egregious disparity into true freedom as God sees it – justice for all - we shall continue reaping what we have sown.
We can change. We can become tend-ers of life, rather than cultivators of physical and spiritual death. While we are not all responsible for one person’s actions, we are responsible for beliefs held that perpetuate hate and disparity, in all its forms.
Friends, we can change. We must change. With God’s help, we will change. We can transplant our gardens and become transformed. We can become ‘tender tend-ers.’ Let us seek new ways to be and cultivate our gardens into places of joy and love – fairness – so that in the planting and tending, the sacred life we have been given courses out of us into the world in a showering harvest of love. May it be so.
Message from Rev. Nina
Weekend of May 29, 2020
Bonjour, Hello, Salut, Hola, Zdravstvutye, Nin Hao, Salve, Shalom, Konnichiwa, Marhabaan!
I offer these greetings in many languages, from French to Arabic. The beauty of the approximately 6,500 spoken languages in the world today can be especially appreciated as we approach Pentecost Sunday, the day considered the birthday of the church universal.
Of course, as told in Acts 2:1-21, Pentecost commemorates the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, with tongues of fire and whirling wind, causing them to “speak in other languages” about “God’s deeds of power.” Knowing the disciples were from Galilee, the gathered, multi-national crowd was amazed that the disciples could speak in a way that those hearing could all understand.
The chaos of all these languages spoken and understood simultaneously resulted in what must have sounded like an incongruous beauty; a unity in diversity; a cacophony of the coming together of many hearts into God’s heart, even, as some bystanders complained that all receivers of the Holy Spirit were “filled with new wine.”
Just yesterday, another type of cacophony caught my ear. I was noticing the exquisite beauty of the late afternoon as it sighed into evening. You know how certain days are capped with the most brilliant sunlight, soft breeze, perfect temperature? A golden richness, overflowing from the universe, poured out upon everything in its purview, light upon light, making way for the sunset and dusk. Chipmunks scuttled, a mourning dove cooed, in anticipation of the tucking in of the day, a comfort for all living things.
Flowers seemed to stretch their necks forward to drink in the last few rays of sunlight. Trees – oak, European larch, sycamore, hickory, white pine, dogwood, cork, birch – swayed together in the light breeze, as though keeping time to an ancient rhythm. Birds offered their postlude to the day before retiring, singing in earnest as though they would never sing again. Creation seemed to be singing all around me. I was reminded of Psalm 150:6: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” Surely, I was witnessing such a time.
The other transfixing cacophony to which I refer was that of one bird in particular, whose song(s) caught my rapt attention. A Mockingbird was chortling away in a tree across the way with what sounded like the employment of every cell in its little body, and then some.
Its repertoire was vast. The easily recognizable calls of the robin, blue jay, vireo, grackle, thrush, cardinal and others spilled out into the early twilight, interspersed with renditions of not so easily identifiable species, all proficiently and loudly proclaimed with great pomp and circumstance. Even when the grinding sounds of a truck motor or the blast of a motorcycle threatened to drown it out, the Mockingbird won the day.
The very delight the songster took in its showy concert seemed to increase with each bird song it imitated, louder and louder, more emphatic, almost to the point of actually bursting with song! At least, that’s how it affected me.
I was enthralled. The ‘moment’ lasted for about an hour. My heart was dazzled by the many languages the Mockingbird could speak. And, though I do not understand, ‘avian,’ my heart was filled with rapture as this magical bird spilled and trilled its exquisite aria regaling the abundant beauty of God’s Creation; God’s mighty power and majesty. I felt the Holy Spirit has descended upon the twilit world, and upon me. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the mockingbird abruptly stopped. The concert was over.
Let us remember how we are joined in our hearts by God’s love and the Holy Spirit, though we speak many different languages from around the world. And this Pentecost, may your spirits be renewed as we receive God’s word in new ways and in these new days. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”
PASTORAL MESSAGE FROM REV. NINA
WEEKEND OF MAY 22, 2020
What wonderful new community-building and sharing we are doing by engaging in this auxiliary correspondence every week. I hope it is as bright a spot for you as it is for me during these challenging times. As a matter of fact, I invite you all to write back, call or email if you feel the urge to share what you are doing to pass the time, and what is on your collective minds. These are such historic times.
Historic, yes…and spiritually and emotionally trying. Each of us has our own ‘contexts’ – different backgrounds, how we perceive things around us, the world, God; what we need, what we want and how we live; alone, as a couple or in a family or group. Much of what we believe, or feel is influenced by how and when we grow up, our personal life experiences and current settings. All of this adds up to our ‘contexts’ – whatever circumstances shape us. Where exactly are we ‘coming from?’
Context is always on my mind as a minister. It is very essential to continually extend my awareness beyond my own context; to remind myself that not everyone experiences the same things or in the same way. This consciousness-raising is especially important now as I try to remember that, what applies for me and all of us in our church community and living situations, is likely radically different from others’ contexts across the country and the globe.
Being aware of context – where others are ‘coming from’ – is critical to fostering and maintaining understanding. Take the Bible, for instance. In order to grasp much of the meaning of what we hear, we must delve into the contexts of the times, the people and the hearer and speakers. Without that, it is much more difficult to join in the story. Taking time to be aware of particular contexts allows for better meaning-making. It offers us a window through which to grasp and apply that meaning in and to our present-day context with each other.
We use these tools to not only see how the Bible speaks to us and is heard today, but also to relate to how others in our world, whether familiar or strangers, speak to us and need to be heard today.
Job 7 and Psalm 8 each offer a perfect example of radically different contexts influencing the writer’s concept of God. These individuals emote powerfully, generating similar questions, born of vastly differing circumstances: How does God feel about humans? What do we mean to God? Whenever I read Psalm 8, I am called to read Job 7. It’s all about context!
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Job. If you really want some dramatic reading to do and have never read it, pick up a Bible or google it and give it a whirl. Some of the speeches are long, but the drama of Job’s story grips the reader, as his life goes from wonderful to horrible. Job questions God – no, more like demands of God – that God tell him what the heck he ever did wrong to deserve such suffering!
And, of course, the Book of Psalms offers beautiful and also dramatic, forms of prayer and praise, lament and gratitude. Each book brims with life, poetic language and new meanings. After all the Bible is a living document, not a dead one! Otherwise, how would it have remained so prominent all these two-thousand-plus years???
In Job 7, the once “upright,” now long-suffering Job, “loathes” his life, having lost health, family and possessions, and is persecuted by his well-meaning friends. He demands a response from God. Job maintains he has done nothing wrong to deserve such a fate.
Job’s pity-party goes into high gear. He wishes he’d never been born. Job speaks, “in the anguish of my spirit” and complains “in the bitterness of my soul” as he demands to know why in God’s name God won’t leave him alone! Give me a break, you tormentor, O “you watcher of humanity!” What could you possibly care about me or anyone else?!? “What are human beings that you make so much of them?” Get lost!
On the other hand, Psalm 8 reflects Genesis’ creation story in the psalmist’s passionate and poetic acknowledgment of God’s glory and the majesty of all creation – including their wonderment at God’s placement of humans “a little lower than God” in the midst of all that majesty. The same question is asked by the psalmist, but articulated from a totally different context of gratitude and wonder in Verse 4: “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
The psalmist is clearly in love with God’s love for humankind, found in all that surrounds them: babes, moon, stars, beasts and birds of the air and sea – God shares God’s dominion! Wow! It is safe to say the psalmist’s context is one of humility, joy and wonder at God’s ways, “in all the earth” – that God loves humanity so much, God is willing to share this divine magnificence of creation.
The psalmist and Job, from their individual contexts, demonstrate the ever-present yearning for relationship with God and all its incomprehensibility. The polarities between Job’s and the psalmist’s experiences underscore the need for creating common ground through the understanding of highly dissimilar contexts at all times. This is especially urgent during this onslaught of COVID-19, the recovery and aftermath. We are all struggling to find new footing.
When we hear of dissonance about re-opening dates, differing medical opinions, some parts of the country feeling they do not need, ‘Stay Safe. Stay Home,’ while others adhere to strict guidelines - mask or no mask - we need to consider context.
When a person might think they have it so bad because they can’t go out to dinner in a restaurant or to the library, we need to seriously think how that would sound to an unemployed, single-parent with three children home-schooling and holding for hours on the unemployment phone line, trying to figure out how to feed the family and pay bills.
Or, to someone who must stay at home all the time pre-pandemic, this is not a new thing. This is life as normal. And, it may have stretched on for years. Whatever folks’ circumstances, let’s hope we can be generous with our understanding of different contexts than ours, and pray that others will be so with ours!
This context thing obviously is not necessary in times of crisis only. It is necessary at all times…in all situations…with all people. It is required of us in order to activate the empathy and compassion that enables us to be the living, loving hands and feet of Christ in the world.
So, whether you are a suffering Job or praise-singing psalmist, or anything in between, remember to consider the other person’s context. It is a lifeline to living the Christian life.
Well-being and peace be yours,
Wednesday May 20, 2020
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." - Jeremiah 29:7
Dear Members and Friends,
After careful consideration of recommended and suggested guidelines by the SNEUCC and others, the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team has made the decision to continue suspending use of the church buildings (Main Building and Wolcott Building) through December 31, 2020 for any gathered group that currently utilizes church space including but not limited to: in-house worship services, coffee hours, studies and groups with functions such as UCW, Xmas Fair, Historian Archive/Photo Team, CE, and Sewin4Servicemen, etc.
This is a holistic, moral, ethical and historic public health decision based on the uncertainties of COVID-19 effects in the coming months. Most importantly, it is for the common good of all. Churches are ‘hotspots,’ with much physical activity and surface space offering too much opportunity for spreading the virus. To err on the side of caution now is well worth avoiding any illness or death later. Let us pray that we see evidence of a vaccine on the horizon. We realize this comes with some disappointment, not least of all our own.
The good news is that all church activities, including on-line worship via zoom at 10:00 A.M. on Sundays, Chapel Chat at 10 A.M. on Wednesdays, and other offerings will continue as scheduled. Please avail yourself of our website and Facebook pages to get up to date information: www.firstchurchsw.org and on Facebook at First Congregational Church of South Windsor.
Thank you in advance for your prayerful cooperation, understanding and patience as we care for each other and our neighbors during this uncertain time.
And remember, we are not alone. The One, True God walks with us. This too shall pass.
We look forward with great enthusiasm to 'seeing' you at all our virtual church functions. Should you have any questions or wish to put an email address on the record for Zoom activity invitations, please email or call the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org; 860-528-7992. Calls continue to be monitored by our Administrative Assistant Carrie Morse who is working remotely. May you all remain healthy and well.
Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid and the Ad Hoc Pandemic Team
Terry Belknap, Moderator
Carroll Stearns, Trustee Chair
Lauren Horsfield, Deacon Chair
Lee Anderson, Treasurer
Jean Jackson, Clerk and Recording Secretary
PASTORAL MESSAGE FROM REVEREND NINA
WEEKEND OF MAY 15, 2020
May Greetings and Peace of Christ Be With You!
May is typically a festive month. We start out with May Day on May 1st, a throwback to the pagan days of old, marking spring rites, which birthed dancing around the May Pole and the giving of May Day baskets, both dear traditions in my family growing up. Two of my sisters were even crowned May Queens once upon a time!
Then, there is the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of the month, a different cultural event, another occasion to gather and celebrate in my family; another step in the kick-off of the lovely month of May.
This year, someone clued me in on “May the Fourth Be With You” – a take-off on the Star Wars mantra, “May the Force Be With You,” followed by Cinque de Mayo – the May 5th Mexican holiday, which brought with it a full-course Mexican dinner delivered right to my door! And the crowning of the mothers of the world on Mothers’ Day – the honoring of all who provide mothering, and especially in even more extraordinary ways now.
A plethora of proms and other parties are the rites of what would normally be the end of the academic year and the official beginning of summer marked by Memorial Day parades and picnics.
At church, from a liturgical standpoint, May 31st is Pentecost, the birthday of the church universal with its roaring flames of fire and miraculous speaking and hearing in foreign tongues – the Holy Spirit swooshes in!
The hustle and bustle of the Annual Scholarship Fundraiser Tag Sale preparations are usually in full swing in early May, as the United Church Workers heft, tote, bag and tag a multitude of treasures.
But, wait - this May of COVID -19 is radically different from all other Mays in our lives. May arrives in all its glory, but it is not the only story. In the midst of spectacular dogwood blooms, bright green fiddleheads and the arrival of brilliant Baltimore Orioles singing in the treetops, there is the undercurrent of uncertainty, an ever-present hum in our ears.
Loss of life and suffering have affected far too many. We keep all lost loved ones, families, patients and those recovering utmost in our prayers. Many more have no jobs, no money, no way to get any. There is much apprehension blowing in on the blustery winds of this month of May. What is your May like so far? What is it that you carry with you today? What do you worry about? Surely, there is no lack of worry-worth items!
We have no problem worrying and perseverating about things under the best of circumstances. In these disruptive pandemic days, it is likely that you are consumed by what a good friend calls “conflicting priorities” of worrying: perhaps, effects of additional isolation to already being alone. Wipe down the groceries or not? How many tests have been done or, maybe, when can my child or grandchild go back to work? How will I eat? Hmmm…which ‘worry’ shall I worry about the most? If you are allowing yourself constant media input, let the worrying begin and it will never stop! The merry month of May? Don’t think so!
The knack of worrying can become an obsession, an art or a non-entity. Non-entity you say? How so? Simply read, breathe in and believe this scripture; make it part of the ‘art’ of your life, if it isn’t already. Worrying becomes less of a burden because we are told by our Lord God that most things we fret about are not in our control…. God’s got this. So, “Do not worry.”
Matthew 6:25-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Therefore, when the days grow long and dark thoughts threaten, let the Lord be with you. Invite our tender Mothering God to your worry session; turn it all over to her and trust that the birds will be fed, we shall be cared for and safe. Like the lilies of the field, we simply need to ‘be.’ May bobs its merry head in the loveliness of God’s care, creation and salvation, which is with us, now and forevermore. God-with-us. Emmanuel. There surely is cause to celebrate life and a merry month of May, despite everything.
I send you deepest greetings of Christian love and miss all of you in body, mind and spirit. Merry May to all of you!
PLEASE NOTE: There is an important announcement below. Wapping Community Church has invited us to partner with them in collecting toiletries for the South Windsor Food and Fuel Bank. This is a simple and safe way to help others at a time when we may feel helpless. Directions for how to take part are in the letter. Thank you, all in advance for giving this the good ole ‘First Church generosity’ and especially thanks to Wapping's Outreach Minister, Lisa Wallace, and the Rev. Mark Abernethy for thinking of us, that we may all help others together! Amen! We also thank them for welcoming virtual visitors from our church on the first two Sundays of May.
Dear Wapping Community Church Family,
First of all, we dearly hope that all of you are safe and doing well!
At this time of year, our church is usually concentrating on putting together a food drive (peanut butter and more jelly, anyone?) in support of the South Windsor Food & Fuel Bank (SWFFB). Right now, the Bank is in dire need of toiletries. To meet that need, Wapping Church and First Congregational Church of South Windsor together are joining in a ministry partnership to address the shortage.
During the dates and the times listed below, the WCC Witness/Outreach Leadership Team will be manning a drop-off site in the parking lot at Wapping Community Church. Be assured, we will follow a process that is easy, safe and socially distant. You will have your donation in the trunk. Pull up, open the trunk, we will remove the donation and bring it to the collection bin. You close your trunk, and that's it!
Donations must be new, unopened and not previously used. Please drop off donations on any of the following dates:
Thursday, MAY 28 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Friday, MAY 29 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, MAY 30 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Items needed include:
Shampoo and Conditioner
Bar Soap and Liquid HAND soap
If preferred, donations can be picked up, rather than dropped off at Wapping Church. Call Bonnie or Ken to arrange for pick up.
Bonnie Driscoll (860) 218-8184
Ken Johnson (860) 841-6041
If you would prefer to make a monetary donation, make checks payable to: South Windsor Food & Fuel Bank, with WCC in the memo line, and mail directly to 150 Nevers Road, South Windsor, CT 06074.
Thanks in advance for your participation and prayers. You are in our prayers!
In Christ's love,
Your WCC Outreach/Witness Leadership Team
Message from the Pastor
May 1, 2020
Hello Friends! Happy May Day!
We hope this finds you well and as best you can be under the circumstances.
Your First Congregational Church of South Windsor 'production team' has been working diligently for the past six weeks to provide you with numerous written and on-line communications in response to the COVID-19 interruption: packets for the homebound and 'non-liners,' Chapel Chat, bulletins, telephone calls, message letters and links to helpful sites, etc., and most importantly, Zoom worship gatherings.
It is time for a brief rest for the 'team:' (Rev. Nina, Administrative Assistant Carrie Morse, Music Director Kamilla Mammedova and volunteers Jean Jackson (Music Committee/Licensing 'Guru') and Eric Soares, (Zoom Technology Host) and Care Team packet 'deliverers,' Terry Belknap and others.
The goal is to refresh and renew so that we are able to continue to serve you as we continue on this journey.
In that light, we are taking a break to catch our collective breath, starting at end of business today, Friday, May 1 through Monday, May 11, including a break from Zoom worship service on Sundays, May 3 and May 10. Mark your calendars: NO ZOOM WORSHIP ON MAY 3 AND MAY 10.
DO NOT LOSE HEART: ZOOM WORSHIP WILL RESUME MAY 17 AT 10 A.M.
YOU WILL RECEIVE YOUR ZOOM INVITATION ON FRIDAY, MAY 15. AS USUAL.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: NO CHAPEL CHAT ON MAY 6. Chapel Chat will resume on May 13 (Zoom invite going out May 12).
The Care Team will be making deliveries over this weekend, and then resuming the weekend of May 15th. Great job, Care Team! They will also continue calls throughout this time and on. If you know of someone who could use a call, please leave a message on the church phone answering machine.
Below you will find sites for a few area and out-of-area houses of worship for your on-line worship experience. Some are recorded and some are live. Simply click on the links and explore the homepages for directions to their worship sites.
First Congregational Church of Vernon (UCC) the Rev. Robin Bird
Temple Beth Hillel South Windsor (Jewish Reformed) Rabbi Jeff Glickman
Shabbat Service Fridays, 6:45; Sat 9 to 10 a.m.
People can watch from either the website:
tbhsw.org or from our FaceBook Temple Beth Hillel Community group
Wapping Community Church (UCC) the Rev. Mark Abernethy
https://www.wappingchurch.org/ - Click on link for appropriate date for recorded service on Home Page
Old Lyme Congregational Church (UCC) - Nina's 'growing up' church)
the Revs. Steve Jungeit, Carleen Reynolds and Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager
https://fccol.org/ - Click on link for appropriate date for recorded service on your date of choice on their 'Virtual Meetinghouse'
National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. (Episcopalian) The Very Rev. Randall Hollerith Marshall, Dean
Rest assured that out of sight does not mean out of mind, as we all are learning so well during this pandemic. The church phone will continue to be monitored by Carrie Morse remotely (860-528-7992) should you wish to leave a general message or have a pastoral emergency. Deacon Chair Lauren Horsfield's cell phone is on the recording in the event of such a true emergency, and she will be disseminating emergency calls to Rev. Nina, as needed, who is nearby.
Also attached are some links to daily prayer sites (see National Cathedral above, also) and a message from Rev. Nina.
Some of you may remember that we did not have any gathered worship at all for the first two weeks of the crisis as we got our feet on the ground. This will be just like that, only better because you will have Zoom Worship and Chapel Chat to look forward too!
Please know you are all held in prayer continually. This is a wonderful gift of sabbath rest for your team - a great way to show appreciation.
Be sure to scroll all the way down to find a message and devotional links. Also remember that many links have been forwarded to you in weekly emails, so you can check back and find those, too.
REMEMBER: WE ARE NOT ALONE, THOUGH WE MAY FEEL ALONE.
GOD IS WITH ALL GOD'S CHILDREN EVERYWHERE.
And now, may the Lord bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you. Amen.
'See' you soon!
Rev. Nina and Team
Message from Rev. Nina
April 30, 2020
Hello Sojourners in the Time of COVID-19:
I’m hearing from many folks how tired they are; whether they use the word ‘fatigued,’ ‘weary,’ ‘exhausted,’ or the phrase, ‘worn out,’ it all adds up to the same thing: we’re tuckered out.
It doesn’t matter what our context is: working, not working, on the front line or behind the scenes, publicly active or privately sequestered, alone or with others, parenting, grand-parenting, parent-parenting: we are all TIRED.
Some of us are seeing the faces we love all the time; others not enough, or, never again. New challenges to relationships have emerged as avoiding contact and the Coronavirus have become the baseline for daily living.
It is safe to say, I think, that much of what is wearing us out, besides simple tasks no longer being simple and multiple other factors, is the fact that we don’t have a definite ‘finish line.’ This ‘sprint’ has turned into what feels like a marathon without end. And, marathons take practice – this is one marathon we didn’t train for.
Not having a definite end-date is a recipe for compounded anxiety. Unlike a weather report that tells us, “and the last of the storm will blow through next Tuesday” or a tornado that touches down and leaves, we still don’t have any idea when this will be truly ‘over.’ Try as we might, we do not have control.
In the meantime, we need to continue to take care of each other as best we can and reach out as best we can within reason. Please be aware that the next outreach package or email will go out for the weekend of May 15th. There will be no delivery for the weekend of May 8th. So don’t be disappointed or think you were forgotten by the Care Team. The production team and I are taking a mini-hiatus to help everyone catch their breath. The Care Team will continue to reach out with phone calls as they have been all along.
Zoom on-line church will take place again on May 17th (no service May 3 or May 10). For those of you who are e-connected, please see the eblast on Friday, May 1 for links to church services near and far which you can access if you wish. Remember, not being in the building or on a ‘Zoom’ platform does not mean we cannot worship, nor is God distant – God is present everywhere.
I will be nearby and available for true emergencies only between May 1 and May 12. Please call the church office number 860-528-7992 and leave a message. Phones are monitored every day. An emergency number will also be available on that message.
Rest assured, you are all never far from my heart and always in my prayers. Just as Jesus took time out to rest, so too must his followers. It is my hope you will continue to seek and find good reflective time and peace during this time. And in the absence of a package next week, think how great it will be to get one once again!
Know that Jesus will find us wherever we are, and that you are being guided by your Eternal Parent and Creator, every step of the way. You are not alone.
Till We Meet Again,
Message from the Pastor
April 24, 2020
Missing the Temple
“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” - Psalm 42:6
We are not the only ones who have been rendered unable to use their church building, temple, synagogue, mosque, or storefront place of worship. We are not the first to be displaced: exiled.
Whether by enemies, natural disasters, fires, financial difficulties, wars, or in our case, pestilence, we are not the first who are unable to enter their house of worship to worship, gather, greet.
We must remember the houses of worship persecuted over the centuries, whether the monasteries and convents, “the Suppression of the Monasteries” during the purge of Henry VIII of England; the burning of African-American churches during the Civil Rights era and more recently during the past few years, or the attacks on Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
This year, even the holiest site in Jerusalem for the Muslim faith, the Dome of the Rock, off-limits to the many who make their required pilgrimage to Mecca during this Ramadan season, as is the Western Wall for the Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians.
We must remember the houses of worship that have had to sell their buildings to others; move on to renting a hall, or strip mall location. Or, have lost them to lack of financial management or funding; changing times.
In Psalm 42, which begins with the heart-rending, “As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God,” we hear a longing for the presence of God in the place – the temple – where God was always found for those who entered the sanctuary.
In verse 6, we hear that the longing is coming from afar – Jordan, Hermon, Mt. Mizar. It is unclear exactly what has happened, but it appears the psalmist has written this to express the loss of being able to enter their place of worship as usual – they feel cut off from their God’s presence, perhaps in exile in Babylon.
The Rev. Dr. J. Clinton McCann Jr., in the Common English Bible, states that there appears to be “a desire to visit the temple and the likelihood of being far away from it” (Common English Bible. 887 OT). Exiled; memories of Jerusalem, the holy place.
Friends, just like the psalmist, we too, are missing our place of worship and each other! Of course, we long for what used to be and how to get it back.
As difficult as this COVID-19 ‘Stay Home Stay Safe” effort is, we must remember that our building is not the only place that God resides. God is with us wherever we are on the face of the earth, and, beyond. God is not hemmed in by four walls, nor is God able to be hemmed in by any walls.
It is only natural to miss the building, but please remember that it is the gathering amidst the Holy Spirit in God’s midst that makes us ‘church.’ Whether we worship in our apartment, together with our partner or family or children, friend or pet, we are at worship. “Where two or more are gathered….”
In the forest, on the sea, flying in an airplane or swinging on a swing, worship takes place in the temple of God wherever God is present, which is everywhere!
Be gentle with yourselves and know that God is God. We miss our church, but we really miss the God that is within all of us that comes together when we meet; and that God is within us whether we are together or not.
Accept the joy of being created in God’s image and the reassurance that God is with you no matter where you are; God will meet you there.
Praise God for helping us to see new possibilities amidst this tumult of nature and science! Praise God for walking with us in this desert of church without a building; as alien as it may seem, it is going to be ok! We are not the first and we will not be the last who must walk an alien road. God is with us. Praise God!
Be blessed, be well, be at peace. You are missed.
Till we meet again,
Faith and the Optimistic Stance