REVerberations – April 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings! 

As always seems to be the case, there is much going on in the life of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ these days, and we continue to make whatever difference we can in the world. If I may share some thoughts on a few things in particular… 

I join with Michael in celebrating all of the awesome activity that is happening related to our WISE Congregation process. Please do see his article in this edition of Highlights. Having as many people as we did come out for the intensive Mental Health First Aid training was simply thrilling as we now turn toward drafting our WISE Covenant. Thank you to all who have been and will be part of this important process! Things are also bubbling up in exciting ways with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and our connections there. We will now be adding a couple of much-needed community education and support groups for mental health to the many AA and Al-Anon groups and Reiki experiences that take place in the building each week. Meal and More continues to add to the cumulative healing and helping factor as well, in addition to our worship and educational opportunities, our social gather-ings, and all the great work that is going on. Of course PFLAG and First Fridays continue to provide an essential anchor and support for the local LGBTQ community across generations. They are now beginning to plan for this year’s Drag Show. And we continue to provide space and energy for several other efforts to bring about justice and eradicate homelessness for all. So what’s next? 

Relatedly, we celebrate Erin Snell receiving this year’s Award from the Carroll County Human Relations Commission! My comments at the awards banquet drew a connection between Erin’s life and the passage at Micah 6:8 – to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Erin makes that passage real through her ongoing involve-ment in the community, her leadership of Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, her longstanding commitment to the PFLAG Steering Committee and First Fridays, her participation on the executive committee of the local NAACP chapter, her active involve-ment in the Poor People’s Campaign, and so many other endeavors. Congratulations, Erin! I am proud to affirm your great work as St. Paul’s Minister of Social Justice! With profound humility and heart-felt kindness, Erin has become a true force for justice in the world. 

St. Paul’s will have another opportunity to be a presence in the community as the destination of this year’s Good Friday Walk with the Cross. The walk begins at 11:00am at Ascension Episcopal Church on North Court Street and will make its way down Main Street to St. Paul’s. As the closing service at noon, we will offer Taize-style worship in the Sanctuary. 

Remember also that we are still looking for a couple of volunteers to staff the St. Paul’s booth at the Seniors on the Go Expo at the Ag Center on Wednesday, April 3, from 9:00am until 2:00pm. Thanks to the team that is pulling together a nice display that will represent us nicely at this well-attended event, and at other events in the future. 

So there is a lot to do. And there is also the Lenten summons to just be, and to reflect, to pray, and to prepare for the new life Easter promises. May we be blessed in it all, and find balance in each moment, and make our way forward with meaning and energy and hope. 

Marty 

REVerberations – March 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

One of the earliest conversations I ever had with anyone from St. Paul’s was with Janet Kelly who, as Head Elder at the time, was thinking about Communion during my candidating weekend. We worked out the details and when I got here, I found the Communion table set with the finest silver pieces. It was beautiful! And Communion worked very smoothly that Sunday morning, as I remember. 

Over the years, we have had other important conversations about Communion. For example, we expanded intinction to include small cups of juice for people who are immuno-compromised or simply prefer the cups. We have added a variety of breads for World Communion Sunday. We have made it official that all people, including young children, can receive Communion as long as parents approve – and we have had some who did not until Confirmation. We have worked, quite meticulously at times, on the delivery of Communion in the pews, even to the point of diagramming delivery routes for Consistory members who are now Church Council Members. I am sure that professional football teams would have envied the thoroughness of the planning – “OK, you go long, and you post up right here…” We have experimented with whether servers should start in the front and back of the Sanctuary as op-posed to the front and the middle. And we have dedicated portions of Council meetings to actually practicing this stuff. 

The changes have been more than logistical. Several years ago, we looked care-fully at the standard Communion liturgy – the one printed on the Communion inserts when we use those, and adapted it to be more gender neutral and theologically correct; for example, there are times it is appropriate to use the name Jesus and times it is appropriate to refer to Christ. 

More recently, we added wine along with grape juice during Communion so people could have a choice that suits their past experiences and current preferences. That was a big step and was undertaken quite thoughtfully given that the tradition at St. Paul’s had been to avoid serving wine, at least partly in deference to the presence of AA in the building. In extensive conversations with AA leaders and members, it was clear that the people with whom we spoke fully supported serving wine as long as juice was also offered. A couple of things became very clear: members of AA must deal with the availability of alcohol all around them in the world and in their lives, and AA seeks to pre-pare the person to live in the world and not change the world to suit the person. Indeed one leader with whom I spoke said it would be sad if we didn’t serve wine if there were other reasons to do so. And there are. Especially for people who grew up in the Catholic tradition, Communion is bread and wine. The same is true for individual Protestant congregations as well. So we offer both. (I won’t go into the history of how the Welch’s company got woven into the “tradition” across Protestantism as they lobbied for juice to bolster sales of their product.) 

Recently, and quite by accident, some of the kids took wine. I watched as it happened, and I can assure you that they did not like it. Nonetheless, there are a variety of beliefs about whether wine should be available to young people, with some believing it is quite con-sistent with tradition based on parental consent, and at least one other believing that we are “giving kids booze.” We need to think that through together. 

We have also experimented with new ways of doing Communion liturgy. That, too, arouses the interest of people with a wide variety of preferences. Some would like to have the full Communion liturgy every Communion Sunday, while others want even more extensive liturgy than that, and still others strongly and strenuously object to components of that liturgy and find that any words at all can get in the way of them fully appreciating the sacrament. So we can dialogue about that also. 

I have heard through the grape vine that there are conversations happening now about all of this. And I have asked that the Elders join me in a Congregational Conversation about Communion in general, open to all who are interested in being there and sharing views in a productive forum. The Elders will then share the results of that meeting with the whole Church Council and we will find the best way forward that we can given a wondrous diversity of opinions, needs, and preferences.

So come to Fellowship Hall after the 10:45am service on Sunday, March 10, and be part of the process. We will also have a similar conversation during the 8:30am service and members of Church Council and I will do our best to faithfully make sure what is said is accounted for in any decision-making. I hope to see you there! 

Be well…
Marty 

REVerberations – February 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

If I might take a moment to collect some thoughts about the WISE Congregation process… Having begun in earnest in October and hoping to conclude in May, we are now roughly midway through what we initially set out to be our study and preparation time. We have had a couple of WISE Moments during services. We have gathered during Sunday School time on two Sundays. For the first of those, we heard powerfully compelling and eloquent testimonies from people in this congregation dealing with mental illness and substance abuse directly and indirectly. During the second session, we had an open conversation during which we talked about a variety of questions and issues, and we decided that it was important to follow up on questions about comfort, perhaps guided by Niebuhr’s quote about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. In short, we named the tension between deciding to become WISE and living with the possibility that doing so would set the stage for behaviors and issues that might well test our sense of comfort during our times together. What if someone comes from the com-munity and is disruptive or even danger-ous? 

Our planned conversation about that was thrown off by a weather-related cancellation, so we followed up during both services the next Sunday. A number of people spoke out, giving voice to the distinct possibility that the presence of people with more serious behavioral issues could quite likely disrupt what is a necessary and valued time of spiritual sanctuary for each of us, a place to revitalize and renew for life’s challenges, a place to connect with old friends and new friends alike. We did our best to hold all of that in light of the gospel passage from Matthew that says that what we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus; that passage calls us to put ourselves in places beyond our routine. And, on a pragmatic level, we talked also about a desire to get more people into church, and recognized that be-coming WISE may help that to happen. 

I know from my community contacts that there is a fair amount of excitement among the mental health community that our becoming WISE would provide a unique resource in town for people with whom they work, people who may be longing for a place of spiritual connection but who are, for whatever reasons, leery of attending church – for example, due to stigma, or because they are afraid that people will not welcome them or that they will not be able to tolerate sitting through a service, or because they have generally given up on finding a way to integrate God into their lives. 

Three points of clarification come to mind about all of that. First, we have a special community to share with people in need of connection, a truly loving, accepting and affirming community that offers meaningful relationship with others and with God. Second, as is true for everybody, it may not only be Sunday services that meet peoples’ needs; it may be involvement in the many other aspects of our ministries, whether community service or education or church organization or fellowship. All of those can do a person good. 

Third and maybe most important, “they” are already “us.” Of course we need to think about and be ready to welcome those who are still unknown others to us. But at the same time, we need to acknowledge that many of us already experience mental illness, substance abuse and brain disorders. Some of us experience mental illness directly – for example, I have talked about my own challenges with depression and anxiety/panic attacks, as others have shared their struggles, and still others of us have family members who have dealt with and are dealing with a wide range of related issues. So as much as we are and ought to be becoming a WISE Congregation for people we don’t yet know, those of us who are already here will benefit from the process as well. Ultimately, if we are all One, by loving and caring for each other and for those who would be drawn to a WISE congregation, we grow as individuals, as a church, and in the image of God.

In many ways, becoming WISE is a very natural extension of who we are as a congregation. We have, and we continue to live into the statement that “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” That is who we are. Becoming WISE will only help us be better at creating a safe and holy space for people dealing with identified issues. 

With the hope of drafting a WISE Statement between now and the planned vote on May 19, now is the time to ask questions, express concerns, demonstrate sup-port, and get or stay involved in the process. We will talk together again on the second Sundays of February, March, April, and May. How can we most effectively use that time? If you have things to say or ideas for topics to cover, talk with Michael, or Marty, or send an email to the entire WISE Leadership Team at wise-team@stpauls-ucc.org. 

By all means, please sign up for the Mental Health First Aid training that we have arranged to have offered here on March 4 and 5. The sign-up roster is located in the kitchen/chapel corner of the Lounge. That training alone is likely to address many concerns, and it will give us more to talk about. 

Thank you for thinking about this, and for being part of the process! 

Marty 

(In a related tidbit, I was recently elected to the Board of the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network that, among other things, sponsors the WISE move-ment. I am humbled and grateful for this new oppor-tunity to serve the UCC on a national level.) 

REVerberations – December 2018/January 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 
 
I just had the great joy of being part of this year’s Advent Workshop. It never ceases to truly amaze me how productive we can be as a congregation, and how much fun we can have while doing productive things. Without sounding too Wesleyan, might I say that I found the day to be heart-warming. I suspect others did too. 
 
Using items generously donated and meticulously collected and counted over several weeks, baskets were made that are being delivered to members who can’t get to church regularly anymore, baskets were filled with basic necessities and some treats to be given out to our Meal and More guests closer to Christmas Day, various kinds of or-naments and decorations were made to brighten up the church and the world. All of that happened around great food and joyful Christmas music to which many people sang along. 
 
It never fails that when we need to get something done – across an incredibly broad spectrum of need – passionate, competent, and committed people step up to make things happen. Sometimes I look at groups that come together for various purposes and actively wonder what else the groups might be capable of. It seems like the sky is the limit. And I feel deeply blessed to be among such a gifted and activated and just good and decent group of people.
 
Thank you especially to Cathy Alles, who pulled it all together yet again with much help from a host of others without whom the event could not and would not have happened like it did! 
 
No doubt we need to be strong together these days, as events in the world threaten to keep us off-balance, and as health and other significant challenges make life especially difficult to specific members of our congregation and for all of us together. 
 
I think of the Beatles song that says we “get by with a little help from my friends,” by coming together to take on whatever life presents. We have done that before, and we shall do just that again. Together, we do make the world a better place, for each other and for those we encounter in the world individually and collectively. 
 
As a practical matter, let me say that one of the best ways we can be aware of specific needs as they emerge is to utilize a mechanism Jo Morrison set up many, many years ago: the email prayer list. That prayer list provides a way for me and really for anyone to share news about particular needs, whether for prayer or other support. I try to share what I can by way of that prayer list, so if you want to know more of what is happening in any given moment in the St. Paul’s universe, I highly recommend that you sign up for the prayer list. To receive updates, if you have not already done so, send an email with “join” in the subject header to prayerlist@stpauls-ucc.org. Once Jo adds you, you will then receive all updates that are sent out. To send prayer requests to the group, send an email to prayers@stpauls-ucc.org and describe what you would like prayers for or help with. Those requests will go out to everyone on the list.
Through this Holiday Season, let us celebrate and revel in all that we have together. And let us activate every mechanism for making a difference in the world. The world needs love, and we’re blessed to have that to share. 
 
Many Blessings! 
 
Marty 

REVerberations – November 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

So I sit down at my keyboard still struggling to find words that speak to the violence in the world, especially of late. And I realize that the best I can do is put words on the page, seeking to be inspired in some meaningful way as I write. This writing process, then, is an act of faith… and of hope. 

As I mentioned on Sunday, the Squirrel Hill community, where the recent synagogue murders happened, was my home at one point in my life. Squirrel Hill is the most diverse neighborhood in all of Western Pennsylvania, sitting just outside of downtown Pittsburgh, adjacent to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. It is home to thriving congregations of all stripes, even as it is anchored by the rich and varied Jewish community. There is a bustling mix of old and new business that is rather seamlessly integrated with residences ranging from stately homes to small, relatively affordable apartments. It has the feel of a small town where cultures come together in harmony and all people live in peace. Resi-dents and visitors are truly neighbors in the best sense. This horrific killing there shattered what turns out to be nothing more than an illusion of tranquility, reminding us quite poignantly yet again that there really are no safe places right now. 

I heard a young woman who was interviewed say that she does not understand how it is that people call everyone to prayer at times like this when her place of prayer is both no longer safe and literally not available until the bodies and the blood are cleared, the investigations stop, and repairs are made. 

Of course we realize that it is not just that synagogue that was attacked, but churches, and grocery stores, and far too many schools, and movie theaters, and mailboxes in homes and offices, and… all with no sign of things getting any better and some pretty clear indications that, though this type of violence does seem to be cyclical, things are getting generally worse. The rabbi of the synagogue said this shooting was not just an attack on his synagogue or on Jews, but an attack on America. 

Another young woman spoke of growing up “post-Columbine,” in a world where active shooter drills are commonplace for all school children. We all live in that world, don’t we? There are so many reminders of the frailty of life in this country, and in this world too, if we dare look beyond our own borders. 

There is no easy answer to any of this. And getting to an answer is complicated by the reality that we as a culture don’t really have a way to deal with the complexity that is involved in this escalating violence. We tend to respond as a culture to small parts of the big picture, but we lack the means, and apparently both the ability and the will to make sense of this multi-faceted matter of great importance. In the wake of such massacres, we point toward guns, and mental health, and political discourse, or whatever, when the solution undoubtedly requires accounting for all of that and more. Further, we have lost, it seems, the ability to have meaningful conversations about anything that might stray into anything resembling politics by hitting hot buttons that trigger knee-jerk reactivity and shut off any possible rational problem-solving. 

And perhaps more fundamentally, until we remember that we are all in this together, it is impossible to imagine a way forward. In fact, all of the violence and tension gin up our fears and incline people to cling even more tightly to small, insular and increasingly isolated groups that promise safety, small “tribes” that are becoming more entrenched in opposing views. Sadly, this is not just an American problem; it is happening all around the world, in Brazil, in Germany, and elsewhere, not to mention Russia and China and other traditionally closed countries. 

And, because we are inundated with “news” around the clock, we end up knowing too much without really knowing anything at all. With all of that energy spent filling the air-waves and digital space, what passes as truth is more likely to be defined by ratings pursuits and advertising money, and politically-driven distortions, and all sorts of unabashed bombast. 

One part of any hope for resolution of our current issues, it seems to me, is for us to learn to be in conversation with each other again, beginning with listening to each other. Listening does not mean agreeing with. But being heard lifts people from oblivion before they start yelling more vicious and venomous things more loudly, before they pick up guns to make their point, before they retreat further into the imagined safety of their small group that stands with them against the world. Conversation that begins with listening builds bridges instead of walls. Listening that sets aside assumptions and opens to new learning about each other does that best of all.

Listening is truly NOT not doing something. Instead, it is a very effective way of bringing about transformation in others and in ourselves, and working toward the kind of deep inter-personal healing it seems we need right about now. Listening creates space for movement and opens the possibility that people can begin to see other people – even those with whom they think they have absolutely nothing in common – as companions on a journey, with whom they might not ever agree, but at least as human beings they are less likely to hurt or kill. That seems a good starting place, doesn’t it? 

This is an age of worry and fear and pain and confusion and so much more, for right now at least. And there are dire predictions that we might never be able to reverse the momentum toward fragmentation and polarization. But I am not willing to concede that. Of course we have a lot of work to do. And that work begins face to face and in respectful conversations, not only with people with whom we agree but with people who see things differently and even very differently. David Brooks, who has thoughtfully engaged questions of civility at this moment of history, reminds us that we can only find whole truths if we work together, incorporating in whatever fashion the varied perspectives of every other. Getting to that goal requires getting to know each other all over again, even as we get to know ourselves anew as well. 

For me, a new approach Is worth trying. We surely cannot keep going the way we are. 

In the next several days, I hope to pull together a listening session for people who want to be in constructive conversation. Stay tuned for more information. And the First Sunday Forum on Sunday, November 4, is intended to be a time to think together and talk together about reclaiming the highest ideals for our national political discourse. Come as you are willing and able. 

Be well… 

Marty 

REVerberations – October 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

On Sunday, September 23, we were very fortunate to have a chance to visit with Mr. Frank Bolden, the Chair of the Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ (national setting), and Rev. Roddy Dunkerson, Interim Central Atlantic Conference Minister. It was a great delight to have them with us! They were gracious and informative and insightful. And they said how grateful they were to be here and ex-pressed their appreciation for what we are doing, and for the lovely and lively spirit of this congregation. 

I come away from the morning feeling like we did indeed reinvigorate the sense of covenant that holds the United Church of Christ together and allows us all together to be an effective force for good in the world. There is so much to be done, and we are surely not alone in the work. 

During the 10:45am service, Janet and Michael and Vera and Ed shared some Celebrations of what we have been up to. Those will be reprinted below. Of course the list is not exhaustive, nor is it predictive of the things that are still to come. But I offer it here as a chance to celebrate our life together, even as we look intently toward a bold and beautiful future. 

Be well… 

Marty 

St. Paul’s Celebrations Shared During the Service on September 23, 2018 

On September 9, we celebrated the ten-year Anniversary of becoming Open and Affirming, and we continue to be the only Open and Affirming Christian congregation in Carroll County. We host a thriving PFLAG chapter, and, with them, co-sponsor “First Fridays”— a casual hang-out for LGBTQ young people. Through our relationship with PFLAG, we host an annual LGBTQ Valentine’s Dance and the annual community Transgender Day of Remembrance service. This year our Fellowship Hall came alive with PFLAG’s first-ever Carroll County Drag Show and we are looking forward to the next one. 

In all things, we strive to live up to the extravagant claim that, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” We invite people to connect with us at many and varied points of contact, and encourage all to join us in doing whatever good we can to make a difference in the world. We encourage people to “get what you need and give what you can.” 

Over the past ten years, through the St. Paul’s Foundation, we have given grants in excess of $400,000 to local, regional and global beneficiaries including, for example, providing a source of fresh water for hundreds of people in Ethio-pia and empowering women in Kenya, funding initiatives by the Baltimore regional Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network, giving money for literacy programs in Carroll County, and, one year, making it possible for 14 local families to secure stable housing through a Rapid Rehousing program here in Westminster. 

This year, we have formed a partnership with the “Garden of Hope” program in the poor rural areas surrounding Antigua, Guatemala. We have funded a full-time teacher and are leading efforts by the Catoctin Association to possibly send a work group to build a community center on their meager campus. 

We have a long-standing relationship with Lancaster Theological Seminary. Over the past couple of decades, we have had three distinguished Seminary board members. Our pastor serves as a Professor of Practice in the Doctor of Ministry program. We have two current students who are excelling in the Master of Divinity program. We support the Seminary financially through annual benefit concerts and generous gifts and a scholarship offered by St. Paul’s members. And we have three people trained to provide supervision for field education students.

Over the past several years we have seriously streamlined our organizational structure so that, now, we have only one group that meets on a regularly-scheduled basis – formerly the Consistory that was recently renamed the Church Council. Everything else is done through Task Forces and ad hoc groups. We strive to be a nimble church focused more on mission than maintenance. We have even moved beyond the requirement for Robert’s Rules! 

We have developed the 30/30 Challenge which strongly encourages every person who is in any way associated with St. Paul’s (members, friends, visitors) to do at least 30 hours of community service and at least 30 hours of in-church work per year. And we have created a catalog of opportunities that people can use to meet their goals. 

For over 30 years, St. Paul’s has served a community meal for approximately 100 guests every Thursday at noon and on special occasions when needed. Through collaborative partnerships, A Meal and More provides fresh produce during growing seasons and supplements meals with nutritious items to which we would not have access otherwise. There are a number of people who have been involved with serving this meal from the very beginning. 

Recently, we developed the St. Paul’s Culinary Training Program which is designed to prepare out-of-work people for jobs in the restaurant industry by helping them get ServSafe certified – an entry-level requirement for many food service jobs. We provide mentors to help candidates, pay for the certification exam, and connect graduates with local restaurants that have agreed to work with us on this program. 

We are fully engaged in addressing homelessness. We regularly support the local Women and Children’s Shelter, the Cold Weather Shelter, the Westminster Rescue Mission, and the Family Shelter where we replaced all of the mattresses in a collaborative project with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. We have funded and produced the Homeless Life Story Collection Project video which was shown to over 1000 people throughout the county to increase community awareness of and involvement with homeless people. We are also the lead organizers and hosts of the annu-al community Homeless Memorial and Blues Christmas Service on the Winter Solstice. 

We are now planning our fourth annual Racial Justice Event to provide information and educational experiences for the community in the spirit of an ongoing conversation on race, as well as to raise funds to support Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality and the local NAACP chapter. We have had multiple expert presenters from this congregation at various social justice events, and we are represented in nearly every community racial justice and social justice organization and board. We have also recently added a Minister of Social Justice to our staff. 

We are actively engaged in education for all ages, currently rebuilding our children’s program and sending youth to regional and national youth events. Our adult programs are dynamic and daring; Seekers is an action-packed topical conversation-oriented group, and Eureka! is venturing out from its lectionary bible-study roots to explore meaningful and cutting-edge studies. And we have recently added the First Sunday Forum intended to delve deeply into vital and timely topics like climate change and immigration. 

We have a long tradition of great music that now rests primarily with our Sanctuary choir, and two bell choirs, one for adults and one for youth. We are blessed to have a wonderfully talented music director and three gifted in-house musicians to support all aspects of the music program. In addition, ensembles pop up from time to time and various solo artists offer their talents as well. And we are now nearing completion of the first phase of renovation of our 1941 Moller organ. 

We have been blessed with a wonderful building and we are committed to using it for the greater good. The building is currently home to: 13 AA and Al-Anon meetings every week, a Birthing Circle, a Reiki group, Junior Women, Healthcare for All, Civitan, the Caring Carroll Board, and many community events. We serve “The Best Spaghetti Dinner in Town” as a monthly fund-raiser through much of each year, with an ever-increasing group of “regulars” and a vibrant spirit. 

Our Connections Team is actively working to create opportunities for us to have fun together, play together, and get to know each other better through a wide range of engaging activities and events. 

As our next major focus, we are dedicating this church year to becoming a WISE Congregation through the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network. We are just now beginning our WISE study and becoming involved with the network of other WISE Congregations that are welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged with mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. At the same time we are expanding our relationships in the local mental health and substance abuse communities and preparing to offer the first Carroll County peer-to-peer support group sanctioned by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Our goal is to complete a thorough period of study and reflection, and to officially become a WISE Congregation in May of 2019, and then perhaps to help other regional churches engage in the process also. 

REVerberations – September 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

How time flies… I think about my girls and their friends, and about all the young people of St. Paul’s. And I am amazed at how much they have moved beyond their former selves, heading into new grades and new schools, starting college, graduating, and forging their way in new careers, new relationships, new lives, all the while growing into the beautiful people they are becoming. It is exciting to witness, indeed an honor and a privilege, even if it evokes a certain amount of wistful nostalgia. (OK, I know “wistful nostalgia” may be a bit redundant, but I like it.)

It only seems fair that the young people grow and change. Life happens to and with and for us all, for better… and for worse, too, I suppose. Working on the new church picture directory over the Summer has been a fascinating experience of looking back at the last one published in 2006 while at the same time having the opportunity to see advance copies of the awesome latest edition. Even as I celebrate the sheer multi-faceted beauty of who we are now as a congregation, I remember how and who we were back then as well, including those whose pictures, for whatever reasons, don’t appear in the current version. And I feel genuine fondness for all.

Since that 2006 directory was published, so much else has changed. At that time we were just barely thinking about wading into conversations about possibly becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation, maybe. With a mix of determination and trepidation, we were contemplating the process of study that would help us make our decision. And, unbelievably, it’s now been ten years since we endorsed our Open and Affirming declaration. Wow, how that changed us, how that radically expanded our welcome and helped us appreciate the blessings of coming together across sometimes seemingly vast differences that, despite our initial worries, can never obscure all that we hold in common and all that brings us together still.

Not only has becoming Open and Affirming changed who we are, it has shaped what we do. For example, as an Open and Affirming congregation we have helped create and continue to host a flourishing PFLAG Chapter in our midst and, in collaboration with PFLAG, we have been host to hugely successful community meetings and events, and to lovely annual Valentine’s dances, and to a drag show that packed Fellowship Hall with enthusiastic guests. We have created First Fridays that is thriving as a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young people. And, with the dawning of Marriage Equality, we have held joy-filled and long-awaited same-gender weddings in our Sanctuary. Throughout, St. Paul’s has been overwhelmingly blessed, enriched, and strengthened by the myriad contributions made by wonderful, talented, committed people who might never have crossed the church threshold if not for the courage and wisdom to live up to and live into the ONA declaration. We are immeasurably better for becoming Open and Affirming, and for living beyond that, for really meaning it when we say “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!”

We have not stopped expanding our welcome and vigorously engaging in all sorts of work in pursuit of authentic social justice and extravagant inclusion. Yet, as much as the world has changed in the past ten or twelve years, I find it rather remarkable that we are still the only Open and Affirming Christian congregation in Carroll County. May there soon be others, who finally discover the love at the heart of the Christian message, get past misinformed and misplaced obstacles, and simply get on with it.

Of course there is so much more for us to do, and we shall continue to boldly engage in the work that lies ahead. Yet for this moment, we will pause to mark this very special occasion, to celebrate this Tenth Anniversary, and to look forward to the next ten years with hope and renewed zeal.

In the meanwhile, we will, with similar fortitude and dedication, take on the next parallel but unrelated process: becoming a WISE Congregation (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and Brain Disorders). We will do this so that we can be better prepared to extend welcome and love in even more ways to even more people. Becoming WISE will be the major theme of this church year, and the work begins with the recognition that there is a whole group of people who do not yet feel like there is a church home for them. We will become that church home and more.

In all of this, all of us together are making a difference in people’s lives and in the world, and we are doing so in the footsteps of Jesus, who calls us still to share God’s love with every person everywhere. May it be so. And may God be with us on this next phase of our congregational journey.

Be well…
Marty

REVerberations – July/August 2018

 

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

And so we come to our Summer edition of Highlights. Thanks to our wonderful editor, Renee Fink, for yet another year with a high-quality, first-rate newsletter, compiled and produced each month with professionalism, creativity, and compassion! Thank you also to all who have contributed to Highlights, whether on a regular basis or just episodically. Thanks as well to everyone who has read Highlights or at least scanned portions of it. Honestly, a lot of folks work hard to communicate important things by way of Highlights, “Tidbits,” the Facebook page, the website, the “Things to Know” part of the Sunday bulletins, in-service announcements, bulletin inserts, directed emails, posters and flyers, etc. Amidst all those possibilities, word-of-mouth is undoubtedly the most effec-tive way to communicate. Be sure to do your part. Spread the word! 

Looking toward the near future, the following is a collection of things we all might benefit from knowing: 

Rev. Erin Snell has been named St. Paul’s Minister of Social Justice. Welcome, Erin, to this new role! Consistory made the decision to officially name Erin to this newly-created volunteer position in recognition of her many years of ordained status and her fierce commitment to social justice, notably in her sustained participation in the leadership of PFLAG and Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality. Erin has also recently become very active in the reboot of Martin Luther King’s Poor Peoples’ Campaign that blends passion for economic and racial justice. In her role as Minister of Social Justice, Erin will serve as a conduit for information and opportunities for the rest of us to constructively engage around pressing issues. Erin will also be a resource if people have ideas for new social justice activities and interests. I am excited to have Erin on board in this new capacity! 

A group is now forming to help us celebrate our Tenth Anniversary of becoming Open and Affirming. Can you believe it? Ten years this coming October! So much has happened in that time, and the world continues to become a place where everyone is loved and valued. Yet we are surely not there by any means, and the struggles continue… We will be sure to mark this historic moment well, and to be prepared for the work that still lies ahead. 

One aspect of that ongoing work relates to having a Drag Show in Fellowship Hall on July 7. That event will help stretch us just a bit more in terms of our identity as an extravagantly welcoming congregation and establish us even more clearly as a beacon of hope and a place of refuge for LGBTQ people and the broader community. 

Also in Fellowship Hall, on Sunday, July 29, at 5:00pm we will be working with the Sunday Night Big Band for our third annual “Christmas in July” concert to benefit Access Carroll by way of Big Band Merry Christmas. This has consistently been a great show. Come on out and enjoy a wonderful event! You might even want to bring your dancing shoes. 

And on August 12, we will host an afternoon concert by local blues musician Christopher James and his band. All proceeds from the concert will be used to support the border ministry of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Arizona. This is one of the ministries that leaves food and water in the desert for people making perilous passages. This concert will offer great music for yet another great cause. 

The long-awaited organ refurbishment is expected to begin during the second week of July and to continue into October. The work will include installing updated technology that will give that old instrument new life. Thanks to all who have contributed to funding this first phase of repairs and renovation! And to Bob Frazee for thoughtfully overseeing and passionately driving this process! 

Starting on August 1, we will begin a period that the Worship Creation Team is thinking of as “Forty Days in the Wilderness” during which we will not be using the Sanctuary. From Sunday, August 5 until Sunday, Au-gust 26, we will worship in Fellowship Hall. While this period will overlap with the time the organ is being worked on, it is not necessary that we be out of the Sanctuary. Instead, this will be used as a time to intentionally step out of routines, immerse ourselves in new experiences, and perhaps make new discoveries along the way. On Sunday, September 2, we will, as per usual, worship in Belle Grove Square Park with Westminster Church of the Brethren for Labor Day. Then on Sunday, September 9, we will return at long last to the Sanctuary for our 9:30 Homecoming Service, immediately after which we will have our annual 30/30 Challenge Opportunity Fair in Fellowship Hall. On Sunday, September 16, we will return to two services and regular Sunday School sessions. 

Beginning in earnest in September, we will deliberately make our way to become a WISE Congregation, Wel-coming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with Men-tal Illness. This process will be a central focus through-out the church year. Over the Summer, the WISE Leadership Team will be working on a plan for helping us learn what we need to know and prepare as best we can for what will eventually be a congregational vote on a declarative statement, presumably next Spring, that will be the mechanism by which we officially become a WISE Congregation. 

In the midst of all of that and more, I hope that our Summer Travelers will be blessed on their journeys, and that those who are staying close will find enjoy-ment and rewards as well. 

Until the next edition of Highlights in early September, be well… 

Marty 

REVerberations – June 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

This past Monday morning, I rang the church bell at the start of the Westminster Memorial Day parade. Tucked away in that steeple stairwell, holding that old, fraying rope, I felt deeply honored to have some part in this grand annual community celebration, the longest-standing Memorial Day parade in the United States, so I hear. Quite a tradition! Aware of that, and of my heart-felt desire to honor all who have died in war, I pulled that rope just a little harder and rang that bell just a little longer. 

Eventually rung out, I made my way to the parade route where I caught up with some old friends standing in the crowd in front of what used to be the bank. Together we all waited and watched for the parade, which turned out to be very exciting, with motorcycles roaring by, and lots of veterans representing various groups, riding in cars and on trucks and proudly strolling in uniform down the parade route. I do indeed give thanks for their service. They’ve had experiences with which I, thankfully, will never have to personally grapple, nor will I ever fully comprehend. 

The marching bands enlivened the crowd as they passed. And the fraternal and community service organizations paraded by, Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, a wonderful reminder of the great good work they do to help people in our community and beyond. There were little baseball players and baton twirlers and various politicians and pageant winners, and scouts, both Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts seemingly still separate for now. And as the son of a professional fire-fighter, I always find fire trucks captivating in their own way; they closed out the parade. 

There was much to take in. Indeed there were many things that commended this hour-long parade, not least the fact that it is a community event for which Continue reading REVerberations – June 2018

REVerberations – May 2018

 

REVerberations 

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

First Sunday Forums. We are due to have the first First Sunday Forum after the 10:45 service on May 6. We will gather in the Seekers Room from approximately noon until 1:30. As you are able, I would ask that, if you attend, you bring a little food to share. The kitchen refrigerators and microwave will be available as needed. Beverages will be provided. 

For the past couple of weeks, I have posted that the first topic would be Money and how it is interwoven with so much of life. Well, I have been thinking about this a lot and I want to walk that back a bit. Money might be – and I suspect will be – a topic we will want to explore in this Forum. But maybe not first. 

Rather than me coming up with a topic, I think it will be best if we have a chance to talk through possibilities together. So the gathering on May 6 will be a time for all present to have a say in what we will talk about in the next session. If you are unable to be there that day but want to be part of this, email me your ideas for what we might focus on in a future session. 

It might be helpful if I explained a bit about what I have envisioned for this time. There are so many big issues, even “ultimate” issues that deserve more thoughtful attention than we are usually able to give them in the rush of our daily lives. And there are plenty of topics, I assume, that we would benefit from talking about with interested and interesting others. I hope that, in the Forum, we can create a space in which to have informed, facilitated conversations about things that matter, incorpo-rating some relevant study in advance, and allowing each participant and the group to go as deep on relevant topics as we can in a focused hour and a half. 

As a monthly gathering on the first Sun-day of each month, we will have the opportunity to, for example, read a book, or research a topic, or ponder articles of interest to the group on a specific topic. While I would not want to “schedule” too far in advance lest we risk missing critical moments and oppor-tunities to let conversations build organically over time, we can use each month to learn as individuals and share as a group about what we decide to focus on from session to session. We might even chose to create a way of being in touch in the interim by way of email or some other electronic means. 

Some examples of what this group might delve into… Money might indeed be something we choose to talk about, how it (insidiously?) drives much of the way the world works and has implica-tions for nearly every facet of life, how it is at the root of societal fractures and maybe all evil, how it can be a blessing and a curse. Is it possible that we spend too much of our lives chasing after health in ways that may not matter much in the long-run but give us illusions of control over death as our ultimate fate? And what about that? What does it mean to be vulnerable beings sus-pended somewhere between birth and death? Or are we that at all? On a different scale, how do we make sense of living on a planet that is dying? Will we, should we, could we do something to turn that tide? What matters most in life? And what role does faith play in any of it? What has the “Church” gotten right? What has it gotten wrong? What does it mean to be “us” as we have these conversations and how might other “us-es” see things differently? What about all of this us/them stuff anyway? How did we get to such deep societal divisions, and is healing even an option, and, if so, how? How can we discern what really is “true?” What should we be thinking about and doing relative to the various hashtags, #metoo, #BlackLivesMatter, #EnoughIsEnough, etc. And what does it mean to live in a hashtag-laden world? What really are American values? Carroll County values? St. Paul’s values? What else? 

What big things are you thinking about that you would love to talk about with others in an intentional way? 

The way I see it, we are blessed to be part of an amaz-ing congregation that collectively forms a broad base of knowledge and wisdom and encompasses an inter-esting array of perspectives that we can share in an open and thoughtful context. I want to make the most of those gifts, to the benefit of each participant, and the group, and the broader congregation, and the wid-er world. 

I cordially invite you to be part of the first First Sunday Forum, and to join in this venture of talking and learn-ing together about things that matter. Let’s make this happen! 

Marty 

(Note that the First Sunday Forum is offered in addition to our wonderful ongoing Adult Ministries programs, Eureka! and Seekers. Those groups do extraordinary things week in and week out. First Sunday Forum will provide yet another avenue for learning and growth. Perhaps this Forum will be distinguished by a couple of factors: it will involve intentional group study in ad-vance of each session; it will allow time and be facili-tated in a way that will drill down on topics in a conver-sational format; it will intentionally include a variety of “outside” voices to spark, ground, and inform our con-versation; it is designed to be responsive to but not driven by current events; and it will be offered at a different time than the other programs, including over the Summer – with the exception of June 3, the day of the Spring Congregational Meeting.)