From The Pastor

REVerberations – September 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings! 

And we’re off! Or at least we soon will be, on the adventure of another church-year! I always find this time of the year to be very exciting. In some ways it feels to me like we are starting a big jet engine that winds up slowly at first then gets moving with great speed and force. 

Last month, I mentioned two possible major initiatives for the year we are now beginning. The first is the celebration of St. Paul’s 150th Anniversary. Doug has pulled together an awe-some crew to lead the way with that, including several lifetime members of the church. I have even heard that Thom Ballantine will be adding his considerable knowledge of St. Paul’s history. At this point, we will plan to do a 150th Anniversary Moment during services at least once a month, to host other special events and learning opportunities, and to have a big blow-out anniversary celebration in the Spring. Along the way, we will trace St. Paul’s evolution from a Reformed church, to an Evangelical and Reformed church, to the United Church of Christ, and we will hope to sort out what all of that means for us now. We will remember great moments in church history and honor the people who have helped St. Paul’s be what it’s been, even as we look to a bright and bold future informed by that past. 

I will say that one of the things that still strikes me about the history of this congregation is how a relatively small number of families had the utter audacity to build a 220-seat Sanctuary from the very start. They built it and people came indeed! What does it mean to have that audacious spirit as our collective heritage? 

And as we consider what kind of future we will make, we will engage in a pro-gram to become an Anti-Racism Congregation within the United Church of Christ. I proposed that idea in last month’s Highlights and, as Church Council met this past Tuesday to talk about it, we were aware of only support for doing this important work. A number of folks from across the Congregation even remarked that the topic is timely, and they affirmatively expressed enthusiasm for the idea and said they want to be active participants. 

Of course we will take great care as we move into this project, and we will keep talking and listening all together along the way. We will be mindful that racism is a tender topic, and we will proceed accordingly. That said, dealing with racism is a challenging process that requires courage and a certain amount of leaning into discomfort. Judy Jones, the Equity Supervisor for Carroll County Public Schools, calls people into “courageous conversations.” We will set the stage for those here also. Among many other things, we will compare and contrast equality and equity and realize that the latter creates clearer pathways for people to live their dreams. 

As we begin the year, I invite anyone to come forward who would like to be on the Anti-Racism Leadership Team. Much like with WISE, the Anti-Racism Leadership Team will help us deliberately think through what we can do to deepen and broaden our understanding of racism, facilitate programming (e.g., themed services, possible monthly Congregational Conversations, maybe book studies and film screenings, sponsored speakers, etc.), and help draft an Anti-Racism Covenant to be voted on in the Spring. 

One of the starting assumptions for this initiative is that racism is systemic; it goes beyond one person making racist comments and requires a clear-eyed look at the way the world works to advantage some and disadvantage others. We will acknowledge that saying such things is not intended, and ought not to, induce guilt or negative feelings in anyone, but to illuminate reality in ways that can bring meaningful insight and spark meaningful action. We are all products of a system that went demonstrably off course on August 20, 1619, 400 years ago this week, when the first slave ship arrived on American shores. 

A second starting assumption is that it is not enough to not be racist. Indeed in a new book, Ibram X. Kendi writes that there are either racists or anti-racists. His premise is that there is no middle ground. We will talk about that, walk around it, dig into it, and see how and where we come out on the other side. His book would be a great book group focus, and he is local enough that we might be able to get him to come to town to talk about his ideas. And of course, I expect that we will draw heavily on our extensive network of relationships with local organizations and people who are also committed to anti-racism. And we will do what we can to draw from National, Conference- and Association-wide racial justice efforts in which Erin and I are already involved. 

The time is right to engage in this process. No doubt making a difference to end racism is long past overdue. Sure we have seen incremental progress over the years, and decades and even centuries. But the time is right for a paradigm shift that moves us closer as a community, a nation, and a planet to ensuring that every person genuinely has every opportunity, and that all people know the universal love of God experienced in real and tangible ways in their daily lives. 

In the end, we can ask what difference doing this work in one small place can actually make. We will not know until we try… 

This is, of course, necessarily something we can only do together, and the value of the work will be influenced by all of our willingness to engage in it. So let’s do that, and make the most of this wonderful opportunity. 

Marty 

REVerberations – August 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings! 

Throughout the upcoming church-year that officially begins with a 9:30am service in the Sanctuary on September 8, we will be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the founding of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Westminster! That is very exciting, a momentous occasion and a marvelous milestone! The Anniversary will give us a chance to reflect more deeply on the long and distinguished history of this congregation and remember the saints who have gone before, and possibly to explore our Reformed and Evangelical and Reformed roots, even as we seriously ponder who we are right now, and orient toward what we will be and do into the future. We will likely mark the Anniversary with a grand, dedicated service in the Spring of 2020. More Anniversary plans will be forthcoming, so stay tuned. 

In terms of recent major movements in our congregational life, we are coming up on our 11th anniversary of being Open and Affirming for the LGBTQ+ community, and we continue to find dynamic and engaging ways to make that ONA commitment real and meaningful. And we recently, of course, just became a WISE Congregation which continues to shape our life together, for example, in this “Summer of Wellness,” in the building of our relationship with NAMI and the strengthening of our relationships within the larger mental health, sub-stance abuse, and brain disorder net-work, in our engagement in a community-wide anti-stigma campaign, and in other ways that continue to emerge as we move forward. 

And I wonder if we might do one more big thing before we celebrate and may-be take a rest for a brief moment… (At 150 years old, we might need a little breather, right?) That one thing would be to consolidate all of the work we have already been doing around racial justice for the past many years by engaging in an intentional process to become an Anti-Racism Congregation within the United Church of Christ. Anti-Racism is a topical matter in contemporary culture and it is a major focus within the United Church of Christ at this time. It is also an ur-gent issue in our very own community where, for example, students of color in the public school system are routinely harassed, called the N-word, spit upon, denied opportunities for advanced classes, and disproportionately disciplined. 

Some of us are indeed directly involved in Anti-Racism work in the Catoctin Association and the Central 

Atlantic Conference. St. Paul’s has been identified as a racial justice leader in the Association and is one of a handful of congregations that have been asked to do a brief presentation on our racial justice work at the Conference annual meeting on October 4th and 5th in Bethesda. At that annual meeting, we will talk about such things as our sustained, intensive involvement with community racial justice groups (e.g., Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, NAACP, CCPS Multicultural Education Council, Human Rights Commission, etc.), our annual Racial Justice Event – coming up on its fifth year, hosting various other events that address racial justice, sponsoring our own African American Read-in and inviting students of color from Carroll County Public Schools to present their original works, as well as periodic but consistent focus on racial justice in Seekers and in services, and more. 

In all likelihood, engaging in the process of becoming an Anti-Racism Congregation would be similar to what we have done for ONA and WISE. Specifically, we might consider naming a Leadership Team, having ongoing conversations about racism – perhaps continuing the monthly congregational conversations during Sunday School, orienting occasional worship services to include a more deliberate focus on Race and Racism, strengthening our racial justice-oriented work in the community, bringing in speakers from time to time, and providing other related trainings, book groups, movie screenings, etc., as appropriate. We might also think about having more people participate in the Civil Rights tour led by the Zepp Center, or in the Culture Expo put on each year by CCPS. What else? In the end, we would, as with ONA and WISE, draft a covenant that sets forth what we believe and what we commit to. 

No doubt we are, by our very nature, an Anti-Racism Congregation, and we are already doing much work that demonstrates that, though there is always more and more to learn from many and varied perspectives. The question for us all at this moment is: Shall we take the next step to go through this process and officially become an Anti-Racism Congregation? 

Church Council will be talking about this in their gathering on Tuesday, August 20, at 7:00pm in the Parish House Conference Room. Absolutely everyone is invited and encouraged to be part of the conversation! If you would prefer, you can send an email to churchcouncil@stpauls-ucc.org with your thoughts on the matter. (If the email address comes up with Linda’s name, that is the right one too, so feel free to click send.) 

Clearly, like with everything else, this is something we can only do together. Let’s see if we are up for it… 

Marty 

REVerberations June/July 2019

Summer is upon us!  And the WISE Leadership Team is leading an effort to promote a “Summer of Wellness” which is intended to remind us all that there are basic things we can do to improve our mental and physical health, enhance our sense of spiritual wholeness, reinforce our social connectedness, and generally add to the quality and quantity of life.

I am surely no expert on this, but I have been thinking about it quite a bit in response to some recent health challenges.  The following is some basic information that has the potential to make a difference.

Eating right matters, especially being aware of carbohydrates – which are everywhere, and which are an especially noteworthy contributor to weight gain, diabetes, and a cascade of other related complications.  Part of eating better is unlearning that old food pyramid that emphasized carbs and limited fats and proteins.  (Did you know that that model of nutrition was derived from a model designed to fatten cattle?  It seems we would do well to come at eating in a different way, right?)  There are a variety of very good eating plans and “diets” available that do not involve adding to the coffers of the multi-billion dollar diet industry.  Common sense and moderation are fundamental guiding principles.  Reading nutrition labels helps.

Hydration matters.  A common recommendation is to drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day.  That might be a good starting place, but necessary fluid consumption depends on a host of factors including activity level, climate, and overall health.  Recognizing that every single cell and system of our bodies depends on water to survive and thrive, it might be good to aim toward the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations of 15.5 cups of water per day for men, and 11.5 cups per day for women.

Exercise matters.  The bottom line is that any kind of physical movement and activity is better than none.  Beyond that, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for “substantial health benefits.”  Older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.  A comprehensive resource on physical activities is available at: health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

Sleep matters.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least 7 or more hours of good quality sleep per night for adults.  (See their sleep recommendations for all ages at www.cdc.gov/features/sleep/index.html)  Frequently waking in the night and being sleepy during the day may be indications of poor quality sleep and might be good reasons to consult a medical practitioner.  Sleep allows time for the body to heal and revitalize.  On the other hand, the CDC warns that “if not getting enough sleep is a regular part of your routine, you may be at an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke, poor mental health, and even early death.”

All of these things work together, of course, and addressing them can lead to new levels of holistic health.  And there are surely other factors for which to account, including attending to our psycho-spiritual selves by way of practices that engage and connect us with ourselves and others and God (prayer, meditation, connections with nature, good time with friends, etc.).  Finding ways to manage and release stress can also bring about meaningful improvements in overall health and well-being.

As I talked about in a recent sermon, having a Life Purpose has also been shown to improve the quality and quantity of life, attending to what it is that gets us up and going each day.  Indeed, having a clear purpose in life has shown significant life-extending results across factors like gender, race, socioeconomic status, and education level, and it may matter more than stopping smoking and drinking or starting an exercise program.  Soon we will explore the healing effects of gratitude and look into mindfulness as ways to live better and longer.

And for those looking to do something healthy with others right now, know that we have been able to arrange for weekly yoga sessions to happen in Fellowship Hall from 11:30am to 12:30pm on Saturdays.  If you have been wanting to try yoga or seeking to come back to it, this program might be what you are looking for.  Sessions are open to all and will be adapted as needed.  The cost is $5 per person per session.  Contact Tom Templeton if you have questions or are interested (410-236-4851).

Stay tuned for more information about various health screening opportunities, nature picnics and hikes, a possible family swim, and more.  And do feel free to share your ideas about wellness by sending an email to wiseteam@stpauls-ucc.org

Let’s be healthy and well together!  There is so much for us to do…

Marty 

REVerberations – May 2019

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings! 

With the publication of this edition of Highlights, we are within the month in which we will vote on officially becoming a WISE Congregation – Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. It has been quite a process. 

It began at the General Synod in Baltimore in the Summer of 2017. Information about WISE was shared there and I brought that to what was still called Consistory then. Consistory was supportive of beginning the work and endorsed a plan to move forward with the formation of a WISE Leadership Team. We were able to pull together a Team made up of various mental health professionals, mental health consumers, and advocates. It has been a very strong Team indeed – a uniquely expert group, that has overseen our course of preparation. To further inform our efforts, Michael and I attended a national WISE Conference in Andover, Massachusetts in the Fall and were able to bring back resources and ideas as well as to begin networking with others interested and involved in the WISE movement. 

Our congregational preparation process has included worship services dedicated to WISE-related topics, monthly whole-church conversations about WISE that have covered a broad swath of territory and featured powerful personal testimonies to help us think through what WISE might mean for us, periodic presentations in worship services, intensive Men-tal Health First Aid training led by the Carroll County Health Department (sixteen people were certified!), and vari-ous other activities, both formal and in-formal. Those certified in MHFA join the large group that was trained last year in the administration of Narcan/Naloxone to counteract opioid overdose. And St. Paul’s long tradition of generous support for Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon groups is utterly in line with WISE. 

Along the way, we have had a few people train with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and we have both begun hosting a NAMI family support group and are preparing this month to start a peer support group to be led by Michael and Jamie. They and I will now be joining the NAMI Carroll County Board which will have St. Paul’s as its ongoing meet-ing place. Relatedly, I have started serving on the board of the national United Church of Christ Mental Health Network. In all, I think the entire preparation and study process has been a thorough and solid start. And it has been a source of great joy that so many people have so actively and meaningfully participated in some or many or all aspects. 

In our April WISE Congregation Conversation we talked together about a draft covenant the final version of which will serve as the centerpiece of our upcoming vote. We will come back together to review a revised version of that draft in the Congregational Conversation we will have from 9:30am until 10:30am in Fellowship Hall on Sunday, May 12. All are invited and encouraged to participate. (That revised draft is published on page 3 of this edition of Highlights, and I hope you will read it and think about it.) We will make final edits as needed. 

And on Sunday, May 19, in a Special Congregational Meeting, we will vote on whether to officially declare ourselves to be a WISE Congregation. Pending the vote, we will be, I think, the twelfth UCC congregation in the country to become WISE. And the UCC leads all other denominations in this work, with many just starting to think about what they might do and looking to the UCC WISE model for guidance. WISE is a growing movement, and if we affirm our WISE Covenant, we will be an early leader in the wider church and specifically in our broadly defined region. (For perspective, the nearest current WISE Congregations are in Rochester, New York and Hendersonville, North Carolina.) 

As I have talked about this work in our community, and as the word has gotten around – and it surely has, it has been truly humbling to hear how many people and local agencies support us in all of this, and how many people are longing for a church to take the lead around issues related to mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. On May 23, I have been asked to be the key-note speaker at a NAMI Baltimore conference for inter-faith leaders at Sheppard Pratt to talk about how religious organizations can prepare to intentionally address related issues. 

Becoming WISE continues and extends St. Paul’s extravagant welcome and it is a way for us to continue faithfully following Jesus’ example as best we can, tending to and loving people who are too easily and often marginalized in society, knowing full well that in many ways we are them and they are us. WISE will make us a stronger congregation, better able to be supportive of each other, and better equipped to help others in our community. 

Thank you to all who have been part of this very important work! And thank you to all who will stay involved or will become involved as we live into the awesome possibilities of this ministry. Indeed the vote is but the next step on what promises to be a long and wonderful and meaningful journey together. 

Be well… 

Marty 

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.