From The Pastor

REVerberations – September 2017

by Pastor Dr. Marty Kuchma

As I sit down to write this, news continues to unfold about the horrible recent weekend in Charlottesville during which things we might reasonably have thought were in the past intruded dramatically, tragically upon the present – public displays of racial hatred, demonstrations of organized bigotry, and murderous, terroristic violence resulting from both, the worst impulses of American social history on full display and now unmasked.  And, evidently, there is more to come as the nation reckons with a difficult part of our history.  Sadly, it would seem that in coming to terms with one civil war, we run the risk of becoming embroiled in another, newer one.

At some level, I wonder how we got here.  Why are groups that had been for decades living only in the shadows now stepping into the light of day – and the fiery glow of torches in the night?  Where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that we continue working toward racial justice that has, despite signs of progress over the years, remained quite elusive?  What would Jesus do?  And what does being followers of Jesus compel us to do?

Local and state officials all around the country are taking courageous steps to remove various markers honoring individuals whose sole claim to fame was their association with the Confederacy which, we might remember, rose up, as a separate “country,” to defend slavery in opposition to the United States government which was at first itself quite ambivalent about it but eventually gained resolve to end it.

As a matter of context, let us note that many of the 700 or so Confederate monuments around the country were erected long after the war as an assertion of white supremacy at times when that could happen largely unchallenged.  The construction of such monuments peaked in the early 1900’s as Jim Crow laws took firm hold on the United States and public lynching took place rampantly, especially in the Old South.  A second, smaller wave of monument construction occurred during the 1950’s in protest to the Brown V. Board of Education decision that was to end state-sponsored segregation by declaring that “separate but equal” is inherently unequal, insufficient and illegal.  (Let’s not forget that a correlate of this conversation is what to do with the 900 or so schools, roads and other public spaces that are named to honor Confederate leaders.)

For the moment, this monument issue feels so important, so urgent.  Every toppled statue seems like a victory of sorts for those with passion to bring them down.  But what if every single Confederate monument is taken down and every Confederate name is changed on public buildings and roads?  And what if, for that matter, everyone in the world stopped saying racist things and Uncle Joe finally kept his racist opinions to himself at the Thanksgiving dinner table?  And what if every white person found a “black friend” or two?

Even if all of that happened, structural racism would still be present, pervasive, and still painful.  Structural Racism is woven into the very fabric of our culture, often overshadowed by the overt racism that so easily distracts us from dealing with issues that really matter.

If we care enough to get all fussed up about taking down the monuments, and if we care enough to put Uncle Joe in his place when he says inappropriate things, and if we have a lot of black friends, we ought to also feel compelled to address racism that literally changes lives by dictating where people of color live, limiting the educational opportunities people of color have, influencing the jobs people of color can get and how much they can earn doing them, or shaping how people of color are treated in the criminal justice system, entertainment and the media, and in all walks of life.

Fighting racism is about much, much, much more than taking down monuments.  We cannot, for the sake of justice, let ourselves breathe any sigh of relief after simple and relatively ineffectual measures, and we need to measure how much energy we are willing to invest in such endeavors that turn out to be relatively meaningless in the long-run.  We must, instead or at least in addition, take on the bigger struggles, have courageous conversations about systemic racism, take bold action to change the way the system works, and actually work toward the justice we say we seek.

In an effort to work toward the kind of understanding of structural racism necessary to bring about real change, St. Paul’s third annual community-wide Racial Justice event on October 22 will focus on the bigger, structural issues.  At this moment, the program is being called “Busting the Stereotypes about Racism.”  I hope you will plan to participate.  Pay attention for more information coming shortly.  If you want to do some advance reading, might I recommend Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (We’ve done a little with that book in Seekers), and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.

There is so much more to do, on the surface in the short-term, and deep down in the long-term.  May God bless us to do our part in all facets of this important work…

Marty

REVerberations – June 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…  Join in the Spring Congregational Meeting!  This Sunday, June 4, immediately following the service that starts at 9:30am.

In the United Church of Christ, each congregation maintains decision-making about all matters of congregational import.  St. Paul’s has a custom of a Spring business meeting and a Fall pep rally-ish and organizational meeting.  While vigorously preserving and cherishing congregational autonomy, we live in covenant with other congregations and the wider church.  That covenant commitment will be on display as the denomination-wide General Synod comes to Baltimore from June 30 through July 4.  One highlight will be the mass worship service being held at the Baltimore Convention Center on the afternoon of Sunday, July 2. (Please see the notice about bus transportation for the event in this issue of Highlights.  Remember that we will not have worship here that day.  Also, please be in touch with me to make other transportation arrangements if needed.)

If I might add some context for this Sunday’s meeting, there are a few major items for us to deal with.  First, we will vote on the annual church budget that has been worked up by the Deacons and endorsed by the full Consistory.  Special thanks to Michael Teare for his guidance and technical support!  This budget marks a major milestone in that it is a genuinely balanced budget, the culmination of Continue reading REVerberations – June 2017

REVerberations – April 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

Thank you for the many expressions of support related to the Human Relations Commission Award.  I am truly humbled by this great honor.  And I am, quite honestly, glad that it is time for the hoopla to fade.

As I stood behind the podium on the night of the banquet, I could have no doubt that that space should have been big enough to accommodate all of us who bring St. Paul’s United Church of Christ to life.  As I listened to Ben’s wonderful introduction (printed elsewhere in this edition of Highlights) and as I looked at the faces of those who were able to be there that night, I was reminded again of what I always know: we are all in this together.  That award is by no means mine alone; it belongs to us all.  Congratulations!

Together, we have created a space that is as warm and welcoming Continue reading REVerberations – April 2017

REVerberations – March 2017

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear about or see video footage of one protest or another somewhere in the United States, sometimes in far-away places, and sometimes right in our own community.  Millions of people are taking to the streets, gathering for planned events in various venues, organizing “town halls” with government officials.  Women are marching.  Activists are rallying.  Immigrants are making a stand.  Protest abounds, possibly more than ever in American history.

One might wonder to what end all of this activity works.  Will it matter at all?  Will it make a difference?  Is catharsis the driving force, or real change?  Will protests merely cause disruption and lead to further division Continue reading REVerberations – March 2017

REVerberations – Dec 2016 / Jan 2017

by Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

My current vantage point is one day out from the election.  And from here I shall try to look ahead at the seasons to come between now and the next edition of Highlights in early February.  Earlier today I shared by email through Linda some Pastoral Reflections on the Election.  Those are re-printed elsewhere in this issue.

Over the upcoming several weeks, we will take time to give thanks, and we will enter Advent in anticipation of Christmas 2016.  Much will be familiar.  Perhaps, if we are fortunate, some aspects of that experience will be new, stirring our spirits, bringing new insight, allowing some new connections, blessing us in unexpected ways.  We will light candles and sing favorite songs.  We will hear familiar stories that inform our faith and might shape our lives.  And we will gather twice on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, as we have done for many years now, once at 5:30pm and again at 8:00pm.

Because Christmas is actually on a Sunday this year, we will not have our regular Sunday morning services, assuming many will have participated in services the evening before or will have other plans for the day.  However, we will instead host a simple worship service on Christmas morning, inviting Continue reading REVerberations – Dec 2016 / Jan 2017

REVerberations – November 2016

 

Before heading into surgery, I had no idea what 75 hours post-surgery would look like.  And I take this opportunity to share a bit with any who are interested.

First and foremost, I am so grateful for all of the love, support, and prayers people have expressed via email, Facebook, on the phone, through Prayer Shawl ministry, and in every other way.  Thanks for your kindness and your humor and your encouragement.  If you have sent cards, I will get those but I have not yet made it out to my mailbox with a bag to carry things back.

Sue Snively has been an unbelievable help through all of this, taking me into the hospital and making sure I was settled, bringing me back home, carting me here and there, making sure I have food and essentials.  We committed when we divorced to still be “a family only different,” and that continues to be our reality.

So 75 hours out, I am preparing to head off to Lucy’s Annual Chamber Choir Concert.  This is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch, but I love to watch her sing.  Otherwise, my “routine” has included doing periodic exercises through each day to re-strengthen my leg muscles, doing some laps around the neighborhood with my walker and adding a little more each day, and maintaining basic things around the house.  Today, I had the excitement of going for a blood draw.  Otherwise, I spend a fair amount of each day resting and icing my hip.  My pain levels throughout have been minimal, thankfully, and Tylenol helps when needed.  I felt so human when I was able to shower on Wednesday morning.

Along the way, I have realized that whoever invented compression socks probably had a really good idea but was not at all interested in user convenience – or actual usability.  However, we have discovered that Meg is a natural at getting them on.

 

As a general theme, I have discovered that, while I thought I was a pretty efficient person, simple things in life require more thought for now.  It is draining to get upstairs and realize I forgot something downstairs, for example.  But even that provides more opportunity for movement, which is a good thing I guess.

I have not really dropped out of email, thanks to smart phone capability, but I am glad to be able to sit at my computer to do things with a keyboard and bigger screen.  There are some tasks I want to get to over the next couple of days, and by Monday, I should be fully back in the loop at church.

Looking ahead, I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next Thursday and George and Bernadette are going to take me to that.

With some transportation assistance from Jerry Fuss, I will be in church for Jeri Eaton’s Memorial Service on November 5.  Then I hope to drive up and back for the Homeless Town Hall Forums and Consistory on November 15.  I will be fully back in action on November 20 for services and Sunday School in the morning and Transgender Day of Remembrance in the evening.

I am hopeful about the potential that lies ahead, freedom from pain I had learned to ignore as best I could, the real possibility of walking Disney and the White Mountains with my girls, adding back things I have let go over the years, and so much more.  I will get there, literally step by step.

Thank you for making this possible and walking with me through it all.  I am truly thankful for all that you are to me, and all that we do in the world because we are together.

Many Blessings,
Marty

 

REVerberations – October, 2016

I have been fascinated by coverage of the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  What a grand opening for an important institution!  My girls and I have been watching that building take shape over the past several years on our excursions to DC, at first not knowing what the building even was, then wondering when they were going to take down the strange scaffolding, and ultimately realizing that what we thought was scaffolding was actually a beautiful architectural feature of the facility.  Now that it’s open, we are eager to visit soon.

The building and its exhibits tell a story that has been at least 400 years in the making, boldly celebrating triumphs and achievements, lifting up heroes, daring to look honestly at horrific and sad truths that are forever woven into the fabric of this country, adding a necessary dimension Continue reading REVerberations – October, 2016

REVerberations – June 2016

It’s hard being progressive!  My heart is surely in it, but I have been wondering lately if I am reaching the limit of my ability to cognitively process all the information good progressives need to be thinking about.  Is there a better way, one that is at least more straightforward if not simpler?

I was blessed to be part of a Lancaster Seminary Faculty Retreat last week.  The focus was on race and privilege.  The two-day program was very well done, informative, and thought-provoking, sparking many ideas that I am eager to share here at St. Paul’s.  But something strange happened to me as we were wrapping things up.  Let me share a bit of context first.

As a white male, I was thinking about taking privilege for granted; no doubt that happens in my life more than I care to admit, despite my intentions and efforts to make it otherwise.  Contemplating a story that had earlier been shared by a dear colleague, I was trying to imagine the very real consequences of privilege for people of color who, for example, have to worry about matters of personal presentation that rarely, if ever, enter my mind.  All the while I was weighing the relative usefulness of a racial justice paradigm that aims for reconciliation – as has been the dominant model for decades, compared to Continue reading REVerberations – June 2016

REVerberations – May 2016

There has been a lot going on lately, and there is a lot going on still.  I have heard many people saying they wish they could do everything but simply can’t.  And we are less than a month out from Easter as I write this.  We can’t all do it all, yet we do what we can and hope to make a difference in the process.  As a robust congregation, we can indeed walk and chew gum, and spin plates, and juggle bowling pins, and…

The Muslim Dinner with Westminster Church of the Brethren brought three congregations together for meaningful fellowship and a wonderful opportunity to strengthen relationships.  It also provided a chance to begin to think about what else we might do together to promote peace and harmony between faith traditions in this part of the world.  Let us build on this first step, following the lead of the children who can show us the way to a new world.

We launched our official involvement with the Faith Community Health Network, even as we 1considered the importance of health and wholeness generally.  Since then, a number of conversations have started about how we can best care for each other in the context of congregational connection.  Think about if you have passion for helping members of the congregation in times of need, and let me know.

We finished the month with what turned out to be a rather extraordinary event with our Living Traditions Concert, Hymn Sing and Dinner to benefit Lancaster Theological Seminary.  It was an afternoon of Continue reading REVerberations – May 2016

REVerberations – April 2016

Happy Easter!  It was a joy to be with folks this morning, beginning at Bob’s farm for the cloudy but still wonderful tenth anniversary of our sunrise service, continuing through the awesome annual breakfast offered by Doug, and concluding with a lovely service in the Sanctuary.  1937138_10207552757631689_6748704505805610815_nWhat blessings all the way through!  It has been a long and meaningful Lenten journey and I am grateful to share it with each and every one of you.  Alleluia!

So now what?  I suppose the next major marker of our church year is the June 5 Congregational Meeting.  Sixty-eight days until we move into summer mode.  Consistory is already in the process of preparing the budget and planning to nominate new deacons and elders.  Work is underway on the addition of new video capabilities Continue reading REVerberations – April 2016