From The Pastor

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.) 

REVerberations – April 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

We are almost there… As you receive this edition of Highlights, we will be in the period of waiting, according to the biblical account of the Passion.

We may think back on the Lenten jour-ney by which we got to this point in the story, on what brought us to Jerusalem, and on how the disciples of Jesus’ day really did not understand the depth of sacrifice that would be required of Je-sus, and of them once they got there. There are many ways in which we are just like them, just as clueless, and we hope for new insight and enlighten-ment, some kind of deeper appreciation of what this season is all about. This whole season, taken all together, evokes such a mix of profound sorrow and the great joy to which the sorrow gives way, eventually. Throughout, we are reminded again and again that hard times matter.

We will recall the story of Jesus’ passion that is played out in the public square over a couple of excruciating days, and his crucifixion that lasts through an afternoon, ending at 3pm with Jesus’ last gasp. Perhaps we will take the invi-tation to let go of parts of ourselves and our lives that distract us from our high-est calling, and we will re-prioritize what we are going to live for and what we are willing to die for. We are reminded that Luke’s Jesus instructs us to take up our crosses daily, and we will proceed with a new sense of the gravity of that com-mand.

On Saturday, we will have the oppor-tunity to wait expectantly, keeping in mind that the very first disciples had no idea what would come next after Jesus was placed in the tomb. May we be blessed to feel that same kind of fresh-ness in the Holy Week and Easter expe-rience this year. We will undoubtedly be tempted to dedicate the day to er-rands and preparation for Sunday, and to other mundane tasks and routines. Yet I hope we will each make at least a little time to tend to an awesomeness of the moment in our spiritual lives, pa-tiently letting its potential unfold in or-ganic ways.

And on Sunday… On Sunday, we will gather to celebrate, in our Easter ser-vices, and in meaningful moments with family and friends. Joy will abound! If we let it be so, we will be enveloped by a sense of new life, new hope, new pos-sibilities, and maybe even an awareness of new responsibilities and obligations that flow from our claims of disciple-ship.

Then what? What’s next?

One might say that what’s next should involve continuing Jesus’ work in the world, bringing God’s love to all people, creating a world in which God’s love is indeed ubiquitous, pervasive. We might think of the season and seasons after Easter as a time to carry on the work of justice for which Jesus lived and for which Jesus died. Lord knows there are powers for us to confront and plenty of injustice and inequity for us to take on. There are wrongs to be righted and priorities to be re-shuffled, in our individual lives and our collective life. And if we don’t carry on the work, who will?

So, what will you do? Will you do anything different at all? Are you open to actually being different?

I pray that we will make choices that truly and in every way carry forward Jesus’ legacy and love.

I guess we’ll see how it goes from here…

Happy Easter and Beyond!

Marty

REVerberations – March 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

I’d like to tell you a little about my friend George. Truth is I don’t know as much about him as I want to or will know; but he is an interesting guy, and always eager to talk. He is a good conversation partner, remarkably polite, and kind and gentle. George reads the Bible every day, even as he studies for the nursing program in which he is enrolled at the Community College, both texts carefully highlighted.

Now George has really appreciated the welcome he has received at our Thursday Meal and More, and he has expressed his gratitude many times. He has even said the blessing before the meal on a Thursday when I was at an-other meeting. He is homeless for now. And he has been looking for a place to worship on Sunday mornings since the church he’s been attending is having some internal strife at the moment.

So George showed up at St. Paul’s one Sunday morning. I sorely wish I had realized the need and found a way to let everyone know that George, based on all I know about him, is not a threat to anyone. Instead, he is a blessing to be around. Continue reading REVerberations – March 2018

REVerberations – February 2018

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor 

Greetings!

This edition of Highlights will bring us to Lent, which is yet another time for new beginnings in the Church-year calendar. It invites us to do something different or to do what we do differently. Originally, Lent was simply another name for Spring, when the green fullness of na-ture slowly begins to re-emerge from the cold and gray of Winter. Eventually, Lent was given special meaning within the Church as forty days of anticipating and preparing for Easter, the central celebration of Christianity, without which we would likely not be Christians at all.

The Latin word related to Lent is quad-ragesima, meaning fortieth day. It is often said to experientially parallel the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness in advance of the beginning of his pubic ministry. In that wilderness, Jesus un-derwent temptation and withstood all of the challenges. And he returned from the wilderness emboldened Continue reading REVerberations – February 2018

REVerberations – November 2017

by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

On October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest and professor named Martin Luther posted his infamous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  By so doing, Luther intended to reform the Catholic Church, but what he did resulted in a Church split that gave birth to Protestantism.  His act precipitated a seismic shift in the life of the Church.  Remember that before Luther, for about 1500 years, “the Church” was the Catholic Church.  All of that changed 500 years ago this week.  So, as Protestants, we celebrate that powerfully transformative moment in the history of the Church that had significant implications for the history of the world.

A number of factors converged at the moment in history when Luther approached the church door with his hammer in hand.  For example, there had been previous attempts at reform over several centuries, like those led by Jan Hus who was burned for his heresy, John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English in the fourteenth century, and others.  Luther could capture some of that energy in his bold action.  At about the same time, Gutenberg’s printing press had come into popular use, so Luther’s own writings could be published broadly and, as was Luther’s intent, the Bible could be mass produced in many languages.  And, importantly, Luther addressed deeper issues of theological significance.

Luther’s concerns, as a faithful priest, were numerous, but in particular, he was driven to take action by the Catholic Church’s wide use of indulgences that had their roots in acts of simple penitence Continue reading REVerberations – November 2017

REVerberations – October 2017

by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

So I sit with many questions streaming through my brain.  And they’re all over the map.  Here are just a few of the things on my mind at the moment.

How can we make Sunday morning announcements more efficient and effective?  The Music Team and I have been bandying about various possibilities.  It would be a genuine loss if we were to eliminate time for people to speak up on Sunday mornings about various things that matter to them; that is part of who we are, warm, welcoming, informal, personal.  And I love that about us.  But we can’t – can we? – afford to have announcements go 17-18 minutes each week.  We can’t start announcements early because another one of our charms – really – is that many of us tend to get there right on time, often rushing from other commitments.

A related question has to do with ensuring that everyone has the best chance to actually hear what others say.  So a proposal now on the table is that we set up a microphone near the lectern and ask people making announcements to sit in the front pew to start, then come up in turn to speak.  Does that provide enough order to our weekly ritual without losing aspects of the process that are important?

Does saluting the flag trump honoring what the flag stands for?  Continue reading REVerberations – October 2017

REVerberations – September 2017

by Pastor Dr. Marty Kuchma

As I write this article, 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 were indeed on full display, this time unmasked.  And, evidently, there is more to come as the nation reckons with a difficult part of our collective story.  Sadly, it would seem that in coming to terms with one civil war, we run the risk of becoming embroiled in another, newer one.

I wonder why groups that had for decades lurked only in the shadows now feel emboldened to show themselves in the light of day – and in the fiery glow of torches in the night.  Where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that we keep working toward racial justice that has, despite signs of progress over the years, remained remarkably 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 people owning other people but eventually gained resolve enough to call for emancipation.

As a matter of context, let us note that many of the 700 or so Confederate monuments that still dot the American landscape were erected long after the war as an assertion of white supremacy at times when that could happen largely unchallenged.  The construction of such Continue reading REVerberations – September 2017