From The Pastor

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

REVerberations – March 2016

Easter is coming so fast this year!  March 27.  You will not get another Highlights before Easter has passed.  But by the time Easter comes, we will have changed to Daylight Savings Time (March 13) and officially entered the season of Spring (March 20).

Between now and Easter Sunday, we have much going on around here.  I hope you will seriously consider immersing yourself in services and learning and service opportunities that collectively move from the challenge of the cross to the hope of new life in resurrection. Engage your Lenten Journey now, not because you should but because you can, and because doing so can make a meaningfully constructive difference in your faith life.  Instead of having to all of a sudden arrive at Easter in one moment, work toward it, anticipate it, wade into it one step at a time.  Live and learn along the way.

Of course regular Sunday services are at 8:30am in the Chapel and 10:45am in the Sanctuary.  In between the services at 9:30am, there is education for all ages with the adults engaged in an intensive Lenten Bible study.  Come any or all of the following Sundays: February 28, and March 6 and 13.

On Palm/Passion Sunday, March 20, we will celebrate Confirmation with the group that has worked hard to reach that milestone in their faith lives.

On Holy Thursday, March 24 at 7:00pm, we will remember the genesis of what we now call Communion, recalling Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, recognizing the extravagant invitation to the table, giving thanks for the sustenance the ritual meal provides us in our own faith lives.

On Good Friday, March 25, we will again join with the ecumenical churches of Westminster in the annual Walk with the Cross.  This year the Walk will begin at St. John Roman Catholic Church, make its way in procession accompanied by Wayne Morrison and his bagpipe to the shelter at Dutterer Park, continue on to Grace Lutheran Church, and end here at St. Paul’s with a brief worship moment in the courtyard led by Jerry Fuss.  When that concludes, at about noon, we will invite the gathered crowd into our Sanctuary where we will worship in a Taize-style manner, singing, praying, sitting in silence together, lighting candles.

On Easter Sunday, we will have two worship services, the first at sunrise at Bob’s farm, gathered around the pond with the hearty core of folks that have brought that service to life for just about 10 years now.  And at 10:45am, we will celebrate Easter with a full service with the choir and other aspects of tradition.

Participating in all of the services provides a balanced experience of the season, remembering the story that ties together life and death and life again.  Participating in all of the services encourages slowing down, stepping out of the busy flow of life to mark with solemnity the moments that we claim are central to our faith.

Just today, one of my Seminary colleagues was talking about how her church lives for the cross, for the grim death Jesus faced, for the powerful symbol that represents the struggle Jesus experienced as a living human being whose life came to a tragic, excruciating end.  My colleague is perplexed that her congregation does not seem to look with any apparent anticipation to the good news of Easter which has the potential to redeem the pain and transform lives.

At the same time, other people jump to Easter and are quite content to sail obliviously past the harder part of the narrative that comes before; they are focused on the empty tomb without any awareness of the cross, lunging, perhaps prematurely, to post-Easter bliss without a real sense of getting there as part of a transformative journey.

Ultimately, our faith rests on the cross AND the resurrection, on letting go and letting come, on past and future.  Living in the balance one day at a time enriches, expands, and enhances lives of faith.  Please be part of the whole process – and bring a friend or two to do the same!  And together, let’s make our way toward a truly Happy Easter…

Many blessings,
Marty

 

REVerberations – February 2016

Just a couple of weeks ago, we gathered to talk together about important things in a Congregational Conversation in Fellowship Hall.  From the outset, there was tremendous energy in the room, maybe partly generated by the spuds, but mostly, I think, an indicator of this congregation’s ongoing commitment to make a difference in the world.  Many people came with great passion and wonderful ideas, thoughtfully entering into dialogue about what might be our social justice focus going forward.

As Ben notes in another article in this edition of Highlights, we talked about a wide range of possibilities for congregational and individual involvement, each an opportunity to bring justice and hope to all people.  And when Consistory did gather to process through priorities in terms of our future vision, what seemed clearest were all of the pathways that led back to the wide range of issues related to race and racism.  Surely we will continue to be involved in all the things we do now.  There is still great interest in feeding hungry people and housing homeless people as we have done through programs like A Meal and More.  And there is demonstrated and enduring support for rapid re-housing and the shelter system throughout the county.  We will continue, no doubt, to contribute to efforts of local agencies to deliver food to families and individuals in need and provide clothing for those who do not have enough, especially in this bleak midwinter. We will stay engaged with the network of service providers who serve so many needs in our community.  Identifying race as a particular focus to our list of things we care about does not mean we will stop doing anything else.  It means we are challenged to do more.  And we can, relying on each of us living our passions to do good and coming up with ways to do what needs doing.

So we will now begin to attend more closely to ways race matters.  Remember back when we went through the initial process to become Open and Affirming.  That process changed us for the better then and continues to change us now.  We learned together and talked together and cried together and worried together and rejoiced together with a bold step forward.  And we will remain attentive to that continuing and remarkably beneficial process of transformation.

We have now challenged ourselves to more intentionally and consistently do things like include topics related to race in our educational programs, weave race into our congregate worship, move forward with programs intended to intervene around race in our community and region and world.  We are fortunate to make this decision now, as the wider United Church of Christ also engages race on multiple fronts and at every level of the wider church; there are ways for us to join in larger efforts and maybe make a bigger difference in the process.  Will we consider claiming the label “Multiracial and Multicultural” as other UCC entities have done?  On a broader scale, what will we make of the “Black Lives Matter” movement?  As a unique focus, we will work to specifically affect younger generations, as was a particular interest when we talked together.  We will reach out to people of color in our community and in neighboring places.  And we will keep our hearts and minds open to guidance of the Spirit.

What will you do to be part of all of this?  Make time to think about that and, more, to find ways to act on your passions.  There is so much great good for us to do together… Let’s get started!

Many Blessings, Marty

 

REVerberations – October 2015

Dr. Rev Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

It can be so very subtle.  So subtle as to routinely go unrecognized.  So unrecognized as to continue unabated at the expense of justice for all.

Say you are doing one of the mundane tasks that make up a day like any other.  And you happen to cut yourself.  You go to the first aid kit and, after cleaning your minor wound, you apply a band aid.  A flesh-colored band aid.  But whose flesh color?  It is a relatively close color match for some, but not for others.

If you walk into a busy store, do you need to give a second thought to whether the security guard will be tracking your every movement because of the color of your skin?  Some people do.  Some don’t – and might even find this question unnecessary if not odd.

When you turn on the TV, how confident are you Continue reading REVerberations – October 2015

REVerberations – July/Aug 2015

by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

Well, my pseudo-sabbatical is beginning as I write.  I am still trying to finish up some things in the office.  And I am beginning to think ahead to what we might do in the Fall.

So I am asking your help with a number of things to think about and respond to as you wish.  Please let me know your thoughts by email at martykuchma@gmail.com.  I will keep looking for your responses over the summer.

This past year, we followed the Gospel of Luke through the Book of Acts.  One of my hopes was Continue reading REVerberations – July/Aug 2015

REVerberations – June 2015

From Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor

It has been quite a year!  There is so much more awaiting us in the year ahead!

We have indeed walked with Luke through Acts.  Where shall we go next?  Back to the prescribed lectionary rotation?  On to something new?  But what?

We have built very strong ties with the Human Services Program shelters through this year.  What work is yet to be done?  What relationships are yet to be forged in the service of people yearning to find their way to housing stability and abundant life?  The St. Paul’s Grant, given to HSP at the beginning of the year, has made a big difference in the lives of many families as we shall hear on an upcoming Sunday morning.  Is there more we can do?  Are there other programs on which to focus?

We have shared much in our Continue reading REVerberations – June 2015

REVerberations -May 2015

So I get asked from time to time why we don’t typically include official Church creeds in our worship services.  It is a good question – a great question even.  Those of us who have grown up in and around the Church have been nurtured in our faith by the various creeds and catechisms of the traditions that have surrounded us.  Creeds have helped us learn and preserve basic Church teachings and served as bedrock professions that offer comfort and stability in our religious lives.  There can even be something soothing in recalling such familiar words, in good times and in bad; they can have emotional impact.  Not including creeds in our routine worship is in no way meant to diminish their significance as touchstones of religious life but, rather, to acknowledge their esteemed status and potential power.  Indeed as a congregation and as a denomination, we continue to claim the ancient creeds, not as tests, but as testaments of faith.  And they remain Continue reading REVerberations -May 2015

REVerberations – April 2015

And so we prepare yet again for Easter, that pivotal phenomenon without which we would not and could not be who we are as people of faith.  We celebrate the cadence that brings us, year after year, to appreciate the new possibilities borne by this season of resurrection and rebirth.  It is indeed a joyous time to think again about our reason for being together in the name of the One who gave his life to bring God’s love to all people.

Over the upcoming days, we will make our way, still following Luke’s account, through Holy Week.  And we will be challenged to reckon all over again with the powers that conspired to kill Jesus.  We will have no choice, if we fully bring ourselves to the story, to acknowledge and even admire Jesus’ fierce determination, his undying dedication to his purpose, and his awesome courage to put himself in the way of harm so that others Continue reading REVerberations – April 2015

REVerberations March 2015 (Come As You Are)

Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
Henry Reiff, Consistory President
Janet Kelly, Spiritual Council 

Come as You Are

On the Sunday of our open Consistory meeting, The Call to Worship embodied so much of who we are.  “You are welcome here if you are married, or if you are single…a parent, or the child of one…if you know what you believe (or) if you have no idea of what to believe…if you love people whose bodies look like yours, or if you love people whose bodies are different…if your people are from this place, or from far away…if you are a saint, or a sinner… no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

It is hard to imagine that many more people would not want to come to St. Paul’s.  But few of us would say that we are where we’d like to be in terms of attendance and finances.  As someone pointed out, “Faith is not easy.” Perhaps this a critical message from Diane Butler Bass, the noted Christian scholar, who has asked, “Can Christianity be saved?”  She answers that question with a cautious hopefulness.  It depends on what we do with the opportunity we now have as a universal Church to awaken yet again – as the Church has done multiple times throughout history, and to become a new creation.

The twenty-five or so members who came together for that Sunday afternoon Conversation came to ask questions and seek answers that can move us closer to understanding the future to which God is calling us as a congregation. We raised many questions, including: “Does the greater community know and understand our message?”  “Do we know and understand our message with enough clarity to talk with others about it?”   “Is Sunday morning what church is all about?” “How can we attract and engage young people and millennials?” “Is our communication effective, inside and out?” “Why do some churches appear to be thriving while others are dying?” Continue reading REVerberations March 2015 (Come As You Are)

REVerberations, February 2015

It is time to stop looking back, time to over-strike the lament that goes something like this:
Compared to the heyday of the American Mainline churches in the 1950’s and 1960’s, fewer people are becoming church members now, fewer people are attending church, fewer people are volunteering for church support and community outreach activities, and financial donations are dropping.

Oh, it used to be that the church was full every Sunday and even overflowing on Christmas Eve.  There were kids and young families everywhere.  There was plenty of help and enough money to comfortably get us through.  Then there was that time we could count on the fancy evangelical churches growing even if the Mainline was fading, and we could try to look like them and act like them, hoping that their mojo might wear off on us somehow.  But now they are losing folks, just like us.  No… Something bigger is happening.  The ground is shifting beneath our feet.  So let us join together in responsive prayer: 

Leader: The sky is falling! 

People: We have hit the iceberg and we’re going down! 

Leader: If only we could find a way to bring back the good ole’ days… 

People: God, turn back the hands of time!

All: Oh, woe are we…

Lamentation, second-guessing, and worry have done us no good at all.  It is time now to step into the unknown future and boldly, courageously embrace new light and new life.  Given the way various realities are lined up at this point, there is simply no other way.

 

On Sunday, January 25, more than 20 people from St. Paul’s joined with about 180 others to participate in a local program sponsored by the Westminster Ecumenical Ministerium and led by Diana Butler Bass, an internationally renowned researcher and writer who has extensively studied the sociology surrounding church life these days.  Butler Bass gave us all much to think about beginning with some basic demography.  She talked about the growing number of people who identify as part of the group called “nones” because in surveys of religious affiliation they say they identify with “none of the above.”  They are atheists and agnostics and a whole range of people who think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” who generally believe in God or a higher power of some sort but do not adhere to any particular institutional religious tradition.  Their existence raises questions about our future.

 

One key foundation of her program was her presentation of a cultural change cycle that moves from Crisis to Transformation.  Organized in the shape of a “U” with Crisis on the top left and Transformation on the top right, the model places “New Visions” at the bottom of the diagram, a place where organizations working toward transformation need to authentically come to terms with real, shared data and begin to seriously grapple with new ways forward.  It is clear that the journey around the U from Crisis to Transformation takes time and requires deliberate investment in meaningful conversations.  No organization can jump immediately from Crisis to Transformation without doing the work that will get them there.  The journey involves, on the left side, letting go of ideas that pull us backward, and on the right side, letting come ideas that can draw us forward.

 

Butler Bass pointed out that churches often have trouble getting to and past the middle, seeing the second part of the process as too daunting.  Yet daunting is an accurate perception.  This work is not for wimps.  And we have that work ahead of us.  We have done well to keep up as much as we have.  We are now making plans to bear down on this process and tackle the challenges that point us toward brand new opportunities.  This will lead us beyond gimmicks and cosmetic adaptations into deeper exploration and more profound change.  Stay tuned for opportunities to be part of these vital conversations and to be involved in the process of creating our new vision for the future.

 

Many Blessings,

Marty