From The Pastor

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

Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2014 (Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma)

Welcome to this time and this space which we make holy by what we do here together.

 

We gather here, not because we want to, but because we must, to honor the lives and legacies of all who have died because they were transgender, and to ally with all whose lives are affected or threatened by violence because of their gender identity.

 

We gather here to make our bold and passionate stand against injustice in all its forms, and to proclaim again our commitment to creating a world in which every person is valued and loved as the inherently worthy person they are.

 

We gather here with a vision of a world that refuses to reduce human life to one dimension, whether based on gender identity, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, or any other factor.  Instead we dream of a world that encourages every person to be all they are created to be in all of life’s richness, and beauty, and wondrous complexity.

 

We gather here with hope that, one day soon, we will not need to gather here at all, when justice will indeed roll down like waters, and Life will be respected in all of its glorious manifestations.

 

REVerberations – November, 2014

Greetings All!

I hope this post finds you well as we transition from one season to another.  Let us find hope in the darkness and cold of winter, and work always toward new life in every season.

I want to take this opportunity to address three things if I may.

FIRST, Stewardship season is now upon us.  As I write, the Deacons and the Generosity and Giving Team are working on both a pledge campaign and an upcoming worship service to start it off.  I have written in other places about the importance of being a blessing by sharing blessings.  You will be receiving material that will help you find your way into the process for this year.  That material will stress the importance of maintaining the finances of the church in order to support this wonderful congregation’s Continue reading REVerberations – November, 2014

REVerberations, October 2014

 

As we ramp up to full speed with the church year, I want to invite you to participate in a few new opportunities.

First, you might remember that a Sunday Conversation Series began this summer involving St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, and Westminster Church of the Brethren.  It is a series designed to provide a meaningful forum in support of the progressive church.  Over the three summer sessions, we developed good momentum and settled into a model that seemed to work.  Sessions are typically organized around and time of food and fellowship over a potluck supper, a brief presentation of material to spark conversation on a designated topic, then free-ranging conversation about that topic.  So, back by popular demand, we will continue the series through the church year.  Planned sessions, which generally take place, with one exception for Thanksgiving weekend, on fourth Sunday evenings from 5:00-7:00pm are as follows:

October 26 at Westminster Church of the Brethren.  Bruce Marshall from Cedarhurst will lead a conversation about “How can we bring change to society?”

November 16 at Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalist Church in Finksburg.  I will lead a conversation about “How to be church in a world that doesn’t necessarily want church.”

No Conversation in December

January 25 at St. Paul’s. Glenn McCrickard from Westminster Church of the Brethren will lead a conversation about “Loss.”

February 22 at Westminster Church of the Brethren. I will lead a conversation about “Making sense of various perspectives: Working toward a collective ‘truth.’”

From there, we will decide together on future topics.  Please join us for this great opportunity to meet new people and explore important questions!

The 30/30 Challenge has been quite successful at generating new energy and making it possible to reinforce existing ministries and initiate some new ones.  Remember that everyone is expected to join in with this effort and know that there is plenty of room for new people and new ideas.  You can still sign up each Sunday morning near the Church Mouse Shoppe in the narthex at the bottom of the double Sanctuary stairs.

One of those new opportunities is a forum for publishing writings by church members and friends.  For now, it is simply called St. Paul’s Publications but we will be searching for a new name.  If you have a poem, a prayer, a promise, a short story or essay, an opinion piece or other writing sample that you would like to have published and distributed to others here, please submit your writing to me (pastor@stpauls-ucc.org) or bring paper copies into the office.  Henry and I will be getting together in early November to plan for the first edition of this new publication which will hopefully have two editions per year, Fall and Spring.

Please look at the bulletin announcements, Tidbits, and of course Highlights to see what else is going on and find a way to join in the wonderful activities going on around here.

Many Blessings,

Marty

REVerberations, September 2014

Like the booming bass voice declares at the beginning of the “Festival of the Lion King” show: IT… IS… TIME! 

The 30/30 Challenge was introduced during the Spring Congregational Meeting and in the service leading up to it.  At that time colorful catalogs explaining and outlining various options for completing the Challenge were distributed – thanks Renee!  And the Challenge has been mentioned periodically over the summer.  At the Fall Congregational Gathering on September 7, you will be asked to officially make your choices about what you are going to do to fulfill your part of the Challenge. 

Remember that the 30/30 Challenge is that every member, friend, and visitor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ will “engage in at least 30 hours of Outreach and at least 30 hours of In-house Service every year.”  Keep in mind that Continue reading REVerberations, September 2014

REVerberations Summer 2014

Greetings!

I recently had the opportunity to experience yet again what it is like to be “held in prayer.”  And it was awesome!  The precipitating factor had to do with my mom’s eye problems and partial loss of vision for which she came to Wilmer Eye Institute for treatment in June and for which she will return in July.  I let that need be known on the congregational email prayer list and almost instantly received a flood of notes offering support, care, and encouragement.  Knowing that there were people loving through prayer provided considerable comfort to my mom and to our whole family.

Time and again, I have witnessed this congregation actively demonstrating compassion in myriad ways.  By asking how another person is then actually listening for the response.  By sending cards, notes, and flowers.  By providing food and other tangible support in small quantities and very large.  By praying and sending positive energy.  By rallying around special collections.  By exchanging heart-felt handshakes and hearty hugs.  By simply hanging around to talk and socialize, building new friendships and strengthening old ones.  Compassion is evident here in so many wonderful and meaningful ways.  By all of those acts and many more, we hold each other, sometimes even holding each other up when life’s burdens are bearing down.  By holding each other in whatever ways we do that, we become the tender hands, and the loving arms, and the immediate presence of God in each other’s lives, incarnations of God’s love for each and every one of us and for the world. Continue reading

REVerberations Summer 2014

Good Friday Cross Walk Reflection by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma

Micah 6:8 – And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Cross Walk Reflection by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Good Friday, 2014

189246_10151241532581718_1736292925_nJesus was born into utter simplicity, far from the halls of power, just out of sight of mighty kings.  He lived his life in that vulnerable space at the margins of society.  It is from that social location that he spoke and out of that spirit that he acted.  He advocated for a world in which the last would be first and the first last, where the poor would get richer and the rich get poorer, where the mighty would fall and the meek rise up.  In all that he did, he made it so that there was a place at the table, and in his ministry, and in his heart for the people others were content to ignore and ostracize and oppress. Continue reading Good Friday Cross Walk Reflection by Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma

COMMUNAL REFLECTION

Communal Reflection (Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma)

 

Imagine a new-born body

Soft, precious, as light as air but distinctly more

A wisp of substance with a lifetime of possibilities

An utterly dependent yet marvelously resilient miracle of new life

 

Imagine a body young and pliable

Emanating endless energy into the world

In all directions and everywhere, exploring, discovering

Probing independence but not alone, brimming over with new life

 

Imagine a body wracked with injury

Bent, broken and bruised, vulnerable, fragile and frail

Sustained mostly by the power of prayers fervently said

A nexus of pain and suffering, seeking relief in healing and new life

 

Imagine a body riddled with disease

Worn down and worn out, turned inside-out and upside-down

Willingly, if reluctantly, collaborating in the destruction of life for life’s sake

Forcing hope from despair, grasping after new life

 

Imagine a body gracefully aged

Elegantly etched with lines that trace memories

Of a life with regrets, to be sure, but well-lived nonetheless

Time and again, celebrating new life, and still.

 

Imagine a body on the verge of death

Depleted, exhausted, chest heaving, gasping for one last breath,

Then receding, perhaps with a final prayer, never to rise again

Breathless and lifeless, a body now jettisoned on the journey toward new life

 

Are we bodies with souls or souls with bodies?

And what of our thoughts and feelings, our hopes and dreams,

The relationships we make real only in our bodied selves

That extend beyond mere flesh and bone

To fill the expansive universe

That lies at once all around us and deep within us.

 

The Passion of Jesus of Nazareth is about so much

That informs our theology and shapes our beliefs

It is a story that begins and ends with a human body

That is born and grows strong then is battered and broken,

For us… But how? And why?

A body rendered breathless, lifeless

Yet fully and forever alive.

REVerberations —– March 2014

I loved my time at Andover Newton Theological School! I was there for three years working on my Master of Divinity degree. For two of those years I lived on campus which is quite near Boston where I had lived before and had many friends. My experience provided a chance to make new friends, to study hard, to reflect deeply on what I was doing in seminary in the first place, and to take my next official steps toward ordained ministry. The professors were so personally involved in students’ lives and I developed some very meaningful mentoring relationships with some of them. Continue reading REVerberations —– March 2014