Letters - July through September 2007
NOT the Pastor's Letter of Dickinson and Belfield
"So How Come We Can Live Together?"
This summer, I am doing a sermon series on history and ideas in the United Church of Christ that are important for a local church to understand. I've been reading UCC history and polity again, those books that explain who we are and how we should live together, and things make more sense than when I learned about the UCC almost twenty years ago. I've had experience in 5 different Conferences, not just one. I've pastored/been a member of eight different
churches, not just one, and I've also had experiences from many different settings of the UCC, not just one. When we have only one individual setting or church of the United Church Christ to which to compare the ideas presented, it is REALLY hard to understand the words on the page.
What really seems to hold us together is the attempt to embody God's covenant of love to others and, in doing so, bring that covenant more fully into our own lives. God's love is one of the few things in life that grows when you use it and give it away. With lack of use,
it shrivels up and blows away even more radically than muscles that we do not use.
As we hold within our denominational boundaries members of all the generic forms of Protestantism, forms that burnt each other at the stake during the Reformation only a few hundred years ago, agreeing on theological principles and ideals is often a daunting and
impossible task. This is especially so when we lose our focus on God's covenant of love. Without that focus, there is NO way for us to exist together as God's church. And as the culture wars in our society influence our discussions, we can get awfully heated.
Especially when the discussion determines how the National Church leads us into God's vision for us. Our major task is to keep our focus on listening to God.
Listening and respecting the other's well-being and their point of view is of vital importance to our health as a denomination. My Conference, the Northern Plains Conference, was listened to at this General Synod. We pointed out that the rural voice has been lost as our percentage of members in the denomination has dwindled, and poverty has increased in rural areas. We asked for a staff person to care for our affairs and help build us up into the church God has
called us to become. We received a task force to determine how best to listen to us and enable us to become who God has called us to be as a vital part of the Body of Christ.
Other areas of the church were listened to at this General Synod. In response to the passage of the resolution supporting legal marriage for same gender couples at General Synod 25 in 2005, other members of our denomination wanted to affirm marriage as solely between a man
and a woman. Rather than vote this down in keeping with the action of last General Synod, General Synod 26 voted to take no action on this resolution. We did not vote it down, nor did we replace it with another resolution in support of gay and lesbian people, a group of
people that our denomination has overwhelmingly supported at our previous General Synods (we've expanded our vision to include other sexual minorities as well). We voted to respect the voice of alternative theology and did NOT shout it down.
It is really hard not to shout down voices that disagree with you. But such actions do NOT embody Christ's love to others. And in this denomination, each of are called to embody Christ's love to others, to other members of the Body of Christ as well as to those outside
the church; and, according to the gospel given to us by Christ, we are called to even love those who hate us.
Each of us who have been made so wonderfully different by our God really does show love in different fashions. And I believe that that is as intended by our Creator. Someone who grows up in a church that is Open and Affirming, open to sexual minorities and affirming of
alternative lifestyles, is called to embrace the gay or lesbian couple entering their church as an expression of God's love. Someone who grows up in a more conservative congregation is called to embrace the people, even as they do not support the relationship. And both
are called to love each other. Loving others is a challenge to all who choose to be disciples of Christ, "wherever they are on life's journey."**
I find the United Church of Christ to be a vital and alive family of disciples, all of who are challenged in different ways by the same God of love. May we continue to strive for the next 50 years in keeping with our motto, "May they all become one."
May you experience the fullness of God's love,
** This phrase is part of the United Church of Christ identity campaign.
Copyright © 2007 DewSpirit Publishing
Pastor's Letter of Dickinson and Belfield
"So What Makes Us - Us?"
As I usually do, I've taken July and August to focus on something special, rather than preach on the Lectionary.I've picked those themes that I think make the United Church of Christ who we are.I believe this has also been helpful to Belfield because the sermons also express what is important to me, their pastor.This pastor's letter will do that as well.
I chose to join the UCC because it believes that Christian unity and love for others takes precedence to right thinking.The preamble to its Constitution sums everything up when it states:
"The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession.It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lordís Supper or Holy Communion."
Christ comes first; then unity in Christ.That is why it really IS appropriate for our two denominations to share a pastor.It keeps me on my toes as well as I have to filter what my sermon will say through two different sets of ears.
In the Preamble, the Bible and its interpreter, the Holy Spirit, follow, with that Spirit also inspiring us to work in the world participating in God's creative and redemptive work.The creeds then act as guides, pointing us to what Christians believe, but not requiring us to believe their propositions, including that Mary was a virgin or that Christ descended into hell before the resurrection.
I love the part that states: "It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own."We are REQUIRED to think for ourselves.We are NOT required to accept as truth what someone else tells us.Our own relationship with the Holy Spirit is of vital importance so that we receive the guidance we need to establish and maintain our own unique relationship with our Creator.I don't think that God wants us to believe that exact same thing - we certainly we not created to look alike.We each have different experiences that inform and create our particular relationship with God.A garden is much prettier when it has different flowers in it rather than just one variety.
The problem comes when we forget about that all-important function of the Holy Spirit to inspire and inform our thoughts.We tend to focus on ourselves and lose track of God.I am looking forward to the outside service at Belfield this Sunday, for I connect with God in nature.Taking Sabbath time and nature are very important to me as they help me connect with the Holy Spirit in ways I would not otherwise.I am not always able to worship when I lead worship, but I expect to do so this Sunday I n Belfield.
We need to take time and make an effort to connect with God in order to serve as fully as we are called to serve.May you do that this summer and may God keep you well.
(I will be writing up this sermon series and making them available online and as copies)
First News of Dickinson and Belfield - September 2007
"So Why Should We Listen?"
Why should we listen to each other?Does being part of the Body of Christ as the Church mean that we have to pay attention to what the others think - as well as rejoice with them and sorrow with them?
We like to think that rejoicing and sorrowing with our fellow Christians is enough.But that is only the first level of loving each other.Reaching out, giving - and accepting aid, is the next level.But even here we haven't accepted the full reality of the other as one of God's beloved children.We are called to honor and respect all of God's children.
Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten how to honorably disagree.We are too focused on winning to understand the value of compromise.Our television advertisements focus on winning, on the products that we need to give us that extra edge - except the advertisements are selling also to those with whom we are competing.
When I was substitute teaching in the Jackson School District in New Jersey, I had an interesting experience.Walking down the halls during my free periods, I heard teachers swearing at their students more than once.These were tough kids.Many had moved with their family from the Bronx to rural New Jersey (not to be confused with rural North Dakota) to work at Great Adventure, a six Flags theme park.I then overheard a student I had had the day before talking about me to another student.He said that I was a tough substitute - that he had been planning on walking out, but that I had respected him too much and he couldn't.Both he and I were winners that day.
Honor and respect emphasize relationship.In God's kingdom, relationship is all important.It is what holds us together as the Church, as the Body of Christ.The Great Commandment - to love our neighbor as ourselves - is all about relationship.Without it, a congregation is NOT the Body of Christ, but just a group of people who have chosen the same building in which to half-heartedly worship God.
Half-heartedly because such a group comes to church to get their needs met, rather than to thank God for all that God has done.Half-heartedly for a goal oriented reason, not from a love-oriented reason.I am one of those goal oriented people.My first few years in ministry, I KNEW what the congregation needed to do in order to move forward.And so I pushed forward for the sake of the congregation.Then I realized that the goal in ministry is relationship.Winning is not having people do things my way (the best way . . . of course ), but doing things together even if what we end up doing is the opposite of what I had had planned.
That is why one of the first things I do in a church is to start a newsletter if none is present.Communication is essential for a church to function well.Communication connects and creates relationship.When we listen and hear what each other has to say, we are fulfilling Christ's call to love each other, for love cannot fully exist without respecting each other.
We don't have to change our minds because someone else disagrees with us, but we do need to try to understand why they believe what they do - just as they have the responsibility to listen and to hear us.We as Christians need to hear the call of Christ to love, rather than the call of our culture to win.For it is only with Christ that all are winners, surrounded by and sharing Christ's love.
2007 - April - June
2007 - January - March
2006 - October - December
2006 - to September
Copyright © 2007 DewSpirit Publishing