15 September, 2022

The Church Community: Pregnancy and Birth

Yesterday, I made the difficult decision to postpone the long-planned futuring event we had planned after worship this Sunday. It had been advertised and promoted since mid-June. The goal is to explore what the "future church" will be.

The final clue that we needed to postpone is that of those who had made a reservation (needed because it involved serving a catered lunch AND a children's program happening simultaneously to keep the wee ones engaged elsewhere in the building), only 3 households represented were under the age of 65. This is NOT representative of the group that affiliates with the congregation. We have families with young children. But our efforts to engage those households in this process clearly failed.
I've been meeting on and off with younger families (that's a loose term when used by a pastor in her sixth decade of life) about living in this Post-Covid world. It hit me last evening that I'm straddling a huge wall, two different world views.

The Church as institution with committees/teams/boards/structure and formal worship through which relationships, connections, and growth are fostered, and stone walls that set the boundaries. This institution is accustomed to long range planning with goals and objectives, and measurable outcomes. The Church recognizes that things have changed and there is no going back to "the way it used to be," but also is yearning for the stability of the past; change is instability and The Church needs the change to be done so things can feel stable again.
and
The Community where "pods" and "circles" foster connection, relationships, and growth. The Community looks for an unfolding, organic future. The Community wants space and will make do minimal supports in place, space where community can be real and authentic, not just a dream or vision. The Community is longing for what can be. Further, in the Community, there is great resistance to all things institutional and structured.

The part of me standing in "the Church" understands that this institution needs a chaplain.... someone to attend to the anxiety of impending change. "The Church" part of me needs the assurance that there IS a future and struggles to admit (let go of control by admitting) I don't know how to create it. And so, this part of me is also struggles with how to interact with "the Community" and gain the insights so desperately needed to set the direction of what "The Church" will become: dead or reinvented. ((The control freak in me grabs for 3 more Prozac.))

The part of me standing in"The Community" struggles with the idea of maintaining"the institution" but wants an alternative to be evident; This part of me needs an entrepreneurial "church planter" to innovate and energetically explore new possibilities. This part of me desperately needs to get out of the structures and methodologies of the past because they mean nothing to me.

I am straddling both worlds and feeling schizoid. I just don't know HOW to be both a chaplain AND a church planter. I am torn, trying to do both, and exhausting myself in the attempt.

So being blunt (beyond direct), The Church side of me laid out this quandary to The Community side of me and asked how to move forward with re-creating/re-inventing this community/church post covid. There was no response.

And the Community side of turned to the Church side of me and asked why such structure and stability are necessary. And there was no response.

Maybe I am just too old to be doing this.

The morning after cancelling the long-planned futuring event, I awakened in the wee hours with a vivid dream. The big stone church building had morphed into a person in labor. There was panting and screaming, and the stones were crumbling around them as they breathed through transition and moved into the Push stage of labor. I woke up from this dream screaming, "Breathe! Let it out slowly! Push!" I could not see what was being born.

As anyone who has given birth can tell you, labor and birth are not fun. They are painful, messy, scary, and uncontrollable experiences. The Church and the Community are gestating a new life, a new being for a new age. The gestation could be several human generations long. It could be shorter. We just don't know. And we don't know what to expect, how to plan for. We certainly cannot force the labor and birth. Yes, the stones are falling around us. Yes, the change cannot happen quickly enough. But each of us is both coach and expectant parent. All we can do is breath through the contractions, the pain, the mess and await the birth of God's new incarnation.

"Behold I do a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?"

gracias por escuchando/leyendo.

14 March, 2022

Distractions

 Sometimes children’s stories offer the most profound of thoughts.  Dr. Suess, Judy Bloom, Roald Dahl, and Maurice Sendak are among my favorites.  I recently read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Despereaux is a mouse who from birth was different from other mice.  He was born with his eyes open and he thrives on interaction with humans, particularly the Kings daughter.  The nemesis in the story is Roscuro, a rat who is a misfit among the rats because he loves light.  The story begins with the inscription, 

The world is dark and the light is precious.  

Come closer, dear reader. 

You must trust me. 

I am telling you a story.

As I write these words, Russia is marching toward Kyiv, the evidence of climate change is all around me as this region of Costa Rica is experiencing the hottest February-March in history, and people all over the world are suffering from needless hunger, war, and as a result of the greed of the few.  

The world is indeed dark, and light is so very precious. 


In these horrifying days, these words have brought me much hope, light, and faith.  

Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell … a story. Make some light.


I have read 8 books so far in 2022.  This one is of the “distraction” genre on my list to be read this year.  This is, of course, my own category; I have divided my list into three categories; political stories, and church renewal are the other two.  As I start my 6th week of sabbatical, I am still drawn to the first category because they offer light.  I can identify with the Roscuro the rat:

He was always, in the darkness of the dungeon, on the lookout for light, the smallest glimmer, the tiniest shimmer. His rat soul longed inexplicably for it; he began to think that light was the only thing that gave life meaning, and he despaired that there was so little of it to be had. 


The world feels do dark.  There seems to be so little light, so little hope.  The stories offer an alternative reality, a distraction from the news; from the horror of injustice and war; from angry, hateful people; from the consumer-driven economy and its resulting selfishness. 


I intentionally did not say “escape” from these things.  I don’t believe that we can escape, nor should we.  As a person of faith, I cannot ignore the realities of this world nor turn my back on the needs of others. I must listen and learn, seek understanding of what is happening and listen to discern means to counter the ill-effects of these evils.  That said, however, my own well being and mental health are necessary if I am to offer hope, work for justice.  These books allow me to be distracted, to be refueled for the journey ahead.  


The Tale of Despereaux 

(C) 2003 by Kate DiCamillo. 

Kindle version (c) 2009.

Published by Candlestick Press

99 Dover Street

Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 

07 March, 2022

Lecciones Privadas

One activity I have not signed up for in Samara is surfing class.  The sun, the numbers of people in the space, the embarrassment of being in a bathing suit….. no. Just no.  But I’ve been watching the classes being taught…. Often.  Over this past weekend, the tides were right to surf in the late afternoon before and immediately after high tide.  I watched one student in particular who was about my age (and much braver than me) as she waited for a wave, paddled hard and knelt on the board as the wave broke under the board.  And then she stood on the board.  The wave foamed under the board as she struggled to maintain her balance.  She held her stand for about 10 seconds before the current under the board moved and destabilized the board and her balance. As she went down, she turned and dove into the water.  She surfaced, grabbed the board and returned to the deeper water for the next opportunity.  That was one gutsy woman!

This week, I’ve changed my schedule from the original plan.  My first 4 weeks in Costa Rica, I participated in half day Spanish lessons in groups, plus 5 hours of private lessons each week with just an instructor and me.  My original thought when planning this in 2019 was that I would get technical learning in the classroom and conversational learning in the private lessons.  It was a fair assumption. But it did not turn out as I’d expected. 

My first week of group classes, there were 4 students in the class.  None of us had formally studied Spanish, but we had the grammatical knowledge to start at level 2 (of ??).  However, there was nothing offered in that class that I had not already learned.  I was grateful for the conversations. I learned to listen differently to the language. And I appreciated the laughter we shared.  Academically, however, it felt like a waste of time.  

My second week of group classes (6 students) was difficult.  And there was a lot of stress around my homestay location (see the previous blog post).  I arose, left the house, walked 5 - 10 kilometers on the beach each day and still arrived at the school by 7 a.m. And I stayed until after 9 p.m. at night to avoid the stress at the homestay.  I worked hard on new material, but the group class did not cover everything we needed to cover; all but one person in the class failed the exam and so I had to spend the third week with the same material. 

I moved to a new homestay that weekend. With that stressor removed, things were ridiculously easy again.  The third week of group class (5 students) was a complete review of the second and I easily passed that exam on Friday.  

Last week I was in a group class (of 7 students) to complete the 100 level term.  While there was a lot of review, I skipped ahead with YouTube (Butterfly Spanish) and Duolingo and picked up the simple future, future, and gerund tenses quickly.   However, the group class was so very slow.  The profesora was patient with all the students, I was ready to move much faster than the rest of the class.  And at the end of the week, I passed the final with flying colors.  

Mid week, I mentioned to my private class instructor that the group classes moved so very slowly and she responded, “Why don’t you ask the office if you can take the next week in private classes?”  Can I do that?  “Por supressa— of course, as long as there is an instructor available.”  She assisted me in making that happen. 

This week, and I hope next week, I will only have private lessons; they will be three hours on Monday and Wednesday, and two hours on Tuesday and Thursday.  I would really like to get as far as possible in Intermediate Spanish (the 200 level) before I leave Samara on March 19. And if I can’t get as far ahead as I “scheduled” for myself… oh well.  

On the Meyer Briggs, I am a very strong J (of course if you know me you knew that without me telling you!).  I planned the minute details of this sabbatical well before I bought tickets or registered for classes, and certainly before I had a grant to pay for it all.  Esto fue totalmente loco.  Planning is more than a time management tool for me.  It is a means of control.  When I arrived in Costa Rica, I was sure I had control of this experience.  But the experience is teaching me that I don’t need to have control, I don’t have control, and that I just need to ride the wave wherever it takes me.  It’s okay if I crash…. I just need to dive into it because there’s plenty of water under me and another wave is another opportunity.  Because I’m not gutsy enough to get on a surf board, but I am enjoying the surf anyway.  




26 February, 2022

First Tuesday Reflections

  Navigating a new culture without language skills is an interesting challenge.  Adjusting to a very hot and humid climate in addition to these adds spice to the chili.  I’m finding myself so very exhausted at the end of the day that I eat a quick supper with my host “mama” (I’m 20 years older than she is!), quickly shower (sans hot water) and take care of all the bedtime routine, and then collapse into the bed with no ability to further any communication or thinking.  If I’m able, I get up before the sun so I can walk the length of the beach and watch the sun rise.

My first Tuesday in Samara, I was soundly asleep by 8 pm.  I intended to leave the house when I awoke at 4:30.  Intentions are half the battle.  The body has to be willing.  A moment after I awoke, I heard the tap, tap, tap of my host’s tiny hand on the door.  Her voice showed concern.  “Cah lee, Cah lee, tu tiene que estar a clase en cienta minutos.”

Clearly I’d dreamed that I had already gotten up.  It was 7:45 and I had class at 8.  


I hurriedly dressed and put in my contacts, grabbed my morning meds and threw on some shoes.  My host had breakfast on the table, tea poured, my oat milk from the refrigerator, and was seated at the table waiting for me to join her.  I nearly inhaled the scrambled egg on a tortilla and fruit that awaited me.  I gulped my morning meds with the tea, found my swim suit and towel on the line and stuffed them into my back pack, and I all but ran the 1000’ to the campus.  


As soon I sat in the air conditioned classroom, I noticed it, again.  I had a new cluster of bug bites all over my legs and feet.  How does this happen, I wondered. 


Bugs are an inevitable part of life in tropical climates.  And biting bugs have always had an affinity for me — as though they seek me out.  Deet is my friend (yes, I know that it’s really not good stuff, but we’ll save that conversation for another day). There is an ant here in Costa Rica that bites and those bites can turn into welts larger than a half dollar coin in about 15 minutes on my skin.  These ants are everywhere.  Since my host family has poured concrete floors, they come up from the cracks in the concrete.  


I discovered the full extent of this reality when I got out of bed in the middle of the night and needed to refill my water bottle (even at night it is well above my comfort level for heat).  As I entered, my flashlight scanned the floor and counter of the outdoor kitchen.  Silently, the counters changed color as the areas outside of the glow of my light appeared to be moving.  I tried to make myself believe that I was somewhat dreaming things.  But when I put my large (2 quart) water bottle in the sink and it was met with the same effect, I physically jumped.  I left my bottle unfilled as I sprayed the water around the sink to rid it of its night time occupants.  

The “food truck”


In the morning, I respectfully asked my host to not prepare breakfast or dinner for me, that I would eat at the school.  She was surprised but accepted the news.  And the moment the office at the school opened, I queried the staff about the “normality” of the situation.  They were sympathetic and explained that my original host had a last minute family emergency and I was staying in a home rarely chosen for exactly these reasons.  However, because they had record numbers of students enrolled for the next two weeks, there was no place available for me to move.  They did assure me that they would move me as soon as another place was available.  


And, I made due.  I used my “jungle level bug spray for clothing” to spray the bed and the cracks in the bedroom floor.  I always filled my water bottle at the school as soon as I arrived and before I left.  I purchased a large portion of lunch from the “food truck” that sits outside the school’s gate at noon each day, and I skipped dinner.  And I stayed at the school and studied late into the night (if 9 pm is late).  On the weekend, I arranged to take excursions out of town with my classmates.

   

And then, last weekend, I left all my belongings that I would not need for the excursion in a locker at the school.  When I returned on Sunday afternoon, my new host met me and brought me to their lovely, spacious, clean, and light-filled home which they share with up to 5 students at a time.  My lovely host had made up a small room where I will stay without a roommate for the last 4 weeks of my stay.  Here, the floors are tiled, the walls are drywalled, and ceilings are high and topped with ceiling fans, the glass windows open and close, and have high quality tightly-meshed screens.  The indoor kitchen has almost all the amenities of my kitchen in the states, and the “summer” kitchen is also enclosed.  The only thing missing is, of course, hot water which is not considered necessary in most parts of Guanacaste Provence. 


And I’ve not had more than 3 ant bites since…. And all of them originated from the beach after I’d been swimming.  

It is now 3 weeks since I met my first host, and 20 days since that Tuesday morning encounter with reality.   As I think back about that experience, I have a lot of mixed feelings.  I am immensely grateful that she was open to share her home with a white-privileged anglo American.  I feel guilty — nay, ashamed — that I found her living conditions “not up to my standards” while she considers herself lucky to have a home with a roof and indoor plumbing.  And I feel great relief that I no longer am staying in that home.  


On my 15 minute walk from the school to my new hosts’ home, I saw my first host walking toward me on the dusty, pothole ridden road.  When she recognized me, she displayed a huge smile and ran (in 100 degree heat) to greet me.  She asked about my well being. She laughed as her dog expressed how much she missed me by jumping into my arms and licking my face.  And she asked if I needed anything from the store because she was on her way to buy groceries for her sister who lived in this neighborhood.  And I was humbled by her continued hospitality.  


Navigating a new culture — with or without language skills —is an interesting challenge. It is also an enlightening experience.  Things that I take for granted cannot be taken for granted by so many people of this world.  Things that I assume to be universal are indeed privileges.  And normal is only a setting on some washing machines.

06 February, 2022

Domingo Uno

 El Primer Domingo


I have played with words most of my life.  I love words.  Palabras. Worter. .ֿמילים.  Λογια.  Mots. Word games, word puzzles.


So I’ve been dabbling with Spanglish.  Using an game-like app to fool my brain into learning new vocabulary, phonics, grammar, declensions, conjugations.  And it’s been 2 years of fun. I have learned a lot.  But…


Friday began a new journey.  Immersing myself in an immersion, Spanish-only program for 6 weeks is a huge step.  In the household where I am staying, my host and her (large) extended family are instructed to hablar solo Español.  This is the real deal.  My brain is spinning as I exchange my local phone number (which I don’t know) with my host, as she gives me the password to her wifi.  As we try to create contacts in our Whatsapp apps — the primary way Ticos are communicating in this area.  This is washing machine spinning, not a merry-go-round ride.   


Children understand words before they can say them.  And they can learn to say over 1000 words before age 4.  A 4 year old can assemble words into phrases.  


I’m a 4 year old Spanish speaker.  My vocabulary for the written words is around 1500 words.  Listening and understanding those words spoken by a native es muy dificil.  In this environment, I understand why children get frustrated when they cannot comprehend what is being said.  Smiles, hand gestures, and tone of voice go a long way in helping convey meaning, but words tumbling out of someone’s mouth can feel like Niagara Falls pouring into my ears.  Auditory drowning.  


Yesterday, I attended mass at the local Catholic church with my host’s sister Sara.  I’m familiar with the mass in English.  Many parts of it I know by heart.  I sat in that space, where the sound was a musician’s dream, and heard all the words as they were spoken.  In my mind, I could discern where I was in the mass, but I could not make sense of any of it.  The rote English version did not help my understanding of the Spanish.  Reciting the Apostle’s Creed in English while being recited around me, it dawned on me that the rhythm and pattern of the phrases matched. The melody was similar (all plainsong).  The meaning behind the words remained the same. But the words meant nothing to me. 


The actions of the people were indeed very familiar.  I understood the reading was from Isaiah (Santo, santo santo)…. And when everyone stood, I recognized that the priest was about to read the Gospel and from his repeated use of “Simon” and “pescado”, and from my knowledge of the lectionary, I guessed he was reading the familiar story about Jesus preaching off the shore of Lake Genesaret from Luke.  But his words did not connect into ideas for me.  And when two children walked the aisles with baskets at the end of long poles, I knew what was expected even though I did not understand the lector’s words.  


I recognized the actions of the priest over the altar; through rote, I offer similar concepts over bread and a cup so often.  He lifted the bread and broke it, and then lifted the cup all the while speaking words, and I knew what those words meant but I did not understand a single one of them.  At the end of the service he lifted his right hand over the heads of those gathered and said words, and I knew what those words meant. But I did not recognize any of those either.  


And so the guitar strummed melodies I do not know (no se), singers intoned words I could not understand, and for the first time in my life I felt totally out of place in worship.  I could name each station of the cross that adorned the walls — in English — but I could not be at home with the words used.  I know the architectural names for the various parts of the space, and a part of me critiqued the quality of the sound due to the nature of the materials used to build the space. But I could not relate to what was being spoken. 


And that feeling of being out of place slapped my face.  Of all the places I should feel at home, it should be the church.  Nothing this particular church did showed any sign of my not being welcome — they indeed did welcome me.  People’s eyes smiled from behind their masks.  People bumped elbows in greeting.  


I’m still processing this feeling of not being at home, of being out of place.  Part of me says if I knew the language I would feel more a part of what’s going on.  Part of me said that I wished it were in English (and then a mentally slapped myself for the Anglo-privilege that through stood upon) so I could be included.  


And yet another part of me felt sorry for all those people who walk into a church for the first time and have no idea what is going on. People who have never been to church.  People who do not know the language used by the “Church.” People who have no experience with communal singing, sharing communion, or being blessed by the last words of the priest.  


And part of me wished I knew how to include people through action, through being church instead of wording church. How to share and involve people in caring for others, working to benefit others, and changing systems of injustice.  Worship is positively the worst way to try to introduce what the faith is about.  Worship is illusive. Worship is verbal. Worship is etherial.  


Worship is not illustrative.  Worship is the high school level of vocabulary in a world of people with a 4 year old’s faith vocabulary.   


How do we BE the Church so others can learn.  What are the necessary changes that I need to make in how I lead in order to walk the path with people instead of leading them by a leash, or from behind them with a stick?  How do we involve people in the faith instead of introducing them to it? 


This is the task at hand.  This concrete and tangible challenge is what I need to be about.  No. What we all need to be working on together.  Because this is not a word game.  This is not a puzzle that is solved once and for all.  It is an ongoing journey that we must embark upon if we are to be faithful to what we’ve said we believe. 


So, these are my deep thoughts for a Sunday morning.  I’ve swum. I’ve eaten. I’ve read. And now I’ve written.  My day must be complete now!  Oh, wait.  It’s only 11 a.m.    

05 February, 2022

Llegó!


It is hot.  very hot.  And its only 9:30 in the morning.  

Private homes in Central America are humble.  I'm staying with Dora, her cat Mimi, and her dog, Nana.  "My room" is a 10' by 8' space with a bed, nightstand, a small table, and an empty bookcase.  And an old office chair.  the floor is poured concrete, and unlike the rest of the house, there is a drywall ceiling.  The rest of the house is divided by 8' walls open under the sheet metal ceiling.  

El baño es pequeño.  Muy pequeño.  There are closets in the victorian house I live in (the manse)  that are larger.  The basics are all there..the shower is separated from the rest of the room by a small step down and a shower curtain.  In CA, its important to know where the electric swith is that turns on the on-demand water heater.  I did not did not find that switch until after my cold shower last night.

But cold is relative. The temps are in the 90's already before noon. So by 7:30 at night when Soy Ducharme, the 80° water felt like jumping into Lake Michigan in Febrero.  

Dora's home is homey and comfortable.  like most homes, the windows are open spaces covered only by a nylon mesh supported by a metal or wooden lattice.  There is no need for glass in a place where the temperatures rarely fall below 65°.  The breeze is constant in the morning, but in the heat of the day, it fades in proportion to one's energy in the heat.  On the beach, there is a bit of a breeze off the ocean, but the sun nearly negates its benefits. Y, el rey es mismo fuerte.  My EuroAmerican skin would fry in no time if I were to linger in its light.  

Day 2 began with desayuno de frutas y pan.  And té.   Then a swim in the Pacific and a walk on the beach whilst i chatted (in forbidden Inglés) with my sister in frigid Nueva York.  I had intended to run this morning, but that requires getting up before the sun breaches the horizon to avoid the heat.  Today, my body said, "rest." And I obeyed.  The swim and walk led my Fitbit to believe id walked 10k steps.  es loco.  

Today I shall wander this town and be a tourist.  Las Tardes, I will attend mass with my host at the iglesia de católica whose priest serves 7 congregations along the coast.  Whew!  After supper, I'll sit on the beach and watch the sunset behind the gentle waves of the Pacific.  

La clases empiezan el lunes a las 7 a.m.  con una prueba de ubicación.  Hasta entonces, tengo libertad para explorar, descansar, escribir, y leer.

Descanso, santo descanso.  

el aeroplano primo

Thursday, February 3

I was at the wrong gate.  My ticket clearly said H6,. but it be came apparent to me when my phone announced that the flight was boarding that the boarding pass did not match the airline's plans.

By the time i arrived at K16, the last group number was just about seated and having been assigned to seat 13A, my compatriots in row 13 had assumed the seat was to be vacant, and had appropriated it.  

These were no small hombres.  i feared they would need the winch to extricate them from the narrow  crevice that comprised row 13.  

My tardiness resulted not only in the embarrassing groans of two half masked men, but also a lack of overhead space into which to place my rucksack.  Alas, under the seat in front of mine i shoved it, leaving scarcely 10" for the placement of my feet.  

Deicing the plane, which Flightaware indicated had been at this gate for 16 hours, pushed the departure to 20 minutes past the assigned time.  

I could not convince the air vent over my head 🗣️ release any air despite my attempts to turn it in every direction. Within the first 15 minutes in the air, my long-covid nose was innundated with the stench of vomit.  of course every thing that doesn't smell like dead fish smells of vomit to me, but i tried anyway to wrap my face in the huge kerchief id brought for this exact situation.  i'd dosed the cloth with essential oils to mask whatever wafted by.  i tied it behind my head and over my NIOSH approved N95 mask creating, or so i'd planned, a scented barrier between me and whatever else floated by my face.  It worked remarkably well.  not only was the tuna scented oil more pleasant than that of my neighbor, it offered the added benefit of reducing the oxygen to my brain putting me almost instantly to sleep.  

I awoke when GreyCoat Hombre immediately to my right stood and made clear that he needed to find the restroom.  His mask covering only his upper lip, his nose hung over it like a dangling participle.  DressShirt Hombre to his right exuded a creaking sigh as he stood and extricated himself into th aisle so GCH could remove himself and head toward the back of the plane.  And since je was standing, DSH decided to saunter to the head in first class.

I took advantage of the vacant space to pull my water bottle out from beside me.  I carefully lowered my mask as my left hand fumbled to lift the lid. just as i opened my mouth to sip from the silicone straw, a fountain of water arose from said straw and I gagged on the unexpected stream that not only filled my mouth, but spewed a full 18 inches above my head.  Pierdo las palabras.   el primo!  

Jerry can quote me on that



31 January, 2022

Sabbatcial Leave Taking.

Litany of Leave Taking   

Litany of Leave Taking: Adapted from the writing of Rev. Bart Kelso written for the sabbatical sendoff of Rev. Stacy Swain on Sunday, July 26, 2020 at The Union Church In Waban, United Church of Christ in Newton Mass

Benediction adapted from the writing of Rev. Eric Elnes found here:                          https://www.facebook.com/eric.elnes/posts/10159825106481907

All: We bring before you Holy One, our sister in Christ, our Pastor and friend, Carly Stucklen Sather. We send her on sabbatical with our earnest prayers, asking your blessing upon her, and upon this congregation that she serves.

Council: May this sabbatical be for Carly a time of adventure and discovery. May her travels introduce her to people and places new to her but known to you.

All: Guide her steps, O God. May she know your accompanying presence on each journey and find you waiting for her, welcoming her, at each destination.

Council: May Carly enjoy, in this time away: a release from responsibilities, a child-like curiosity, and a thorough refreshment of body, mind and spirit.

All: “Come to me,” says Christ, “all you that are weary and are carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11: 28 &30)

Council: Grant to her, Gracious God, times of reading, times of play, times of deep contemplation, of rich conversation, of both leisurely dreaming and focused reflection. And enable her to gaze in wonder at the beauty of your creation.

All: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1). “O Lord, how manifold are your Works! In wisdom you have make them all; the earth if full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24)

Council: Hear your servant when she prays to you, Holy God. Help her to worship you freely, whether in multitude of in solitude, joy or sorrow, in strength or in weakness. Watch over her and draw her close to yourself.

All: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness. Come into God’s presence with singing.” (Ps. 100:1-2). “I will sing of loyalty and of justice; to you, O Lord. I will sing.” (Ps. 101:1).

Carly: I leave you in the care of our church’s leaders – Council Leaders Tom Lowry, Jean OBrien, Erik Toman, Sherri Ries, Deborah Gardiner, and Brian Kasnick, and capable staff, Ryan Cox, Stephanie McCullough, Ginger Scarborough, AnnLaura Tapia. They will steward the gifts and graces of this community of faith in my absence.  I pass to Jennifer Burney the mantel of caring. She will lead you in caring for one another in my absence.

All: Let God, the God of the spirits of everyone living, set them over this community to lead us, to show the way ahead and bring us  so God’s community will not be like sheep without a shepherd. (Numbers27:16-17)

Carly: Friends, hear these words from the Apostle Paul to Christ’s people in Corinth. Let them be my word to you as well as God’s: “Finally brothers and sisters, goodbye. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. The amazing grace of the Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” (1 Corinthians 13: 11&14, The Message).

All: “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55: 12a). God below you, God before you and behind you, God everywhere you turn and within you. Amen

Choral Response:        Aaron's Blessing         Walter Rodby sung by the Chancel Choir

Sending:  

All: May the Spirit of the Living God

Go before you to show you the way;

Go above you to watch over you;

Go behind you to push you into places you would not necessarily go yourself;

Go beneath you to uphold and uplift you;

Go beside you to be your strong and constant companion; and

Dwell within you to remind you that you are surely not alone on life’s journey, and that you are loved - loved beyond your wildest imagination.

Carly: And may the fire of God’s blessing burn brightly upon you, within you, and through you, now and always.

All: Amen 

30 January, 2022

I'm Leaving! Sabbatical Begins!


Portions of this article are quoted or adapted from the writing of Rev. Leah Robberts-Mosser who shared a pastors tasks on Facebook.  Found here.Here

 Beginning Tuesday, February 1,  I will be on sabbatical through May 14. I’d like to take a moment to write about what pastors do, about sabbaticals and why it's a good that pastors have them. 

A friend in this congregation said to me shortly after meeting him, "You have the hardest job," This was not a reflection about this or any other congregation. It is a delight to lead, teach, and minister among each and all of you....I love being your pastor and being in mutual ministry with you. Still, even when you are pastoring a congregation you love and that works so well together, pastoring is still the hardest job. 

This friend gave a couple of reasons for his perspective: Pastors have to wear many hats: CEO and janitor, caregiver and boundary setter, financial guru and fund raiser, evangelist and moral conscience in the community, and activist for “the least of these," cheerleader, truth-teller, entrepreneur, and--in these days—midwife to new ways to exist as a community of faith. 

Being a pastor is emotionally taxing. We have to hold different boundaries with the people that are completely different than those of anyone else in the helping field.  

  • With tender hearts we listen to you talk about your anxiety and anger, your addictions, and your affairs. 
  • We sit with a parent to help explain to their child that their other parent has died. 
  • We remind you that you are forgiven even when you cannot forgive yourself, even when others refuse to do the same, especially then. 
  • We are the person you talk to when you don't know where else to turn. 
  • We figure out whom to call when you don't know who to call. 
  • We sit in hospital rooms, funeral parlors, emergency rooms, and ordinary rooms where unspeakably awful things have happened. 
  • We show up with grace and cups of coffee and sometimes those things are exactly same. 
  • We hold your broken hearts in our hands and try to patch them up with the love of God. 
  • We do patch jobs on poverty when desperate folks call or drop by the church. We fill gas tanks and buy diapers, pay prescription costs.
  • Sometimes pastors witness your rage....sometimes it gets projected at us, especially when there are things you cannot control or do not understand. We have to learn to differentiate, and heal our own brokenness too. 
And we do these things discreetly.... never drawing attention to those helped or ourselves. We are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. Even on days off and on vacations, we get texts, emails, and calls about church – like “is it time to go virtual again?”.

It's not all broken hearts, though. Sometimes we get to witness your joy.  

  • We're often the first to sing over your newborn child
  • We bless your adoptions
  • We officiate at your weddings
  • We celebrate graduations and new jobs
  • We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays with you.

In between preaching, laughing with the children, and pastoring, we brainstorm and trouble shoot. We lead and support the staff, work to keep the staff, and work to find new staff members when something doesn’t work out. We run the numbers, choose the resources, and train and coach volunteers. And then pastors show up to remind everyone that we are the Body of Christ and we are loved, endlessly. 

We do all of these things every week while trying to think theologically and frame current events in terms of our collective faith, while experiencing these events in real time. We are often only one step away from the surge, and sometimes it nips at our heels. We're lucky if that's all it does. 

And, in today's post-Christian era, we do all this with a fraction of the resources our predecessors had. Denominations are dying out -- we're having to create systems of support that were standard issue not so long ago. 

This is the work of pastoring people, God's beloved, made-in-God's-own-image messy, impossible, endlessly loved people. It is unlike any other work. This "odd and wondrous calling" is such a gift. And it's a weighty one.

And it is exhausting!  COVID has made this all the more challenging. Pastors have had to do "on the job" retraining to learn how to record or live stream, edit videos, and broadcast worship.  We've had to invent new ways of caring for the members of the congregation and help them keep connected to one another.  We've learned new technology like Zoom and Facebook Live.  We've learned how to teach confirmation with no students in the room, and lead communion while the sanctuary is empty.  All while dealing with our own loss of connection, family challenges, death of loved ones, and exhaustion.  It is no wonder that there are more people leaving ministry outside of retirement than at any other time.  Or, to put that another way, young pastors are leaving ministry  in droves AS WELL AS people who are retirement age. This going to lead to a huge shortage of clergy for churches that survive this panDAMNit.    

Sabbaticals are designed to allow pastors an extended period of time in order to regain the sacred rhythm of rest. For me, this sabbatical means that I can turn off my "minister's brain" and do something completely unrelated to ministry, something for me, myself, and I -- something that I've always wanted to do but could never make/take the time to do.  Getting away for a long enough time to rebuild the roof of my life, and stabilize the professional and emotional beams that hold up the walls of my living. Learning to be fluent in Spanish, and walking the El Camino both promise to renew my brain, heal my spirit, and revitalize my passion for ministry.

Sabbaticals are designed to allow congregations to stretch their wings and be self-directing.  For FCCLG, this means hearing a great variety of preachers, actively participating in the ministry of administration, thinking of new ways and new places to do the work of the church.  It also means that the lay leadership will have to step up and be the church in a more meaningful way, a way that you will discover and carry out.  

And so, I bid you so long for now.  I will post here and on facebook in a one way conversation that will keep you abreast of where I am and what I'm doing.  

Remember that YOU all are the hands, feet, and mind of Christ in this place. You have a calling and a ministry.  Be the church. Renew the faith.  Revitalize the message of God's extravagant grace and abundant love.  

Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo..... paz.  

Carly



27 January, 2022

Sabbatical Plans

 

What Will Happen While the Pastor is Away?

The time during which the pastor is away is not “lost time.” It will be an opportunity for the congregation’s renewal as well.  The Lily Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant includes funds for the congregation to experience new ideas, activities, and growth.  From the application, our Moderator wrote of this time:

As a congregation, FCCLG looks outward for clues to guide us into a new generation of mission orientated service. We have noted and appreciate that many of our newest members are eager to give their time and talents towards advancing social justice. That God is still speaking to us on these important issues clearly resonates with our congregants and their children. As Carly has now led us through many administrative and cultural challenges, we are ready to forge ahead into a new phase of worship and mission. During her sabbatical and time of spiritual renewal, we will look to renew the spirit of our church body as well. Relying on guest preachers, fellowship events that focus on a journey of the spirit, retreats and nurture team planned events, we will gain a fresh perspective. …. FCCLG will be prepared to realize our future hopes, dreams, needs and mission. Finally, we will welcome a spiritually and physically refreshed Carly back with open hearts and new vision for our modern generation to Accept All, Reach Out, and Touch Lives.

Sabbatical Congregational Renewal Activities

The January 30, 2022 worship service will include a “sending” liturgy, and the fellowship hour will center around Rest, Renewal, Rejuvenation, and Revitalization. Carly will symbolically pass her stole to Jennifer Burney, our former intern who will share preaching with four ordained clergy, and who will lead members in caring for one another through the Called To Care team.  During the fellowship hour that follows, members of the congregation will be encouraged to bless her on her way.

The congregation will provide for congregational care through the Called To Care Team, and for worship through five preachers: Rev. Douglas Asbury, Jennifer Burney, Rev. Molly Carlson, Marylen Marty-Gentile, and Rev. Carol Ann Munro.   One Sunday in Lent will feature a choral sermon and musical focus instead of preaching.

While Carly is away, the Nurture Team will plan two “Church Family” events where families of every shape and size can gather together for fellowship and learning.  These will be intergenerational activities aimed at bringing friends and families together, including all ages and stages, for fun and fellowship.

The grant also includes funding for the creation of a labyrinth in the church.  We will create the labyrinth in an accessible area of the church (yet to be determined). It will be available for both the community and members to mediate and renew their spirits.

We will engage the expertise of Rev. Brandyn Simmons who will lead members of the congregation in a day long retreat on February 19 and two workshops on March 5, and April 2 on reinventing ministry for the Post Pandemic.  These will include introduction to walking the labyrinth, a journey through appreciative inquiry to find a path to talk about faith, and walk alongside new approaches to being the church.

On May 15, the worship service will include a “welcoming” liturgy with our Intern symbolically returning to Carly her stole; it will be followed by a catered Town Hall Gathering to share stories of the sabbatical and celebrate our pastor’s return.

Summary of Congregational Activities

Two congregational gatherings.

  • ·       A Fellowship Hour following worship on January 30
  • ·       A Catered Lunch following worship on May 15

Two opportunities for intergenerational activity

  • ·       Created and led by the Church Nurture Team
  • ·       Intergenerational and Inclusive of all
  • ·       Fun, Fellowship, and community building

Three Congregational opportunities led by Rev. Brandyn Simmons –

Rev. Brandyn Simmons is an experienced trail guide for the congregation to explore new spirit songs, new approaches to being the church, and new conduits to mission. An intern’s trailblazing a path to ministry will offer the congregation new outlooks and vistas for faith and practice.

  • ·       Praying the Labyrinth
  • ·       A Journey Through Appreciative Inquiry as a means to talk about faith
  • ·       Walking Along Side New Ways of Being the Church

You can learn more about Brandyn Simmons at https://www.thecrossingchicago.org/who-we-are

Other:

Creation of a walking labyrinth in accessible space in church building.

14 November, 2021

Covenant of Belonging

 

Covenant of Belonging

Invitation

If in this community of faith you have found a sense of belonging and are ready to claim your home here, if you wish to join with us in the movement toward a different world, a better existence for all, we offer to you the opportunity to affirm that you belong and to be affirmed in that sense of belonging.

I ask that if you are present in this space that you come forward. If you have found belonging through technology, I ask that you put your name and geographic location either in the comments section of your screen, or text this information to the phone number at the bottom of the video. {{Church Office Text Number at the bottom of the screen}}

Opening Sentences

We have all come to this community seeking belonging and a connectedness that is sustainable through a God that unites us all. We are remain in this community as those who seek to follow the two great commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

Love your neighbor as yourself.’

We share in the common desire to share the gifts with which we’ve been blessed, and  We journey together as a family while working together for God's realm of justice, equity, grace, and extravagant love. 

Belonging is feeling a sense of connectedness.  Connectedness is built through our service together, devotion to God and one another, and by developing love for one another and for the stranger. Trust is developed through times of tension; this trust is dynamic and strengthens our spiritual tendons and muscles. We find grace in disappointment and forgiveness, and practice all of this in our families and in our communities.  And through this all, we are reminded that as the body of Christ we are the church – not just a building that we drive by during the week, but connected to one another as something that symbolizes and points to—something greater than itself.

Friends, today you are not joining “the church” -- the institution -- the way that you would join the health club or the Rotary.  There are no contracts to be signed, and few tangible benefits of being a member. Instead you are covenanting with others in this quest for God’s kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.  

Questions of the candidates:

Q: Do you desire to claim your place in this community of belonging?
A:  I do

Q:  Will you, as best as you are able, follow the teaching of Jesus – to love God and neighbor, to resist the forces of oppression, injustice, and hatred; to share love and kindness; to live with compassion and humility; and to share the extravagant grace you’ve been given?
I will with the help of God.

Q: Do you promise, according to the grace and gifts given to you, to support the mission and vision of this community, to respect and reach out to others within the congregation, to share in worship, and to nurture love of God and love of neighbor in the world?
I will, with the help of God.

Q: Will you lovingly challenge this community to be the best version of itself and to live up to the things we say we believe?
I will, relying upon God’s grace.

Q:  Will you allow yourself to grow in faith and witness, and to be changed, shaped, and transformed by this community, living into your identity as a beloved child of God?
I will with the help of God.

Questions of the Community of Faith

Do you reaffirm your place in this community of belonging?
A:  I do

Q:  Will you be faithful to these people as they endeavor to walk with our community of faith?
We promise our faithful companionship to our siblings in Christ.

Q: Will you lovingly challenge these siblings to be the best version of themselves and to live up to the things they say they believe?
I will, relying upon God’s grace.

Q:  Will you allow yourself to grow, and to be changed, shaped, and transformed by these new siblings, living into your identity as a beloved child of God?
I will with the help of God.

Let us unite with all those who, in the words of the Prophet Micah wish to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
We trust in God, who calls us to transform ourselves and the world; in Jesus, who offers us new life and redemption; and in the Holy Spirit, who provides comfort, connection and inspiration.

Prayer

Let us pray.

O God, we are grateful for having been gathered into this community of faith, one part of Christ’s Body.  We thank you for everyone in our community and rejoice in the inclusion of these new siblings today.  Together may we live in the Spirit, building one another up in love, sharing in the life and worship of this church, and serving the world with justice and peace.  Together we say:
Amen.

Welcome And Reception (all who are able please stand)

Beloved, let us greet our siblings in this family of faith as we offer the hand of Christian love and welcome them into the company of this community of faith.
Thanks be to God!

 

 

This liturgy was written by Rev. Carly Stucklen Sather, in conversation with the writings of Rev. Elizabeth Dilly, Rev. Ellen Jennings, Allison Purdie, and others in the United Church of Christ Clergy (+MIDs) Facebook Group.  Please adapt, edit, and use as you’d like. 

29 March, 2021

The Unpublished Sermon

Some how in the midst of assembling all the Videos for Sunday's worship service, my recorded sermon did not end up in the final broadcast.  So, here's the text of that sermon...

Dry Bones in a COVID Psalm.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The valley of dry bones)

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
In her book, The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler says: 
“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” (1)
You’ve heard me say this before, The only constant we can depend upon is constant change. It is the new normal.
At our monthly Council meeting earlier this week, I invited the church leaders to take a moment and to breathe deeply for a moment and to linger with these questions.  

  • How is your heart? 
  • How is your soul? 
  • How is your body? 

As each person in the conference call responded, I heard that things are changing too quickly, and we are struggling to adapt. I heard that people are finding joy in new experiences of community, and we're exploring new ways to help. This is bigger than we thought. And it has all been so much change. I heard grief, not unlike what the Psalmist bemoans. 
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! 
This has been another rough week for many of us.  I invite you to grieve all that is lost in this global crisis.  There are those among us who have lost jobs, income, social outlets, childcare, significant school occasions, graduations. We've lost predictability, routines, connection, our health. Some of us have lost beloved members of our family. All of us have all lost life as we once knew it.  

Even our way of being the Church has changed. Our traditions of how we minister with others and fellowship together are turned upside down, Our faith is being challenged.  We are an Easter people who celebrate the triumph of hope and life over fear and death. But how do we Easter people celebrate this holy season if we cannot get together on Easter morning and celebrate? 

There is so much to grieve. And God weeps with us.

And yet, in the midst of the challenges, steep learning curves, and wild uncertainty of this time, it seems to me that there is also something springing into life.  I see signs of a budding future somewhere in this wilderness. Dry bones are coming to life.

While our concept of what it means to "do church" is being dimantled, I'm also seeing new opportunities for those who don't "do church" to sample worship services without having to take that scary first step into the church building.  I'm seeing contemplative practices -- prayer, mindfulness, and meditation -- grow in popularity. And I'm seeing people who used to snaringly call our brand of Christianity “Social Justice Warriors” see the need and value in seeking the common good. I'm seeing people embrace this interconnectedness of humanity.
Thus says the Lord God: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” ....and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 
Dry bones rattle!
People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity.  We are becoming much more aware of interdependency and community. 
Dry bones have sinews and flesh! 
Technology and the arts are breaking open a new medium with human generosity and empathy. People are look around and asking: “What can I offer of myself to help others? I have a life, a history. What do people need?” 
And using their most authentic selves, they are merging empathy, art, and technology. We're seeing our most human instincts merged with our devices. 
Dry bones have breath!
In this COVID19 pandemic, we are not only alone together, but are also together alone.
Dry bones live!
In her weekly eblast, Cameron Trimble said, 
“I want to ask you to consider that on the other side of this, a better world could be waiting for us.  The scale of this crisis invites us to tap into a new level of consciousness to engage it. We will be different on the other side. We are developing a new way of knowing the world, one rooted in deeper wisdom that helps us ask the questions of life that matter most." (2)
This week in my DuoLingo Spanish lessons, I learned a new phrase:  "en conjunto." It means "together" or "togetherness." I believe strongly in our ability to come together and build a profound togetherness that will shape our would! While everything is changing, let us be the "en conjunto" people.  Let the breath of God enter our lives and let us be together in that breath.
"O my people," says God, "I will put my breath/spirit within you, and you shall live,.... then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
God is with us in the midst of all of this.  Our dry bones will rattle, will find their flesh, will breath the breath of God.  These dry bones do live. 

(1)https://www.amazon.com/Parable-Sower-Earthseed-Octavia-Butler/dp/0446675504
(2) https://us18.campaign-archive.com/?u=880d1564e06392011b7a6221e&id=b83f0e940d