Last Sunday was remarkable in so many different ways. Attendance was robust. Our Show Up and Sing galvanized our praise from the first note of the first hymn. Ten new members joined, sharing their stories. And another ten are in the wings.
Most remarkable was Gary Morello’s convincing and riveting presentation of his Ordination Paper. You could have heard a pin drop. A layman serving with me on the Committee on Ministry (who oversees this process) had never met Gary. He could hardly believe it. He described Gary as a force of nature. He asked why aren’t we doing everything we can to attract and retain such leaders as our Gary. The Wilton pastor wrote, “what occurred yesterday gives me hope for the future.”
Did you see how seamlessly fluent Gary was, never even glancing at his paper? I was tempted to ask Gary’s examiners in attendance, “Could any of you do that?” We now look ahead to his ordination on 12 November 2017 at 3 pm here at FCC.
But something else remarkable happened. I preached on attending worship as a spiritual building block for our faith and character and to strengthen FCC. I invited your greater commitment by pledging, “if we’re in town and everyone is well, we’ll do our level best to be in worship and to bring our children.” Remarkably, no less than 83 households of individuals, couples, families signed on to this covenant. Do you know what deeper commitment does to build the dynamism of a church?
Let’s break that down and interpret what that means in our daily lives. I liken it to my battle to get to the gym, ice rink or pool to work out. It’s not easy! I know what my most cherished and protected excuses are. So what are yours for worship?
With a bevy of new members this Sunday, let’s lift up what Christian community is and is not. As Americans, we are so highly individualistic that we wander somewhere between jaded about community (“Nobody will tell me what to do!”) and sentimental (“These people will never disappoint me!) Community, with its norms, needn’t be authoritarian, but neither is it a utopia.
A certain pastor tells his new members if they haven’t yet met someone in church they don’t like, it means they’re too much on the periphery. They need to get more involved. I like that funny, realistic way of finding our way forward together. When I came here, we could still trace divisions among us. Those rifts have healed. Now we can talk openly about conflict and its uses. Love in the abstract is tidy and perfect, like villages look as we fly over them, without problems. Love in the concrete is messy. Our relations must ever remain well-lubricated with forgiveness. While God is more good and beautiful than we can dream, humans are a disappointing species.
K. Chesterton helpfully observed, the real work of loving begins as soon as we fall out of love. I tell couples that during their pre-marital counseling sessions. Another thing I say is conflict is a normal part of healthy relationships. This is worth saying because the church is in the business of transforming people and society. But transformation means change, which most of us resist.
Friction, we could say, will result. Some feel any friction or tension among us is a sign of failure. I don’t believe that. As your leader, as preacher and teacher, using the Bible’s texts and stories, I want to throw you into creative dilemmas for which faith in God becomes the only answer. That’s what Jesus did with his parables, which seem like cute stories until they make their point.
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author, believes that those who create social change (let’s add personal transformation also) are disagreeable and even snarky sometimes. Maybe because my best hockey coaches got in my face, not to hurt me, but to get me to play better, I do not fear this. I do not seek togetherness at any cost. I want to stifle my need to be “liked” by everyone.
As a pastor in Colorado, my associate minister kicked me under the table whenever I did this, whenever we were experiencing pangs of birth in boards and committees, and I let it play out. Sometimes we struggle to recognize that pangs of birth can feel much like the pangs of death. A good leader knows the difference, and doesn’t spare us stresses and tensions that spur us on.
I am on the learning end of this as well. When we had the congregational meeting to approve a $2.4 million renovation to our church of 400 members on Cape Cod, one difficult woman stood up and said, “Adding air conditioning and more space means we will use more power. Are we being good stewards of God’s creation? Or just getting bigger and piggier like everybody else?” My first reaction was, “Why doesn’t she sit down and be quiet. She’ll ruin everything.” But the leader in charge of our rebuild, an MIT graduate, did an exhaustive cost-benefit ratio on adding photovoltaic cells. We expanded our footprint, reduced usage, and sold power back to the grid. May the church stay open to the power of the Spirit’s creative brewing of our disagreements!
Our church together with Silver Hill Hospital, in New Canaan, have planned a panel discussion to address this dire problem, Sunday October 1st at 11 a.m. Although our focus will be on teens, all of us are affected by this crisis. We are hoping that many from the Darien community will come. Invite your friends in the community to join you.
Two professional panelists, who work in the greater Darien area, will talk about addiction from the scientific, prevention and treatment perspectives, There will also be two people in recovery telling their stories. Time is planned for your concerns and questions.
Our church and our community needs to be well-informed, support each other and learn how to deal with this epidemic. Gary Morello, who is on the panel, commented, poignantly : “Every human being craves intimacy, and if not found in healthy places, people will do anything to find it.”
Statistics we all should know: In 2012, 259 million opioids were prescribed by doctors – enough for every American adult to have a bottle. (NYT 5/4/17). A recent White House panel assessed drug abuse as a “public health emergency”. This designation usually is assigned to national disasters. (Harvey, Irma) As we all have heard, prescription drugs are a big part of the problem. The following statistics, taken from a recent study by Johns Hopkins University Medical School are amazing! They state that from 42% to 67% of narcotic drugs prescribed for some operations, are not finished, and of those, 41% to 67% sit in unlocked medicine cabinets, without plans for disposal. They should be taken to the Darien police station.
Dr. Eric D. Collins is Physician-in-Chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan which specializes in addiction treatment. He is a graduate of Columbia Medical School and did his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Psychiatric Institution. He will present specific facts and up-to-date understandings from the scientific standpoint.
Allison Fulton has been the Executive Director of the Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Drug Abuse, since 2002, an organization that gives training, technical assistance and resources to many local prevention centers in towns of western Connecticut. She is a strong supporter of local initiatives. A certified prevention specialist, she is a popular keynote speaker and facilitator for “Parenting with Positive Discipline” and other programs. She is a strong supporter of the power of local initiatives that are data-driven and collaborative.
Jen H. is in her late 20’s, working as a receptionist as she studies for her degree at Norwalk Community College.
Allan Griffin is a young man who is working for Aware Recovery Care, an addiction center in New Haven.
Gary Morello is our Associate Minister. He is deeply involved in community youth programs.
Since returning from our most recent Habitat for Humanity Global Village Work Trip to Costa Rica in 2016, many have asked about our next trip. We only do this trip every other year, so such an opportunity doesn’t come often. We invite you to share in building simple, decent homes with the poor, while deepening your faith.
On Sunday our new Director of Christian Education was up front helping as liturgist. Some have asked, wanting to know more about Christine. So I asked her a few fun and searching questions.
Did you have a favorite pet growing up?
Yes, a Border Collie/Blue Heeler mix named Lizzy! An outside dog, we only had her for a month. My sisters variously had parakeets, fish, and hamsters. My dream pet is an Australian Shepherd.
Tell us about your parents: what are they like and what do they do?
My parents are incredible! Mom studied computers and finance, and after marrying my dad in her late 20’s, became a full-time mom. My dad has been in fundraising, restaurant work, cross-country cycling, ministry, and investing! He is currently in ranching and real estate. I’ve learned so much from my parents. Dad is athletic and business-minded; mom is musical and hospitable.
Who was your childhood best friend? What did you like most about her/him?
That would be my brother, Ryan. We are 21 months apart. We played sports together, solved computer/video games, built crazy forts, and competed in everything from music to academics to how many pancakes for breakfast. Ryan made me more competitive and an adventuresome.
What was the first job you had? And what was the worst job you ever had?
It was as a part-time summer secretary at my Grandpa’s real estate/restaurant headquarters. I was 15. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt important! My worst job was typing hand-written notes from dad’s business meetings. Dad has a bad case of “physician’s handwriting”.
Whom would you say you admired most as you grew into adulthood?
I’ve always deeply admired people who decline glamor in favor of staying in the trenches. As I become an adult, I watched important mentors go through this process. It formed how I see my purpose. Something in me always hopes for approval and recognition, but this cannot be my driving force. Recognition and actual fulfillment/impact are sometimes not mutually inclusive.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you made that you learned most from?
Early at college, I learned what it means to be in community with others in a fresh way. But then I began to conform myself to friends, hoping to win their approval. I lost my confidence and personality. It took a difficult illness and a rough break from those friends to wake me up.
How have you and Benjamin experienced God through your recent move east?
We feel so blessed by FCC, by our new friends at Yale Divinity School, and by our supportive families back in Illinois and Idaho. I see God here in Connecticut each day through many gentle, loving people who want to give their absolute best to their community.
Is there a favorite verse of Scripture or favorite hymn that means the most to you?
I love Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It is Well”. My life’s trials are nowhere close to those Horatio Spafford experienced (extreme loss in the Great Chicago Fire and the loss of three daughters in a shipwreck), but I certainly have had to heavily rely on my hope in God throughout my life. As family members pass on, relationships change, and responsibilities become heavier, I must stay grounded in my hope in God.
Our world is broken. Our nation is divided. How can we find healing? We must look to Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Irrespective of what people believe about him we can learn from him. The evil, hate and segregation that infects the human heart can be cured. However, we cannot be silent, we cannot be afraid and we cannot do this alone.
The terror that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia was appalling. Quite frankly, I have VERY ill feelings towards people who preach hate. I was desperately seeking God for guidance this week and I was led to, 1 John 4:20: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” This verse, from our Holy Bible, has challenged me all week to go deeper with God. I’ve been in conversations, on phone calls and in prayer with clergy about how the church can be a voice during a time such as this.
With all the opinions, blogs and articles being posted the national office, of The United Church of Christ, has sent a response that I share with you below:
August 15, 2017
As a response to the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and 19 injured, the national leadership of the United Church of Christ issued this Pastoral Letter:
Dear Members, Friends, Clergy, and Leaders of and within the United Church of Christ,
The Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers have both composed a Pastoral Letter and a set of liturgical pieces. We share both with you now, and invite you to read the letter in your service of worship, add it to your website or social media pages, or print it in your newsletter or bulletin. Please feel free to incorporate any or all of the liturgical pieces in this week’s worship.
Last weekend, a group of white supremacists came to Charlottesville, Virginia, and incited violence to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Although protest is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy, coming in riot gear proves that they intended to do more than simply protest.
We, the Council of Conference Ministers and Officers of the United Church of Christ, strongly condemn the acts of violent hatred expressed by these white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Their white robes and burning crosses were replaced with polo shirts, khakis, and tiki torches, while their lynching was replaced with a speeding car barreling through a group of peaceful protesters with the intention of harming and killing others, which it did. Their vitriolic hatred is the same.
We confess that the events of Charlottesville are systemic and communal expressions of white privilege and racism that continues to pervade our nation’s spiritual ethos. And if we only condemn the acts of August 12, 2017, without condemning the roots of racism, which perpetuate discrimination in our American schools, justice system, business, and healthcare systems, then we have sinned as well. We must work toward the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth now for the sake of a just world for all.
We do this by committing to follow the ways of Jesus, who stood with the oppressed, spoke out against political and religious powers, and courageously embodied a just world for all as he sought to create it. Today, we must follow the ways of Jesus in addressing the hatred of white supremacists and racists among us.
Our local UCC churches must be true solidarity partners with those who march in the streets. Our UCC churches are encouraged to move from the sanctuary and walk alongside other clergy and community leaders who seek to resist, agitate, inform, and comfort. We must resist hatred and violence. We must also agitate ourselves, and our neighbors to acknowledge any racism within or among us. We must inform ourselves, and our neighbors what our sacred stories reveal to us of a just world for all. We must lament and grieve with those who are injured or murdered during violent confrontations with those who mean us harm. And we must comfort those who have been discriminated against with the transformative love of God.
As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors: May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be.
In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth. Amen.
Saint Francis of Assisi, was an Italian Roman Catholic friar, deacon and preacher. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. He articulates one of my favorite quotes, regarding preaching: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” In this substantive quote, Francis illuminates how important it is that our words and our actions are aligned. This charge has become the framework for my ministry, my life and my spiritual formation.
Over the years I’ve listened to, studied and watched countless sermons. However, there is one preacher who has changed my life more than any other preacher in the world. His name is, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the living example of God, which Saint Francis got his inspiration from. He was masterful at preaching to everyone, everywhere regardless of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion or lack of religion. In all four gospels there are countless examples that separate Jesus from any other preacher.
This week, I offer you a prayer that has been my guiding light for years. These words are more than just black ink on a white sheet of paper… They are truly words to live by:
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
Join us, this Sunday, as we explore how God’s light shines through the darkness of despair.
Every Sunday, at The First Congregational Church of Darien, the Holy Spirit is moving in new and energetic ways. Pastor Dale and I, through prayer, are constantly asking the question: “Lord, what is the next move for YOUR church?”
As you may have heard, we have been actively seeking a new Director of Christian Education to add to our Church staff. We believe this position is vital to strengthening our ministry to families and supplement the great work that is taking place in our church. A sub-committee of the Board of Christian Education has spent the last six weeks interviewing potential candidates and brought forth two for additional discussions with Pastor Dale and me. We are delighted to have clear consensus around one of these candidates.
Her name, Christine Geeding! Christine hails from just south of the Chicago area and will be moving to CT in early August — as her husband, Ben, will be starting at Yale Divinity in the fall. She has been actively involved in the Church from a very young age. She has a strong music background, currently teaching as well as being employed as the Assistant Music Pastor at her church. She loves children, working mostly with Elementary and Middle School kids. She has 2 degrees: a Bachelor of Music in Music Ministry and a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. Christine comes across as very energetic, enthusiastic, creative and kind-hearted. She has a warmth and kind spirit about her. The search committee feels she will be a great fit for us. She is eager to take this journey with us.
Christine will be with us this coming Sunday, July 23, for the 9:00 am service and will be available to visit with you during the coffee/lemonade hour. This is a great opportunity for us to showcase our amazing Church community while allowing us to get to know her a bit better.
In addition to Christine being with us this Sunday. We are also going to be giving the Denoyer family a church blessing as they embark on a new journey. They are moving to Indiana where Anna’s family hails from. This decision comes with great celebration but also with heavy hearts. The Denoyer family has been extremely involved in our church and seeing them leave will be bitter sweet. Such is the journey of life. This Sunday we will be sure to send them off with great love.
Sunday’s sermon title is: “Walk in Faith” which speaks directly to many of the events taking place at church. This week, without a doubt, has been one of the greatest weeks of my entire life. I look forward to preaching this word that the Lord has placed on my heart to share with you.
Come, as you are, we look forward to worshipping with you!
On June 19, 2006 a letter was sent to our church membership declaring that our clergy were empowered on behalf of First Congregational to perform civil union services for same-sex couples. On June 26, 2015 the US Supreme Court struck down the statues of any state forbidding same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
Because the terms of what is at stake here have changed, we need to update our position regarding the consecration of the relationships of same-sex couples. And I propose we do so now as I preach on the subject this Sunday and invite you to join us afterward in the Morehouse Room for an open hearing of all views. Trust me, every point of view will be heard and every person will be valued in that setting, very much as we spoke of racial reconciliation under the sacred canopy.
Why now? It is something how our journey unfolds, isn’t it? I meant to lead us in this discernment a year ago, but then the roof threatened to cave in, and we got busy. Then after we returned to the Meetinghouse I decided it was time, and a lesbian couple united with us, to confirm that timing. God speaks in such ways to signal our engagement with and discernment around the vital issues of our time.
In 2006 we arrived at our discernment on civil unions by group consensus rather than congregational vote. I like that approach again this time round and believe it augurs well as we look to the future. Voting can get political and divisive, making some feel like winners, others like losers. Building and sharing in consensus is where not all of us necessarily agree, but we can agree on finding a way forward.
What might we achieve? The United Church of Christ has an activist-based Open and Affirming process all about affirming the rights of gays and lesbians. The churches opting in eventually get designated as “Open and Affirming Churches.”
As for me, I don’t see folks coming to us wanting us to affirm their rights so much as offer a blessing. Rights are the language of the nation-state. Such talk tends to politicize an already difficult issue. But blessing is the language of the church. So I want us to consider the nature of the blessing we have for same-sex couples.
My hope is that we will become what I call a Full Blessing Congregation. And let me tell you what I mean by that. For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian church had zero official blessing for gay people. These relationships found no sanction in the services of the church. Sometimes gays were actively persecuted by the church.
Then in the Seventies, some pastors performed services of commitment on the sly for gay couples, sometimes in our sanctuaries, but more commonly outside of them. Church authorities couldn’t stop us clergy from acting on our consciences, but kept this from occurring in their buildings, lest these services be construed as approval or complicity. We might call this phase of our history “partial blessing.”
I’m asking for same-sex couples desiring the church’s blessing, and willing to submit to marriage as a time-honored covenant, and to model their love after the self-giving love of Christ, whether anything is to prevent us from offering them not only the sanction of our services, but even the full blessing we offer every couple.
For me, this is a matter of moral and spiritual discernment, not rights activism. So will you come and be with us on Sunday and help us see God’s way forward?
I said something recently that I wish to retract or maybe merely modify. I led off a sermon a few weeks ago saying that there are three answers to our prayers. The first answer is the most popular one: yes. The second answer often baffles us: no. The third answer to our prayers is the most agonizing and confusing: wait.
So much of getting clear in faith is asking right questions. I wish to question the idea of prayer working for us by getting answers we deem acceptable or helpful. Peter W. Marty recently wrote that in discussing prayer and its outcomes, we should eliminate the word “answer.” Suffice it to say, that really got my attention.
What did Marty mean? Well, now to claim there are only three answers to prayer, it sounds utterly saturated with our self-interest. It sounds centered around us rather than centered around God. Those are not the directions I want to lead us.
Yes, Jesus did encourage us to pray for things we need, even specific things. And I still believe that doing so is a sign of spiritual maturity, a sign of closeness to God. But we should remember that in the context that prayer is not mostly about us. Prayer is mostly about God, and sharing in the life God has given to us.
When you ponder prayer, picture relationships with friends across decades. We have special friendships, where time and distance can’t intrude. We know friends with whom we can pick up where we left off in a lifelong ongoing conversation. Such settings evoke deep conversation that inspire curiosity, promote honesty, and reveal transformations of ourselves, which might otherwise remain invisible. Those visits are less about achieving a result and more about sharing company. We know such relationships are beautiful because such company as that is rare.
Prayer is much like that. Perhaps the most important outcome of prayer is not getting what we want or deem necessary at a certain moment within our journey. Perhaps it is to enough know God, and therefore know ourselves. Or better still, perhaps the purpose of prayer is to enjoy God so we can rejoice within our days. Robert Farrar Capon has said, “Prayer is just talking to someone who is already talking to you. (Prayer) is listening to someone who is already listening to you.”
The place where I have learned the most about prayer is sitting with the dying, reading Psalms to them, taking their hands into mine, and settling into our prayer. We always reach a point where we put aside prayers that seek certain results, such as healing. And we begin to pray for things like God’s presence, constancy, companionship, guidance. We pray for God being strong for us in our weakness. Those prayers have been for me some of the most free and liberating I’ve known.
On this Celebration Sunday, we recognize Church School teachers and children, bid farewell to Mary Jo, and look to a new era of ministry to our young. We do not yet know where we will be as we reshape all these ministries to eliminate gaps. Would it be enough to pray for God’s presence, constancy, companionship, and guidance? Would it be enough to let God usher us forward? Yes, yes, and yes.