Dear Plymouth Family,
Last evening our Pandemic Team met set our course in terms of in-person worship and meetings. We looked closely at the Covid numbers in Larimer County and also considered that even fully vaccinated persons can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. We also took into account that it is a challenge to feel connected to one another in the midst of another moment of pandemic isolation.
The consensus of the Team was that we keep worshiping and meeting remotely through the second Sunday in February, at which point we will once more examine the data from Larimer County. Our youth will start meeting outside for fun activities and fellowship. (And if your fellowship group wants to meet outside, go for it…just dress warmly!)
I was really touched by some of our folks who expressed the altruistic sentiment that we need to be sure that none of us is unnecessarily clogging up the healthcare system. PVH and MCR are currently overloaded, not only by an excess of patients, but also because many staff are out sick. To my way of thinking, it exemplifies the best of Plymouth: loving our neighbors as ourselves. I am grateful to the whole Pandemic Team for bringing their perspectives, both personal and professional, in guiding the decisions for our congregation.
I know that many of us feel as if we are in exile, which is a crummy feeling. Here are some ideas generated by the Team and staff:
God of long-awaited reunitings and new beginnings,
grant us patience and make your presence felt within and among us.
Bless those who care for people in the midst of pandemic.
Bless and increase the wisdom of decisionmakers and policymakers.
Help us to be faithful to you in the midst of it all. Amen.
In Sunday School, we drew ourselves on “Wanted” posters, following the train of thought from this week’s Children’s Moment. In case you missed it, I led us in an exercise of the imagination.
First, we imagined ourselves on “Wanted” posters. What would God write in your poster’s description? Why does God want you?
Then, we imagined someone else on the “Wanted” poster. I challenged us to imagine someone that we may not think of as a desirable person on this new poster. What would God write in their description? Why does God want them?
This was a tough idea for us to talk about in Sunday School. I’m sure we can remember kids in school who weren’t very kind to us. Why would God want them? How can I possibly show them that God wants them, when I don’t want to be around them?
It helped me a great deal to sit and meditate on God’s love for me. When I know I have God’s love, it is easier for me to share God’s love. I actually made my own poster and wrote out why God wants me: for being exactly who God made me to be. I hope that in one way or another, you get a moment this week to reflect on why God wants you.
Brooklyn is Plymouth's Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth. Brooklyn has served in local church and student ministries for the past several years. A native of northern Colorado, Brooklyn has professional experience leading in worship, youth, and children’s programs. Read her full bio here.
An elder fish passes by two young fish and says, “Hey, how’s the water today?” A few moments later one of the young fish turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
This old story is a wonderful metaphor for unconscious realities. Whether in our family systems or our social norms, powerful realities can remain invisible and therefore beyond the reach of examination and reform. Since we’ve always known them, we might not even see they are there.
MLK Day, like Christmas, is not the only time to seek the healing of racism, but it does serve at least as one reminder. And racism, or perhaps racial identity, has been like the unconscious water we swim in if we are white. While people of color have been aware daily of the waters of racial identity, white folk have the option, the privilege really, to not see or think of it. Over the many decades and centuries, white folk could view themselves as the norm. The old box of Crayola crayons had a salmon-pink-peach-ish color they called "flesh," as did a box of Band-Aids. This is all part of swimming unconsciously in the waters of white supremacy where white is normal, centered, and right.
If you are white, ask yourself “when did I first know I was white?”
Some of us white folk might have a hard time answering that because white norms were unconsciously assumed. People of color can usually tell you when they knew they were identified as black or brown or red. By conscious memory, my knowing started when I was a toddler. My mother volunteered at a migrant farm worker shelter and took me along and I played with kids with light brown skin who spoke a different language. I’m still working on being conscious of the racial waters of whiteness and white supremacy, still trying to see how the things I think, say, or do might keep white identified, Euro folk as the more valuable centered norm.
I was never raised explicitly or intentionally to see people of color as less than me, less than white, but, because of the unconscious American cultural waters I swam in, it happened at some level anyway. I’m hoping to be an elder fish one day who knows how to fully be aware of the waters in which I swim, the waters in which we all swim.
Jesus said that “the Truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). This is true collectively and individually, and in the matter of racial unconsciousness for white folk. Through conversation, reading, and reflection may all white folk awaken to their whiteness so that we can all be free. In honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, not to mention the women leaders like Coretta Scott King, JoAnn Robinson, Fannie Lou Hamer, and many others who sought and acted for the Beloved Community, let us faithfully go and do likewise.
The Rev. JT Smiedendorf has been a UCC minister since 2001, serving churches in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington. He has a particular passion for reclaiming the earthy, embodied, and experiential aspect of Christian spiritual practice. He and his wife Allison are co-founders of The Sanctuary for Sacred Union, an inter-spiritual initiative, and he is currently earning a postgraduate Certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Research. Read more about JT here.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage…
The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
- Shakespeare, Henry V,
spoken by Prince Hal as he rallies his troops for battle
That is just about the only Shakespeare I have committed to memory (from a high school drama class, no less!). And it seems appropriate as we confront the omicron variant. I know that we are all feeling worn down by the endless pivots and adjustments and regulations, but I am issuing a battle cry and asking you to join in as we work to keep Plymouth safe.
Last night our Pandemic Team met and reached the decision that for the safety of our church community, we will do broadcast-only worship on Sundays at 9:00 and 11:00. It is a little heartbreaking for me to let you know this, but I know it is the best decision for the physical health of our church family. We will continue this through the end of January (the next three Sundays) and the Pandemic Team will re-evaluate then. (I’ll include some of the meeting minutes from the Pandemic Team’s gather last evening below if you’d like to see the data they are using to reach decisions.)
Fortunately, we have a top-notch livestream system in place. If you are on this email list, you’ll receive a link (as always) on Saturday evening around 7:00, and you can always go to plymouthucc.org on Sunday morning and click to livestream. Your worship bulletin will also be on our website.
Our Adult Education Forums on Afghan Refugees will continue via Zoom only, and you’ll find the link to this great series in that same Saturday evening email. Do join in!
The Pandemic Team has also asked that all meetings of groups at Plymouth go online only, including youth, men’s coffee, board and committee meetings, and the rest. Thank God we now know how to do this! If your group needs to schedule a new meeting, please click on this link or call Barb Gregory in the church office at 970-482-9212. (Existing Zoom meetings are set…no need to request a new Zoom link.)
Thanks to each of you for your support and cooperation. I know it’s difficult, but together with God’s help, we can do this!
Blessings and good health to you,
from the Pandemic Team minutes, January 11, 2022
In recent days I've spent some time in remembrance and in celebration of the life and music of David Bowie, who succumbed to liver cancer six years ago on January 10. He would have also turned 75 on January 8, marking an unofficial three-day Bowie holiday this time of the year. He was a musical artist of great pop success but also of deep artistry revered for his visionary performance style, eccentric and eclectic songwriting, and his expressive forays into acting and painting. An ever-evolving Renaissance Man who will continue to inspire for generations to come, Bowie demonstrated perseverance and adaptability oh so well...
I am reminded of his 2013 album "The Next Day," his first album of new material in a decade after suffering a heart attack on stage in 2004. Recorded in extreme secrecy, it was a surprise announcement as Bowie was presumed retired from the music business. The cover art immediately drew a response. It was the same cover of his renowned 1977 album "Heroes," a surreal photo of Bowie engaged in an act of mime whose intention he only knew, but with a white box rudely overlayed in the center. Within the box, the generic black lettering of the current album title can be seen: "The Next Day." Looking inside, the album liner notes are also recycled from previous use but crossed out with the new production crew and musicians simply written above it. The same, but not the same.
Bowie was making a somewhat facetious point with the album's cover and sleeve design by saying, "Here's more of the same!" The connection to the original "Heroes" album is quite clear in this collection of brilliant tunes—an ode to his glorious past and his own mortality. He does so however with the knowledge that there is no literal going back. But the spirit of purpose, creativity and optimism still carried forward as it always had with Bowie—always a new creation.
Let's see what the Next Day will bring, shall we?
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Mark's Music Minute can be read here.
Reflecting on 2021, how was the year for you? Maybe some wonderful things happened…vaccines, new births, seeing family, perhaps some travel. And for all of us, there were challenges to be faced as well, wrought by the pandemic, insurrection, illness, grief, and trying to find the elusive “new normal.”
It was certainly a challenging year for our congregation with a difficult pastoral departure and the ongoing challenge of doing ministry with one another in the midst of Covid and its shifting landscape of Greek-lettered variants. And some really good, positive things happened as well: developing a solid Strategic Plan, ramping up a top-notch livestream system, welcoming fantastic new staff members who have formed the most solid team we’ve had in years, creating and filling our first Church Administrator position, which lifts an undue burden off our volunteers.
I’ve also seen some of our members rise to the occasion, go the extra mile, and help ensure that our community functions smoothly. I think Plymouth operates much like a swan: most of us just see the smooth gliding on the surface, but under the water, those feet are paddling like mad!
And it is for those bearers of light that I give thanks and offer these words from Jan Richardson, a wonderful artist, minister, and poet:
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
in whom brightness blazes --
your heart a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
thing it finds.
© Jan Richardson
May this year be filled with blessing for you and for all of us together at Plymouth!
P.S. Some of you have asked about my health, and here is a short update. I’ve been doing chemo and hormone suppression to treat the recurrence of prostate cancer. The good news is that the drugs are working! It is sometimes rough sledding with fatigue and brain fog. I start eight weeks of radiation, five days a week, beginning on January 11, and hope that I tolerate treatment as well as I did during the last go around. Thanks you for your prayers and concern!