Thank you for the honor of serving as your Moderator for this past year. I have had several people ask me about the experience of holding this leadership position. That question has led me to reflect on the year both personally and what has been accomplished within our church.
Performing the duties of Moderator has allowed me to experience church in very different ways than in my past volunteer commitments. It required me to understand and help make decisions from a business perspective with the need to always remember that compassion must factor into those decisions. It has helped me to improve my listening skills, not one of my strong suits, when approached by members to share successes and challenges in the work of the church. I have had the privilege of working with our staff and learning to appreciate the roles they all play and how hard they work behind the scenes to make things seemingly happen so smoothly. It has been overall a good year and I am grateful for the team of dedicated people serving on Leadership Council and the committees of Council.
It has been a year of resurrection for so many of the activities we took for granted before the pandemic and of the creation of new opportunities for being church. Following are some of these and I’m sure I am forgetting others. Our Outreach and Mission focused efforts include working with the family from Afghanistan to help them become a part of our community, hosting Faith Family Hospitality families, implementing Share the Plate to raise financial resources for a variety of mission-oriented organizations, and the sleep-out organized by our youth to support Homelessness Prevention. Children are once again attending Sunday School, our youth are meeting and Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum is being shared, there have been interesting topics presented at Adult Forum and several book studies. Social groups are meeting and a fun bingo night and Advent Craft event were held. Ministry Match was implemented to help folks find their place at Plymouth, and our new settled Associate Minister, Marta Fioriti, will be joining us the first of March. All our Boards, Committees and Ministry Teams have worked hard to reopen and rebuild our church community. Thanks to all involved in these vital ministries.
The theme this year was “Extending and Embracing Beloved Community.” For me, the following Bible verse speaks to how that is done. “Above all, love each other deeply… Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace.” 1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV) A recent UCC Devotional by Mary Luti shared this reflection on church “Some Christians think that the church is most fully what Christ intends only when it’s publicly engaged in the struggle against the sinful systems of our unjust world. But the world’s axis also tilts towards God’s dream whenever some random old woman (or anyone at all) comes to us to be accompanied and is met with open arms.” Plymouth for me is all of you and your willingness to open your arms and build beloved community.
Peace and blessings,
Claudia DeMarco is was our 2022 Moderator. She has been a member since 2006 and involved in the Deacons Board, Celtic Spirituality group, Women's Friendship, Congregational Life Board, Associate Pastor Search Committee.
In church on Sunday, I shared about my experience with skiing for the first time. I have lived in Colorado for almost twenty years, and this past weekend I finally braved the slopes. A good friend of mine patiently taught me every step of the way, responding to my frustration with encouragement. She literally picked me up every time I fell. I thought this was a sweet picture of beloved community – I pushed myself to participate, and she met me exactly where I was.
I talked through this story with our youth group. I asked them how they imagined beloved community. One of our middle schoolers said that a ski lodge is the perfect place to experience beloved community. Up on a ski lift, complete strangers can become momentary friends. Everyone there understands the difficulty of walking downstairs with ski boots on, and everyone patiently waits.
Openness, patience, and understanding were the top traits that our students picked out as necessary for beloved community. They agreed that in order to build a beloved community, you have to show up as your whole, authentic self and engage fully. Participants need to agree on a covenantal relationship of kindness and mutual respect. They said this seemed “utopian” – perhaps even impossible to achieve in the state of our world. But I believe God wants us to join in the work of making a better world. So, I asked them where they find glimpses of beloved community. Skiing. Drama club. Youth group. Boy Scouts. Their friends. Their families.
Where do you find your beloved community? How are you making beloved community? How can we collectively move Plymouth towards our ideal beloved community? Look to this next generation. They get it.
Yesterday was the Martin Luther King holiday.
What a wonderful evolution for our country, to be officially celebrating a saint whose FBI and CIA files were thicker than the Oxford Dictionary, and who was imprisoned for his civil disobedience.
Rev. Dr. King is one of my heroes. I used to listen to his speeches on drives to and from college. What inspires me is that he (and the many in that movement with him) was foremost a person of faith whose commitments and actions came directly from that faith in God. It certainly was a social gospel faith, knowing that we are called by God to address the social conditions that make for suffering and injustice, and that God affirms the freedom and dignity of all humanity. Yet, as concerned with the moral life of humanity as he was, Dr. King’s faith was deeper than simple formulas of right and wrong, or of doing good because it is nice.
Dr. King’s faith was rooted in a trust and a connection with the God of the Universe, the Creator, whose majestic mountains dwarfed the manufactured goods so many seemed to prize and whose eternal presence made the existence of great civilizations as enduring as a passing breeze. And, perhaps most importantly, perhaps most often overlooked in his spirituality, is that Dr. King had a faith, had a trust, that the great eternal Creator was also the Source of Love, that somehow the universe itself is set up in love. Not love as something merely sentimental and soft, this is love understood as something deep, something rooted, something steely, something fierce, something that withstands the water hoses and the barking biting dogs while still walking on and loving the enemy, while still keeping eyes on the prize of the Beloved Community, the full realization of God’s Dream and intention for Creation. This is love as a soulforce, as a power stronger than violence, even stronger than death.
I believe Dr. King would be most pleased about the commemoration of his life if it called us back to that vital faith and to the causes to which that vital faith directed him, even unto death.
MLK’s life of faith is an inspiration that keeps me on the journey of following Jesus. And, since he was a church pastor and involved in a movement, MLK’s life also keeps me involved in a community of faith and believing in the church’s potential for empowering the soulforce known as love that brings justice and healing.
As we each and together journey with Jesus, let’s keep the life and vision of the Rev. Dr. King close, close enough to inform us we discern our life as Plymouth Church.
To conclude, a poem by the late great American poet Gwendolyn Brooks titled simply "Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968"
A man went forth with gifts.
He was a prose poem.
He was a tragic grace.
He was a warm music....
read whole poem
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Joel 2.28 and Acts 2.17 CEB
What we are all really asking…
is how do we, who know the world needs to change,
begin to practice being different?
From Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
by adrienne maree brown[i]
As I prepare to retire from parish ministry, I am asking questions of the future. My future, yes, but even more urgently the church’s future. The Christian church at large and Plymouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in particular. There is a great and subtle sea change, my friends, in the life of this human institution we call church. A sea change, a profound and notable transformation. Perhaps, before the pandemic, it was subtle, and we were not noticing it. However, now it is palpable. Especially to those of us who have dedicated our lives and careers to the care and feeding of “church.” This is not a bad thing! This is the movement of God’s Holy Spirit as the kin-dom of God, God’s realm on earth as it is in heaven, is expanded and further revealed for the transformation of creation!
It is change….and change brings trepidation, even fear. We cannot continue to do things as we have always done them, yet we cling to how we have always done things because the new way seems unsure and unclear. The new way is only revealing itself one step at a time. This is why I love the scripture text that opens this reflection. From the time of the ancient Hebrew prophets to beginnings of the early church to now in the 21st century, God wants us to dream with God of new possibilities for creation, for human beings, for this institution we call church. Possibilities that bring love where there is hate, justice where there is injustice, compassion where there is intolerance, joy where there is despair. And we do not have to muster up these dreams and visions and prophesies out of our own minds and hearts alone. They will be given to us by the Spirit as we pray and work and fellowship and worship together.
What are some of effects of this spiritual sea change that I am seeing that make us uncomfortable?
Finally, be aware of the new dreams and visions taking shape by welcoming the new faces you see in worship, at programming and in coffee hour. As pastors, we cannot welcome everyone on our own. Look around and reach out! And let one of the pastors know if you would like to be more integrally involved a team that welcomes and helps integrate new friends into our community.
If you are new, we hope you will reach out to staff and lay leaders (deacons, book group leaders, fellowship group leaders, someone at coffee hour) and ask your questions! We are eager to get to know you and help you to get to know us!
My friends, God is giving us new dreams and visions as we seek to be the loving presence of Jesus, the Christ, in the world! As we follow the ways of Jesus, may we always be open to holy possibilities!
With you on the journey,
[i] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, (AK Press, Chico, CA: 2017, 164).
Eeyore would have a field day if he looked at the statistics about the way American churches came through (or failed to emerge from) the pandemic. The depressive donkey could become even more disheartened. One estimate is that roughly 20 million Americans stopped attending church between 2019 and 2021. It is an epochal change in the life of American Christianity.
Plymouth is not immune to this phenomenon. Some of our members have stopped worshiping in person, others have left the church, some are still on hiatus. Each of us has been changed by the pandemic, and our congregation has been changed, too. You see the changes: streaming worship, Zoom meetings, fewer volunteers for boards, reductions in giving, fewer people physically in church on a Sunday.
I think we, as members of this congregation, have a choice about whether we want to see the glass as half full or half empty. Whether we see the breaking open of newness in Christianity as an opportunity or as a threat.
One of the things I’ve learned over the course of three rounds of cancer treatment is a simple reframing. Rather than “I have to have cancer treatment,” I tried thinking of it as “I get to have cancer treatment.” Not everyone has access to great medical care and good insurance, but I have been fortunate that way. It shifts my attitude from self-pity to gratitude.
We have a choice about how we are going to address the challenges of rebuilding that lie ahead of us. We can become despondent and whinge about all the things that we find imperfect. Or we can get off our duffs and start to make things better. The key question for me is “What actions am I taking to build up (or tear down) the body of Christ?” I invite you to contemplate that. It is highly countercultural and flies in the face of our “me-centered” consumerist notion that the church exists just for me and my needs and wants. In a real sense it isn’t about us and what we want…it’s about God and our neighbor.
The church exists for service to God and neighbor, and it literally takes a village to keep our worship running, our building well maintained, our Sunday school and youth groups running, our budget funded, our parishioners visited, and our outreach active.
Here are some reasons I see the glass as half-full:
How about you? What reasons do you have to be hopeful about Plymouth’s future as an outpost of the kingdom of God? I invite you to take out a piece of scratch paper or your journal and make a list of five points of hope. Does this help you see the glass half full?
We can choose to see the glass as half empty, but how much fun and productivity comes from stewing and ruminating and complaining? Eeyore seems to have plenty of company in our nation at this moment; no need to join the sad, old donkey.
Or we can choose to see the glass half full…and aim to fill it to the brim! We can be more than optimistic. We can become part of the movement that Jesus started 2,000 years ago with a handful of ragtag fishermen and women. If they hadn’t seen the glass as half-full, you and I would never have experienced the faith we know and love.
I invite you to join others in our congregation to be part of the change God wants to see in the world. In this new year, there will be plenty of changes. But as the angels keep saying in scripture, “Don’t be afraid!” It takes courage to be optimistic and engaged, and it takes faith. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s do this together!