Of the many “minor” holidays we celebrate each year, I have always had a soft spot for Earth Day. I view it as a yearly reminder to celebrate the incredible gift of creation and to reflect on my role as a steward of that creation. In that spirit, our middle and high school youth groups decided to spend the month of April learning to become better stewards of our planet by focusing on issues related to climate change and sustainability. For me personally, climate change has always been a daunting topic to address--how do you even begin to approach a problem so massive, so urgent, and with such potentially devastating consequences for humanity and for all of creation? And furthermore, how do you approach this topic with young people who have inherited a planet on the brink of devastation and who have grown up acutely aware of the reality that they will likely be the ones forced to solve this problem that was not of their making?
Rather than face the behemoth of discussing climate change as a whole, we opted to begin by talking about simple ways that we as individuals can live more intentional and sustainable lives. Our youth offered ideas ranging from the familiar (like using less water and recycling whenever possible) to the creative (such as researching microorganisms that could potentially digest plastic or other materials) to the… slightly out of the box (including an impressively detailed plan involving windmills, space lasers, and colonizing the Moon--the creativity of middle schoolers truly knows no bounds!). To put our ideas about sustainable living into practice, we collected old t-shirts that were destined for the landfill and converted them into reusable shopping bags that could replace single-use plastic bags. As we emphasized throughout our month of exploring climate change and sustainability, even the smallest efforts to be more intentional and sustainable in our daily lives can add up to big changes.
Ultimately, solving a problem as immense and multifaceted as climate change will require a lot more than making reusable bags out of old t-shirts. It will require a lot more than recycling, using less water and electricity, and even creating space lasers and Moon colonies. In the end, our efforts to live more sustainably as individuals can only work if we also collectively put pressure on the governments and corporations who truly have the power to help reverse the effects of climate change on a global scale. But if there is one thing I took away from this month’s discussions with our middle and high school students, it is that their generation possesses everything we need in the fight against climate change: an awareness of the issues we face and the scope of the problem, an endless amount of creativity and unique ideas, and perhaps most importantly, a genuine optimism and belief that this problem, immense though it may be, is not insurmountable. I have no doubt that our youth are ready to fight for the health and longevity of their planet, and I can only hope that the rest of us are prepared to follow their lead.
Alli Stubbs is our interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth. Read more
Image of earth from space: By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans. Link 1; (image link); see also. Public Domain, Wikimedia Link
Why would anyone set off in a boat with no oars, or sails, or a motor? Just a boat and the currents of the sea or lake or river? Or head off on a journey by foot with no particular destination in mind? Sounds like folly, doesn’t it? Yet in the early centuries of Irish Christianity, it is reported that Christian monks set off from Ireland in small round boats, coracles, that had no oars or sails – and motors had yet to be invented. Why? To follow the call of God wherever God might lead their small boat. Wherever they landed this was where they were called to proclaim the love of God in Jesus the Christ. And after landing on a new shore they took off on feet to meet the folks God sent them to love.
As you most likely know, our Plymouth Reads book is titled, Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage. Here is what author Wesley Granberg-Michaelson writes about “why without oars and why pilgrimage” in the reflection guide for his book:
“Whether you are reading this in a sea of tumult, roiling political waters, fierce climate changes affecting lands by fire and water – or during a pandemic – your life has likely been disrupted from whatever ‘normal’ may have meant. … Can we learn to step away from the anxieties and crippling fatigue that seem to imprison us, and step forward in a journey to replenish our inner lives? That’s the promise of pilgrimage …. we’re exhausted emotionally, politically, and spiritually. Our inner resources seem sucked dry at a time when we are called on to have even greater strength … it’s time for us to take a step back from the frantic and frenetic tumult that has swept over our society, and re-center our souls. Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage is not a book about [outer] pilgrimages, per se, although that is included. Rather, it’s an invitation to begin the [inner] journey of renewal…to work with the text and travel down its roads, trusting that you will discover a wellspring nurturing your life forward.”
Why am I inviting you to read this book at this time? Because we are setting off on a new pilgrimage as a church community this spring/early summer. And I think it bears comparison to the pilgrimages of those early Irish monks. We are not exactly sure where this communal faith pilgrimage will take us! We are setting off on the implementation of our new strategic plan which will bring change, renewal, letting some older ways of doing things go, greeting new ways of being church together and most certainly, discovering some surprises that we can’t even plan for at this time! And we are setting off on this all-church pilgrimage as we hopefully enter the semi-post pandemic pilgrimage, as we find ways of coming back together in person (still masked and socially distanced) as more and more of us are vaccinated! We have ideas, plans, expertise and yet we have to trust the ways in which the Holy Spirit will move and guide our community of faith as we walk new paths and/or take off with the rising tides of our times.
Whew! Two pilgrimages at once, two vital, renewing and rigorous journeys that are intertwined. We need soul sustenance for these journeys because we will be accompanying each other in the necessary hills and valleys that will come logistically and spiritually. We have been through so much together these past 13 months. Let’s pause together to gather strength for the journey(s) ahead through the sustenance of this timely book and discussion of our life together in light of its wisdom!
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson will be with us in both our worship services on May 16 and in a Visiting Scholar webinar conference that afternoon. (See the meme below for more information.) He is a compelling, thought-provoking and hope-inspiring presenter. Check out Wes at wesgm.com to learn more about his life and ministry that has always joined faith with action for justice. You can also find more info at (Plymouth link). There are about 30 books left in the church office for your purchase at the posting of this reflection, $10 cash or check. (The book is also available on Kindle through Amazon.) I hope you will participate with me and all the Plymouth staff and lay leadership in reading this important book and take full advantage of the events on our Visiting Scholar day, Sunday, May 16th.
With you on the journey! See you on the road! Or in the boat!
Count “teaching compassion at Plymouth” as one of our losses to COVID. In the past--I’m not even going to say "a normal year"--Sunday School kids would have collected and distributed blessing bags, participated in the Alternative Gift market, and have been closer to the activities of the youth sponsored Sleep Out.
But as the daffodils rise up from their winter’s rest to bloom, so does our relief from COVID give all of Plymouth a very real opportunity to help folks right here in Fort Collins and teach our children by demonstration how Plymouth shares time and talent with those who have so little.
Habitat hammers have been severely silenced by the pandemic, but now we can rise up with our screwdrivers and make flower boxes--no special skills required.
Flower boxes?--yup. Bruce Lieurance, from Plymouth’s intrepid Habitat team, is making flower box kits from scraps of hardwood flooring that Plymouth folks can assemble and donate to the ReStore to sell for Mother’s Day. (This is a hint. Mother’s Day is coming again. Are you prepared?)
So this is our moment to help Habitat, and help our children learn what a church can do when the church works together.
All ages are invited to the Habitat Flower Box Build Fundraiser Saturday, April 24th from 10-noon.
Please sign up at plymouthucc.org/events. We need to know how many kits are required, and we need to socially distance you!
Bring sunscreen, water, and masks. The flower boxes we make will be sold at the Habitat ReStore for $20. (If you would like to purchase your project and take it home, bring CASH OR CHECK for your donation.)
Plymouth, this is our moment to serve a good cause, and teach our children what a church can do to help our neighbors. And if you get to see your church friends at the same time, count that as a bonus!
P.S. Parents, homelessness is a difficult topic. Skim this resource and be better prepared the next time your child asks about someone he/she sees on the street, or asks about someone who is struggling in school. Then sign up for the Box Build. You are never to young to learn compassion.
Tricia Medlock is returning to the interim position she held between Plymouth directors Sarah Wernsing and Mandy Hall. After leaving the Plymouth staff, she served as director of Children’s Ministries at St. Luke’s Episcopal for four years. Read more.
Dear Plymouth Family,
The COVID landscape continues to change as we walk into spring and newness of life. Even as cases continue to increase in Larimer County, many of us are getting vaccinated. On each of three days last week, the count in our county exceeded 150 new cases. Many cases are the easily transmissible new variant strains of COVID. The Larimer County Health website puts us in the red “high risk” zone. The first priority for the Pandemic Team is keeping our people safe, while knowing that coming together in person is important!
I know this has been a long haul and that many of us are feeling the weight of pandemic isolation, and I appreciate your faith and patience as we have journeyed through this together. Having weighed the data, the Pandemic Team is making some changes for Plymouth, including launching a pilot program that will include in-person worship at our 6:00, beginning Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Here is what is already happening:
Middle School and Sr. High Youth Groups are meeting in the Fellowship Hall or outdoors with <10 people, masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer use. We had a two-session Easter Egg Hunt and drive-in worship on Easter Sunday. Those experiments have gone well!
Starting Monday, April 19:
Fellowship groups and small-group ministries like Celtic and Healing Prayer, may opt to meet either in the Fellowship Hall for fully vaccinated participants. (Fully vaccinated means both injections or one J&J injection AND two-week waiting period.) Non-fully-vaccinated participants may meet on the sanctuary lawn. You must make a reservation at plymouthucc.org/cal for either the lawn or Fellowship Hall and agree to the terms below. We encourage boards and committees to continue meeting via Zoom, knowing that there are people in our congregation who may have reasons for not getting vaccinated.
If you do come to Plymouth for such a meeting, please wear your mask at all times (members of staff are still waiting for second doses of the vaccine), use hand gel, and observe social distancing.
Starting Sunday, May 23, 2021 (Pentecost Sunday):
We begin our pilot program of in-person worship at 6:00 p.m. (The 10:00 a.m. service is recorded on Wednesday and Thursday, and it wouldn’t be much fun to attend while we’re filming…livestreaming is still unreliable, but we’re searching for a new solution to that.) Maybe you’ve never tried our 6:00 service…this is your chance! I’ve heard over the years that some people think the 6:00 worship is “the Hippy Service,” which made me laugh out loud! Or that we have “Jesus is my boyfriend” praise-band music at 6:00…nope! You might hear a postlude by U2 or a song by John Bell, but it is a totally schmalz-free service! And we have communion every week!
There are some caveats that the Pandemic Team approved:
All of our plans are contingent on no further big changes in COVID cases in Larimer County, and the Pandemic Team will make adjustments to the pilot plan as things progress. We will also continue to look for more opportunities to be together outside as the weather improves…unlike later this week! Thank you for your patience, your prayers, your abiding faith in God. Our staff is as eager as you are to have in-person services and events.
I also want to thank the members of our Pandemic Team for their guidance: Barry Beaty, Paula Bernander, Claudia DeMarco, Greg Ebel, Jane Anne Ferguson, Melanie Huibregtse (chair), Judy Lane, Jim Medlock, Bruce Ronda, Nancy Sturtevant, George Theodore, and Harmony Tucker.
Be well, be safe, and enjoy the spring!
Welcome to The Fellowship Hall!
We’re glad you’re here! We care about your safety and appreciate your strict adherence to these guidelines…if they seem too restrictive to you, please opt to meet somewhere else.
At this point, only Plymouth fellowship groups, small-group ministries, and staff will meet. For the health of our staff, please don’t come into the office.
Only meet here if you can agree to these guidelines:
One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson begins:
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
A central message about Easter is that sometimes what we assume to be impossible is not. New beginnings and “newness of life,” in Paul’s words, are possible. Six months ago, we may not have thought that a COVID vaccine was possible, but in January this year, things shifted. Three different vaccines are now approved for use in the US. All Coloradoans 16+ years old are eligible to be vaccinated. That is likely to be a game-changer for us!
What are the possibilities for us as individuals, as a church, as a wider community, nation, and world? We are being given a second chance at life…unlike the 2.85 million people who have died from COVID-19 around the world and the 555,000 people in the United States.
A few months ago, one of our members in her 20s, who was working for the Larimer County Health Department, was an early vaccine recipient, and at Coffee Hour one Sunday she said that she was aware of the privilege of having been vaccinated. That word struck me: privilege. We who have received the vaccine are privileged by dodging death one more time. We do have privilege…so what shall we do with it?
How can we take advantage of the second chance we’ve been given? What new beginnings do you see or envision sprouting in your life and in our common life as a congregation? Or as the late poet, Mary Oliver, wrote, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
You’ll be hearing more in the coming weeks from our awesome Strategic Planning Team about ways, including a Congregational Conversation on Sunday, April 11 at noon via Zoom.
Our Pandemic Team meets again this Wednesday, and I anticipate that we will have information for you soon on more occasions to see one another in person. We are keeping your safety and others’ safety first and foremost and using science (rather than wishful thinking) as the basis for our decisions.
We did have two wonderful in-person events last weekend: an outdoor Easter egg hunt (and games, including Pitch-the-Peeps-at-the-Pastor) and a drive-in parking lot service on Easter Sunday with clergy held ten feet aloft by construction scaffolding. Truly, engaging our kids, teen, and families on Saturday and seeing a host of you sitting in your cars on Sunday was one of the most energizing and uplifting experiences I’ve had in the last year.
May God help us dwell in possibility as we envision and act upon the privilege we’ve been given in this one wild and precious life.
Wishing you courage and newness of life!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.