I wanted to let you all know that I will be gone for several weeks during May, and the good news why. I have two trips to Europe, each an exploration of what has come to be known as the ancient future of the church: what is ancient being rediscovered and newly adapted for our future vitality as church. The renewed interest and practice in Celtic and contemplative Christian practice are in recent years are two examples of ancient future.
On May 6th, I will fly to The Netherlands to help lead a retreat for 15 Christian leaders from Canada and the United States. This retreat is sponsored by Ligare (ligare.org), a nonprofit which calls itself “A Christian Psychedelic Society.” The retreat is a Christ centered experiment exploring the practice of praying with the support of a plant medicine sacrament, in this case psilocybin truffles (which are legal in Holland). This work is related to postgraduate training I recently completed and to learning I have been doing for several years. There is highly suggestive evidence in the literature and archaeology (The Immortality Key, Muraresku) as well as medieval chapel art (The Psychedelic Gospels, Brown and Brown) that some Christians participated in plant medicine prayer.
The second trip will occur in late May to southern France to encounter the sacred sites and the stories of the Mary Magdalene tradition and lineage. She is believed to have gone there after Jesus’ crucifixion and the Resurrection experiences to spread the healing and teaching of the Good News. Growing up as a United Methodist, I didn't learn anything about Mary Magdalene except that she was someone whom Jesus helped and seemed to be around at the end of Jesus’ life. What I've learned so far as an adult is that most of what I was told is either extremely limited, highly skewed, or outright false (such as the accusation that she was a former prostitute). More recent scholarship as well as the discovery of other early Christian texts like the Gospel of Mary indicate that she was much more, perhaps Jesus’ best student and even partner (The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, Bourgeault).
Both of these trips are for the purpose of learning what modern Christianity may have lost in ancient tradition and how it can be incorporated in a vital future. This is what makes both trips an exercise in ancient future exploration as well as an expression of The Sanctuary for Sacred Union project that I co-founded with my wife Allison which seeks to uplift the Divine Feminine and focus on the direct experience of the Living Christ.
I will be around May 1st and 15th but gone the other Sundays of May.
I look forward to sharing more of what I learn on these trips upon my return.
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.
The synergy of brass and timpani, organ, and a singing congregation expressing acclamations of Easter joy — jubilation. A reinvigorated Chancel Choir enthusiastically offering anthems of praise and thanksgiving with new members joining the merry band of singers — rejuvenation. The gentle peal of bells by the Plymouth Ringers during communion reminding us of the transformative message of assured hope in Eastertide — a quiet joy. The diversity of worshipers in the sanctuary on Easter morning of all ages, races and creeds, faces familiar and strangers warmly welcomed — a blessed community. And many more instances we each could share revealing those precious slivers of light in these ever-emerging days of life and vitality—Paschal blessings.
Easter Sunday morning was truly a Day of Resurrection. We have seen it manifest slowly over the previous few months with faithful hope sustaining us these past two years. But what a joy it was to experience! Even the return of Plymouth's Easter cinnamon rolls tradition (no Covid protocols this time.. just grab and eat!) carried an impact no one would ever thought possible in a pre-pandemic world.
May our cherishing of life and love continue forward. Forever.
Mark Heiskanen is Plymouth's Dir. of Music and Organist. Learn more about him and read his weekly Music Minute here.
Letting in the Light
As we move toward Easter this year, I am pondering the brokenness of the Holy Week story in contrast to the mysterious joy of the Easter story. I catch myself assuming that joy is equated with perfection. Everything just right, fixed, just the way things should be. I don’t think that kind of perfection is synonymous with joy. Joy is about wholeness, not perfection or being fixed just right. Joy can come in the midst of brokenness. It doesn’t erase the pain of brokenness, but it stands alongside, offering a glimmer of hope and healing, of the light of love.
Many, many poets, theologians, storytellers and philosophers have written through the ages about brokenness and light. There are cracks in everything and that is how the light, sometimes God’s light, sometimes healing, sometimes strength gets into life and into our souls. In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote,
“Let a teacher wave away the flies and put a plaster on the wound.
Don’t turn your head. Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That’s where the light enters you.
And don’t believe for a moment that you’re healing yourself.”
Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song “Anthem” sings out, “Forget your perfect offering./There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
In the stories of Holy Week, we see the One, Jesus of Nazareth, who came to model God’s peace, justice, love, forgiveness and true power, broken by the world. We bring our own brokenness to the hearing and experiencing of his story and there we meet the Holy. God, the Holy ONE, does not leave Jesus broken by the world. God brings a different ending to the story of death. And each year we need to hear God’s broken stories and God’s triumphant healing during this tumultuous week. If we listen closely, eventually, one of these years we will hear the Holy during Holy Week as the poet, Mary Oliver did her poem, “Everything That Was Broken” (from Felicity, Penguin Random House, ©2015)
Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthly
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is forever.
With you on the journey,
A Letter from Jane Anne
Dear Beloved Community of Plymouth UCC,
Just after I turned sixty someone asked me when I would retire. I was stunned into silence. Retiring had never occurred to me. But the question had been asked and it remained because life is about living the questions. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Over the last year, as I have lived into the question of retirement, the answer has come. I will be retiring from parish ministry and ministry at Plymouth on February 28, 2023. My last Sunday will be February 26. After 24 years of parish ministry, I am being called to new ministry as a spiritual director.
This is a bittersweet announcement. Many years ago, as I was preparing my ordination paper, I read about a minister who instructed a young seminarian with this definition of parish ministry: “Lead a fine worship. Visit the people.” This instruction has been my guiding light. The visiting takes place in meetings or study groups or the fellowship hall, even these days in email and text, as often as it does in hospital rooms or people’s homes. The worship takes place in meetings and studies and camp settings as well as in the sanctuary. These two things are what I will miss at times: leading fine worship and visiting the people. Yet I know that I am being called away from the myriad details of parish ministry into a new ministry of intentionally companioning people on their faith journeys through the art of spiritual direction with individuals and through retreat ministry.
When I retire, I will leave Plymouth for a time and keep good boundaries with Plymouth members. I will worship in another community and will not be available for pastoral care, leading memorial services or weddings. It will be important for you to transfer connection to a new full-time associate who will be coming in 2023. I invite you to pray for this person, even though we do not yet know who it will be, as well as for our Associate Minister Search Committee which is already hard at work in the search process.
As I hope you know, Plymouth is one of the flagship congregations in the Rocky Mountain Conference and I venture to say in the UCC. We are a vital, caring and socially active community. We strive to be healthy and transparent in our communication with one another. I have no doubt we can meet the challenges of the changing landscape of faith communities in our tumultuous times. After I served Plymouth as Sharon Benton’s sabbatical interim in 2010, I never thought I would get to serve with you on staff again, even though I knew I felt called to serve in a congregation much like Plymouth. Spirit works in mysterious ways! I am so very grateful!
Over the next eleven months with you, I will still be planting seeds of ministry programming with the boards and committee I serve as staff liaison – Deacons, Outreach and Mission, Christian Formation and Nominating Committee. I will endeavor to leave an enduring organizational legacy for Plymouth’s lay ministry programs in pastoral care and adult Christian Formation. And I will enjoy leading worship and visiting/being with all of you!
Thank you for the privilege of serving among you these last seven years. It continues to be an honor to be part of Plymouth’s staff and in this beloved community.
Blessings on the journey,
Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Palms, Passion, and Plate
Two years ago, we taped palm fronds on the ramp leading into Plymouth’s Fellowship Hall, because we couldn’t be together due to Covid. The pandemic foiled our plans for “loud hosannas” last year as well. But this year is different. After yelling “Hosanna!” (Save us!), our cries have been heard (by God and the CDC), and we get to worship in person this Sunday as we begin Holy Week.
Holy Week is strange because it leads from triumph to tragedy and then back to triumph. We know the cycle of Palm Sunday’s parade, the intimacy of the Last Supper, Good Friday and the cross, and celebration of resurrection Easter Sunday. But the followers of Jesus had no idea how it would all turn out. For us it may seem like seeing a favorite movie over again, even if we know the ending. (How differently did you see The Wizard of Oz as a kid and how do you see it now?) Maybe you will see, hear, or feel something different when you walk through Holy Week this year. Perhaps the Spirit is saying something new to you after two years of isolation! These Sundays are also great times to invite your friends to Plymouth.
We have opportunities for you to worship with us starting this Sunday.
Also this Sunday, we are beginning an experiment in which we will Share the Plate, consciously and joyfully giving away half our undesignated Sunday offering to address a concern in our community or the world. Each month, we will support a new Share the Plate recipient.
Beginning this Sunday and extending until the end of the month, we will Share the Plate with the UCC Ukraine Emergency Appeal , an effort that provides shelter, food, and other care to war refugees and internally displaced people. Find out more about this new giving avenue and how the UCC's fund is addressing the crisis in Ukraine at the Share the Plate page on our website. There you will find a link to a dedicated giving form.
We encourage you to join our effort by giving in the Sunday offering plate or electronically. If your check on Sunday is intended to help fulfill your pledge or other designated purpose, please note that in the memo (example “Pledge 2022” or “Flowers”). All non-designated Sunday offering donations will be shared 50% with the UCC Ukraine Relief Fund. When giving by text or online, select the “Share the Plate” fund (text keyword SHARE) to participate in this new venture.
Thank you for supporting Plymouth and for your generosity in extending our reach!
Rev. Hal Chorpenning is our senior minister and Phil Braudaway-Bauman is our Church Administrator. Read their bios on our staff page.