Foremost on my mind during these challenging times is gratitude. Thankful for our local leaders, both in government and at Plymouth, for their reasoned approach to the pandemic. Grateful to live in a region of the country that values science and truth, at least more than others. I have experienced cultures where this is not the case and it is disturbing. In this time of pandemic, it would be frightening. It is the age old question of how we respond to change, isn't it?
In the coming months, the Chancel Choir will transform into a virtual choir as we see this pandemic through. The Plymouth Ringers may return in some form too as restrictions are sensibly lifted over time. And our streamed Sunday morning and Wednesday evening Vespers services will continue to be offered with familiar faces playing instruments and singing through your two-dimensional screen. A truly strange experience by the way to be in the near empty sanctuary with our energies focused on the little red "all-seeing-eye" of the live stream camera! But we have all gotten used to it. And amazing that we can even do any of this at all.
We will be together again when reason will allow it. Until then, Zoom on and be safe.
Director of Music
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. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.
“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown,
and in between them, there are doors.”
(William Blake, late 18th/early 19th century poet)
Blake’s words are visceral, evoking muscle memory as well as emotional memory. We know what it is to move from one space to another, opening a door, crossing its threshold. We normally do not think anything of it in our everyday lives. But when we speak of the meaning of liminal, “of or pertaining to a threshold,” when we think of liminal space in our lives, in our souls, we receive Blake’s image with a powerful punch. The crossing from known to unknown (and perhaps, back again) may be exciting, quick, full of fiery imagination. It may be excruciatingly slow, inch by inch, from light into darkness, before there is the possibility of finding light again. Or something in between.
Whatever it is, to be in liminal space is to stand on the threshold just before taking that next step into the next room. It is a place of grace that usually does not feel particularly grace-full, but often hard, dangerous. As Father Richard Rohr has written it is a place of such vulnerability and openness that there is room for something genuinely new to happen. “We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled.”
In this global pandemic, we are all currently in liminal space. We have been sheltering in place for two months or more. “Staying safer at home” has become known to us. It’s become our routine. And now there is talk of re-opening society. Finding, hopefully, safe ways to come together again in person. For some of us this is such welcome talk! For others it is terrifying. For others it just creates a low-level sense of dis-ease. And some of us are in the lonely place of knowing we will not re-enter society until there is a vaccine….and when will that be?! All of these reactions to moving into the unknown of what our new “normal” will look like as we continue to grapple with this pandemic leave us in liminal space.
I want to reassure you that your pastors and church staff are considering ALL of the reactions above as we move from the “known” of sheltering in place, livestream worship, and Zoom meetings into the “unknown” of what is next. We do not yet have ready answers or safe formulas that can make the “unknown” of re-opening feel entirely comfortable or doable. We are using the scientific data and the health precautions from trusted Colorado and national institutions of health, as well as research and models from national church leaders in multiple mainline denominations, to fuel our vision for Plymouth’s re-opening.
The bottom line is that “church” is going to look different from here on out. It will never look entirely the same as it did in February of this year. What has not changed is the Love of God that brings us together, calling us to worship, to care for one another, to deepen our spiritual lives in study and prayer, to minister beyond our walls to those who are in need. You all know that the church is not the building, as beloved as it may be with its memories of fellowship and worship. The church is You. It is US held in the creative container of God’s love.
So, know that as your pastors and staff, we miss you all!! Know that we are here for one another by phone and Zoom and livestream. Know that the connection of our sacred bond as community is not broken and cannot be even by a global pandemic. Be patient with yourself, with your family, with your church leadership and community as we move from our current “known” across the threshold into the “unknown.” “Known” and “unknown” – it is all held in the heart of God.
With you on this journey,
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more
I was stunned to see that some Roman Catholic parishes in Colorado are opening for in-person worship…though with masks, social distancing, no communion, no one over 65. When I read about the Catholic parishes, I couldn’t help thinking about the Evangelical-Reformed Cathedral in Berlin, where 59 of 78 choir members were stricken with the coronavirus…or the United Church of Canada congregation in Calgary that gathered for a birthday party in March; 24 of 41 people were infected with coronavirus, and two died. Their minister said, “I would do anything for a do-over.”
Later this week, your ministers and program staff will start a discussion about what (not when) it might look like eventually to reopen. And it will be different from what we knew before, and various groups will have different types of gradual re-opening. It will be done with the utmost care…I don’t want to need a do-over. Please continue to be wise and safe!
The Leadership Council is in the process of forming a strategic planning team, something we had on the docket for 2020 anyway, but our planning this fall will be in a very different context for a church than it would have been without the pandemic. We will be consulting with John Wimberly of Congregational Consulting Group (alumni of the late Alban Institute), and we will really consider the future of the church in a new reality. It may seem crazy, but I am really excited about the possibilities of who Plymouth can become! One learning for most of us is that the church is the gathered body of members, not our building at 916 Prospect Road. We are still the church! We are still people at worship, in service, doing ministry together.
We won’t waste the opportunity of a crisis to make something beautiful happen with God and with each other!
P.S. If you haven’t seen this pandemic-related story, please watch it and wonder…
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.
by Rev. Carla Cain
I am a coffee drinker. Actually, one might say I am a coffee snob. I like it hot, black and smooth. I make my coffee first thing when I wake in the morning and it goes nicely with my morning devotional reading and my news intake.
Drinking coffee is part of my daily spiritual practice. And my cup symbolizes a connection or an emotion that it evokes. The cup I drink from has meaning. Each cup I drink from has a story. It is a holy part of my ritual.
When I moved to Colorado I downsized my coffee cups. I only brought with me those that fulfilled my more current spiritual path. Those I left behind at the local donation center had fulfilled their role in my sacred coffee journey. Besides this cup below, another favorite says: “Well behaved women rarely make history." It is my reminder to never be small.
The current cup I am drinking from says ‘Pastor’ and was a gift from some very dear friends for my ordination. This morning, after months and months of using this cup regularly, I actually read what it said (beyond ‘Pastor’). It’s funny how I had not read or spend any time reflecting on the nutritional facts as listed. Those facts listed for a pastor include: hard working, passion, determination, pride, mercy, love and faith.
And, of course I don’t take these things seriously but I began to wonder what the true nutritional facts would be, not only for me but for you. For instance, where is fun, creative, caring, contemplative, strategic or doubting as ‘nutritional facts’ for a pastor?
They are called nutritional facts on the coffee cup, but I think of them as things or attributes that keep me in connection with God and my service to this work. It is really important during these uncertain times that we all recognize that God is present and active in our lives. Regular spiritual practices, regular prayer or connecting with creation are ways to keep us awake.
And all of this is to say, what are the (nutritional) facts that connect you with God in your spiritual practice? What are those things that remind you of the existence of God no matter what is happening in your life?
As always, please feel free to let me know your answers or reach out for guidance along the journey. My prayer is that you feel that strong presence of God dwelling within you.
In December, Carla started her two-year designated term pastorate at Plymouth. She spent the last 5 years consulting with churches on strategic planning, conflict transformation and visioning. Before going to seminary she volunteered at her church through Stephen Ministry, visiting ministries and leading worship services at a memory care unit and a healthcare facility. She served on the Board of Directors for the Iowa conference of the United Church of Christ.