In the Netflix show Stranger Things, the small town of Hawkins, Indiana is repeatedly encroached upon by the malevolent parallel dimension known as The Upside Down, a nightmarish mirror image of our own world ruled by an entity named The Mind Flayer. Season by season, its attempts to fully manifest in our world are thwarted by a hardy group of 1980's misfit kids–nerds! The trauma of their experiences leaves them uneasy–scarred– yet hopeful that the portal to The Upside Down will never open again. But when it frustratingly does so, they breathe a collective sigh and fight once more confident that they will again be victorious. And you know what? Each renewed manifestation of The Mind Flayer carries less impact because they are no longer innocent. These brave young heroes have tried and true techniques to combat the menace. Protection. They are ready.
Not so much The Upside Down, then, but The Slightly Skewed! There's a twinge of hope in there I'll gladly embrace.
Mark Heiskanen is Plymouth's Dir. of Music and Organist. Learn more about him and read his weekly Music Minute here.
Since I started at Plymouth, I have been connecting with other progressive youth ministers in Northern Colorado. We had a couple other churches join us at last year’s Sleepout. Just a couple weeks ago, we hosted a youth lock-in for our church, First Presbyterian Church, and Greeley First Congregational. We are building a unique network for our students and dreaming with each other about ministering to young people in our community.
Victoria Burkett, the Youth & Young Adult Director at First United Methodist, is hoping to build a stronger ecumenical effort and draw in college students & young professionals across the front range through their campus ministry, Kindred. Kindred's mission is for college-aged and young adults to grow in their lives and faith through meaningful experiences in a uniquely inclusive environment. During the year, this looks like weekly discussion groups, monthly worship nights, campus outreach, and fellowship events. The Kindred board finds itself in an era of rebuilding as they come out of the pandemic, and they are inviting more people to join them in their mission. Another one of my youth minister colleagues, Carlie Hoskins of First Presbyterian Church, recently joined their board.
I think the heart of Kindred aligns beautifully with Plymouth's strategic plan and our vision for campus ministry. This upcoming generation faces a daunting mental health crisis, and in the midst of it, they are searching for meaning and belonging. I love young people. I deeply believe that spiritual communities are key to their flourishing. I am so excited to be at a church that wants to support the next generation. I am also excited about the ecumenical spirit of the progressive churches in Fort Collins that I have encountered. As we continue to explore these connections and ministry in the next phase of the world, I am officially Plymouth's presence on the Kindred board. If you might be interested in learning more about Kindred, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
The way forward will see us better together. Kindred is modeling that as they model this John Wesley quote: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
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.
Dear Plymouth Family,
There is good news and bad news about Covid. The good news is that many who contract the virus have relatively mild symptoms and few vaccinated persons wind up in the hospital. The bad news is that there is a strong uptick in cases in Larimer County, and the dashboard color has gone to yellow (medium risk).
After a flurry of emails and calls this morning, Plymouth's Pandemic Team is strongly recommending the use of high-quality masks in worship and meetings at Plymouth, beginning tomorrow. I know this is a real bummer, but we do want to keep our most vulnerable folks safe. If you don't bring a mask to worship, there will be masks available at each entrance. Please, if you feel at all ill, we suggest using our livestream option for worship.
We're also going to be taking ancillary such precautions as encouraging social distance, not service food or drink (unless it's outside), and offering a Zoom option for meetings.
Communion will still be offered in the manner we've managed it for the past two months. We still will have the opportunity to see one another, sing (with masks), and enjoy worshiping together. And our kids will still be able to gather outdoors.
I'm very grateful to the whole Pandemic Team and especially Melanie Huibregtse, who chairs our Team and who has been in touch with Larimer County Health to get the best possible information.
We hope that this flare-up will settle down soon. And I thank you for your understanding and cooperation as we keep on keeping on.
Wishing you health, grace, and peace,
Last Sunday, I preached on Revelation 21:1-5, part of which says “God will wipe every tear from their eyes…” When reading it to the congregation in the wake of this week’s news from Buffalo, New York, I felt the heartbreak in this beautiful expression of God’s compassion for Her Creation as the Divine witnessed Good Friday all over again, this time in Buffalo.
Maybe it was my recent coming out of a powerful retreat with other clergy in Holland, or maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe it was knowing a beloved former companion in ministry now pastors in Buffalo as a woman of color. Maybe it was all of it. Or maybe it was how Spirit has been working on me in recent years more and more to keep my heart open even in the midst of the painful and often violent consequences of human beings being out of touch with love and God and Creation.
Now I know the pattern of human and collective psyche in these events. When our gun saturated culture blends with the cancer of white supremacy in a lost soul, violence and tragedy are the result. The demonic lie of projection can take root in human souls such that violence against another person or group or country becomes a siren song, a tragic temptation, an illusion of solution: “if only we or I could just get rid of or control this ‘other.’” Projecting inner tensions, fears, insecurities, and unresolved trauma onto the "other" and making them an enemy, a dehumanized object, is a lie as old as Cain and Abel and at the core of what keeps humanity alienated, in conflict, and out of step with Divine Love.
And I know Jesus calls us to be conscious of all that is in us and to resist this sin of projection with an image of a plank in our own eye (Matthew 7, Luke 6). This is a spiritual practice.
And there is another spiritual practice here: faithful heartbreak.
Before I move to condemning a perpetrator and complaining about guns or racism or whatever truly misguided value and deeply distorted narrative needs resistance and redirection, I sense I need to feel the heartbreak. Jesus can be my exemplar, weeping for Lazarus in his grave and weeping for Jerusalem. Somehow, I suspect this is part of what keeps us human amidst the inhumanity, that keeps us closer to the Way of Jesus than the way of empire.
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.
Maybe you expected it would come
in a wave of relief—olly, olly, oxen free--
and everything would be fine.
We’d be back in the familiar world
of hugs and handshakes and the easy
assumption of the presence of strangers.
Of course it doesn’t work that way.
Safer is not the same thing as safe.
Which turns out to have always been
more elusive than we thought.
Somehow the world opens up
slowly, in fits and starts,
and also in an incomprehensible rush.
There are more choices, and less clarity,
More possibilities, but not more wisdom.
You are not wrong to be tentative.
You are not wrong to be bold.
That’s just the way it is with grief.
That is simply the nature of spring.
By Lynn Ungar
(4-12-22; www.lynnungar.com, used with permission)
Change is rarely easy, is it? We are two years and two months from the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Life is seemingly more like the “normal” before the isolation, economic stress and fear the pandemic brought. Except for when it isn’t! We can move more freely and more often without masks. We can travel more. It is a joy to see one another. And yet, people are still dying from Covid at higher rates than from the flu. We are still waiting for a vaccine for children under 5. We are still not quite sure that another variant will raise its head and sending us back to more masking and isolation. Teachers have been working furiously this year to help children and youth catch up after two years of school on and off Zoom. Workplaces are not sure where they want workers to be – at home or in the office and they are reeling from “the Great Resignation.”
I could go on and on about what is sort of normal but not functioning as it used to function. Churches are not sure what’s up with some people coming back to in person worship, others still on live-stream, others not coming back at all. Budgets are wonky as churches try to carry on and yet people have changed their giving patterns when they were only worshiping online. Yet there is an expectation in multi-staffed churches that all the programming that used to be up and running before will magically appear.
Plymouth is no exception. We are just beginning to get our bearings and to see the scope of the work that will need to be done in rebuilding the programming for Christian formation, mission/service and fellowship that we had before March of 2020. Or create new programming more suitable for the times and future.
All this reminds me of the Israelites as they returned from Babylon with the decree of the Babylonian king, Cyrus, they began the long work of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The story of this rebuilding is told in the book of Ezra. It was a stop and start process with squabbling and uncertainty about having the right funding and the right workers. It took much longer than they had hoped. When they got the first foundations built the people sobbed and celebrated. Those who remembered the old temple sobbed because they remembered the old. Those who didn’t remember the old temple shouted for joy. Ezra 3.13 reads, “No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.” It is good to know that the rejoicing was louder than the sobbing, yet I think it is important to recognize the painful aspect of rebuilding. Nothing was just as it was before. And that can be excruciating as well as exciting.
As the poet Lynn Ungar (a UUA minister) writes, “That’s just the way it is with grief.” Some of us will move boldly into the changes needed and some of us will move tentatively. That’s also the nature of spring which is making its presence known to us more and more each day. Plymouth is going to look different in the coming months and years with new staff and new kinds of programming. We will not be able to just go back to how things were before. God sustained the Israelites and the temple was rebuilt. God will sustain us as we rebuild. Let us encourage and comfort one another as we grieve and rejoice – simultaneously at times, as we are tentative and bold. The transforming Spirit is making all things new!
With you on the 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.
I am writing as one of your pastors to say we are all in this together as we face the news of the leaked draft document from the Supreme Court that seems to give us a glimpse into the future of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights in this country.
I know many of you are reeling, as am I. Over the last several years, we have endured blow after blow of polarization and the injustice it brings, particularly to those who are less advantaged through gender, sexual orientation, economics, education, or by virtue of the color of their skin. This news that impacts those who live in female bodies and their right to choose what is best for them in their own bodies is frightening and infuriating to those of us who are deeply pro-choice. Abortion is never to be taken lightly! AND yet each person who can become pregnant has a sacred right to be able to choose what is best for them and for their family. (I am intentionally not using the label, "woman/women," so that our siblings who are born into female bodies and yet consider themselves non-binary or gender non-conforming are included in our concern. They, too, may become pregnant or could have it forced upon them by violence. They, too, along with lesbian and cis-gendered women, may need the ability and right to choose what is best for their bodies and lives.)
I want to remind you that the United Church of Christ has been proactive in addressing issues of reproductive justice since the 1970's. You can find the Reproductive Justice page on our national UCC website. There is a wonderfully succinct handout on the UCC stance that was given to youth in a class on Reproductive Justice at the 2012 National Youth Event. I found this short piece a helpful place to start in understanding our denominational history with this important justice work.
No matter our personal views on abortion, let us stand together in concern for those whose life circumstances bring them to the place of needing to consider choosing abortion. Let us hold them in our prayers, particularly at this time when in many states their right to choose is in danger. Let us hold those in the medical profession in our prayers as well. They are navigating very difficult legal and ethical times as they seek to provide the best care possible for their patients. Let us hold the lawmakers we have elected in our prayers that they may come to see the justice issues of abortion in broader perspectives. Let us be grateful that here in Colorado abortion is protected by law. May it continue to be so and if necessary, may Colorado be a safe haven for those in need of abortion rights.
With you on the journey,
Have you ever wondered what Celtic Christian spirituality is all about? Maybe you’ve heard snippets from people in our two Celtic groups or heard a sermon or noticed the Celtic cross in our Memorial Garden or perhaps you still wonder what all the fuss is about.
Next week you have an incredible opportunity to hear one of the leading scholars in this field, John Philip Newell. But he’s more than a scholar, he has been a guiding light in Celtic spirituality on both sides of the Atlantic for decades. On our Scottish Pilgrimage in 2017, we met with John Philip Newell in Edinburgh, but you don’t need to travel that far to hear him! (And we’ve been waiting to hear him again, as this visit has been delayed by pandemic twice since 2020!)
John Philip was first with us at Plymouth in conjunction with my first sabbatical (and generous funding from a Lilly Clergy Renewal grant) about 15 years ago, and some of us still feel the impact of that first visit.
John Philip will be talking with us about themes from his new book, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World. What he captures in this book is rooted in the Celtic tradition of honoring, rather than subjugating, Creation. And with the specter of climate change hanging over us, people of faith need to lean into the best elements of our spiritual traditions to bolster our efforts.
We have a new Climate Justice Ministry Team under the Mission & Outreach Board at Plymouth, and they are welcoming new folks who want to be involved. And what you will hear from John Philip may provide spiritual and theological grounding to help our activism keep going.
This coming Sunday at 10:00 at our adult forum we'll have a brief introduction to John Philip and his work, and I hope you’ll join me for this introduction. You can also have a look at a video interview if you’d like to get a feel for his presence. (It’s from The Work of the People, and your giving to Plymouth supports our subscription. You’ll need to give them your email address, but they won’t share it.)
This is also a great opportunity to bring your friends to Plymouth for an evening with no pressure. We have a gift to share with the community, and I hope you will extend an invitation.
I look forward to seeing you then!
P.S. Our Share the Plate partner for May is The Food Bank for Larimer County. Last month, our Share the Plate offering raised $1,472 (in addition to $8,220 in designated giving). Thank you for your generosity!