I have always been the sort of person who likes to know exactly what they are getting into before starting something new. I spent most of my first day of kindergarten observing my classmates from the corner of the room, desperately trying to figure out exactly what everyone else was doing before I dared to try to join in. Before starting college, I spent so much time researching schools, majors, and potential career paths that I was essentially a walking course catalog by the time I set foot on campus. And back in August of 2020, I did something that was extremely out of character for someone who always wants to dip a toe into the water before diving in: I agreed to serve as Plymouth’s Interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth in the midst of a pandemic and with absolutely no idea of what the year might hold.
To my great surprise, many of my fondest memories from this year came from the moments of greatest uncertainty. When it looked like we might not be able to hold our traditional Sleepout in December due to the pandemic, an incredible team of youth and adult volunteers found a way to put together a drive-in vigil and at-home Sleepout that raised nearly $30,000 for Neighbor to Neighbor. When the pandemic reached its peak and we were forced to transition our weekly youth groups from in-person to virtual meetings, our youth continued to show up each week with energy and optimism even in less-than-ideal conditions. And even though I often found myself feeling like an unsuspecting audience member who had been chosen from the crowd to join an improv troupe, I also found that being forced to operate without the usual “playbook” only served to magnify the joy of the many unexpectedly wonderful moments that the year had to offer.
Now, armed with the confidence I’ve gained after a year of diving headfirst into the unknown, I am about to take yet another leap of faith: tomorrow will be my last day as Plymouth’s Interim Youth Director, and in a few weeks, I will be heading out to Indiana to begin a new role as a Student Success Coach at Purdue University. I may not know exactly what this next step will look like or what challenges lie ahead, but if this year has taught me anything, it is that an unknown future is something to be celebrated rather than feared. In the wise words of Corrie Ten Boom, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."
Here’s to whatever unexpected and exciting future lies ahead of all of us!
All the best,
Recently, I and twenty or so members of the Chancel Choir gathered at Bill and Anne Thompson's home for a time of fellowship and a celebration of Michele Betsill's upcoming adventure in Denmark as professor at the University of Copenhagen. It is an awesome opportunity but she will be missed at Plymouth! And some of us have only seen each other in two dimensions these past fifteen months, courtesy of Zoom. And for others, it was a reunion long time coming. Connection and camaraderie are essential components for choral singers, the most social of all music ensembles. We don't need an instrument to express our harmonies after all— just our natural selves. This became very apparent last Wednesday evening.
These months of the pandemic have been anything but linear. As close contact could potentially be dangerous, it was always about finding a workaround: virtual choral singing approaches, prerecorded worship services pieced together throughout the prior week, livestreamed services, and more protocols than one would hopefully ever need again! Time-consuming. And often frustrating.
But now, we can actually connect two points together...in a straight line at that! For example, you can drive from your home and pull into Plymouth for the 6:00 p.m. service and we'll all be together in real time. Soon, we can experience the 10:00 a.m. service in this same way on July 4. And the Chancel Choir will be there too...and the week after. What was once a major super spreader event (choral singing) is now laid low with these life-saving vaccines. It is an amazing transitional time now.
So let's enjoy the return of immediacy and overflowing connection opportunities we once freely enjoyed. Strangely, the ease of simply doing something without the resistance of once necessary safety protocols makes me feel like a slacker. As if, "this is just too easy, really?" Maybe you can relate to that too. In any case, we'll get over it. That I'm quite sure of.
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.
Dear Plymouth Family,
The news about the pandemic in this country continues to improve. For the first time in a very long time, new cases of COVID are in the single digits in Larimer County.
It has been a very long road…unique in Plymouth’s 118-year history. It has been rough on congregants and lay leaders and rough on pastors and staff, but we have made it through! Thank you for your patience and continued participation in being the church!
I am especially appreciative of the wise counsel of our Pandemic Team:Melanie Huibregtse (chair), Barry Beaty, Claudia DeMarco, Greg Ebel, Jane Anne Ferguson, Bob Jeffrey, Judy Lane, Jim Medlock, Bruce Ronda, Nancy Sturtevant, George Theodore, and Harmony Tucker. Scientists, healthcare professionals, ministers, officers of the church, deacons, and trustees have comprised this august body, which has kept us as safe as possible.
The Pandemic Team met and reached some decisions about our reopening process. The team has produced detailed guidelines for building use and cleaning, but here is a top-line report of their counsel:
are now available to all Plymouth groups, both fellowship groups and other meetings, so long as all members have been fully vaccinated. It is the responsibility of the group leader to ensure that all are fully vaccinated and if not, to offer alternatives. (Outdoor meeting space on the lawn is available for all persons.) You can also continue to use Zoom for any of your gatherings, which saves gas and commuting time, and it helps our air quality. You can schedule online at plymouthucc.org/cal.
has already resumed at 6:00 for fully vaccinated folks, and we have made masks and distancing optional, and eliminated the need for advanced sign-ups. Just come!
In-person worship at 10:00 has now been approved for all persons, including kids, whether vaccinated or not. Folks who have not yet been vaccinated — including young people — are asked to wear masks and to observe social distancing. Our deacons have arranged the sanctuary with an every-other pew configuration on the west (window) side of the sanctuary. The east side of the sanctuary has no social distance requirements. We will be singing and serving communion. We ask that social time following the service be outside, either on the sanctuary lawn or the north patio outside the Fellowship Hall. Nursery care will be available.
Our first 10:00 service will be Sunday, July 4! Independence Day will have a sweet, new ring for us at Plymouth! The Stewardship Board will be providing breakfast burritos…since we missed them on Consecration Sunday last year. The choir (all vaccinated) will sing, and we will celebrate communion. (Starting July 4, until new livestream equipment is installed later in July, we will post a recording of the live service on Sunday afternoon at plymouthucc.org/streaming)
Precautions are still encouraged, including the use of hand gel…new dispensers are available in the Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary, North Wing, and Narthex. Please feel free to wear a mask if you wish, and for your own protection, if you have not yet been fully vaccinated, we ask that you keep a mask on at all times.
Faith Family Hospitality Network guests are now with us and will be through the morning of Sunday, June 20. They are using the North and West Wings of the church and the Fellowship Hall, so those areas are off-limits unless you are volunteering with FFH through June 20.
Again, thank you for your patience. I know that there has been a diversity of opinion within the congregation about how and when to open, and I appreciate that we have let the Pandemic Team do their important work to make the best possible decisions on our behalf.
See you in church!
We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road;
we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.*
As promised last month, my reflection this month is on all the “formal,” programmatic ways we offer care to one another as the community of Plymouth. There are an amazing number of them in place or in the works. And these do not count the ways that we care for each other informally, “just because,” in our Plymouth family community! I hope you recognize the words above from the hymn, “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?,” number 539 in our church hymnal. These words speak the truth about embodying our network, our web, of care that we call, “Calling and Caring Ministries.”
Below I have listed all the programs along brief descriptions, their leaders and any needs for leadership/organization they might have. If you see a place that you would like to connect in to be of service to our caring community, please let me know.** Though they are listed in a linear fashion in this reflection, please see them as a web of care, not a hierarchy. We are working to develop greater connections between these programs, all of which are ministry teams of the Board of Deacons or the Congregational Life Board. As pastors, Hal and I, along with our next associate, will be working in tandem with this web of ministry team programs to provide pastoral and lay caregiving for our congregation. If there is any hierarchy, the pastors are the ultimate point people for emergencies, deaths in the congregation and for helping to activate this web of care. However, these programs will be growing stronger and learning to connect to each other on their own as needs arise.
Calling and Caring Ministries
These visitors provide friendly connectional visitation (in person and through phone/email/cards) for those who may not be able to get to church regularly to be with our community. They have undergone visitation training and are coordinated by a Visitor Coordinator (or two Co-Coordinators) who work(s) with the pastors to pair up visitors with those who need visits. We currently have around ten Congregation Visitors trained for action and will be re-uniting them for an update meeting soon as our pandemic social distancing allows. The Visitor Coordinator role is being considered by two folks trained as visitors. Congregation Visitors, formerly known as Calling/Caring or Support Visitors, are background checked and uphold high levels of confidentiality. Please let Jane Anne know** if you are interested in being a visitor.
Our eleven trained and commissioned Stephen Ministers are led by Stephen Leaders, Lory Clukey, Eric Ferm, Peter Mullarkey. These Stephen Ministers have undergone 50+ hours of study and training in providing confidential, crisis oriented, longer term care and therapeutic communication for their care receivers. They attend a twice monthly supervision and continuing education group to assist them in giving care to other congregants who are experiencing long term illness, a family crisis, divorce, job loss, loss of a loved one, or are a long-term caregiver for a family member with health needs. Stephen Ministers are also background checked. They are paired with their care receivers through recommendations from a pastor that go to the Plymouth Stephen Minister Referral Coordinator, Eric Ferm.
Faith Nursing Program
Melanie Huibregtse is the Coordinator of our Faith Nursing program, a new program using the nurses who are members of our congregation to help the community integrate faith and health, to provide personal health counseling and education to members, as well as referrals to professional health services outside our congregation and health advocacy, if needed. Lory Clukey has also certified as a Faith Nursing professional through the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing class. All Plymouth Faith Nurses will be certified through this class as well as background checked. Congregation Visitors, Stephen Ministers and pastors can refer congregants to our Faith Nurses for help for their care receivers.
Annual Every Member Contact Calling/Emailing
This caring program is conducted by the Board of Deacons every fall through lay caregiving check-in phone calls and emails sent to every member/friend of the congregation. The results of the calls are compiled and given to one of the pastors who then contacts congregants as needed.
Lay Communion Servers
At this time, we have a few deacons and former deacons trained by the Senior Minister to deliver in home communion to people who cannot get to church. The Board of Deacons will help pastors train more deacons and former deacons as we are able to visit people more freely and as the need arises.
Food Ministry Team
This ministry was initiated by the Board of Deacons a few years ago to keep healthy soups and casseroles in the freezer in the deacon’s room to be available for people in need during a health or any kind of family crisis. There is a great system in place with recipes and recommended containers. This ministry needs new participants and a new coordinator. Participants would be primarily responsible for cooking food supplies, getting them to the freezer and occasionally for food delivery. A coordinator would make sure supplies are kept up, participants are using “approved” recipes (recipes that are helpful to folks just coming out of the hospital or in a health crisis) and specific portion containers as well as be a liaison to the Board of Deacons regarding the ministry team. Please contact Jane Anne** if you are interested in helping and/or coordinating.
Transportation Ministry Team
We need to re-activate this ministry team under the Board of Deacons to have a list of people willing to give rides to fellow congregants who might need them to medical appointments and to church services. If you are interested in helping to revive this ministry team, please contact Jane Anne.**
Prayer Shawls Ministry
This ministry team is also a fellowship group that is under the Congregational Life Board. We have somewhere between 8-12 knitters and folks who crochet beautiful prayer shawls that are given to members, friends, friends and family of members who are in crisis. The shawls are blessed by members of the Prayer Shawl team at their twice-a-month meetings. They are kept in pastors’ offices for distribution by pastors, Congregation Visitors, Stephen Ministers and others. Connected to this ministry is the “Fleece Blanket Ministry” that generally occurs at the Women’s Retreat each year. Fleece blankets are made to give to children as “prayer shawls” and are also given at children’s baptisms. The Prayer Shawl Ministry is self-sustaining and organizing. If you are interested in joining, please contact, Jane Anne.**
Plymouth Text Connection
Plymouth Text Connection is an outreach to the Plymouth community under the auspices of the Congregational Life Board. Currently there are nearly 100 Plymouth friends and members who receive twice monthly texts – one with a fun question for getting to know one another better and the other as a wellness check-in. Responses to the wellness check-in go to the pastors so that if anyone needs urgent or follow-up pastoral care the pastors will know quickly. Staff member Anna Broskie, our Plymouth IT and Communications Coordinator, schedules the texts and collates the fun text responses, which can be viewed at plymouthucc.org/responses. If you would like to start getting the texts, you can sign up at plymouthucc.org/text.
WHEW! That is a lot of information! AND isn’t it great that we have so many ways of caring for and connecting to one another here at Plymouth! We are working hard to embody the words to the hymn,
Won’t you let me by your servant? Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.*
When we care for one another and let ourselves be cared for, Christian community flourishes! What a gift!
With you on the journey,
Plymouth Parable Palooza is a chance to reconnect with your church family, and re-examine your knowledge of the old, old, stories Jesus told. Families (made of one or two or ten members ) and of all ages are invited!
The evening will begin on the Plymouth lawn with Little Caesars cheese pizza--sign up by the slice (donations accepted) or feel free to bring your own meal. Do bring your own drink, and blanket or camp chairs for sitting on the lawn. Limited church tables and chairs will be available for those who need them.
The Plymouth Players (email Tricia if you want to volunteer for this theater company known for one-time rehearsals before the show) will dramatize the parable with help from the audience--laughter will ensue, but so will new thoughts about the parable. Who is your neighbor?
Following the skit, families will break into groups for Kathee Houser crafts (something creative for all ages), or games conducted by our youth group, or discussion groups--the skit will give you a lot to think about!
Around 7 p.m. (COVID protocols permitting), we will toast marshmallows and make ‘s-mores.
Over the 2020-21 academic year, Tricia Medlock returned to the interim position she held between Plymouth Christian Formation 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.
After a l-o-n-g pandemic, it’s time for our first all-church outdoor service in two years! I invite you to join us at our usual location under the pavilion at Rolland Moore Park, just south of the church on Shields Street.
Everyone is invited, kids, those who are vaccinated, and those who are not! We ask that if you have not been vaccinated that you continue to wear a mask. (Even though outdoor transmission of the virus is very unlikely, we do have some immune-compromised members who are at higher risk even though vaccinated.) Vaccinated or not, please wear a mask if it makes you feel comfortable in the midst of others.
Our outdoor service is a great, safe opportunity for you to come and worship with your Plymouth family. It is blessing for us to see our Plymouth kids and to have them worship with us!
What to bring
I can’t wait to see you on Sunday! It’s been a very long time since most of us have been together, and it will be great to come back together.
Many thanks to our Boards of Deacons and Congregational Life for organizing!
P.S. Looking ahead, Jubilee Sunday is coming on August 29!
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.