Several years ago, after some tragic event that dominated the news, I suggested to a friend that it seemed like we were living in uncertain times. Without missing a beat, they gently corrected me with the reminder that for the majority of the earth’s people now and times are uncertain. Then, not missing the opportunity to enlighten a friend, they went on to explain that modern medicine, air conditioning and lots of other things that define my privileged lifestyle, cushion, and hide so much that is the daily reality for most of our siblings.
I’ve held that thought for the last months as we have lived the Pandemic together. Is what we have experienced the "new normal"? Has the pain we have witnessed and the uncertainty about what comes next damaged our ability to relate to one another?
Just like the small congregation Charnley and I attend near Tacoma, WA, Plymouth adjusted in so many ways to meet the challenge of being a family of faith in a time of crisis. New ways of worship, new ways of gathering, new ways of keeping faith with one another and the Holy emerged over night. We found ways to care but uncertainty was thrust into the middle of all sorts of assumptions about what it means to be followers of Jesus called into a covenant community.
What comes next? Will the pandemic take another turn? Will we be confronted with more uncertainty? Will we need to discover more new ways of “being Church” in covenant locally and with siblings who share this planet with us? How will we let the Christ light shine in the days ahead?
One answer that comes to mind is this: whenever the angel messengers of God appear, they come first with a word that breaks the power of fear. “Fear not!” they proclaim to shatter our illusion of certainty and break open the tough shell of our defenses against anything painful or threatening.
Something I forgot to mention when I preached on the 23rd Psalm two weeks ago is that this spiritual gem does not suggest that God promises a detour around the valley of the shadow of death or an alternative route that leads to paths of certainty. Instead, the promise given assumes uncertainty and offers the abiding presence of God in uncertain times. Times like now. Times like tomorrow. Times like always!
I am happy to be with you! Please know that my door is always open and that I welcome calls.
Bridge Associate Minister
From July 12 to October 3, the Rev. Ron Patterson will be with us again, having served as a sabbatical interim four years ago, and then serving as our interim conference minister during The Rev. Sue Artt’s sabbatical. Ron retired as Senior Minister of Naples United Church of Christ in Florida. Ron and his wife have family here in Fort Collins: their daughter is a member of Plymouth, and their grandchildren are active in Sunday school. Pronouns: he/him.
My season at Plymouth as Interim Director of Christian Formation for Children (I won’t miss typing that) is coming to an end just as the back-to-school season is creeping up on students of all ages, as well as parents, grandparents, teachers, principals, and professors. And of course, all the other folks who make schools run. Let’s hear it for the lunch ladies, custodians, secretaries, aides, nurses, and school resource officers! It does take a village.
But, what would the new school year look like if “God Time” got as much time as back-to-school shopping? As much thought as which backpack or planner or new shoes to buy?
One lesson from the pandemic is that we are all responsible for our children’s Christian Formation. Sunday School, when it is functioning, is at best an hour a week. We all have said the panicked prayers when we are fearful for them, but what faith are we sharing with our children? They may only hear the sigh of relief when they show up on time, or the lost is found. What are we teaching them about our relationship with God? How are we allowing for their relationship with God?
In her chapter of The Sandbox Revolution, Dee Dee Risher writes of how the Christian tradition is a path of love and “a spiritual corrective for basic human tendencies toward selfishness, violence and ego-centered living.” Rev. Risher suggests families participate in twice daily prayer--from the heart, not the rote ones, and reading, not from one right list, but books from many different kinds of cultures and characters. You’ll learn a lot, and have some cuddle time too.
You may have received my last mailing from church. It went to families with young children. I love the suggestions from Illustrated Ministries, especially the one about taking a deep breath before you open the car door when dropping your children at the myriad of places we drive them. You all pray for what is about to happen.
And please take one suggestion from me. The long drives to violin practice with my son were some of our best times because there was time to talk.
Take time for every season,
In 2020-21, Tricia returned 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. Before moving to Ft. Collins with her husband Jim, she was Director of Children’s Ministries at the University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. She has served on Plymouth’s Christian Formation Board, Congregational Life Board and taught Sunday School for many of the current youth group. Tricia is married, has two children living in Texas, one golden retriever and 5 grand animals. Her idea of a good time is hiking and reading. Before COVID, she and her husband attended the 6pm service. Pronouns: she/her.
It is exciting seeing so many of you as we come back to church for worship! I have heard many of you say, “It’s wonderful to be doing activities that feel normal.” Yet we know that “things” will never be the normal they were before March 2020. We are all irrevocably changed by the events of the past 17 months. Definitely by the pandemic which is better, but not over; by the highly contentious political turmoil; by the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath that has finally re-awakened an imperative to deal with the 400-year-old pandemic of racism in our country; by the biggest wildfire in Colorado history last summer; by this summer’s pandemic of heat telling us that if we hadn’t noticed, climate change is real! No wonder we still feel deep anxiety, even at a subconscious level!
We are still discerning how to re-open and to participate in our programming at Plymouth. Perhaps, you wonder,
I am also finding Joy in the rebuilding! Speaking just from the standpoint of the Christian Formation Board…..the candidates we are interviewing for our Director of Christian Formation are invigorating the search team with new ideas for ministry! We are going to be discovering new ways to be church, to be formed in our faith, for children, youth and adults, with the guidance of a CF Board that is energized and the guidance of a new director. During the pandemic, we discovered new ways to have Adult Formation through Zoom book studies and the joy of discussions that could be longer and richer than the 45-50 minute discussions we used to have in our Sunday education hour. Our Adult Forum team is raring to go with innovative new programming which we hope to present in person and through livestream. AND in October, we will be hosting, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, as our fall visiting scholar! Traci is part of our UCC national staff and is at the forefront nationally of the anti-racism movement. We are partnering in the community for this event with the World Wisdoms Project and are making in-roads to invite community folks to join us, in person and by live-stream, via connections with the Interfaith Council and Fort Collins BIPOC Alliance and their White Solidarity allies.
Finally, we have many new people visiting our church! People to whom we want to extend a warm welcome! Some of them found us and joined us online. Some of them discovered in the lock-down that they need something new in their faith life and are looking for a progressive, social justice, faith-filled community. They are all ages – from college students to families with young children to families with older children to single adults of every age. Be on the look-out for new faces!! And wear your name tags so it is easier for us to get re-acquainted and to get to know those among us that are visiting.
I invite and encourage us all to be very gentle with ourselves and with one another in this exciting, but still uncertain time! Let’s not hesitate to extend extra kindness to one another knowing everyone is anxious. There is a Mary Oliver poem I have been reading and re-reading, “Don’t Hesitate” from her collection of poetry titled Devotions. Click on the title and read the entire poem. She writes in brief, “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. … We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. … Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
With you on the journey to Joy,
*As you come into the sanctuary from the narthex or Fellowship Hall, the section of pews on your left (the wall side) is for fully vaccinated people who do not need to mask or social distance. The section of pews on your right (the window side) is for people who have not been vaccinated and who are masked — this includes families with young children. We have blocked every other pew for social distancing. I know your favorite regular place to sit may be on the window side, but if you are fully vaccinated, we ask you to leave the right side to those who need to social distance indoors for their safety. Of course, you may mask even if you are fully vaccinated. We fervently pray this is a temporary situation and we hope for the day when we do not have to sit in designated sides. Let’s all hang in there together.
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