Pride Booth Bearing witness to our deepest values and having a ton of fun at NoCo’s 2023 Pride Fest! More pictures on our Gallery Page. Do you recognize Plymouth's favorite flute player? (Hint)
Youth Pilgrimage Brooklyn McBride (Dir. of Christian Formation for Children & Youth) and 18 youth and 4 other adults from Plymouth and First Congregational in Greeley spent most of a week on pilgrimage in Crestone, CO and Santa Fe, NM. Read all about it in her post.
Summer Choir The first Summer Choir anthem was offered on July 9. Watch this brief clip (link to full version at end of clip) to hear them. There are two more opportunities on 7/30 and 8/20.
Plymouth Gives Day Can you believe it? Our Plymouth Gives Day total is $77,827. Of the 147 individuals and families who gave, 16% are from the broader group of supporters beyond our regular pledgers.
This past Sunday, I preached on the Parable of the Sower [Matthew 13]. Many of you know this parable, and I have preached it on more than one occasion in different contexts. For this week, I linked the idea of the soil and the seed that we sow to the interconnectedness of all creation.
Many weeks when I preach, I talk with my good friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Mandy Todd. Mandy is also a co-host with me on the Jesus Has Left the Building, podcast that we co-created during the global pandemic. We obviously love to ‘process’ exciting ideas together. She preaches every week at a Lutheran nursing home in Kansas. This week we discussed this parable, and we both aligned with the idea that all of God’s creation matters.
I wanted to share a bit of what she shared with her community: She said, “But for me, the thing that has really stuck with me this week is a conversation we had about the seeds that fell on the path. The parable begins first with seeds that fall on a path, and the birds come and immediately eat them up. If you don’t think too hard, you can just forget about those seeds. The seeds disappeared with the birds who fly away.
"But, if you think just a little bit about those seeds, things start to get complicated. Birds are incredibly important to our ecological world, because they spread seeds all around the world through - you guessed it - their poop. They eat seeds, and the seeds pass through their systems. In fact, moving through a bird’s digestive system gives seeds a dose of fertilizer high in nitrogen, which can help fuel growth. Some plants, like the wild cherry and bird cherry have evolved their dispersal strategies to become dependent on birds, requiring that their seeds pass through a bird’s digestive system to prepare for germination. Huh, that seed on the path takes on a different meaning when you think about it for a second.”
Following my sermon on Sunday, I passed out a few tiny bottles of poppy seeds. My hope was that these seeds would be a ritual or even a prayer to all of creation and to the justice issue of climate change. I sowed my seeds into the feeding trough planter on my front porch and into the rocks onto the side of my house as a prayer for climate change justice.
Lastly, if you have an interest in climate change and planting seeds [no matter where they may fall] consider joining the Climate Action Ministry Team. This team is working on the United Church of Christ designation. To learn more about the designation check this out: UCC Creation Justice Link
For the better part of the last week, I have been on a pilgrimage with 18 youth and 4 other adults from Plymouth and Greeley First Congregational. The idea for this trip was born out of last year’s Confirmation class and my experience in my Pilgrimage class at Iliff. Our time was equal parts experiential learning, spiritual practicing, and (not enough) sleeping. We learned from and served with different communities in search of new or different expressions of the Divine Mystery. Ultimately, our hope was to foster deeper experiences of God for all participants on the trip. Now, I want to share some highlights of what we did.
Thursday We drove down to Crestone, where we were greeted with extravagant hospitality from Rev. Melissa and the Little Shepherd in the Hills Episcopal Church. We learned that Crestone is a town of 120 people, settled in Colorado’s geographically largest but demographically poorest Saguache county. Crestone is a funky little place, with no stoplights or restaurants and dozens of spiritual or religious centers. Decades ago, Crestone donated their land to religious communities who promised to show the world a better way of neighboring, and it became the spiritual hub it is today. Half of us slept in Little Shepherd’s historic log cabin chapel, and the other half slept in their fellowship hall. They let us use their kitchen, and all 23 of us shared their single bathroom.
After settling in, we went to the Tashi Gomang Stupa. There are at least seven Stupas around Crestone, but this one is the largest and highest Stupa, offering beautiful views of the San Luis valley and a reverent meditative atmosphere. We learned about how people from the nearby Zen Center hike up to the Stupa each morning for meditation.
Later that night, we hiked up to the Crestone Ziggurat for some stargazing. The Ziggurat had been built in the 70s by the father of the Queen of Jordan to be a place for personal prayer and meditation. The night we were there was clear and stunning. Many of our students had never seen that many stars. Personally, I’ve only seen the Milky Way that clearly a small handful of times.
Question: if we started each day with such intentional practice, how would it change the way we live our whole lives?
Friday First thing in the morning, we went to visit the MahaLakshmi Temple. Again, we were embraced with radical hospitality. We learned about their daily fire ceremony, engaged in some community service - cleaning, strawberry-picking, carrying fire wood, shop-keeping - and they fed us both breakfast and lunch. The fresh strawberries at lunch were just magical. One student said they tasted like sunshine. After spending a good deal of time with the community there, I was struck by their devotion to daily worship, spiritual practice, and universal welcome.
We left the Lakshmi temple and went straight to visit the volunteers at the Crestone End of Life Project. They run the only open air funeral pyre in the country. This project and these people deal with death in a way that is altogether sacred, celebrant, reverent, and joyful. At the end of my life, I just might move to Crestone so that I can be sent off by COELP.
Question: how can our churches embody the same radical engagement and nuanced approach to life and death?
Saturday We spent the morning packing, cleaning, and working in Little Shepherd’s community garden. Several of the church members came to teach us how to garden. We prepped buckets of produce for the community food bank. One of Melissa’s congregants donated some of their local beef, and we used that and greens from the garden to make a taco bar for lunch. We offered our thanks and our goodbyes. Then we hit the road for Santa Fe, where we enjoyed an authentic New Mexican dinner at Tomasita’s before getting to the United Church of Santa Fe.
United is a UCC church that started in the 80s, and Rev. Talitha Arnold has been with them almost since their beginning. She welcomed us in with a tour of the building, teaching us about how they have intentionally created their sacred church spaces to center the natural sacred environment of Santa Fe. They have a water feature in their sanctuary, which is adorned with wood and adobe bricks and bright windows. A walking path takes you all the way around the church, where they have several different spaces dedicated to outdoor worship services.
Question: how do our sacred spaces and practices connect us to our environment?
Sunday We joined United for an outdoor communion service. Some of our students got to read different parts of the liturgy. Immediately following, we were invited to watch their summer choir rehearse, which was a total gift. Together, we reflected on how United is different from Plymouth and First Cong Greeley. Rev. Talitha offered a sermon that encouraged us to find God in the Body of Christ, that is, the people of God who are the Church.
That afternoon, we explored Meow Wolf. One of our students was able to crack the entire story - and if you’re familiar with Meow Wolf, you know that takes some work and lots of imagination. When we got back to the church, we journaled about finding the sacred in the creative artistry of that exhibit.
Question: where are the most unexpected places that you have found God?
Monday The Poeh Cultural Center tells the story of the Tewa People, the Spanish and Catholic colonization of New Mexico, and the Pueblo Revolution - the first fight for freedom in North America. This story is not told in many of our history books, but it gives important context for the cultural and religious landscape that today’s America was built on. Later, when we visited the Santa Fe Plaza, we were standing on the same ground where the Pueblo Revolution was won. Their story was told through native art like paintings, clothing, pottery, clay figures, and animation.
After our time with the people at the Poeh Cultural Center, we made it to the Santuario at Chimayo. The students described this place as “heavy” and “peaceful.” There are photos and crosses and candles all over the grounds, each representing thousands of prayers. The dirt is holy. And again, there was art everywhere - statues, stained glass, mosaics, paintings, and wood figures to name a few. We learned about Guadalupe and saw how Chimayo is a spiritual pilgrimage place for Vietnamese, Native, Mexican, and Western Christians.
That evening, we visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. These grounds were also fully decorated with statues, mosaics, and stunning architecture. Through the whole day, especially following some of the religious motifs I had noticed at Meow Wolf the day before, I was moved by the devotion, care, and attention given toward creating and maintaining the beauty of these spaces.
Question: where do we see our Creator in what we create?
Tuesday We packed up and cleaned up first thing in the morning. United is one of the most simply beautiful churches I have ever got to spend time in, and we were so grateful to have their hospitality. We loaded up and visited the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market before hitting the road.
There are plenty of other things I didn’t write about here - we went to the Sand Dunes, swam in some pools, danced downtown, and ate SO much good food. We also spent time each day doing contemplative practices together. Arguably, the most important aspect of a pilgrimage is the communitas - and these students built a special community that laughed and played and screamed and cried and prayed and will be with them for a long time.
Thank you, Plymouth, for making experiences like this possible. We are cultivating a beautiful future Church.
Statue of American educator and author Katharine Lee Bates outside of the Falmouth Public Library in Falmouth, Massachusetts. By Midnightdreary - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
You may not know that Colorado College was founded in 1874 by the Congregational Conference of Colorado (now the Rocky Mountain Conference UCC). Its first faculty member and principal was the Rev. Jonathan Edwards of Dedham, Mass., a Congregational minister who also founded First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs that same year. (Clearly an underachiever!)
In the summer of 1893, and several members of the faculty of Colorado College arranged an ascent of Pikes Peak… without benefit of the funicular railway. Their journey took them first by prairie wagon and then by mule. “I was very tired,” recalls one teacher from New England, “But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with sealike expanse.” How many of us have seen the incredible view and failed to be moved?
The impact of having seen the vista that day prompted Katherine Lee Bates to write a poem, “America the Beautiful,” which we sang in church last Sunday. The poem was first published in 1895 in The Congregationalist, a weekly paper based in Boston.
Bates was born on Cape Cod in Falmouth, where her father was a Congregational minister. He died shortly after his daughter’s birth, and Bates was raised by her mother and aunt, both of whom had graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary (now College), and they steeped Katherine in literature. When she was 17 she entered Wellesley College and four years later, in 1880 was part of their second graduating class. She spent a year at Oxford University and returned to serve on the faculty at Wellesley.
Bates had seen the impacts of urban poverty in the United States and Britain and was part of the Social Gospel movement, a dominant part of Protestant theology between the Civil War and up through the First World War. The movement sought to connect the teachings of Jesus with the social problems of the industrial age and the income disparity of the Gilded Age. The later stanzas of the poem reflect some of that theology: “God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law! … O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!”
We certainly have “flaws” to mend, and we can play a part in “liberating strife,” but to do that, we will need to love our nation, indeed God’s world, more than ourselves. As we celebrate Independence Day this year, may we commit to becoming a more civil society that turns toward justice and the common good.
P.S. Plymouth Gives Day is coming in less than a week (on July 10)! Think about how God fills your cup and how you might share than abundance.