As I end this second time among you, I find myself deeply grateful for your hospitality and warm welcome. The last three months have offered blessings that we will spend the next season of our lives counting. Charnley joins me in thanking you and your leadership team for another opportunity to serve!
I don’t believe in coincidence and live my life trusting that my journey always unfolds within a pattern of “Godincidence.” Often, in the moment I fail to appreciate that, but more often, these small miracles are revealed later.
That’s certainly true of our involvement with this congregation. Our daughter Joanna came to Ft. Collins as a graduate student many years ago. We visited her from New York City and later Naples, Florida and worshiped with you each time we were in town.
We came here because of my deep respect for your Senior Minister as a trusted colleague since both of us were serving important congregations in the United Church of Christ. Little did I realize then that this would lead to your invitation to become Hal’s Sabbatical Interim four years ago. I willingly accepted that assignment because working with you enabled deeper contact with our Ft. Collins family that now included a son-in-law and two delightful grandchildren who had made Plymouth their church home!
That time brought us into deeper relationship with this congregation and with members of your staff. I had the joy of serving then with some very talented ministers and staff members who have moved on to splendid new chapters in their careers and others who are still with you. Can I confess now that I had some role in mentoring Jake to seek and to embrace a more challenging opportunity? It was time for him to do that, and I encouraged him to further develop talents that the larger Christian community needs. You blessed him with a good beginning!
One thing I learned over the years is that great congregations nurture and support great staff teams and that key lay leaders play an important role in encouraging the work of a successful ministry team. That never happens perfectly because of our flawed humanity, but when it is happening, strengthened congregations are made stronger and more vital and leaders, lay and ministerial, are empowered rather than discouraged.
This time I have had the great honor of serving with Hal as part of your team in the limited role of Bridge Interim. This has been a beautiful experience watching and supporting a fine leader doing a difficult job.
The past twenty months of pandemic have turned most of what I understood about church leadership on its ear. Across the religious landscape, church conflict and staff transitions have multiplied and that is going to increase in the coming months. My son, who is a hospital administrator and psychiatrist in New York City reports that similar tensions exist in virtually all institutions, especially institutions charged with caring for others and supporting emotional, spiritual, and physical health. He suggests that we all need to treat one another with grace and patience. That’s a doctor’s order that needs to be closely followed!
I was not surprised that Plymouth has experienced some conflict. But instead of hiding it or ignoring it, your lay leaders, and your Senior Minister, engaged the best professionals available to seek solutions to the conflict, developed a new staffing plan and worked to re-conceive your mission vision as a congregation. At the same time, your leaders found a way to update your lighting, live-streaming and sound capabilities, bring the underutilized and often invisible creativity of the 6:00 pm worship experience to the 9:00 am hour giving it so much potential, hired an amazing person in Christian Education whose presence at Plymouth will nurture my grandchildren and all the children and youth in spectacular ways, took a science-based approach to worship and programming possibilities in these crazy times that include being flexible and nimble given the future’s uncertainties. I’m impressed!
And so, Charnley and I continue our journey with thankfulness, knowing that our family in Ft. Collins is part of a congregation of talented, faithful, and caring people who are in tune with the love of God and alive to new possibilities.
Thank you for allowing us to be with you!
Dr. Ron Patterson
Thank you for the warm welcome! I appreciate how kind everyone is, bearing with me while I learn all the new names and faces, which I may have to relearn when the masks come off.
Last week, Jane Anne compared the barrage of new information to drinking from a fire hose. And let me tell you, that is exactly how I am feeling. My head is so overstuffed with new information, it hurts – almost like I just took several pounds of water straight to the face. I am a little overwhelmed. Most of the week was full of “someone pinch me, I must be dreaming” moments as I celebrated this new and exciting community. However, the self-doubt gremlin would often creep in, and anxiety would overwhelm my excitement.
Then came Sunday, and out of the fire hose came an overwhelming outpouring of Love. I felt the Love of God through every welcome, every prayer, every song, every child, every student, and every person. It was a wonderful reminder that even though we may not know each other yet, God knows us all and will still lead us to Love. For some time now, God has been working on me and preparing me for Plymouth. I am so excited to be here, even if I am a little overwhelmed. When that little gremlin starts running its mouth again, I’m just going to blast it with the firehose of Love.
Wish me luck.
“No experience exists apart from the story we tell about it.”
Gareth Higgins, Ring Lake Ranch, 9/6/21
Last week Hal and I had the privilege to be with author, storyteller, and peacemaker, Gareth Higgins at Ring Lake Ranch, just south of Dubois, WY. Gareth is a native of Northern Ireland and grew up in Belfast during “the Troubles” of the 1980’s and 1990’s before the Peace Accord. By his own admission, he grew up with fear in an evangelical Protestant household that had family ties to Catholic relatives. And he was coming into to the realization that he was gay. He grew up with stories about life that engendered fear as well as with the threat of real danger. Throughout his young adulthood he worked in peacemaking efforts in Ireland and around the world. He became one of the founders of the progressive and post-evangelical Christian Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina where he completed a PhD in sociology and met his husband, Brian Ammons, an Alliance of Baptists (very progressive Baptists) pastor and an educator with his own PhD in education. This is part of the “outside” story of Gareth. We were privileged to learn some of Gareth’s and Brian’s “inside” story – that they are some of the warmest and most welcoming people you could ever meet, funny and full of joy, deep, compassionate listeners, incredible partners in the ministries that each of them has in the world, wise beyond their middle years, and both of them forces for peacemaking, violence reduction, the power of dreams and connection with the earth.
Last week was a week of great beauty in the wilderness of the Wind River Range of Wyoming where Ring Lake Ranch is situated in a beautiful valley with three lakes for fishing, many hiking trails and a stable full of horses for riding. I hope you can go there at some point to connect with the earth and to be part of the wonderful conference learning. However, my experience of the Ranch last week was not just centered around Gareth and Brian or the beauty of the setting. My experience was the delight of sinking into a “tribe” of creative people from all over the country eager to ask questions about deepening their faith, passionate about peacemaking in small and big ways in our fractious world, brimming with joy in their experiences of wilderness, and willing to share with vulnerability their personal fears and their fears in this time of pandemic, political division and climate crisis. We learned and laughed and cried and did dishes after each meal together, creating community from a group of people that had never met and would never be in same place together again, community that was precious and taught me about the kin-dom of God’s beloved community.
This week I return to work as one of your pastors and to the community of Plymouth. I bring a more rested mind, a more centered heart, and a desire to share with you the story that as fearful as things might be, we, too, can be vulnerable with one another as we create beloved community here in Fort Collins. The pandemic is not over. We are having to pivot daily it seems to create protocols and programming that creatively meets the challenges of keeping folks safe. We are ALL tired and frayed with the stress of this pandemic story we are living, tired of wearing masks that hide our expressive faces, tired of not meeting together in the ways in which we have always been accustomed. We are ALL a bit grumpy and anxious, some more than others – even your pastors! Our patience is waning. We have had a lot of staff change in the midst of one of the hardest years our culture and society has had to endure. And as a community we are facing having to embrace a tragedy in one of our families that most of us have never been confronted by, the incarceration of one of our youth for a violent crime. We are all shaken, unsettled, heartbroken in some way, and perhaps, feel alienated from our community even as we long for its sustenance and nurture.
We all feel the fearful loss of control over our lives in large or small ways. And that creates fear inside of us and among us. Fear is uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet, what if we tell a new story about our fears?
A wise and youngish man who continually faces his own fears and who has learned to tell the story of his fears through the lens of love said to Hal and I and the gathered community at Ring Lake Ranch last week, “No experience exists apart from the story we tell about it.” My dear Plymouth, how will we tell, and by telling, create our story of beloved community in these trying, exhausting, yet full of possibility, times?
With you on the journey,
PS! Join the Adult Forum team the next two Sundays, 9/19 and 26, as they explore with us themes from Gareth Higgins’ book How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live when Everything Seems Terrifying! And look for news about possible book study groups of this group coming later in the fall.
*Gareth Higgins, How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live when Everything Seems Terrifying, (Broadleaf Books, Minneapolis, MN: 2021, 33).
Image: J.A. Ferguson
Over the years I have been blessed to work with amazing colleagues. In larger congregations, an effective staff team makes all the difference and working as part of a team like that has been part of my pleasure in serving here at Plymouth for the second time! Thank you!
Four years ago, when I arrived as your Sabbatical Senior Minister, I had the great honor of welcoming Mark Heiskanen to your staff as the new Director of Music. What a joy to be able to renew that working relationship.
I freely confess that I worship in the music and these weeks have been a blessing. Every Sunday is a smorgasbord of hymns, choral selections and instrumental music that have comforted, challenged, enlightened, and carried the scripture and sermon message the pastors and particularly this pastor has sought to convey.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that most members of a given congregation have little idea how a worship service comes together, often viewing the morning worship service as a series of isolated pieces that are randomly strung together to make up the hour. While that might happen in some places, that has little to do with my experience and nothing to do with how that happens here or in the other amazing congregations where I have served.
Worship themes are often established months in advance through collaborative effort. Often the Season of the Church’s life or the Lectionary sets the theme. Then the tone for a given service is established in dialogue between the pastor and the musician. The best musicians choose music that not only carries the theme, but enlarges it, often using a prism that magnifies and adds color to the theme drawing on texts and tunes traditional and contemporary.
For example, on September 5, when I decided that I would focus on 9/11 in my sermon, Mark suggested several hymns and other musical selections. Then a fluid process with lots of dialogue began. My initial idea of using a piece of poetry written since 9/11 as a key worship component evolved as Jim Heaton, a Plymouth member, wisely suggested alternative poetry. The musical choices evolved in response to this suggestion. The service included music from contemporary selections to traditional but none of it was random or offered without reflection and serious thought.
The early service was non-traditional and the later service traditional, but both services flowed from a place of reflection and remembrance to affirmation. Both services concluded with the great praise tune AZMON (O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing), set to words by UCC pastor Miriam Winter, that present a powerful image of God’s reign of peace. In my mind it was an amazing Sunday, but more importantly it was a Sunday when the people you call to serve you did their best!
It may be no surprise to you that I have often received criticism about my hymn selections or the types of music I have encouraged partner musicians to perform. I came to accept those critics as people Jesus calls me to love, and to meet that criticism with a forthright expression of my goals in worship leadership and planning. (Just ask me—I’ll tell you why I did what I did that you didn’t happen to like!)
In good conscience I know I cannot be a pastor who uses the same dozen or so hymns repeatedly or tolerates safe chestnuts that don’t break any new ground just because someone (especially me!) likes them. At the same time, my goals as a worship leader need to reflect the call to respect and inclusivity that makes our tradition so remarkable! It’s all part of a creative process that is ongoing. Thank you all for the chance to serve again on the staff of this amazing congregation!
Rev. Ron Patterson
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.
Please welcome Plymouth's new Director of Christian Formation for Children and Youth, Brooklyn McBride!
Brooklyn, a native of Fort Collins, is a graduate of CSU with a BA in Journalism and Media Communication. She is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity degree in the online program of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Brooklyn brings to Plymouth experience in youth ministry and family ministries development along with her work experience in media, communications, and drama. She also brings her guitar and experience in worship leadership.
Brooklyn was outstanding among the candidates we interviewed, not only for her intellect, her great love of learning and her organization/planning gifts, but even more for her love of people, particularly those on the margins, such as LGBTQ+ youth, and her love for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As you get to know her, you will find that she is bubbly and fun as well as extremely thoughtful and an excellent listener. Brooklyn is married to Michael McBride, an apprentice electrician here in Fort Collins. They have two dogs, Diego, their big, lovable German shepherd mix and Teddy, their 8 week old, Briard-doodle puppy.
Please join the Christian Formation Board and Search Team in welcoming Brooklyn to Plymouth on Sunday, Sept. 19 after services.
Hal Chorpenning, Sr. Minister
Bruce Ronda, Leadership Council Moderator