Thanks and Preparation
Happy Thanksgiving from the clergy & staff of Plymouth!
Gratitude is foundational to our faith, and more than a single-day event. Yet taking one day to focus completely on being grateful allows us to Go Deeper in our thankfulness. (Note: the church office will be closed Thursday, November 28 and Friday, November 29.)
Then we transition to Advent, our preparation for the Nativity of Christ.
We encourage you to do what your life permits to set aside Advent from the lure of holiday madness. Consider doing the bulk of your shopping this weekend (including not only Black Friday/Cyber Monday but Small Business Saturday), so that you can look forward to the arrival of "Love, the Guest."
Here are some Advent resources you may choose to explore:
Advent Calendars to Color (from Praying in Color) - Meditative, individual/family (time commitment variable by day)
#AdventWord - Worldwide, participatory/social media (small time commitment): a global, online Advent calendar. Each day from the first Sunday of Advent through Christmas Day, #AdventWord offers meditations and images to inspire and connect individuals and a worldwide community of believers to the themes of Advent. At the link you can sign up for daily email or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. You may choose to participate by posting of photo that captures that word for you (please tag our Plymouth Facebook or Instagram pages so we can share them with others in the church), or just let the images inspire you. A ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Advent Conspiracy - Worldwide, social justice + worship focused (time commitment your choice): "Over a decade ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it – the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation... drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy.... An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration.The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest was often the hardest.... So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season."
May a blessed Advent be yours.
Plymouth Clergy & Staff
The pilgrim sets forth,
tethered to the past by unseen bonds of memory,
yet cloaked in hope,
afoot in sandals of determination,
trudging toward something new.*
This past Sunday a pilgrim came to us at Plymouth as our candidate for the full-time Associate Minister position. Her name is the Rev. Carla Cain. I am very grateful to say that she was welcomed warmly and the vote on her candidacy at the congregational meeting was overwhelmingly “Yes!” Thanks to all of you who were with us at the Meet and Greet time for Carla on Saturday, and all who were with us on Sunday to welcome her in worship and to welcome her onto our Plymouth staff! I look forward to working with her as a colleague. And I look forward to helping you get to know her as one of your pastors. Her first day on the job will be Sunday, December 15th, the third Sunday in Advent. I hope you will be at church that day! (If you are still catching up on this staff development, you can find info on Carla and her call as our full time Designated-Term Associate Minister here.)
The above description of being a pilgrim truly fits the feeling of coming to a new ministerial position. You come with your past experiences of ministry, with so many dear memories of past relationships with parishioners you have loved, of friends you have ministered with as a colleague. It is poignant, and a little scary, to leave these cherished and comfortable ways of being behind and to strike out into unknown territory. It is also exciting and “cloaked in hope” for the new relationships that will be established, the new forms of ministry that you will encounter, the new worship services you will lead, classes you will teach, sermons you will write. I can tell you from my experience of Carla that she does come with hope and determination to share the good news of God-with-us in Jesus the Christ here at Plymouth. She brings a hugely compassionate heart, a keen mind, a great sense of humor and a spirit deeply in touch with the Spirit. She is equipped to encourage us and to challenge us as we continue to go deeper in faith and in expanding the realm of God’s love and justice here in northern Colorado.
Being a pilgrim is not limited to those of us in professional ministry. We are ALL pilgrims on the way in life. How is your life like the pilgrim described in Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen’s quote above? What “new” journey are you setting out on this week? It could be large or small. Either is significant. How do the “unseen bonds of memory” tether you? Do they ground you with confidence? Or are they holding you back? What gives you hope this day? What is woven together in the cloak of hope that protects you on the journey? Where are you determined to go? Baby steps count on the journey! Who are your companions as you “trudge toward something new?”
You know what I will say next, right? You are not alone! God is always with you on your journey. God comes, bidden and unbidden, to trudge along side each of us. Sometimes in the presence of prayer, sometimes in the presence of a single soul friend, sometimes in the presence of community. At Plymouth we all come to worship each week as pilgrims, with cherished and not so cherished memories of the past, with cloaks of hope that may need repair or may be large enough to share. We come trudging with determination to be together in God’s presence and to welcome all who may to stop by on their journey to worship with us. Thanks be to God for the journey!
With you in Spirit,
PS If you are interested in the Visual Theology Pilgrimage to Italy that Hal and I are leading in April 2020 visit this page! The sign up deadline is November 30th.
* Poetic description written by Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen for the artwork of Kristi Ylvisaker which is inspired by the poetry of Denise Levertov; From the cover of Faith@Work magazine, Spring 2008.
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
Waiting and Welcoming
This Saturday, you have the opportunity to meet a wonderful woman; The Rev. Carla Cain is the person we’ve been waiting for as Plymouth’s Designated-Term Pastor. It has seemed like a very long stretch between Jake’s departure on August 1, but it’s only been four months! My staff colleagues and I have been trying to keep all the plates spinning in the meantime, and I offer my thanks to them!
The Search Committee I’ve been privileged to chair includes Denise Morrison, Sara Myers, Curtis Wray, and Harmony Tucker. We have done an incredible amount of soul-searching discernment and flat-out work that included reviewing 15 applicant profiles and conducting eight interviews by Zoom teleconference. We brought two finalists to Fort Collins on two weekends that began with dinner on Friday evening, and a Saturday packed with breakfast meetings, interviews with the committee, drinks with available staff members, and dinner with the committee on Saturday. Both finalists were also able to be a “fly on the wall” and observe our 9:00 service. Kudos to our searchers!
Now, it is your turn, fellow members of Plymouth! You’ve read about Carla in a special email from the search committee and now you have the opportunity to meet Carla in a less-formal setting this Saturday, November 16, from noon to 2:00 p.m. at Plymouth. And then attend our single service on Sunday at 11:00 and our Congregational Meeting immediately following. Please make every effort to be with us this Sunday: It will be great to ALL of our members worshiping in one place at one time!
A colleague once remarked, “You’ve never really been welcomed into a church until you’ve been welcomed as a pastor,” and I remember how warm Plymouth’s welcome was to me in 2002. This is when we “kill the fatted calf” and help someone transition into ministry among us: getting to know her gifts and graces, offering a hand with settling in, helping her get acquainted with Fort Collins, inviting her to a meal. Pending a favorable vote on Sunday, Carla will start at Plymouth on December 15!
See you on Sunday!
P.S. And on Monday, November 18 please join us at 7:00 p.m. for a screening of a new documentary, American Heretics, in our sanctuary. The film deals with Progressive Christianity in the Bible Belt and features Mayflower Congregational UCC in Oklahoma City. You can see a preview by clicking here!
P.P.S. If you still need to pledge, you can do so online.
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.
This I Know
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
“In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.” ― George Orwell, 1984
“What is truth?” --Pontius Pilate in John 18:38
As the country’s political crisis intensifies, the battle is not only in congressional hearing rooms but on our televisions, news magazines and computer feeds. Amid the blizzard of claims and counter claims, one charge is wielded as a seeming high card: “That’s just fake news!” Conversation stops, there is no deposit of agreed facts to argue from, what’s the point? Does the one who can pay for the loudest ads win?
While it is easy to blame one partisan side or another for this development, it is a reflection of trends for which we carry some responsibility. We have sown the wind of skepticism and reaped the whirlwind of a world that rejects the reality of any truth. In justified reaction to religious backgrounds that were dogmatic, very sure that they had the capital-T Truth to the exclusion and persecution of other points of view, we have often come close to denying that there is any truth at all. We see that truth is often an exercise of power, that “The one with the gold makes the rules,” and that religious truth claims are often used as an absolute sanction against women, glbtq+ people, racial and ethnic minorities, and freethinkers. We also know that God is not containable in human words or experience, that God extends beyond our imagination and concepts, and seems to have a keen allergy to being put in a box.
So our usual response has been to be extremely tentative about saying anything specific about God. We are more comfortable talking about social ethics, subjective experience, and the things that make for comfortable community. God fades into the background as a vague symbol, the church becomes “a helpful social institution filled with nice people,”, and the main purpose of religion is to feel OK about ourselves and our tribe (Kendra Dean, Almost Christian). Theological knowledge is seen as essentially unknowable, that arguments for or against particular doctrines are hopelessly infected with political bias, and we are better working out our thoughts in the privacy of our own minds. We are not atheists nor agnostics; we pray “To Whom It May Concern” for healing even while we have qualms about the idea of G*d intervening in human affairs. It is safer to focus on social ethics as something external, this-worldly and practical, but there we are even more vulnerable to charges of making our own political opinions into something divine. Do we really aspire to no more than to be “The Democratic party at prayer?” (Which is a gloss on an old saying regarding a sister denomination being “The Republican Party at prayer.” The issue of political tribes driving religious sorting is a topic for another time but is part of the decline of the church as a social institution where people learn live with and love the civic Other.)
I suggest that we work at reclaiming the idea of Truth, starting with our willingness to articulate theological truth. While we cannot comprehend all of God, we can know some things truly. Theology can be hard and the church has a unique vocabulary – but the same can be said for calculus, gardening, tax accounting, psychology, auto mechanics, fly-fishing and myriad other disciplines we pursue. While we cannot entirely escape self-interested motivations, the generally shared Christian ethics of love of neighbor, self-sacrificial love, that all persons are made in God’s image, and knowing that we ourselves are not God can go a long way towards taming our lust for political power. We need not have theological certainty, we live our whole lives in spheres of probability and working hypotheses. We dress appropriately for 60% chance of snow, we agree to a medical procedure with an 80% chance of success, and we invest for the future based on our best extrapolations from prior year’s earnings. We fall in love and vow “’Til death do us part,” not knowing the twists, disappointments and tragedies of life to come; we raise children in hope and fear and trust that our best will be good enough and that they will surmount our inevitable mistakes.
In the religious sphere, we baptize babies trusting that God will be faithful to the church now as God has for twenty centuries, youth confirm their journey of faith not knowing how much wonder and weirdness lies beyond the circle of knowledge they already have, we walk the labyrinth of discipleship sometimes faithful and sometimes failing, and we lay our saints to rest trusting their soul to a God who is Love. We dig into the Bible and tradition and human experience knowing that smarter, more spiritual, and more dedicated people than we have been blessed and stumped by these same texts; we stand on the shoulders of giants (and sometimes need to kick them in the shins). Start with what you know you know, then push along the edges of that sphere of knowledge. Envision blowing up a balloon; as the sphere increases, there’s more inside which you know. But paradoxically, there is even more surface engaging the rest of the universe – as you know more, you realize that the area you don’t know is even greater!
This is what we mean by “living the questions.” The famous Rainer Maria Rilke quote we like so much isn’t an invitation to live forever in the questions, but to see them as part of a larger process. “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves,” he writes. “Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them, And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer” (From Letter 4, Letters to a Young Poet). The questions are a necessary part of the journey, and one that many adults at Plymouth engage with gusto, but they are a tool for living towards working hypotheses, useful probabilities, and a considered faith. “The point is to live everything” not to be agnostic. Faith has not much to do with what we know or not, but how we trust the goodness of God and that we are increasingly aligned with God’s project in this universe.
“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad” (George Orwell, 1984). This is how we rehabilitate the idea of Truth – not letting it be hijacked by those who think they have it in all completeness, but also not surrendering it to those who would replace it with the propaganda of the day. We claim the core things we do know and proclaim them loudly in a world that claims might makes right, defiles the image of God in different people, and denies that love is stronger than hate. We repudiate charges of “fake news” that are based on power, but reason from data that is open to discussion and debate. Maybe that will help us deepen our relationship with the One who Pilate didn’t recognize when he scoffed, “What is truth?” -- the One on whose lips the church heard, “I am the Truth.”
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Mark recently celebrated his tenth anniversary as Plymouth’s Director of Christian Formation for Adults. He also serves as chair of the Platte Valley Associations’ Committee on Ministry.