I am a lover of lists. I see them as a two-dimensional external hard drive of the brain—order out of chaos. And as a fan of David Letterman, I of course gravitated to his Top Ten List bit. A seemingly neurotic impulse gone mainstream! So it only makes sense to end this year simply and naturally (everything this year wasn’t!) and include my own Top Ten List of Pandemic-Induced Reflections and Retrofits, Though Perhaps Somewhat Perversely Gained.
10. The glory of being an introvert (the whole planet now has a taste!)
9. The back burner of reconnecting with other styles of music come alive in Wednesday Vespers
8. The return of composition and arranging expressed, again, in Wednesday Vespers
7. As the band Depeche Mode sang years ago, “Enjoy the Silence.” Really, enjoy it!
6. Connecting more personally with individual singers and musicians in our live streams
5. Relishing the advantage of a broken organ and spending more time with my old friend—the piano
4. Embracing the “New Tradition”: an eclectic blend of ancient and new
3. The freedom of worship styles: adaptation mixed with intentional diversity
2. Absence breeds appreciation: the return of communal worship in 2021!
1. Adaptation is innate if one allows discomfort and inconvenience to subside
See you on the other side…in 2021!
Director of Music/Organist
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.
In December 2019, Carla started her two-year designated term pastorate at Plymouth. She spent the last 5 years consulting with churches on strategic planning, conflict transformation and visioning. Before going to seminary she volunteered at her church through Stephen Ministry, visiting ministries and leading worship services at a memory care unit and a healthcare facility. Learn more about Carla here.
When the LORD changed Zion's circumstances for the better, it was like we had been dreaming.
2Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter; our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them!"
3Yes, the LORD has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed.
4LORD, change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert waste!
5Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
6Let those who go out, crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts, carrying bales of grain!
Today’s reading in our Advent devotional book, Those Who Dream, invites us to contemplate Psalm 126 in word and in an abstract visual that depicts the ripples of the Negeb river flowing through parched desert land, the tears of the people’s pain sowed in exile and the seeds of new life sown when God restored their dreaming and their fortunes. This week we can see some glimmers of restoration in the midst of our pandemic exiles as the first vaccines are administered here in our country. Thanks Be to God!
Throughout these last nine months we have persevered in dreaming God’s dreams of justice and love and in “Being Church” as we came together:
Thank you!!! Thank you for continuing to “Be the Church!” even in the midst of all the pain and frustration and fear of our world. We may sow in tears, but we also reap in laughter, love and God’s abundance. Sowing the seeds of God’s presence in our world and reaping the reward of relationship is holy work for all seasons. It is particularly poignant during the darkness and waiting and preparation of Advent.
Many blessings as we keep on keeping on “Being the Church” and following Jesus on the Way.
With you on the journey,
P.S. There are many Christmastide events coming up! See them at plymouthucc.org/events.
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
Advent is the season of waiting, something I’ve never been particularly fond of or adept at doing. This Advent, however, occurs in the midst of a global season of waiting. So, it is like waiting squared. Are we Christians really waiting for Jesus to return to earth in any corporeal way? Some do, some don’t. It isn’t really a big part of my theology…I figure that the historical Jesus (who lived and taught in the 1st century) gave us fairly clear instructions to be co-creators of the kingdom of God, we humans just haven’t been compliant, so far.
Is that what we’re waiting for, or is it something perhaps less dramatic, but every bit as profound? (I’ll be preaching on that this Sunday, so tune in at 10:00 or the next day on our website!)
We are waiting for a lot of other things to fall into place right now: waiting for vaccine approval…for vaccine production…for vaccine distribution… to see our friends…waiting to see our families… to be back in our church home… to sing (outside the shower and in the company of others)… to give big hugs… to venture into the store… to have a beer together at the brewpub…to go back to the gym and the pool…to start a new job after being laid off…to have some relief in making rent payments…to have a sense of normalcy in our everyday routine…to have friends over for dinner…to travel..to have the occupant of the White House admit defeat. Some time we are going to get the good news that we’ve turned the corner in dealing with Covid-19.
The pandemic has caused us to wait, but not everything has been delayed. We still have a relationship with God. We continue to worship. We continue to be in touch with family and friends, even if it’s through a phone call or a Zoom connection. We have ongoing work to do, personally and vocationally.
One of the things you may have thought you had to postpone (but that I encourage you not to delay) is the experience of joy. This is different than being happy or satisfied or contented or jovial. Joy is a deeper emotion that plays more in the heart than it does in the mind. Most of us aren’t exactly joyful that we got a new iPhone for Christmas…but we are joyful in seeing a sister or brother or child or grandchild on FaceTime or Zoom. Most of us don’t experience joy when we get a positive report card in school, but we do experience joy when we see a stunning sunrise. Where do you experience joy that wraps together wonder and love and a sense of the numinous, a glow that opens up beyond your own, individual experience?
I invite you to open your heart to the possibility of encountering joy in this season, to look for the footprints of the divine in your everyday life. And when you have that experience, to see it as a glimmer of the Christlight in your midst. And to see this as joyful good news – Joyeux Noël!
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.
When I took over as Plymouth’s Interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth back in August, one of the first things I received was an invitation to join a committee to help plan the 2020 version of one of Plymouth’s longest-lasting and most beloved traditions: the Neighbor to Neighbor Homelessness Prevention Sleepout. As someone who participated in this event every year as a high schooler, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help make this year’s Sleepout a transformative experience for our youth and a successful fundraiser for Neighbor to Neighbor, which provides emergency rental assistance to help Northern Colorado families stay in their homes during times of financial hardship. However, I was also very aware that pulling off an event like the Sleepout in the midst of a pandemic would be no small feat.
The Sleepout is a tradition that thrives on community: working together to construct shelters out of cardboard boxes that will (hopefully) survive the night; participating in a community vigil; sharing a soup supper; and falling asleep knowing that inside every box strewn across the Plymouth lawn is another person who is just as cold as you are. At its core, the Sleepout is an exercise in solidarity, both with the other youth and adults braving a cold December night and with the homeless individuals in our community who face these conditions every day. So, in this year of social distancing and redefining what it means to be in community, the team of youth and adults planning the Sleepout have had to get a bit more creative than usual in order to find ways to prioritize health and safety while keeping the communal spirit of this event alive.
Thankfully, our Sleepout Committee was not short on creativity and a willingness to think outside the box! Can’t host the traditional community vigil because of the need for social distancing? No problem, we’ll just create our own drive-in movie theatre in the Plymouth parking lot and invite members of the community to watch a pre-recorded vigil from their individual cars. Can’t have a large gathering of youth all sleeping out on the lawn at Plymouth? That’s okay, we’ll provide the boxes and materials to allow the youth to construct a shelter and sleep out at their own homes. No way to host an in-person educational session to help our youth delve deeper into the complexities of housing insecurity and homelessness? Good thing we’ve all spent the past eight month perfecting our Zoom skills so we can host the educational sessions virtually instead!
This year has certainly provided us all with our fair share of lessons, and one of my biggest personal takeaways is an increased appreciation for the unique opportunities that can arise from challenging circumstances. We have all been forced to rise to the occasion and redefine the ways that we work, study, socialize, and worship, and at the Sleepout on December 5, we’ll have the opportunity to redefine one of our most beloved church traditions!
For more information about this year’s Sleepout or to make a donation, visit plymouthucc.org/sleepout
If you are interested and able, we would love to have you join us for a drive-in style community vigil in the Plymouth parking lot at 5:30pm this coming Saturday, December 5.
Alli Stubbs is our interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth. Read more