Once more, I’m at his desk! As most of you know, Hal is beginning a well-deserved Sabbatical and like the proverbial bad penny, I have turned up again to help, or at least do no harm for the next three months.
I will be here and available to work with your leaders and with all of you as you begin another program year in the life of this amazing collection of God’s people.
I will be with you on Sunday mornings, in some meetings, and in the office on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday or as needed. I will be working half-time with your staff and with all of you as together we seek to follow the way of Jesus.
You can reach me at 970-482-9212 x119 (forwards to my cell) or use the contact form.
For those of you who have not met me, let me reintroduce myself. Charnley, my spouse, and I live in Tacoma, WA. We are active in a small UCC congregation on a nearby island. I teach Sunday School and Charnley chairs the Christian Education committee and leads adult education classes. We are both active in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC. I am on the Board of Directors, and she is on the committee that guides people in the process of becoming an ordained minister. We retired to Tacoma from Naples UCC in Naples, Florida where I had been Senior Minister for 13 years. I am Pastor Emeritus of that congregation. I spent most of my 43 years of active ministry serving in large congregations. Charnley is a retired Systems Analyst and keeps up her computer skills by helping our home congregation with their technology.
Together, we have four children and five grandchildren. One of our children, Joanna Lemly, is a Plymouth member. With our son-in-law Duncan and two grandchildren they participate regularly in the life of the congregation and are the reason we visit Ft. Collins every year.
My time-off activity in Fort Collins is weaving at Lambspun, a local yarn and craft store. I plan to learn more about overshot weaving during the coming few months and to make a few special Christmas gifts for family and friends. Charnley joins me there as she develops her talents as a knitter.
Five years ago, I shared with you that I regard myself as a “work in progress.” I believe that God is never finished with any of us and that finding bread for the journey is why we are together. I find great joy in being with people and listening. I love to tell stories and learn the stories of the people I meet. I believe that congregations nurture ministers to excellence and that preaching is important. I have the idea that mission in all forms is the reason for the church’s existence and that if we get the mission correct, almost everything else works out.
I am thrilled to be with you until mid-November. I look forward to spending time with as many of you as possible, working with your excellent leaders and staff and serving as your Interim Sabbatical Senior Minister. I welcome your visits, invitations, and phone calls.
From Our Pandemic Team
In the past two weeks the county status related to Covid has gone back to green; therefore, we are going back to a mask-friendly policy and will also allow food/drink inside.
Please continue to social distance when in the sanctuary or other areas of the church, as this helps curb the spread of Omicron.
Our Pandemic Team will continue to monitor the county statistics and follow the advice of the health department representative who is helping us. As always, online church is available and encouraged for those who are high risk.
Blessings on your week!
Mel Huibregtse, Chair
Have you ever asked yourself this question? I have. I am guessing many of you have as well. Perhaps, because of personal doubt. And doubt is good, by the way. Or perhaps, because you have seen and heard things done in the name of Christianity that are deeply disturbing and not at all in line with your faith ethics as a Christian. Or perhaps, you have encountered the shadow side of Christian history in the crusades, the Inquisition and in the way European colonialism treated indigenous people and in the silencing of women voices. Or perhaps, you grew up in a tradition of Christianity that was rigid in its dogma, in its social and scientific views, a tradition that did not tolerate questions of its particular Christian tenets. All of the above experiences can prompt one to ponder, “I love the ways of Jesus….but not all the ways of his followers! Should I stay Christian?”
Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned is the provocative title of Brian McLaren’s newest book. Discussion of this book will be the center piece of Plymouth’s Adult Formation Study Groups this fall. Here is an excerpt from the book jacket to tease your interest:
“Do I Stay Christian? Publicly addresses the powerful question that surprising numbers of people – including pastors, priests, and other religious leaders – are asking in private. Brian McLaren does not urge Christians to dig in their heels, nor does he warn them to run for the exit. Instead, he combines his own experience with that of thousands of people who have confided in him over the years to help readers make a responsible, honest, ethical decision about their religious identity. According to McLaren, there is a way to say both yes and no to the question of staying Christian by shifting the focus from whether we stay Christian to how we stay human.”
My hope is to have at least two discussion groups each week – one on Sunday mornings and one on a midweek evening, in person or on Zoom. Groups will run nine weeks from the second week in September to the second week in November. I am looking for a set of volunteers to lead these groups. Each group can have 2-3 leaders. The schedule will be to read 3-4 chapters each week….they are short chapters! McLaren has an excellent short appendix that will help us read and co-lead book discussions. Very doable! Please let me know if you are willing to help as a discussion leader! Download tips for reading and Weekly Chapter Schedule. Sign-ups for each discussion group will be coming soon.
AND as a member of one of these discussion groups, you are invited
to an hour-long Zoom session with the author, Brian McLaren
at 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, September 25, 2022!
I have found this book to be challenging, enlightening, and oddly comforting in my own questioning. I hope you will join me in reading it and participate in one of our book discussions this fall. I think the discovery, discussions and discernment coming out of this book study will be a welcome catalyst as Plymouth creates its future as Beloved Community committed to the activity of God in northern Colorado.
With you on the journey!
P.S. You can get Do I Stay Christian? from the Center for Contemplation and Action, Amazon, or from Brian McLaren's website.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
As the Psalmist says, there is a great thirst in the human soul
for connection with the Divine, for a deeper relationship with God.
It is through this deepening relationship with God
that Christians experience transformation
from lives focused elsewhere
to lives of loving God and all of God’s creation,
including others and ourselves.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
For many, many years Adult Christian Formation has been a jewel in Plymouth’s crown of ministries. The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee served as our Adult Director of Christian Formation for eleven years before going back into full-time pastoral ministry in June 2020. Before him came the Rev. Julie Mavity-Maddelena and Alice Clark. Robust Adult Christian Formation has been vital at Plymouth since way before Rev. Hal Chorpenning became Senior Minister and that was 20 years ago now! It is a hallmark of our faith community of worship, learning and service.
When Mark Lee left us, it was the height of the pandemic lockdown. All of the Adult Formation programming was on Zoom: Zoom Adult Forums on Sunday mornings and Zoom study groups during the week. At that time, Plymouth added 8 hours to my 20 hour a week schedule to lead adult formation study group programming. Hal took on staff liaison work with the Visiting Scholar Team. We have been attempting to fill Mark’s shoes ever since. Big shoes to fill! Mark was paid for 16 hours a week; but I know he regularly put in 20, at least. Hal and I do not have an extra 10 hours a piece on top of ministerial duties. Still, Plymouth managed to keep things going throughout these crazy years of pandemic programming, even hosting two wonderful Visiting Scholar weekends on Zoom in 2020-2021. We made it through because of so many lay volunteers. MANY, MANY THANKS
As most of you know, I will be retiring from parish ministry at the end of February 2023. And I want to leave Plymouth with the infrastructure for continuing its long-standing, robust Adult Christian Formation programming. At this point, our staffing plans at Plymouth do not include another Director of Adult Christian Formation due to budget concerns. Our ministerial staff will be back to two full-time ministers after I leave and there is no room in their job portfolios for hands-on adult formation leadership.
So …. what is up with Adult Formation programming now?! We are rebuilding!
How will it continue? With the guidance of the Christian Formation Board and with YOUR HELP! Lay organizational leadership will be imperative to keep Adult Formation up and running. I am working with the CF Board to organize one new ministry team, reorganize another and support a third existing one so Adult Formation programming will continue with high standards even with less staff input. The two full-time ministers will be available for content consultation.
Here is the proposed plan:
And….plans are in the works for this coming fall. There will be Adult Forum and at least one study group on Sunday mornings and perhaps more study groups during the week. I am hoping to gather two groups at different times to study Brian McLaren’s new book, Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, the Disillusioned. (I am almost finished with the book. It is inspiring and enlightening!) And Brian will be with those study groups for an hour of online consultation on Sunday afternoon, September 25! More on Brian McLaren and the fall Adult Formation programming in next week’s reflection! Stay tuned!
And with you on the journey,
* A Huge Thanks to all the volunteers who have sustained Adult Christian Formation since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020. Mea Culpa for anyone I forgot!!
2020-2021 Visiting Scholar Team
Pat Slentz, chair
Adult Forum Team
Book Study Volunteers
Sara and Peter Mullarkey
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. She will be retiring in February, 2023.
"Never place a period where God has placed a comma." – Grace Allen
This was the key quote in my recent sermon titled “Comma Faith.” Gracie Allen left this note for her surviving spouse, George Burns, to discover after her death. George was 68 when Gracie died. She wanted him to live on and indeed he did live on, vitally, for another 32 years.
I've gotten several positive comments about this sermon so I'd like to share a little further about the importance of this image, this metaphor, this understanding of faith in the United Church of Christ. A comma faith is important for the necessary evolution of faith and for the persistence of hope in the face of the difficult.
While it's not exclusive to the UCC, a comma faith is essential to our evolution and we have at times excelled in it (as well as failed). I believe this comma faith is the reason that we have on many occasions been able to see, as John Robinson told his Pilgrim followers in 1620 before they sailed to North America, that “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from God's holy word.” So the UCC and its ancestors of faith have been first in many important moments of social and theological evolution, enough times that I couldn't read them all during the sermon. (Read the list here.) I value this greatly in the UCC.
And a comma faith is also important during times like these of great anxiety and foreboding, whether in our personal lives or our shared life as a church, nation, or world. Here’s one experience of mine where I learned the value of a comma faith. I can still remember at age 30 (the most difficult year in my life) where I wasn't sure if I could go on living. I was divorced, living alone, driving a beater car, working menial jobs (despite two masters degrees), and feeling very lost and disappointed. Yet, somehow, a message of faith that I had shared with others as a hospital chaplain intern came through to me: to keep a flicker of a hope that someday I might have hope again. That's all I had, the hope of hope someday.
I wonder how the caterpillar finds a comma faith as it moves into the chrysalis, trusting life through such a profound loss of its familiar and known form to emerge as a butterfly.
Still learning this kind of faith,......
The first week of July, Mike and I took eight Plymouth students – joined by ten students & leaders from Greeley First Congregational – to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. We partnered with the local Episcopal Mission, working hard for three hot days to help out around the Bishop Hare Center and a church in Parmelee.
There was plenty to learn from the Lakota people who graciously spent time with us. We heard the truth of the way our government continues to mistreat and neglect the indigenous people of the land we live on. Hospitals on the reservation are naval hospitals, a subtle oppressive reminder. Due to the General Crimes Act, native law enforcement often loses their jurisdiction to the FBI. We heard stories about General Custer, Sitting Bull, and Spotted Tail. A man named Nico played traditional drum songs, teaching us about native music and prayer. The students learned to make fry bread from Rich Brokenleg. And it was delicious.
We spent the first couple days cleaning up around our home base, the Bishop Hare Center. A house on the property had some pipes burst, so we moved out several years’ worth of furniture and belongings left behind by the intentional community that lived there. We did some yard work, reorganized a tool shed, and sorted old scrap wood. On the last day, we cleaned up the Church of the Holy Innocents in Parmelee after it had been broken into. A grocery store owner came by with a box full of popsicles to thank the students for their work.
The trip was full of hard work and good learning, but we also had tons of fun. We played some typical youth group games, pet lots of rez dogs, got some ice cream, played kickball, and spent time getting to connect with each other. More than anything, I love to see our students building relationships with each other and with students from other progressive churches. So, while the week was exhausting, I was totally in my element.
On a personal level, I was struck by two things. First, the Rosebud Episcopal Mission needs our help. I am excited to go again, and I am grateful for this partnership. Second, God is experienced across cultures and across history. God transcends all our human-made boundaries. As a seminary student, this is an idea I have encountered in my studies before. But on the reservation, with the Lakota people, I got to see it for myself. I will be carrying all of this with me for a long time, and I am so grateful that our Plymouth community gave us this opportunity. ]
Brooklyn is Plymouth's Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth. Brooklyn has served in local church and student ministries for the past several years. A native of northern Colorado, Brooklyn has professional experience leading in worship, youth, and children’s programs. Read her full bio here.
Sabbath is one of the key concepts of Judaism and Christianity. Though we don’t do a very good job observing it, when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, stores were closed on Sunday (except for pharmacies, one of which was open for emergencies) and you certainly couldn't buy alcohol. Now, everything is available if not instantly, then with free two-day delivery. Yet, we all need to rest regularly for the health of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
I am grateful that part of my covenant with Plymouth includes a sabbatical every five years. On my first sabbatical, I received a $40,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, part of which paid our interim staff and brought John Bell and John Philip Newell to Plymouth, laying the ground for our Visiting Scholar program. Our two Celtic Christian spirituality classes and the big Celtic cross in our Memorial Garden are also results of that sabbatical journey.
This sabbatical will be a bit different for me. The first phase is going to involve doing some physical rehabilitation. I’m about nine months into a yearlong course of medical treatment for prostate cancer, and it has taken a toll on my body, mostly muscle tone. I’m a month out from knee replacement, and while I’m walking reasonably well, I’m not going very far yet. Physical therapy and exercise are the order of the day.
Frankly, the last five years have been trying times for our family with deaths in Jane Anne’s family, two more rounds of cancer treatment, trying to lead Plymouth through the Covid jungle, and a couple of challenging years as head of staff. I’m going to spend some of the time doing some spiritual renewal as well, including a trip to Ring Lake Ranch, where I serve on the board of directors.
Sabbatical is also going to entail spending time with my sons, Cam and Chris. Later in the month, we are going to reprise one of the things we loved doing while they were growing up: going to museums in Denver and then going out for Dim Sum. Reconnecting with family has always been a joyful part of my sabbatical. One thing you may not realize about parish clergy is that we spend a lot of evenings away from our families and don’t get three-day weekends…when lots of parents connect with their children. (The photo above is from my 2008 sabbatical when the boys were with me in Scotland.)
Jane Anne and I had reservations all ready to go for a trip to Italy in 2020. And you know what happened that year! So, I’ll be heading to Italy in September, starting in the north and working my way southward, visiting and researching paleo-Christian sites. (You’ll be able to follow along on this part of my sabbatical journey by visiting halsabbatical.com — and you can read entries from my past sabbaticals there as well.) Cameron will join me for the first two weeks as we travel from Verona, Padua, and Venice. Then, I’ll visit Aquileia (a major Christian site literally demolished by Attila the Hun) and study early Christian mosaics in Ravenna. Time in Tuscany and then a visit to the earliest churches in Rome will round out my time alone. (We also need some new Christmas Eve bulletin cover photos!) Jane Anne will join me in Rome for visits to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port, Naples, Herculaneum, and the early Christian site at Nola. I can’t wait!
I also want to let you know that you are in good hands while I’m away. Jane Anne and JT will be serving full-time through August 15, when Ron Patterson will return as half-time sabbatical interim. At that point, Jane Anne will drop back to part-time.
We have the most cohesive staff team we have had in my 20 years at Plymouth. Every member sees their ministry with you not simply as a job but as a calling. I am grateful to all of them for doing phenomenal work. Please support them!
As we acknowledged in our litany yesterday, I will keep you in my prayers, and I ask that you keep me in yours as well.
P.S. Did you know that Milan was founded by the Celts? They were everywhere!
P.P.S. I tested positive for COVID this morning (Tuesday, 7/12). I am doing fine with moderate symptoms. Jane Anne is still testing negative. I feel badly that I was among you at lunch on Sunday - though we were outside which I hope is a gift! And I hope none of you get COVID from being with me! By the way, thanks again for Sunday! What a joyous send-off and celebration of my 20 years with you. I am very blessed to serve among the Beloved Community of Plymouth.
When Scott Houser first began talking about Faith Family Hospitality (FFH), it seemed like an enormous endeavor! Hosting four families for a week required a team of at least 60 volunteers. They would provide dinner every night, be present with the families during the evening hours, and spend the night with them in the church. In addition, there was set-up and clean-up of the rooms (including cleaning bathrooms), laundry to do, and breakfast/lunch supplies to provide. Heart of the Rockies Christian Church had been hosting for some time and needed a partner. Scott’s enthusiastic and faith-filled presence made all of this seem possible.
In the early years we traded sites, hosting one time at HRCC and the next at Plymouth. It became evident that Plymouth was blessed with more space and even showers, so we shifted to hosting at Plymouth on a regular basis, with HRCC providing active and faithful partnership.
The two of us started by cooking and serving a meal one night of the week. We then took on the evening host role. In those years, we were able to play games with the kids, engage them in crafts, and chat with the families. Now with COVID in the picture, we are trying to be as flexible as we can be.
We eventually got up the courage to spend the night with the families. Although this seemed daunting, we found it quite easy. There are sometimes emergencies that come up, but those are rare, and there is a well-defined “who to call” list. These times gave us more opportunities to connect with families, either in the evening as they were settling in for the night or in the morning, as they were grabbing coffee and something for breakfast or lunch. Although we are trained to be sensitive to people’s privacy and not ask too many questions, casual conversations have helped us see the many circumstances that bring families to where they are and their courage and good humor in dealing with their situation. We have been particularly impressed with how these parents, often single parents, work to make this stressful and uncertain situation as comfortable and secure for their kids as possible.
In the last several years, FFH has become the “overnight program” part of Family Housing Network (FHN): a network of programs that support families experiencing homelessness. We are particularly impressed with the case management and counseling provided to the families, helping them discover and take the steps needed to get back into sustainable housing. Our hearts are warmed, knowing that the hospitality we provide is giving these families the breathing room to work out their path forward. In 2021, FHN achieved an 83% success rate in helping families become stabilized and permanently housed. Furthermore, 100% of these families continue to be housed after one year. Moving from homelessness to stable housing is always joyful! We celebrate when a family “graduates” from the FHN program. It is a sacred event that not only changes their lives, but also blesses our own. Volunteering with FFH is not just charity; it is a life-giving ministry.
In the past year, Scott Houser, who has been such a faithful leader over the years, has decided to step back a little, although he is still very much involved. His shoes are hard to fill! We decided to take on a part of what he has been doing. Lynnette Thayer continues to be a dedicated and valued coordinator from HRCC, and Janeen and David Stubbs have also taken on a leadership role. As coordinators, we are getting acquainted with the remarkable staff at FHN and all the other congregations with which we partner in FFH. We know in our hearts that this ministry is a faith journey, for us personally and for Plymouth as a faith community.
We still have open slots for our next host week, July 17-24. Please contact us to volunteer or for more information.
Mary and Ken Freese
Communications Coordinators for FFH
Mary and Ken came to Fort Collins in 2009 and soon became members of Plymouth. They have been members of the choir, the Celtic Spirituality Group, and each has served on the Leadership Council. In addition to working with FFH, Mary served on the Outreach and Mission Board, and Ken served on the Christian Formation Board.
Pastor Hal mentioned in his pastoral letter that this recent decision of the Supreme Court could be felt as a gut-punch. Indeed, I felt it that way along with several more in recent years; a deadly riot against a secure election, the functional end of the Voting Rights Act, a President telling a sexist and racist group to stand-by, and more.
There is a thread in all of these happenings.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste noted the power of something called “dominant group status threat”: the sense that the out group is doing too well and represents a threat to the dominant caste. For example, the single strongest demographic predictor of those who broke into the Capitol during the January 6th insurrection was if they lived in a county not where Trump won big, but where Biden won and where there was a significant decline in the percentage of the non-Hispanic white population.
Make America Great Again appeals, of course, to a past idealized vision of America which inevitably is an America which was more racist, sexist, heterosexist, and generally less inclusive than the one we have and the one that is emerging. The appeal and the sinful temptation is to support one’s self esteem and to manage the anxiety of change, whether social, religious, economic, racial or environmental, with an appeal to an old status quo of white, male, Christian parental authority (aka patriarchy).
Enter the recent Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade. New York times reporter Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court, describes the five Republican-appointed justices besides Chief Justice John Roberts as “an impatient, ambitious majority,” a majority created by those driven by “dominant group status threat” energy using whatever means necessary to take us back to some version of that past.
In such times, let us be clear that this is not the Way of Jesus.
In such times, let us be faithful to the God of Liberation and Justice.
In such times, let us keep on keeping on, toward the Beloved Community.
In the midst of all the gut-punches I have been drawn to a poem by the late American essayist and poet Adrienne Rich and I offer it as an inspiration to faith:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those who age after age,
perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
The Rev. J.T. Smiedendorf has been a UCC minister since 2001, serving churches in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington. He has a particular passion for reclaiming the earthy, embodied, and experiential aspect of Christian spiritual practice. He and his wife Allison are co-founders of The Sanctuary for Sacred Union, an inter-spiritual initiative, focused on spiritual growth, wholeness, and transformation. He will be our Bridge Associate Minister until a new settled Associate Minister is called.
Dear Plymouth Family,
None of us is surprised about Supreme Court ruling overturning the constitutional right to an abortion guaranteed by the Court back in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. But to some the ruling probably feels like a gut-punch.
There are macro issues at stake in this ruling, some of which are not immediately apparent. In the short term, women in roughly half the states that comprise our union will lose access to safe, legal abortions. But the larger issues will continue to ripple for years into the future.
One of those issues is the right of women to determine the course of their own health. No one is challenging a man’s right to choose a vasectomy — even though the Roman Catholic Church opposes it. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical said that vasectomy “is equally to be condemned” as is abortion. Yet, we do not hear many (or any) voices in our nation decrying vasectomy.
If we can deny a woman’s right to choose, what other rights is our nation prepared to deny?
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Black women have been experiencing induced abortions at a rate nearly 4 times that of White women for at least 3 decades, and likely much longer…. In the current unfolding environment, there may be no better metric for the value of Black lives.” Is it a coincidence that the Supreme Court ruling will affect Black women four times as much as it does White women?
Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, said that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past in codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. I know some of our LGBTQ members are already feeling the rumblings of this opinion. It’s Pride month, and it is probably no coincidence that hate-filled vandals destroyed the rainbow flags on our Prospect Road sign this week.
Another implication beyond abortion itself is the brokenness of the national process of judicial confirmation. Has the court become over-politicized? Some would say so. It will be interesting to see how we navigate the course ahead, when Gallup shows that 80% of Americans support legal abortion.
Where does the UCC stand?
Our denomination has been a standard-bearer for reproductive justice. I encourage you to see our denomination’s web page to learn more. Our Eighth General Synod, in 1971 (two years before Roe v. Wade), approved a resolution affirming choice. “The Eighth General Synod of the United Church of Christ calls for the repeal of all legal prohibitions of physician-performed abortions. This would take abortion out of the realm of penal law and make voluntary and medially safe abortions legally available to all women.” Further resolutions were passed by General Synods in 1973, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1987, 1989, and 1991.
Other mainline Protestant denominations have similar stances. Many Evangelical churches were initially mute on the issue of abortion and supportive of birth control. But since the fundamentalist takeover in some denominations and the rise of the Christian Right, even the use of birth control is in question in some quarters. (In a recent survey, 77% of White Evangelicals saw abortion as morally unacceptable. Most American Catholics support legal access to abortion.)
Where do you stand?
One of the guideposts of our UCC tradition is that matters of conscience are left to the members of our congregations under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is likely a range of opinion at Plymouth about whether abortion is ethically acceptable. Yet I am certain that only a handful of our members who would disagree that abortion should be safe and legal.
Over the years of my ministry among you, two conversations with women stick out on this subject. One discussion was with a member who was a women’s health nurse practitioner who had moved to Colorado from the South. Her perspective was that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” And she remarked that she had patients who, in her view, misused abortion as a primary form of birth control. Her view was that abortion should be a last resort, and that it should be easily accessible to any woman.
Another conversation happened years ago with a married woman and her husband who came to speak with me and Sharon Benton. They were over 50 and had been using a dependable form of birth control, which had failed, resulting in an unwanted and dangerous pregnancy. Their concern was the ethical dimension of a decision to end the pregnancy. Both Sharon and I shared our perspective that abortion was ethically acceptable, and we offered to accompany them if they chose to end the pregnancy.
Perhaps you’ve had an abortion yourself, or your partner, mom, sister, daughter, or friend has chosen to end a pregnancy. I’ve never known anyone for whom abortion was an easy way out or a simple decision. But during all of my adult years, it has been safe and legal. For some of our sisters, this will no longer be the case.
I don’t know where this road will lead, but we will follow Jesus’ commitment to compassion and justice. And we will walk together.
Last week, Hal and I each received a gift from his sister, Susan – The Gratitude Journal. Susan let us know these were coming and said that using her Gratitude Journal was particularly helpful to her during these times.
Each day the journal asks you to reflect in the morning on:
These are all great questions and ideas. Yet my first response was very grumbly! “Gratitude! Another thing on my list of things to do! Really? Will it help that much?” Wow, what a cynic I am that my response to this gracious gift was to grumble!
Then I got to thinking about this response. I know that gratitude is a good thing and I know that I always work to express gratitude to others for things they do. I appreciate it when people express gratitude to me for something I have done. Why was I so grumpy about this?! Where did this cynicism come from?
I believe it comes from a place that we all share during these stressful times, a place of great weariness and overwhelm. A place of pain and sorrow that is deep and wounding that may border on despair. The list of why we are all feeling this is long…personal events in our lives, the divisive state of our nation, the threats of climate change, the violence that we perpetrate on another as human beings as well as on creation. We are all in need of deep healing.
Well……it turns out that gratitude is healing! Harvard Health reports, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Gratitude literally alters our brains. Neuroscience research tells us "that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain's reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine." Dopamine is our brain's pleasure chemical.” “Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Gratitude can also decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease,” even heart disease!
So much for my grumbling! Of course, I can still grumble if I really want to, however, look at the benefits of gratitude. Just a little gratitude for the blessings and beauty of life, no matter how small they may seem in the scheme of things, is literally life-saving. Gratitude shifts our perspective out of fear and into wonder, out of focusing on pain (life will still be painful) and into focusing on love.
I am taking at second look at this new gratitude journal. It seems it will be worthwhile. I invite you into gratitude with me using the questions listed above or simply remembering to be grateful for something morning and evening. Let’s lift our gratitude to the Holy One bit by bit and heal together.
I am grateful to be with you all on this journey we call life!
To my Fellow Members of Plymouth,
Within our covenant with Hal is the opportunity for him to take a sabbatical every five years. Hal will be taking advantage of this opportunity as senior pastor and will be away from July 17 – Nov. 16, a period of 4 months. He will be engaging in a variety of enrichment activities, including some travel, as well as taking this period as an opportunity for renewal and refreshment.
Ministerial sabbaticals are an important and exciting component in the rhythms of a pastor’s and a congregation’s life in ministry. The Leadership Council is excited for this opportunity both for Hal and for what the Spirit has in store for our congregation as we grow in faith and discipleship with each other.
Pastoral coverage during this 4-month sabbatical will be accomplished through a combination of increased time from our current two associate pastors, Jane Anne and JT, and a short-term engagement of the Rev. Ron Patterson, a retired UCC clergyperson who has been our partner in ministry in previous occasions.
Both Jane Anne and JT will be increasing their hours to full-time in recognition of their added responsibilities, Jane Anne for the first month (mid-July to mid-August) and JT for the entire sabbatical 4-month period. Ron will be here in a half-time capacity, from mid-August through the end of Hal’s sabbatical, in mid-November.
We will not hear directly from Hal during this time. Ruth Billington has offered to be the point of contact if Hal has news he would like to share with us.
Please join Leadership Council in wishing Hal a restful, renewing time away from us.
Claudia has been a member since 2006 and involved in the Deacons Board, Celtic Spirituality group, Women's Friendship, Congregational Life Board, Associate Pastor Search Committee.
I was reading the most recent issue of National Geographic and was gripped by the cover story on “The Power of Touch.” More than any other sense, touch is what we have been robbed of by the pandemic.
Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley studies the science of touch and says, “It’s our earliest and, you could argue, our fundamental language of social connection.” How have you experienced the reduction in physical touch since the onset of the pandemic 28 months ago? I remember being told by an elderly member that the hug I offered in the greeting line on Sunday morning was the only hug she got during the week.
Social distance allows for a kindly bow or a nod or flashing a peace sign or Vulcan salute as we pass the peace, but I wonder how many of us long for a handshake with deep eye contact or an embrace that lets us know that we are seen and loved. We have a baptism coming up in a few weeks, and there is no way to baptize someone without touch! One of the most physically intimate moments each year is Ash Wednesday, when ministers apply a smudge of palm ash on the foreheads of worshipers. Think about it: who else would you let touch your face?
I am so very grateful for the technology that allows us to livestream our services. It has literally been a lifesaver during the darkest days of the pandemic. I’m glad that it allows members who are traveling (or members living elsewhere) to worship with us.
And I am seeing its shortcomings. There is something close, wonderful, and intimate about the experience of worshiping together in one place that gets lost online. You can look a fellow worshiper in the eye and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” (Sometimes, you can even shake hands or hug them!) You can literally reach out to one of our guests in the pews and offer them a warm Plymouth welcome. You can have eye contact with the liturgist and the preacher. We eat the same bread and drink the same juice or wine at communion, and the minister and deacon can look you in the eye as we offer simple words of invitation. And you get lots of social stimulation at coffee hour, whether you want it or not! (BTW, look for wall-mounted hand gel dispensers!)
I know that for some churches, live streaming is being embraced so fully that it may become the primary avenue to worship. Maybe it is because I am of a certain age, but I think online worship is important and second-best, and sometimes it simply can’t compare to being in person and being able to touch, even if it’s just a fist-bump or an elbow-touch.
You never know how much your smile or greeting or simply your presence as a neighbor in the pew means to someone. If Woody Allen was correct that 90 percent of life is showing up, then your physical presence in worship is missed. Yes, we are still the body of Christ even when separated. But maybe next Sunday at our Outdoor Service in Rolland Moore Park, you’ll feel safe to come and worship with your Plymouth family. (Sorry…we can’t livestream from the park!)
We have been deprived of so much by this accursed pandemic. I invite you to take baby step back to normal life as you are able. Reach out and touch someone (with an alcohol-prepped hand).
P.S. I’m having knee-replacement surgery on Thursday, so I’ll be away for several weeks as I recover and endure physical therapy torture. Prayers are most welcome!
In the Netflix show Stranger Things, the small town of Hawkins, Indiana is repeatedly encroached upon by the malevolent parallel dimension known as The Upside Down, a nightmarish mirror image of our own world ruled by an entity named The Mind Flayer. Season by season, its attempts to fully manifest in our world are thwarted by a hardy group of 1980's misfit kids–nerds! The trauma of their experiences leaves them uneasy–scarred– yet hopeful that the portal to The Upside Down will never open again. But when it frustratingly does so, they breathe a collective sigh and fight once more confident that they will again be victorious. And you know what? Each renewed manifestation of The Mind Flayer carries less impact because they are no longer innocent. These brave young heroes have tried and true techniques to combat the menace. Protection. They are ready.
Not so much The Upside Down, then, but The Slightly Skewed! There's a twinge of hope in there I'll gladly embrace.
Mark Heiskanen is Plymouth's Dir. of Music and Organist. Learn more about him and read his weekly Music Minute here.
Since I started at Plymouth, I have been connecting with other progressive youth ministers in Northern Colorado. We had a couple other churches join us at last year’s Sleepout. Just a couple weeks ago, we hosted a youth lock-in for our church, First Presbyterian Church, and Greeley First Congregational. We are building a unique network for our students and dreaming with each other about ministering to young people in our community.
Victoria Burkett, the Youth & Young Adult Director at First United Methodist, is hoping to build a stronger ecumenical effort and draw in college students & young professionals across the front range through their campus ministry, Kindred. Kindred's mission is for college-aged and young adults to grow in their lives and faith through meaningful experiences in a uniquely inclusive environment. During the year, this looks like weekly discussion groups, monthly worship nights, campus outreach, and fellowship events. The Kindred board finds itself in an era of rebuilding as they come out of the pandemic, and they are inviting more people to join them in their mission. Another one of my youth minister colleagues, Carlie Hoskins of First Presbyterian Church, recently joined their board.
I think the heart of Kindred aligns beautifully with Plymouth's strategic plan and our vision for campus ministry. This upcoming generation faces a daunting mental health crisis, and in the midst of it, they are searching for meaning and belonging. I love young people. I deeply believe that spiritual communities are key to their flourishing. I am so excited to be at a church that wants to support the next generation. I am also excited about the ecumenical spirit of the progressive churches in Fort Collins that I have encountered. As we continue to explore these connections and ministry in the next phase of the world, I am officially Plymouth's presence on the Kindred board. If you might be interested in learning more about Kindred, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
The way forward will see us better together. Kindred is modeling that as they model this John Wesley quote: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Brooklyn is Plymouth's Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth. Brooklyn has served in local church and student ministries for the past several years. A native of northern Colorado, Brooklyn has professional experience leading in worship, youth, and children’s programs. Read her full bio here.