I’ve just returned from visiting two of our elders, one at PVH and another at a rehab facility. It feels wonderful to bring love and light from our congregation into the rooms of people struggling with illness and injury. God’s love is often transmitted by people helping to reflect a little glimmer of divine light into places that some find shadowy. Many of those people, lay and ordained, gather at Plymouth.
There has been a lot in the news lately about the rapid post-pandemic decline of the church and synagogue and the ever-increasing number of “nones,” who have no particular faith, but many of whom believe in God, a higher power, or a force in the universe greater than any of us. But they are scared of church in part because of the way American mainstream media often portrays us is that we are pedophiles, homophobes, hypocrites, anti-intellectual, and very judgmental. (Clearly NOT what we see at Plymouth.)
Ironically, we also read a lot about the epidemic proportions of loneliness, especially among elders. Has anyone ever suggested joining a church? One that welcomes and honors the beliefs and perspectives of its members? I see Plymouth volunteers provide a warm, home-cooked meal with a program each month for our seniors. It’s awesome.
I also read a lot that people today hunger for community. Churches like ours are about the only place to find intergenerational community in our country today. Community is not unlike a marriage: they both take work. None of us should expect to have ready-made community served to us on a silver platter with no effort. Community takes work and commitment.
So, who needs church? Lots of people. Folks who want to find ways to connect with the Holy, who sense a call to put faith into action. People who don’t want to feel isolated. Young adults who want to have fill-in grandparents that their children adore. People who have found that consumerism and self-centeredness are morally vacant. And folks who have discovered that being part of a church community is really rewarding (and sometimes really fun)!
Church is not a commodity. It is not bought, traded, or sold. It is possible to come to Plymouth and slip out the door without anyone noticing. It is possible be a member of Plymouth for years without serving on a board or council. It is possible to let the offering plate pass you by and decide not to pledge. Here’s the rub: You are not going to have a fulfilling experience if that is the approach you take. That isn’t how communities are built and thrive. Each of us must shine!
We are all in this together. It isn’t my church or Marta’s. It isn’t the UCC’s church. It’s God’s church entrusted to us to love and nurture. We are stewards of a fantastic church, and we should not take it for granted. How are you shining the light of God’s love? If we all share a little glimmer, we can vanquish some of the shadows that fall over the world.
I hope you will join me this Sunday — Consecration Sunday — at Plymouth as we dedicate our pledge commitments for 2024 and ask God to bless them and our congregation. You can pledge online anytime at plymouthucc.org/pledge or you can bring your pledge card this Sunday.
The Stewardship Board is providing breakfast at 10:00, so if you typically attend the 11:00 service, I encourage you to come an hour early and enjoy great food and fellowship. And if you have pledged (or even if you plan to pledge at 11:00), you will be entered in our raffle, and the winning tickets will be drawn at 10:45. (Prizes include a week in Steamboat Springs, a beer tasting for you and five friends, $100 to spend at Simmer, a great nearby restaurant, tickets to see Jesus Christ Superstar.) See you there!
In the spirit of God’s abundance,
I really appreciate hearing from members of our congregation each fall about the ways Plymouth has changed their lives and why they support our congregation. They are poignant, honest, profound, and sometimes even funny. About ten years ago, Bob Sturtevant did a great talk (with apologies to David Letterman) centered around his Top Ten Reasons to Give. Number One was “Because through his son’s teachings, God asked me to.” <Mic Drop>
There are a lot of reasons Jane Anne and I make giving to Plymouth a priority, but for me, giving to the church has been an important part of my spiritual journey. Back when I was in graduate school and we had a newborn, it was hard to pledge, but we managed to give $1,200 a year to First Congregational UCC in Boulder. When we moved to Connecticut, I was the minister responsible for stewardship and mission giving in our conference, and with another young son, we found ways to increase our pledge to First Church in Windsor, UCC. And our move to Fort Collins in 2002 brought new responsibilities and new perspectives. I heard Tom and Paula Dille talk about tithing (that’s 10 percent) their income when they were young adult members of a UCC church in Missouri. I heard Larry McCulloch say that he invested in the church, because it has been the greatest agent of change over centuries. I witnessed Jackie and Kevin Schneider pay their full pledge when the pandemic started to help ensure we didn’t have cashflow problems. I saw one of our members who recently lost a job submit a pledge…that’s an act of deep faith. I have learned so much about God’s abundance from the people who form this congregation. You are an inspiration.
God imbues the universe with “the lyric of abundance,” as Walter Brueggemann puts it. There is enough of everything to go around — that’s God’s intention. The problem lies in distribution. I want to be part of God’s movement, to sing the lyric of abundance not the dirge of scarcity, and I want to do everything I can to support the realm of God. That’s why I support Plymouth financially.
You and I have witnessed incredible injustices in our nation. We are living through a deadly pestilence of biblical proportion. How are we to respond? We can sit back and wring our hands. We can vent on Facebook and feel righteous indignation. But how does that change the world or change lives? Even as I write, our Immigration Ministry Team is using our North Wing to sort donated clothing and supplies for PSD students who arrived in this country not just without documentation, but alone. I want to support that. Carla is developing a lay caregiving program that will have far-reaching impact. I want to support that. When this pandemic is over, we are going to come together to celebrate and sing and offer thanks to God for our deliverance. “O Lord, I want to be in that number,” and I’ll support that!
We have choices about whom we will serve. As for me and my family, we will serve God.
P.S. You won’t want to miss worship on Sunday…jazz, inspiration, blessing, and celebration! And you can pledge online right now at plymouthucc.org/pledge You don’t have to wait!
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.
Each week at Plymouth we welcome children and youth in the name of Christ. This is part of our mission and ministry, our programming, our duty and our privilege. And it is an important part of our budgeting each year. We have a highly qualified and dedicated staff of nine childcare workers who welcome and care for our youngest ones during all our worship services and certain special events during the year. They are hired and trained by the Rev. Mandy Hall, our Director of Christian Formation for Children and Youth. You may occasionally see them in their sky blue childcare team t-shirts as they come and go from the north wing to the kitchen in their cleaning duties. (After every shift all the toys used are washed as well as the rooms cleaned by these staff members.) I always find them cheerful and upbeat and I am trying to learn all their names in order to welcome them personally to their workplace. They are a hidden, but VERY important part of our community and ministry. I encourage you to greet them, learn their names, make them feel welcome because they are welcoming our children in Jesus’ name!
After a resolution by our 2017 UCC General Synod on equity in pay and minimum wage requirements, Plymouth’s Leadership Council and Budget and Finance Committee made a commitment to raise our pay for contract workers at Plymouth to the national minimum wage goal of $15/hr by 2019. This goes into effect in January. This is right and just to do. It also ensures that we get and keep the best caregivers for our children. Your pledge to Plymouth will empower this justice action of fair pay and this ministry action of welcoming and caring for our youngest children.
Please bring your pledge card to church this coming Sunday to celebrate Consecration Sunday! (You can also send it in the mail, or pledge online with a form here, or pledge using the F1Go app right on your smartphone or tablet!)
"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus. Having children is one of the most humbling experiences in this life. You are suddenly responsible for these ones who are so fragile and yet so resilient. Who soak up love and learning, yet teach us so much about ourselves.
May we remember that we are all children of God. May we treat each other as beloved children in need of love, respect and care even as we humble ourselves to receive love, respect and care from one another. May we remember to humble ourselves before God, giving back to God from the abundance we have been given. May we remember that whoever welcomes one such child in Jesus’ name welcomes Jesus who came to reveal to us the face of God.
Blessings on the journey,
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. Learn more about Jane Ann here.