It’s January 2, 2024.
Are you one of those people who make New Year resolutions, or do you avoid doing so because they endure for about a week, leaving you feeling guilty, frustrated, and ashamed?
I’m in the second category. It just seems like there is always something that gets in the way at this time of year. Perhaps it is fatigue from the Christmas rush or maybe it’s that there seems nothing especially “special” about the coming of a new year that necessitates making changes. (Do I sound like a New Year Scrooge? Humbug!)
If you’ve launched a resolution this week, please don’t let me deter you!
Though perhaps a few intentions (not resolutions!) are worth considering. I’m not necessarily good at these, but here are some ideas I’m toying with:
For me, a key time for personal transformation is the season of Lent, which is coming up in about seven weeks, on February 18. (It’s definitely early this year!) Lent is a fixed period that invites us into a time of spiritual reflection. Unlike New Year’s Day, it gives us a five-week span to reflect on ways we need to follow Jesus more closely. It isn’t a day, but rather a whole season. And it provides an annual reminder to ask ourselves what is of deepest importance to us and how we want to bend and shape our lives to a more Christlike form.
Jesus has an amazing 40-day wilderness quest to help him clarify his mission and ministry, and during Lent we, too, can use intention to do the same. We have some interesting opportunities for spiritual growth that we’ll be sharing with you as Lent approaches.
In the meantime, hang in with your resolutions if you’ve made them. And if you haven’t, don’t worry; you’ll have your chance for change in seven weeks’ time.
As we transition from Christmastide into Epiphany may the light of Christ shine within you and all around you, and may you catch a glimpse of the light emanating from others as well.
Reflecting on 2021, how was the year for you? Maybe some wonderful things happened…vaccines, new births, seeing family, perhaps some travel. And for all of us, there were challenges to be faced as well, wrought by the pandemic, insurrection, illness, grief, and trying to find the elusive “new normal.”
It was certainly a challenging year for our congregation with a difficult pastoral departure and the ongoing challenge of doing ministry with one another in the midst of Covid and its shifting landscape of Greek-lettered variants. And some really good, positive things happened as well: developing a solid Strategic Plan, ramping up a top-notch livestream system, welcoming fantastic new staff members who have formed the most solid team we’ve had in years, creating and filling our first Church Administrator position, which lifts an undue burden off our volunteers.
I’ve also seen some of our members rise to the occasion, go the extra mile, and help ensure that our community functions smoothly. I think Plymouth operates much like a swan: most of us just see the smooth gliding on the surface, but under the water, those feet are paddling like mad!
And it is for those bearers of light that I give thanks and offer these words from Jan Richardson, a wonderful artist, minister, and poet:
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
in whom brightness blazes --
your heart a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
thing it finds.
© Jan Richardson
May this year be filled with blessing for you and for all of us together at Plymouth!
P.S. Some of you have asked about my health, and here is a short update. I’ve been doing chemo and hormone suppression to treat the recurrence of prostate cancer. The good news is that the drugs are working! It is sometimes rough sledding with fatigue and brain fog. I start eight weeks of radiation, five days a week, beginning on January 11, and hope that I tolerate treatment as well as I did during the last go around. Thanks you for your prayers and concern!
Happy New Year! Today is a day full of hope. The trail through 2018 is behind us, with all its ambiguities, things joyful and terrible, and now 2019 lays before us. It is full of potential, pristine as a meadow of untrampled fresh snowfall. Yes, there may be some shadows from the edges of the forest, but there is so much possibility: you can ski this way or that, build a snow fort, make snow angels, even have a snowball fight with your kids. Or simply admire the way the sunlight glistens off the crystals, a million diamonds spread as far as you can see. Fresh, new, renewal beckons us in body and spirit.
Christian Formation is breaking fresh ground; you enjoyed the Thrive programs offered in November. Now, starting this month, we will again go off the familiar path, court adventure, try some different things, even be a bit crazy as we seek to experience God. Isn’t that an important part of the spiritual journey? We are going to use the West Forum/Choir Room on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. for this experiment, at least through the spring. For many years, our Forum program has focused on lectures and presentations, which we have listened to eagerly, and asked great questions. Lectures are a great method of learning for some people and generations, but as education in general has moved away from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide by the side,” we want to expand our learning styles. Spiritual formation indeed involves the head but includes also “heart and hands and voices.”
While we will certainly still have traditional presentations by outside groups, and events like Candidate Forums, we want to explore some new ways. We will continue to preserve elements we have valued from our past approach:
We want to build on the past, but increase our focus on fresh aspects:
The Formation Board realized that the Spirit was leading us in new directions, and has assembled an excited Revisioning Team, still open to new people, to imagine our use of the West Room. The Forum Planning Ministry Team had worked hard for many years developing the Forums, for which I am grateful, and I am thrilled at the energy the Revisioning Team is bringing to the table. (See me if you’d like to participate!) The Board realized the West Room is the largest educational space in our building, one of the best equipped, and amazingly flexible. We can set up with chairs for lectures or circles for intimate discussions, with tables for theology café or crafts, we can clear the floor for an indoor labyrinth, Spirit Yoga, meditation or dance. We can cover the whiteboard with insights and the walls with newsprint sheets of prayers. We can show film clips or listen to podcasts. The piano lets us explore song and music. Such an amazing space, a wonderful tool our congregants past and present have created!
January 13 and 20, we will be introducing the as-yet-unnamed program and providing different ways for you to give your input to our work. Among other things, we will identify the spiritual “itches” that we have, those growing edges that sometimes annoy us, those places where the Spirit is disturbing our souls, those things that we know we need to work on in the safe space of life together with other people following God. On the 27th, we will try out dramatic improv as a way to get into the itches we identify in an embodied and full voiced way, to try on different solutions for size, and see what we discover we know deep in our being. In February, we will dig into Brené Brown’s ideas around empathy, through film, discussion and crafting. In March… Oh, I guess the Spirit hasn’t carried the team that far. What do you think would be good?
This New Year, I invite you into this Christian Formation construction zone (look for the yellow tape!). Experiment with us; some things will be great, others may well flop -- and that’s OK. Roll up your sleeves, put on some googles (and maybe a helmet) since you never know what God might do when God’s people open to new moves of the Spirit.
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Director of Christian Formation (Adults)
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee brings a passion for Christian education that bears fruit in social justice. He has had a lifelong fascination with theology, with a particular emphasis on how Biblical hermeneutics shape personal and political action. Read more about Mark.