Over the years I have been blessed to work with amazing colleagues. In larger congregations, an effective staff team makes all the difference and working as part of a team like that has been part of my pleasure in serving here at Plymouth for the second time! Thank you!
Four years ago, when I arrived as your Sabbatical Senior Minister, I had the great honor of welcoming Mark Heiskanen to your staff as the new Director of Music. What a joy to be able to renew that working relationship.
I freely confess that I worship in the music and these weeks have been a blessing. Every Sunday is a smorgasbord of hymns, choral selections and instrumental music that have comforted, challenged, enlightened, and carried the scripture and sermon message the pastors and particularly this pastor has sought to convey.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that most members of a given congregation have little idea how a worship service comes together, often viewing the morning worship service as a series of isolated pieces that are randomly strung together to make up the hour. While that might happen in some places, that has little to do with my experience and nothing to do with how that happens here or in the other amazing congregations where I have served.
Worship themes are often established months in advance through collaborative effort. Often the Season of the Church’s life or the Lectionary sets the theme. Then the tone for a given service is established in dialogue between the pastor and the musician. The best musicians choose music that not only carries the theme, but enlarges it, often using a prism that magnifies and adds color to the theme drawing on texts and tunes traditional and contemporary.
For example, on September 5, when I decided that I would focus on 9/11 in my sermon, Mark suggested several hymns and other musical selections. Then a fluid process with lots of dialogue began. My initial idea of using a piece of poetry written since 9/11 as a key worship component evolved as Jim Heaton, a Plymouth member, wisely suggested alternative poetry. The musical choices evolved in response to this suggestion. The service included music from contemporary selections to traditional but none of it was random or offered without reflection and serious thought.
The early service was non-traditional and the later service traditional, but both services flowed from a place of reflection and remembrance to affirmation. Both services concluded with the great praise tune AZMON (O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing), set to words by UCC pastor Miriam Winter, that present a powerful image of God’s reign of peace. In my mind it was an amazing Sunday, but more importantly it was a Sunday when the people you call to serve you did their best!
It may be no surprise to you that I have often received criticism about my hymn selections or the types of music I have encouraged partner musicians to perform. I came to accept those critics as people Jesus calls me to love, and to meet that criticism with a forthright expression of my goals in worship leadership and planning. (Just ask me—I’ll tell you why I did what I did that you didn’t happen to like!)
In good conscience I know I cannot be a pastor who uses the same dozen or so hymns repeatedly or tolerates safe chestnuts that don’t break any new ground just because someone (especially me!) likes them. At the same time, my goals as a worship leader need to reflect the call to respect and inclusivity that makes our tradition so remarkable! It’s all part of a creative process that is ongoing. Thank you all for the chance to serve again on the staff of this amazing congregation!
Rev. Ron Patterson
From July 12 to October 3, the Rev. Ron Patterson will be with us again, having served as a sabbatical interim four years ago, and then serving as our interim conference minister during The Rev. Sue Artt’s sabbatical. Ron retired as Senior Minister of Naples United Church of Christ in Florida. Ron and his wife have family here in Fort Collins: their daughter is a member of Plymouth, and their grandchildren are active in Sunday school. Pronouns: he/him.
For the past eight years, Plymouth has offered an evening service that we called an “alternative to alternative worship,” and it has had some real successes: introducing to Plymouth contemporary chant and shorter songs for worship from composers like John Bell, a responsive Lord’s Prayer by John Philip Newell, weekly communion, and flexibility in the order of worship. Working together, our plan is to keep all those things that really coalesced, even as we discontinue our regular 6:00 p.m. service. And we plan to continue special evening services during the year, including Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Longest Night, and when the pandemic recedes, monthly Dinner Church.
There were some notable challenges at 6:00 p.m. as well, including waning attendance, not having greeters, finding volunteers for post-service hospitality, the lack of Sunday School, and the time and expense of providing musicians, childcare, deacons, sound engineers, and clergy for a comparatively small group of worshippers. It seems as if the style of worship and theological congruence of our services are appealing, but for many people, the 6:00 hour is less so.
One of the reasons we initiated a third service was the lack of seating in our early services. (Before the pandemic, we had an average of 330 people in worship each week.) And one of the benefits of our new livestreaming system is that it takes a bit of pressure off our seating capacity by allowing our folks to attend remotely, especially less-mobile elders, those who are out-of-town, and people who simply prefer to worship in their bathrobes with a cup of coffee.
At our Deacons meeting in July, we discussed ways we could improve our worship offerings as we head into the program year later this month. What could we keep from our experiences with our innovative evening service while offering it to a larger gathering of worshippers? Many at Plymouth have enjoyed our outdoor services (another is coming on August 15!) and jazz and Celtic services, so why not bring those experiences, along with our evening worship style to our 9:00 service?
So, we’re giving it a try: having our more eclectic style of worship at 9:00, including a wide array of musical styles, weekly communion, chanted Lord’s Prayer, brief Prayers of the People, and scripture, sermon, and children’s time…all in 50 minutes! And at 11:00 our worship will continue to feature our chancel choir, traditional hymnody, monthly communion, and the warmth of traditional worship at Plymouth. The new schedule starts on Jubilee Sunday, August 29!
Whichever service you choose to attend, we hope that it is a service that helps you to connect with the sacred, worship God with authenticity, enjoy the company of your fellow members, and extend an extravagant welcome to folks who are just discovering Plymouth.
Thank you for allowing us to serve you and to serve God together!
Grace and peace,
Judy Lane (co-chair of Deacons),
Nancy Sturtevant (co-chair of Deacons)
Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Rev. Ron Patterson,
Dear Plymouth Family,
After more than a year of often-dismal news, I’m writing to you with a spirit of excitement…we have in-person outdoor worship and activities planned in June, and we are launching a pilot in-person service, starting Sunday, May 23 at 6:00 p.m.! It feels as though the logjam of pandemic isolation may finally be breaking up, at least a bit.
Our Pandemic Team met again last evening, and I’m sharing some of what the team decided, based on the most recent recommendations from the CDC and Larimer County Health. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated and you wish to be, there are many opportunities on the Larimer County Health website. If you are 16 or over, I heartily recommend getting vaccinated.
The team is acutely aware that there are different safety criteria for those who are vaccinated and those who are not (which includes anyone under 16), and we are doing our best to provide a range of opportunities for everyone at Plymouth. We appreciate your patience and cooperation, knowing that we aren’t able to do a perfect job of accommodating everyone’s desires. And as the Covid situation in Larimer County changes, we will adapt our plans accordingly.
For Those Vaccinated or Not…
For Fully Vaccinated Folks… (fully vaccinated = vaccinated + full waiting period)
As conditions change (hopefully improve), the Pandemic Team will continue to work toward taking further steps in the ways we can be together.
Together, we have walked a very long road through this pandemic. I have so appreciated your faithfulness in attending our broadcast services, staying as safe as possible, understanding our limitations, providing financial support, and continuing to be the church. You are a blessing!
I leave you with a prayer
God, help us be a part of the solution.
Let us do our part for the common good.
Help us to have patience, to care for one another.
Guide us through moments of ennui and languishing and
Lead us toward the abundance of life Jesus promised.
Help us be safe, hopeful, and whole.
Links in red below are not live. Use these links:
Larimer County Health Website, Larimer County COVID-19 Dashboard
Worship is at the heart of our activity as a congregation…“It is our mission to worship God and to make God’s realm visible…” The problem during a pandemic is that worshiping remotely is vexing, even with the best technology available, because we are dependent upon the not-so-tender mercies of the internet and beta software. You’ve probably been part of a service when something technological has gone awry. I’ll spare you the litany of all that we’ve tried, but as recently as last Wednesday, we had craziness with our livestreaming camera immediately before the service. I’m grateful to Dean Wallace 😇 for all of the audio engineering and Jim Medlock 😇 and his videography team who have supported worship through all of these months. And I appreciate your patience as we non-broadcasters have attempted new ways to connect you with God and with one another.
And we’re still trying new approaches after consulting with the Board of Deacons! Beginning February 7, we will be launching a recorded video on Vimeo at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Why the shift? The short answer is that recording allows us to regroup if technology fails us, and it provides a more put-together experience. There are some big positives, too:
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, and we’ll be hosting a Zoom-based service that evening, allowing you to see other worshipers. That will be the last Wednesday evening service for the time being. Midweek Vespers has had a dedicated, small following, and while the ministers and staff enjoy producing it, the appeal has been limited in our congregation. So, we’re trying something new: returning to our 6:00 p.m. service via Zoom on the first Sunday of Lent, February 21. There are some benefits here, too:
As we look toward warmer temperatures (not in February!) and the rates of Covid cases in the community, the Deacons, ministers, and staff will continue to consider additional possibilities like parking-lot services, brief outdoor communion, and outdoor worship. Balancing physical safety and intimate connection is a tough act, especially when some of us are receiving vaccine and some of us aren’t yet eligible, and young folks may not be until summer. I know you want to come back and see friends and worship in person…I do, too! But we won’t do that until it’s safe. Even then, it will be different. Coffee hour with large clusters of people, singing, communion in the sanctuary, kids and young families…we’re still likely to miss all these aspects of our communal life. I am grateful for your prayers for us in this tricky time and for your patience with the process.
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.