Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen in the splendid isolation of our prayer closets (whatever that might be!). Even for us introverts, spiritual growth is often jump-started in relationship with others. This is one reason that from the very beginning the church has set aside time and space for people to connect with God via their fellow believers.
Few of us are called to join a monastic community in the desert or mountain or downtown. We have been called to an active life – jobs and families and congregational activities and community events and sports and justice-making and service. But the more our lives are active, the more we need to nurture the spiritual foundations of that life: prayer, study, meditation, silence, caring conversation, finding ways to connect with God who is fount and source of the power that keeps us going. This is where short term retreats, studies, and conferences can nourish us. We gain wisdom, knowledge and strength from the programs and those who are our sisters and brothers even if but for a weekend, who join us in the experience. A single coal pulled out of a campfire swiftly runs cold, but when placed among the other coals they together make a fire to light and warm all those around.
Our Rocky Mountain Conference of the UCC is particularly blessed to have a wealth of opportunities easily accessible: our beautiful camp/conference center at LaForet in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs. As generations of our youth will tell you, their summer youth camps, family camp, “Grandparents and Me” camp, and MADD [Music, Arts, Dance & Drama] Camp have been integral parts of their spiritual journey year after year. This year they are even planning a “Rainbow” camp for LGBTQQA+ youth!
More recently, LaForet has expanded to include more adult programs (and updated facilities more comfortable for those who aren’t into leaping into an upper bunk). This year, they are offering programs on racism and white fragility, communicating across the divides in our political discourse, the “School of Celtic Consciousness” with Philip Newell, Contemplative Camp, and different OWL (human sexuality) leaders trainings.
You can find all these and more information in their awesome new online brochure. Be sure to thank their program director the Rev. Logan Bennett and their Executive Director (Plymouth member) Larry McCulloch for organizing such a wonderful place and programs!
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Director of Christian Formation (Adults)
Mark recently celebrated his tenth anniversary as Plymouth’s Director of Christian Formation for Adults. He also serves as chair of the Platte Valley Associations’ Committee on Ministry.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined”
“.... the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned"
Darkness and light are inextricably bound because we cannot experience and understand one without the other. It is easy to think of darkness as intrinsically “bad” and light as “good.” In the dark we can get lost or hurt because we cannot see our way. Darkness as “bad” or “evil” has led humankind to conscious and unconscious attitudes and action of racism throughout the centuries. Yet we know that darkness is also very soothing, even comforting, at times. We know that too much light can be harmful, blinding and burning. Though we celebrate light in Epiphany as revelation, darkness can also reveal newness and nurture growth.
The 16thcentury mystical poem, “The Dark Night,” used the metaphor of darkness to signify the soul’s journey to union with God who is ultimately unknowable. The author, St. John of the Cross, was imprisoned in solitary confinement, literally in a dark hole-like room, for being a heretic. Praying through his experience of dark despair he discovered the only light in his experience was that which burned in his soul, his longing and love for union with God. He found that darkness was a guide more certain than the brightness of the mid-day sun and led him to the joyful revelation of God’s presence, even in the dark time of his persecution.
We begin a new calendar year and a new programmatic/budget year at Plymouth with the anticipation of God’s guidance through the unknown ahead in this new year and new decade. We begin in a dark time for our country. (As I write the impeachment trial of the president is just getting underway in the Senate.) We are all longing for justice and for new ways to bridge the divisions in our land that are so destructive. We begin in the season of Epiphany which holds stars to guide us through the darkness and on unknown ways. We begin with hope and prayers for deeper union with God as God’s people and God’s beloved community named Plymouth.
May we remember that those who walk or sit in darkness – i.e. US – have already been provided with God’s great light of presence and love. No matter what comes, we belong to God and God is with us. This is the foundation of our guidance through times of darkness or light.
With you on the journey,
JOIN ME THIS SUNDAY, JANUARY 26, 2020
PLYMOUTH’S ANNUAL CONGREGATIONAL MEETING
The meeting begins just after the 11 A.M. service with a potluck lunch.
Bring your favorite main dish, salad, side dish or bread to share.
The Congregational Life Board will provide dessert!
After the meal we will hear from our lay leaders on Leadership Council
and our Senior Minister on the state of the church.
We will receive and vote after discussion on our 2020 budget
and the slate of nominations for the church boards and committees.
COME BE IN BELOVED COMMUNITY AS WE DO THE WORK OF CHURCH TOGETHER!
The 2019 Annual Report and 2020 budget can be accessed here.
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
“We are pilgrims on a journey;
we are travelers on the road.
We are here to help each other
share the mile and bear the load.”
I love that line from the hymn, “Won’t you let me be your servant.” It speaks to a dominant metaphor in our age: that our spiritual lives are a journey. 2020 is an important year in Congregational and U.S. history as it is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Great book recommendation: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.)
Pilgrimage is an important metaphor and action in our faith tradition. For most of us, it does not involve doing penance for past wrongs, but rather a way of deepening our faith. When Muslims make a pilgrimage — the Hajj — to Mecca, or when Jews travel to Jerusalem, or when Buddhists walk from temple to temple in Japan, they are engaging a deepening of their spiritual journey. Like the journey of Abram, the forebear of three of the world’s great religions, left Haran and set out, he set a pattern for one-way pilgrimage that doesn’t include a return trip. Likewise, the early Irish saints called themselves peregrini, and they went out on a one-way pilgrimage as well.
In this coming year, I invite you to imagine a new pilgrimage for this congregation, whose name itself bears the indelible mark of pilgrim journey. As we engage a new strategic plan this year, we will imagine new vistas for our congregation. We will dream new dreams for our congregation: who we are, how we serve our neighbors, and where God is calling us to go.
T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” May God help us this year help us to journey together, explore and expand our view, and to see Plymouth again for the first time.
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.
Summers during my time in seminary at the Iliff School of Theology were about exploring Colorado, specifically Fort Collins. As a Journey student at Iliff, I was able to take classes online and be in the classroom in Denver one week every 10 weeks, or 4 times per year. During the winter, fall and spring times, I would fly from Des Moines to Denver. But in the summer I would drive and experience Fort Collins before attending my classes in Denver.
I would drive to Horsetooth Mountain to hike and enjoy the beautiful mountain views. I would walk up and down the streets of Old Town window shopping and yes, the breweries! I explored the breweries!
And, as I always do, I searched for the local UCC church. I remember driving by Plymouth and immediately looking for the website. As I read the staff profiles and explored the news and events, I thought, “That’s my kind of church!”
I always enjoyed my time in Fort Collins. To be honest, I don’t know why I picked Fort Collins as a place to spend a few precious days before going to Denver. But, I have a profound belief in the power of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom that comes with intention and that God is always at work in our lives.
As we are only a few days into the New Year and having just passed Epiphany, I am reminded of the journey of the Magi, who followed the light of a star, left their comfort zone and their familiar surroundings to go into places unknown to finding what they were looking for and being changed by what they found.
I was looking for a wonderful church to continue my ministry. I left the comforts of my home state, my job, my friends and family to find what I was looking for. I am thrilled to be called to Plymouth Congregational UCC and to be your new Associate Minister and I am filled with wonderment in how my first “drive by” may have played a role in my journey to Plymouth.
I look forward to getting to know each of you!
In December, 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. She served on the Board of Directors for the Iowa conference of the United Church of Christ.