I had no idea what to expect. I have never said goodbye to 700 best friends before.
This morning I was asked what I thought of last night’s going away celebration and blessing. My response was to say, that, “I never dreamed that I could ever experience anything remotely like that in my lifetime.” So different from other mile markers in life like birthdays, weddings, or graduations—leaving a congregation as a minister is a truly person-focused event with a great deal of sadness and reflection. I thought slideshows and speeches of that quality and scope happened only at funerals! What a gift it is to see yourself through others’ eyes while still very much alive. I never thought I would have that opportunity in my life, and it will stay with me always.
Ministry for me, as I often have said, is about seeing God’s workings in you The People and affirming it and nurturing it. I never take any credit for the ministries that have happened on my watch. That just feels wrong when you all do the work. I describe this work as being a cheerleader of the awe of the Holy Spirit on a playing field of wonder of the capacity of the Holy. Even today, I cannot believe that I have had the privilege to accompany and creatively enable your ministries of love and activism. Thank you, as I heard you say last night, for offering me a small stake in claiming those ministries as my own. I am Deeply Humbled.
I am blessed that my first time of closure to a ministry (this time of leaving Plymouth) has been so well marked with clarity of calling, celebration of mutual gifts, and deep and lasting love. Thank you for the greatest gift of all—a healthy and whole time of sending and leaving! There is no way to put a value on that gift of graciousness and kindness.
Since the vast majority of the financial gifts offered to me, which totaled a VERY generous sum combined, were channeled through the church into one check, I won’t ever know who contributed or how much. This is a blessing because I received that gift of sending with gratitude to everyone equally: the whole congregation.
It does mean that I won’t be able to write my usual hand written thank you notes to each person who gave! I will have to let that go. Do know how profound my gratitude is today for your generosity.
Additionally, in the midst of moving, I might miss a thank you note or two in these times. I might not have the chance to tell each and every one of you how deep my gratitude is for you and what you have shared with me over these years. I might not be able to say in person how much I have loved you and your gifts shared with our community. I might not have that opportunity to tell you thank you before leaving for Connecticut.
Even today, as I pack my office and home into cardboard boxes, I still have no idea what to expect. I have never said goodbye to 700 best friends before. It will be a process, but I am so grateful for our shared ministries and mutual gratitude that transcends the need for even handwritten thank you notes. :)
Speaking of handwritten… I am going to ask that if you choose to stay in contact with me (as we are making a special allowance for Plymouth as my home church) that you consider doing so primarily through handwritten correspondence. First, as a millennial who will be busy with a new call and large congregation, emails get lost and feel like work. Facebook emails are perhaps even worse! The secret is out: millennials hate long narrative emails. Secondly, I love writing handwritten letters.
I cannot write to each of you right now as I wish I could (I did consider writing a note to everyone in the directory, but then my spouse thought that wouldn’t be wise… he was right). Send a postcard of the mountains once in a while and know that Plymouth will always be in my prayers.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
122 Broad Street
Guilford, CT 06437
Adieu, Plymouth! Thank you for the opportunity to dream with you and to serve your mission and witness these past nearly five years. It has truly been the gift of a lifetime.
Sincerely in Gratitude,
The Rev. Jake Joseph
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake") came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. As of August 2019, he serves First Congregational Church of Guilford, Connecticut.
Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for God will speak peace to the people,
to God’s faithful,
to those who turn to God in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand ...
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Adapted from Psalm 85
As someone who came of age in the late 1960s into the 1970s, I confess I have often bristled at the word “obedience.” I was not quite old enough to be caught up in the protests for civil rights or those against the Vietnam war, yet the cultural milieu of civil disobedience for change in those times still affected me. So did the early women’s liberation movement. I read Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem as a high school senior, wondering if someone headed to Oklahoma Baptist University, a conservative liberal arts college, would have the courage to fully embrace their radical ideas of feminism. Growing up under these influences, obedience was implicitly connected to a duty forced upon one by cultural norms that did not offer everyone the same opportunities in life. I stubbornly stuck to my Christian faith AND I always deeply questioned the “be an obedient doormat for Jesus” brand of Christianity that I encountered in some conservative circles.
Since that young time I have learned to understand obedience in relation to its Latin root word. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the English word “obey” comes from the Latin, obedire, meaning literally "listen to," from ob "to" + audire "listen, hear." This changes our perception of obedience from mindless duty or simply following the rules to“paying attention.” Obedient actions grow out of listening. The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures were charged with listening to God, and with proclaiming God’s word to God’s people (who were not listening to and observing God’s ways).
Prophetic listening leads to the protest of injustice resulting in some strange prophetic actions. The prophet, Hosea, listened and was led to go against the grain of culture and marry a wife of questionable repute. Hosea, following God’s word, marries the woman named Gomer, has children with her, and takes her back when she is claimed by another man (Hosea 1:2-10). None of these actions would have been easy. Listening to God seems to lead to acts of steadfast love that take strength of character and will, as well as counter-cultural persistence.
There is a Japanese folktale titled, “The Magic Listening Cap,” that illuminates obedience as listening. It seems there was an old man who was very poor and very faithful. Everyday he went to the shrine of his god to give gifts of thankfulness and to pray. One day he had nothing to give because in his poverty there was no food in his house. He went to the shrine and simply offered himself expecting to lose his life and die. But his god gave him a gift in exchange for his faithfulness. It was a magic listening cap. With the cap on the old man could hear the voices of creation, the conversation of the trees, the wind in their leaves, the intimate talk of the birds and animals. To make a longer story shorter, with this cap and its gift of deep listening to creation, the kind old man saved the life of a dying cypress tree, which was connected to the life of a dying man. The man he saved happened to be wealthy and he was very generous in rewarding the kind old man. The old man was never in want again and, not a being greedy man, put his magic listening cap away, never using it for indiscriminate gain. Every day he brought gifts and prayers to the shrine of his god, giving thanks for how his life had been preserved. (Click on the link above and you can hear the whole story on YouTube.)
Listening to our God involves faithful, everyday practice. We enter the shrines of our hearts to seek God’s presence. We offer ourselves as gifts. We wait to see what prophetic action we might be called to do. It might be a simple one of acknowledging someone who is “outcast” in our society--the homeless, the immigrant, the disabled, the mentally ill--with a smile, a direct look of respect, a greeting of kindness. Or it might be a larger action of advocating for justice, for housing for all, for medical care for all, for asylum and legal human rights for all. Or it could be the largest action of all action: working side by side with those our culture puts on the margins, befriending them, learning from them as fellow human beings.
Our actions all begin with listening to the prompting of the Spirit. When the action takes us to the unfamiliar and hard places, we listen again; for God will be there with stamina and strength and steadfast love.
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. Read more
Many of you have asked me, "How was the mission trip?” You might have gotten a response along the lines of “it was great!” or “our youth are amazing!” or “it was one of the best I’ve ever been on.” While all true, those answers fall short.
How do you summarize a week of spiritual growth, laughter, hope, challenges, systematic oppression, culture shock, hard work, little sleep, and intangible moments of grace? As much as I love to talk, I am at a loss for words to describe the transformational experience of spending a week at the Rosebud Episcopal Mission (REM).
Every single day we were stretched outside our comfort zones and lived by the REM motto Semper Gumby (always flexible). Each day we built stronger relationships with members of our group. We laughed and played and at night we tried to get some sleep despite the symphony of snoring. Most importantly, every day God was made known to us.
You will get to hear more of these stories from our youth at a Special Summer Forum August 11th at 11:15am. Until then, I’ll try to give you a better answer to “how was the mission trip” by using the same questions that our kids will be answering when they share their stories with you at the Forum.
What is something you did (work or fun) while on the Mission Trip?
Many of us worked at the wood barn helping to split freshly cut trees for the Fire Wood for the Elders program. Yes, FRESHLY CUT trees! Trees so fresh, when you tapped the splitter into them, water came out. Many elders have wood burning stoves to heat their homes but are not physically able to cut the wood they need for the long winter, they rely on their relatives for the wood. REM gives wood away to those who need it during the cold South Dakota winter. Walking down to the wood barn that first day, I felt that I was walking on holy ground. It is a sacred act to chop wood for strangers so they might have warmth and hope in the midst of a bleak winter. Our youth worked so hard and they did so from a place of love and faith. It was truly inspiring to watch.
What is one thing that you learned?
Every day we were at Rosebud, we had the opportunity to invite someone from the community to speak to us and teach us about the culture or life on the Rez. We learned about beading, the Lakota language, and games. We stumbled our way through traditional dances. Made fry bread and Indian Tacos and learned the history of the Reservations, food rations, and the oppression that the Lakota people live with every day. With all of that, what I learned was the capacity for compassion and understanding that our youth have for their neighbor. At times, their eagerness to learn, to listen, and to understand took my breath away. I am humbled to work with these teens and feel blessed to be their partner in ministry.
How did you see God?
For those of you who know me well, you know that I am NOT a morning person. I am known for being rather grumpy until that second cup of coffee kicks in. On one of these extra grumpy mornings, we headed up to the little chapel on top of the hill for Morning Watch. We already had a Semper Gumby moment of needing to be flexible and change plans for the day. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for the walk or the singing or really anything that wasn’t me going back to bed. Once we settled into the pews, Robbie Carlson the 1st Cong. Greeley youth leader, asked for song requests. We sang a few familiar tunes and ended with a youth ministry classic “Sanctuary.”
Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living,
sanctuary for you.
As we sang, I could feel the Holy Spirit descend upon us. It moved me to tears. As the song ended we sat together in the stillness--as though God was saying in the midst of the busy week "Be still, and know that I AM God."
What are you taking home with you? How has the Mission Trip impacted your life?
On the Rez, hope is tangible and it looks like chopped wood, split by strangers. Every group who comes to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission spends time splitting wood at the wood barn. Every group takes home a piece of wood that they split so that they can tell the story of Hope on the Rosebud Reservation. This is what I take home with me. I bring home the hope that people will know they are cared for because their homes will be warm this winter. I have brought home the hope of young people who are living out their faith and answering God’s call to love your neighbor as yourself. It is easy to lose hope when you are listening to the news, but I have seen hope. It is a piece of firewood, it is a van full of teenagers driving to a mission trip. Hope is the people of God living out their faith, helping a neighbor in need, loving God and one another. Hope is alive.
So, how was the mission trip? It was great. Our youth are amazing. This was one of the best mission trips I have ever been on.
Grace & Peace,
For those of you who missed it Sunday, at our special Congregational Meeting we elected five members of Plymouth to serve on the interim associate minister Search Committee. Thanks to Sara Myers, Harmony Tucker, Curtis Wray, and Denise Morrison for serving along with me, ex officio!
This search process has been underway with national advertising through the UCC and the Rocky Mountain Conference, and we already have some names collected by Erin Gilmore, our associate conference minister. In fact, by the time you read this on Tuesday, the search committee will have had its first meeting. When we have a candidate to present to the congregation, you’ll receive notice of another special Congregational Meeting.
While this stage of transition moves rapidly, so that we can ensure coverage as soon as possible after Jake’s departure on August 1, the Leadership Council and Personnel Committee will take a step back and consider the overall staffing configuration at Plymouth and ensure that our current associate minister job description is in line with what Plymouth needs in the coming years. Then we will form a new Search Committee for the settled associate minister (along with another special Congregational Meeting), and when they have found a candidate, we’ll have a “candidating weekend” when the congregation can meet the candidate, and that weekend will include…wait for it… another special Congregational Meeting!
One of the things I addressed yesterday at our meeting was a great question Fred Frantz asked me a week ago: Why is it that ministers have to sever relationships when they accept a new call? Clergy in the UCC are responsible for setting and maintaining good professional boundaries, and part of the ordained minister’s code says “I will not, upon my termination and departure from a ministry position, interfere with nor intrude upon the ministry of my successor.” How each minister deals with setting that boundary is up to her or him. When Sharon Benton left, she kept very tight professional boundaries, which for Sharon involved “unfriending” Plymouth members on social media…not to be hurtful or cold, but to set a professional boundary. Jake is interpreting that somewhat differently and said in his letter to the congregation that he would not “unfriend” people, but that he would not perform sacraments, rites, or counseling for Plymouth members or talk about our congregation. That, too, is setting a professional boundary, one that allows his successor the space to move into relationship with our members, and it allows Jake to move into relationship with his congregation in Connecticut. On Jake’s last Sunday, July 28, we will engage in a formal rite of releasing Jake from the vows he took when he was installed as our associate minister, and Jake will “release this local church from turning to [him] and depending on [him].”
Transitions are seldom easy…but they can be done with grace, and I trust that this will be the case for us this summer. Yesterday, one of our members commented to me, “You know, we loved Sharon, and I was really upset when she left…but then we got Jake. And Jieun was amazing, and I was really sad when she left…but then we got Mark.” I have no idea who will succeed Jake, but I do know that Plymouth will offer a warm and supportive welcome.
Thanks for being a congregation that communicates well, open, and warmly with your staff!
P.S. At a recent staff meeting, I shared one of my spiritual practices: writing out a poem or prayer and adding some (unschooled) watercolor around the edges, and several staff encouraged me to share these with the congregation, so here is poem by William Stafford called “The Way It Is,” which may be helpful in this time of transition.
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.
On August 24th, something magical will happen in Plymouth’s parking lot and front lawn! On August 24th, we will perform a miracle of goodwill and community strength. On August 24th, lives will be changed by the collective efforts of everyone both great and small.
On Saturday, August 24th, God will use Plymouth to transform unused belongings (surplus stuff, material possessions) into the greatest blessing of all—an affordable, attainable, safe home for a neighbor in our community. It is an additional miracle for Fort Collins, this year, because it is our community’s first ever Multi-Faith Build.
In order to accomplish this transformation in our parking lot, your Habitat for Humanity Ministry team needs your help! We are asking for you to drop off your unused and surplus belongings in our Fellowship Hall on Wednesday morning August 21st, Thursday afternoon August 22nd, and any time all day on Friday, August 23rd. We are also seeking donations of baked goods to sell at the sale in addition to the typical garage sale items.
The Habitat for Humanity Ministry Team is also issuing a “giving-challenge” this year for everyone to look for one $50 or more valued item to donate that they are not using or do not currently need. We all have these things around. I know I do. In addition to donating low-value items, adding one nice item each can help make all the difference. This will help us meet a higher giving goal and help empower the work God is doing through our Habitat ministry in Fort Collins.
Finally, please sign up to volunteer for the collection and organizing days during the week and for the sale itself! The signup is on the bulletin board. Non-Plymouth community members are welcome as well. Turns out that we also need customers (a lot of them) to make this work. :) Help us spread the word throughout Northern Colorado that a miracle will happen at Plymouth on August 24th... and everyone is invited to be part of it by shopping and donating!
This is my prayer for Plymouth on the 24th of August—that God will be present in our donations, our volunteering, and sales to help make home possible in this city for one of our neighbors.
In Habitat Hope,
More Information About our Partner Family
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.