“Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy…”
I’m back! Catching up on email, helping two new staff members get up to speed, trying to remember the deadlines for getting in staff reflections, bulletins, Overview announcements, etc. And connecting with you one by one through email, phone, rare chance encounters in the office. Leading worship yesterday through our yearly practice of Instant Sermons was great fun and I loved hearing the questions. They always help me feel so much closer to you.
As I left in July, I wrote to you that I hoped to encounter the Holy moment by moment even in the midst of the nitty gritty – “taking out the trash, picking up puppy poop, doing the dishes, etc.” I thought of that hope several times and wondered, “Am I accomplishing my mission? Am I letting go and living in the moment?” Isn’t it amazing that even when we set out to rest, to just be, we find it so hard to set down our accomplishment mindset? The voices in our heads that say, “What did you do today? Did you move any farther in the building of your life? Did you get better at what you want to accomplish?” are tyrannical! I did have moments of “being”, in play, in reading, in laughing with Hal and friends, in three wonderful trail rides at Ring Lake Ranch. I did not have quite as many quiet meditation moments due to an active puppy. These will return, in time.
Anne Lamott, a wonderfully funny, poignant and deeply thoughtful writer, has a book titled, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I have yet to read this book, but the title is right on. (And having read other Lamott books I can highly recommend her writing.) “Help,” “thanks,” “wow” are three ways to stay in the moment in life and in prayer. I know I had these moments on sabbatical. “Help” me be patient with this puppy, with myself, with our government! “Thanks” for the wonder of growing my own tomatoes and eggplant, arugula and pumpkins in our backyard, for the antics of puppies that make me laugh, for a week in a beautiful place where someone else cooked delicious food and I reconnected with old friends! “Wow, Holy One!” Creation is astoundingly and inexpressibly beautiful! “Wow” - that sky and those clouds and those multi-colored cliffs that surrounded me as I road horseback through the wilds of the Wyoming’s Wind River basin. “Wow!” as I gazed at 1500 year old petroglyphs made from the prayer images of indigenous people who lived on this same land that was welcoming me with open arms as it had welcomed them.
So as I return to ministry with you in this strange fall of 2020, I say, Help and Thanks and Wow! “Help” us learn more together, and learn more deeply, what it means to be the people of God in the midst of pandemic, protest and political elections! “Thanks” for the beloved community of Plymouth as we learn to connect in new ways in the midst of social distancing! “Wow, Holy One!” You are Love and Love is with us always! In times of darkness and in times of light. You accompany us moment by moment. Even when we are not watching.
Blessings to you my fellow travelers as we journey together,
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
Petroglyphs from the Sheep Eater people and view of the Absaroka Mountains from horseback.
Sometimes I think that the Commandment we Americans break with the greatest frequency is observing the sabbath. Honestly, do you set aside a day for rest, regeneration, and focus on your relationship with God? I don’t imagine that more than a partial handful of us at Plymouth actually take a sabbath day each week. Sabbath, of course, is Saturday (hence “Sabado” in Spanish and “sabato” in Italian), and our Jewish siblings observe it thus. Most Christians opt for “The Lord’s Day,” the day of Jesus’ resurrection, as our holy day. Going back as far as the Didache in the 2nd century, believers were to "Gather together each Sunday, break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure."
But sabbath is not just about worship; it also concerns a rhythm for the week. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20.8)
Do you refrain from your professional work, volunteer work, household chores, errands, and so forth on the sabbath, even if you observe it on Sunday? To be sure, that is still the case for schismatic Presbyterians (the “Wee Frees”) in the Hebrides of Scotland, and our Puritan and Pilgrim ancestors in the Congregational tradition also were strict in their observance of sabbath each week. (We still had “blue laws” in Connecticut when I was growing up.) Isn’t it strange that as we developed a strong “Protestant work ethic,” we seem to have let go of sabbath-keeping?
I’ve just returned from a week of retreat at Ring Lake Ranch, an ecumenical study center in Wyoming, which has deep associations with Plymouth its members, especially the Petersen-Myerses, the Hoyers, the Schulzes, the Dilles, and others. I was meant to be doing a course with Diana Butler Bass this summer, but all presentations were cancelled due to the coronavirus, but they kept the Ranch open at 50% guest capacity for retreat time. I am really grateful that Plymouth allows for sabbatical (and for having Jane Anne at Ring Lake for part of hers) as well as continuing education time for its pastors. Ring Lake Ranch’s motto is “Renewal in sacred wilderness,” which is spot-on. Both Jane Anne and I had a time of renewal…as did Mark Lee, who was taking a break from his new congregation in South Dakota! I encourage you to try Ring Lake Ranch next summer for some great seminar presenters. (Go to ringlake.org for more info.)
The past six months of pandemic have been taxing for all of us…learning to adapt to new ways of worship and being church, working and educating kids from home, resisting the urge to hug or even shake hands with our friends. And it has taken a toll on many of us: on our social, psychological, and spiritual lives. (Racial crises and desperate presidential politics don’t help our sense of well-being, either.)
So, how do we find resilience in the midst of this marathon that we hoped would end with the first sprint? Sabbath may be the part of the answer. If you can find a way to carve out and set apart a time each week or get away for a few nights of camping or a trip to the mountains, I endorse that as a pastoral recommendation. Thomas Keating used to describe prayer time as “a hot date with God,” and I commend to you some time of contemplative restoration of your soul, whether in the wilderness or in your backyard.
May you be blessed by the discovery of inner strength and faith this week.
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.
You are invited to participate in a ritual to release with this video.
Below the video is the letter that Mandy wrote to the congregation on July 23 to say goodbye.
I am writing to you today with some difficult news. On Tuesday, I tendered my resignation as Director of Christian Formation for Children and Youth effective August 15, 2020. That is a special day to me, because it is our 6th year anniversary together. It has truly been an honor to serve you in this role for so long and I will forever be grateful for our ministry together.
We have had an incredible six years together, full of growth, transitions, blessings, challenges, laughter and tears. You welcomed me into your community when I was fresh off my honeymoon and moved from Michigan to be with Chris while he finished his PhD at CSU. You welcomed me into your homes and into your lives. It has been my privilege to watch your kids grow up - from nursery to elementary and from elementary to highschool and beyond. I smiled when the toddler who wouldn’t let go of their parent’s hand, started running with joy to their classroom. I watched as the shy sixth grader refused to get out of the car for youth group, grew into a confident leader. I was there when the La Foret camper became a counselor, creating holy mischief with the younger kids.
I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. For example, watching the youth hide easter eggs on the roof because they were so excited as kids when they found them there; the trips to Wendy’s on our way down to La Foret and always showing up late on Friday night because of the bad traffic; the joy of seeing our teens and college students dress up for the 3pm Christmas service, with the tallest angel and gender bending holy family; walking down the hallway in the north wing and getting hugs and smiles from the kiddos who wanted to share their art projects with me; and all of the meetings, storytelling and scheming over a pint of cider at Scrumpy’s. You have filled my heart with joy and I have felt so loved by each of you. I pray that you know you are loved and that you have been blessed by our time together as much as I have.
I am so grateful for the volunteers that brought life and light to the programs, who helped them go from (sometimes crazy) ideas to transformative ministries. I am humbled by the countless hours and love that you have poured into the life of this church. I am grateful for all of the child care staff members who have taught me how to be a better manager and leader. I am grateful to the staff members who have walked with me on this journey of faithfully serving God and serving you. I am grateful to all of the parents who trusted me with a small part of their children’s spiritual development. I am grateful for the children and youth who let me walk alongside them as they grew deeper in faith, as they pushed back against church, as they asked questions and began to articulate their own beliefs. It has been my honor to be a part of your journey. You will never know how much you taught, challenged and blessed me.
Together we experimented with new ways of doing Christian Formation in a progresive setting. I have been amazed by the creativity and energy that so many of you put into the children and youth ministries. Your willingness to change and try new things blew me away. I am tempted to list all the different iterations of the Formation ministries over the years, but you know them. We did the hard work of change, growth and evolution together. Yes, there were some spectacular failures along the way, and I hope that you will forgive me for them. Your strength, resilience and faith allowed us to keep trying hard things. I pray that you continue to dream big for your children’s faith development and your own. For the past six years, you didn’t let the familiar overshadow your potential for growth. May you continue to be brave and to listen for God to speak and move in your ministry.
It is time for me to be brave and step out of the boat. Through prayer I have discerned a new call to Hospice ministry and I have accepted a position as Chaplain at Dignity Hospice of Colorado. I feel called to hold a sacred space for individuals and families as they grapple with the reality of death. It will be hard work, but it will be good work.
I am thankful for all that I have learned from my time at Plymouth. We have been through a lot together. I am truly grateful for all the ways that this church and its ministry has challenged me, encouraged me, and helped me to grow as a person and as a minister. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
Grace and Peace,
As we plan and offer worship through these pandemic times I have been needled with the question: what can a contemporary Christian worship service be like? We certainly know it can be virtual. At once removed but uniquely intimate. Perhaps evidenced by watching on Sunday mornings in your own home, with your own coffee mug, and in your favorite leisurely nightwear! Personally, my view on this topic has evolved incredibly over the past ten years and particularly in my tenure here with you. Traditional worship is the backbone worship format in our community but there is so much more.
The Vespers service has been a particular blessing during this pandemic. Based on the ancient office of the canonical hours, this brief 30 minute prayerful service is intended to be a source of rejuvenation and healing as the day draws to a close. A service of comfort and hope. A reminder of the eternal Light in the darkness. Chants or hymns are sung interspersed with prayers, poems, and scripture. Musically, one can expect a broad range of contemplative styles drawing from the Celtic, Ionian, Anglican, and Taizé traditions with touches of jazz, folk, and minimalist influences. Those who have attended the 6:00 p.m. services will often find many similarities, including the regular use of the sung "Prayer of Jesus" by John Philip Newell.
Another similarity with the 6:00 p.m. service is the free and improvisatory nature of the music-making. I will often say to the musicians who participate that we never play the same thing twice! I have yet to do so with the "Prayer of Jesus."
We also explore the connections between sacred and supposed secular music by recognizing the intersecting spiritual dimensions. You will have noticed we occasionally have a "6:00 p.m. @10:00 a.m." service which has featured music by The Beatles, David Bowie, even Dave Brubeck. The structured appeal and respect for history of traditional worship is beautiful. The music and ritual honed over the centuries is a treasure to the church at large. But it is a blessing that at Plymouth we have the freedom to create new traditions with just as much intention: all for the glory of God.
A revelation to me was in my preparations for this week's 7:00 p.m. Vespers service on August 5. I knew I wanted to compose a chant or two. Arrangement and reharmonization is a weekly task for this service just as it was for the 6:00 p.m. But I wanted to do something different....and then the floodgates opened. I did not so much compose all four chants but rather notated what was flooding into my mind. The results were satisfying and surprising in their insistence to come to life. And I thought how wonderful to be so inspired and contribute to a service at Plymouth in this way. And to have the freedom to do so. The process and experience was no different than composing for any band I was in back in the day.
Diversity at Plymouth comes in many forms. It is the one aspect of being here that continually enriches. From my corner of worship life, it is a blessing to be a part of. I invite you to take part in Vespers, perhaps this week, and immerse yourself in Plymouth's vital worship life. Even during a pandemic we can be connected, if not in person, in spirit.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.