What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-16-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-16-19

We are beginning our journey together as pastor and congregation. Life has taught me something about beginnings that may seem counterintuitive to some: start with the ending. Another way to say it: begin with the end in mind.

This reminds me of a personal story:

The marriage proposal was a disaster. I went ring shopping over Christmas break. Nicole and I had been dating for three years. Both of us would be graduating from divinity school the following spring. I had the strong sense that decision time was approaching: would we stay together or go our separate ways? I wanted to stay together. I took my younger brother with me to the mall just to do some initial ring pricing. I told Brett that I planned on proposing to Nicole on Valentine’s Day.

So here’s where things went sideways. Valentine’s Day rolls around, and I haven’t quite settled on a ring. No problem. Nicole’s birthday is February 17. I’ll propose to her then. What I didn’t know was that Brett had told my dad my plan to propose on Valentine’s Day. Apparently dad immediately started spreading the news to the whole family.

Valentine’s Day evening, Nicole and I had had supper together and were studying in my studio apartment when the phone begins ringing. It’s dad.

“Congratulations,” he says.

“What are you talking about?” I reply.

“Did she say ‘Yes’?”

I take the phone into the bathroom, the only place with any privacy. I explain the situation: the new plan is to propose in three days, on Nicole’s birthday. But it was too late. The phone kept ringing and ringing as one after another family members called to congratulate me. Finally, Nicole looked up from the book she was reading and asked what was going on.

I apologized. I knelt down next to where she was lying on the folded up futon. I explained the situation. This wasn’t what I had planned, but would she marry me? She said, “Yes.” Then we discussed what that would mean. Both of us were children of divorced parents. Could we realistically promise “‘Til death parts us” knowing how fragile promises can be? And even if our marriage survived the travails of time and change, death stood at the end, the ironclad promise that is the inescapable inheritance of everything that breathes. Together we squarely faced our future. Out of that conversation this private promise arose: “Whatever happens, we do it together.” We started with the end in mind, and out of that end, we fashioned our vow.

Six months later at Church of the Three Crosses Nicole and I promised to “love and sustain” each other “as long as we both shall live.” For the past 22 years we have been faithful to that promise. I’m confident that whatever life brings our way, our promise to face it together will hold.

I realize that this might seem a little disconcerting. But as I said at the beginning, I’ve found that the most powerful bonds are built when we start with the ending. As your Transitional Senior Minister, I begin with the acknowledgment of impermanence. Every one of us is temporary. It is not up to us to decide how much time we will have. It is up to us to decide how we will use the time we’ve been given. As for me, I vow to make the most of it. What will your promise be? I hope that whatever the future brings, we will face it together.

Worship Resources for Easter 5C

The Peace Candle

Holy God, teach us your peace that passes understanding. While the world around us burns with conflict and hatred, we take shelter in your boundless love. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to return to you. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

We want to be ready, O God, to enter the Holy City, to sit at the banquet table, and to join with all creation in celebrating your salvation. We can’t do that, however, if all we do is take. We give back a portion of all you’ve given hoping that one day we might be at peace. Amen.

The Drummer 5-8-19

Behold, I do a new thing!

Hi friends! My name is Pastor Todd Grant Yonkman. I’m the new Transitional Senior Minister at First Congregational Church of Granby. “Transitional,” you say. “What’s that?”

Like many churches across the country FCC Granby is in a process of transition. The way we’ve done things in the past cannot continue to be the way we do things in the future. What we will be is not yet clear. What is clear is that things need to change. Hence, transition.

A transitional minister is a special kind of minister who job it is to lead change.

I love transitional ministry because I love working together with teams of people to create something new. In Scripture God says, “Behold, I do a new thing. Do you not perceive it?”

Moment by moment God brings new things to life. What about you? What’s God doing in your life? Can you perceive it? I’d love to hear about the new things God is doing in you, in your family, at you work, in the community. Let me know when we can chat. My email is pastor@firstchurchgranby.org.

Maybe you are in some kind of transition: new job, new house, new kid, new town, newly retired, new diagnosis, new sense of calling in your life. Churches in transition are great places for people in transition. We can support each other both through the excitement of what might be and through the pain of letting go of what was. This is life! This is what it means to be mature, responsible, and loving.

Hope to see you soon.

Pray for Boldness (Acts 4:23-31)

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon for Farewell Worship

31 March 2019

Text: Acts 4:23-31

Pray for Boldness

         My first thought when the movers left the apartment was that this was a mistake. I was sure that both my career and my marriage were in jeopardy because I had taken a call to be the Transitional Senior Minister at First Congregational Church of Stamford. My life was over. Stamford is 80 miles away from my home in Windsor, which meant that I would be spending the majority of my days and nights in this apartment away from my family for the foreseeable future. It was a devastating realization. I called my wife and my kids every day. I also cried every day that first week.

         When I returned to Windsor after that first week, I was still convinced that I had made a big mistake. My wife, Nicole, said to me, “See your spiritual director. That always makes you feel better.” So I did. I told David what was going on. He said, “Stick it out for two weeks. Do your spiritual practice every day. Remember, your thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not the truth.” So I did what my spiritual director said. Every day for at least 30 minutes I sat in silence, watched my breath, and let my thoughts float by. Slowly my mind began to settle. Slowly I started to feel more grounded. I was still very aware of the fragility of my situation. This church had forced out its previous senior minister. There was little preventing the same thing from happening to me. 

         Miraculously, instead of feeling anxious and timid, I felt emboldened. Then, just weeks into my tenure here, I was making my 80 mile Sunday morning commute when a deer leaped across Interstate 95 and onto the hood of my car. I spun around twice into oncoming traffic and stalled. Somehow I managed to get myself and my pet bunny out of the car and to the side of the road. First I called my wife. Then I called the police. Then I called Peter Birch, who drove out to Westport, picked me up, and drove me to church in time for service. I preached on the doctrine of the Trinity and danced with Wally Williams as a sermon illustration. Through these experiences I developed a new spiritual practice: preach every sermon as if it were my last because for any number of reason it well might be. And, look, here we are, my last sermon with you.

         Scripture tells us that what Jesus had predicted for his disciples had come to pass. They were doing miracles and gaining followers just like he did. They were also experiencing persecution just like Jesus had. Today’s Scripture is the final episode in a longer story of Peter healing a lame man who had been begging in front of the temple. When people asked how Peter had done this miracle he told them about Jesus. The authorities didn’t like what Peter and John had to say, so they arrested them, interrogated them, and ordered them to stop telling people about Jesus. Peter and John refused. Nevertheless, the authorities let them go. When Peter and John returned and told the other disciples about their experience, they didn’t pray for protection, they prayed for boldness. 

The Greek word that is translated “boldness” also means, “free spoken, open.” It means you say what you think, not in some meanspirited, vindictive way but out of conviction. Pastor and youth ministry specialist Mike Yaconelli puts it this way, “Boldness doesn’t mean rude, obnoxious, loud, or disrespectful. Being bold is being firm, sure, confident, fearless, daring, strong, resilient, and not easily intimidated. It means you’re willing to go where you’ve never been, willing to try what you’ve never tried, and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted. Boldness is quiet, not noisy.” Rabbi and organizational consultant Edwin Friedman calls this quality principled leadership. It’s the sort of boldness that 16thcentury protestant reformer Martin Luther demonstrated—the one after whom Dr. Martin Luther King was named. 400 years before the civil rights activist, Martin Luther stood trial for protesting abuses in the church. Facing a panel of inquisitors famous for burning heretics he said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

You have taught me boldness. And for that I cannot thank you enough. Week after week I have stood before you and preached my last sermon. Week after week you kept showing up for more. My previous church experience had taught me that I could be punished for any ill-considered word. Churches taught me that any difficult truth could kick the sabotage grapevine into high gear. Congregations had taught me speaking freely is just too risky. Church people taught me that honesty is unwelcome. But you changed all that. Slowly I began to worry less about blow back and upset. Slowly I risked grounding myself in deeper truths. I’ll never forget one Sunday following worship in the first church I served many years ago. I had told a story about my dad’s alcoholism to illustrate a sermon. One of the older members afterward said, “Save it for coffee hour.” Meaning, personal stories were unwelcome in the pulpit. Here you’ve supported me as I’ve deepened my connection with God, with my family, with myself, with my ministry, and with you.

My prayer for you going forward is that you will be filled with boldness. I pray that you will freely and openly give your testimony. Share your faith. The people of Stamford so desperately need bold, compassionate leaders in the community. My spiritual director calls the result of spiritual practice “true self-confidence,” as opposed to the shallow bluster we’ve become so accustomed to in our leaders. Here’s a short video about that kind of true confidence.

It turns out this wasn’t a mistake at all. From the eyes of the world, from the conventional perspective, this has turned out all wrong. The building is sold, the pastor is moving on, everything has changed. In a world that values victory this looks like defeat. But I don’t see it that way at all. We know something that others don’t. I’ve seen the twinkle in your eyes. We may have just glimpsed the truth for a second, but that’s infinitely more than most churches. Most churches are coasting along pretending they will never die. We have looked that reality squarely in the face, embraced it, and have placed our trust in resurrection on the other side. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” You know the truth. You are free. Now live like it.You have a story to tell and a testimony to give. Proclaim it with boldness.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-27-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-27-19

This column began at the suggestion of the Vision Support Team (VST) during a meeting in my Stamford apartment in April 2016. The VST was a group of FCC members committed to support the congregation’s vision for our transitional ministry. Team members at that time included Maureen Matthews, Ellen Taylor, Peter Birch, Jean Meyer, Pam Shadford, Kathie Laug.

Our transitional goals were 1) Simplifying governance and By-laws including financial record keeping and reporting; 2) Becoming more welcoming and engaging; 3) Developing more meaningful relationships with one another; 4) Offering more varied opportunities for spiritual development and leadership development; 5) Continuing to expand upon our strong community service work; 6) Communicate more effectively and civilly–both internally and externally. I mention them simply to appreciate how far we’ve come over the past three years.

We have left many things behind as together we have moved into God’s future. But we are also carrying some things forward. Personally, besides carrying forward all of you, the memories of all we’ve been through, and all of the things I’ve learned, I think I’m also going to continue this column in my new setting. What’s up with Pastor Todd? What is up with that guy? That question is a helpful spiritual discipline for me to ask week after week. If ever you should wonder, you can check in at www.todd-grant-yonkman.net. This is goodbye for now, not forever.

Worship Resources for Farewell Service 3-31-19 (Acts 4:23-31)

Call To Worship         

Scripture reminds us that we are all connected. Scripture teaches us that we are already complete. Scripture shows us that our true nature is freedom. Worship is the way we remind ourselves of what we already know: we are bound together in God’s limitless love. Let’s worship God.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, we live distracted, fragmented lives. On our own, we are powerless to put ourselves back together. We believe the lie that we are hopelessly alone. We allow ourselves to be seduced by the claim that life is a relentless war for dominance. Send your spirit upon us. Calm our fears. Heal our hearts. Give us the quiet confidence to boldly proclaim your everlasting love. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, we pray for boldness, not just protection, as we offer our lives and resources in service of the gospel. We dedicate these offerings to the healing of the world. Amen.

Worship Resources for Sunday 3-24-19 (Acts 4:1-22)

Call To Worship        

The human heart longs for God. That ache that we feel inside, the isolation, the lack of purpose and meaning, unresolved grief if it isn’t attended to can lead us to some pretty dark places. That’s why before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples an experience and a mission. The experience was resurrection. The mission was tell what they had seen and heard. In worship we have the opportunity to connect with God and live out our mission. Let’s worship God.

Prayer of Confession       

How can we share with others what we haven’t experienced ourselves? Holy God, we’re just like the first disciples. Jesus stands right before us yet somehow we miss it. Jesus tells us in plain words the way of the cross that leads to resurrection; nevertheless, we resist. Open the eyes of our hearts. We want to see you. Amen.

“Speaking What We’ve Seen and Heard.” Sermon 3-24-19

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon for the 3rdSunday of Silent Period

24 March 2019

Text: Acts 4:1-21

Speaking What We’ve Seen and Heard

            Scripture tells us that the Sadducees forbade Peter and John from telling people about Jesus. Why? The Sadducees were an ancient school of Judaism that did not believe in resurrection. Jews at the time of Jesus, like Jews and Christians today, had a wide variety of beliefs about the afterlife. Some believed in heaven and hell. Some did not. Some Jews believed that that God would bring good people back to life at the end of time, others did not. What’s important here is that the Sadducees believed people just die. Human beings are mortal. God is eternal. What’s important is what we do with our lives here and now. Our lives are carried forward in the memories of our family and our faith community who are entrusted with the sacred task of remembering those who have gone on before. That doesn’t sound so strange, does it? In fact, my guess is that many modern people believe some version of this, including some people here this morning. It’s a rational belief. It fits the evidence of our lives as we live them in the conventional world of consensual reality. Dead people stay dead, and we remember them. Peter and John were telling folks that God had raised Jesus from the dead. God had reached past the impenetrable barrier of finitude and restored someone to life. God broke the rules. And that scared the life out of the Sadducees, so they tried shut Peter and John up.

            It wasn’t just that Peter and John were saying it. If no one listened, there would be no reason for the Sadducees to intervene. If no one believed, there would be no reason for the Sadducees to feel threatened. But people did listen because a man that they knew well, a man who had been lame from his birth, a man whom they passed by on their way to the temple, a man who begged alms from them because his disability gave him no other option, a man who watched others pass through the Beautiful Gate but who wasn’t able to enter himself, this man was now walking and dancing and leaping and shouting and telling everyone that Peter and John had healed him. When they asked how this miracle happened Peter told them that it was through the power of Jesus, whom God had raised from the dead. The people listened. Not only did they listen, they believed. They believed that the same power that healed this man could heal them, too. They believed that the same power that had raised Jesus could raise them, too. The message had power not because it was some fantasy. The message had power not because the people were gullible. The message had power not because Peter and John incredibly talented con men. The message had power because there was new evidence. The evidence that transformed Peter and John was the appearance of the risen Christ. The evidence that convinced the people at the temple was the testimony of a man who had been healed and the testimony of those who were agents of his healing. The healed man, Peter and John, were speaking not what they imagined, but what they had seen and heard. 

            I believe in God because I’ve seen the evidence. I’m not interested in fantasies or lies or sophisticated cons to lighten your wallets any more than you are. I believe in God because of you. You have stepped out beyond the bounds of what I thought possible. Clinging to the past, refusing to face reality, fighting change–these behaviors are very familiar to me. I confront these behaviors within myself every day. I think it’s incredibly ironic that God has called me to lead you and other congregations through transition when personally I’m so horrible at it. I don’t enjoy transitions at all. I find them frightening and exhausting. Like you, I’d rather be in control. Like the Sadducees, I’d rather God stuck to the rules. I’d rather God’s wisdom were conventional wisdom, God’s reality consensual reality. I like the idea of resurrection, but I hate that one has to pass through death to get there. I’d much rather the myth of progress were true. I’d much rather the path abundant and eternal life led every upward and onward. But it doesn’t. In order to know joy, God invites us to become acquainted with sorrow. In order to know delight, God invites us to walk the path of suffering. In order to know healing, God asks us to face our disease. In order to know freedom, God opens in us the heart of letting go. And you have done all these things. You are doing all these things. I believe in the way of Jesus because I’ve seen the evidence. And the evidence is you.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-19-19


This work of leave-taking is exhausting. Those of you who have walked the path of grieving before are likely not surprised. Too often our wider culture discounts emotional work. It’s not “real” work the way taking meetings or building widgets or producing content or selling products or generating wealth is. Instead of tools for doing emotional work, our culture offers us ways of escaping it through distractions and entertainments or ways of numbing ourselves to it through addictions of various kinds. Much of the outrage we pollute our social spaces with is simply a means of avoiding grief work that the powerful have cleverly found ways to monetize. As a congregation we know from our own experience that neglecting difficult emotional work is perilous to our personal health and the health of the community. The only way to heal emotional suffering is to face it together with a skilled guide. So two things:

  1. In the next two weeks find moments for intentional rest. Not burying your face in your favorite distraction, but finding your upright posture, connecting to your breath, and bringing your energy down to your heart. That’s one way to do it. Whatever your spiritual practice, stay with it.
  2. Make it a priority to show up for Sunday worship. This Sunday, for example, Rev. Margaret Keyser will be joining us. Following worship she will be leading us in some healing work.

Our leave-taking is not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity to experience God’s healing love in ways you haven’t yet imagined.