What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-21

Sample “balance wheel”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-21

When it came to grades, my youngest daughter had challenges with focus. Her report card would show straight A’s in math, language arts, and social studies, for example, and then a low B in science and Spanish. At parent-teacher conferences we would agree to focus more on science and Spanish. Next report card she would have straight A’s in Spanish and science, but her grades in the other areas would drop. It became clear that it wasn’t a matter of ability, but how to maintain a balanced focus. Olivia was struggling with something many of us find challenging even into adulthood: how to know what to focus on, how much to focus on it, and when to focus on it. Olivia had no difficulty focussing on one thing–especially if she really enjoyed it. My guess is this is true for many of us. Balanced focus was much more difficult. I find that it is a lifelong project. Hence, the “balance wheel.”

The “balance wheel” or “wheel of life” is a simple tool for taking a snapshot of the “balance” in one’s life. See example on above. The wheel is divided into eight categories. They can be any areas of significance in your life. The concentric circles represent “level of satisfaction.” Take, for example, the category “business/career.” “1” represents the lowest satisfaction, i.e. “I need to quit now.” “10” represents highest satisfaction, i.e. “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!” Place an X on the 1-10 scale in each category. Then connect the dots. You can see in this example that the “wheel” for this fictitious person is almost a square. The balance wheel helps one identify areas that may be out of balance and then identify strategies for making the wheel more “round.” The idea is that a round wheel will roll more smoothly and swiftly than a lumpy, out-of-balance one.

Recently I was reminded of the “balance wheel” exercise. It made me wonder if it could be adapted for organizational use. I created an example (below). I took the six Granby UCC working groups and added “worship” and “faith formation” as separate areas to make eight. How do you see our “balance” right now? The balance wheel encourages us to dream. Imagine a “10” in Program, i.e. “I can’t believe our church does all this amazing stuff!” What would it take to get us there? Likewise a “10” in Getting-to-Know-You (clearly we’re almost there, maybe 9.5) or Worship or History? Sometimes in the mess of life we can get in the habit of “just bumping along.” Remember: those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength and find their balance.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-21

Recently First Church member Bill Bentley shared an opinion piece entitled “America is no longer as evangelical as it was – and here’s why” as fuel for conversation among Granby congregations. Author Diana Butler Bass shares her personal faith journey from a mainline Protestant upbringing to her “born again” experience in high school, which led to immersion in the Evangelical world, to her journey back to an Episcopalian church. She connects her personal faith journey to the latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which released its American Religious Landscape Survey for 2020.

Many of the findings showed previously identified trends continuing: increasing racial and ethnic diversity, increasing religious diversity, increasing numbers of people identifying as “unaffiliated.” One surprising trend reversal: the survey showed between 2018 and 2020 a slight uptick in the percentage of white Christians. Still more surprising: this was despite an accelerated drop in the percentage of white Evanglicals. Even still more surprising: this was due to an increase in the percentage of white people identifying as mainline Protestant.

Butler Bass has theories about this reversal. I have theories about this reversal. I won’t get into them here. I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions. There are, however, implications for our Granby UCC consolidation/restart project. 

  1. This is a simple reminder that trends–whether decline or growth–are not immutable. Butler Bass warns against fantasies of returning to the “golden-age” or mid 20th century mainline dominance. Nevertheless, mainline demise is not inevitable. There’s an opportunity here for those congregations willing to meet it.
  2. Almost 20 years ago pastor and author Brian McLaren–whose faith journey resonates with Butler Bass’ (and mine)–wrote More Ready Than You Realize: The Power of Everyday Conversations.  Butler Bass’ piece reminded me of this title. My guess is that Granby has a sizeable number of unaffiliated folks and folks for whom the Evanglical church is no longer a good fit. They may be looking–as I was many years ago–for another way of being Christian. We could offer that to them. That is why I continue to encourage us to reach new people. Now more than ever there are increasing numbers of Diana Butler Bass’, Brian McLarens, and Todd Yonkmans out there. They might be interested in what we have to offer if we offer it to them.
  3. One caution: success in reaching people who are looking for an alternative, more inclusive way of being Christian will require mainline folks to critically examine their own prejudices against Evangelicals. My guess is that this is one of the primary barriers to folks who might otherwise be interested in checking us out. I can attest that throughout my 25 year career I’ve heard remarks and experienced attitudes from UCC folks that heard through the ears of my Evangelical upbringing sound very offputting and unwelcoming, which is disconcerting coming from a church that says, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” For a helpful examination of “liberal” prejudice see Van Jones’ “Big Think” talk on disagreement vs. disrespect. Let’s truly commit to meeting everyone wherever they find themselves on the journey.

Worship Resource: Centering Reading (scripture reference Mk. 9:24)

Centering Reading                                                                                                                                     

Jesus tells us that he is the Way. The Great Way we call Jesus invites us to practice great faith, great doubt, great effort, and great patience. Whether longtimers and newcomers we are all just beginners on the path. With a child’s heart we once again enter the Way with wonder, curiosity, and unlimited possibility.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-16-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-16-21

“Everyone should have a chance to be the watering can, and everyone should have a chance to be the flower.” At our (almost) weekly TGIF (“Thank goodness it’s Friday”) social gatherings I’ve been asking First Church and South Church folks about the consolidation conversation: what’s exciting, what’s challenging, what’s working, what’s not working, where folks find God in the mix. When I asked a South Church person at a recent TGIF how she thought things were going she responded that she really appreciated the possibility of increased volunteer support. She said that at church “Everyone should have a chance to be the watering can, and everyone should have a chance to be the flower.”

I must have made a quizzical expression because she explained that at South Church (much like First Church, in my opinion) it’s been the same people rotating leadership positions for quite some years. Volunteers are getting tired and burned out. She explained that in her ideal church everyone gets a chance to be the watering can–that is, everyone has a chance to serve on behalf of the larger community–and everyone gets to be a flower–that is, everyone gets a chance to be served and nourished by the larger community. Her hope was that joining together would create a larger volunteer base and more opportunity for people to shift in and out of “watering can” and “flower” roles. I agreed. In my experience that is how healthy churches and organizations function. Dying churches are “stuck” churches and “stuckness” manifests in the same people stuck in the same roles year after year. Watering cans need opportunities to refill if they are to continue watering and flowers need to share their fruit if they are going to continue to grow.

A little story about flowers and watering cans: Last week I joined my wife to hike about 50 miles of the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail. She is hiking the entire 200 miles of the Maine Appalachian Trail for her sabbatical. During our hike we got rained on for almost two days straight. As we hiked through the rain I just got soggier and soggier. It was unpleasant. The trees and the moss and the ferns, however, shone with a bright green radiance as if they were rejoicing with every drop. The sun eventually came out. Nicole and I dried off. And by the time we had completed our 50 mile itinerary, I was reluctant to leave. Though difficult and unpleasant at times, the journey had been incredibly spiritually refreshing for me. It was so good to unplug, step out of my daily routine, and engage in a strenuous physical challenge. My point is, being a “flower” isn’t always pleasant. It takes both rain and sunshine to grow. And being a “watering can” doesn’t have to be onerous. Frederick Buechner wrote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.” I look forward to creating a community of joy and genuine spiritual nourishment together. 

Worship Resource 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Centering Reading

There are many different stories of faith and tales of trust. The Bible is full of them. We are full of them. Some are dramatic. Some are ordinary. Some make us anxious with their seemingly impossible demands. Some comfort and encourage us. They’re all just stories. They help us understand our lives. Yet they are not our lives. Our lives are more than the stories we tell about ourselves. They are more than the stories others tell about us because the Author of all life isn’t finished with us. God says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-2-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-2-21

Congratulations to First Church and South Church on a $15,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to four different South and First initiatives. A number of folks from both churches worked really hard on writing the proposal. On behalf of all of us I’d like to thank Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg in particular for her leadership in this effort: identifying the opportunity and giving advice on crafting the language that ultimately resulted in the award. The faith-based grant program from HFPG is a new grant opportunity to support faith organizations assisting residents who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, addressing needs of congregants and the broader community impacted by racial/ethnic, geographic, economic disparities, or advancing community engagement focused on social and racial justice.  The initiatives are Waste Not Want Not, the Grab ‘n Go program offered by First Church, the Granby Racial Reconciliation group, and the GUCCI coaches who are assisting the Program Working Group. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how these four initiatives develop with the funding and the accountability structure that the grant provides. Last week I wrote about Waste Not Want Not and Grab ‘n Go and suggested the resource Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry by Elizabeth Mae Magill, which makes a distinction between a charity model and a relational model for food ministry. As we reflect on how to deploy the grant resources, it may be helpful for us to keep that distinction in mind. What’s our vision for food ministry in the church-to-be-formed? Which model would best serve that vision? How does food ministry fit within the overall vision for the new church? My understanding is that the Program Working Group will have a leadership role in these conversations. How will the Program Working Group leverage our coaching resources to clarify these issues? Though Waste Not Want Not and Grab ‘n Go are perhaps the most familiar food ministries in our churches, they aren’t the only food ministries.

Since April Granby Racial Reconciliation has been partnering with Food Solutions New England in leading a 15-week Racial Equity Challenge. Our own Ann Wilhelm is one of the visionaries behind this challenge. I encourage you to check out the websites above for more details on GRR’s and FSNE’s visions for community transformation. Both GRR and FSNE use a relational model because their goals aren’t limited to direct aid to the suffering but include making the whole system more just and equitable so that there are fewer suffering people. For those of you who don’t know, Granby Racial Reconciliation was formed a little over a year ago following the murder of George Floyd. Clergy and lay people from both South Church and First Church are involved in leading the group along with clergy from four other churches in town and many town leaders. We’ve had a number of successful events over the past twelve months including Hidden Figures Drive-in, a candidate forum, MLK town-wide preach in and community forum, a couple of vigils on the town green, and work with the school board to support racial equity and inclusion in our schools. There’s a lot more to come. I’m so grateful to everyone for their faithful effort not only in providing much needed charity but also in leading transformative relational ministry.

Worship Resource: Independence Day, 4 July 2021

Circa 1855: Ex-slave, American abolitionist, agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and US Minister to Haiti in 1889, and author of “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Frederick Douglass (Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) (1817 – 1895). He became the first black man to be received at the White House, by President Abraham Lincoln. (Photo by Library Of Congress/Getty Images)

Centering Reading                                                                                                                                       

Independence Day means many things to many people. To some it is a day to celebrate our nation’s past. To others it’s a day to honor the symbols of our country. For others it’s a long weekend at the lake with family. For some it’s a reminder of the stolen land and stolen labor on which America’s great wealth has been built. For others it’s a reminder that the promises of freedom have been painfully slow in their fulfillment. While we may be tempted to turn away from the contradictions and complications of our homeland, Jesus invites us to take a closer look. Our God invites us to stretch our hearts in a wider embrace. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-25-21

Y’all Come Community Lunch

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-25-21

Both First Church and South Church have food ministries. South Church hosts Waste Not Want Not, a weekly community meal. During COVID First Church started the Grab ‘n Go weekend snack pack program to provide additional food support and build relationships in our community. Food ministry is historic and widespread among churches in the U.S. So much so that there are numerous resources outlining what “works” and doesn’t work when engaging in food ministry depending on what the church’s goals are. A UCC colleague of mine, Elizabeth Mae Magill, recently published a helpful guide for transformational food ministry: Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry.

She begins the book by telling the story of “Alan,” an unhoused person whom Rev. Magill first met as someone who attended Worcester Fellowship–the outdoor church she pastored–and who ended up leading and fundamentally reshaping the ministry to make it more relevant to the people it was intended to serve. In that process Rev. Magill’s view of Alan, the food insecure and unhoused people who gathered each week in the park for worship and PB&J sandwiches, and her own ministry changed. This transformation is the basis of the book, which distinguishes between charity and relational ministry

Charity, while alleviating immediate need, maintains the status quo. That’s why most churches, mainstream institutions, middle class folks, and wealthy philanthropists favor charity. (See, for example, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas). The status quo works for us! While charity has it’s place, it generally does not change the lives either of the ones serving or of those being served. (For more on the dark side of charity and how to transform it see Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) and Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results both by Robert D. Lupton.) Relational ministry by contrast seeks to transform the status quo by empowering the communities we are seeking to serve. (Habitat for Humanity is perhaps the most famous example of a truly effective relational ministry.)

Years ago I had the privilege of participating in a relational ministry that transformed an entire city. I was serving a historic, downtown congregation in Providence, RI. To make a long story short, I called on some of my partners, including the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. Together with members of the homeless community we developed a plan for an inaugural “Y’all Come Community Lunch.” Did volunteers cook food and serve it to food insecure people? Yes. Did volunteers take shifts so that everyone had both an opportunity to serve and be served, both to stand behind the food table and stand in line with the guests? Yes. The lunch also featured live entertainment from a band whose members were in recovery from addition. It featured speak-outs and poetry from unhoused folks. Was it loud? Yes. Was it rowdy? Yes. Was it a big community party that broke down barriers between “us,” the helpers, and “them,” the helped? I’d like to think so.

Years go by, the homeless community develops a “bill of rights” that is adopted by the state. The state formally adopts a “housing first” approach to homelessness, which greatly reduces homelessness statewide. The result was that the church’s “Bread and Blessings” program–which gave bag lunches to food insecure folks from our parking lot–had to close down after twenty years because so few people needed the service anymore! This can be the difference between charity that maintains the status quo and relational ministry that changes the world.

Worship Resource 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Centering Reading                                                                                                                                             

Storms rage. Chaos swirls. Confusion turns us this way and that. When Jesus crossed the sea with his disciples, waves tossed their boat. While the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus took a nap. In the midst of tumult within and without, Jesus teaches us that stillness is possible. We can trust the Creator of wind and thunder. We can rely on the One who has the whole world in their hands.