What’s Up with Pastor Tod 9-24-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-24-21

This past Sunday First Church and South Church had our first in person sharing service. The service began with a prelude from Rick Handville and Chris Lavigne, a welcome from Deacon Chris Saunders, children’s moment with Sarah Pradhan, Scripture reading, and a Scripture reflection by Rev. Denny Moon. We sang “We Are Dreaming,” a song written by Rev. Moon based on our theme for the fall season, “Dreaming Together.” We shared a time of prayer. Then we divided into 8 mixed groups of First Church and South Church people, who responded to the question, “What difference might we make together, if we take seriously that God IS in this place, that is greater than what we could do separately?” After twenty minutes we regathered in the worship space to hear what the groups had talked about. 

Here is what I heard. “What could we do together that we couldn’t do apart?”

  • We will have more options, opportunities, and greater effectiveness as a church. We will be able to offer stronger programs that are more appealing to families.
  • We will model convergence in a world that’s diverging.
  • Larger music program.
  • Flip the question: “What could we not do better together?” More people will mean a greater diversity of views, which could lead to conflict. Nevertheless, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. More divergent views can contribute to better decision making.
  • We will provide a moral compass for the town by ensuring that there is a UCC presence in Granby in the future.
  • We will have a greater amount of energy.
  • An encouragement to dwell not on what we’re losing, rather, we can focus on what we’re gaining.
  • Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Otherwise, we’re in an echo chamber.

These are a sample of the comments based on the notes I took at the meeting. Overall it was a positive experience. We did have a Zoom option for those who didn’t feel comfortable gathering in person; however, no one used it. I’m grateful for everyone who worked so hard to make this complex event successful. Great work, team!

Worship Resource: Genesis 15

God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, you call us to leave behind the familiar and venture into the unknown. You called our ancestor Abraham to leave his home and family in Ur and follow your call to a land that his descendants would inherit. Generations later one of those descendants named Jesus would leave the safety of his father’s carpenter shop to lead a movement that would challenge the authority of Rome. Like his ancestor Abraham, Jesus dreamed God’s dream of peace and justice for all. Give us a new dream for a new day. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-3-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-3-21

Scripture tells us that when the great Israelite king Solomon, son of David, was a boy, God appeared to him in a dream and offered him his heart’s desire. Rejecting power and wealth Solomon instead asked for wisdom. One of Solomon’s wise sayings is, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18, King James Version). The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “perish” literally means “let go, neglect, uncover.” The NRSV translates, “Where there is no prophecy, the people ‘cast off restraint.’”

Here’s how I put it together in my mind: Prophecy and vision refer to God’s dream for us as people. We find this dream in many forms in the Bible.

Isaiah 25:6-7, for example:

  “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 

7 And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples,

the sheet that is spread over all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.”

Or Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Without this prophecy or vision of God’s dream for us as God’s people we lose our identity as a community set apart for God’s service. Without a sacred calling, what’s the point of being a church? Without a purpose, the people “perish.” Without a vision, the people “cast off restraint.” If God’s dream doesn’t hold us together, we are “uncovered, neglected, let go” to find our own way in the world without any guiding principle.

It was no surprise that God communicated to Solomon in a dream. In the Bible dreams are one of the primary ways God talks to people. That’s why our fall worship theme for First Church and South Church is “Dreaming Together.” Together we are opening our hearts and minds to God’s vision–God’s “dream,” if you will–for us as a united UCC presence in Granby. Without this vision, without this dream, without a divine word (another name for “prophecy”), we risk losing our way in a confusing world of competing claims on our lives. 

I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing from our working groups. It sounds like the coaching is going well and a vision is emerging. The opposite of “perish” is “flourish.” With patience God will bless us with a vision in which our uniting congregations flourish.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-21

The fall 2021 theme for worship at First Church and South Church is “Dreaming Together.” As a reminder, we will be sharing Union Services on the first and third Sundays of the month. The remaining Sundays we will be worshipping separately. In September and November the Union Services will be hosted by First Church. In October and December the Union Services will be hosted by South Church.

At our “What is Your Why?” workshops way back in 2019 and 2020, we watched a TED talk by Simon Sinek in which he refers to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sinek argued that over 200,000 people showed up on the Washington Mall that day in 1967not for Dr. King but for themselves. They showed up because they had already dreamed a dream of racial justice in the U.S. Dr. King’s genius was his ability to articulate a dream that many already shared and to translate that dream into concrete reality.

The purpose of the “What is Your Why?” workshops we shared together with South Church was to invite both of our congregations into a similar “dreaming” process. African Americans have faced and continue to face indescribable suffering due to system racism. The dream of racial justice arose out of that suffering. First Church and South Church are facing our own communal suffering due to diminished human and financial resources to support our ministries. Staff have been cut, beloved events have fallen by the wayside, programs have been discontinued due to lack of participation, volunteers face burnout, members have left, conflict has arisen, fewer people are supporting a greater share of the annual budget, the long term health of our endowments is threatened. The list goes on. Just as a communal dream arose in response to racial injustice, so too, a dream for collaboration and consolidation has arisen in response to decline among the congregational churches in Granby. Godly dreams arise out of real world suffering. Making these dreams real can change the world.

Over the summer six working groups composed of First Church and South Church members have been working on clarifying a dream or dreams of a new, consolidated Granby UCC. Worship at both churches this fall will focus on what it means to dream God’s dream for our lives. The work of dreaming together isn’t for the working groups alone. The dream of a vital, sustainable UCC movement in Granby will become reality when each of us takes up the work of dreaming together. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-13-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-13-21

As First Church and South Church face another autumn season with the coronavirus I’m reminded of a time someone jokingly said, “These are the good old days.” This is an important reminder both for us personally and for organizations in transition. As meditation teacher Ram Dass famously said, “Be here now.” Jesus said, “Keep awake!” (Mk. 13:35). Human beings have a tendency to cling to the past and fantasize about the future. Meanwhile, our lives are happening right here, right now. 

When the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness they longed to go back to Egypt even though it meant enslavement. They complained to Moses about his leadership. Moses, in turn, complained to God. Yet, generations later when the prophets found themselves facing the decadence aarnd corruption of an established Kingdom of Israel, they wrote with longing about the simpler times when the Israelites wandered through the desert and worshipped in a tent. “Oh, how close our ancestors were to God!” So, if we find ourselves in a bit of a wilderness time, remember, these are the good old days!

How can we “be here now” in the midst of the pressures and pulls of transition? In a recent article “It takes faith to resist the attention economy,” by Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey writes about the search for groundedness in the midst of a sabbatical in the midst of a pandemic. Her answer is to return to those practices that keep her attention on Jesus, worship being one of them, even when there might be more exciting alternatives to give her attention to. In fact, in this “attention economy” in which social media companies have developed sophisticated algorithms to capture our attention and sell it, devoting our lives to the simple practices of prayer, Scripture, song, and service are courageous acts of resistance to a culture that incentivizes exploitation for profit. Worship, devotion, prayer, and meditation in their many forms can return us to the present moment. Let’s enjoy the good old days while we’re living them!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-21

Here are some responses I’ve been hearing to my informal survey of the First Church/South Church collaboration/consolidation process. Hopeful signs: Reports that UNITE is uniting! After some initial tension around the type and amount of programming for “uniting” people, it sounds like a “both/and” approach is beginning to emerge. Breakthroughs have occurred as members of the working group have shared their personal stories and what connects with them. Particular sensitivity has been raised around the kinds of events that feel welcoming for people in recovery. This is a great example of how making space for diverse voices expands our perspective, which in turn expands our ability to connect with people.

More hopeful signs: Folks from the property working group have been working with their coach to do yet another critical piece of “both/and” work. With the leadership of the coach they are thinking about “mission.” They are also doing a detailed evaluation/inventory of our properties in an attempt to get a more “objective” handle on the property resources both churches bring to the table. Keeping mission in mind while doing an objective assessment will give our congregations the resources we need to make wise decisions about what physical properties will best serve the new mission of the new church.

I’m hearing questions about what decisions are best made during transition time versus “after the settled pastor has arrived.” My two cents: First, we might want to think of this person not so much as a “settled minister,” but as a “restart pastor,” with the requisite gifts and experience for creating something new. Second, having served as both a settled minister and transitional I can see both sides. There is not a hard and fast rule. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves: 

  • “Are we ‘waiting’ simply to put off making a tough decision?” In this case we’re neither serving ourselves nor our future settled (restart) minister; We might ask “What is preventing us from making this tough decision now? Lack of resources? Lack of information? Lack of willingness? What can we do to address these issues?
  • “Will making this decision now help us clarify our vision for the future so that we can put ourselves in the best position possible for finding a good settled (restart) pastor ‘match?’”
  • “If we decide to wait with this decision, are we really open to letting our future settled (restart) minister lead on this issue? If so, how will we make this expectation clear to the congregation?”

Examples: As a settled minister I have been in situations where church leadership told me that there was a staff member who clearly needed to be let go. Instead of just making that tough choice during the transition, they put it off for the settled minister. This was NOT helpful because it made my job of bonding with the congregation that much more difficult. On the other hand, I’ve had situations where the church hired staff during transition when as a settled minister I would have preferred the position filled on an acting basis so I could have more input in building the team. This same sort of dynamic is at play with properties, finances, program, etc. So, as I said, there is no hard and fast rule; rather, it’s a process of discernment. Starting something new is all about building momentum. My encouragement is to use this transition time when things are in flux to set up your future “settled” (restart) minister for success.

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.