What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-18-20

Vitality Team delivering “thank you” gift bags to Granby Public Library staff

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-18-20

Hi folks! Looking forward to our virtual congregational meeting Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, 7pm. Since the agenda has to do with providing a budget/funding for our Vitality Team, I thought it might be helpful if I offered a little context for the Vitality Team and where we are overall in our transition process.

The Vitality Team was formed last year after First Church sent a group of about 12 people to a Reaching New People workshop at First Church in Windsor. At the workshop the team developed a plan for reaching new people. The Vitality Team was tasked with implementing that plan. The role of the Vitality Team is to create a culture of growth at FCCG. It is NOT the Vitality Team’s responsibility to be the only people in the congregation reaching new people. That is the job of every member of our church. The Vitality Team’s job is to implement the plan and develop new ways for our congregation to invest in people who are not yet members of our church.

Following the Reaching New People workshop we did a workshop with Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg on the church lifecycle. We did a self-assessment of where we are currently in the life-cycle that begins with birth, continues on an upward trajectory toward maturity, and then begins a downward path of decline and eventually death. Somewhere on the decline side of the curve churches pass a sustainability threshold. Our sense at the time was that we were below that threshold. Hence the focus on reaching new people.

In many areas of our society COVID is accelerating trends that were already underway before the pandemic: online shopping, decline of retail, reliance on social media, etc. The same is true in the church world. Many congregations that were already in distress before the pandemic are closing their doors. The pre-pandemic trend with FCCG was preparing to step outside our walls and engage our community. I’m glad to say that the pandemic has only accelerated that process. The Vitality Team is leading the charge in getting outside our walls. The future of our congregation lies with people who are not yet members of our church. This is true regardless of what happens in our conversations with South Church. Though COVID presents a challenge to new engagement, together we are planting seeds for future growth. 

Gateless Gate 10: Lucid-Black Alone Impoverished

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names, Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters: “Lucid-Black.” Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]

Case

Lucid-Black asked Master Twofold Mountain: “I am perfectly alone now, perfectly impoverished. I’m an alms-beggar here. Won’t you please grant me the sustenance of your teaching?”

“You are Lucid-Black, acharya, great dharma-sage!” Twofold-Mountain called out in response.

“Yes, replied Lucid-Black.

“You’ve savored three cups of clear wine from our ancestral household of green-azure origins. And still you say you haven’t moistened your lips?”

Setsusho’s Verse

Side pierced, legs broken

Friday, third hour past noon

In sun-blotted dark, crowd’s mockery

wafts on the sweetest breeze

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-11-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-11-20

This coming Sunday is known by many names in the church world: Homecoming Sunday, Rally Day, Christian Education Sunday, or–more recently–Faith Formation Sunday. It’s the Sunday in American churches that marks the beginning of the program year, the return of children to school, the return of families from summer vacation, the fall season of sports, holidays, harvest. 

I’m not sure which of the terms for this coming Sunday I prefer. The UCC, our denomination, calls it Faith Formation Sunday now, so I’ll go with that. In any case, Faith Formation Sunday 2020 is unlike any other I’ve planned and led in my entire career. Kids are going back to school–sort of. Many of our young ones are on a “hybrid schedule,” which means both days distance learning at home and days in the classroom. My college-age daughter, who should be in Los Angeles right now, spends her class time sitting in front of her laptop on our three season porch here in Windsor, CT. 

At First Congregational Church of Granby this Sunday marks the next stage in our gradual reopen process. We are inviting the public to pre-register online to observe the worship livestream in person in the Sanctuary. COVID protocols will be followed to ensure that everyone who chooses to be together in person can do so safely. Last Sunday we successfully celebrated our second outdoor in person worship service. I’m grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make it possible to be together safely. It was moving to see the faces of friends again.

Confirmation class, which was disrupted by the pandemic, will resume on Zoom this Sunday. I will be working together with the Explore Team to figure out our programming for the young ones. I don’t know about you, but I have moments when all of this feels very difficult, stressful, and depressing, but I’ve noticed that those moments, like all moments, pass, and a new thought, feeling, or experience arises. Remaining spiritually grounded through the changes gives me the energy I need to forge ahead. 

Last Sunday after worshipping outside under the trees, feeling the breeze on my skin, seeing the sun above and familiar faces around me, I realized that the sadness I had been carrying with me was gone. In its place was joy. This experience reminds me of a favorite song, one I’ve shared before: Richard Smallwood’s “The Center of My Joy.” I leave you with links to a couple of versions: one from the composer himself, and another . . . well, check it out for yourself. 

Vast Insight Surpassing Wisdom

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names (in the example below, “Quingrang”), Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters, so Quingrang becomes “Light-Inception Peak.” Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]

The Case:

A monk asked Master Light-Inception Peak: “The Buddha of Vast Insight and Surpassing Wisdom sat in meditation for ten kalpas on Buddha-Way Terrace, but the Buddha-dharma never took shape for him. How is it, in all that time, he never wholly became Buddha-Way’s turning seasons?”

“A question to the point exactly,” replied Light-Inception.

But the monk persisted: “After all that meditation on Buddha-Way Terrace, how is it he never wholly became the Buddha-Way?”

“Because he never became a Buddha.”

Setsusho’s Verse

Deaf monk sits beneath a dead branch

Half moon hangs in the sky

In Kenosha, Jacob Blake

Lies in hospital, spine severed

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-21-20

Reusable sandwich bag on our baggie drying rack.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-21-20

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us,” writes St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. I chose the Scripture text for the coming Sunday because we’re planning an outdoor pet blessing, safely physically distanced, no congregational singing. This weekend will be our first attempts at in person public events since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown in March. 

Saturday we’ll be hosting an outdoor funeral for long time church member Shirley Young. (We had a “private” baptism last Sunday, originally planned for outdoors, but then quickly moved inside because of rain.) Prior to COVID, these would be familiar events and rituals. Now they are more complicated, more demanding, and–on the positive side of the ledger–an opportunity for our church to come together to do the “normal” things we do. Today (Tuesday) a group of us met at the church to set up a large tent to accommodate our funeral guests. It was good to work together on a task, chat, and look each other in the eyes.

Pet blessing is a great opportunity to remember our emotional and spiritual connection to non-human life on this planet. Many of us know the joy of greeting our pets when we wake up in the morning or when we come home from being away for any length of time. We have known sorrow when a pet dies. Or the contentment of snuggling with something furry. We talk to our pets, feed them, mourn them. They are family.

It is important to remember our intimate connection to non-human life for two reasons: 1) our faith, 2) our continued existence as a species on this planet. Caring for creation is an essential expression of our Christian faith. In our text for this Sunday, St. Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” waiting for humanity to get its act together. God created Earth and humanity as one organic whole. When we harm the planet, we’re harming ourselves. Which leads to reason #2: Scientists have been warning for decades about the devastating impacts of climate change. Life on this planet will continue despite anthropogenic climate change. The question is, Will this transformed planet still be habitable for humans? We have a shrinking window to make the changes necessary to minimize the impacts that are already happening. The time for humanity to get its act together is now.

Gateless Gate 8: What-Next Invents Cartwheel

Hoop Old Cart Broken Round Woodworm

[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. Following that is “Setsusho’s” response!]

Case

Master Moon-Shrine Mountain asked the monks: “When What-Next invented the cartwheel, it had a hundred spokes. But what if hub and rim are broken off, spokes scattered away–do you understand the bright clarity of what it could do then?”

Setsusho’s verse

Deaf monk hears with eyes

Sparkling ripples slapping the raft

As he and Huck and Jim

Light out for the territories

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-20

Sporty Red

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-20

I had two experiences in the last two weeks that changed my perspective on the accessibility movement for people with disabilities: 1) I listened to a podcast on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; 2) I had my regular visit to the audiologist.

I’m writing to this topic not only because of these experiences but also because I’m wondering if a part of our vision for the future of First Congregational Church of Granby might be reaching individuals with special needs and their families. I’ll explain, but first my recent experiences.

Did you know there was such a thing as “ugly laws?” I didn’t. That was one of the shocking things I learned listening to the history of the ADA. 

In the United States a number of cities in the 19th century enacted laws that prohibited beggars, poor people, people with mental illness, and people with disabilities from public spaces. An 1881 Chicago law read as follows: 

Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in the city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself or herself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 for each offense (Chicago City Code 1881).

“An improper person” . . . What a telling line. I had always assumed that the need for making public spaces accessible arose from the ignorance of the able-bodied people designing the spaces. I didn’t realize that the lack of accessibility also arose from a feeling much deeper than that: disgust, embarrassment, that uncomfortable feeling that arises when one encounters someone with obvious physical differences that remind us of the fragility of our own bodies. I am aware of having those feelings myself, for example, when I encounter an amputee or someone with severe mental or physical challenges–particularly, if I haven’t met them before. There is a little moment of adjustment as my mind shifts to encountering this person whose ways of moving through the world are different from mine.

The disabilities movement isn’t only about access to public spaces. The disability movement is saying, “We want you to see us. We are human beings with intrinsic worth. We will not be ashamed of who we are.” This new (for me) perspective resonated with me. I can now see connections with other civil rights movements: racial justice, LGBTQIA+ movements, and women’s movements, for example. 

It also helped me understand the conversations I’ve had again and again with my audiologists over the years. Every time I go in for a new pair of hearing aids (like I did two weeks ago) I get to choose a “color.” There are usually six or seven colors to choose from. Five or six of the colors are different shades of beige, brown, or black–to match skin tone or hair color. But there’s always one color that’s bright. I remember when years ago I chose electric blue. It created quite a bit of consternation for my audiologist and even my family. A few years later I chose emerald green. Once again my audiologist said, “Wouldn’t you rather match your hair?” My newest pair is “sporty red.” Now instead of asking, “Why did you choose that color?” my family asks, “What color did you get!” But my audiologist still somehow felt obligated to ask, “Don’t you want something less visible?” 

Learning the history of the ADA and the “capitol crawl” demonstration of 1990 taught me that visibility is the point.  I invite you to watch the video of Jennifer Keelan, who at 9-years-old got out of her wheelchair, crawled up the steps of the Capitol Building, and changed the world. 

I also invite you to follow the links below for videos of an inspiring weekly worship service called “Parable” developed by Wayzata Community Church, a UCC in Minnesota. 

The service is designed with differently abled people and their families in mind. The joy is infectious. I know it’s difficult to plan during COVID time, but I find this time is a great opportunity to dream. It might seem like a heavy lift for our little church to do something like “Parables,” but perhaps if we partnered with South Church and maybe even East Granby?

In his famous hymn to love the Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.”

To be seen and known is to be loved. When we see each other with all of our brokenness and beauty, a new world is possible.

Worship Resource: Pastoral Prayer based on Psalm 23

Hallelujah, I am not alone. Holy God, you walk beside me even through the darkest valley. You walk beside us. Intimate in every way. You feel our fear. You celebrate our joy. You encourage our hope.

Good shepherd, teach us that every moment is your moment, every pasture your domain. Whether you lead us beside still waters or whether our steps take us into the storm’s blast, you are beside us. Your rod and your staff comfort us. 

We often stray. Our discontent, our wish that this moment were somehow other than it is, takes us down all kinds of blind alleys and roads that lead to nowhere. Call us back. Seek us out. Take us in your arms and carry us home, your home, which is right here.