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.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3/12/19



We had a total of 54 people attend three different home worship opportunities this past Sunday. That’s about our average Sunday worship attendance. I consider that a great start to our Silent Period activities. Thanks to our hosts Pam Shadford, Jean Meyer, Rob & Jen Godzeno. Thanks to our worship leaders John Jelliffe, Maureen Matthews, Andrew Laro. This coming Sunday we will celebrate our first “All Together Worship” in the dining room of 1 Walton Place (the current FCC Stamford building). Our format will be breakfast church: singing, Scripture, prayer, and facilitated reflection on Acts 3:1-10.

We are also continuing our leave-taking process. The week before last I shared with the congregation that I’ve received a call as Transitional Senior Minister to First Congregational Church of Granby. Granby is about 10 miles from my home in Windsor. There are two UCCs in this small town, neither of which can sustain themselves in their current way of doing things. My role will be to help FCC Granby clarify and decide upon a path to sustainability, which may involve merging with the other UCC in town. Many of the issues are familiar: too much building, declining membership, need for a more vital engagement with the community, outdated worship. As with any new context, I’m anticipating new challenges and new opportunities to arise.

We are all in a tough spot right now. The Legacy Service with its mix of celebration and grief is still fresh in our minds. We will take time to reflect on that experience this coming Sunday. It’s important that we take the time to let all of this sink in so that we don’t get “stuck” in our grief. On top of that, we are processing the upcoming departure of the Transitional Senior Minister. Even though we’ve know this day was coming for some time, the news still comes as a shock. Some of us may be feeling the weight of all of this loss. It’s important that we don’t bear it alone. Alone, all of this is indeed impossible to bear. Together, we can bear more. Resting within the love of God’s limitless embrace, we are actually lifted up on eagle’s wings.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-6-19


Luke writes, “All who believed were together” (Acts 2:44). When I began at FCC we were not all together. I remember one particularly contentious Meet the Minister meeting in April 2016, a week or two after I began my work with you. A group of us was gathered in Bill and Maureen Matthews’ living room. There were complaints about the fact that the church had called a “Transitional Senior Minister” instead of a “Settled Minister.” There were arguments over music and worship style, the building, and the direction of the church. There were differing opinions on the virtues and faults of previous ministers. At one point I simply observed, “One thing is clear: we’re not together.”

There’s a difference between diversity of opinion and not being together. It has to do with mission focus. Acts chapter 1 tells us that before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers, “You will be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That was their mission focus. When in the next chapter Luke writes, “All who believed were together,” he was not only talking about physical proximity. 20+ years of ministry has taught me that people can regularly be “all together” in a physical space and nevertheless be “all over the place” when it comes mission focus. For some, the most important part of church is the historical building while for others the most important part is the pastor. Still others prioritize socializing with their friends or doing service programs. None of these things are bad in themselves, but if there is no shared sense of a larger purpose that all of these activities serve, it’s as if we’re two-year-olds engaged in parallel play. I’m playing with my truck while you’re next to me doing your puzzle. This is fine for two-year-olds, but the movement Jesus gave his life for was intended to change the world. And for that to happen, we need to be all together, not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual and missional sense.

This Sunday we begin our Silent Period with Home Worship. We will be gathering in three locations and at three different times across the city. See below for details. Even though we won’t be “all together” physically this week, the intimacy of home worship is intended to bring us closer together spiritually and in our mission focus: restart.

Pastor’s Page March 2019

27 February 2019

Dear Friends,

This is to inform you that I have received a call to serve as Transitional Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Granby, CT. It turns out there are many more congregations facing what we are facing, and they need help. My last Sunday with you will be March 31, after which I will wrap up some previous commitments including grant-funded training with the Connecticut Conference UCC and an FCC Stamford led Sacred Conversation on Restart at First Church in Windsor, followed by some personal transition time.

I’m feeling very sad, to be honest. We’ve been through a lot together in the past three years. We find ourselves at a place that I didn’t imagine in 2016. But it’s a good place, an exciting place, the place I’m convinced God is calling us to be. There are no guarantees in this life beyond the enduring embrace of God’s boundless love. You know that. Nevertheless you have chosen to step boldly into the land of uncertainty trusting in the power of God’s love. That, my friends, is Christianity, and in my experience, far too few Christians and Christian congregations are willing to do that. So this is the real deal, the true faith, and you are living it. For that I want to honor you and lift you up as witnesses to what is possible in God.

You are not alone. You are not abandoned. You are equipped perhaps beyond what you realize. You are now the experts in restart. You have a plan that you have been successfully implementing. Stick to it. You have leaders like Rob and Jen Godzeno, who have experience with church starts and intuitively know the next steps for success. You have a supportive Regional Minister in Rev. Michael Ciba. You have your restart coach, Rev. Paul Nickerson. You have hired Griffith Coaching to provide professional services for a nationwide restart pastor search that will bring you the most qualified candidates with the best cultural match to this project. Additionally, I have spoken with Rev. Margaret Keyser about the possibility that she can be available for spiritual support during the Silent Period. Your Moderator, Maureen Matthews, is in conversation with Rev. Ciba to address any additional needs the congregation may have. You have a great staff team in Lydia and Andrew who will keep operations running smoothly. You are a well resourced group with access to some of the finest religious professionals in the country and some of the most inspiring lay leaders that I have had the honor of working with.

In the coming weeks we will be going through a process of leave-taking. Please talk to me. Call me up. Email me. Make an appointment. I am here to listen to whatever it is you have to say. I have had a lot of people express interest in our restart process. They are encouraging me to share what we’ve learned together so far. So I’d be particularly interested in hearing your stories and experiences of the journey: What advice would you give other congregations? What worked well? What didn’t work as well? What hopes and dreams do you have? What are you worried about? You are blazing a path that others will want to follow. And for that, I praise God.

Revised Sermon for Legacy Sunday: Transfiguration

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday/Legacy Sunday

3 March 2019

Text: Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration

We are not closing. We are being transfigured. We are not closing. We are turning a page. We are not closing. We are restarting. We are not closing. We are being remade. What is closing is this chapter in our history.

What is ending is all of this. What is ending is our occupancy of this building. There’s nothing wrong with this building. It’s beautiful. It’s historic. It’s built on the best piece of property in the city. It just doesn’t serve us anymore, and we have too few resources–human and financial–to maintain it. So we are choosing to let it go. We have already done this six times in our history. And if we have any luck, any courage, any faith, we will likely do it again. It’s our spiritual DNA. It’s how we survive. It’s how God remakes us.

What’s ending is white, Euro-centric worship. There’s nothing wrong with that style. But Stamford is a young, culturally diverse city. That’s why everyone wants to move here. People like young. People like diverse. People like joy. People like freedom. People need silence. People like awe and a sense of the holy. People long to connect to God. And if people can’t see themselves, their lives, their concerns, and their cultures reflected in worship, they can’t see God.

What’s ending is the idea that Stamford owes us something. Being first is a proud thing. The story of those who sailed from England in the 1600s, gathered in Watertown, MA under the leadership of Sir Richard Saltonstall, and eventually made their way to this place should be remembered. The whole story. Including the story of the indigenous hosts of this land and truth of how our European ancestors came to possess it. But if the mission of this church is to found the City of Stamford, that was accomplished a long, long time ago. If the plumber would fix our building or electric company provide power based solely on the fact that this is First Congregational Church, we would be fine. But, unfortunately, simply being the first is not enough to sustain a congregation in the 21st century.

Neither is doing good things for people. First Congregational Church has done many acts of charity over the years. We have provided moral leadership at critical times. The city in general has a good opinion of us. But in the same way that the plumber won’t fix our toilets because we have the word “first” in our name, the groundskeepers won’t accept payment in good opinion and well wishes. While commendations from the mayor are nice, they do not pay the bills. The people of Stamford are not going to support our church just because we think they should. We are entitled to nothing.

I’ve been serving congregations my entire life from singing with the children’s choir to serving as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. And the nearest I can tell is that ultimately people sacrifice their time, talent, and treasure on behalf of a congregation for the same reason the saints of old gave their bodies to the lions and their flesh to the flames. Ultimately there is one reason and one reason only to be a church: to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are not closing. We are being reborn. We are not closing. We are humbling ourselves before God and the City of Stamford and saying, “Make us the church you need us to be.” We are joining Jesus in the garden, falling to our knees, praying, “Not my will but yours be done.” We are joining Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop in order that we, too, might bear witness to transfiguration.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-25-19

A lot of different feelings, questions, ideas, suggestions are coming up in conversations as  we approach Legacy Weekend and anticipate the following Silent Period. I simply want to remind everyone of all of the previous hard work we’ve done in building healthy communication habits. It is more important than ever that we continue to practice them.

The guiding principle is direct communication. If you have something to say, communicate it to the appropriate person. If you have difficult feelings to share, share them with the person about whom you have those feelings. If you don’t know where to go with your feelings feel free to share them with me or someone on our conflict response team: Denise Moumene, Maureen Matthews, Pam Shadford, Jean Meyer, Rob Godzeno. If someone is sharing inappropriately with you, direct them to the correct person. Sometimes it may feel rude or uncaring, but keep in mind the larger goal: the future of our congregation. The number one killer of congregations is unhealthy conflict.

We’ve made so much progress in coming together over the past three years. It feels miraculous to me. I never would have anticipated in 2016 that we would find ourselves where we are now. Together we’ve taken bold action and made difficult decisions to give ourselves the possibility of a future.