Worship Resources for Proper 27B/Ordinary 32B/Pentecost 25. November 11, 2018

*Call to Worship

In ancient Israel most people were farmers. So worship included sacrifices of crops and livestock as a way of honoring the belief that all that we have and that life itself is a gift of God. Life is not ours to possess but ours to give is service of others. In this way sacrifice can be a path to a joyful, meaningful life. We not longer offer sacrifices of crops and livestock, but we do sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure. And in worship we are invited to lay down our hearts and lives before God. Let’s worship God.

Prayer of Confession         

Holy God, sacrifice is difficult. We clench our fists tight even though letting go would open us to blessing beyond measure. Forgive our mean-spiritedness. Teach us faith by giving us the courage to do faithful things. Teach us joy by giving us a spirit of sacrifice. Teach us love by helping us to follow the example of Jesus, who laid down his life that we might have abundant life now and eternal life in the world to come. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, on this Veterans Day we acknowledge the sacrifice of those who have served our country. Our offerings seem to pale in comparison. But we trust that you will bless what we now offer now and continue to grow our giving. Amen.

Worship Resources for Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost 24 November 4, 2018

Mark 12: 28-34

*Call to Worship                                                                                   

What is love for you? Jesus said the greatest commandment is love. Christians should love God above all and our neighbors as we love ourselves. But do you love yourself? What would it mean to love oneself in a Christian way? And how is that different from narcissism? How do we love our neighbors? Is being nice enough? And what about God? How are we supposed to love someone we can’t even touch or see? Love is the heart of who we are as Christians. Let’s open our hearts to God in worship.

Prayer of Confession     

Holy God, we confess we’re not always sure what love is. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking we’re behaving in loving ways when, in fact, we’re just serving our egos. Sometimes we cut ourselves off from love because we’re frightened it might change us. If we truly loved someone, if we truly loved you, would we lose our sense of who we are? If we truly made ourselves vulnerable, would we get taken advantage of? So we hold back. We make half-hearted gestures. We make grand sacrifices to show off our moral superiority. And all the while we miss the love we long for. Forgive us and heal us. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, the Apostle Paul reminds us that if we give away all our possessions but do not have love, we gain nothing. So we offer our money, but more than that, we offer our hearts. Bless our offerings. Amen.



Pastor’s Page November 2018

My wife and I have hosted Thanksgiving for the past 20 years. Celebrating Thanksgiving at Todd and Nicole’s has become a family tradition for our generation of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws. It’s a multi-day event which includes a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, squash au gratin, stuffing (or “dressing” as my sister-in-law from Alabama calls it) gravy, vegetables, pies of various kinds, and–a Thanksgiving favorite–chocolate mousse. Over the years our family has grown, so the table has gotten longer. In fact, I think this year we might need two tables. What makes this time so precious is the opportunity to reconnect with people we love.

It is important to take time to reconnect. On October 13, about 20 of us from FCC Stamford made a retreat with Rev. Jim Griffith, who taught us about what church restart means and what it will take for us to do a restart should we decide to. One of the things he mentioned was that in this time of transition from our current location to a new one we make sure we take time to reconnect with each other. Our Monday evening pub study has been a great time of reconnection. Nicoline and Stuart Sawabini are hosting a generosity gathering at their house on Sunday Nov. 4, 5pm, share food and conversation. There are a lot of stresses in our lives both inside the church and outside, in our families, our workplaces, our schools, our politics, and in our hearts. It’s vitally important that we intentionally take time to reconnect.


Church Restart vs. Relocation

What’s Up w Pastor Todd 10/16/18

This past weekend over 20 FCC members attended a retreat led by Rev. Jim Griffith of Griffith Coaching and Rev. Paul Nickerson of Nickerson Coaching. Energy was great. We learned a lot. Over the next several weeks, leadership will be summarizing and sharing our learnings and sketching out a plan for an FCC church restart. For me, one important learning was the distinction between restart and relocation.

The definition of church restart is “An effort by a long-declining church in which the church chooses a strategic death so that a new church can be launched in its place, using its existing members and assets.  A restart is characterized by a rapid shift in vision, culture and ministry approach with the purpose of reaching a new target group in its community. A restart combines the approach of church planting with the pastoral work of leading change.”

Restart is a strategic effort to leap as a congregation for the death side of the bell curve (see diagram below) to the birth side of the bell curve. It’s not primarily about changing location, although it can involve that. It’s primarily about changing who we are as a congregation. This is very different from relocation, which is simply changing venues with no accompanying effort to change vision, culture, and ministry approach. Relocation will simply keep us on the same death trajectory, just in a different place, which, to me, seems pointless. That’s why church leadership is engaged in a process of restart.

Church Restart

Worship Resources for Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 23 Mark 10:46-52

*Call to Worship       

Like Blind Bartimaeus, Jesus’ call puts a spring in our step and brings a jolt to our awareness. Even if we can’t see Jesus, we can confidently follow the sound of his voice. Worship is our calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Scripture tells us that when we call, Jesus responds. Let us worship our Savior.

Prayer of Confession                                                                              

We confess, Jesus, that we often assume we know what others need. We offer help that’s unasked for and sometimes unwelcome. In our zeal to do good, we fail to honestly examine our intentions. Is this truly about serving Christ’s mission or is this more about serving my ego? These are tricky questions, God. Give us the courage to open our hearts to the light of your love trusting that you accept even our imperfect offerings. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, we offer our hearts for healing and our resources for genuine service. Amen.


Prayers for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23B

Text: Mark 10:17-31

*Call to Worship

We get attached to a lot of things. Our possessions, certainly. Also our time, our status. Relationships–whether they’re healthy or not. Dreams of the future, regrets of the past. Afraid of losing what we have, we refuse to open up to what might be. Worship is a time of letting go of everything that is temporary, no matter how deep our attachment, and opening ourselves to the eternal. Let’s worship God.

Prayer of Confession

Holy God, when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, they immediately dropped everything and followed him. Too often, we’re more like the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus hoping to inherit the Kingdom of God only to turn away because we can’t let go. Teach us the wisdom of giving. Teach us the freedom of letting go. Give us the courage to entrust our lives and all we possess to you. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

All that we have and all that we are we dedicate to you, Holy God. Amen.


Prayers for 17th Sunday after Pentecost Year B. “Who Do You Say that I am?”

Text: Mk 8:27-38

*Call to Worship

Who is Jesus? For two thousand years folks have been asking this question. We might ask ourselves Who is Jesus for me? Or Who is Jesus for my neighbor? Or Who is the Jesus we meet in the Bible? Who is Jesus for the gospel writers Matthew or Mark or Luke or John? Who is Jesus for the Apostle Paul? Who is Jesus? Faith is not just seeking an answer. It’s living the question.

Prayer of Confession   

O God, we confess we don’t know who Jesus is in any final way. He’s always out ahead of us inviting us to follow him. Give us the courage to follow despite our fear. Give us the strength to press on past the limits of what we think we’re capable of. Forgive us when we turn away. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

We give, God, because Jesus taught us to give. We serve because Jesus taught us to service. We sacrifice because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. Just as you raised Jesus from the grave, we know that we, too, shall be lifted up. Amen.


Gender Trouble/No Separation

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Stamford

Sermon Series: Starting Again

7 October 2018

Text: Mark 10:2-16

Gender Trouble/No Separation

Our theme for this fall is “Starting Again.” Our text for today is Jesus’ teaching on divorce. Divorce is certainly a time of starting again for many people. Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. It’s become a common experience. Something that a number of folks here have been through. It’s also common that as people go through divorce they seek out a community of support. Church can be that supportive community. So as we think about our theme of starting again in terms of reimagining who we are as a church, we can think about how we connect to people going through divorce. How do we offer healing and hope in a time that can be very painful and disorienting for so many?

My experience of divorce is as a child of divorce. No fault divorce became legal in California in the early 1970s and spread to the rest of the country so that by the time I was coming of age in the 1980s, there was a whole generation of kids growing up in blended families, splitting holiday time between mom and dad, and all of those other complicated things that families that have experienced divorce do.

My parents’ case was a little different. First of all, my parents didn’t get divorced until 1993. They had been married 25 years. I was 23-years-old and out of the house. So my parents divorce didn’t have the same effect on me as it did on my younger siblings. But it did affect me. The second thing was that my dad was gay. Dad knew that he was gay when he married mom, but he kept that important piece of information hidden from her. It was a different time and a different place. West Michigan in the late 60s/early 70s was–and still is, in fact–a very conservative place. It wasn’t OK to be gay. And it wasn’t OK to get a divorce.

So mom and dad stayed together. Even after he came out to her 10 years into their marriage, they stayed together. Even after he cheated on her again and again, they stayed together. Even after he became an alcoholic, they stayed together. Even after he exposed her to HIV, they stayed together. (Fortunately mom never contracted AIDS.) It wasn’t until she found out that he had put her name on a shell company that he was using to launder money for some of his corrupt business dealings did she decide that she had had enough. She was willing to put up with a lot. But go to jail for him? No. The risk of staying with dad finally outweighed the risk of leaving him. Which tells you that 25-years-ago in conservative West Michigan, the risks that divorce posed for a woman were very high. Or at least my mom thought so. Women at that time risked impoverishment, social stigma, and loneliness. Even decades after the counterculture, divorce was a risk, especially for women.

But it wasn’t just the financial and social risks of divorce that caused mom to stay with her marriage so long. It was to protect dad from having to come out. It was to protect us kids from the stigma of having a gay dad. And it was because her church and the wider culture taught her from the time she was a child that women should submit to men. She was taught that a man is the rightful head of the household. He is to be respected and obeyed. Her church taught used the teaching of the Apostle Paul that a woman should not teach or hold authority over a man to keep women out of leadership and in the home where it was thought they belonged. In other words, the church she grew up in supported patriarchy, the idea that men should have power over women. So they missed how Jesus is critiquing patriarchy in his teaching on divorce. And if you think we don’t teach patriarchy here, just look at the wall of senior ministers by the church offices. There you’ll find the names of 26 senior ministers. 25 men. 1 woman.

Jesus’ basic teaching on divorce is that marriage is a solemn spiritual union that cannot be dissolved without spiritual consequences. And I think that pretty much anyone who has experienced divorce would agree with that. People who study life stressors put divorce at the top of the list along with the death of a spouse. Divorce is a very difficult and painful thing. My guess is that most people don’t enter into it lightly. We don’t get married intending to divorce even if it’s out there as a possibility. Even though some people may say that marriage is just a piece of paper, my guess is most people don’t experience it that way. So when Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” he is articulating an ideal that we can aspire to.

But what we’re missing is the radical nature of what Jesus is expressing here. In order to see that, we have to understand the patriarchal context in which Jesus is speaking. In Jesus’ time women were considered the property of men. There was nothing spiritual about it. It was a legal and financial contract between families to create heirs for the families wealth. Wives were the property of their husbands. Fidelity was expected on the part of women, but not of men. Men could have as many affairs as they wanted as long as it wasn’t with another man’s wife because that would be violating his property. Husbands could divorce their wives for almost any reason. Wives, however, could not divorce their husbands. So to suggest that marriage is a spiritual matter with moral obligations on the parts of both men and women is to call the entire patriarchal system into question.

Also notice this seemingly puzzling verse. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Huh? What does remarriage have to do with adultery? What Jesus is saying to both men and women is that you can’t just set aside your spouse and marry someone else because you’ve found someone whom you like better. That’s not a reason for divorce. But notice also that it applies to both men and women. In other words, for Jesus, women are not the property of men. If fidelity is expected of women, it must be expected of men, too. If a man can get a divorce, a woman can, too, and the same rules apply to each. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but in the context of Biblical culture, the fact that Jesus is granting women any rights at all in relation to their husbands is a critique of patriarchy that we as Christians need to take seriously. In the words of one of my wife’s parishioners, “Before there was a #metoo movement, Jesus cared for women.” How did Jesus reach where he could offer a vision of healing and hope for men and women? By listening to the women. By believing the women. By recognizing how the default setting of patriarchy is to discredit and disregard women’s voices and perspectives.

On this World Communion Sunday when we celebrate unity in Christ, we need to remember how Jesus sought to bring men and women together on equal ground. In order move closer toward Jesus’ vision, we need to hire women. We need to elect women. We need to support women. As men, we need to notice our own patriarchy-shaped biases. This will help us be a true place of healing for all people: married, single, widowed, divorced. This will be a step toward true communion. This will be starting again.


Regular People Doing Scary Things

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-4-18

“Activism is about regular people doing scary things.” That’s what Ana Maria Archila told a reporter who interviewed her about her confrontation with Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator on capitol hill last week. That confrontation led to a shift in the confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Instead of having a Senate vote last week as planned, there has been a delay so that allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh can be investigated by the FBI. This shift was seen as a crisis of conscience on the part of Senator Flake when directly confronted by assault survivors.

Ms. Archila is an activist. She is the co-executive director for the Center for Popular Democracy. The other woman who confronted Senator Flake, Maria Gallagher, had never engaged in any kind of activism before, but was motivated by the Kavanaugh hearings to travel to Washington to see if she could make her voice heard. Many people, including the women themselves, were surprised when their voices actually were heard, and that their voices made a difference whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed or not.

Ms. Archila told the story of how she and Ms. Gallagher happened to meet in the Senate offices. They were both looking for Senator Flake in hopes of sharing their stories of sexual assault with him. She talked about how both of them were scared and that neither had shared their stories publicly before. Even more than Ms. Archila, Ms. Gallagher was just a “regular person” doing something she had never done before. She was making herself vulnerable before a very powerful person. And that scary vulnerability changed him. Activism is about regular people doing scary things.

It occurred to me that church restart is also about regular people doing scary things–not nearly as scary as confronting a senator in the capitol building–but scary nevertheless. Introducing yourself to strangers can be scary. Sharing your faith can be scary. Inviting neighbors to a party can be scary. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But it’s something we all need to learn to do. We can’t just leave it to the professionals–clergy and staff. Regular people, lay people, doing scary things can have a big impact.