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.