Worship Resource: Mother’s Day

* Call To Worship (from Deuteronomy 32)

Leader: As an eagle stirs up her nest and hovers over her young . . .

           All: As she spreads her wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on her pinions . . .

          Leader: God guides and protects us. She sets us atop the heights of the land . . .

          All: And nurses us with honey from the crags, and milk from the flocks.

* Gathering Prayer (Unison)

Mothering God, God of our mothers, we thank you for the gift of life and those who gave it to us. Give us the grace to embrace our mothers in all their complexity. Bless our mothering so that those who are entrusted to our care might grow healthy and strong. May they remain safe and happy long after their need for our continual care has passed. We remember those who have cared for us and are gone. May we honor their sacrifice by following their example. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

We dedicate our lives to your service and our hearts to your worship, Holy God. Amen.

Worship Resources 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

* Call To Worship (from Psalm 30)

Leader: Sing praises to the LORD, O you faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name.

           All: For God’s anger is but for a moment; God’s favor is for a lifetime.

           Leader: Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

           All: O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

* Gathering Prayer (Unison)

God of joy, God of adventure, give us the courage to try. Not every endeavor works out the way we plan. Sometimes we feel awkward trying new things. Because you are the master, we can join the adventure of lifelong learning. Thank you for the example of our ancestors in faith who fell down nine times and got up ten. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

God of abundance, we too often act out of an attitude of scarcity. Teach us to give freely so that we might live freely. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3/24/22

Different point of view, an orange colored owl standing out from the crowd. ( 3d render )

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3/24/22

What does the word “grace” mean to you? To me, “grace” points to an attitude of openness, trust, curiosity, invitation, and groundedness. It has a feel of lightness and play. Grace is making space for another person to be their best self. Grace–especially in the Christian sense–is a free gift, undeserved and unconditional. 

As a child I was taught that grace is the pivotal point of God’s plan for salvation. We were taught that the whole of the gospel could be summarized in three words: 1) “guilt,” that is, the recognition that every one of us is imperfect and in need of forgiveness, 2) “grace,” that is, God’s unmerited gift of forgiveness and healing through Jesus, 3) and “gratitude,” that is, our response to God’s grace in living lives of joy and service. 

The word “grace” came to mind this week as I was listening to your stories about First Church of Christ in Saybrook. Many of your stories were stories of conflict, disagreements, differing viewpoints, the heartbreak that results when differences lead to divisions and divisions lead to folks leaving the church. 

Grace in response to differences in perspective could also summarize the recommendation of a church leadership podcast I regularly listen to. In his podcast for this week, church consultant Carey Nieuwhof interviews scholar Francesca Gino, who teaches at Harvard Business School, about her latest article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “Managing a Polarized Workforce.” I recommend both the article and the podcast.

Dr. Gino offers very helpful and concrete advice based on her research into what causes and what helps with conflict. Rather than try to summarize them here, I refer you to the resources above. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Conflict is normal.
  2. Differing viewpoints are desirable because when they are engaged in a healthy way, they actually increase the organization’s effectiveness.
  3. We can learn skills to transform conflict into moments of profound insight and deep connection.
  4. Engaging directly in conversation with someone who disagrees is often not as bad as we imagine it will be.

I’m looking forward to creating grace moments with you as together we learn new behaviors for engaging natural, God-given differences.

Worship Resources for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year C

Rimmington, Eric; The Return of the Prodigal Son; Bradford Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-23177

Call to Worship 

Leader: The God of boundless compassion waits for us with patient expectancy.

All: The God of our ancestors stands in the doorway and continually calls us home.

Leader: God’s unconditional love cannot be earned, only accepted.

All: May our worship reflect God’s infinite embrace.

Gathering Prayer (Unison)

God of our aimless wandering, God of our longing for home, with a broken heart you patiently await our return. Teach us to see ourselves and each other as you see us: your children, made in your image deserving of unconditional love. We don’t always show each other the same love you show us. We have a tendency to sort people into categories of those who deserve love and those who don’t. Shake us out of our limited perspectives. Give us the courage and the skills to listen deeply, to speak the truth in love, and to embrace our brothers and sisters even when it’s difficult to do so. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

We offer our lives in service as we offer our gifts to you, Holy God, in gratitude for the gift of your child, Jesus, who died and rose again that we might have abundant life now and eternal life in the world to come. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-4-22

Hotei a.k.a. Maitreya Buddha

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-4-22

This week’s gospel text, Luke 5:1-11, is Luke’s version of the “miraculous catch” story. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee when he notices two boats. By this time Jesus’ fame has spread throughout the countryside. Crowds follow him from place to place and press in around him so that he has difficulty addressing them. The boats happen to belong to some of Jesus’ fishermen friends, so he gets into one of them and they push away from the shore to give Jesus a little breathing room. While they’re out there Jesus tells one of the fishermen, Simon, a.k.a. Peter, to let down his nets for a catch. Peter hesitates–saying he and his crew have fished all night and caught nothing–but agrees to give it one more try. They let down their nets and to their surprise find them filled to bursting with fish. Peter realizes he’s in the presence of the divine and responds with appropriate awe and wonder. Then Jesus makes what has become a famous pronouncement, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (vs. 10).

Christians throughout history have rightly understood this story as a metaphor for Christian evangelism–that is, sharing good news of God’s love in Jesus. Evangelism is a sensitive subject for many people–Christians and non-Christians alike. A lot of harm has been done for the cause of evangelism. For example the colonial project on this continent which resulted in the genocide of indigenous people was done under the sanctifying aegis of evangelism. Nevertheless, the Bible continues to confront us with this call from Jesus to “catch people.” 

A couple of points: one theological, one Biblical. The theological point has to do with “exclusive” versus “inclusive” religion. (See my previous essay.) Even though historically Christianity has claimed to be the “one true” religion (an exclusive claim to truth) I don’t think it’s necessary to believe this to be a Christian. I am an inclusive Christian, that is, I believe Christian truth is universal–potentially helpful and healing to anyone and everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, politics, etc. And I don’t believe it necessary or even desirable for everyone to become Christian in order to be saved. It isn’t my job to make everyone Christian. It’s my job to love everyone as God loves us: in all of our diversity religious and otherwise. I love my Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, seeker, New Age friends and wouldn’t want them to change–unless in their heart of hearts they are called to, which brings me to my Biblical point.

The Greek for “catch people” in verse 10 could also be translated “captivate.” I can think of a number of examples from my life of the kind of captivation hinted at here. I remember when my daughters were born. Each one in her own unique way captivated–even captured–my heart the moment I laid eyes on her. I remember a particularly moving moment singing in gospel choir for a church service when the clear thought arose within me, “I will follow you anywhere.” I remember a moment on silent retreat when I heard a bird call and for a split second or maybe it was many minutes or more–who knows, time gets strange when you’re truly captivated–the universe opened and I knew for myself a peace that passes understanding. 

Just like many Christians believe Jesus will return one day, many Buddhists believe that the Buddha will return in the form of a fat, jolly Santa Claus, who will enter our everyday world with “bliss bestowing hands.” This vision for religious mission is not so different from Jesus’, who himself was captivated and invites us all into the captivating presence of God’s boundless love. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-28-22

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-28-22

Many of you likely saw the announcement earlier this week that I’ve accepted a call to First Church of Christ in Saybrook (Congregational). My last Sunday with First Church will be March 6. Between now and then we will consolidating the gains we’ve made during our time together and preparing for the bridge to what’s next. 

My role at FCC Saybrook will be, once again, transitional. The church is interested in doing revitalization work before it considers its next move. I look forward to helping them in that effort. What revitalization looks like during what we hope is the tail end of a global pandemic is a question foremost in a lot of minds and will likely be a key question for FCC Granby regardless of the decision on consolidation. A consolidated church is not necessarily a growing church unless intentional efforts are made to reach new people.

What will church vitality mean moving forward? No one really knows. For some decades now the world has been shifting from the linear “progress” change model to a “disruptive” change model, which makes it very difficult to infer the future from the past. Nevertheless, Carey Nieuwhoff’s latest blog post entitled “Five Faulty Assumptions About the Future Church” rings true for me. Number 2: “The Building Will Be the Center of Ministry,” and number 3: “You Don’t Need to Take Online Ministry that Seriously” seem particularly relevant. Already expectations around online engagement have changed at First Church. We expect that there will be a Zoom option for meetings. We expect a livestream option for worship. What we have yet to develop is how to turn “views” into vital spiritual connections. My guess is that this will be a piece of future vitality. 

Interestingly, another piece of vitality in a time of disruptive change came up at my annual physical exam this morning. In my conversation with my primary care physician the very popular topic of the pandemic and mental health came up. She talked about the importance of staying “grounded” and her personal daily practice of grounding, which sounded like simply finding a moment during the day to still her body and quiet her mind. It reminded me of my childhood church, which emphasized personal “quiet time.” During this pandemic time my meditation group shifted to Zoom and has grown exponentially because of it. Pre-pandemic we would get 6-7 people on a weekday morning. Now we average 20-30, sometimes more. We have folks joining us from places as far away as Columbia, Denmark, the UK, Germany, and Iran. How can First Church, South Church, FCC Saybrook, all our congregations stay grounded in a time of ongoing disruption? If we’re waiting for an extended time of “smooth sailing” to engage in vitality work, we could be waiting a long while. If my meditation group is any indication, leaning into the disruption can actually produce vitality.

All of this is easier said than done. I am not a person who naturally welcomes disruption. I prefer smooth sailing. Psalm 23 says, “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” I have found that in stormy times the still waters are still accessible. Deep below the surface there are hidden aquifers of spiritual refreshment that will sustain our vitality if we stay grounded, like a tree that reaches with its roots down to the living water.