Worship Resource: All Saints Sunday

* Call To Worship (from Psalm 37)

            One: Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

All: While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

One: Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions before the LORD,’ and you forgave the guilt of my life.

All: You are a hiding place for me; you preserve from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

* Gathering Prayer

         Holy God, you invite us to consider the possibility that we, too, might be holy. You embrace the mess we’ve made of our lives even when we would rather turn away. Our culture tells us that the key to happiness is culivating a carefully curated public image. Polish, shine, perfection–this is the currency of the world we live in. Teach us never to compare our inside with someone else’s outside. You see past the facade. You know our hearts and love us still. Teach us to nourish the seeds of new life you have planted in the soil of our broken, humble hearts. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

God, your saints teach us the way of service, sacrifice, and joy. We follow their example trusting that we, too, will find rest in your presence. Amen.

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 9-10-21 through 10-15-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-10-21

Abraham asked good questions. When God appears to Abraham in a dream, God says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:1-2). The dream dialogue unfolds from there. God clarifies the exact nature of God’s plan in response to Abraham’s questions. 

Powerful questions are an important tool for dreaming together. What often begins as a vague feeling becomes detailed vision becomes a concrete action plan through the process of asking and responding to questions. 

Below is a list of questions I came up with regarding the transition process at First Church. I would love to hear your responses to these questions. You can write them in an email or call me on the phone or set up a Zoom. I’ll document the responses in survey form without sharing your identity–unless you want me to. I’m also interested in questions you would add to this list.

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

I look forward to hearing your responses . . . and your questions.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-17-21

Last week I noted that Abraham asked good questions. Genesis 15 tells us a story of Abraham questioning God’s plan to give him the gift of a legacy. Abraham says (I’m paraphrasing), “I’ve left everything behind to follow you to the Promised Land, but how will I pass on this land to my descendants when Sarah and I have no children?” What’s the plan? Great question. Abraham could have left it there and just waited for a response. It turns out, however, that behind Abraham’s question lay a feeling of grief and an entire narrative scaffolding built up around it.

Abraham’s exact question, according to the Bible, was, “My Lord God, what would you give me, for I am going to die childless/accursed.” “Childless” and “accursed” were presumed to be one and the same thing in ancient Near Eastern cultures. If you could not produce an heir, something was wrong with you. Abraham was telling himself a story about who he was and who God was and what his situation meant. Storytelling is a profoundly human activity. And Genesis 15 shows us that the stories we tell ourselves are not always accurate.

Genesis tells us that Abraham was NOT cursed. God’s intention was to bless him with a legacy as vast as the starry sky. If we count not only those who trace their biological lineage to Abraham but also those who trace their spiritual lineage to Abraham, we see that God kept God’s promise. Countless billions over thousands of years have numbered themselves among the “children of Abraham.”

Last week I shared a list of questions about our transition process at First Church. Some responses have started to come in. I hope to receive more! Gathering data from open ended questions is called “qualitative research.” For me, the value of qualitative research is not to arrive at some fixed “truth” about the transition process. Rather, the purpose is to uncover the stories we are telling ourselves about the transition process. Then we can evaluate the stories. Are they accurate? Are they helpful? What are some other stories we might construct given the same data? 

So here they are again. And once again you can respond with email or we can talk by phone or Zoom or some other way. Your choice.

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-1-21

A couple of weeks ago I shared a list of questions about our transition process at First Congregational Church of Granby. If you haven’t yet responded, I encourage you to take a few moments to share your thoughts. You can respond in an email, phone call, Zoom meeting, in-person . . . whatever form suits you. The questions are:

  1. What did you think the transition process would be like?
  2. How has it been different?
  3. What about the transition process gives you energy?
  4. What do you find draining?
  5. What is going well?
  6. What could go better?
  7. Where have you noticed God in this process?
  8. When have you felt God’s absence?
  9. What worries you going forward?
  10. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?
  11. Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

So far I’ve gotten four responses. A surveyor always hopes for more responses; nevertheless, we move forward with the ones we have and publish new findings when we have new data. Today we’ll look at responses to just the first two questions:

First a general observation: Respondents identified “transition” with the South Congregational Church collaboration/consolidation process even though there have been other parts to the transition work, namely, vitality, changes in worship, care ministry, and so on. This is understandable since the bulk of our resources have been focused on the consolidation effort.

Question one gets at expectations: Of the four responses, half said the process has met expectations. Half said it has not. More specifically, half said they expected the process to be messy and confusing. Half expected it to be quicker and more straightforward given the preliminary work that had been done during the previous settled minister’s tenure at FCC.

Question two gets at divergence from expectation. Responses identified the following “surprises”:

  • COVID (one mention).
  • Differences between the churches in their self-perceptions of sustainability, namely, FCC perceiving itself as having an unsustainable trajectory and SCC having a perception of a sustainable trajectory (two mentions).
  • Differences in consolidation models each church brought to the table: “lead-church, joining church” model vs. “consolidation/restart model.” (two mentions).
  • Differences in church culture as it relates to clergy roles, namely, “minister-led” vs. “congregation-led” models (two mentions). 

I have some thoughts about the responses received so far. What do you make of them? More importantly, how would you respond to these questions and would you be willing to share your responses? More to come . . .

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-8-21

A couple more responses to our informal transition process survey have come in making the current total six. You can access the survey questions here. You can respond verbally or in writing. This week we’ll take a look at responses to questions 5-8:

5.  What is going well?

  • Working Groups/GUCCI (5 responses).
  • Unite events/meeting new people (3 responses).
  • Spiritual practice of open-mindedness and patience.

6.  What could go better? 

  • A perceived lack of engagement/enthusiasm notice both among FCC folks and SCC folks.
  • More meeting in person.
  • Perceived differences in understanding between the churches of the consolidation model: (lead church-joining church vs. merger/restart)
  • Lack of clarity about what decisions regarding consolidation need to be made now vs. after a vote to consolidate.

7.  Where have you noticed God in this process?

  • In depth, face-to-face conversations, joint activities/worship, hearing life stories (3 responses).
  • Not applicable since this is primarily a “secular/business” process (2 responses).
  • In knowing that “it’s the right thing” to serve the church’s mission.

8.  When have you felt God’s absence?

  • The perception that FCC is actively engaged in a transition process and SCC is not (2 responses).
  • Not applicable (1 response).
  • God is always present!
  • “‘Us and them’ talk.”
  • One person responded to this question by offering their own vision for a new, united Granby UCC with a new vision for a mission that is “beyond the Christian club mentality.”

Thanks to everyone for your responses thus far. Next week we’ll take a look at responses to 

9.  What worries you going forward?

10.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?

11.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-15-21

This week a summary of responses to the final three questions of our transition survey. See the full list of questions here.

9.  What worries you going forward?

  • Perceived lack of clear leadership from GUCCI around the decision-making process. (Image: “A camel is a horse designed by committee.)
  • Disengagement of FCCG folks from process and what that will mean for future decision making. (2 responses.)
  • Differences between congregations in understanding of transition and consolidation particularly as it relates to concrete changes in the “way we do things.”
  • Not worried.

10.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what will you be most proud of?

  • Playing a part in forming a new church that will: a) have a stronger mission, b) be more effective in serving community, c) be modern and forward looking, and d) ensure a continued UCC presence in Granby. (5 responses.)
  • That we persevered despite differences.
  • That we were MORE active during COVID while other churches were “shut down.”

11.  Imagine five years from now. Looking back, what do you wish we had done differently?

  • Taken more time for congregations to build a common understanding around sustainability, transition, and consolidation models. (5 responses.)
  • Listen to a wider range of SCCG people more closely.
  • Taken more time to clarify decision making process before engaging Working Groups.
  • If the churches decided not to consolidate, that we did not feel a strong enough sense of urgency.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Some themes that I have noticed in the responses: 

1. That energy, optimism, and hope come from connecting with people to create something new. It occurred to me that this opportunity is always and has always been available to us regardless of transition or consolidation process. We always have the ability to connect. This vitality work. We now know how to do this. It’s simply a matter of deciding to step out of our bubble of isolation and reach new people.

2. That a perceived lack of clarity around process, direction, and goal tends to generate anxiety. The more we can work together to clarify What is it we actually want? What is it God is calling us to? And in the meantime create a space of active, expectant waiting. Imagine this time like Advent, perhaps. We’re busy preparing for the One to come. As Isaiah says, “Those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength.”

What themes, lessons, pointers do you glean from these initial findings? 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-28-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-28-21

“I’m afraid of losing our identity.” This was a response that came up in one of First Church’s transition workshops back in 2019. Transition coach Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg first led us in a workshop on thecongregational life cycle, then a second on the grief process. We located ourselves on the decline side of the congregational life cycle bell curve, past the point of sustainability. We talked about what that meant for our future and what some of our options might be, including the option that a group from First Church had been working on for some years at this point: consolidation with South Church.

Identity sounds like an abstract, philosophical debate, but, in fact, it’s at the core of some of the most intense conflicts within congregations and in broader society. Take America’s culture wars, for example. The culture wars are a series of conflicts over different aspects of America’s identity, including white nationalism, gender hierarchy, class loyalties, regional identities, “Christian values,” economic systems, and systems for choosing its leaders. Will America stop being America if white people are no longer the dominant race? Will America stop being America if the gap between rich and poor becomes so great that economic mobility is no longer possible? Will America stop being America if Christianity is no longer the dominant religion? As you can see, identity is a big, emotionally fraught issue. Emotions are intense because conflicts over identity are conflicts over power: who has voice and who gets resources.

Conflict over identity defines what it means to be a church in transition, according to sociologist Penny Edgell Becker in her book, Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life. Churches in transition are characterised by what Becker calls “between-frame conflict.” In between-frame conflict, two different visions of identity, that is, “who we are and how we do things here” compete for power, that is, voice and resources.

This is contrasted to “within-frame” conflict, where everyone agrees on identity, that is, “who we are and how we do things here.” The conflict is simply disagreement over approach or interpretation. We have memories of the “good-old days” of “bipartisanship” in the U.S. for example, because for a brief period in the 20th century we were sending leaders to Washington who more or less shared the same “frame.” By contrast, the Civil War was an extreme example of “between-frame” conflict. Between-frame conflicts in churches rarely get violent, but they can be intense.

Between-frame conflict is unavoidable in the consolidation process. We have two distinct congregations with two distinct identities. Does this mean we’re doomed to fight until one identity dominates the other? No. The other option is to expand the frame, or “ABC”: “a bigger container.” We can build a space where diverse voices can be heard and celebrated, where resources can be shared. I’ve witnessed this happen, for example, when a church I served shifted from a white-dominant model to a mutli-racial, multi-cultural model. Some white people were so afraid that we were becoming a “Black church.” Their fears turned out to be unfounded. A new, beautiful identity emerged: neither “Black,” nor “white,” but a celebration of the best in all of us: a slice of heaven on earth.

Ride On King Jesus

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman at First Congregational Church of Granby 28 March 2021

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

This week Beth Lindsay, Kerri Crough, and I along with a couple others from the Vitality Team visited Life Church New England to learn about their partnership with Food Share. Food Share provides low cost food to partner organizations that serve as distribution sites to food insecure people. The Vitality Team has a vision that First Church could serve as one of those sites. The need is great. The mission of the Vitality Team is to grow the church. Food ministry in itself doesn’t necessarily grow the church. But food ministry can provide the context in which a church might grow if the ministry is designed in such a way that it gets us outside the church walls and provides opportunity to build authentic relationships with people who are not yet members of the church. 

Clearly this has been the case for Life Church. Volunteers take the time to get to know clients, pray with them if that’s appropriate, and otherwise walk with them as the hands and heart of Jesus in their lives. Volunteers also invite their friends and neighbors who aren’t food insecure to join them in this ministry. In this way Food Share not only meets the real needs of hurting people but also provides another “entry point” for people who may not have food needs but who may have spiritual needs like needs for purpose, meaning, and community. 

Not only am I excited about the possibility of reaching new people through a Food Share ministry but also about building a partnership with Life Church. Vital partnerships are another strategy for building vital ministry–particularly when those partnerships bridge racial, cultural, and theological differences. I’m grateful to Beth and Kerri for finding new ways to lead us beyond our walls.

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. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-1-20

Signs, artwork and flowers were placed by people to pay their respects and protest the Monday death of George Floyd at the intersection of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. in Minneapolis on Saturday, May 30 2020. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-1-20

Sunday, May 31, 7am: “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd called out for his mother and pleaded with the Minneapolis police officer who had his knee on his neck. “I can’t breathe,” said Mr. Floyd, until he lost consciousness and later died. “I can’t breathe,” said George Floyd, an unarmed African American while a white police officer squeezed the life out of him and four other police officers looked on.

When I read the story and watched the video of George Floyd’s death this week I was immediately reminded of Eric Garner, another unarmed Black man who called out, “I can’t breathe,” while a white police officer held him in a choke hold on a Staten Island street corner several years ago.

The stories of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, the nine who were gunned down during a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church–Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson . . . (say their names) are stories of a system of racial violence that goes all the way back to the very founding of our nation; nevertheless, the cry “I can’t breathe” also reminds me of an interview I heard back in March with an Italian doctor responsible for a hospital in Milan overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. He described what it was like to watch his patients die in isolation, their breath cut off as their lungs filled up with fluid. And even though coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on the color of one’s skin, here in the U.S., people of color are disproportionately dying of the disease because as a nation we refuse to directly confront and address what pastor and activist Jim Wallis calls “American’s original sin.” So even in the case of coronavirus, we cannot escape the specter of systemic racism.

Though my chest is tight with grief, anger, and fear on behalf of my family, friends, former parishioners, brothers and sisters in Christ, my neighbors, my neighborhood, my country, I can breathe. And as long as I can breathe I am going to speak out against racism in all its forms wherever I see it. And I see it all around. 

Monday, June 1, 3:29pm: Much has transpired in the past 24 hours. While I can only imagine what it’s like for my friends, neighbors, biological family, and faith family of color to experience the repeated traumatization of systemic racism in America, I know that to bear witness to trauma is also to receive that trauma into one’s heart. Emotions in my household remain raw. Nevertheless, I had an encouraging conversation with a small group of Granby town leaders this morning. We are determined to channel the collective energy of our grief and fear into positive action. Our dream is to lead a sacred conversation on race in the town of Granby. I invite you to pray for us, to pray for yourselves and your neighbors, to pray for our town, our nation. I invite all of us to breathe for George Floyd. I invite us to breathe for Eric Garner. I invite us to breathe for all of our brothers and sisters of color who have swung from the lynching tree. I invite us to lament and repent the sin of systemic racism. And then breathe once again, for the healing of your heart, for the healing of our world.