What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-13-20, part 2

Sometimes a cute video can help . . .

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 3-13-20

This week I followed my normal work schedule. I sat down at my desk, got my “to do” list from Sue, our Office Manager, and began with the first item: “First Edition article.” Usually that means I write “What’s Up with Pastor Todd” based on a theme for the week or a Scripture text. The Scripture text for this week is Exodus 17:1-7. You’ll find my reflections on the text below in the “Lenten Reflections Week 3” article.

Four days later what would otherwise function adequately as “What’s Up with Pastor Todd” is in need of an update. The reality of coronavirus is inviting us as individuals and communities to make rapid changes out of concern for the health and wellbeing of all. 

Your leadership on congregational and denominational levels has been monitoring the situation closely. In a separate email you will be receiving details of our decision to close the church for two weeks beginning Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 22. This is in compliance with recommendations from the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. The mission trip to Puerto Rico has also been postponed. We hope to organize a mission trip for autumn 2020. During the weeks to come we will find creative ways to stay connected, attend to appropriate needs, and continue our spiritual preparation for Easter. 

Worship will continue through our Facebook livestream. As usual, sermon recordings will be available on the website. There will be more updates to come, so please check your email. Also, please help your friends and neighbors who may not use email or have access to Facebook stay connected and stay informed. Even though the church will be closed to the public, Sue will return to the office on Monday. You can email or call her with questions, or contact me at pastor@firstchurchgranby.org.

Pastor’s Page February 2020

Pastor’s Page Feb. 2020

February is discernment month for First Church Granby. Feb. 9 following worship will be our annual congregational “discernment” meeting. I think it’s great that FCCG has one meeting a year devoted to the spiritual practice of discernment. There are many different approaches to discernment. You can find a number of different examples in the Bible: prayer and fasting, casting lots, consulting prophets, rituals involving sacrifice, pilgrimage. Gideon famously put fleece outside overnight to discern what God wanted him to do in battle. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. We won’t be doing any of these things. We will be doing prayer and conversation. But what all these have in common is the ancient human attempt to determine what God wants or what God is up to, in more formal language, “divine will.” 

Divine will is a notoriously difficult thing to determine. The Bible is full of stories of individuals who claimed to know the divine will when, it turns out, they didn’t. The results are usually unpleasant. So humility is the first and most important quality to bring to discernment. The second is patience. Scripture says that “the Spirit moves where it will.” God answers in God’s good time. And sometimes the answer is silence. In which case, we might decide to sit with the question a while longer. But I want to encourage us that it is indeed possible to discern God’s deepest longing for us. I’ve experienced it. I’ve witnessed it happen in congregations. We’ll know we’ve nailed it when there is a moment of connection, joy, and release. God’s will may not be pleasant. God may not be inviting us to do something we particularly want to do. But there is joy and release knowing it’s the right thing to do. There is a deep sense of connection knowing that in the long run discerning and doing God’s will leads to abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.

So don’t miss worship Feb. 9 and stay for the meeting after. Our transition coach, Claire Bamberg will be joining us and facilitating a discernment discussion on the topic of “What is Your ‘Why’?”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . .” (Matthew 1:20)

When Joseph found out his fiance Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, an angel says to him, “Do not be afraid.” It’s interesting that the emotion attributed to Joseph at this point is fear. I might have thought anger because from a human standpoint, the assumption would be that Mary had cheated on him. But anger isn’t named. The emotion that needs to be released in order for the holy wedding to take place is fear.

The thought of marriage scared the pants off me when Nicole and I were dated. My parents were in the process of an ugly divorce. Her parents had also had an acrimonious divorce. Our families’ recent track records were not good. Who could say we would do any better? In the end, with fear and trembling, I asked, and she said, “Yes.” Twenty-three years later we’re still together! For me, it has less to do with anything special about us. It has more to do with God’s grace and an amazing support system. And even after all these years, I am deeply aware of how fragile it all is.

The Apostle John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” This suggests that love and fear go together. True love demands vulnerability, vulnerability brings risk, risk often gives rise to fear. “Will I be rejected?” “Will I be taken advantage of?” “Will my loved one leave or die?” Human love is imperfect, so fear goes with the territory. That’s why for me a key to making human love work is grounding myself everyday in God’s perfect love. If you’re not at least a little afraid, you may not be risking true love. If you find yourself afraid to, for example, share your feelings, be honest, meet a neighbor, share a gift, make a friend, commit to a relationship, instead of ignoring the fear, you might sit with it for a bit, invite divine love to shed some light on the situation, and then step forward with courage.

Pastor’s Page, January 2020

Pastor’s Page Jan. 2019

Happy 2020 everyone! I hope you have a safe and satifsfying new year. Growing up, winter on the farm was a time for fixing everything that needed fixing, planning for spring planting, keeping the livestock alive, and snowmobiling! The energy shifted away from the intensity of autumn harvest. But it would be a mistake to think that nothing was going on under the snow blanket that covered the fields and forests. Winter is a time of intense natural activity. We imagine nothing is happening only because we can’t see it. 

William Bridges in his classic, Transitions, writes about times in transition when it seems like nothing is happening. We might find ourselves feeling bored or restless in the “neutral zone.” The neutral zone is the chaotic period between the ending of the old thing and the beginning of the new. What was it like for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness? They left the terror of Egypt but they had not yet reached the Promised Land. In between I can imagine any number of people coming to Moses asking, “Are we there, yet?” In fact, the story of that time is one of continual complaining on the part of God’s people. God was patient. But the Bible is clear that most of those complainers did not end up in the Promised Land. So, what’s the alternative?

Modern ecology has taught us a lot about what goes on underground during the winter. Roots deepen, strengthen, and reach out to make new connections. All kinds of plants store up energy for the burst of growth in spring. 

If you’re feeling bored and restless and complain-y this month, come see me, but only if you’re willing to be put to work building new connections in the community and planning new ways to reach out. Winter is a time when folks can feel especially isolated. Remember that old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend?” What would happen if everyone who signed up for “Souper Saturday” (see below) were expected to bring a friend along with their appetizer? Wouldn’t that be exciting? Be warned. If you come to me with your winter blahs, you may walk away with an invitation to find someone else to cheer up!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-6-19

Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, CA

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-6-19

I’m sitting in the Burbank Hollywood Airport waiting for my flight to Hartford. The screen on the wall chatters with a morning show. Around me people take, then vacate the seats at the gate as their flights board. My flight to Hartford isn’t for a couple of hours, so I have an opportunity to let you know what’s up!

I’m returning after spending a couple of days in Los Angeles. My trip had a dual purpose. The primary purpose was to serve as the UCC delegate to the National Council of Churches Buddhist-Christian dialogue, which took place on Tuesday at Hsi Lai Temple, a Chan Buddhist temple, in Hacienda Heights. The secondary (although a very close second) was to visist my daughter, Olivia, who is a freshman at Occidental College in Los Angeles. 

The dialogue was interesting. This is our second time meeting. This is how it goes. About twenty of us, Buddhists and Christians of different flavors, sit at a large oval table in a conference room and listen while members of the group make presentations on different topics that the group has previously identified. I was asked to speak to the topic of “Renunciation and Repentance.” Others topics for this dialogue included Buddhist and Christian perspectives on social justice and Buddhist and Christian perspectives on “ultimate reality.” I could tell that the group was going deeper compared to last dialogue because this time “difference” was allowed to arise in the group.

What do I mean by “difference was allowed to arise?” At one point we were talking about Buddhist reincarnation as it relates to Christian salvation. One of the Christians tried to make a connection between the two concepts. The Buddhist presenter shook his head and said, “No, they are not the same.” The conversation then shifted to a discussion of language and its limitations when faced with ultimate reality, which, by definition, is unspeakable. 

The purpose of the Buddhist-Christian dialogue is to build connections across religious differences. The first impulse in building connections is to look for commonalities. We naturally do this when we meet someone new. “Where are you from?” one might ask. “Sacramento,” she says. “Oh, my cousin lives near there,” you say. And on it goes. We relax. There’s a good feeling. We’re not so different after all. And we aren’t. A foundational claim for both Buddhists and Christians is that all of life is connected. But if we stay in this easy place of “we’re all the same,” are we really getting at the truth?

Recognizing difference is vital to genuine connection. Integrity has boundaries. It is able to say both “yes” and “no.” Difference gives energy, variety, and beauty to life because difference is also truth. The English Romantic poet John Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Difference can feel sharp. It can feel scary. “What’s happening? Will we lose our connection? Will we argue? Will we fight?” Healthy dialogue allows both commonalities and differences to arise without getting caught in any of them. Instead, we calmly apprise and appreciate them. Commonality and difference. Connection and disconnection. This is the path to truth and beauty. This is the way of the unspeakable. 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-3-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-3-19

At First Congregational Church of Granby we’ve been having some wonderful conversations over the past several weeks. We’ve had four “Meet the Minister” meetings with about 40 total attendance with one more to go. This covers close to our active membership. Great participation! In those meetings we have addressed four questions: 1) What brought you to FCC? 2) What keeps you at FCC? 3) What is your vision for the next 3-5 years? 4) What next steps might we take to get there? There have been a wide range of responses, honest and heartfelt, and most have left the meetings feeling a mixture of grief over what was and hope for what might be. I will be compiling the responses and making a presentation at our next “Working Lunch” Sunday, October 20, in Cook Hall following worship. I’m looking forward to deepening the conversation in this time of transition.

Speaking of “Working Lunch” . . . We had our first Working Lunch this past Sunday, September 29 in Cook Hall. Ann Wilhelm and crew prepared a delicious lunch. Thank you so much! After lunch a group of about 25 church members created a timeline of significant events in the life of the church, in the town of Granby, in the United States, and in our world. We also included our own personal significant events such as baptisms, funerals, weddings, confirmation, and other life moments. It was helpful to take a 30,000 foot view of the movement of events and their interconnection. 

Following the creation of the timeline, we made observations, including highlights, lowlights, patterns, things we would like to see continue into the future, and things we might not want to repeat. There were many insightful comments but one that struck me came from Emily Messenger. After reflecting on how people at FCC and other congregational churches tend to get upset and leave, she commented that we should be “learning to make conflict as a way of growing rather than splitting apart.” I thought that was incredibly insightful.

Conflict is normal. God created each of us different with differing perspectives, opinions, and life experiences. If we were all the same, life would be boring. Sometimes churches tell me they have no conflict. To me, this indicates one of three possibilities: 1) They are lying; 2) They aren’t doing anything of any significance; 3) They’re dead. It is also true that conflict handled in an unhealthy manner is the number one reason for decline in congregations. The good news is that we can learn healthy communication practices that will indeed enable us to use conflict as a way of growing rather than splitting apart. The Church Council is recommending we hire consultant and coach Rev. Claire Bamberg to help us with that work. You will have the chance to meet her Sunday, November 17, when she will be preaching and leading worship.

The point of the timeline exercise is to create common memory. Georges Erasmus, a respected Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” Our history is full of ups and downs, but the good news is we can learn from it. And with new learning comes new opportunity for new life.