Prayer of Confession
Holy God, we confess that we have become attached to this place. We find it difficult to let go. These walls contain memories of babies baptized, weddings consecrated, funerals observed. Significant movements were launched from within this sanctuary: the homeless have been housed, the hungry fed, the lonely comforted, the powerful confronted. We ourselves have been confronted with our own limits, with our own failings, with opportunities missed, and conflicts allowed to blaze unchecked. We let go of it all because it’s no longer needed. We entrust our past, we entrust our future, we entrust ourselves this very moment to you. Amen.
*Prayer of Dedication
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, we dedicate our offerings and our lives as countless generations before have done. They have entrusted a legacy to us. Give us the wisdom and the guts to build a legacy for those who will follow. Amen.
Folks have been encouraging me to give an update regarding the Restart Plan for FCC Stamford.
There’s a group of about 27 church members working on six separate task forces to implement the restart plan, which the congregation approved at last fall’s congregational meeting. There’s too much to report on in this space, so I will only touch on some highlights. If you have further questions please contact Maureen Matthews, Rob Godzeno, or me.
- The Restart Team has agreed to hire Griffith Coaching to support the Search Task Force in their work to identify a restart pastor with the appropriate qualifications and cultural match for the FCC Restart. The Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ (CTUCC) supports FCC in our decision to work with Griffith Coaching, which has its own professional search services. Griffith Coaching will be working in coordination with CTUCC. Rev. Jim Griffith is the restart coach that helped us develop our restart plan last year.
- Jim Griffith and his search associate, Sally Morgenthaler, will be joining us February 1-3 for a “Discovery Weekend,” during which they will be conducting small group interviews to get a sense from FCC members of what kind of restart pastor will be a good match. Click here for the Discovery Weekend schedule.
- On February 10 we will commission the Task Forces during worship. Following worship we will have a congregational meeting to hear reports from the Task Forces and create an Advisory Committee to carry out the responsibilities of our existing boards and committees that have not been delegated to any restart task force.
- March 2-3 is Legacy Weekend. This is in essence a memorial service for FCC Stamford. It marks a time of remembering and letting go of what was in order to make space for what the new church will be.
- After the March 3 Legacy Service, the church will go into a six month “Silent Period.” The purpose of the Silent Period is to create a shift in energy toward a deeper engagement with our spiritual lives and the lives of those in the Stamford community. This shift will prepare us for our “soft opening” in a new space in September 2019. The Silent Period will have its own worship and programming schedule. The Silence Task Force is currently working on the plan, which will be publicly available at the February 10 congregational meeting.
That’s probably enough information for now. Once again, for questions contact me, Maureen Matthews or Rob Godzeno.
Call to Worship
God has given you a purpose and a mission that only you can carry out. It is God’s great mission of salvation for all of creation. It is an impossible mission for us as limited, sinful individuals. But together, we can come closer. And with God all things are possible. God needs your unique contribution. Without it we are all impoverished. Worship is one of the ways we get in touch with God’s calling on our lives. Let’s listen with all our hearts. Sing with all our soul. Pray with all our mind and strength.
Prayer of Confession
Holy God, we pray for your Spirit. We confess that for too long we have wandered aimlessly. Our minds carry us here and there into gilded memories of a past that never existed or futures filled with imaginary threats and escapist fantasies. Teach us the mystery of fulfilling the Scripture now, in the precious present, which is the only opportunity we have to truly change the world. Forgive us and restore us to ourselves. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication
We dedicate these gifts and our lives to living out our God given purpose right here and right now. Amen.
This weekend marks the MLK holiday weekend. At FCC we will be marking the occasion with a joint worship service at North Stamford Community Church, 31 Cascade Rd., Stamford. Worship begins at 11am. Pastor Jacki and I will be speaking to the theme, “I Have a Dream.” We will also be inviting the congregations to share their dreams. In preparation for Sunday I’ve been reading from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King wrote this open letter to a group of fellow clergy who were criticizing his use of non-violent direct action to bring about justice for African Americans, particularly in the South. The criticism was that King was creating unrest and “disturbing the peace” by raising awareness of the suffering of black people. Instead, these clergy, who identified as “white moderates,” recommended patience and incremental change. King defended his actions and called on his colleagues to remember their God, who, we are told, heard the cries of his people oppressed in Egypt and took action on their behalf to free them. King famously wrote about the “fierce urgency of now.”
The Letter from a Birmingham Jail reminded once again of the difference between charity and justice. Charity meets the needs of suffering people while leaving the social structures that create suffering in place. Justice takes a critical look at the structures and seeks to change them. Saint Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran Catholic priest martyred for his work on behalf of the poor once said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why there are so many poor people, they call me a Communist.” Which is exactly what they called Dr. King.
I don’t believe that we have to become Communists to create more just social structures in the U.S., but my dream is that as a church, we use the opportunity that our church restart affords to engage not only in acts of charity but also in a movement for justice.
Baptism of Christ by Egino Weinart
This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Christ. Jesus’ baptism has been a complicated subject for Christians from the beginning. Scripture says that when he was a young adult, Jesus was baptized by his relative, John, in the Jordan River. John said that his baptism was for repentance and forgiveness of sin. So the question arose immediately: What did Jesus do that he needed to repent and be baptized? Scripture doesn’t answer this question. Rather, it dances uncomfortably around what appears to be the historical fact of Jesus undergoing water baptism, which, on the surface seems to be in tension with the claim that Jesus is the Son of God, and, therefore, without sin.
In the Christian church, baptism is a sacrament. A sacrament is a sacred ritual that helps us step into the story of God’s love. Baptism uses the symbol of water, which can mean many things: washing, drowning, life, power, chaos, creation, refreshment, womb. Baptism wraps up all of these deep meanings and helps to set us on the Christian path.
What we make of Christ’s baptism and what we make of ours, therefore, is a matter of interpretation. It can change and shift over time, which is what makes baptism so powerful and meaningful. When we baptize infants, it’s not so much about cleansing for sin as it is about welcoming an innocent newcomer into the family. At other stages of our lives, it’s a reminder of the commitment we’ve made to follow in Christ’s way.
As we step into 2019 as individuals and as a church, reconnection to baptism is a great reminder of our commitment and God’s deliverance. We don’t need to be perfect for God to love us, we just need to be willing to take the plunge and follow God’s lead as best we can.
A recommended resource on baptism and other Christian theological issues is Fr. Richard Rohr’s “Daily Meditations” newsletter. Sign up at www.cac.org.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1/2/19
Happy New Year! The first Sunday of the new year brings us the story of the wise man or, more properly, “Magi.” Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor begins her sermon on the journey of the wise men this way: “Once upon a time there were some very wise men who were all sitting in their own countries minding their own business when a bright star lodged in the right eye of each of them. It was so bright that none of them could tell whether it was burning in the sky or in their own imagination, but they were wise enough to know that it didn’t matter. The point was, something beyond them was calling them, and it was a tug they had been waiting for all their lives.” (Taylor, 1999)
We don’t know for a fact that the wise men were, in fact, men. We just presume so because of patriarchy. We also don’t know know many there were. There were three gifts, but does that mean three givers? The point is that they set out on a journey that became their calling, much like Abraham and Sarah so many centuries before them. They followed a star not knowing their destination or how long they would be underway. They achieved their goal, worshipped the Christ child, and God sent them home by another route. “Home by Another Way” is the title of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon.
There is no doubt that we as a congregation are underway and that 2019 will be a year of movement and adventure that will test our faith and the strength of our bonds as a community. But we can take courage from the Magi who found their way home by another way, and once home, found themselves transformed.
Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister
First Congregational Church of Stamford
Sermon for Christmas Eve
24 December 2018
Text: Luke 2:1-20
This morning I woke up while it was still dark. No one was awake in my house except our pet rabbit, who lives in our bedroom. He was hopping around clanking his food dish to let me know he was ready for breakfast. I moved quickly and quietly so as not to wake my wife, then went downstairs to feed the dog. I noticed each creak of the floorboards as I tip-toed to the kitchen. I started the coffee. Then I tip-toed to our three season porch, where I turned on the space-heater and settled down for a half-hour of silent meditation. Even at that early hour, the noise inside my head was already starting up: self-centered thoughts, fantasies about places I might go and things I might do, arguments with family members, ideas for a Christmas eve sermon. My mind is a swirl of ego. But as I sit and simply notice my breath, it begins to quiet down. Without a sound light gradually filters through the windows and fills the porch. Outside snow silently falls to the grass in the backyard. It was a silent morning, holy morning.
Tonight is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Silent Night at the chapel in the tiny village of Oberndorf, Austria just north of Salzburg on the border with Bavaria. Joseph Mohr was a newly ordained priest who needed a carol for his Christmas eve service, so he paid a visit to the church organist Franz Gruber. He brought with him a poem he had written a couple of years earlier, just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had wracked Europe for the past 12 years. Gruber set the poem to music written specifically for guitar, since the chapel’s organ had recently been destroyed by flooding from the Salzach River.
The debut performance for that tiny audience on that quiet Christmas eve was well received. Within a few years the song spread throughout German-speaking Europe and then was translated into English. From England it spread to America and throughout the world. Today Silent Night has been translated into hundreds of languages. It is the most well-known Christmas carol of all.
But that’s not all. On November 11 of this year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the first year of that war to end all wars, something happened that had never before happened and never would again. After five months of fighting along the Western Front, the guns and mortars went silent. It had been raining for weeks flooding the trenches that the soldiers lived and died in. But on Christmas eve, the air turned cold, the ground froze, and snow silently began to fall. In the dark the western allies heard voices from across no-man’s land. “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht.” It was the German soldiers singing across the fields to the British and French on the other side. So began the Christmas truce of WWI. It only lasted a day or so, but it demonstrated that even in the midst of war, enemies can lay their weapons down.
On this holy night, I invite us into the deep stillness where we meet the Christ child. The Apostle Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Christ child lived in the Apostle Paul. He lives in me. He lives in you. On this holy night I invite us into the silence where a true voice can be heard, the voice of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.
Pastor’s Page January 2019
While in the past new years have brought sweeping changes to my personal life–new jobs, new houses, relocations, graduations, births, deaths, and the like–they have not often brought sweeping changes to the churches I’ve served. For better or for worse, congregational changes tend to be incremental, if there is any perceptible change at all. And perhaps we have come to depend on that: while the world around us swirls, there’s something reliable about the predictability and routine nature of Sunday after Sunday, season after season.
2019 is not going to be like that for First Congregational Church of Stamford. Our building is sold. There is no turning back from that fact. We have 12 months max to find a new home. Additionally, we will be searching for a restart pastor to launch what I’m provisionally calling New Church Stamford. There will still be Sundays and there will still be seasons, but–out of necessity–we will be inventing new ways to mark them, new rhythms to celebrate them, and new eyes to notice the spirit of God moving among us and our community.
This may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t do change well. My natural inclination is to resist. But I’ve found that fighting change–at least change that God is bringing about–is exhausting and fruitless. I’ve found that the key to surviving and even thriving in the midst of sweeping change is to focus on my spiritual practice. For me, this is prayer, meditation, worship, Scripture study, physical exercise, community, and service.
Change is difficult, but I’m convinced that change is simply the nature of reality. Nothing in this world is exempt–not even church. So my invitation to you is to step boldly into 2019. As a church we have a direction, we have a plan, and we have resources. These three things are huge items in our “plus” column. Most churches I know don’t have any of these things. They tend to wander around in circles making incremental change after incremental change that don’t really take them anywhere. We, at least, are a congregation with a vision and a congregation with a goal: to become the church Stamford needs us to be. Though at times the work may feel overwhelming, remember, nothing is impossible with God.