Worship Resource: Mother’s Day

Centering Prayer                                  

Mother God, womb of the world, thank you for mothers, who gave us life from their bodies. Life is the gift that makes all other gifts possible, so we say “Thank you, mom, for life.” A mother’s love can be so intimate as to be overlooked. We repent taking our mothers’ love for granted. A mother’s absence can be so painful as to leave us forever scarred. Give us the grace to embrace our own mothering, as imperfect as it may be. Give us the wisdom to honor our mothers in their full humanity. Give us the will as a nation to pay mothers more than just lip service. We pray for equal pay for equal work. We pray for paid maternity leave. We pray for access to health care and housing and education and all of the tools mothers need to flourish. Amen!        

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 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.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-7-2020

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-7-2020

When I was a kid, we had our own slang. Now that I have kids of my own I find myself in the role of deciphering the distinctive, sometimes confusing languages of their tribes. “Salty” is a term my youngest, Olivia, likes to use. From context clues I gather it means something like “annoyed,” as in “I was salty with my professor because she gave a list of assignments for the week on Monday but then added more on Wednesday.” “Salty” can also be used in the context of disagreeing with something someone said in class, a friend forgetting a birthday, someone undeserving getting recognition. When Olivia uses it, “salty” isn’t particularly angry, resentful, or mean, but I think that has more to do with Olivia, who is a naturally happy and loving person, than with the term itself, which, according to the Urban Dictionary, is more along the lines of “angry, bitter, resentful.” For Olivia, “salty” is along the lines of “feisty.”

“Salty” as a term for angry, upset, “suddenly enraged,” is actually throwback slang first used in 1938 and associated, not surprisingly, with sailors, who had a reputation for gruff, rowdy, and drunken behavior. 

The other common use of “salt” as an adjective comes from our Scripture text for this Sunday. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt should become insipid, by what shall it be made salty?” From this famous text we get the phrase “salt of the earth.” I hear people use this term to describe folks who are humble, have moral integrity, and are generally considered “good people,” “pillars of the community,” whose goodness often goes unrecognized. While I think there’s some of that meaning in the text, it certainly doesn’t capture all of it.

To get the rest of the meaning, we need to look at the rest of the sentence: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt becomes insipid, by what shall it be made salty? It is no longer of any use except to scatter outside for people to tread upon.” “Insipid” means “dull, boring, flavorless, weak, vapid, spiritless.” Yes, “salt of the earth” has to do with humility, moral integrity, and all of those things we tend to like as Christians. But I hear Jesus giving a sharp, dare I say, “salty” warning to his followers against dullness, irrelevance, blandness, a kind of false humility that is really just acquiescence to the status quo. It’s a form of spiritual laziness that views the church’s role as being “chaplains to power,” reassuring the wealthy and spiritually satisfied that everything is “OK.”

I am super grateful that my children are faithful Christians and dedicated churchgoers. I don’t attribute that to any special example that their parents set, other than that while they were living at home, we brought them to church every week. If you asked them, my guess is that they would agree with many young people that the church is too often “insipid, boring, and irrelevant.” And, by the way, it has little to do with whether a band is used in worship or video clips or anything like that–though these things can help. The reason my children are still engaged is that church provided the context in which they could build authentic relationships with “salty” Christians, that is, feisty Christians who had some flavor, some fire, who were not satisfied with the status quo but who risked their personal comfort to stand up against injustice, who viewed the church not as a social club where “we take care of our own,” but as a social movement whose purpose is to change the world.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 5-22-19

A 2018 family photo at my parents-in-law’s house, Milbridge, ME. Left to right: My mother-in-law, Betsy, step-father-in-law, John, my wife, Nicole, my daughter, Olivia.

This weekend our nation celebrates Memorial Day. In the UCC this weekend also marks “Rural Life Sunday.” Though I grew up working on my grandfather’s dairy farm, much of my ministry has been in cities and suburbs. Up until now. As a town, Granby has a distinct rural flavor that connects to my memories of childhood and my love of the natural world. So we’re celebrating both this Sunday: Memorial Day and Rural Life Sunday. This is a fortunate convergence. It creates an opportunity for important conversations around the role that military service plays in the life of rural communities.

In particular I’m remembering a conversation I had with a student at Narraguagus High School while I was substitute teaching there during the winter of 2008-2009. Here’s the context. It was the Great Recession. My wife, Nicole, and I had taken a call to do a church start in Indiana. Starting with no one, we had managed to gather 25 people in a town hall for weekly worship when the denomination told us that our funding had disappeared in the stock market crash. We suddenly found ourselves without income. Many people don’t realize that there is no unemployment insurance for clergy. The saving grace was that we managed to sell the house we had purchased a year earlier.

We packed everything we could fit into a station wagon and a Pontiac Vibe, put the rest in a storage locker, and drove with our two young children to Milbridge, Maine. Nicole’s grandmother owned a house in Milbridge. She had recently passed away. The house had been emptied of some its contents, but it hadn’t been sold, so we slept on the floor of the master bedroom under a pile of blankets that cold, cold winter while the girls slept in a couple of twin beds. As a part of our church start strategy, we had worked as substitute teachers in Indiana. As a part of our survival strategy, we now worked as substitute teachers in rural Maine.

Not enough people know this, but Maine is the second poorest state in the U.S., it’s poverty rate just below that of Louisiana. And Washington County, Maine, where we spent that winter, is the poorest county in Maine. Like most poverty in the U.S., Maine’s poverty is rural and, therefore, mostly invisible to the wider world. Nicole was already aware of Maine’s rural poverty. Her father grew up in a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. He escaped poverty by joining the Air Force. He served in Vietnam and returned with PTSD the effects of which ended his life at the age of 52. Grandpa Philip never had the chance to meet any of his grandchildren. Nevertheless, upon returning from Vietnam my future father-in-law earned a college degree and created life for his children in which they would not have to experience the poverty he had as a child.

Generations later, this continues to be the path for poor young people in rural Maine. I’ll never forget the day I was teaching and one of my students came to class with an excitement I hadn’t seen in him before. Usually quiet and sullen in class, words spilled out of his mouth. The other students looked up from their desks to hear the news. He had been accepted into the Air Force. He was getting out of what he and the other boys in class considered a dead-end town. This class had the reputation for being the worst in the school. It was a class consisting only of boys with serious emotional and behavioral problems. There were very limited social services for them. No other teachers would take the class, so I was put in the class as a long term substitute. Celebrating the news of a classmate’s acceptance into the Air Force was a very brief respite from what otherwise was an extremely grim situation.

So this Memorial Day weekend/Rural Life Sunday I want to celebrate the slim ray of hope that military service provides to young people locked in cycles of poverty, particularly the invisible poor people of rural areas who continue to have too few options and little support. And I would like us as Christians to reflect on whether it is just to ask poor people to shoulder a disproportionate burden of sacrifice for freedoms all of us enjoy.