Advent: Season of Hope, Peace, and Joy

December 15, 2015

hope peace joyWe are well into the season of Advent– only one Sunday between us and the special event we wait for. Advent, in the church world, is a season of waiting and watching for Christ to come in his many forms. We watch for the baby in the manger, we watch for the Christ who will come again. We look behind to the prophets of old who foretold the birth of the Messiah, and we look ahead to the life, death, and ministry of Jesus.

For the first Sunday of Advent we celebrate Hope. Hope is an expectation and desire that something will happen. It is the thing that keeps us going; hope makes us stand up and raise our heads. As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption“hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The Psalmist writes, “Our hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We hope in the one who created the universe out of nothing, who made the sky and seas, the earth and all that is in it. Our Advent hope is for the one who is and was and is to come– the Messiah, the deliverer, who will heal our brokenness with compassion and grace. This year’s gospel passage for this Sunday features John the Baptizer, pointing the way to Jesus the Christ, and the hope that comes with him.

For the second Sunday of Advent we celebrate Peace.  Peace can be understood as a time of quiet and tranquility, free from disturbance. It is a time without war, without strife, a time of harmony between social groups. In this year’s gospel for this Sunday John calls us to live peacefully with each other– not in so many words, but through actions: be kind and share what you have with anyone who has less; don’t cheat anyone; and don’t steal from others but be satisfied with what is yours.

In these times of seemingly endless war and conflict it is especially important that we look to Jesus the Christ as the Prince of Peace, and that we follow his way in seeking that peace. The ministry of Jesus was one of healing, of comforting, of loving– especially to the poor, the oppressed, those who had demons or other illnesses. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and awakened the people around him to their own self-worth, bringing peace to their lives– and ours.

The third Sunday of Advent is Joy Sunday. Joy is a state of pleasure, delight or happiness– though being joyful doesn’t mean being happy all the time! To me, joy is more of a state of being, rather than an emotion. Joy can be fleeting, as when you receive a piece of good news; or can be longer lasting, as when you have an encounter with God or the Spirit. These mountaintop experiences can bring us a joy that stays with us always.

We see joy in this year’s gospel passage for this Sunday, which is the song of Mary. Mary sings of a God who will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. This is good news and a cause for joy for anyone who suffers at the hand of oppression!

Hope, peace, and joy all abound during the Advent season. Hope for a special Christmas with family and friends, peace on Christmas Eve when the children are asleep and the presents are wrapped, joy in the knowledge that this season is about the giving of ourselves to others.

These are all wonderful parts of Advent, but this coming week is the best of all– a more excellent way. I can’t wait!

 

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Loving the Refugees

November 20, 2015

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome… who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.   You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.   -Deuteronomy 10:17-19

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”    -Luke 10:36-37

 

The rhetoric of the Republican Presidential contestants (whoops! candidates) is disturbing.

The vote of Congress yesterday is disturbing.

The willingness of our leaders to yield to fear is disturbing, and the willingness of our leaders to fear-monger their constituents is very disturbing.

We insist that we are a Christian nation. But it seems we’re only Christian when it’s convenient.

Thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives. Fleeing a war which has upended their lives. Courageously stepping into new lives in countries far from their homeland.

We sit here in America, in our big safe houses, with our guns at the ready. And we’re the ones cowering in fear.

But let’s forget that. Let’s forget that most of us live in very safe places, places that never see war or violence. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing the home you love, the place you grew up, has been destroyed. Most of us will never know the heartache of knowing you can never, truly never go home again. Because there is no home to go to.

Some would say that keeping Syrian refugees out of our country is the smart thing to do, that to do otherwise is to invite terrorism into our safe haven. But Christ doesn’t call us to do the safe thing.

“You were strangers in the land of Egypt” God says to the Israelites, and to us. Therefore we must love the stranger in our midst; even more we must welcome the stranger into our midst. Welcome them as the Egyptians welcomed the family of Joseph. Care for them, share your grain with them. Offer them clothing. Love them as God has loved them. Be a neighbor to them by showing mercy, binding their wounds, providing them shelter.

Nowhere does Christ say to turn from danger. Instead he says that following him will be dangerous. So if America is truly a Christian nation, we must not turn from danger, but expect it, face it, accept it.

The problem is, many of us have our own brand of Christianity that is worried chiefly about “my salvation” and being in God’s favor. It is taken as a sign of God’s favor if we’re wealthy, powerful, successful. If we achieve these things, we must be good. And if we don’t achieve these things, we must be bad or sinful. And so, we can’t risk losing what we have because we’d lose proof that God loves us, that we’re in God’s good graces. We become afraid.

Afraid enough to deny access to the freedoms we enjoy to a group of refugees. Afraid enough to consider requiring Muslims to carry a religious ID card. Afraid enough to forget our call to show mercy to strangers, to welcome, feed and clothe them. To love them. As Paul writes,

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers , and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Consider the more excellent way that Paul proposes. And then consider how we must treat those fleeing from danger as well as those already in our midst who are different. Consider also what God, Christ and Spirit have to say about the strangers in our midst and being a neighbor to those in trouble.

Be not afraid, for the God of love is with us.

 

Being Present in Prayer

November 2, 2015

Anytime I’m in a discussion about prayer, it seems like I hear the same thing: “I can’t concentrate, my mind wanders, I can’t focus long enough, and so I just don’t feel a connection to God.”  It’s a common refrain, and many times I have offered different methods or patterns of praying, because having a deep prayer life can enrich our faith lives. People seem to like the idea that they can “learn” to pray; even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after they had seen how his prayers connected him with God. And it’s true, you can learn methods of prayer or different types of prayer. But if we want a deeper connection with God, how do we make that happen? Or can we?

Last week I read an article by On Being blogger Susan Salzburg called “Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again.” Ms. Salzburg is a Buddhist and teaches meditation; she has practiced meditation for years and studied under a Burmese master named Sayadaw U Pandita. She told a story in the blog I read about going to study with this master and having the assignment of meeting with him 6 days a week to discuss her meditation experiences with him. She diligently meditated each day, making notes and trying to remember how her sessions had gone. But every time she met with U Pandita and described her experiences with him, he always replied, “It is like that in the beginning.”

This article reminded me of how many Christians feel about prayer– as if we should just be able to sit down and pray, and connect with God with little effort. Or that it’s ok to be a beginner– in the beginning; but like our productivity-oriented society, we want to have something to show for our efforts; we want to feel as if something has been accomplished or achieved. In a similar way we talk about “growing” in discipleship or our spirituality– as if discipleship or spirituality is something that can be measured or weighed. And if we’re unable to focus on who or what we’re supposed to be praying about we feel we’ve failed; if we don’t see a measurable answer to our prayer or solution to our problem, we think God isn’t there, doesn’t hear us, or doesn’t care.

But maybe, like Ms. Salzburg, we can learn that it isn’t progress that we need, it’s presence. Being present in the moment whether we’re praying or working or exercising. Listening and watching and waiting for God in our everyday lives so that when we do sit down to pray we’re already clued into the rhythms of God’s world instead of letting the human world distract us. As Ms. Salzburg said, If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process. In the same way, when in our prayers we try to focus on God and we lose concentration, we can bring ourselves back to the present and begin again. We begin to worry less about “accomplishing” something with our prayers and more focused on being in the presence of God. Which to me, is the very essence of what it means to pray.

Guest Blogger– Jeff Carter, “Enough”

September 18, 2015

I can’t take it anymore… I thought I could make it through the next year plus of political posturing and be able to stay silent, but I realize not only that I cannot, but that I should not.

There is an evil wind blowing in this country right now, abetted by the 24 hour/7 day a week media frenzy. We have prominent political figures railing against “immigrants” and blaming “the other” for all of society’s ills. They claim that if only we can “kick them out” or “build a wall” everything will be perfect and we can “make America great again”. Obviously, there are multiple problems with this attitude… For one, even if you are from a Native American tribe, you are the ancestor of an immigrant. And if you are from European stock, your family tree has only recently planted roots on this continent, often after pushing out the people that were here before. Secondly, this is not a new strategy. Dictators and demagogues have used anger against “the other” throughout history to gain and keep power. Most notably in the 20th Century, by the Nazis in Germany. They blamed the Jews for the Fatherland being held down and for the dilution of the pure Aryan race. For them, the “Final Solution” was the answer “Kick them out, take them away. We don’t care what you do with them, just get rid of them and our society will be perfect again”.

Now the target for the demagogues in our political arena are brown skinned, primarily Latin, people from Mexico and Central/South America. Once again, according to the blowhards, “If only we can get them out and keep them out our society will be perfect again. I mean after all they are mostly criminals and rapists, the dregs of their home countries.” Unfortunately, it seems that there are large numbers of our fellow citizens who either actively or tacitly agree with this sentiment. Which brings me back to why I feel the need to speak out. Those of us who have known, worked with, and care about our brothers and sisters who come from other countries and cultures must not stand idly by and allow these misrepresentations and outright lies to go unchallenged.

Several years ago I was laid off from my job in the Atlanta, Georgia area. After several weeks of unsuccessfully looking for a job in my field, and finding it nearly impossible to support a family on state unemployment benefits, I got a job with a large landscaping company. I worked there for two years and stereotypically, many of my fellow employees were recent immigrants from Mexico, and Central and South America. I didn’t know their legal status, but some of the things I overheard during the work days led me to believe that not all of them had proper documentation. If you don’t know, landscaping is a low paying, backbreaking business. All day you are lifting, carrying, shoveling, walking, climbing, and driving. You get very few breaks and have to work in all kinds of weather for barely over minimum wage. During my time working there I came to know, and become good friends with many of my co-workers. My experience confirmed that people are people. There are good and bad in every group, however, the majority of the people I worked with were very hard working, with a generous and caring nature. We shared our toil, our food, and our life stories. The stories they told of their home countries and the often tangled journeys they had survived to get here, has often made me wonder… How bad would life have to be before I would leave my family, travel hundreds (if not thousands) of miles, to a country where I would live in a strange culture and not be able to speak or read the language? Then after fighting to get there I would be in constant fear of having my papers questioned, or missing a legal deadline, or in some other way making a mistake that would get me arrested and deported.

Now when I hear politicians decrying “free loading immigrants” I think of Anselma, who was a gourmet chef and had worked at a tourist resort in Cancun and was now planting flowers in the hot sun; of Jose who was always so happy and so proud of his new U.S. citizenship, but who came to work every day in tattered boots because he couldn’t afford new ones; and of all the others with their stories of dangers faced, families far away, and constant fears of making a misstep. When I hear this wind blowing, I weep and then I get really angry. I think, “These are real people you are talking about. Have you met them? Do you know how scared they are every day? Do you know how hard they work for so little money? Do you not realize that if you were able to make your words reality that much of the American economy would grind to a halt?”

That is why I cannot and should not stay silent, nor should you. Since we are a county of immigrants we must defend “the other” we must make America great again. Not by building walls or passing more restrictive laws, but by returning to the ideal of “Send us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free”. We must welcome the other, bring them into our society, work with them, learn from them, associate with them, and love them. Then, and only then, can we truly call America “great”. For that is when we will return to being “That beacon of freedom shining on the hill”.

Jeff Carter is a geologist working for a small consulting firm doing environmental investigation and clean up. He is also husband to Rev. Sharon and father of two grown children and currently lives in Kentucky, even though he continues to cheer for the Tennessee Volunteers.

We Let This Happen

July 24, 2015

Don’t tell me you’re shocked. Don’t tell me you’re surprised that this has happened again. Really. Because I won’t believe you.

Last night a middle-aged white man, same age as my husband, walked into a crowded movie theater and started shooting. Today, two people are dead, including the shooter, and more injured. The “silver lining” to this episode, I suppose, is that he didn’t have a large automatic weapon– reports say he had a handgun– or the death toll and injury list would be much higher.

But, really, are we surprised that this has happened again? How can we be, after Chattanooga, after Charleston, after Newtown, after Aurora. After all of the mass shootings that have happened over the last 20 years or so. After so many seemingly random acts of violence we as a nation have endured.

We lament over these events: why has this happened again?

We ignore the fact that it happens because we let it happen.

We let it happen any time a weapon gets into the hands of someone who has bad intent and/ or poor mental health and/ or an axe to grind. We let it happen any time we say “guns don’t kill people” or “the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and that becomes the end of the argument. We let it happen whenever we fan the flames of dissatisfaction in people who feel disenfranchised yet retain the actual power to make something like this happen. We let it happen when laws that are supposed to empower are used against us to instill fear and distrust.

We allow this to happen when we are fed by fear and distrust of our fellow human beings and we lap it up like mother’s milk.

We allow it to happen when we forget that the golden rule is neither “him who has the gold makes the rules” nor “do unto others– then split!” but is “do to others as you would have others do to you.”

We make it happen when we don’t educate our children, when we fill their minds with our own fears and our own skewed version of what is. When we allow our children to become steeped in the violent culture that surrounds us, a culture that devalues human life and dehumanizes the “other.” When we become so involved with our own lives that we forget to pay attention to the least of these.

So no, don’t tell me you’re surprised, or shocked that this has happened again. Angry, I’ll take, because maybe if we become truly angry we will take some action, we will take to the streets, we will raise our voices to the rooftops, not in lament but with a righteous fury crying out “No more!”

When a Terrorist Looks Like Me

June 19, 2015

My heart is heavy as I write this, as I’m sure it is for many of you out there.

I am an average person living a nice life in Northern Kentucky. I have a great spouse, two cats who keep me constantly entertained, two good jobs that pay my bills, two great kids (even if they do live in other states :)). I am priviledged to serve a small congregation of Presbyterians in Covington and be able to bring, on a regular basis, God’s word to them and to you who read my posts.

And as most of you know, I’m white.

I’m also appalled at the events of Wednesday night, when a young white man entered an historic black congregation, sat through a prayer meeting with them for an hour, and then stood up and started shooting, killing 9 people in attendance.

No, I’m more than appalled, I’m sickened. Furious. Deeply saddened.

To some, this may seem like one more mass shooting. To others, it’s a hate crime– or even worse, an act of terrorism.

And I must say, I have to agree. According to reports, the shooter went there with bad intent– “to shoot black people.” If that’s not a hate crime, if that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.

Terrorism doesn’t have to be jihad. It only has to inspire terror.

I can only imagine the terror those people felt when someone they welcomed into their midst and treated as a neighbor pulled out a gun and began to shoot. The terror of a 5 year old girl who played dead in order to survive.

That’s what terrorists do– they make people afraid and they do so intentionally and with bad intent. But when we think of “terrorist”, we white American folk, we tend to think “Muslim jihad” or “black gang member”, ISIS or Al Quida.

We don’t think KKK. We don’t think Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Aryan Nations. We don’t think “fresh faced white American kid.”

I would call any mass killing, like the ones in Denver and Newtown, terrorism, based on the fact that they did inspire terror in thier victims. However, this to me fits the definition more closely because of the location and the victims chosen. In many ways it’s not unlike the bombing of the church in Birmingham in the 60s. We didn’t know what to do then. And we don’t know what to do now.

What do we do when the terrorist looks like us? It isn’t enough to call him deranged or mentally ill, unless we want to assign those labels to those who join ISIS or Al Quida. But we’re quick to make excuses when the terrorist looks like us. Instead, we need to look ourselves in the eye and admit that white culture breeds hatred sometimes, that Christian culture breeds hatred sometimes, just as other cultures do.

Our God is a God of justice, peace and compassion; but our God also speaks out of the whirlwind when we get things wrong, with a fierce righteousness that we can’t even begin to approach. If we can’t look at ourselves, at our white selves, and see where we are wrong and where we are complicit and where we are silent in the face of the racism and violence that goes with it, that exists in this country in the 21st century, then what kind of Christians are we? And how are we different than the ones who committ terrorist acts? I don’t know about you, but a whirlwind of shame with God’s voice coming out of it wouldn’t surprise me. (And I don’t mean the next hurricane or tornado or other natural disaster.)

Let us white folks, us white Christians, not be blind and silent anymore. Let us look at Dylann Roof and see him for what he is, and call him what he is, saying it outloud: He is a terrorist who looks like us.

Tiny Dancer

May 3, 2015

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.         -Psalm 149:1-3

My congregation  is mostly elderly but has a couple of young families with children. One of the children, Peyton, is high energy and sometimes a challenge to keep interested in what’s happening in church. She’s just one of those kids who seems to need to move all the time!

Lately, her mom has been singing in the choir, and I’ve noticed that when they are practicing on Sunday morning or singing the anthem during worship, Peyton just loves to move with the music. The choir practices in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, and Peyton will climb the steps to the chancel and dance around, moving in time to the music. Today I had put down an alphabet mat to help us with keeping still during the children’s time, and Peyton used it to dance on  while the choir was singing. No choreography or special movements, just joyfully moving the way she felt the music call her to move. What a wonderful way to express the joy she felt while hearing our choir sing– to me it is the essence of liturgical dance. She was expressing herself to the music and expressing the joy she felt in hearing it.

We don’t always have to sit still and quiet in church– even us Presbyterians! Often the music makes me want to dance as well, and I often sway to the music as we sing. We try to have quiet moments too, which gives us a chance to reflect, to pray and to feel the presence of God with us in worship. But sometimes it is good to move! And I’m so glad that Peyton can express her joy in this way.

A New Day in the PCUSA

March 18, 2015

Yesterday came a watershed moment in the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The history of the PCUSA, like any organization, like any Christian denomination, has its share of good moments and bad ones. Fundamentalism divided the church in the early 20th century. We were too long coming to the party during the Civil Rights era. And we were dragged our feet in opening leadership positions– and ordination– to women. To be honest, we still struggle with these issues (and they aren’t the only things we struggle with.)

In recent years we’ve been struggling with the issue of homosexuality in the church– how do we incorporate the LGBT community into our ministries, do we reach out to them, do we allow them to be ordained, do we allow them to marry. The General Assembly, followed by a majority of presbyteries, in 2010 changed the language of our Book of Order– part 2 of our Form of Government– to allow for ordination LGBT people. The 2012 GA wrestled with a change in our church government’s language around marriage; and at the 2014 GA voted to make the change. Since it was a change in the Book of Order, each presbytery has to vote on the change; and yesterday the number of presbyteries approving the change reached the total number needed to pass.

The General Assembly had already passed an Authoritative Interpretation allowing teaching elders (ministers) to follow their conscience regarding the marriage of same-gender couples in states where it is legal to do so. However, changing the Book of Order is similar to amending the constitution– it make the change more permanent and more broad. It’s important to know that no minister can be compelled to perform a same-gender ceremony any more than a minister can be compelled to perform a ceremony for any couple that they do not feel should be married; and sessions still have jurisdiction over the building and property and may deny any couple the opportunity to use church property for weddings as they see fit.

This change has been a long time coming to the PCUSA, as it has in the larger society. And as in the larger society there are those who are jubilant at the change and those who are disappointed. As a human being I believe that this is a good thing, a step forward for the PCUSA and society in general. As a minister I will happily perform ceremonies for anyone asking to be married, as long as they seem to be sincere (and once my state allows it.) However, as a minister I also realize that there are probably people in my congregation who will be upset and who will disagree, and I am called minister to them as well.

And this, I believe, is where we must redouble our efforts to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to reaffirm our need to “walk humbly with God.” For it is to the glory of God, and not ourselves, that we do what we do.

For more information, see the Presbyterian Outlook.

Nicaragua Adventures, Part 2

February 25, 2015

Yesterday three members of Community of Faith PC, plus about 4 members of the Madisonville (KY) Disciples of Christ Church left Kentucky headed for Nicaragua. COF has been involved with ministry projects in Nicaragua for about 15 years and the Madisonville church has partnered with us for many of those years. This year they have taken donations from COF and the Madisonville church which will be divided amongst a sewing cooperative, a theological school, and will fund 2 water projects and partially fund a third. The group will be working on the water projects through CEPAD (Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua) and visiting with their Nica contacts. Please keep our travelers in your prayers as they spend this time away from home, serving others who are in need.

Because of their travels, I thought I’d share a little bit more about my Nica trip. In my last trip blog I wrote about our first day in the country– going to church, hearing some Nica history, and seeing parts of Managua. Today I want to tell you about our visit toDSCN3105 the coffee coop just north DSCN3112of Dipilto, a community called Las Manos (the hands). Very close to the Honduran border, Las Manos is a small community of coffee growers nestled in the mountainous area of Nicaragua. Our trip began on Monday morning with the loading of our sleeping mats to the top of the bus we would take on our trip. As we set out we were all excited to see an Equal Exchange coffee producer on the way and then meet the folks who would host our homestays.  

Our first stop was a gas station at Sebaco, to stretch our legs and get snacks. There were lots of people selling things, that day mostly hand-made hammocks, which a few of my trip mates purchased. We also sampled a local snack called “cuajada”, a type of cheese often served with tortillas, honey and nuts. It had a mild, salty flavor and was quite tasty. Our next stop was at the Prodecoop hotel at Esteli. Prodecoop is the secondary coop that Equal Exchange buys its coffee from in Nicaragua. As we drove up we could see fields of cofDSCN3134fee seeds drying in the sun, and women and men raking them around to help them dry. At the hotel we had a nice meal and spent some time learning about Prodecoop and its partner coop farms. It was quite hot, which makes it a great climate for processing coffee seeds.

At the end of the day we arrived at Las Manos, the coffee finca we were to visit. It was cool and had been raining, but it felt good to be out of the muggy Managuan air. We met with some of the leaders of the coop and the families we were to stay with, at the school that they are able to provide for their DSCN3159children because of the coop’s success. The people were friendly and welcomed us warmly and seemed glad to see us and be able to share their stories with us. Groups of us stayed in different homes, each belonging to a member of the coop. I wondered how we were perceived– did they feel we were invading their space? If they did, they certainly didn’t show it– even when we fumbled to communicate with each other, even when we sat at their table and ate their food– which was delicious, by the way (or que rico, as our translator Katherine told us they say in Nicaragua!)

In the morning we went to pick coffee. Picking coffee berries (not beans, as we usually say) isn’t difficult, but is very labor intensive, as the coffee is picked by hand in order to get only the ripest berries and avoid damaging the trees. We were given baskets to wear around our waists, like the DSCN3215regular pickers do, and off we went. The terrain was

DSCN3206 steep as we walked to our picking spot and even steeper as we went up to find trees to pick from. Green berries are not at all ripe, and neither are bright red berries– only the darkest red are ready to be picked.

The coffee finca Las Manos, being a Fair Trade associate, uses sustainable and organic methods to manage the landscape and the soil, and in growing the coffee trees. The use chemicals as little as possible in the growth process, and surround the trees with other native plants for protection and shade. The coffee farmers in the area have also developed a terracing system of the steep terrain that follows the contours of the land, rather than flattening it out. They

DSCN3171are, however, facing a disease called roya, or rust– a disease that withers the leaves of the trees with a red fungus and keeps them from growing and producing berries. Roya used to be found only in the lower elevations of plantings, but the elevation at which the rojo is invading is rising. This seriously affects the small farmers that practice organic farming because they can’t use the chemicals to fight the rojo. However, there are some new organic methods being developed that will hopefully help the farmers.

Another difficulty they are facing, along with other coffee growers, is climate change. In Nicaragua, climate change is causing the growing season of coffee berries to change, because the rainy season has shifted. For generations coffee growing season has been May- October, and picking season has  been from November until January. As we have done in the US, they have structured their school schedules around picking season; now picking season really doesn’t begin until late December or early January. Where past Equal Exchange visits have happened at the end of picking season  (beginning of January), and most of the trees had been picked (except for a few for the visitors to pick), this year when we were there most of the trees were full of green berries. Picking season this year was a good two months behind. this throws off getting it to market and can effect the price they are able to get for their  coffee.

There is more for me  to share, so stay tuned!

What is the Heart of Our Church?

February 21, 2015

Last Sunday we at Community of Faith had a worship service that included answering some questions that will hopefully lead us forward into finding our purpose in this decade of the 21st century. This worship/ discussion was the idea of myself, the adult Sunday school class, and the session. I decided to combine the discussion with the worship service because I wanted our discussions to be grounded in our worship of God and Jesus Christ, and so that we could feel the work of the Holy Spirit among us through prayer and song as we moved along.

It was a cold Sunday, though not as cold as I had feared; and we had a crowd of about 35 or 40 people come for this event. Including a covered dish lunch helped matters, I’m sure!  Woven into our usual call to worship and prayer of confession were presentations by Jim Berry and Bill Lindsay, who as members of the Adult Sunday school class were able to give some background as to what we were doing. The adult Sunday school class has been doing a study called “1001 Worshiping Communities”– a study designed to help churches think outside their walls and their usual ways of being church, meeting Jesus Christ in Word and sacrament in ways that strengthen the body of Christ in healthy ways. The class has also been stepping outside of the class for some experience in the larger community: we’ve helped at the Health Fair for an urban Cincinnati church’s summer youth program; we’ve visited and worshiped with Common Ground, the protestant collegiate ministry on the Xavier University campus; and we’ve helped Union Presbyterian several times at the Cornerstone Project in Covington, helping serve a meal to homeless and working poor.

I also presented some thoughts about what it means to seek our purpose as a congregation– to find that thing that we are here for, that thing that gives us hope and life, our call to ministry as a congregation. Theologian Frederick Beuchner says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  And if you haven’t read any Beuchner, I highly recommend his writing. He has a deep understanding of life and a wit to match.)

Instead of a sermon, we had three questions to answer, with three time slots in which to answer them. I have compiled the information into a list as follows:

Answers to Heart of the Church Discussion Questions

  • Q 1. What are our strengths as a congregation in the 21st century?
  • Technologically oriented for an older congregation
  • Inviting, willing greeters/ Accepting, “open”
  • Consistent attenders
  • Pastor
  • Loyalty of leadership
  • Social meetings
  • Open to new ideas
  • Idea generation (come up with ideas then hand them off)
  • Music and worship- more contemporary
  • Lot of mission work (3)
  • Well connected with presbytery
  • Similar age/ wisdom/ experience
  • Good cooks
  • Mechanical ability—Bicycle shop
  • Educated (2)
  • Musicians, musically talented (2)
  • There is a desire to do something beyond our walls
  • Respond well when a need is expressed/ caring support
  • Ability/ Willingness to work together to overcome obstacles
  • General Friendliness/ welcoming

Q 2  What breaks your heart in our community?

  • Poverty, homelessness (3)
  • Heroin epidemic/ drugs (5)/ bouncing in and out of rehab
  • Unchurched/ people not going to church
  • Violence (2)
  • Racial tension (2)
  • Lonely old people
  • Lack of compassion
  • Lack of ecumenism (2)
  • Broken families
  • Kids have little hope, general hopelessness
  • Child abuse (2) (and adult)
  • Animal abuse
  • Lack of food and clothes
  • Waste of resources (2)
  • Difference between those who are really in need and those who scam the system
  • Q  3 How do we connect our strengths to the needs of the community
  • Invite others to church
  • Start programs for families
  • Find a way to take music/ worship outside (2)
  • Visit nursing homes, etc.
  • Warm place for the day?
  • Planning and communication
  • Use of resources
  • Budgeting priorities (maintaining size of building)
  • Access the neighborhood needs/ hook up and ask agencies what they need (2)
  • Bring folks from Fairhaven/ cold shelter to our building for food and warm place until they can go back
  • Connect with Boys/ Girls club—how can we support
  • VBS (2)
  • More interfaith projects
  • City Heights—provide a place to play
  • Exploit relationship with museum
  • Be more active with cornerstone project

This is just a raw list of answers, but I hope they can help us in our discernment process, as we explore our purpose as a church in the 21st century.

So what are our next steps? Probably more questions, to help narrow down a purpose; it is neither too broad nor too narrow, but is clear and actionable. For example, if our purpose at COF was “to ensure, in the name of Jesus Christ, that sick people in our community and in the world have access to health care, comfort, and support” (just an example, not a suggestion!) then we would focus our ministries on health related issues. I envision more questions, more prayer, more discussion in the weeks and months to come, and I am excited by the possibilities that are before us.

God of purpose, open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that are all around us. Give us hope that we might be your hands, feet and heart in our communities, in whatever way you direct us to do so. bring to us the ideas, the help and support we will need to carry out the plans you have for us. Amen.