Click on the title/date below, and you
will be directed to the appropriate article.
* December 2010
~ Mary & Joseph: Models Of Change
2010 ~ Fall Education Series
* August 2010 ~
Celebrating Our Diverse Heritage
* July 2010 ~ Truly
Caring For Our Children
* June 2010 ~
* May 2010 ~ Five
Practices Of A Fruitful Congregation
* April 2010 ~
Resurrection And Sustainability
* March 2010 ~
Education Is Bigger Than We Act
* February 2010
~ It’s All About Teamwork!
* January 2010 ~
Shifting Gears, Changing Course
Christmas ~ December 2009
Grace To More And More People ~ November 2009
Sunday Is Coming! ~ October 2009
* Looking Back
And Leaning Forward ~ September 2009
* Widening The
Circle By Equipping The Saints ~ August 2009
* Summer Work and
Summer Sabbath ~ July 2009
* He's Leaving
Again? ~ April 2009
* Tall Guys Club
~ March 2009
* Happy 2009!
~ February 2009
* We Need A
Revival! ~ January 2009
For Christ As Whole People ~ December 2008
Circle Christian Church Becomes Open & Affirming ~ November 2008
* Give Thanks
With A Grateful Heart ~ October 2008
Reconciliation Is A Way Of Life, Not Just An Offering ~ September 2008
* Reflections On
My Study Leave ~ August 2008
* Sabbath Is
Counter-cultural -- No Duh! ~ May 2008
* Strong Lay
Leaders ~ April 2008
* Pastor's Study
& Renewal Leave Plans ~ March 2008
* Didn't We
Just Sing 'The First Noel'? ~ February 2008
* God's Vision
For FCCC ~ January 2008
* What Shall
We Name Him? ~ December 2007
* Seasons Of
God's Love ~ November 2007
* Remembering In
Prayer ~ October 2007
* Presente! ~
Gifts ~ August 2007
* Deepening Our
Roots To Extend Our Branches ~ July 2007
Decisions ~ June 2007
The Big Picture ~ May 2007
* Strings Too Short ~
* Taking Stock: An Update ~ March 2007
* The Next Six Years! ~
* All Shall Be Well ~
* Holiday Mixed Messages
~ December 2006
* Signs Of The Spirit In
November ~ November 2006
* What Is Important? ~
* Youth In The Driver's
Seat ~ September 2006
* Leadership Isn't One Person ~ August 2006
* Cycles of the Spirit ~ July 2006
* Transformation Is God's Work ~ June 2006
* Every Day Is A New Possibility For Resurrection!
~ April 2006
* Lent: A Spiritually Rich Season ~
* Finding Words To Talk About Race ~
Mary & Joseph: Models Of
At our recent All Church Retreat one of the scriptures we looked at in
our conversation about “change” was the story of Mary and Joseph
(Matthew 1:18-25ff). I have pondered these two young people and the
many, complex, and interrelated adjustments, transformations, and even
revolutions that occurred following that fateful announcement the angel
Gabriel imparted upon them. From having a baby, to deciding to stay
together regardless of the communal disdain that was surely upon them,
to having to flee their homeland because of a homicidal ruler, to being
informed that their child was, no less than the Son of God… change was
everywhere they looked and went.
But, as powerful and important as the changes would be were for these
two individuals, what came about that amazing night would rock the very
foundations of an empire, nay, even the world. Transformation is like
that. When an individual changes, families and communities change. When
families and communities change, principalities and powers are forced to
There is a popular quote amongst Advance Conference folks, attributed to
Mahatma Gandhi, that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
This maxim implies two things (at least): First, all change begins with
the individual if it is to be effective and to be sustained. Second,
when individuals change, the world changes.
God envisioned a creation that not only was divinely crafted, but one
that knew and relied upon that sacred source intimately and
passionately. That could only happen if God became one of us. This
embodiment, this incarnation, would confront humanity with both its
(our) glory and its (our) waywardness. Such a mirror being held up to us
would naturally cause us to desire to change, in ourselves and others.
When I think of Emmanuel, or literally, “God-With-Us,” I can’t help but
see myself in that mirror. In Christ I see all that God created me to
be, all the goodness, and all the beauty, and all the truth, and I want
to do more, to be all that God created me to be. Likewise, I see in the
Babe of Bethlehem all that I do and am that misses the mark: the
rebelliousness, the mistrust, the defeatism, and the hunger for more of
what I don’t, can’t, and even shouldn’t have.
This Christmas, and as we continue in our Visioning Process, let us “be
the change” we wish to see in our church, in our world, and in
ourselves. Let the simple love of God-In-Christ hold a mirror up to
ourselves and see what needs to be improved upon and what needs to be
let go, for good.
I wish you and all those in your world, family, friends, colleagues, all
the very best this Christmas holiday. May Joseph and Mary give you the
strength to do what needs to be done, to make the changes necessary, so
that God’s Love will be made real in you.
Proudly Your Pastor,
Fall Education Series
Having been trained as a Christian Educator in both undergraduate and
graduate schools, my heart has always been with teaching and the
learning that goes with it. A fundamental facet of the life of a
Christian is to be a lifelong learner. Otherwise, what were all the
sermons, parables, and questions Jesus asked along the way really for?
Likewise, the sign of a vibrant and fruitful congregation is a devotion
to Intentional Faith Development on the part of the pastor, the lay
leaders, and the entire community of members, participants, and friends.
This fall there will be no excuse for you to NOT be involved in some way
in an intentional path of spiritual development and Christian education.
As you can easily see on the front page of this Messenger, there is
something for everyone at every age level – and even several somethings
at some ages! I am going to try a few new techniques with my Inquirer’s
Class this year. I want to make it as accessible to you, the
congregation, and to the entire community as possible. In that attitude:
> The core of this spiritual journey will be Sunday mornings from 9:00
to 9:50 a.m. in the Parlor. This is where the primary content will be
shared and mulled over.
> But, in addition to this I’m going to host a monthly Book Discussion
Group at Latitude 41°n at 5712 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland’s Detroit
Shoreway neighborhood from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. the LAST Monday of each
month! Here community folks and church folks and passers-by can be
involved in the conversation.
> Finally, I will start a Facebook page for each book we are studying so
that persons can add their insights and ask their questions, whether or
not they can get to either of the above groups (and even whether or not
they are related to our church!). The Page is called "A New Kind Of
Christianity" Book Discussion Page. Make it a “Favorite” of your page!
The first conversation will be around the
book, "A New Kind Of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming
The Faith,” by Brian McLaren. In this deeply insightful and provocative
book, McLaren takes on the “traditional” way we’ve looked at scripture,
Jesus, and the Christian faith and seeks to reclaim them from a position
of historical and spiritual integrity. The questions are simple on the
surface (“Who is Jesus and why is he important?” and “What is the
gospel”) but his approach takes us far deeper than many popular
preachers and authors would have us go. If we take this quest seriously,
it may change our lives and allow us to finally claim the title
“Christian” with complete confidence and humility!
Books are available for purchase from
So, won’t you join me – us – on the journey! Regardless of where you
plug in to the Christian Education Program of Franklin Circle Christian
Church, there will be LOTS of questions (I hope so), maybe a few
answers, but our relationship with God, and the Teacher/Savior he sent
in Jesus, will be all the better for it.
May it be so!
Celebrating Our Diverse Heritage
Many of us know about the days and months set aside
for celebrations of the ethnic heritage of those of us from Europe.
Columbus Day in October is a national holiday, and it is used to
celebrate Italian heritage. Of course, who doesn’t know about St.
Patrick’s Day on March 17 when all of us have a little Irish in us?! In
recent years, such celebrations have expanded. Black History Month, or
African American History Month, in February, has become a popular time
to celebrate the accomplishments of our African American sisters and
brothers. Celebration of identity isn’t limited to ethnicity and race,
however. We commemorate Veteran’s Day in November for men and women who
have served our country in the military. Those of us who are lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender and affirming march in parades and celebrate
at festivals in June for Pride Month.
As part of our commitment to being Anti-Racist,
Open & Affirming, and Accessible to All, I thought that in this coming
year we might be more intentional about celebrating more of our
diversity in this congregation. I would like for us each month to lift
up those special celebrations that remind us that in our uniqueness, we
are all so much the same. Together we can learn a bit about how these
holidays came to be. In our commitment to “Widening The Circle For All
God’s Children,” we can find a day, a week, or a month to remember and
honor all our identities and heritages.
In that spirit, I would like to lift up two lesser-known celebrations
coming up: Hispanic Heritage Month and German Heritage Month. I not only
hope, but urge you to share with me your heritage and the time of year
in which it is celebrated. Together, in our mosaic of uniqueness, we
will see the unity of God where all are one peoples!
God’s Grace Is Abundant,
Hispanic Heritage Month ~ September 15 – October 15
For more info, go to:
Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, the
anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries—Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition,
Mexico declared its independence on September 16, and Chile on September
The term Hispanic, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, refers to
Spanish-speaking people in the United States of any race. On the 2000
Census form, people of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin could identify
themselves as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or "other
Spanish/Hispanic/Latino." More than 35 million people identified
themselves as Hispanic or Latino on the 2000 Census
German Heritage Month ~ September 15 – October 15
For more info, go to:
In the month of October Americans commemorate the
Germanic heritage element of American society. About one in four
Americans claims to have German ancestors. There were Germans among the
Jamestown settlers in 1607 and Germans (Prussians, Austrians, etc.) have
continued to migrate to the New World until the present day--most
notably during the two migratory waves of the late 1840s and from 1880
The first German-American Day, October 6, was proclaimed by President
Ronald Reagan in 1983 for the 300th anniversary of the arrival of 13
German families on board a sailing vessel named "Concord" (the "German
Mayflower"). The Germans from Krefeld landed in Philadelphia on October
6, 1683 and founded Germantown, Pennsylvania (now part of Philadelphia).
In 1987, after a campaign by German-American organizations, Congress
made October 6 an official day of commemoration.
Truly Caring For Our Children
As I write this, the oil spill in the Gulf of
Mexico has grown larger than the area of Lake Erie, according to the
Cleveland Plain Dealer. I pray to God that by the time you read this the
leak will have been stopped and a full recovery begun. It seems that the
charge given by God to humanity to “have dominion over the earth,” in
the first few chapters of the book of Genesis have again been
misinterpreted as “dominate” rather than “care for/have stewardship of.”
Yet, in typing this I am aware that there are so many complex issues of
human sin and error that have gone into this disaster that it feels
futile in discussing it. But discuss it we must, for it has lessons to
be learned by all of us.
There are big lessons to be learned from this, about how we citizens
have given over enormous power to large corporations who often (not
always) put profit over and above safety and in whom we become dependent
as monopolies multiply and competition evaporates. We have, yet again,
learned the importance of ensuring our government is (that is, “we, the
people” are) carefully and constantly overseeing the safety and security
of potentially dangerous activities, rather than simply allowing them to
happen unsupervised until a problem arises.
But there are also small, more personal, lessons to be learned from the
oil spill. We have been painfully reminded how we as individuals have
become complacent with our use of gasoline and petroleum products, and
have become distanced from the intricate and complex interconnected web
of life that allows us to do anything and everything we do day in and
day out. When we leave our car to idle in the driveway, we contribute to
our dependence on oil and our community’s disdain for the environment.
When we drive to the closest destinations down the street or around the
corner, we increase our own perceptions that we cannot live without oil
and thus will pay almost anything asked to make sure we have a constant
and uninterrupted supply of it. When we buy products regardless of how
much packaging or materials were used in providing it or how far it
traveled to get to us, we increase the demand for petroleum products and
insure companies will take more and more risks to meet the demand.
Our congregation, in recent years, has taken steps to support children
and youth in our church and in the community at large. We’ve upgraded
our nursery and invested in the Children Worship & Wonder materials. We
hired a Youth Director and have integrated children and youth into more
of the activities of our congregational life. We send as many children
and youth to camp and conference as we possibly can.
Let me propose that taking the oil spill seriously, and committing
ourselves to reducing our consumption of gasoline and other petroleum
products is yet another faithful way of showing our support for
children, youth, and families. After all, it is they who will ultimately
have to bear the brunt of this disaster, and future ones as well. I
promise you, children and youth of our church and community, to do my
part, in both big and small ways, to insure you have a better world in
which to live, and grow, and thrive! Won’t you join me?
God’s Grace Is Abundant!
I would like to begin this month’s article with some
words of thanks. Michelle Brown has stepped down as our
newsletter editor and with this issue one of our newest members, Cody
Corrigan takes the helm. Michelle has devotedly compiled and
produced our newsletter for almost four full years, and has been
faithful month in and month out, even moving around her own family’s
needs and schedule to make room for the Messenger. She was passionate
about bringing color and more photographs from the life of the
congregation to its pages, and to using a type font and size conducive
to those with some sight impairment. Her good work is celebrated and we
are grateful to her service.
My next word of thanks goes out to our Officers:
Al Betts as chair of the Board, Bev Wurm as Vice-Chair,
Claire Munley as Secretary, and Randy Buckingham as
Treasurer. While it has not yet been decided who will and will not
continue (that is for the Board to decide at its June 27 meeting) it is
certain that not all of these folks will choose to continue into another
term. It has been a joy and a delight to work with these visionary,
creative, dedicated, and hard working folks. It is rare for a pastor to
have a group of officers who are so finely in tune with one another and
the pastor as this group has been, and I am forever grateful to have
served with them.
Likewise, Bev Wurm will be resigning as
Chair of the Mission Council. Under her leadership this innovative and
creative “Research & Development” arm of our congregation has found its
place in the life of our church. Bev has shepherded it from its
inception to a respected part of our congregation, and this will stand
as a testament to her vision and persistence.
And now to a word of celebration. The camp and conference
program of the Christian Church in Ohio is legendary. I even knew about
it when I was a teenager living in Southeastern New Mexico many years
ago. It has motivated countless numbers of young people to lives of
Christian faithfulness and service, even inspiring many to follow God’s
Call into ministry, whether that be in the local church or in service
That is why the Christian Education Team and I have
put such a premium on promoting Camp & Conference and why the Trustees
of this church have committed themselves to underwriting half of all
camp registration fees for all children, youth, and adults who wish to
go from our congregation.
It is with extraordinary pride and joy that I share
with you that, as of this writing, thirteen children and youth and
sixteen adults will be going from Franklin Circle Christian Church to
Camp and Conference this summer! This is no small feat, from the
nurturing of individuals in Children Worship & Wonder, Chi Rho, CYF, and
Adult Sunday School and Bible Study classes, to getting the necessary
forms signed, to compiling all the forms and securing all the monies, to
raising scholarship money for those who could not pay all of their
portion, to the driving of folks to and from Camp Christian or Northwest
Christian Church in Columbus.
And while the congregation has extended itself beyond monies raised (and
your over-and-above gifts are still welcomed) the rewards gained from
such a tremendous investment in All God’s Children who gather in this
congregation will be inestimable! Good Work, FCCC! “Well done, good and
God’s Grace Is Abundant!
Five Practices Of A Fruitful
May 2010 From The Pastor
We’ve been looking at the “Five
Practices Of A Fruitful Congregation” in both my Sunday School Class
at 9 a.m. on Sundays and in Worship at 10:30 a.m. Different Team Leaders
have been looking in depth at each of the practices that most directly
affect their work: Radical Hospitality for the Evangelism & Publicity
Team and the Diaconate; Passionate Worship for the Worship Team, the New
Worship Initiatives Team, and the music staff; Intentional Faith
Development with the Christian Education Team and Elders; Risk-Taking
Mission And Service with those folks involved in the community service
projects our congregation offers; and Extravagant Generosity for the
Treasurer and the Trustees.
But one thing that is most important that doesn’t have a theme week or a
team or group to examine closely is the overarching goal: A Fruitful
Congregation! What does it mean to have a fruitful congregation? In some
sense, it might be a community of faith that echoes the Fruits of the
Spirit which Paul talks about in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control. That would be a great goal or “end-product” as they say
(although we all know these sorts of qualities are always
in-the-making!) But is that enough? It is sufficient to simply say a
“fruitful” congregation exhibits such wonderful spiritual traits?
Well, no. That would simply be a start. The qualities that Robert
Schnase in his program “Five
Practices Of A Fruitful Congregation” aren’t simply hospitality,
worship, faith development, mission and service, and generosity. These
are the bare bones, bottom-line, basics of what a church should be
doing. In the same way love, joy, peace, patience, etc. are also the
starting point for church folks. Schnase intentionally has placed
dynamic, and demanding adjectives in front of the qualities: radical,
passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant. These are to
remind us that we are always called to a higher calling in our
discipleship with Jesus.
But we also don’t want to reduce what a “fruitful congregation” is to
disembodied numbers: “we want X number of new people to join by
such-and-such a date” or “we want to increase giving by Y% by the end of
the year.” These may be worthy goals, but hardly inspiring and
empowering to faithful Christians, much less the unchurched folks who we
hope to invite to be a part of our community.
So, what is a fruitful congregation? For me, it is a community of faith
where everyone is welcome and everyone has the chance to explore and
share their gifts and graces. A fruitful congregation is so caught up in
the joy of praising God and serving neighbor that it’s members and
leaders never think about “survival,” but only where next the Holy
Spirit may lead them! One can tell they are in a “fruitful congregation”
because those who participate see the church walls as very permeable,
and eagerly share the mission and word of God beyond the church
facilities as easily as they do within them. And finally, in a “fruitful
congregation” it is always difficult to pick out who are the clergy and
staff members, because so many folks are doing the work of the church
I welcome this chance for Franklin Circle Christian Church to take time
to look at what a Fruitful Congregation is; to celebrate where we are
embodying that goal and to challenge ourselves to live into where we
need to grow into fruitfulness.
Gratefully Your Pastor,
see more about what our congregation is doing towards living out the
Five Practices Of A Fruitful Congregation, go to our special page just
The Earth Is The Lord’s And The Fullness Thereof! ~ Psalm 24:1
Resurrection And Sustainability
One of the catchwords around Cleveland these days, and, indeed, around
the globe, is “sustainability.” It’s an expression that is as rich in
meaning and possibility as it is complex. Simply put, it means we should
be attentive to the consequences of all that we do in order that all may
live fully today, and tomorrow. It asks the question, “Can our world
sustain what we do and how we live beyond our individual needs, wants,
At first glance, this is often seen simply as environmentalism and
conservation. Cute spokescartoons such as “Woodsy The Owl” and “Ranger
Rick” and “Smokey The Bear” remind us to take care of the earth and be
careful, so that those who come after us will have a forest in which to
vacation or a park to visit on the weekends. But “sustainability” is
really something much more profound and far more consequential than
simply celebrating Earth Day. Sustainability is as much about sustaining
human beings and human interactions as it is about picking up trash and
buying fluorescent light bulbs (important as these are!). It’s about
caring for one another and about human capital as much as it is about
Mayor Frank Jackson held a Sustainability Summit last August and called
us all as citizens of this city and this region to work more diligently
towards being intentionally sustainable. Sustainabile Cleveland 2019 is
the Mayor’s set of ideals and goals to stabilize our urban as well as
natural environment, so that in all our interactions, be they regarding
employment or family, health care or recreation, education, nutrition,
energy consumption, or yes, even faith, we will be attentive and
responsive to the consequences of our actions. In the language of Jesus,
sustainability is to “love our neighbor as ourselves” and thus
demonstrate in real actions our love for God.
Why would I write about this as the date of Easter approaches? Because I
see a direct correlation between sustainability and resurrection. I
believe that unless every human being on the planet understands the
importance of living sustainable lives we will experience a crucifixion
of sorts of epic proportions. The growing devastation of climate change
is a scientific fact, and those of us in developed world are just
beginning to see the harsh effects of growing water shortages,
overpopulation, expanding arid regions, declining air quality, and a
dead-end dependence upon oil and petroleum products.
We have an opportunity to claim resurrection, and in doing so, make our
lives and the lives of our children and our community sustainable
generation after generation. By taking seriously the dangers now, we can
simplify our lives and live sustainable lives as individuals. Put
another way, we can become the best stewards of the lives and resources
God has given us, and in doing so we will witness the new life and the
power of rebirth known to us in the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
I have steadfastly maintained that from the first days of creation this
life has been a partnership with God. God will do God’s part, and God
expects us to do our part. Christ’s salvation is no different. True,
Jesus’ love and forgiveness is offered only upon our faith in it, but as
the epistle writer, James, laments, “but faith without works is dead!”
(2:20). God does not require good works (ie. a sustainable lifestyle)
for salvation, but we know in our hearts that living into our faith
demands – if only out of the power of our gratitude to the One who
created it all – our diligence and care in maintaining the gifts God has
I pray for you all an Easter Resurrection experience that will give you
the new life you need to survive, and to thrive, even in face of the
hardships of this past year. I also encourage you to seek this
resurrection, as Mary sought Jesus at the tomb, and may you discover
that the task – no, the JOY – of sustainability will be your
God’s Grace Is Abundant,
Resurrection & Sustainability
As a way of following up on my article from last month on the
connections between Resurrection and Sustainability, I wanted to quote
something from the website for the Green City On A Blue Lake Institute,
. Thanks, Pastor Allen
“The classic definition of sustainability used by the United Nations and
many others is ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Paul
Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce, suggests a slightly different
definition: ‘Leave the world better than you found it, take no more
than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if
you do.’ Thus, sustainability is really one of those simple things
we all should have learned in kindergarten.
Sustainability has a number of attributes:
• Long time horizon -- Focus on permanence, quality, durability,
stewardship for future generations.
• Multiple benefits -- Integrate considerations of environment
(natural capital), equity (social capital), and economy (financial
capital) and pay attention to the triple bottom line (People, Profits,
• Multiple scales -- Understand how the individual, neighborhood,
city, region, or planet are all interconnected.
• Openness -- Innovation is needed, so experiment and take risks.
• Attitude -- Be humble, hopeful, joyful in the pursuit of a
Sustainability also is a commitment, a basic organizing principle, and a
context for making better decisions. It's a process of continual
improvement rather than an end state.
An example of thinking in terms of sustainability might be a program to
invest in renewable energy technology—a program that could bring
environmental benefits (reductions in air pollution and global warming),
economic benefits (jobs and income to Northeast Ohio from building
equipment such as wind turbine components), and social benefits
(employment opportunities to cities, greater national security from
reduced dependence on oil from the Middle East).
Ultimately, sustainability will require the fundamental redesign of our
civilization. We can either treat this imperative as a burden or an
opportunity to innovate and create a better society. In Northeast Ohio,
we need to be a part of this global conversation about the future.”
2010 From The Pastor
Education Is Bigger Than We Act
I just finished reading an interview with President Obama in the latest
issue of Essence magazine (March 2010). Essence is devoting a year of
reporting to the issue of education, and how to increase the skills and
wisdom and education level of all of our children, but especially how to
decrease the gap that still exists, in an unnervingly substantial way,
between the test scores of children of different races. The question for
us all is, “How do we help our children have the best possible future?”
The President spoke of the need for both our communities and individual
families to take responsibility for improving the quality of education
for our children in order to adequately address the breadth of issues at
hand. I concur. It takes the intentional time, effort, and willpower of
every one of us, parents or not, to make such important and needed
changes in a society. The question for us as a congregation is, “How can
Franklin Circle Christian Church be a leader in enriching the
educational experiences of our children?” We have already put a lot of
emphasis and funding on children and youth in recent years, this would
be a natural inquiry to make.
As I often say, the best way to improve upon something is to do what you
are called to even better. Our Christian Education program for infants,
children, and teens should be the finest our congregation can provide.
Our Youth Enrichment Program should offer the best activities and skills
to enhance the education experience the children of our community
receive from their homes and their skills. Plus, all of our programs
should be teeming with children and youth.
But these goals raise the question, “Do you, as a participant in this
congregation, know what FCCC has to offer in these areas?” If not, you
should find out! Ask Patty Groetsch, chair of the Christian Education
Team, Colleen Munley, Youth Director, Michelle Brown, Children’s Worship
& Wonder teacher, and Michelle and Allan Brown, Program Director and
Assistant Director for YEP! what we offer and how you can be involved to
help support and improve our education programs.
We should also become well-informed citizens regarding the schools in
our neighborhood. Can you name the schools that are in the 44113 and
44102 zip codes? Our closest schools are Kentucky Elementary and Garret
Morgan, but both of them are in a new chapter of their history.
Kentucky, no longer a separate Elementary School, has been serving as a
“swing school” site for Paul Lawrence Dunbar and, now, for Buhrer, as
those buildings have been remodeled. Garret Morgan, which has been
receiving excellent reviews, is now a high school as it continues its
focus on science.
Finally, we need to be a congregation committed to learning and
excellence in education. We need to honor the pursuit of wisdom,
knowledge, and education every chance we get. We need to create an
environment where all of us encourage our children and youth to excel.
Perhaps we should be hosting college and trade school fairs and offering
scholarship assistance, both in help in filling out forms and
interviewing, as well as actual funds.
Let us all take the challenge to do something about the future of our
children, and thus about the health of our community, by improving and
supporting the education our children receive. It is a faithful and
tangible response to Jesus’ call to “Let the little children come to
Gratefully Your Pastor,
February 2010 ~ From The Pastor
It’s All About Teamwork!
Any successful organization will need a strong sense of teamwork to be
successful, and churches are no different. I have been impressed over
the 8+ years that I have been your pastor to witness a strong and
growing sense of camaraderie, cooperation, and collaboration within the
congregation as a whole, and especially within the leadership. Our
church couldn’t be celebrating its 168th Anniversary this month if there
weren’t a strong tradition and practice of teamwork!
Having said this, I am also well aware that nothing confirms a suspicion
like a test or challenge, and the recent illness of Carole Sauer, our
Church and Financial Secretary is certainly just such a test. Carole,
who would celebrate her 32nd Anniversary with us this month, is still
recovering from the brain aneurism that hospitalized her on December 15.
By all accounts it will be a long recuperation. This challenge has
proven what I had been seeing over the years: Franklin Circle Christian
Church is a team, committed to supporting one another.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members
of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ,” the
Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. In this letter Paul happens
to be reminding a community that was not showing the spirit of
cooperation, but his words speak to healthy communities as well. From
the chair of the Board, Al Betts, and the Treasurer, Randy Buckingham,
to the volunteers in the office, Michelle Brown and Cheryl Yurcak, to
all the officers, leaders, members, and even visitors who have stepped
up to support the entire Body when one of our members is in need, this
church shows the unity of the Body of Christ.
As your pastor I am aware that I am the “face” of the church, sometimes
awkwardly so. Awkwardly because I know very well that it takes more than
a “face” to make a body run, and it takes a lot more than a pastor to
make a church run. This congregation recognizes that every part of the
body is needed, even if that means doing the hard work it takes to get
things done or putting up with a little bit of inconvenience during a
difficult time. We should all be grateful that together, we are clearly
the Body of Christ, even if that means our efforts or our patience isn’t
seen by many or acknowledged right away.
And, of course, I am aware that we cannot rest on our laurels. While
folks are stepping up quite wonderfully to the challenges of this
moment, we’ve also seen a lot of places where we could be doing better.
Your officers, your pastor, your Board, and your staff are eager to
improve how we do things so that the Mission of Christ can more fully
and faithfully be realized through our church and more and more people
can come to experience and know the grace of God and the love of Christ
in their lives. Your prayers and your input are eagerly sought.
God’s Grace Is Abundant!
January 2010 ~ From The Pastor
Shifting Gears, Changing Course
I’ve been thinking about the magi that visited the
child Jesus and his parents at their HOUSE in Bethlehem (if you don’t
get that bolded reference, ask someone from Mid-Week Bible Study!).
These travelers are underappreciated. One of the things for which we
don’t give them enough credit was their ability to shift gears quickly,
and even change their ways of thinking pretty suddenly. (Matt. 2:1-12)
I’m guessing, from their reading of the stars and
ancient prophecies, that these astrologers were expecting the birth of
royalty, and that is why they went to the palace of Herod first. Surely
this “messiah” would have the powers of the world at his disposal in
order to change the course of human history! They certainly carried with
them kingly gifts. But discovering that not only did Herod not know
about the events that had been foretold, but was also extremely
suspicious and threatened by them, they probably began then to think
differently about this “monarch.”
By the time they arrived to see a young child in
the home of a poor family in a backwater town, their new perceptions
were either finalized or confirmed. Going home “by another way” was yet
another indication that the magi were flexible and willing to change.
On several occasions over the last eight years I’ve
written about my personal motto, “Every day is a new chance for
resurrection!” You may be tired of it, but I’m going to write about it
again. However, I’ve thought of a new angle, and the magi are
responsible for it!
Yes, every day (every moment of every day?) God
presents us with an opportunity to start afresh, begin anew, get a
second, or third, or seventy-seventh chance. That’s the miracle of grace
we proclaim in our faith. But what I don’t emphasize often enough is
that with the extension of new chances and opportunities comes some
responsibilities. One of the things that God yearns for us, hopes from
us, dare I say expects of us is to change. Just like those wise guys of
old, we’re given a star to follow… but that doesn’t mean we can tread
the old paths we’ve worn so well in our lives if we want to reach the
place to which that star beckons!
I believe there are going to be some major changes
in the coming year in our church. I say this because it is clear that a
new vision, a new star if you will, has been given to us and we have
begun to follow it. Most of us… all of us… will probably be giving up
our set understandings of what “church” was, is, or should be. Instead,
through the magic (spirit?) of grace, God will guide us to a new vision,
even more wonderful, of what the Church will be, if we but let it and be
led by God.
This kind of thinking does not come naturally, nor
easily, to most of us. Thus, we will need a great deal of patience with
one another, and ourselves. But we must breathe deep, as surely those
travelers did, and set out on another, uncharted path that we had not
planned out and for which we may feel ill-prepared. But traveling
together, as a community that cares for and welcomes all who sincerely
seek the Christ Child, we will be okay. And when we come to the place
where the star/vision has led us… we will be in utter awe at what
wonders God has wrought!
Blessed Epiphany To Us All!
December 2009 From The Pastor
It is perfectly natural for us humans to lose touch with those things
that are most near and dear to us. Time, distance, and the “slings and
arrows of outrageous fortune” cause us all to let slip the people,
places, things, and rituals that make our life the rich joy we
instinctively know it to be. “Out of sight, out of mind” they say.
Take Christmas, for instance. It’s appearance every year is as sure as
the sun’s repeat performance each morning, and yet I feel each year as
unprepared and undeserving of its colorful celebrations and joyous
rituals as if it happened only once in a lifetime.
So about this time each fall I dig deep into my soul, open up my bag of
tricks/prompts/inspirations, and seek to rekindle the flame of the holy
days, the holidays. Advent bears down on me like the Polar Express!
Sometimes it’s easier than other times, but every time it must be
intentional. It feels like a task on a huge year-long “To Do” list.
“This Fall: PREPARE FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!” (Hardly the state of mind you
would expect from a pastor, right?)
But you do know what I mean, don’t you? The Spirit of Christmas doesn’t
always come naturally to us, does it? There’s the regular holiday
busy-ness. However, it is especially hard if we have been in the midst
of crisis, stress, or tragedy in the previous twelve months. Some of us
have been laid off from work… Some of us have had extreme health crises…
Some of us have had to move or downsize life and home considerably
because of our situations… Some of us have had deaths in our family or
close friends… Some of us have struggled with being ostracized or
harassed because of who we are… It’s hard to sing the “Fa-La-La’s” or
laugh the “Ho-Ho-Ho’s” when life has dealt you significant blows.
So do we give up on Christmas? Has it lost its staying power? Do the
rituals and celebrations that are so familiar to us during this time
simply add to the misery and frustrations?
Well, no… We know from experience that even though it may take effort,
rediscovering Christmas is worth it in the end. That’s one of the
reasons I’m in a community of faith like Franklin Circle Christian
Church, because together we can help one another find our faith when it
has become broken or damaged, and we surely can help each other
rediscover Christmas and the holiday spirit!
Christmas, like any sacred ritual, is a holy object that must be sought
out, cared for, tended, and passed on by communities like ours. And we
do this precisely because it doesn’t come naturally and must be worked
at by many of us. During the coming weeks I will take a magnifying glass
to our celebration of Advent and Christmas, and look to see what we
might discover to help us rekindle our spirits, not just for the
holidays, but year round.
I hope you will join us! We will share in the familiar traditions of
Christmas: lighting the Advent Wreath, sharing in concerts, going
Christmas Caroling, and a beautiful 7 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight
Communion Service with all the lessons and carols that we’ve come to
know and love.
But we’ll also offer some new opportunities, because there are entire
new generations of people who did not grow up in the church, and for
whom the rituals we offer will become their tried and true rituals.
There will be a new set of hands and hearts decorating the sanctuary for
the first time in years. We’ll have a children’s concert in addition to
the other’s we’ve had in the past. And we’ll have an early Christmas Eve
service, at 5:00 p.m., to give more opportunity for our neighbors and
members to participate in one of the holiest of evenings we could ever
So, the time has come! Let us together Rediscover Christmas, and thus
renew ourselves and, indeed, all of creation!
God’s Grace Is Abundant,
November 2009 From The Pastor
From The Pastor
“Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to
more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
(1 Cor. 4:15)
Nestled in the exquisite scripture that many of us know well, “… but we
have this treasure in clay jars…” is this simple statement of
thanksgiving. Paul, writing to one of the churches that he has founded
but with which he has struggled a great deal, offers a word of
encouragement to the congregation’s leaders. In this chapter, Paul is
confronting head on some of the toughest issues church leaders face: “We
are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven
to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not
destroyed…” The Apostle realizes that being a leader will sometimes
result in opposition, finger pointing, and even failure. But, if offered
as a means to show that “this extraordinary power belongs to God and
does not come from us,” it will not be for naught.
But the scripture with which I began takes this
leadership advice a little bit further than mere reassurance. It reminds
us that this grace, the power of God which brings life from death,
healing from brokenness, comfort from despair, is not only available to
us, the saints-at-work-today, but is meant for “more and more people.”
Always… always, the work we do is so that more and more people may give
glory to God and thanksgiving may be increased!
Sometimes even seasoned church leaders wonder why
they (we!) stay in this work, since it seems ideas take so long to
become realities, conflicts erupt when deeply committed people see the
path ahead differently, and it feels like the good words we say and the
good deeds we do evaporate into thin air. But Paul gently reminds us,
it’s not about us. It’s about “more and more people.” It is about those
beyond our walls, in our communities, who long to know the grace of God
and have a place and a language to give thanks for it. It’s even about
folks who are longing for a community in which they can not only find
grace, healing, and truth… but in which they can struggle with the very
same issues we may be bemoaning! Yes, people long for true community
where the leaders are so passionate about being God’s Beloved Community
that they are willing to discuss/argue, propose/struggle,
discern/question, and try/fail/try again!
So, in this season of giving thanks for all God’s
gifts, let us recommit ourselves to nurturing this community known as
Franklin Circle Christian Church to be a place where grace WILL extend
to more and more people, so that ALL of us may increase our
thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
From The Pastor
Consecration Sunday Is Coming
Congregations that approach financial stewardship from a biblical
perspective do not view the money Christians give to their church merely
as a way to pay its bills. Rather, such congregations see financial
contributions as a way to help people grow spiritually in their
relationship with God by supporting their church’s mission and ministry
with a percentage of their incomes.
Our congregation’s officers have selected the New Consecration Sunday
Stewardship Program, with the advice and guidance of one of our own, the
Rev. Jim Schimmel, as a way to teach the biblical and spiritual
principles of generous giving in our stewardship education emphasis this
New Consecration Sunday is based on the biblical philosophy of the need
of the giver to give for his or her own spiritual development, rather
than on the need of the church to receive. Instead of treating people
like members of a social club who should pay dues, we will treat people
like followers of Jesus Christ who want to give unselfishly as an act of
discipleship. New Consecration Sunday encourages people toward
proportionate and systematic giving in response to the question, “What
percentage of my income is God calling me to give?”
During morning worship on Consecration Sunday, October 25, we are asking
our members and visitors to make their financial commitments to our
church’s outreach, nurture, worship, justice, and educational ministries
in this community and around the world. Every visitor and member who
completes an Estimate of Giving Card does so voluntarily by attending
morning worship on Consecration Sunday. We urge people to attend who
feel strongly opposed to completing a card. The procedure is done in
such a way that no one feels personal embarrassment if he or she chooses
not to fill out a card.
We will do no home solicitation to ask people to complete cards. During
morning worship our guest leader, Jim Schimmel, will conduct a brief
period of instruction and inspiration, climaxed by members making their
commitments as a confidential act of worship. It will be followed by a
joyous celebration luncheon, catered and at no cost to those attending
We will encourage participation in Consecration Sunday events through
the Consecration Sunday team (officers and financial secretary) and
Church Board members. Since we will make no follow-up visits to ask
people to complete their cards, we will make every effort to inform,
inspire, and commit everyone to attend Consecration Sunday worship.
Thanks in advance for your enthusiastic participation in Consecration
Gratefully Your Pastor,
And Leaning Forward
It has been a delight to see so many new
faces in worship on Sundays, and so many familiar faces continuing with
us! I am even more pleased to see new folks moving into leadership in
the congregation, finding places where their gifts and graces for
ministry can best fulfill God’s mission as it is working its way out in
our church. A true sign of a healthy congregation is the integration of
new leadership in a smooth and supportive manner.
I thought I would take this opportunity to share with the congregation
some of the themes I will be looking at in the different areas of my
pastorate this fall. As you read in the last
issue of The Messenger, I am looking at
the concept of “Widening The Circle By Equipping The Saints.” In that
context I’ve been offering a sermon series on the theme “Alike At Work
And Prayer: The Beauty, Dignity, And Sacredness Of Our Work.” This
recognizes a key part of equipping people for ministry is honoring the
work they (you) do beyond church walls and empower you to see your
employment, volunteer time, school work, and work around the house are
extensions of the ministry of Christ through the church.
Sometimes equipping folks for ministry is remembering and learning from
our past. In September I will begin a sermon series looking at the
distinguishing marks of The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as we
celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Alexander Campbell’s writing of his
“Declaration & Address.” This pioneering treatise on Christian unity
still stands as the “mission statement” of our denomination. We will
culminate this commemorative series with a celebration on Sunday,
October 4 called “The Great Communion.” That also happens to be World
This celebration of our church’s history will be nicely paired with the
reports coming back from the General Assembly of the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) in Sunday School (see related article).
At the same time the Officers and myself will be working on literally
equipping the leadership of the church with the spiritual and
organizational tools they need to do this work in a shared,
congregationally-focused, community of faith. We are working on a
Spiritual Life Retreat for the Board, and trying to organize our Board
Meetings to be the most effective and faithful use of our time.
So, as we grow in Christ… and grow in numbers… let us always be about
the task of “Widening The Circle By Equipping The Saints.” May it be so!
From The Pastor
~ August 2009
Widening The Circle By Equipping The Saints
It is a well-worn passage from the Apostle Paul, but worth repeating:
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some
evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work
of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to
the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to
maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” ~ Ephesians
This passage is often used as leaders are installed
into their respective positions on church boards, as well as with
leadership retreats and as assembly themes. It is a powerful image, one
that reminds us that the job of leaders is to both equip/disciple other
up-and-coming leaders in the church with the tools, skills, knowledge,
and graces they need to fulfill their ministries AS WELL AS to see these
same leaders as saints already!
Too often, I think, those of us who are staff or
who are “die-hard” leaders in the church get lulled into thinking that,
since we are the ones who are present and working most of the time, that
the church is really all about us. Now, we’d never say it that way, but
at the end of a long day of worship, classes, meetings, and
newsletter-article-writing… we secretly pat ourselves on the back and
proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And, in large part, it is true. Much ministry and
lots of good things happen because of faithful staff and leaders in the
church. But our job is never to be the church, but, rather, to equip
others to be the church. Even Jesus said that he did not come to be
served, but to serve. The gifts we were given for leadership should
never begin and end with us, but be offered for the larger purpose of
equipping others, the saints, for the work of ministry.
How do we do that? Well, first and foremost it is a
change of perspective. Leaders, as Paul would urge us, see their
ministry as call and servanthood, rather than profession or work.
Second, such leaders are always looking for ways to make the lives of
those who are learning to be leaders easier, more effective, and more
fulfilling. I’ve oftentimes said the best pastors in the world should be
working themselves out of a job. That is, I am at my best when I
empower, inspire, train, disciple, and equip others to do the work of
the church as good as, if not better than, I myself can do. Elders,
diaconate, trustees, team chairpersons, and other staff members are to
do the same.
Finally, we must offer leadership training as often
and as adequately as we possibly can. We will gather for our annual fall
Leadership Retreat on Saturday, August 29 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon in the
parlor for just such equipping. You are invited, whether you have an
official leadership role in the life of the church or not. All baptized
Christians are on the road to discipleship, are leaders-in=training, and
are the saints that need and deserve to be equipped. Won’t you join us?
Grace & Peace,
July 2009 Pastor’s
Summer Work And Summer Sabbath
Well, summer is officially upon us, and the economy
is giving us mixed messages for the season that is supposed to be filled
with vacations and relaxation. Instead, many of us are either out
pounding the pavement looking for employment, or working overtime in
order to desperately try to keep the jobs we already have! Nonetheless,
God's word, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy,” comes to us as
a call away from that which draws us out of and away from our best
selves and forces us to worship that which is not God, whether it is
work or anything else. The question for us is, “How can we set aside
times, places, and ways of being which gives reverence to the divine in
life, the sacred, and the holy.”
A large part of this is the call to honor work,
yes, but never to be lulled into identifying ourselves with our work.
Employment is a tool to help us live life, but it is not life itself. If
we remind ourselves and one another of this regularly, then whether we
are unemployed, underemployed, or employed, we will more likely keep
things in healthy perspective.
More than anything, we should pray for those among
us and around us who are struggling. Many folks who we know well are out
of work or fearing their jobs will be cut. Let us pray for them. Others
are in the job search process, trying to retool and reeducated
themselves for a new economy. Let us pray for them. Others of us are
retired or on disability, seeing pensions decline and benefits tighten,
and with many others are trying to do more with less. Let us pray for
But in addition to the power of prayer, let us do
what we can to support one another. I would like, as your pastor, to
know what you need to help you through these difficult times. Do you
need a support group to explore your emotions and/or theological
responses to unemployment? Does the church need to sponsor a job-fair or
employment training of some sort? Please, tell me what your church can
do to help you through this difficult time.
I trust that in our honest, caring, and clear
response to this economic crisis, our church will provide an added
measure of Sabbath Rest for those in the eye of this economic storm,
indeed, for all of us.
In this issue of the Messenger are details about
several upcoming events and possibilities offered by Franklin Circle
Christian Church over the summer. I hope you’ll joiin us for some or all
of them and find the joy of service, worship, fellowship, and . If you
have questions about any of them, please let me know right away.
Grace & Peace,
He’s Leaving Again?
Pastor Allen Heads Off April 13 For Part 2 Of His Study & Renewal Leave
Yes, it’s true. Recognizing the
graciousness of this congregation and the good, hard work of the
leadership of Franklin Circle Christian Church (especially the Elders),
I will be completing my Study & Renewal Leave this April and May.
You may or may not remember that over a year ago the Elders and I
decided that the three-month Sabbatical that is part of my covenant with
you as Pastor needed to be adapted a bit for the comfort and well-being
of this congregation. Especially in those professions where constant
study and deep reflection are required for the daily tasks, like
professors and pastors, a period of intensive and focused study, rest,
and renewal, away from the constant and inevitable distractions of work,
So, our agreement was for me to take two six-week “Study and Renewal
Leaves.” One was taken last spring, and it was our plan for me to take
the second one in October and November of last year. That didn’t work
out. So, the day after Easter until the day after Memorial Day I will be
on the second half of my Sabbatical.
“Sabbatical” comes from the Latin sabbaticus derived from the
Greek and Hebrew words meaning “Sabbath.” The concept of a sabbatical
has a source in several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example),
where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the
seventh year. In the strict sense a sabbatical lasts a year, but in
recent times it has come to mean any extended absence in the career of
an individual. Thus, in the best of all possible worlds, all of us would
have a sabbatical.
Until that day comes, I humbly offer you my thanks for allowing me to
have this time of replenishment. Last year’s time was pure joy, as I
explored cities – my spiritual home – and visited beloved friends. I
will continue that same path as I go to New York City with my partner,
Craig, where we lived for over ten years. In addition to visiting
friends, I will be attending a most exciting conference.
“Worship On The Edge: Breaking Into The Multiracial Future”
is one of the dynamic programs offered by Middle Church of New York
City, under the leadership of the Rev. Jacqui Lewis. My entire
sabbatical, and this conference is central to this, revolves around the
fundamental belief that all churches, but Franklin Circle Christian
Church and other urban churches in particular, are being called by God
to embrace the dynamic, faithful, and challenging call to worship as
truly inclusive multi-cultural, multi-racial, creative, and
culturally-responsive communities. To find out more, go on the web to
During the remainder of my time I will be doing those things that give
me great joy, and in doing so will offer this congregation the gift of a
revived and re-created pastor. I will be taking more photographs of the
cities I visit, and organizing them for distribution to churches and
pastors for their use in worship. I will be reading more of the books I
long to explore, and write some of the liturgies and hymn texts that
have been on my heart and mind. And, if God is willing, I’ll bring the
interior painting project of our house just a bit closer to completion!
So, I look forward to returning to you in celebration on Pentecost
Sunday, May 31. May God Bless us all with renewal and resurrection this
The Tall Guys Club
I remember at one of the first community hours
after church at the previous parish I served I was talking with several
fellows there. One gentleman noted that he and I had the same first
name, and even spelled it the same, and that there was even another man
in the church with the same name. We joked about getting all the
Then, another gentleman noted that the three of us
standing there were all over 6 foot tall. He immediately proclaimed that
we were founding members of that church’s “tall guys’ club!” We laughed
while a couple of other folks who were standing around us, who were
neither named “Allen” nor 6’ or taller, scowled. “The Tall Guys Club”
became over the years a humorous way to note when we noticed people
trying to make differentiations between those who were the “in”crowd and
those who were “out.”
We Americans are like that. Because of our fierce
sense of independence and our history, we don’t like the image of there
being divisions and groups. We like the vision of being all-inclusive, a
place where there are no distinctions between people. That’s why so many
of us are so fond of saying we are “color-blind.” I’ve already begun
hearing some folks grumble in the same way upon hearing that there is
going to be a “People Of Color Caucus” here at Franklin Circle Christian
Church later in March, sponsored by our Anti-Racism Team.
The problem is, of course, that this idea of unity
is our corporate image, but not necessarily our reality. In fact, ask
anyone who is a minority in our country whether or not we are a
completely unified nation and that there are no problems and you’ll most
likely get a different image. That is, if you ask them in an environment
that is truly safe for them to answer honestly and without any
You see, having a certain name or being tall or
short is something we can joke about, but having your ancestors enslaved
and forcibly brought to this country to work in horrendous conditions
without pay is a very different thing. To have family members tell you
stories of not being able to eat at the same tables as white folks, or
who couldn’t advance in their jobs at the same pace as others simply
because of their skin color or their accent is profoundly serious and
the legacy lives on more painfully than I can imagine.
It is pretty easy for those of us who are in the
majority to proclaim, “there are no problems here!” What if we’ve never
allowed a safe and inviting space for persons who do see problems to
share them with one another? Also, by making “problems” something huge
and menacing, we force folks to accept smaller issues/concerns as
natural and even invisible rather than dealing with them outright. A
healthy community acknowledges the problems – small ones, mid-size ones,
and big ones – as challenges to be met and opportunities to grow rather
than threats and dangers and to sweep them under the rug in order to
give the image of “all is well.”
Can we truly say “there are no problems in our church” if we’ve always
been overwhelmingly in the majority at every worship service, board
meeting, fellowship group, and team meeting? Can we not have the
patience and the grace to at least allow our sisters and brothers to
gather together, in Christ’s name, to share and to support one another?
Part of being an Anti-Racist/Pro-Reconciling Church
is to allow safe space for persons who have not been in the majority to
connect with one another, share honestly about how they feel, in order
for them to be able to share with the whole church what we might do to
become a better church, more faithful to Christ’s call to welcome all
persons without regard to human distinctions.
I rejoiced a year ago when Jay Cheiky came to me
and asked for there to be a group for lesbian, bisexual, transgender,
and gay folks to come together to share and to support one another. No
one has complained about this group “dividing” the church. It hasn’t, of
course, and neither will a caucus for People of Color. But, in the same
way the “Allens Group” and the “Tall Guys Club” made folks a little
uneasy, so this caucus might, but only if we allow it to.
I invite you to trust me, as your pastor of almost
eight years, to be able to insure that the
Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation process will be done just right in order
to make Franklin Circle Christian Church more faithful to the Gospel of
Christ. That is my hope and my aim, with God’s help.
Faithfully Your Pastor,
It is critical for all congregations, but especially those that are of
an historic nature, to keep in balance the care for their buildings and
facilities and the programs within them that serve people. I come from
the theological perspective that both place and people are important,
and one should not be focused on to the exclusion of the other without
realizing there will be serious practical and spiritual ramifications.
If place were not important, then why would our scriptures not be filled
with poignant references to places being holy and memorable? As one of
many examples, when a ram is provided on the mount for Abraham’s
offering, he names the place “The Lord Will Provide.” Likewise, Jesus
admits, “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son
of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Having said that, there does come a time in an historic church’s life
when the celebration of a building should take center stage. This past
year, 2008-2009, the building which houses our sanctuary, parlor,
meeting and classroom space turned 125 years old! We should celebrate
that fact with joy, gratitude, and hope.
Designed by renowned Cleveland architects Cudell & Richardson, the
structure was built between 1874 and 1883 and was finally dedicated on
May 13, 1883. Quoting from a brochure about the stained glass windows,
the building was finished,
“after ten years of accumulating one
unit at a time; lot purchase, excavating, basement, furnishings, and
then the upper auditorium, furnishings and decorations. Total cost was
$60,000 fully paid by that day. The building
was finished in black walnut. The organ was the best of that time. Gas
fixtures were designed to represent candles without globes. A large
chandelier of thirty-six lights was suspended over the center aisle.”
It is my hope that throughout the coming months that our Board of
Trustees and our congregation can find ways to celebrate both the
building which has stood the test of time on this location for 125 years
and counting, as well as the amazing diversity of programs which have
been offered in and through this building. But most importantly, let us
celebrate the people whose lives have been touched by Franklin Circle
Christian Church, who have been, in the words of our Mission Statement,
“empowered [as] disciples to serve and glorify God.”
Now that’s worth celebrating!
God’s Grace Is Abundant!
We Need A Revival!
I have been trying to keep
myself up to date on the current economic crisis overwhelming our city,
state, nation, and world. This is difficult. New dimensions unfold every
day, and each one seems to affect members of our congregation in new and
ever-more unsettling ways. What I want each and every one of you to know
is that as your pastor I am aware of the deep anxiety and
heart-wrenching pain many of you are going through and am constantly
holding you – all of us – in prayer.
One of the greatest dilemmas that I face is reading,
hearing, and learning about what did or may have gone wrong to create
such a spiral of economic and emotional despair, while also reading,
hearing, and learning about ideas on how to proceed into a new future. I
know I must engage in a mixture of both, for we must learn from the past
in order to not return to it and yet we must not get so caught up in
blaming and finger pointing that we miss the opportunities present.
In part, this is why I have called for something
familiar to many church-goers, but not so familiar to Franklin Circle
Christian Church: A revival. It certainly is not an attempt to gloss
over the difficult state of our lives. It is an effort to inspire us to
continue to be a church that seeks to “Widen The Circle For All God’s
Children,” even if we feel discouraged and our actions appear to be
insignificant in the shadows of world events.
for the timing of this Revival says it all: it is in mid-January to
honor the faith and biblical witness that inspired the Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. to confront the social ills of his time, from racism
and poverty to the war in Vietnam, with confidence and faith. Dr. King
once said, “Every [person] must decide whether he will walk in the light
of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” By
coming together with brothers and sisters from some of our primarily
African American Disciples churches, as well as from our diverse
neighborhood, we can claim the “light of creative altruism” and cleanse
ourselves from the “darkness of destructive selfishness.”
Can we alone solve the greatest economic crisis of our
time? Probably not. But we can take a stand on behalf of hope and the
values from our faith that nurture hope: community, reconciliation,
thankful praise, and joy. May God revive us for the tasks ahead.
P.S. Please note that I try to keep our website up-to-date with issues
that effect cities, ours in particular. Go to http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/CityOfGod.htm
to see what's up.
“Preparing For Christ As Whole People”
Ah, the season of
Christmas! Isn’t it true that no other season enlivens our senses like
the days coming up to, and during, Christmas? My dear friend, the Rev.
Mary Kay Totty, a minister in the Baltimore/Washington Conference of the
United Methodist Church, has shared with me an Advent sermon series she
developed around the five senses: smell, sight, taste, sound, and touch.
I’ve asked her if I could share the themes she imagined with you, the
good folks of Franklin Circle Christian Church. She agreed!
Taking her cue from Christ’s call for us to love God
with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, Rev. Totty sets forth five
themes, which we will begin exploring November 30, the first Sunday of
Advent: “The Scent Of Hope,” “See The Light,” “Taste The Goodness,”
“Hear The Message,” and on Christmas Eve “Touch The Heart.”
I invite you, your entire being, to come to church
during Advent, and especially on Wednesday, December 24 at our 7:30 p.m.
Christmas Eve Service, to understand this ancient but ever new story of
God’s full embodiment in our world. And may our senses be engaged so
that our hearts might be renewed and all of us be transformed!
Have a blessed Advent journey!
Franklin Circle Christian Church
Officially Becomes “Open & Affirming”
On Sunday, October 12, 2008 our historic, diverse, and dynamic urban
congregation, Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
voted without dissent to become an Open & Affirming,
Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciling, and Accessible to All Congregation. The new
mission statement, a revision of the one which had served us well since
2000, now includes the clear and unapologetic inclusion of all persons
in the life of the church, regardless of gender, race, age, culture,
ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, or
difference in ability, thus articulating and celebrating our motto,
“Widening The Circle For All God’s Children.”
Feeling as if the church had been living out the call of Christ to serve
“the least of these” for many years, the Elders of the congregation
began a conversation in January of this year about putting into words
the deeds they were already living. After much prayerful consideration
and research into other congregations in many different denominations
which have also affirmed the worth, dignity, and full participation of
God’s diverse people, the Elders adapted the existing Mission Statement
and sent it to the Board for consideration. On September 21, 2008, with
minor changes, the Board approved the Mission Statement and forwarded it
to the congregation, which voted On October 12 to approve it, without
The new Mission Statement reads:
Our Mission is to empower disciples to serve and glorify God.
We care for the spiritual needs of a culturally diverse community,
encourage creativity, and awaken people to the joys of life with Jesus
We are open to and affirming of all people regardless of gender, race,
age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic
circumstance, or difference in ability as we continue to embody our
vision of God’s peace and justice.
Franklin Circle Christian Church becomes the eighty-first congregation
or organization in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to become
Open & Affirming, and the first congregation in Ohio in the Disciples of
Christ to do so. There are over 3,100 congregations of various
denominations throughout North America that have taken a faithful and
public stance on welcoming all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender persons into the life and leadership of the
The church also is one of 2,292 congregations in the United States to
have signed onto the Accessible Congregation Campaign of the Religion &
Disability program of the National Organization On Disability.
Since 2007 the congregation has officially been committed to engaging in
Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation training through the Ohio Region of the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), although the entire denomination
has been deeply committed for decades to eradication of racism, the
transformation of individuals and communities, and the fostering of
dialogue among people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures.
In all these commitments, our congregation is well aware that voting on
such a statement is neither a completion of a process nor an excuse to
become comfortable. In fact, naming them sets a challenge for us to live
out more fully and deeply the call we feel from Christ to be and spread
the Good News of God’s love to “the ends of the earth.”
I celebrate this decision with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.
It will serve us well as we embody what it means to be the Body of
Christ for this day and in this place.
For a more complete story, including links to the organizations
mentioned, please go to our website: http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/WhoWeAre.htm
From The Pastor, October 2008
Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart
In the parable Jesus tells in Luke 19 he makes the point that those who
are faithful in small things can be trusted with responsibility for
larger tasks. Oftentimes we pastors and church staff members make
it a habit of publicly thanking those in our churches who have done
grand things and fail to note those who, oftentimes week in and week
out, do the small tasks that help make the church run efficiently and
faithfully. Of course, we clergy and staff try to let ourselves
off the hook by saying, truthfully, that these folks are the last to
want to be recognized and the first to be embarrassed when lifted up.
Nevertheless, the right thing to do is to always give thanks for all the
gifts given without compensation to this church, acts that go unseen by
Here is an incomplete, but hopefully helpful, accounting of the faithful
servants of Franklin Circle Christian Church: Michelle Brown
edits and produces our monthly newsletter, the Messenger, oftentimes
with help from her husband, Allan Brown. Norma Stearns
comes in almost every week to help fold and stuff the bulletins and
prepare the hymnals prior to Sunday worship. Ralph Eyring
is our “purchasing agent,” buying paper goods, cleaning supplies, and
community hour provisions when we run low. Claude Pitman is
at the church almost every day of the week working on improvements to
the building, and frequently he’ll have the help of Al Betts, Allan
Brown, and Michael Reed. Many of us write notes, but every
week Eleanor Eyring writes a kind note of welcome to the visitors
from the prior Sunday. Jane Cheiky unofficially keeps track
of the community hour/potluck dinner supplies, and maintains the list
for our weekly Community Hour. Janelle Eccleston takes our
collected food items to the Near West Food Centre when our basket is
full. Joe Stanley can frequently be found cleaning in and
around the sanctuary. Colleen Munely, Cari Monhart, Tori Scheef, and
Sharon Thomas spend hours of time in our clothing room organizing
and making it presentable to our guests. Many of you provide
transportation to and from events at the church, and regularly Norma
Stearns, Jane Cheiky, Allan & Michelle Brown, Nim Bryant, and Gary and
Martha Boska have done so.
If there are others who I have missed, please let me know! And, of
course, all this is on top of the hours and hours many of you put into
our Teams, Committees, Boards, and other official responsibilities that
make this community vibrant and relevant.
“Well done!” we say to all of these faithful folks! Thank you for your
gifts of time, energy, money, and wisdom given to God through this
congregation. You are appreciated.
Grace & Peace,
Some Important Things To Note:
The Elders, after discussions with Pastor Allen and the Officers,
have decided to postpone the second segment of his Study & Renewal Leave
from October until late spring next year. Pastor Allen gratefully
received this decision, as it fits his family’s schedule better.
Also, the Board at its meeting on September 21 will have received and
discussed the Open & Affirming Statement that the Board of Elders voted
to send to the Board to be melded into our existing Mission Statement.
Since this newsletter will have gone to press prior to that
discussion/vote, it could not be presented to the congregation. Go to
our website, www.FranklinCircleChurch.org, for up-to-date information.
Also, watch for your November newsletter for more specific information.
Reconciliation Is A Way Of Life, Not Just An Offering
Every year our church participates in six special day offerings, four
around holidays and two related to the broader mission of our
denomination. One of the latter ones is coming up this month: the
“Reconciliation Offering,” to be received September 28 and October 5 in
addition to our regular offerings.
The Reconciliation Offering is a critical one, not
just for the global Church, but for our church in particular, for
Franklin Circle Christian Church. Our congregation is diverse in many
ways, especially in our varieties of race, ethnicity, culture, and
native language. A church committed to welcoming and empowering people
of all races simply has to acknowledge the terrible legacy of racism,
which continues to distort our lives today. As confirmed by current news
headlines, we cannot simply be non-racist, we must be anti-racist if we
honestly wish to make a difference in the lives of those in our
congregation, the Near West Side, Cleveland, and the world.
This offering goes to support the faithful work people are doing across
North America to transform individuals and dismantle racism in society
and the church and to build reconciliation amongst all peoples. As this
congregation understands God’s call to deeper and more intentional
diversity, we need the support of the Christian Church (Disciples of
Christ), generally and regionally, to guide us wisely in this ministry.
If we truly want to be the Church God dreams for us to be, then we must
continue the work of being anti-racist and pro-reconciliation.
How do I know this is God’s work? The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has
passed away, see, everything has become new! Al this is from God, who
reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry
of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ.”
I invite you to give as generously as you can to this offering. But even
more importantly, I ask that you involve yourself openly and
intentionally as our church continues in the ministry of becoming even
more anti-racist and pro-reconciliation. It will not be easy, for this
involves confession, repentance, honest dialogue, and a vision of the
People of God as we’ve never seen before: from God’s perspective. We can
do it, because God has called us to this work and because God will equip
us for it.
Let us be Ambassadors For Christ by being anti-racist and
pro-reconciling as a way of life. Amen.
Reflections On My Sabbatical
The first segment of my sabbatical, my 6-week Study & Renewal Leave, was
a marvelous experience and I am deeply grateful to this congregation for
allowing me the privilege of having it. It has been interesting to note
that just as I completed this time away, two of my colleagues, the Rev.
Kurt Weiser of Liberation United Church of Christ in Lakewood, and the
Rev. Doug Horner, pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ just down
Franklin Blvd from us, are on three month sabbaticals themselves. I
invite you to visit with church members from either of these
congregations to learn about the possibilities for growth and renewal
that can come from a pastor's sabbatical.
As I assumed, I didn't learn stunningly new and earth-shakingly profound
things on my study leave, but, rather, rediscovered important truths
that had become buried under the heap of daily tasks and weekly
frustrations. I'd like to share with you just three of these truths that
have been dusted off and shined up for me.
*) I'm in love with Jesus. I have been delightfully reminded why I call
myself a Christian: because I follow the Jesus of the Gospels, the
radical, truth-telling, leper-loving, parable-spouting,
Pharisee-confronting, children-believing Jesus. I get so frustrated with
the misuse of Jesus' name by the radical religious right that I tend to
throw the holy baby out with the bathwater! I'm not a fundamentalist,
nor am I conservative, but I am evangelical in the sense that I believe
in Jesus' incarnation, teaching, life, death, and resurrection and this
belief convinces me to follow in the way of Christ.
*) It's all about discipleship. In each of the congregations I visited I
saw and experienced clear and compelling paths to discipleship, and I
saw the pastors of these churches as strong, challenging, and confident
ÒdisciplersÓ of their leaders. For me, it was especially important to
see ministers using their authority or their power in healthy ways.
There are so many misuses of power, especially by clergy in our world,
and the recasting of that power in terms of discipleship was compelling,
*) Service & spirituality are inextricably connected. The beautiful
inward/outward theology of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC
completely embodies Jesus' natural flow between deep spirituality and
profound service, between prayer and action, between the personal and
the public. Franklin Circle Christian Church has much to learn in the
beauty and the healing this balance brings.
None of this obscures or replaces my insights and passions from last
summer's City of God conference. As a matter of fact, I see them as a
fulfillment, or at least next steps, on my journey from last summer.
(For a refresher, go to our website: http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/Sermon070826.htm)
If you would like to know more about the specifics of my Study & Renewal
Leave, check out the stories and photos at: http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/OurPastorStudyRenewalLeave.htm.
I am also willing to offer my June 29th presentation again upon request.
Again, thank your for the gift of this time away. I trust you'll see and
feel a difference because of it!
God's Grace Is Abundant!
"Sabbath Is Counter-cultural -- No Duh!"
is the concept of a day of rest, where no work is done, but only worship
and activities that renew, restore, and refresh individuals and
communities. In Christian communities, we have claimed Sunday as our
Sabbath day. In the Jewish tradition (and a few Christian) Saturday is
the Sabbath. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, it is Friday.
In reading Walter Brueggeman's book, Challenge To Difference,
I have been reminded how central the mandate to observe the Sabbath was
to our forbearers. Not only was the very creation itself anchored in a
“day,” or period of rest and renewal, but Sabbath was central to the ten
commandments (Ex. 20/Deut. 5) and many of the ethical laws engrained
into our faith in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew
However, Brueggeman doesn't simply list the directives concerning
the day of rest, nor does he browbeat us with shame for how horrible we
modern folks are in observing (or not, as the case may be) Sabbath.
Rather, he shows very clearly how setting aside a time, a place, and,
most importantly, a place in our souls for reliance upon God and God
alone is deeply embedded throughout the Bible and of our Judeo-Christian
From Genesis to the Psalms, from to Isaiah to Jesus and the early
church, setting aside a distinct portion of life where God alone rules,
is taken for granted as people of faith. If we truly abide by this
mandate, it becomes countercultural - and not just for us 21st-century
faithful. Even in the days of the exodus - especially in
the days of the exodus from Egypt - claiming a day off work, from
“making bricks,” flew in the face of Pharoah's demanding ways. Whether
it is a desperate Egyptian king or a consuming corporate culture that is
insisting we make more “bricks” with less “straw,” we feel pulled to
overwork and “underrest” more and more and more.
I know well that because of circumstances few of us are afforded
the generous time off that you are allowing me this spring and next
fall. I am aware, perhaps, too painfully aware, of the privilege I am
afforded by this gracious offer. What I am more and more convinced of,
however, is that every one of us has available, on some small or large
level, the opportunity to tell Pharoah, “No!” We will not work
ourselves to death in order to feed an insatiable hunger of a system
that does not ultimately serve God nor the wellbeing of ourselves and
Let us all find moments of countercultural resistance in the coming
weeks. As I am renewed, I shall pray for you to be renewed, also. And
let us all find a way to claim, “enough,” and be at Sabbath peace.
Gratefully Your Pastor,
Upcoming Guest Preachers
We welcome the following preachers to our worship in the coming
Sunday, May 4 - Al Betts, member of Franklin Circle Christian
Church, Elder, and Chair of the Board
Sunday, May 11 - Michelle Brown, member of Franklin Circle
Christian Church, Elder, YEP! Program Director, and licensed lay
Sunday, May 18 - Rev. Dr. William Edwards, Regional Minister of
the Christian Church in Ohio
Sunday, May 25 - Rev. James Schimmel, retired Disciples of Christ
pastor and frequent worshiper at Franklin Circle Christian Church.
Sunday, June 1 - Rev. Al Kean, Regional Elder and retired
Disciples of Christ pastor.
Sunday, June 8 - Rev. Carrie Culleen, member of Franklin Circle
Christian Church, Worship Team Chair, and chaplain with Benjamin Rose
Strong Lay Leaders
As we prepare for the first of my two Study & Renewal Leaves this year,
I thought it might be good to offer a word about how the congregation
will be led during my time away. It is also a chance to remind us as
members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that we
have a strong emphasis on lay ministry in our belief in “the priesthood
of all believers.” There will be no better chance to live up to our
highest ideals than during such a time as this.
Our tradition has two biblical offices for lay ministry: Elder and
Deacon. We have added a third out of necessity for contemporary needs:
Trustee. Together, these three make up the Board of our congregation.
Elders are the Spiritual Leaders of the congregation. Deacons take the
lead in Servant Ministry. The Trustees are charged with wise
stewardship of the investments, both facilities and finances, of the
During my time away, all of the month of May and the first two weeks of
June, the Elders will be especially important for the full functioning
of the congregation. The chair of the Board of Elders, Sharon Thomas,
will seek to insure consistency in worship throughout the time. Each
Sunday, in addition to the regularly scheduled worship leaders, we will
have a guest preacher and a “Host Elder.” The Host Elder will sit up
front on the platform and share in many of the worship tasks that I
might otherwise do: offertory, pastoral prayer, etc. We have lined up a
marvelous set of guest preachers to bring the Word to life in different
and exciting ways.
As far as the day-to-day oversight, the Chair of the Board, Al Betts,
will be central. Working with our staff and Team and Committee Chairs,
he will make sure things are running smoothly. In the case of a
significant pastoral emergency, there will be several nearby Disciples
pastors “on-call” to respond to these needs. You will simply call our
Church Secretary, Carole Sauer, during office hours and Elder Sharon
Thomas at other times.
The current Board of Elders includes: Sharon Thomas (chair), Al
Betts, Jean Borrelli, Mary Brogan, Michelle Brown, Randy Buckingham,
Jane Cheiky, Ralph Eyring, Patty Groetsch, Claire Munley, and Leila
Streidl. Patty Adams, Ted Brogan, and Claude Pitman are Honorary
Elders with full privileges as any other Elder. The Pastor is
considered an “Elder among Elders” in our tradition.
One of the key texts for Eldership is from 1 Peter 5:1-4:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness
of the sufferings of Christ _as well as a partaker in the glory that is
to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not by
constraint but willingly; not for shameful gain but eagerly; not as
domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.
And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, you will obtain the unfading
crown of glory.”
Our Board of Elders do, indeed, see themselves as shepherds of this
flock we know as “Franklin Circle Christian Church. They will do well
in leading our congregation through this brief, but important, time in
our life together. Pray for them, and rely upon them as you would me,
and Christ's hopes for the Church will come closer to being fulfilled.
Grace & Peace,
From The Pastor
Pastor's Study & Renewal Leave Plans ~ 2008
Over the past few months, in conversation with the officers and Elders
of our congregation, I have discerned some confusion and uncertainty
about the sabbatical leave that was part of my original call to this
congregation. I have come to understand that few in our congregation or
community know a person who has gone “on sabbatical,” much less been on
a sabbatical themselves. This lack of experience might lead to some
unconscious resentment or distance between me as your pastor and you,
the congregation. Never would I want that to happen!
But at the same time I have felt a flood of care and concern for me,
that I might have some time away from the day-to-day tasks of ministry
in order to be renewed and re-energized. I am deeply appreciative for
this show of support and thoughtfulness.
So, the Elders and I have rethought what is most needed. Instead of one
three-month absence I will take two shorter Study & Renewal Leaves this
year. One leave will be as planned in the spring (all of May and early
June). The other one will be scheduled in the fall, probably all of
October and the first part of November. I believe these will allow me
the time necessary to unwind and be renewed for life and for my future
These Study & Renewal Leaves will first and foremost give me time to
visit dear friends in other cities. For personal growth, I also plan on
finding some time to play my guitar, take photographs around the cities
I visit, and read some of those books which have stacked up around my
But also in each of two 6-week segments I will visit two cities each,
visiting worship services at dynamic and diverse urban churches that are
much like Franklin Circle Christian Church. By worshipping in such
congregations, I hope to be renewed first and foremost simply as a
worshipper, allowing the power of praise and the wisdom of the
communities to “fill my cup.” Of course, if I learn a little bit about
how other urban congregations offer spirited worship with God's diverse
peoples, then I won't complain, either!
In the first part of my Study and Renewal Leave, in May and early June,
I will be visiting Minneapolis, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. In
Minneapolis I hope to visit the Church of All Nations Presbyterian
Church, and The Sanctuary Covenant Church (ECC) as well as attend the
Festival of Homiletics (“homiletics” means “preaching!”)
In Washington, DC I hope to spend significant time at the Seekers
Church/Church of the Savior as well as attend once again the City Of God
for the American Cities conference at the National Cathedral College.
The second part of my Study and Renewal Leave we are intentionally
leaving a bit open, to allow the Spirit to guide us after the first
segment. It will most likely take place next October and first two weeks
of November and I would visit San Francisco, CA and New York, NY. In San
Francisco I would soak up the powerful worship of Glide Memorial United
Methodist Church and in New York I would explore the up-and-coming
diverse worship of Middle Church (Reformed Church of America).
So, there you have it! Your prayers and feedback are always welcome and
needed! My hope is that through this Study & Renewal Leave our entire
congregation will benefit as we move forward “Widening The Circle For
All God's Children!”
Grace & Peace,
DETAILED INFORMATION ON PASTOR ALLEN'S STUDY & RENEWAL LEAVE, CLICK
Didn't We Just Sing “The First Noel?”
We'll be singing “Were You There” all too soon! While I cannot verify
it technically, I do believe this is the quickest turnaround between
Christmas and Lent that I've ever experienced! Epiphany, the season of
looking for “manifestations” of God around us, will be fleeting. As
with all challenges, I hope we can make this “tight squeeze” a
spiritually enriching opportunity!
So, we shouldn't waste much time getting ready. A fairly decent
description of Lent is given in the online free encyclopedia Wikipedia:
In most Christian denominations, Lent is the forty-day period (or
season) lasting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. The forty days
represents the time Jesus spent in the desert, where, according to the
Bible, he endured the temptation of Satan. The six Sundays in Lent are
not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a
"mini-Easter" celebration of the Jesus' victory over sin and death. In
those churches which follow the Byzantine tradition (e.g. Eastern
Orthodox and Eastern Catholics), the forty days of Lent are calculated
differently; Sundays are included, but the days of Holy Week are not.
Lent is a time of preparation for Holy Week, which recalls the events
linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the
celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The forty-day period is symbolic of the 40 days spent by Jesus in the
desert. The number forty has many other Biblical significances: the
forty days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the forty days and
nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; God makes it rain for forty
days and forty nights in the story of Noah; the Hebrew people wandered
forty years traveling to the Promised Land; Jonah in his prophecy of
judgment gave the city of Nineveh forty days grace in which to repent.
** This year we will have the opportunity to begin Lent in two
wonderful ways. On Wednesday, February 6 at 12 noon our church will be
offering a simple Ash Wednesday service, with organ, scripture, and
ashes being offered. Then, later that evening at 7 p.m. at Lakewood
Christian Church 17513 Detroit Ave., we will gather with several other
Disciples of Christ congregations to share in an Ash Wednesday service.
We hope everyone will join us for this very special opportunity. **
So, don't delay in seeking out God's manifestations in your life,
for Epiphany shall be soon over. Lent and its disciplines will be here
God's Grace Is Abundant,
“What do you think God's vision is for
Franklin Circle Christian Church?”
posed this question as part of my sermon on November 11, and many of you
responded with enthusiasm. I still hope to hear from more of you, but I
thought you might like to know just a few of the responses we received.
Several replies dealt specifically with our motto, “Widening The Circle
For All God's Children.” This included: “God's Vision is to have
everyone live together in love and equality,” “open arms to all, no
matter who or what they are,” “What is so hard to understand, God in any
language in any land in any shape, size, color, race! We come up with
the same Holy God,” “Taking the diversity all around us and meshing it
into one,” and “I see this church being an open door.”
But some wanted to get even more specific about our diversity:
“Set an example of Affirming & Open,” “We should be officially and Open
& Affirming community of faith,” “be handicap accessible,” and
“Reach out to the poor, the homeless by just being there first, and let
the know we love them as God does.”
There were several affirmations of our focus on youth, both within
the congregation and in the community around us, as well as our current
effort to secure a youth minister: “To try to get children and teens
more involved,” “To get more youth in the church and get them more
involved in church, We need to relate more to the youth of the
neighborhood. I would love to see more people give their gifts to the
program to reach the youth.” “Your vision for a Youth Pastor is so right
on! A full time minister able to focus on the youth - go out in the
neighborhood and pull these kids in is the key,” “The After School
program needs more “umph,'” and then one response urged us to expand
to the next age level: “Establish a base for young adults.”
Several folks encouraged us to be even more involved out in the
neighborhood and in community issues: “To bring more people into our
church to receive God's grace through more and better programs,” “To be
a beacon of hope in this neighborhood, to reach out to those in the
neighborhood who are lost, lonely, sad, depressed. We can best do this
by having an outreach ministry that goes out into the neighborhood to
reach these people,” “To serve and help people in the neighborhood,”
and “Go out in the neighborhood and try to teach the way of God,
teaching and helping all those who need help. Try to stop all of the
There were several affirmations of me, as pastor, and of particular
programs and activities the church is already doing. There were also a
few suggestions for specific new programs to start. But then there were
a few challenges as to how we do things, “If you are going to 'talk
the talk' then be prepared to 'walk the walk,'” “We need to serve the
community less and teach the community to serve God,” “Why is our nation
rebelling against God? He is the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, over water
and all the animals walking His earth. Look around you. We have one
God, one Holy Spirit,” and “I think we need to hold up all of our
activities to a standard: Does each of our activities allow us to share
and/or bring all of “us” to Christ?... and not simply “minister” to
others. Prayers, hymns, invitations to Christ should always be a part
of these activities.”
This kind of feedback is critical to help the Board and me know if
our efforts are on track. If you haven't picked up a yellow index card
at church and responded to the question, “What is God's Vision for
Franklin Circle Christian Church?” then do so today. You can also go to
our website www.FranklinCircleChurch.org and fill out a “card” there, as
well as read all of the responses we have so far. May God's
vision, your vision as the church, and my vision as your pastor, come
together in new and every more powerful ways in 2008.
God's Grace Is Abundant!
"What Shall We Name Him?"
This year's Advent devotional book
provided for us by the Worship Team, “What Shall We Name Him?,” will
help us explore the different names we have to describe Jesus, from
Messiah to Prince of Peace to Good Shepherd, as well as so many others.
This should be a wonderful community learning process in which I pray
each of you will faithfully participate. I will explore these names and
titles further in my sermons each Sunday in Advent as well as on
Names are important, and our use of language for the divine is critical.
As many of you are probably well aware, I seek to use the most inclusive
language for God, Jesus, and God's people in what I say in public
prayers and in worship. I do so while carefully honoring the use of
different kinds of language other people use. It is my understanding
that the One who created the universe, who forms constellations and
cells alike, and breathes life into each and every moment is ultimately
beyond the limitations of my perspective, not to mention my verbal
It is a paradox that comes to light in our faith talk that in the
incarnation, or “in-body-ment,” of God in Jesus that we are to
comprehend the sacred not just in the vague and other-worldly but in the
flesh-and-blood here and now. At the same time that we receive God in
the crying and cooing infant Jesus, we are to be very wary about getting
caught up in the specifics of the person. In other words, God is always
transcendent AND immanent, always more than we can imagine and precisely
what we can envision.
As we look at the biblical names for Jesus, I encourage you to dig a
little deeper. What names mean something special to you? How are they
helpful and how are they limited? What names don't “do much” for you?
Don't discount them, but explore them more fully, for they have meant
something to others throughout the ages. What names or titles are absent
from our devotional booklet? What ones would you add, and why?
As we move closer and closer to the evening where we remember and
reenact The Word Made Flesh, let us use our words prayerfully and
wisely. May we find just the right words to express our “Hosanna's In
The Highest” but never too many words to exclude the mystery that is
always just beyond our imagination.
Please join us each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. for Adult Sunday School and
10:30 a.m. for worship. A very special invitation is extended to you,
your family and your friends, to join us for our Christmas Eve
Candlelight Service on Monday, December 24 at 7 p.m.
Grace & Peace,
** Don't forget to check out the archive of my sermons on our website.
Go to www.FranklinCircleChurch.org and click on the “Sermons” button on
the lower left side.
Seasons Of God's Love
give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its
produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. ~
Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God's
law they meditate day and night. _They are like trees planted by streams
of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not
wither. In all that they do, they prosper. ~ Psalm 1:1-3
I've always been hesitant to use the imagery of “seasons” for God, and
I'm not sure why. I think, in part, it is because seasons come and go,
and sometimes it feels as if each year is exactly the same as the last,
as well as all those years that came before the last. I refuse to think
of God as “stagnant” or “the same ol' same ol'.” Similarly, somewhere
in my educational history I think I connected the seasons with
pantheistic religions that worship created things, such as the trees.
Perhaps it is as I mature that I become more and more in tune with the
sacred cycles of the seasons. Certainly the movement of the seasons -
winter to spring to summer to fall to winter, again - can remind us of
the Christian truths of life, death, and new life. But they also remind
us, as the years roll along, that we must be good stewards of all that
we have. Those closer to the changes of earth, air, and water
throughout the year, such as farmers and gardeners, know that how one
treats the earth in one season may - no, WILL - affect us and/or our
children in another.
And this imagery, of the seasons of stewardship, has strong biblical
roots. The Apostle Paul wrote:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came
to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered,
but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who
waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. ~ 1
It also reminds me of a beautiful quote attributed to Archbishop
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already
planted, knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will
need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far
beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense
of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and
do it very well. It may be incomplete, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
As the seasons change from fall to winter, you are being asked to plant
seeds of support for the future of this church by pledging to sustain
the mission and ministry of this congregation in 2008. Through the
regular and substantial support our annual budget receives from
investments our Trustees oversee, we rely upon the “seeds” that faithful
church members planted many years ago. Many devoted church leaders have
nurtured these “seedlings” over the years. We see fruit every day in
the lives touched and changed through the ministries of Franklin Circle
But these gifts can't, and shouldn't, be the sum total of our
congregation's financial support. We need to plan new “seeds” today, to
ensure fresh “fruit” for tomorrow. We may never actually see this fruit
ripen and nourish the world, but we trust in God that every gift given,
in faithfulness and hope, will serve God's people someday.
Many of you have increased your pledge this last year in order to help
bring on staff an Associate Pastor for Youth. Talk about trusting God
in all seasons! Your additional support over the next few years as we
get this new pastor established and fully functioning will be seeds well
When you receive your Stewardship Commitment letter and pledge card for
the 2008 Operating Budget, I ask you to look out your window and see
evidence of the seasons of nature changing, and give thanks. Then think
about where you have seen God at work at our church, especially in our
children and youth, and see evidence of the Seasons of God's Love
changing and growing. Prayerfully fill out your pledge card, and either
bring it or mail it to the church, and we will dedicate them in worship
Thank you, so very much, for believing in the work of God in this church
throughout all the seasons of life.
Grace & Peace,
Remembering In Prayer
“I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my
prayers.” - Ephesians 1:16
As many of you may know since my experience at the City Of God
conference in Washington, DC this past June I have renewed my commitment
to daily prayer, and have begun each day since then in prayer. At the
Board Leadership Retreat on August 25 I also shared that starting
September 1st I would pray each day for a different leader in our
congregation. When I have prayed for every Deacon, Deaconess, Trustee,
Elder, Team Chair, and Fellowship President, I will turn to the
congregation in general.
I hesitate to tell you this, taking seriously Jesus' words in Matthew
6:6 about praying in secret. But I do so keenly aware that leadership
is sometimes a lonely and difficult calling. Perhaps knowing that your
pastor is praying for you specifically might help you in your ministry.
I also see it as one more extension of “being present” with you, a goal
I shared with you in my August 25 sermon.* A large part of being
present with and for someone is to hold them in your heart in prayer.
Now, being a person dedicated to action, I also immediately get
concerned that so much prayer might lead to an overly self-absorbed
mindset. Not at all! In fact, prayer is a necessary prerequisite to
action as people of faith. To act prior to prayer is to risk acting on
our own behalf, or otherwise foolishly. Prayer which is honest, open,
and heart-felt grounds us in a reality other than our own, and leads us
towards a divine perspective. And that is the best foundation
My invitation to you, this amazing vibrant, diverse, urban congregation,
is to commit yourselves again to prayer. Not just an occasional prayer,
but prayer that is disciplined (meaning regular), unhurried, and
outwardly focused. You might even want to get the list of Board Members
and pray for the leaders of our congregation. What a mighty energy such
a communal commitment to prayer would harness for the good of this
church, The Church, and the world! May it be so.
Grace & Peace,
*I would delight for you to my read this sermon, “Our Job: Here &
Now” Isaiah 58:9b-14. You can do so either on the internet at
or by calling the church office and asking for a printed copy to be
mailed to you.
Central and South America there has come a sad but powerful tradition of
recognizing the absence of persons who were victims of violence,
principally during the 1970's and 1980's. Those gathered to remember,
especially the women who were mothers and wives of the missing, would
respond as each name was read aloud, “Presente!” or “Present!”
It is a reminder of how the spirit of the deceased remains with us, in
silent witness to the injustices perpetrated.
Archbishop Oscar Romero [see photo to the left], who was murdered while
officiating at mass in March of 1984 in El Salvador, is often remembered
in such rituals. He was well known for being a people's pastor, one who
walked with his parishioners through their harshest trials and
tribulations. Both Pastor Romero and the compelling rite memorializing
him are a tribute to the power of being present with others. Woody
Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” While
I'm not one to typically champion his philosophy, I do think Allen's got
something here. Being present is a large part of the success of life.
Someone I would rather quote is Gordon Cosby [see photo to the right],
founder of Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, who I met this past
June. He talked to us “City Of God” seminar folks about a deeper level
of existence, deeper than knowing or doing. This is the level of
being. Being with people means you are more likely to
discover their essence, that which makes them - and us - who we are. He
challenged the church to start with simply being with the people
we serve, and not spend so much time doing, doing, doing or even
thinking about what we should do. After all, we believe that simply
being with Jesus is what forms the essence of our being as Christians!
To be present with people is to honor God's Holy Spirit at work in
them. To make this clear in my own mind, I began thinking about where
our church is “doing” ministry and where we are “thinking about”
ministry. I realized that some of the most “hands on” ministries
Franklin Circle Christian Church does are also some of the most isolated
and disembodied programs! Our Thursday Meal Program, our After School
Program, and our Youth Group are critical places where Jesus calls us to
minister to those in need, and yet they involve the fewest number of
people in the congregation. I also realized that one of the most vital
places where ministry should be happening - with young adults - was the
very place we had absolutely no presence at all.
It was then that I promised myself that I would challenge you, the
congregation, and me, as the pastor, to be more present with these
people and programs. No, I'm not calling us to “do” more or even to
“think about” them more right now. The studying and the action can and
probably will come later. What is more important is to be with
those in need, and see their essence, and show them Jesus' essence.
Thus, I am visiting the Thursday Meal Program over at St. Patrick's
Church as often as I can, and will be even more present when it moves
back to our facilities. Will you join me in being present with
our neighbors? I will be working with the After School Program
and getting to know our teens and their families. Won't you join
me in being present with our neighborhood children and youth? I
believe our goal of hiring a new full-time and theologically-trained
minister is an investment in being present with our youth, both in the
church and beyond our walls. But the new minister can't do it alone.
He or she will need you to be present, also. Will you commit to
being present with our church youth?
Finally, you will notice on the calendar something new on
Tuesday evenings. From 5 to 6:30 p.m. I am going to be present at Gypsy
Bean Coffee Shop, on the corner of 65th Street and Detroit Ave. for
“Café Conversations.” I will invite anyone and everyone, but especially
the young adults who've visited our church - and those who haven't - to
visit with me over a cup of coffee or tea. We'll talk about what's on
their minds, what's important to them, what's in the news, and maybe
we'll even talk a little spirituality and theology! I've worked with
the owner, Nikki Gillota, and she's agreed to let me hang out at a table
for a while… or, if we get big enough, use their back meeting room!
“Presente!” I think every time we seek to be fully present with
one another, and especially those in need, those wandering on their way,
those who feel adrift, we are bringing the essence of Jesus back to
life. I hope you will join me, because, of course, it cannot be just
the pastor. Let the church be “Present!” and Christ's Body will be,
God's Grace Is Abundant!
12 the Apostle Paul offers an appeal that is often used in our worship
services as a litany for leaders as they are installed. In it, Paul
urges us to not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by
the renewing of your minds.” What a beautiful and awesome concept:
to resist shaping ourselves to the will of the world, but seek a divine
renewal that will lead inevitably to transformation (which is a fancy
word for “change”).
How do we do this? How do we let go of the temptations and forces of
“the way things are” to allow us to become what God dreams for us to
be? Well, Paul gives us a very specific and realistic means of
fulfilling this reality: accept that not every one has to do and be the
same kind of leader, or the same kind of Christian, for that matter. He
says it exquisitely: “We have gifts that differ according to the
grace given to us” If we are going to be healthy Christians, and if
this endeavor called “church” is to every really succeed, we can't
expect everyone to do the same things, fulfill the same roles, or even
enjoy the same aspects of church.
By now I hope you have heard of the drive to get financial commitments,
over and above our regular pledges, from members and friends of the
congregation to help support the new Associate Minister/Youth Director
position we are hoping to fill this fall. The cost of filling this
position will be about $30,000 annually, and the congregation is being
asked to commit to raise its level of giving to cover about a third of
the costs, about $10,000. This is roughly equal to the amount our
congregation's tithes and offerings support the annual operating
budget. The Trustees have committed to using funds from our invested
monies to cover the rest.
Central to this new venture is the realization that our congregation
needs someone whose gifts differ from the grace given the rest of us:
one who is called to be a full-time minister to our youth. We are also
committed to finding someone who can fulfill all the spiritual duties of
a pastor as well in order to provide this congregation with ample
spiritual support when I am ill or away. I humbly recognize that
neither my gifts or calling for ministry, nor those of our very able
youth sponsors, Patty Groetsch and Jean Borrelli, are adequate to the
needs of our vibrant, growing, youth-full church.
If we honestly acknowledge our own unique gifts and callings, and we
honor what we can do and what we cannot do, then it will mean seeking
out those who have the gifts that are needed so that Franklin Circle
Christian Church can realize the mission to which God is calling us in
this day and this place. Will we be changed? I hope so!
If you have not already, please contact Carole Sauer, our Financial
Secretary, in the church office to let her know how much you can raise
your pledge to help cover the cost of our new Associate Pastor/Youth
Director. Every gift, no matter how large or small, is deeply
God's Grace Is Abundant!
Deepening Our Roots To Extend Our Branches
It is an ancient metaphor, and its truth
speaks to us afresh today. In order for our reach, our grasp to be
extended out into the world, we must grow deeper and more sustaining
roots. I think we know this truth instinctively, but the busy-ness of
our lives often masks its power and necessity. I am no different. Even
your pastor needs to be reminded occasionally of how important nurturing
roots is to sustaining growth.
I experienced something profoundly disturbing and yet amazingly
refreshing at the seminar which I attended this past week, “The City Of
God For American Cities: Reinventing The Urban Church” led by Douglas
and Carolyn Bailey. Through pilgrimages to sites around Washington, D.C.
and visits with world-renown theologians, such as James Forbes, Barbara
Brown Taylor, and Gordon Crosby, the 27 pastors and lay leaders gathered
were reminded in pointed and prayerful ways: don't forget to nurture the
roots! Amazing, audacious, incredible things can happen - if one's roots
are deep and if a community's roots are healthy.
This can be brought about in many ways according to the needs and the
grace of the individual or community. We were reminded of the critical
importance of honoring and actually observing Sabbath rest, of open and
honest prayer, of sharing deeply and candidly with beloved family,
friends, and colleagues, and of sticking close to the “essence” of God.
As our congregation continues to reach out to others in new and renewed
ways, let us be reminded that nothing can be done without God's abiding
presence in our lives. As we share good news with the youth and young
adults of our neighborhood, let them see well-grounded and prayerful
people of faith inviting them to discipleship. As we advocate for the
poor and those on the margins of life, let us do so from a position of
confidence, centered on the call of God and Jesus' own example.
And let us hear the apostle Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus as
if it were for us, also: “I pray that, according to the riches of God's
glory… you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through
God's spirit, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you
are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph. 3:17) May it be so!
God's Grace Is Abundant!
Dear FCCC Members & Friends,
I write to inform you that at the
congregational meeting on Sunday, May 6 the new slate of candidates
for Elders, Diaconate, and Trustees were elected. They will begin
their terms of service on July 1, 2007. I hope you will join me in
welcoming our newly called and elected leadership.
Also, the congregation voted
overwhelmingly to create the position of Associate Pastor/Youth
Director. This person will be fully trained and ordained as a
pastor in order to better guide our youth and build our youth
program in powerful and faithful new ways. The entire church will
reap the benefits from such a pastor. This pastor will also be
capable of filling in on those occasions when I am on vacation, on
sabbatical, or ill.
The job description that has
been approved by the Board and Congregation is available from the
church office and is posted on our website at http://www.franklincirclechurch.org/Our%20Staff.htm#Staff%20News
I am very pleased that our congregation has chosen to
staff our church in such a way as to support our youth as well
as with a view for the future growth we are faithfully expecting,
(and are already beginning to experience). Certainly my own
pastoral experience has proven that an investment in the youth of
our community and our congregation is a wise and fruitful decision
for the entire congregation.
Wisely, the Board, with the encouragement of the
Trustees, has agreed that the hiring of an Associate Pastor/Youth
Director will depend upon receiving commitments from the
congregation, and our friends and family near and far, to support
this new position at least by the same percentage the congregation
supports the annual operating budget, which is approximately 30%.
Over the summer the youth of our church have graciously agreed to
lead us in a campaign to raise our pledges to cover the $10,000 (30%
of a $30,000 salary + benefits). We will begin interviewing only
after the congregation's commitment is assured.
I would invite you to read my sermon from Sunday,
April 29 which explores the importance of a healthy balance of lay
leadership and clergy leadership in our congregation. You can read
copies are available at the church.
I understand that many exciting
things are happening at FCCC, and some of it may be confusing.
Please, if you have any concerns, questions or simply need help to
get your mind wrapped around all that is going on, please do not
hesitate to call me at 216-781-8232 or e-mail me at
I will gladly set up a time to visit with you about the progress our
congregation is making to "Widen The Circle For All God's
Children." You are also invited to the Board meeting on Sunday,
June 10 where we will work through more of the details of our
God's Grace Is Abundant!
The Big Picture
It’s one of the hardest things for church folks to do, both laity and
clergy alike. It is difficult to step back and see the “big picture” of
how things work for the whole church, how this or that idea or program
fits into the context of the past, the present, and the hoped for
future, and who might benefit from decisions within a congregation and
beyond it in the community.
Most leaders, and certainly much of the rest of the congregation, have
limited time, energy, and ability to keep in mind all the various
aspects of the church on an ongoing basis. We want to use our gifts and
graces wisely, with the time and energy we have, and so we focus on one
or two facets of the church to support, participate in, and keep up
with. This is understandable and responsible.
But as your pastor, I am charged with keeping the “big picture”
constantly before the leadership. My “5 Point Plan” offered almost a
year ago was my humble attempt to get us to step back and make some
careful and faithful choices to improve the “big picture” of Franklin
Circle Christian Church. Since that time we have added a sixth critical
focus, that of Youth Ministry.
Well, the time has come for us to decide. Over the next several months
proposals will be offered to the Board regarding these priorities. At
the April 29 Board Meeting a proposal to hire a new pastor, with primary
responsibilities in Youth Ministry, will be set forth. This is a huge
step, and a lot of the congregation is invested in the decision.
The challenge will be for each and every leader of the congregation to
look at these decisions from several perspectives. Each one of us will
bring our particular beliefs, experiences, passions, and needs to these
proposals, and this is beautiful and helpful. But if we are to be true
to God, who is calling us to be good stewards of the whole church, we
must also challenge ourselves to step back and see our decisions as part
of “the big picture.” We must ask, “Even if this or that proposal
doesn’t meet my particular hopes or interests, is it in the best
interest of the entire congregation and the community around us?”
I ask the whole community, near and far, of Franklin Circle Christian
Church to be in prayer over the next six months as significant proposals
are offered which are projected to retool and rejuvenate this
congregation for ministry in this dynamic neighborhood for the future.
Healthy, constant, and faithful communication will be critical over the
next few months. And, if we are all able to see the church as a whole,
with all its wonderful possibilities as well as all its familiar
shortcomings, offering everything we do prayerfully to God, I trust we
will make the right decisions.
Faithfully Your Pastor,
Strings Too Short
In her book Calmly Plotting The Resurrection, Donna Schaper tells of
Donald E. Hall, the poet laureate of New Hampshire, who happened upon a
box in his grandfather’s attic one day. The box was marked “strings too
short to save.” He was caught completely off-guard by this seemingly
eccentric contradiction, useless bits and pieces but valued anyway, and
was able to write a beautiful poem out of its humor.
I have my own connection with this phrase, as the wife of the Senior
Pastor with whom I served in New York City was delightfully notorious
for saving all manner of things to be used later, for crafts, science
projects, displays at church, or who knows what. Whenever I would watch
Jensene Payne gather up things to be carefully sorted and saved, things
which I would have automatically thrown into the garbage, and she would
see me looking, we would both laugh together and say, “This’ll go right
next to the box of strings too short to save!”
But reading Schaper’s meditation, I realized what a profound Easter
message this humorous little quip is. Isn’t the story of the cross and
the empty tomb all about God’s gathering up all of us, too-short and
too-tall, misfits and plain-Jane’s and royalty alike, and saving us.
Isn’t the Easter story all about folks who, by most estimates, should be
tossed out on the garbage bin of history being carefully cared for by
God, who sees value and worth more deeply than we humans ever will?
I pray our motto, “Widening The Circle For All God’s Children” isn’t
just a cute catchphrase that is great for stationary but forgotten
otherwise. For me, it perfectly captures the Resurrection’s most
profound meaning and the poet’s deepest delight. We are gathered here on
this historic circle not by our own merit or will, but through God’s
grace and desire to draw together “the least of these,” the strings “too
short to save,” and to save us all in the name of love. Our job is
simple: having thus been received, to keep a place open in this
remarkable circle of love so that the next misfit can fit right in.
Donna Schaper's book, try going to:
From The Pastor…
Lent is a good time for “taking stock” of things, and so I thought I
would use this opportunity to update you on several projects in our
1. Youth Ministry Position – At the last several Board Meetings
we have been discussing the wonderful growth in our youth program and
the need for a staff person to oversee this vital part of our
congregation’s ministry. A small group has been formed and is preparing
a job description to go to the next Board Meeting in April. A search
committee will be formed following that and hopefully we will have
someone on board by the end of the summer.
2. New Worship Opportunities Team – This team continues to meet
and to visit other churches with special worship services and to study
what “transforming worship” means. We hope to “play” with a couple of
different types of our own alternative services in the coming months.
This team probably will not have a proposal ready until the fall.
3. Evangelism & Publicity Team – You may have already seen some
of the results of this team’s work. We are being listed in the Plain
Dealer’s Saturday worship listing, and there was a display ad for the
Anniversary Celebration in the February 3 Plain Dealer. Watch for new
t-shirts in the spring!
4. Pastor’s Class – for the first time in my ministry here we
have enough youth to have a full-fledged Pastor’s Class! Eight young
people over the weekend of February 23-24 will explore what discipleship
and church membership mean, looking especially at the beliefs and
structure of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Holy Communion,
Baptism, and the Good Confession. Those who choose to proceed will be
baptized on Palm Sunday, April 1.
5. Church Pictorial Directory – We hit a snag with some
technological problems in creating our own directory, but we are working
this out. Expect another round of photographs soon and a directory
I invite you to pray for these, and other exciting developments in the
life of our church as illustrated in this newsletter. Likewise, take
some time in the coming days to look at your own life, taking stock of
what is working well and what isn’t, and use this reflective season to
recommit yourself to that which brings you joy, grace, peace, and love
and clear away those things that distract and defeat you. May God be
with us all in these ventures.
God’s Grace Is Abundant,
The Next Six Years!
Some members of the congregation were very observant! They noticed that
as part of the 2007 budget explanation, offered by our Treasurer, Randy
Buckingham, the guest preaching honorarium was larger than usual because
of the possibility of your pastor going on sabbatical leave this year.
Unfortunately, the concept of a sabbatical is unfamiliar enough to
confuse some folks, who thought it meant that I was leaving Franklin
Circle Christian Church. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a
matter of fact, knowing that I am discussing a sabbatical with the Board
of Elders should reassure you that I intend to continue serving as your
Well, let me offer a few brief words about this discussion to help all
of us understand what will be happening over the next couple of years.
It is typical for churches to offer their pastor, after anywhere from
five to seven years of service, a time of sabbatical, or renewal leave.
I am approaching my sixth anniversary with the congregation in April and
therefore began the conversation with the Elders, who will oversee my
sabbatical. At our last meeting it became clear that 2007 will be
dedicated to planning this time away for both me and for the
congregation, but that I will not actually be on sabbatical until 2008.
The time away is usually three months and includes study, spiritual
retreat, and rest. It is not vacation time, but intentional time for
both the pastor (me) and the congregation (you) to review the direction
in which we are currently headed, listen to God as to the direction we
should be heading, hone skills we already have and gain new ones needed
for the journey ahead, pray for each other, and perhaps even learn new
and healthier ways of relating to one another.
I also see it as a time to focus on an aspect of my ministry that
intersects with the mission God has for Franklin Circle Christian
Church, to delve into that facet more deeply and gain wisdom about the
best practices available from some of the premier congregations and
leaders in that particular area. This gives me great energy and
excitement, imagining a new chapter in my ministry here at Franklin
Circle Christian Church.
If you would like to know more about clergy sabbaticals, please go on
the web to:
. If you would instead like to have this resource in print format,
please call the church office and we will mail you a copy.
I am pleased to be your pastor, and am looking forward to growing with
you into God’s marvelous future!
God’s Grace Is Abundant!
All Shall Be Well
I think I shall begin 2007 on a very
simple note by sharing with you a stanza from one of my very favorite
poems by one of my very favorite poets. This poem, part of a much longer
and intricate series of poems, speaks of the interconnectedness of life,
especially of the movement of the seasons of year. I offer it to you as
a prayer that as our congregation journeys on, and though what we
experience may seem all-too familiar, we can enjoy life in new and ever
more profound ways if we but humbly rely upon one another and carefully
look for the beauty along the way.
Have a blessed New Year!
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
(No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')
Holiday Mixed Messages
Years holiday season is filled with such mixed emotions for many of us.
We are so grateful to God for the gifts we have received this past year,
but cannot forget those who struggle to make ends meet. We look forward
to the world around us dressing in “holiday style,” but the pressure to
get our own list of things done begins pressing in. We recognize the
powerful moment in creation’s history when the babe of Bethlehem was
born, but we can’t help remembering those near and dear to us who have
died. We make our resolutions for a healthy, happy, and holy New Year
trying to ignore the unfinished list we began last year with such
But this paradox is exactly why we should
be celebrating the holiday! We are all human, and our days on this earth
will always be numbered, yet the holiday arrives anew, fresh and
exciting. Our prayers of thanksgiving will include commitments to share
with those in need and change the systems of injustice. Perhaps the
smile that comes from seeing twinkling lights along the street or
evergreens with bright bows in doorways might just provide a new lilt
for our step as we get our tasks done. The Christ Child came so that
those who have died might know resurrection’s joy and those of us who
are still alive might have hope. And resolutions remind us that every
day – even January 1st – is a new chance for resurrection!
Grace & Peace,
The Spirit In November
Well, so much has been happening around Franklin Circle Christian Church
that it is hard to know where to begin and what to say. Let me begin by
saying I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our congregation in new
and exciting ways. What causes me to believe this? Here are a few hints:
Our youth program has grown tremendously in the past few months. Under
the guidance of Patty Groetsch and Jean Borrelli, and the leadership of
Joe Bobak and Ronda Wenzel, the youth are creating a vibrant program.
Many ideas are in the works, and we are doing a great deal of research
in order to bring to the Trustees and the Board some proposals to insure
that our youth program will continue to thrive.
We had a large turnout for the first meeting of the New Worship
Initiatives Team where we “brainstormed” ideas for a possible new
worship service. Clearly there is energy around the idea of providing
other worship opportunities, especially for those in our neighborhood
who do not find our wonderful traditional service the best way for them
to experience God’s presence and offer God praise. The next meeting of
the Team (and new folks are always invited) will be Sunday, November 12
following the Community Hour. Each month we will also be visiting other
churches with second services – and taking notes!
The Mission Council has new energy and a vision for how programming in
our congregation can continue to be revitalized and can renew the entire
congregation. A proposal will be coming to the Board, and then the
congregation, to extend the temporary By Law changes we made a year ago
for at least 6 more months. The officers will suggest this in order to
more fully evaluate the changes and make proposals to the Board that
have been carefully and prayerfully considered.
Finally, I feel that our Elders, Diaconate, and Trustees are
understanding more fully the central role they play in the
transformation of this congregation from a 20th Century Congregation to
a 21st Century Mission Station. With deep faithfulness, and renewed
purpose, they are seeking to follow God’s leading.
That’s a snapshot of where the energy is coming from at
this moment in our history. I hope you agree, great things are happening
Gratefully Your Pastor,
important and what isn't important? Such questions arise for leaders of
any organization, and the church is no different. It has been coming up
a lot lately, in part as people look to my leadership to see the
direction the church is headed and (more preferably) as members of the
church look to one another to discover passions, gifts, interests,
needs, and energies to set the direction of Franklin Circle Christian
What should be our priorities? Oh how I wish I could take the words of
the writer of the letter to the Colossians literally:
if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on
things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have
died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is
your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in
both appealing and saintly, but exactly what does it mean to "set your
mind on things above?" As I first read these words, it seemed a bit
out-of-touch and spiritually naive to say, "set your mind on things
above." As a leader in this church, I want to ask the gritty, hands-on
questions about priorities and directions, such as "What priorities will
put this church in the right position to thrive into the 21st century?"
and "How much of our accumulated resources are we willing to spend to
undergird our mission-word with our mission-deeds?
reflection, I wonder if the writer of Colossians isn't helping us to see
that we need to begin with prayer and with an "out-of-body" perspective,
if you will. What I mean by that is that as followers of Christ we
shouldn't begin with the practical questions of who and how much and
when and where because these tend to make us focused only on our needs,
our perspectives, and be confined by our prejudices, our fears, and our
to think on "things above" is to invite us to first be spiritual beings,
seeking a larger perspective and a broader wisdom when setting
priorities and directions. When we begin with deep and profound prayer,
we are inevitably led to the prayer of Christ in the Garden, "not my
will, but thine." This may (most certainly will) cause us to decide upon
terribly unpopular directions or even priorities that are not our own,
but, rather, are the needs of the community as a whole.
biblical writer was addressing, in part, the complicated volumes of
religious rules and regulations that made being a faithful person in 1st
century Palestine a burden. Much like the founders of the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ) struggled with the convoluted rules of the
church of the early 1800's, they knew instinctively that too much
earthly stuff is bound to get in the way of the God-stuff. It is a bit
risky, walking by faith and not by the sight of the obvious, the
tried-and-true, the measurable ... but it's definitely more rewarding.
Having the "mind of Christ" helps us to set our course as followers of
Christ, and not simply follow the hungers of our earthly bodies and
sure exactly where we are headed as a congregation right now, but I do
trust that we are a faithful group of prayerful folks who will look up
from our own agendas in order to watch for the guiding star which will
lead us on the Way. May Franklin Circle Christian Church find Christ is
our life and be then, and only then, "revealed with him in glory!"
God's Grace Is Abundant!
Youth In The Driver's Seat
Throughout the month of September our congregation will be taken on a
little ride, with the youth of our church in the driver’s seat. This
will be good for us. Hopefully sitting in the passenger seat will help
us understand the needs and wants of our young people better so that we
can hear how God is calling us to serve them more fully.
Sunday youth will be serving in leadership capacities in worship. On
Sunday, September 10, which is Rally Day, the youth will have a more
extensive leadership role. On the last Sunday of the month they have
invited the entire church to join them for a light lunch after worship.
This will nourish us as we head to a board meeting at which the youth
will be presenting several proposals for our consideration.
important for us to really hear the call of the young people… those who
have found their way into our church as well as those in the
neighborhood that are longing for guidance, safe space, and a place to
explore God’s love for them.
you do as a church member to help our youth? There are several things.
First, you can get to know them and learn their names. Nothing shows you
care more than really knowing who someone is, and rejoicing each time
you see them. Second, ask them what they want and need from the church.
Don’t assume you know – ask. Pray for all youth, those adults leading
them, and for our After School Program, Youth Sunday School Class, and
new programs as they arise that put a face on God to youth.
third, be prepared for our congregation to take some faithful risks to
truly reach out to our youth. We no longer live in the day when they
will simply come to the church because that’s the “thing to do.” We’ve
got to actively seek to reach them, listen to them, respond to them.
Their salvation – and ours – depends upon it.
God’s Grace Is Abundant,
Leadership Isn't One Person
"Leadership" as a concept is batted about
a lot these days by authors and experts. Many of these leadership gurus
are making a good deal of money and many of them are sharing significant
ideas that are improving the effectiveness of businesses and non-profit
organizations alike. The jury is still out on whether or not the ones
making the big bucks and the ones promoting good ideas are the same.
I've been watching the lectionary over the
summer and have noticed the Epistle selections have been from the
writings of Paul, many of which are all about leadership in the early
church. Paul doesn't sugarcoat the situation. He knows firsthand that
leadership isn't for the weak of heart, even in the church which extols
such seemingly easy-going character traits as love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control. Even Paul, who stands as the premier model for all
disciples in witnessing to the world about the message and meaning of
Jesus Christ, had his obstacles.
What I keep reminding myself is that
leadership isn't about any one person or one group in the church. Yes,
there are leaders that are necessary for our church to fulfill its
calling, from Al Betts, our new Board Chair, to Joe Bobak who leads our
Acolytes. But if we spend all our time focusing on the particular
qualities of persons who are leaders, we may very well miss the "prize
of the high calling to which we are called." It's a "catch 22," and Paul
knew it. We need to call people who are qualified and spirit-led, and we
need to call our leaders to their very best selves in their service, but
ultimately we must stay focused on the mission and ministry of Jesus
How did Paul do it? He recognized that no
matter how difficult the road, how painful the criticisms, how far away
the goal seemed, ultimately it was not about him, but about the grace
and love of God for the world. In 2 Corinthians 12 he reminded us
poignantly of this fact when he wrote, "[God reminds me,] 'My grace
is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I
will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of
Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for
whenever I am weak, then I am strong." He knew that God called him
to offer his very best to the church, Christ's body on earth, but that
the Mission was there before Paul ever came along and the Mission would
continue long after Paul had died.
On Saturday, August 26 at 9 a.m. all
leaders in our congregation are invited to attend our annual "Leadership
Workshop" where we will seek to equip our Diaconate, Elders, Trustees,
and other leaders for the task of ministry in the coming year at
Franklin Circle Christian Church. We won't be able to do in one
morning everything that is needed to prepare ourselves, but we will do a
few significant things to get us facing in the right direction. My hope
is that if we do anything, we will help one another recognize that true
leadership is not about us, but about God, and that we will that morning
offer ourselves again to God, with both our weaknesses and strengths, to
the glory of God.
May it be so.
Your Pastor, Allen
Cycles Of The Spirit
In the last week I have come to recognize,
and you probably have also, that with the death of Bob Mock our
congregation has lost, for the first time since I was called to be your
pastor, a true and undeniable pillar of the church. Bob's beloved wife,
Eleanor, had died almost two years before I became pastor, and while the
ripples from that loss were still being felt throughout the community, I
had not had the privilege of knowing her nor the great sadness in
experiencing the loss directly.
But now, as if with a wisp of the wind,
Bob is gone. A gentle, fun-loving, and strong man is no longer with us.
So many people knew Bob, whether by name or not, as the ever present
smiling face that welcomed them, along with Ted Brogan, to worship each
Sunday morning. Passing out bulletins, taking attendance, and managing
unforeseen circumstances, Bob and Ted acted as ever-dutiful" stage
managers" for the weekly drama of worship that we would offer to our God
in thanksgiving and joy. At the funeral Ted reminded us that he, Bob,
and Ralph Eyring had been chosen and trained by the best of the ushers,
Col. Walter Mills, and Bob faithfully executed that responsibility for
almost 60 years.
As I write this, I am also preparing for
the dedication of Kelly Jo Brown, the beautiful newborn of Allan and
Michelle Brown. I was privileged to visit Kelly Jo just minutes after
her birth on May 26. She is happy, healthy, and in addition to having
devoted, loving parents and family members, is already an integral part
of the Franklin Circle Christian Church family.
Is it too simplistic, too syrupy to point
out what my heart seems to know instinctively, that the great mystery of
life as God has created it involves in some way, shape, or form a
marvelous cycle of birth, life, death, and birth again? I pray it does
not dishonor Bob nor burden Kelly Jo to make the connections that seem
so natural, that somehow there is great meaning to one life passing and
another just beginning. What I mean to say is that I find great comfort
in the face of the pain of losing one so dear as Bob by welcoming one so
dear as Kelly Jo.
I cannot take away the sadness that is
running deep through this congregation since word went out of the
unexpected death of Bob Mock. I suppose I wouldn't remove it if I could,
because the tears shall serve to emblazon Bob's memory once-and-for-all
on our hearts. But what I will do is allow it to settle quickly, because
Kelly Jo needs us to be her church for her now, not just later. May the
time, energy, and love we offer her, and all the children and youth of
our church, in the same way impress upon our memories Robert Lee Mock
for all time.
May each of us find the Holy Spirit
mightily and lovingly at work in the cycles of our lives and loves.
Note: There will be no Widening The Circle Forums in July and
August in order to plan and publicize the topics for the fall, beginning
with the Thursday, September 28, 7 p.m. Forum featuring the PBS
documentary "Flag Wars" and discussing gentrification and neighborhood
Transformation Is God’s Work
On Pentecost Sunday, June 4, we are going to celebrate both the birth of
the church and its renewal at the same time. Pentecost, the holiday in
which Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers
of Christ as recorded in scripture in Acts 2, marks the beginnings of
the church as we know it. Five years ago, on Pentecost Sunday, June 3,
2001, we came together to mark the inauguration of Franklin Circle
Christian Church’s “Redevelopment Congregation” program. This
Anniversary Celebration will incorporate both.
It’s always important to celebrate birthdays, and as those of you who
know me know that I love to celebrate Pentecost. And while the
three-year Redevelopment Program is officially over, the transformation
of our congregation must be an on-going process just as it is for any
community of faith that wishes to remain vibrant, relevant, and
faithful. So the first Sunday in June, 2006, will be a time for us to
remind ourselves of the mission God gave the church as the winds of the
Spirit blew across people gathered from near and far AS WELL AS the
mission God gives our congregation here in this place and in this day.
There are several areas that I see will take priority for the next few
years if we are going to thrive and flourish as a mission center for God
on the Near West Side of Cleveland. In no particular order, they are:
1.) We need to evaluate and settle on a format for our programmatic work
now being done by the Mission Council, as well as the other temporary
changes made last fall. This should be part of an overall, and
long-overdue, look at our Constitution and By-Laws.
2.) We need to be more intentional about nurturing our leadership,
spiritually and with specific training, as well as consistently
developing new leaders for the future.
3.) We need a comprehensive long-term mission plan that helps us decide
how to wisely and faithfully invest our time, energy, and money in ways
that are unique to our congregation and specific to our setting and
4.) We need to create and invest in a coordinated and creative plan for
evangelism, telling the Good News of what God is doing in, with, and
through our congregation.
5.) We need to consider additional opportunities for worship that allows
others who may not find our traditional service the most fulfilling way
to praise God.
Ultimately, however, we must remind ourselves again and again, that this
work, as critical as it is and as much as it calls us to prayer and
action, is God’s work. Nothing will succeed if we think that any one of
us is either indispensable or disposable. We may plant the seed, water
it, nourish it, protect it, reap its fruit… but God, and God alone,
gives the growth.
Gratefully Your Pastor,
Every Day Is A New
Possibility For Resurrection!
I believe this with all my heart, soul, and
strength. I am finding that I am reminding myself of this truth more
frequently than ever before these days as the wars in which our country
is engaged continue longer than any of us had ever imagined, and as the
divide between neighbors of means and neighbors in poverty grows deeper
and wider with each new government policy decision and community battle.
It is the profound and paradoxical truth
of our faith, where Good Friday is inextricably bound to Easter Sunday,
that no matter how long sorrow and fear may last, hope comes. Life
always trumps death. Resurrection is God's ever new “final word.”
During this time of social and political
trauma, where government secrecy and intrusion abound, political ethics
are called into question by our highest elected officials, and civil
communal dialogue is at an all-time premium, we need to reflect
seriously on the way of Jesus and take to heart, live, and proclaim his
methods as guides for our time.
Jesus, who “did not regard equality with
God a thing to be exploited,” refused to assume power over others was a
goal to be obtained. Jesus, who “emptied himself,” refused to believe
that the purpose of life was to get and take and consume everything a
person could, but to give and let go and find a clearing for true
spiritual riches. Jesus, who “taking the form of a slave… humbled
himself,” recognized that the ultimate personal realization meant being
a seeker, becoming vulnerable, and serving others. Jesus, who “became
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” bore witness to
the truth that life is not some static element to be held onto at all
cost, but that death can be a beautiful gift, if given in humility,
honesty, and love.
I encourage each of us to not let the
situations of our world drain our lifeblood and cause us to retreat into
an isolated shell. I confess the temptation to do so is enormous for me.
Instead, let us turn again to Jesus, always crucified and always
resurrected, to lead us into new life. Let us do what needs to be done
to take care of ourselves, but let us not tarry there too long. The
exciting, transforming, renewing work of bringing new life to our world…
and ourselves… needs to be done. Yes, the Holy Week/Easter story is as
counterculture as it can be, but that should only energize us for our
tasks, for it is also ultimate truth. Believe the Good News: Every day
is a new possibility for resurrection!
Faithfully Your Pastor,
You will recognize quotes from my article
are from: Phillipians 2:5-8
Lent: A Spiritually Rich Season
Originating in the fourth century of the
church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday
and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday),
Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent
was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of
concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil.
Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate
Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six
Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of
Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but
especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing
for his ministry.
Lent has traditionally been marked by
penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Some churches today still
observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent,
especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of
food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but
focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need
with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most
Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of
prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to
focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to
celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life
that we live, and hope for, as Christians.
Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday, is the first
day of the Season of Lent. This year it falls on March 1. Its name comes
from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ foreheads as
a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the
death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the
mourning at the death of Jesus.
Two websites that I would encourage
members to visit for devotional materials are: Alternatives For Simple
and the United Methodist's General Board
of Discipleship at
(I am indebted to Dennis Bratcher of
the Christian Resource Institute for information for this article.)
Finding Words To Talk About
Maria Luisa Tucker, whose mother is an Ecuadorian immigrant and whose
father is from a Southern white ranching family has written a marvelous
article entitled "Finding Words To Talk About Race." In a clear, simple,
and unapologetic way she observes, "In a post-civil rights world, my
generation grew up obeying a polite colorblindness, a denial of
difference. For decades, we quietly ignored race, which meant we ignored
discrimination, and we shrank from talking about racial or ethnic
tensions. Today, primarily because of Hurricane Katrina, Americans have
finally acknowledged that, actually, we do have to talk about race.
We're just having trouble finding the right words."
She speaks of a deep and profound truth when she suggests that, "What's
needed are a million personal conversations between ordinary Americans.
The complexities and nuances of color and culture, the disparities of
wealth and education are best understood by learning the stories of each
others' lives. Ordinary people are the true experts in cross-racial,
cross-ethnic dialogue, if only we would start talking."
Providing a place for at least a few of these conversations is exactly
what I am hoping for as I facilitate the monthly "Widening The Circle
Forums." The first forum in January has not happened by the time I
needed to write this article for the Messenger, but I do want the
congregation to know the intense importance I am placing on the
conversations. The next one will take place on Thursday, February 23 at
7:00 p.m. All are invited, and leaders of the congregation are
especially urged to attend.
Part of the difficulty in discussing such heart-felt and oftentimes
volatile topics as race, gender, class, and sexuality is that we simply
have to use labels to do so. Like most people, labels grate against my
nerves for they never do justice to who a human being is. Labels quickly
lead to stereotypes, which is the fundamental element of prejudice. I've
told many of you that I believe in a perfect world there would be
absolutely no need for labels. However, we do not live in a perfect
world. So, I do acknowledge the necessary usefulness of labels, but only
as long as we all understand labels never tell the whole story about any
single individual nor group of people. Neither should we get the label
mixed up with person. When this happens, we begin the terrible downward
spiral talking about "those people" or, more simply, "them."
So, we must use labels cautiously and sparingly, for to avoid doing so
completely leaves us with no language to talk about very real problems
that exist in our very real world. If you don't think there's a
problem, then you aren't reading the newspaper, watching television,
listening to the radio, or aren't in honest conversation with someone
who is quite different from you. Maria Luisa's stories, both from her
childhood and from as recently as a couple of years ago, remind us all
that "The world is full of people who unthinkingly buy into racism and
prejudice. " But as people of good faith, we cannot let such
perspectives rule the day. Even though it is difficult, and certainly
uncomfortable to talk about "our prejudices, our color, our deeply felt
experiences," because to do so "means exposing ourselves and our
families." Maria Luisa, and I, conclude regarding the conversation about
racism, "Given the choice, we'd rather not talk about it. But given the
state of things, we should try."
Let's talk. Come on February 26.
P.S. I have copies of the entire article, or you can read it online