The Subtle Nature of Blessings
by Heather Brighton
The month of December can be a frantic time. The amount of work and time commitments pile up the moment I flip the calendar. By the time I stand sweaty in line at the post office, having bought, gift-wrapped and packaged all the gifts, the anxiety of the holiday is in full swing.
But this past weekend, Christmas blessings began to reveal themselves in unexpected ways. For example, I wanted to buy books for my sister-in-law and brother. Two people who have had an emotional year with the birth of their child with downs. I couldn’t quickly buy something that I thought they might like, I really had to put some thought into it. I slowed down. I read. I asked people around me for suggestions. I reflected on our relationships. And while I was sitting there on the floor in the book aisle, my anxiety lifted, It felt wonderful.
On Sunday, our church celebrated the season of advent by hosting a lunch and providing Christmas craft activities. Children used glue guns and Popsicle sticks to build a nativity scene. The excitement on those little faces as they used a glue gun for the first time made me forget the chaos of the afternoon. A mother thanked me for offering my time working with her kids so she could build an advent wreath. Folks helped themselves to big pots of soup and gathered in the fireside room for fellowship. There was an air of excitement, love and wonder as folks tried new things and pitched in to help where they could. Many people mentioned how fulfilling the afternoon was and how thankful they were for this church.
This Christmas season, don’t miss the blessings while waiting in line at the post office. They are all around us, where you least expect it. Whether it’s a little face, or a feeling of gratitude, embrace these subtle reminders of God’s love.
We Are The Church
by Valerie Young
Last week our UCC family was busy doing the work of a church; hosting Family Promise, celebrating at our Fall Harvest Party, meeting in small groups, decorating the sanctuary for fall, planning worship, paying bills, practicing instruments and choirs, and more! In Sunday School we sang the classic little song “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together,” then prepared cornbread and trail mix for our harvest party. It was a small but significant way for the children to “be the church.” As a mom and Sunday School teacher, I am always looking for teachable moments for my kids, and am too often inclined to think that these “aha” experiences need to be heavy and full of important information. I was reminded this week that my heart feels most full, and I feel the love of God at work when we are doing the work of the church together. This is what our kids need to see and to be a part of. It’s what I need, too! Cooking chili, planning a haunted house, turning a classroom into a bedroom, counting money, sending a card, gathering together… it’s how we are the church, together.
August 28, 2017
Our Kind of Church
By Laura Folkwein
One of our church members visited the UCC church in Prescott, Arizona. In their worship bulletin was an insert welcoming people into their church. She shared this with us and we liked it so much that we decided to share it with you!
From First Congregational Church in Prescott, Arizona:
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!
All are welcome here. But we extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, lesbian, transgender, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60, but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are recovering or still addicted. We welcome you if you are having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too. We endorse all people but we make it a point not to promote any particular politician. If you need a church that does or a minister who screams and yells from the pulpit about how everybody who doesn’t believe as he or she believes is going to hell… well, you’re probably not going to like this church (but you are still welcome). Here, you can be a Democrat, Republican, Independent… heck, even a Socialist. You’ll understand, we’re sort of struck with Jesus, and especially his teachings. The way we figure it – if we follow his teachings, the world will be a happier and healthier place for everybody. Healthier and happier, too, for those not interested in religion, not even ours. If you blew all your offering money last night at the dog track, tough luck for us. You’re still welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts… In short, we welcome you!
by Gary Hawk
A reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus restored people to health, to their better selves, and as often as possible to their communities. He restored a daughter to her father, a son to his mother, a brother to his sisters, the shame-bound to a recovery of their freedom, the lost to a sense of belonging. On the evening of June 23, and during the day on June 24, 2017, friends and members of UCC engaged in restoration of another kind—the restoration of a landscape deeply damaged by a long legacy of gold mining.
On Friday evening Heather Brighton, our multi-talented administrator, led eight of us up the Nine Mile drainage west of Missoula to learn about how Trout Unlimited, the Lolo National Forest, and other partners took on the challenge of beginning to restore the land to health. She described the process of stripping away long rows of dredge piles that separated tributaries from the main stem of the river, the re-creation of stream channels, and how she and her team secured the banks with root wads, willows, and fabric known as coir. We first walked the length of a roughened landscape covered with woody debris that slows the velocity of high spring flows. But even after giving the land only six months to begin its own power of recovery we could see signs of restoration. Little larch, spruce, willow and dogwood were beginning to take hold. Puffs of cottonwood seeds drifted over bare mineral soil and would soon generate and send down their roots. As we watched water restored to a well-designed channel descend through riffle, run and glide, trout rose to caddis in the pools below. Only the birds awaited more vegetation before returning to their streamside habitats.
Then on Saturday morning nine of us gathered at the church to carpool our way up to the same site for a day of weeding this disturbed landscape. After spilling out of our dusty vehicles, Laura Folkwein, our small groups minister, called us into a circle of introduction where we learned what motivated each of us to engage in this work. Armed with tools and water bottles we descended through the shadows of spruce, cedar, and white fir to a tributary of the Nine Mile named “Mattie V.” Here we worked to free native plants from the choking effect of knapweed, mullein, ox-eye daisy, Canada thistle, and other invasive plants, including satisfying salsify, that continue to threaten the work of recovery. As we plunged our tools into the rocky soil and pulled at the roots, we entertained each other with bits of conversation, the humming of tunes, and discussion about the definition of hell (Is it a hot sunny slope covered with knapweed, or, an unwillingness to pull our own weeds?). We also gave Tom King a chance to deliver a vast hound’s tongue bouquet to the vase of his choosing back home. When we began to tire we retreated to the shade and learned more about each other and things we hold in common.
If the work of the church is partly about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and defending the hapless and hurting, it may, in our era also be about restoring the land. Very much a community, the land cries out to be restored, cries out to be freed of the overburden of an abusive history, cries out to be stripped clean so it can begin anew and let its considerable energies flow in new channels. Around the summer Solstice the people of UCC heard this cry and answered it with enthusiastic labor, song, and appreciation for the opportunity to take part in the work of restoration. It felt rewarding to come together in this common cause, to work for good rather than complain about what is wrong, and to assemble as friends and allies of the land and spirit that sustain us.