Marinate wisdomBy admin - October 17, 2014, 12:53 pm
I don’t very often read the book of Proverbs, but this morning my scripture readings included a couple of familiar and profound verses from Proverbs 24. My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
We live in a time that is filled to overflowing with information and statistics, but it seems as though we are all-too-often lacking in wisdom. We rush from one “solution” to the next – pointing fingers and placing blame. Whether it is Ebola or farm policies or mid-term elections or church finances or the declining numbers of people who sit in our pews, we all long for the one “fix” that will make things right again. As though there was ever a time in the world when things WERE right!
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wasn’t talking about wisdom when he said “I’ll know it when I see it” – he was talking about pornography. Wisdom falls in that same category, I think. (Really? Wisdom and pornography?) Yes! We know it when we see it. And it is sweet (like honey) when we stumble across it or when it finds us. Wisdom points the way toward a future that is infused with hope instead of fear or despair or anger or blame.
But arriving at wisdom is never quick or easy. It takes time to marinate wisdom – to mix new situations with time-honored values. It takes courage to face the realities of today without over-reacting in fear or oversimplifying in platitudes. It takes faith to pray over these realities rather than spout off our anger or fear. It takes trust to open our hearts and minds in order to be able to listen first and act second (and not the other way around).
Last week’s Annual Meeting was a moment when it felt to me as though we were collectively searching for wisdom. Without shying away from the challenging realities that exist for the church in today’s world, we began to thoughtfully explore together the possibilities for moving toward a hope-filled future.
The question of clergy salaries found new conversation. There have always been the realities of personal clergy finances (things like….the staggering educational debt that young clergy must now carry or the incredible financial challenge of sending a child to college or the financial realities of retirement). And those collide with the grim realities of congregational finances in these days of shrinking church budgets. After years of our complaints and finger-pointing, CCAM offered up something new. Is the current plan the final “fix”? No. But it is an important step along the path toward equity and hope. A challenge? Certainly. Wisdom? Maybe. We’ll see.
The question of Conference structures found a new voice. Again, we are caught between financial realities and the real needs of congregations for support and nurture in a world that is changing faster than we want to admit. For years, we have wrung our hands over this all-too-real situation. Now we turn to conversation and listening and praying. Would it “work” to combine three Conferences under one Conference Minister? Would it “work” to leave things as they always have been? Is there some other path that might emerge as we consider new possibilities? Where does the hope that is born of wisdom lie? We’ll keep talking. And praying. And listening.
Ultimately, I believe that wisdom is a gift that comes as we practice the disciplines of our faith. We all know what those are – things like prayer, praise, thanksgiving, generosity, forgiveness, listening, hospitality, communal discernment, joyful song, compassion, trust, and the willingness to die well. When we practice those things together – in local congregations and in the Iowa Conference as a whole – God’s wisdom will find us and so will hope. We will know it when we see it! Thanks be to God!
—Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct with Young Clergy at Iowa Conference UCC
By admin - October 17, 2014, 12:53 pm
I can't wait!By admin - October 9, 2014, 11:51 am
I can’t wait to SEE you! To SHAKE YOUR HAND, maybe even share a HUG!
You’re going to be there, right??
At the Conference Annual Meeting!!
Church meetings are not on the top of everyone’s list of things to spend a Saturday doing…but I am LOOKING FORWARD to doing just that, this Saturday! With all of you! You’re going to be there, right??
One of the real gifts of the Church is the way that we are in community with one another. We live in a day and a time when we can quite easily lie to ourselves and each other that we don’t need one another. We have all that we need for ourselves and our families. I can get into my car in the morning, which is parked inside the attached garage, and drive to work without even seeing a neighbor, much less talking to them or offering them a cup of sugar for their baking project today. Next, I do my job throughout the day and then get in my car, drive to my home, park in the garage, and close the door without really connecting with another human being from my neighborhood or community.
But I need my neighbors and community. I need people who have different experiences and opinions than my own. I need support and encouragement from outside of myself. I need to be supportive and encouraging to others. I need my neighbors and my community to fully be the human being that God created me to be. I need YOU! And I think you might need me too!
So, I hope to see you on SATURDAY!
52nd Annual Meeting
9:00am-10:30am MarketPlace and coffee while visiting with your old friends AND making new friends in the Iowa Conference
First Christian Church, 2500 University Ave, Des Moines, IA (FREE parking in church lot and on streets in Drake area)
—Rev Brigit F. Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By admin - October 9, 2014, 11:51 am
To whom are you indebted?By Rich Pleva - October 3, 2014, 1:30 pm
I’m sometimes given to a little bit of unjustified pride about indebtedness, because other than my home mortgage, I imagine not owing anyone anything.
Ah….but that’s palpably false. To assert that my only “debt” is mortgage debt is to reduce life to that which can be measured economically – an entirely too “American” perspective and an idolatrous one, as well.
In fact, of course, I’m deeply indebted to so many others that it’s hard to get a grip on the list. I’m obviously indebted to my parents who conceived me and nurtured and raised me. Like all parents the form of their investment was flawed at times, but I am immeasurably benefited for it nonetheless. I’m indebted to teachers and communities which placed value on education and saw to it that I availed myself of the benefits thereof. I’m indebted to folk I know and people I’ll never meet. The facets of my indebtedness run the gamut from pastors and Sunday School teachers who ensured that I would be formed in Christian faith to myriads of taxpayers who fund the construction and maintenance of roads upon which I travel every day for work and for play.
The notion of a self-made “man” (or woman, of course) is on the face of it, absurd. Anyone who imagines themselves self-made is so lacking in insight and awareness as to be dangerous.
The recent issue of “Christian Century” with Resident Aliens on the cover reminded me of another indebtedness. Among many teachers of the church – writers well known and not so well known – who’ve cultivated my capacity for faith and witness are Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. I was brand new to the United Church of Christ when I first encountered these two and the form that introduction took was Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People who Know that Something is Wrong (Life in the Christian Colony) (enough title for two or three books, I’d say!).
Willimon and Hauerwas gave me a framework in which to understand my calling in my new denominational family. They helped me make the move from bewildered and uncertain to focused and determined. I understood then (and even better today) that no single diagnosis of the ills of something as complicated an mainline Protestantism could ever be precisely right nor certainly not comprehensively right, but in their assessment I found a perspective I could deeply grasp and from which I could imagine a role for myself – a way to serve, if the church so desired me to do so.
The article in “Christian Century” includes 11 critiques. Some of the commentators take Resident Aliens to task (partly fairly, I think and partly from a 21st century perspective that couldn’t have been easily foreseen in 1989), but I remain grateful to its authors for giving me a handle to grasp ways my own experiences and history might be a gift to the church which was making itself a place of home for me.
Thank you, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. I’m grateful.
So…to whom are YOU indebted and for whom are you grateful? It’s important to know!
By Rich Pleva - October 3, 2014, 1:30 pm
Iowa Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa
Where is the form?By Jonna Jensen - September 25, 2014, 12:49 pm
Each year, as the leaves begin to turn, I receive requests for “the form we should use to evaluate our minister.” I don’t have a form, but I can share the excitement that my colleagues on the staff of the Iowa Conference and I have about cheering on fruitful evaluation of ministries in our congregations. The workshops and consultations we offer don’t fit into the size of an E-News message, of course, but here are a few pieces of bare outline that might be conversation starters in your congregation.
Why evaluate our ministries? Because they are offered for the glory of God. They are movements of the Body of Christ. They are worthy of our very, very best. We evaluate so that all our ministries might more and more radiantly express our congregation’s mission.
Who evaluates our ministries? All the ministers of the congregation, including the pastors and staff, the members of the congregation, the governing body, boards and committees, volunteers serving, and those touched by the ministries of the congregation. Fruitful evaluation is not anonymous.
Whose holy work is being evaluated? The holy work of all the ministers of the congregation, including the pastors and staff, the congregation’s leaders, those serving on boards and committees, volunteers and members of the congregation. We speak of evaluation of ministries rather than ministers because all the holy work of our congregations is done collaboratively. All of it.
When? All year long, not just when leaves are falling. At every meeting of the congregation’s boards, committees, and working groups. At well-publicized opportunities for conversation in the congregation. Fruitful evaluation of ministries does not begin well in the context of significant conflict. Nor does it begin well in the context of the congregation’s budgeting process.
Where? In the congregation’s space, where those evaluating ministries and those being evaluated can be together in conversation, looking into one another’s eyes.
How? With devoutly healthy communications practices. With conversations based on the congregation’s shared, well known and often repeated goals for its ministries, goals that have recognizable outcomes. (The Conference staff read our goals each time we meet!) Fruitful evaluation is appreciative, encouraging, and light powered.
I am deeply, deeply grateful for the holy work done by the congregations of the Iowa Conference, for radiant and more radiant offerings offered to the glory of God and as the movement of the Body of Christ in the communities of Iowa and beyond. I thank God for you!
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - September 25, 2014, 12:49 pm
Accepting and Embracing...By admin - September 18, 2014, 8:47 am
A couple of years ago, our beloved 90-year-old neighbors died. For a long while, the house sat vacant – a testimony to the neighborhood’s grief and loss. Eventually their children and grandchildren all arrived from out of state and began cleaning and sorting and packing. The house went on the market and a family with teenagers moved in.
The rhythm of the neighborhood has changed some. For one thing, there are more cars that go up and down our street these days – often driven by young people we don’t know. They have been hard at work reconstructing (what seemed to the neighborhood) a perfectly good house, so there have been lots of the kinds of things that go along with home construction – trucks and noise and chaos. Every once in a while, I still hear one of the long-time neighbors say – wistfully – “I sure miss Arne and Karen”! On the other hand, when my husband had a medical crisis earlier this summer, the teenaged boy next door showed up to mow the lawn (without being asked). And Shawn has come back every week. How grateful we are for able-bodied and big-hearted new neighbors!
Life in the church isn’t much different than life in a neighborhood. We all look at the empty pew where a long-time, newly absent member sat – and we say to one another – “I sure miss so-and-so, don’t you?” There are holes in our hearts that aren’t easily filled. But then there is the pew that had long sat empty and is now filled up with wriggling children who seem to be in perpetual motion. If we are lucky, our hearts will go out to welcome and include them, and then one day they will do something that teaches us that they, too, are a part of the community – that they, too, can make a difference in our lives.
These days, every communication from the Iowa Conference has the tagline – “Boldly Following Jesus”. You’ve seen it. You might even have wondered what it might look like for our Conference (or our churches) to follow Jesus BOLDLY. In reality, I’m quite sure that it means a whole lot of things – each one unique to place and time and circumstance. I am also sure that – in every place and circumstance, all around the Iowa Conference – to boldly follow Jesus involves a delicate dance of saying “good-bye” and saying “hello”. It means accepting and embracing change!
Jesus invites us into the places where life is “real” – places of sorrow and struggle and loss, as well as places where celebration is full and joy overflows with new vision and dramatic dreams. He invites us to open our hearts to newcomers – and to share the core values of Christian faith and discipleship. That means exercising those core practices of Christian faith for the rest of the world to see – things like forgiveness, hospitality, prophetic witness, peace and justice-making, prayer, the sharing of resources, kindness, courage, (and you can add more!). That’s how we pass on this peculiar and blessed life that we know as members of the communities that bear Christ’s name.
“Boldly Following Jesus” isn’t just a cute slogan. It is a way of life that changes life – for all of us!
Iowa Conference UCC Adjunct Staff – 2030 Iowa
By admin - September 18, 2014, 8:47 am