It's in Our HandsBy Jonna Jensen - June 21, 2016, 9:09 am
What music has stirred through your prayers and silences since you woke on Sunday morning, June 12th, to news of the massacre at The Pulse?
One piece for me has been “In the Beginning”, the finale from the 1991 musical Children of Eden, based on the creation and flood narratives from the Book of Genesis. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote the music and lyrics for Godspell.
In the finale, Noah and his family, take their first steps from the ark, into a changed creation. I been sighing and praying these lines:
Of all the gifts we have received
One is most precious and most terrible:
The will in each of us is free.
It’s in our hands.
Our hands can choose to drop the knife.
Our hearts can choose to stop the hating
For ev’ry moment of our life
Is the beginning. (Noah and his family)
There is no journey gone so far
So far we cannot stop and change direction.
No doom is written in the stars. (God)
It’s in our hands. (Noah and his family)
Beloved, we can stop and change direction. Beloved, the will in each of us is free. It’s in our hands.
As these lyrics swirl through my days and nights, they bring a divine re-call. I am free to cherish the LGBTQ precious children of God. I am free to step forward and proclaim by word and deed that their well-being is in my hands.
I am free to cherish Muslim precious children of God. I am free to step forward and proclaim by word and deed that their well-being is in my hands.
I am free to cherish the precious children of God who have shamefully meager treatment and care options available to them when they are experiencing overwhelming hate, fear, delusion, and violent impulses. I am free to step forward and proclaim by word and deed that their well-being is in my hands.
I am free to cherish the precious children of God who are survivors of gun violence. I am free to cherish the precious children of God who grieve for loved ones killed by acts of gun violence. I am free to cherish the precious children of God who may be the next victims of gun violence, hate crimes, and terrorism. I am free to step forward and proclaim by word and deed that their well-being is in my hands.
I look forward to hearing from you, beloved ones, about how the Spirit is stirring your free will and your hands as we discover ways to stop and change direction.
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - June 21, 2016, 9:09 am
You are invited - pray with usBy Rich Pleva - June 16, 2016, 12:59 pm
By Rich Pleva - June 16, 2016, 12:59 pm
We all know that Jesus was a person of action – he healed the sick, raised the dead, overturned tables at the temple – but clearly he was sustained for action by prayer. Over and over again we are reminded that Jesus would withdraw from public work and relationships to pray. It seems clear that prayer was not merely a matter of piety for Jesus, it comprised the foundation for every aspect of his ministry and work.
We in the UCC are not members of a religious tradition instinctively inclined to prayer – we are more inclined to action. I’m sure we can all agree, however, that the horrific events of this past Sunday morning at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, demand prayer.
To that end, the staff of the Iowa Conference invites you to prayer. Our suggestion is that you pray during the same hours that the tragedy unfolded – 2 am to 6 am – and precisely a week later; early Sunday morning, June 19.
To assist you, you will find simple prompts for prayer posted at the Conference Facebook page at 30 minutes intervals during that time period. If you are so moved, you are invited to post your own prayers, thoughts and observations at that time. Even so, we do not imagine this to be a human conversation, but one between humans and God, so we are not suggesting or anticipating dialogue so much as thoughtfulness, mindfulness and reflection.
Many of us are not accustomed to lengthy periods of prayer nor are many of us accustomed to being awake at the suggested hours. Nonetheless, you may find it meaningful and growth-inspiring to enter into this suggested discipline as an experiment. Even if you do not choose to pray at the suggested time, the prompts to prayer and the reflections of others will remain posted if you choose to pray later in the day or later in the week.
But please….do pray. Let us humble ourselves to the end that God might heal our land….perhaps even use us as instruments of healing and peace.
Church-bridges - are we stuck?By admin - June 9, 2016, 10:13 am
I live in a community filled with bridges that span the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. Summertime in the Quad Cities means that at least one bridge is under construction, and so traffic that normally flows pretty well is snarled in ways that remind us all of a major metropolitan area! Which we are…and we aren’t. Sitting on the approach to one or another overcrowded bridge this summer has offered me plenty of time to reflect on the bridges in our lives – the physical ones and the metaphorical ones. (Might as well do something besides swear and watch the steam emerge from my ears, right?)
One day – when I had sat for far too long on a hot day – I began to reflect that church communities (and the faith which they nurture in us all) are sort of like bridges. They help us to move from a past that we cannot change toward a future we cannot yet see. They carry us from our ordinary, mundane lives toward a life in God’s holy kingdom on earth – filled with gifts like faith and peace and hope and justice and wholeness in the midst of brokenness.
Sometimes the approach to this “church-bridge” gets clogged with “traffic” – stuff that slows us down and keeps us from getting on the bridge (like whether we are wearing the right clothing or believe the right things or have the preferred racial mix in our bloodstream or know the proper prayers or can sit quietly for an hour or use the right bathroom or….). People respond to this problem by finding a different way across the river. They avoid this particular bridge (both the real bridges and those metaphorical “church-bridges”).
Sometimes we get stuck while we are on the “church-bridge” and can’t get off easily (like when our worship life is filled with the warnings about “we’ve never done it THAT way before” or our membership rolls haven’t changed in 10 years or when a visitor is informed that they are sitting in someone’s seat or…).
Sometimes our “church-bridge” doesn’t connect our daily lives with God’s daily dream for us very well, and we need to do some work if we are to keep that connection flowing smoothly across the river that we call life. These days the church must work like a bridge to connect the “way things used to be” in our church life to the way things really are today and even the way things will be in another ten or fifteen years.
Large or small, our churches are challenged to be bridges for people who are seeking God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Large or small, our churches are blessed by the people who move across this particular UCC “bridge” that connects our human experience with divine love and grace. I give thanks for all the saints in the Iowa Conference who faithfully work to make their church communities into bridges for hope and justice and healing and caring. I give thanks for each “church-bridge” that labors to make our Gospel faith come alive in the world. Each one of you makes a difference in the world!
—Rev Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct Young Clergy in Iowa
By admin - June 9, 2016, 10:13 am
Value our educated clergyBy Rich Pleva - June 3, 2016, 2:46 pm
“Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.”
I Corinthians 9:9 & I Timothy 5:18 (from Deut. 25:4)
….and who would argue? It’s self-evidently sensible that the ox be well fed so to be able to do the work for which the farmer keeps it. And if that means that it munches on the work, so be it.
The original reference – the one from Deuteronomy – is literally about oxen. But twice in the New Testament letters the writer quotes this admonition and it’s clearly NOT about oxen – it’s about those whose work is the advance of the gospel – in today’s context, it’s about pastors.
One of the saddest parts of my now long work in the wider church are the too many times when I’ve dealt with congregational leaders who are bent on being cheap about pastoral pay.
Miserly pay isn’t the only way we muzzle our clergy, however. We are heirs of a system of ecclesiastical finance which seems to assume that ministry is a lucrative calling and that those who would enter into it ought reasonably be expected to foot the bill for getting there.
For most prospective clergy, that means paying their own way through a graduate education.
This makes no sense. The fact is, if we (the church) value an educated clergy (and we ought to!), then we (the church!) ought to significantly share in the cost of that education. The fact is, large numbers of new clergy enter in their first call carrying debt loads as high as $40,000, or $60,000, or even $80,000. Those higher debt numbers cannot be financed on what a new clergyperson earns. This is a system careening toward economic collapse.
A substantial book could be written about the economics of clergy compensation in the 21st century. It wouldn’t be a pretty read. I’m writing to suggest one small way for the people and churches of the Iowa Conference to move toward sanity (and sustainable self-interest) in this regard. At the last meeting of the Conference Board of Directors, it was decided to authorize an annual conference-wide offering to help subsidize educational expenses for Members in Discernment who are preparing for ministry in seminary. The rationale for this is as straightforward as not muzzling the ox while it treads out the grain – if we (the church) want competent and highly trained ministerial leaders, then we must share in the expense of making that happen.
It’s the same rationale as for the CUE offering (the offering for the support of the three Midwestern UCC seminaries – Chicago, United and Eden) – the CHURCH benefits when clergy are competent, faithful and well trained.
Later this year you’ll receive additional information and support materials for the inaugural ingathering of this new offering. Promote it enthusiastically in your congregation. DON’T cannibalize the CUE offering for this….we need both (and more, to be honest).
I don’t know how much my fellow clergy appreciate being compared to oxen….at least it’s not as bad as being compared to sheep!! It’s right to care for our animals – whether they work for their keep or not – and it’s right to care for our spiritual leaders – we owe them no less!
Thanks for your generous support of this new offering! God bless you!
By Rich Pleva - June 3, 2016, 2:46 pm
The UCC in Iowa
Remember the NamesBy Jonna Jensen - May 27, 2016, 8:04 am
The Holy One whom we worship and adore is a Rememberer. The Creator who shaped billions of galaxies each holding billions of stars remembers names. The very palms of God are scribbled with names, so that none are forgotten (Isaiah 49:16).
Maya Lin’s idea for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall stirred strong, conflicting opinions. A long black wall of names? Is that the right way to remember more than 58,000 Americans in military service who were killed during the Vietnam War? The millions of people who have visited this memorial since its completion say yes with their fingertips. Remember the names.
During the years I served Olds United Church of Christ in southeast Iowa, the community observance of Memorial Day included a somber reading of names. Beginning with the Civil War and ending (then) with the Vietnam War, the names of community members killed in each war were somberly read. Listening and praying, we heard familiar family names. We heard names of Swedish immigrants who were killed as soldiers for a country so newly theirs. Names. We were reminded to remember the names.
Once more this Monday, we keep a national remembering day. We may have the opportunity to hear names solemnly read and prayerfully remembered. We may visit a family cemetery and see graves of persons who were killed in long ago wars. Or in wars not yet ended. We might leave a flower. We might trail our fingertip over engraved letters. We practice a Godway. We honor the Rememberer. We remember the names.
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - May 27, 2016, 8:04 am