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Accepting and Embracing...

By admin - September 18, 2014, 8:47 am

katherine officeA 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!

–Katherine Mulhern
Iowa Conference UCC Adjunct Staff – 2030 Iowa


By admin - September 18, 2014, 8:47 am

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    By Brigit Stevens - September 11, 2014, 1:29 pm

    Forgive me, everyone who reads that and thinks of that phrase as cussing. I know it is for some and for others it’s not. It’s not for me. It’s the exact phrase my soul wants to sing out loud right now.


    Oh. My. God! I am reading the most excellent book. And you should too! Thank you, God, for brilliant, wonderful, honest, loving, broken, persistent angels in our world, and thank you, God, for inspiring them to write down their stories! And thank you, God, that I know how to read!


    In the prologue, on page 2, of Hot Dogs & Hamburgers: Unlocking Life’s Potential by Inspiring Literacy at Any Age by Rob Shindler, he writes, “The common perception about learning issues and adult illiteracy is that somehow they’re reserved for a certain group of people. In other words uneducated, lazy, apathetic minorities. I know now, firsthand, how ridiculous this theory is.”
    Boom. Page TWO. Truth.
    (And page ONE was full of honesty and vulnerability about learning and growing and being a man.)


    BrigitYou must read this book.


    I’m not done with it, I’ve read 64 of its 193 pages. And maybe it will take a nose-dive somewhere in the middle, but I doubt it. It is an inspiring read about love, faith, struggle, disappointment, poverty, privilege, sacrifice, joy, and more love.


    Page 22 made me cry. Too much hope, love, and friendship between strangers for me to hold it together.


    Page 32 wrapped those feelings up in these beautiful words, “In the end, individual motivations are irrelevant because hope loves company.”


    Page 37 begins to tell us the story of Charles, who inspired the title of the book, a grown man who is bored with hot dogs and hamburgers. But those are the only words on the diner menu that he knows how to read and he travels every day for work. His body and his mind and his SOUL are craving more nourishment than hot dogs and hamburgers can give him.


    Page 47. I’m crying again.


    You must read this book.


    Thank you, God, for the United Church of Christ who organized this thing called “One Read: Hot Dogs & Hamburgers,” and introduced me to this book! Thank you, God, for reminding me of the privilege of READING your WORD and sharing the stories of our faith through the gift of our words. Thank you, God, for a life full of great variety, diversity, challenge, and nourishment well beyond hot dogs and hamburgers. Thank you, God, for the invitation and opportunities to share that nourishment with others through the gift of literacy!


    Learn more about how our church is responding to God’s call for justice for all of our brothers and sisters through the Reading Changes Lives initiative:


    Literacy is a social justice issue. Join the effort to educate, engage, and inspire action!
    —Associate Conference Minister Brigit Stevens

    By Brigit Stevens - September 11, 2014, 1:29 pm

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      Following Jesus...do it!

      By Rich Pleva - September 4, 2014, 1:20 pm

      Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

                                                                                                       Matthew 16:24


      Maybe you’ve noticed….conference staff communication often includes the audacious tagline: “Boldly following Jesus.”


      A friend of mine humorously responded with his own tagline: “Timidly following Jesus.” To which I responded, “Well…Jonna is ‘boldly’ following Jesus…the rest of us are tagging along!”


      The exchange was mostly in jest, but the concept is arresting. There’s no ambiguity about Jesus’ challenge. The context for the invitation is sobering – Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and as Matthew records it, he does so with a ghastly sort of transparency about what lies ahead….suffering, and death (and, oddly enough, resurrection). Peter intervenes with counsel entirely sensible, “You’ve got to stop this talk, Jesus.“ Peter’s implication is pretty obvious – this is demoralizing talk. Jesus has to be more upbeat. It’s upward and onward….get with the program!


      richreading flipped 20130502But Jesus persists with the now famous line, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


      It would be a whole lot easier if the sentence were amended to omit the words “and take up their cross.” The remaining sentence would make perfect sense and still be challenging. But it’s not the text that’s been delivered to us.


      I don’t presume to understand what “taking up one’s cross” precisely denotes, but it can’t be pleasant or easy.


      Cross-bearing comes, I suppose, in many shapes and forms. I don’t feel compelled to speculate on the multitude of potential permutations – you can do that well enough yourself, I imagine.


      Instead I want to suggest something different – that in my rejoinder to my friend about “tagging along with Jonna” I may have been revealing a deeply seated and hopefully helpful conviction – that “cross-bearing” – or to put it more fully: “Following Jesus” might sometimes be done alone, but is CERTAINLY a more sustainable enterprise when done together with others.


      There is a question that I’m only occasionally asked but which I think about almost every day: “Why even have conferences, associations and the national church?” In other settings it might be asked why have districts, or synods or dioceses?


      In a nutshell the answer is clear – because this business of following Jesus is so important and it is often so hard (the cross part) that to do it faithfully, one needs all the support one can get. This assertion, it seems to me, isn’t just true of individuals (who can, after all, find support in their own congregation), it’s true of congregations themselves. Congregations need the support of a community….not so we can run programs, or authorize ministers, or operate camps and retreats and food pantries (though all those have their place) – congregations need other congregations because the work of following Jesus is rigorous and without the insight and resources and encouragement and challenge and wisdom and prayers of those beyond us we’ll melt at the challenge.


      But we are NOT alone! We have each other, praise God!


      So…follow Jesus! Whether boldly or timidly….do it! And do it in community….with your local community of faith and in solidarity with countless other communities of faith….communities nearby and far away and communities now long gone and communities yet to come. Carry your cross…and do so confidently and in hope because in community and with God’s spirit we will bring hope and life and joy to a hope-starved and life-starved world.


      With great hope!



      Rich Pleva

      Conference Minister

      UCC in Iowa



      By Rich Pleva - September 4, 2014, 1:20 pm

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        Find holiness in the holiday

        By admin - August 29, 2014, 10:43 am

        jonna recharge prayer flipped-resizedOccasions to follow Jesus more boldly can be found when holidays become holy days. How is the Spirit stirring in your life and in the life of your congregation to find holiness in the holiday of Labor Day?


        We might find holiness in the holiday by taking time to be mindful of ways we take our faith to work with us, of ways we can make our work an even more vibrant expression of our faith, of ways others might see Christ in us at work. It might be in our commitment to work excellently, to make our work an offering to God. It might be in treating co-workers, clients, customers, all those we meet in our daily work with the most Christ-honoring love we can express in our daily words and actions.


        We might find holiness in the holiday by taking time to be mindful of the choices we can make to bring blessing to others who labor. It may not be possible for us to understand all the ways our choices impact the labors of others, but each of us can take a closer look at a few of our choices, learn more about the workers whose labors bring a product or service to us, and seek to choose in ways that best express what we believe.


        We might find holiness in the holiday by renewing our efforts to connect with and thank those around us whose labors are blessings to us, to say out loud or write out loud respectful words of gratitude to our teachers, our health care providers, our care-takers, our repairers, our clerks, our attorneys, our storekeepers, those who grow, make, and serve our food, those we meet at the bank or the convenience store, those who work in and for our congregations…what a long list we can build, what a delightful trail of gratitude!


        We might find holiness in the holiday by celebrating the ways our congregations are seeking to boldly follow Jesus in their work and witness. Check out the Labor Day message on the UCC website. The message includes recognition of Faith UCC in Iowa City as one of the newest participants in the UCC Economic Justice Covenant Program: http://www.ucc.org/news/economic-justice-covenant-08262014.html


        Share your own story, if you’d like, of a way you find holiness in the holiday!


        With prayers for a blessed Labor Day,

        Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister


        By admin - August 29, 2014, 10:43 am

        • Bill Lovin says:

          Hi Jonna–
          Thanks for the Labor Day post. As an old union stalwart, I love preaching on Labor Day weekend. In my sermon on Sunday, http://www.uccic.org/August_31_2014/636/article.aspx, I spoke about the support Congregational UCC has given to the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa for their work to combat wage theft in the Iowa City area.

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        Now give me your real smile :)

        By admin - August 21, 2014, 4:45 pm

        houserHave you ever had your picture taken at church? Not the kind where one of your congregation’s ubber talented amateur photographers is snapping pictures at the annual fish fry or holy humor Sunday service, but a professional picture for a new church directory?

        At the church I’m currently serving we just went through the time consuming yet joyous occasion of having a professional company come in and get as many people on our membership roles photographed. It took an overall time frame of about 4 months to get a team organized to help out with the undertaking, to call all the members on our roles and even the ones who aren’t members but attend regularly or consider us their place of worship in order to schedule a picture appointment, to recall everyone to remind them when their appointment was, to actually take all the photos, and then to compile the rest of the directory with fun photos and lastly to make sure people’s information for the directory was all accurate. WHEW!

        I wonder how it is across the state when it comes to thoughts on directories though, and would love to hear what you are thinking in the comments below; because most of the folk up here in the Northeast corner of the state thought of this endeavor as a necessity that would help log the history of the church for some future generation to look back on rather than a current tool to be used by the congregation now.

        Lucky for me the photography team that had come to take the pictures of these dutifully posing North Eastern Iowans heard one of the folks talking to me about this and said in response, ‘I see it differently.’

        As I and that particular congregant and the other photographer and the woman sitting at the table helping folks to sign in and the other two families that had come early looked at her, she continued that statement with an understanding of a church directory that only a photographer would have. She said, to all of us now listening, ‘when I take pictures I always say smile, and then take the picture. But THEN I say, now give me your real smile…and I take another picture. I do that because we as a people are really guarded about our emotions-especially our true happiness and it’s 9 out of 10 of you all that pick that 2nd photo because it captures something about you that you know is genuine but that we see very rarely-your true happiness as you laugh or smirk or grin widely at my statement. So church directories do way more than just log history-they help to capture something legitimate within a church and its people that may otherwise be overlooked.’

        Photographs; whether they are for the church directory, for your walls at home, to be given away to family or to be kept tucked in your wallet or purse are meant to capture a moment so that right now that moment from the past can be re-lived.

        Church directories are a good tool for keeping historical documentation that some future generation can look at…this is true…but they are meant to be for the now, they are meant to help us see one another in a more legit way. They are meant to give people the chance to start to know others that they sit with in church that they maybe don’t know all that well. They are meant to give us a glance at someone’s true happiness so that we can be looking for it in person, so that we can try to help facilitate what brings it on, so that we can live into it and be truly happy with them as well.

        So smile :)

        Now give me your real smile :)


        Pastor Samantha Houser, Waukon Zion UCC and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct Youth Ministry

        By admin - August 21, 2014, 4:45 pm

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