AskBy Jonna Jensen - February 16, 2017, 1:39 pm
Ask. I’ve been thinking and praying about asking for some hundreds of miles. God is pulling me in to conversations about asking, even taking the trouble to come to this morning’s oil change, dressed as a woman in work clothes, to start an entirely unbidden conversation with me about asking. What a blessed pest God is!
Ask. Think and pray with me, if you will, about all the holy adventures, all the amazing blessings in your life that began with someone asking.
The holy adventure of ministry began for me when someone asked me to read the scriptures at a Sunday worship service. Someone just asked. God began to seal the deal through my pastor, Russ Fate, who asked me to preach and lead worship for him on the Sunday in a Memorial Day holiday weekend. He just asked.
The ten years I spent traveling around doing comedy began with a question. Glenda told me no one was signed up for the adult talent show at the town doings. Could I help? She just asked.
This holy adventure of service on the staff of the Iowa Conference launched when Jim called me on the phone and asked. I’d experienced the Holy Spirit calling from Jim’s phone before and I confess one little whispered barnyard expletive before “o.k”.
Most of the holy adventures of romance in our lives begin with someone asking. “Can I carry your books?” “Would you like to dance?” What was the question that sparked your romance?
Our life’s work, our opportunities for service, our travels, our relationships, our risks, our seasons of blossoming and fruit bearing all likely began with someone asking.
I invite you to join me in thanking God this week for wondrous things we’ve been asked. I invite you to thank God alongside me this week for life-changing questions that shaped our journeys. Let’s raise blessings and thanksgivings for the precious souls who asked us, sometimes following a God prompt, sometimes with no idea how their one question might move us, maybe hating to ask folk for things just as much as we do.
I invite you to join me in prayerful paying attention this week. God may well have a question for someone and may well seek our voice to ask it. If you (like me!) don’t like asking people for things, draw courage and fuel for asking from the memories you have of folk who pointed your life in holy directions. Just because they asked.
–Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - February 16, 2017, 1:39 pm
Hidden Figures Hidden HistoriesBy admin - February 9, 2017, 1:03 pm
There’s publication in the UCC entitled Hidden Histories; http://www.ucc.org/about-us_hidden-histories edited by Barbara Brown Zikmund. Barbara is a retired historian of the United Church of Christ, and also former president of Hartford Seminary. Hidden Histories tell the many untold stories of racial and ethnic communities and “strands” beyond the Congregational and Evangelical and Reformed denominations that have influenced and helped to shape the United Church of Christ. In the editor’s introduction Zikmund talks about “historical orthodoxy” You can read the entire article about historical orthodoxy here, http://www.ucc.org/about-us_hidden-histories_beyond-historical-orthodoxy but in short, she explains how history is framed through oft repeated patterns of interpretation that over time become the prevailing norm. Zigmund goes on to state “some parts of the history are lost forever when only half the story is told. Certain individuals and groups remain invisible. After a time, they seem to have never existed or certain events seem to have never happened. The histories of women and of many racial and ethnic groups do not fit into the scope of historical orthodoxy, and they are forgotten or selectively remembered.”
The church and the UCC in particular is not alone in this “historical orthodoxy” and I was reminded of this when I went to see the movie Hidden Figures. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will. It’s a great movie about the role of African American women in the space program. It’s well acted, an incredible story, and has sort of a happy ending. There’s no need for a spoiler alert here, we all know that the US space program has had many successes over the years. What we haven’t known about is the role of African American women behind the scenes. So in a way, I was thrilled to see the movie and applaud the story.
But I was also irritated, unsettled, maybe even a little angry. How long has it been since that story happened? Why is it just now being told? And I wonder how many more stories and accomplishments of women and African Americans remain hidden and untold? Is it just NASA or is it only in the areas of math and science? Probably not; I suspect this “historical orthodoxy” is quite prevalent. My guess is that NASA did not intentionally hide or not tell the story of the African American women that we see in the movie. My guess is they never gave it a second thought because then and sadly now too often persons of color are simply invisible to many. Allowing others to be or making others invisible (intentionally or not) can be part of the privilege that so many enjoy in our country even at the expense of others.
This is Black History Month and while I agree with so many that Black History is not something that should be relegated to one month in the year, but celebrated as part of our history all year long, the truth is that historical orthodoxy still prevails. Black History Month is an effort to highlight some of the untold, forgotten or hidden histories of our country and the contributions of African Americans that have been crucial in building this country. But if we really want to make a difference long term, we have to find ways to stop the often unconscious exclusion of the histories and experiences of persons of color in our country, our society our own communities, and yes our own churches. That’s a hard thing to do when much of our lives are so racially segregated. That is especially true for our sisters and brothers in the Conferences of the UCC that we call the West Central Region (Northern Plains, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri Mid-South and Kansas-Oklahoma). But that doesn’t let us off the hook; groups of people are invisible because we allow them to be or maybe even unintentionally make them invisible. We can change that wherever we are; we can explore, claim and acknowledge white privilege that feeds historical orthodoxy and begin to reject that narrative. We can commit to going to movies that tell stories of persons of color, reading books, and poetry and exploring art, teaching our children history beyond the dominant culture. There are so many steps that can be taken to let go of assumptions and stereotypes and fully embrace and celebrate the gifts, contributions and history of all. That is how Black History Month can endure and become a year long, hopefully lifelong celebration.
—Edith Guffey, Conference Minister of Kansas-Oklahoma Conference
By admin - February 9, 2017, 1:03 pm
Do Receive the Offering!By Rich Pleva - February 3, 2017, 10:57 am
Funding Future Leadership. No, it’s not just a sentence, it’s a brand new ministry of the Iowa Conference.
I’m writing these words while seated at a table in the quasi-library of Eden Theological Seminary. Later today and into tomorrow I will join with the other Trustees of this important institution as we struggle with important (and vexing) leadership challenges which, if not addressed well, will impede the seminary from serving your churches as well as we ought. The purpose of this institution (and other seminaries), of course, is to form pastoral leaders who are equipped to lead local congregations with faithfulness, creativity and purpose. The decisions we make during meetings like this one can help or hinder that work.
Some of our challenges are fiscal – plain and simple. This seminary (like almost all mainline seminaries) is not wealthy. We rely on a three legged stool of financial underpinning – student paid tuition, gifts from donors and income from endowment. Three legged stools are (at least in theory) inherently stable, but in this case, the legs of this stool are all short – maybe too short to create a stool useful to the accomplishment of our mission.
I won’t trouble you with an explanation of the typical business model which undergirds a seminary – but suffice it to say that tuition income is important. But setting tuition is an exasperating challenge. The management and trustees at all seminaries are well cognizant that our students will enter a profession (ministry) that is poorly compensated and that incurring too much debt undercuts the capacity of the future minister to actually be an effective leader. We can’t set tuition too high or our graduates will not be able to afford to accept a call to a typical congregation in Iowa – the ministry to which God has perhaps called them. The fact is, however, that the tuition levels at all seminaries are already much lower than that at non-theologically oriented graduate schools – but our costs are not significantly lower than in those other institutions. Yikes!
In the meantime, the church still longs for well-educated clergy. Yes, in the UCC we have opened the door to those formed for ministry apart from the seminary – and it is right that we have done so. But our long-term welfare is still advanced if a significantly large mass of our leaders are formed in places of rigorous intellectual challenge – graduate schools of theology!
Ultimately, the church must be willing to pay for the formation of our leaders. People do not enter ministry for themselves (well, some try to, but our processes of discernment work to direct these persons away from ministry!). Individuals enter ministry for the welfare of the church. And as church, it is right (and appropriately in our self-interest) that we ensure that our young ministers do not enter this profession unduly burdened with debt.
On January 15 congregations in the Iowa Conference were challenged to receive an offering for this very purpose – the “Funding Future Leadership” challenge. This annual offering will create a fund from which scholarships will be offered to individuals entering seminary. Did your church receive the offering? If not, why not? And if not, it’s obviously not too late. There was nothing sacred or essential about the January 15 date (well, except that Martin Luther King, Jr. and I share it as a birthday!). Take the offering next week, or next month, or whenever, but DO RECEIVE THE OFFERING!!
Thank you and blessings to each of you!
By Rich Pleva - February 3, 2017, 10:57 am
UCC in Iowa
God caresBy Brigit Stevens - January 27, 2017, 2:23 pm
It has been a crazy week in politics. And you were probably hoping for, or even expecting, an article here that would finally be a break from all the political talk.
I have heard in many circles, from many sources, an old refrain, “Pastor, you should stay out of politics.”
Or, “Pastor, your sermons/newsletter/Facebook posts/etc. are too political. We just need to hear about God and Jesus, not politics.”
And, particularly in seasons when national politics are stressed, many pastors worry about not endangering their congregation’s tax-exempt status with politically charged statements.
But, here’s a problem:
The Gospel is political.
Throughout our Holy scriptures, God is shown interrupting everyone’s daily living to direct, guide, reorient, encourage, and even punish our political systems, the ways humanity chooses to relate to and govern one another. God does this because God loved us ALL into being and loves each and ALL of us as beautiful creations. God cares how we treat one another. And it is clear throughout all of the scriptures that God particularly cares how those in power treat those who are vulnerable.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ wasn’t a feel good, personal devotional experience for the early disciples. It was a way of protest. It was a way of living each and every day oriented toward caring for others and self in recognition of the divine experience of being human. It was a disruptive and dangerous political, as well as personal, choice to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
It still is.
Notice the words I use to describe Christian life are action verbs: care, love, follow. They are not feelings. They are animated movements, inspired and motivated by faith that is alive in beautiful bodies and souls that are members of the Body of Christ.
Do something today to BE the Church.
Make a phone call.
Write an email.
Show up at a rally.
Send in a donation.
And do it in the name of, but more importantly, on behalf of the most vulnerable of our communities. That is what God continues to call us all to do. In personal, public, and even political ways.
My faith tells me that Black Lives Matter, because God made those beautiful bodies and souls and when they are wounded, I am wounded.
My faith tells me that LGBTQ friends and family deserve protection, love, and equal rights because God made those beautiful bodies and souls and when they are wounded, I am wounded.
My faith tells me that men, women, and children born on other coasts, speaking different languages, and wearing different clothing from me deserve safety, shelter, and peace because God made those beautiful bodies and souls and when they are wounded, I am wounded.
My faith tells me that women and girls have the same right and responsibility to care for their bodies and health as men and boys because God made those beautiful bodies and souls and when they are wounded, I am wounded.
My faith tells me that I must act, not just feel, in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ, so I will act, demanding the politics of the land that I live in offer care and safety to all of God’s Creation. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I can do no less.
Blessings for the Journey,
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - January 27, 2017, 2:23 pm
Inauguration DayBy Jonna Jensen - January 20, 2017, 9:52 am
Prayers and promises…
A long tradition in Christian worship is prayer for those who are in governing authority. I confess this is a tradition I didn’t much keep during 26 years of parish ministry. My husband was a political candidate during some of those years and I thought (I was wrong about this) that praying for leaders for whom I had voted might seem like chest thumping and that praying for leaders for whom I had not voted might seem insincere or even snarky (there was snark in those days, we just didn’t have the word for it yet).
This long prayer tradition flows in the path of an urging from an older, wiser saint to a younger servant of God, Timothy:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peacable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
The older form for Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer (1928) includes, for weekly use, this petition,
“We beseech thee also so to rule the hearts of those who bear the authority of government in this and every land [especially ________], that they may be led to wise decisions and right actions for the welfare and peace of the world.”
We find prayers for national life among the traditional prayers in the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And we find prayers for presidents and other public servants:
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
As Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, takes his oath of office on this Inauguration Day, we do well to surround and uphold him with our prayers. We do well to take up the tradition of surrounding and upholding him and all those in governing authority in our leaders in prayer week by week and day by day.
Our 45th President will make promises to us on this Inauguration Day: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
We do well to prayerfully make promises of our own. We do well to promise that we will dedicate ourselves to becoming the most well-informed and well-engaged citizens of the United States that we can possibly be. We do well to promise that we will learn what we need to know to be excellent citizens and that we will stretch beyond relying on those news sources that match our own favorite views. We do well to promise that those who govern us will hear from us, hear that we are praying for them and hear our well-informed, respectfully expressed thoughts on the issues before them.
We do well to take time on Inauguration Day to cherish the gift of being citizens in a democracy. We do well to grasp that great gift with both hands and use it day by day.
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - January 20, 2017, 9:52 am