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Embrace a different approach

By Rich Pleva - September 23, 2016, 12:44 pm

I’m watching the neighbor’s dog – a friendly lab/mutt named Harley – do the thing he seems to spend about 40% of his life doing: running laps around the backyard utility shed under which (apparently) there lives a rabbit.  On each lap he stops for a few seconds to stick his head into a space from which he can see under the thing.  After that glance he does another lap.  It’s like clockwork – around and around and around.


To my knowledge he’s never caught Br’er Rabbit.   But hope, it seems, springs eternal.


I hate to say this out loud…but it reminds me a little of church: Doing the same thing and expecting different results.


There are, of course, some other takes on this scenario. Perhaps it’s the game that counts.  Maybe Harley doesn’t really want to catch the rabbit (okay…. I’m attributing higher thought to a dog…. I get it!).  Nonetheless, I’m thoroughly convinced that there are fishermen (not most, but more than a few) who don’t really want to catch fish.  It’s about solitude and the lake/river and being outside.  That’s legit…. even commendable.


But if one believes (as I do) that the Gospel is entrusted to the church as a treasure to be winsomely given away – thenUPDATED rich podium offering it in ways that bore those who might benefit from it seems scandalous.


We all know this, of course. But our collective attachments to the familiar are strong and our affection for our own familiar ways can blur our thinking.  The end result is that we fool ourselves into imagining that these comfortable habits are as attractive to others as they are to us.  But in fact, they are not.  If they were, we’d be seeing different results.  They are like Harley endlessly circling his owner’s storage shed.  The dog may have hope that this accomplishes a desirable end, but if the goal is to catch a rabbit, that’s probably not going to happen.


You can make your own application of this principle to your own local congregation (and maybe your own life – if the shoe fits, wear it!), but I think of it in terms of the conference. I am convinced that the conference must be willing to try new ideas if this middle setting of the church is to sustain real relevance for local congregations.


On Saturday, October 22, the people of the Iowa Conference will have the chance to embrace a (modestly!) different approach to staffing our conference. Can I guarantee this will be a smashing success?  I cannot, but I’m pretty sure maintaining the current status quo is unsustainable.


Come to our meeting in October. You, after all, are the Iowa Conference.  We all have a stake in this.  Let’s work together to find our way into God’s hopeful tomorrow.  See you soon!


With Great Hope!


Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa


By Rich Pleva - September 23, 2016, 12:44 pm

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    What are my beliefs?

    By admin - September 16, 2016, 1:32 pm

    Now that football season is in full swing my attention has been grabbed by a High School classmate of mine who wrote this piece on what it is to be American and how we might stand with each other even when we are at odds:

    “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free”.– The American President


    A lot of rhetoric has been put out into the world demonizing Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during our national anthem. Some have even said that he should leave if he cannot stand during our anthem because that somehow makes him not a worthy citizen. And it’s grown now to athletes all over the country being vilified.


    And, to those people and groups, while I don’t agree, expressing your opinion is your right.


    houserBut I also challenge you to prove to me how this kind of peaceful dissent is un-American, because from my perspective it was beautifully, flawlessly, poignantly All-American.


    Whether we agree with him or not is irrelevant. Whether we agree with how he chooses to protest is also irrelevant…and that is the inherent beauty of this incredible free nation.


    We can peacefully protest, against the flag even, and still be American.


    We can be both unquestionably patriotic and at odds with some piece of our nation’s present course.


    And, dear Lord, we should.


    We should have conversations about the parts of our nation that are broken. We should strive always to be progressing. And we should be humbled by our countrymen and women who are brave enough to stand (or sit) to express their convictions.


    We should be real and understand that our country only progresses when we choose to force issues. When we choose to demand more than the status quo. When we sit down in protest when the expectation is that we stand.


    I applaud Colin for using his incredible blessings and access to the national stage to speak out on an issue he feels is critical to our nation’s development.


    I stand up for him in his effort to make America more humane, more equal.


    I salute him for taking a page out of our history books and protesting. And I would venture a guess that Rosa Parks would give him a nod of approval as well.


    I applaud him for knowingly risking the negative public sentiment to push forward a movement and a cause that he believes in.


    And, I do this knowing full well that every single time the Star-Spangled Banner plays I will stop, plant my feet solidly on the ground, put my hand over my heart, and feel an unparalleled love well in my heart.


    While you sit, Sir, I will stand.


    But, Colin Kaepernick, I hear you. I see you. I celebrate you. And I support you.


    When the time comes that I choose to sit while you stand – you’ll still be my countryman.


    Thank you for being unabashedly American. And thank you for calling for this country to be braver, better, and more free.

    Jessica Chardoulias

    May you have more to think on than just the outcome of the game this season or your favorite players stats.


    Peace and Grace,

    Samantha Houser, Zion UCC Pastor at Waukon & Program Support/Adjunct for Youth Ministry for Iowa Conference


    By admin - September 16, 2016, 1:32 pm

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      By Brigit Stevens - September 9, 2016, 8:37 am

      Oh the forms!!

      It is September again. And in this season of my life that means that a paperwork blizzard has hit our kitchen counter! With two active elementary-aged children in our household, there is an avalanche of forms that need filling out in September of each year. There are forms for the gymnastics classes starting up again, Cub Scouts is having their kick-off, children’s choirs at church are organizing, and don’t get me started on the stack of pastel colored papers from the school!! We haven’t moved in the past year. Our phone numbers and email addresses haven’t changed. I am certain that all of these places actually already know all of the things I’ve just written down 14 times again for them. Can you believe I have to fill them out AGAIN this year??


      I am filling out each and every blessed piece of paperwork. Again this year.

      Do you want to know why?

      It’s because my children’s education and activities are important to me. We have a high value in our household of learning and participating. I am grateful for and respect the teachers, administrators, school nurses, support staff, coaches, volunteers, etc. who spend time with my kids helping them to learn and grow into mature, contributing, wonderful human beings. And because I care deeply for their work as members of my tribe, raising my kids, I will fill out all the forms they ask of me so that they will have the easy resources they need, in the format they’ve designed, at their fingertips, while they do their sacred work.


      And the truth is, I’m on the other side of this request every September also. I stand boldly in solidarity Rev. Stevenswith my brothers and sisters in administration as the annual ministerial Information Review is emailed out to all of the pastors, active and retired, of our blessed Iowa Conference each September!


      It is a requirement of standing for authorized ministers of all six of the associations of the Iowa Conference to return a completed Information Review every year. In August of 2014, we had 12 out of 360 on file in the Conference office.


      In August of 2016 we had 168 out of 330.

      168 is WAY better than 12. But it is still only 51%.

      We can do better.


      I value my vocation and calling deeply. I am honored and humbled to introduce myself as an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ as I meet people. I go to work and feel challenged and encouraged and motivated and inspired because I believe so deeply that our work has meaning and purpose. And I do so in and on behalf of the rest of our tribe to whom I am accountable. Thus, I turn in my annual Information Review every year, and ask my colleagues to do the same. To be honest, if our blessed UCC would allow me, I would use a stronger word than “ask.”


      I turn in the forms to the school because I value the work they all do on behalf of my kids and my family.

      I turn in my Information Review to the Conference office because I value the covenant of my ministerial standing and my profession.


      To my Iowa UCC colleagues, I look forward to seeing the “Information Review completed” column filled in next to your name and knowing that I’ll be able to send you a birthday card this year or ask you about your latest Boundary Training class when I see you next. To the lay members of our UCC churches, ask your pastor if s/he has turned in this year’s Information Review. To everyone else, I’m sure next week’s eNews will be a much better read, please check back.


      Blessings for the journey,

      Brigit Stevens

      Associate Conference Minister


      By Brigit Stevens - September 9, 2016, 8:37 am

      • Rev. Susan Moore says:

        Hi Brigit,

        I read you letter with interest and am more than willing to complete the information form. If you could send the form by email that would be great. Thank you so much!

        Susan Moore

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      By Rich Pleva - September 1, 2016, 1:31 pm

      Earlier this summer I had occasion to be driving from the UP of Michigan back to Iowa. I stopped for lunch in Appleton and ordered a burger at a local Culvers.  As I was eating I looked out the window and across the street could see a simple office building, nicely maintained with a sign I could only partly see – but what I could see said, “…..rch Society.”  I immediately wondered whether the John Birch Society still existed and whether this might be its office.  And indeed it does still exist and there, across the street from the Appleton, Wisconsin, Culvers is its headquarters.


      Some of you will have no idea what this “John Birch Society” might be, but others will recognize this name as being synonymous with hardline libertarianism and rabid anti-communist agitation in the 1960’s and beyond.


      It prompted me to wonder whether there was a connection between the infamous and ‘red-baiting” richreading 20130502Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy. In fact, there isn’t.  Sen. McCarthy died (in disgrace) a year prior to the founding of the John Birch Society.  Even so, it is fair to say that the spirit of Senator Joe McCarthy was embraced by the founders of the JBS.


      Joe McCarthy is today widely considered to have been a demagogue. He smeared the reputations of countless individuals in government, entertainment, the military and education with flimsy charges of communist affiliation or sympathy.  He conducted congressional hearings to ferret out these supposed communists and those hearings were carried live on the fledging television networks of the day.  These hearings mesmerized the nation.  Their most memorable line came from an Army attorney who challenged McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”  In less than three years McCarthy had died, at the age of 48.


      What might any of this have to do with Christian faith? A lot, I think.  In this country we decided long ago that there would never be a formal connection between religion and state and enshrined that decision in the first amendment to our constitution.


      This so-called “separation of church and state” (not language of the amendment itself, by the way), has led to much confusion about what role churches and people of faith might have in the political processes of our nation. In fact, of course, as church we are purveyors of morality and ethics.  But we are not promulgators of law.  As we approach another presidential election – one that might be the most gutter in living memory – I am convinced that people of faith must bring that faith and its teachings and convictions to the public square.  For example, it is, assuredly, not illegal to be bigoted, but it is immoral and as people of faith we must say so.  As people oriented to styles of life characterized by grace and forgiveness and justice-doing, and honesty and forbearance and joy and peace and especially love, we must not shrink from the imperative of commenting on the morality of public discourse and process.  As people who follow Jesus, we have a stake in the welfare of all and we must not shrink from critique of words and proposals which demean and defame and divide the body politic.


      It is not only true that there is but one church, it is also true that there is but one human family. Let us be bold and courageous in the defense of that one family.


      With great hope!

      Rich Pleva
      Conference Minister
      United Church of Christ in Iowa

      By Rich Pleva - September 1, 2016, 1:31 pm

      • Charles Pleak says:

        Well written. I preached a similar message at the all community church service on July 3, that everyone had the duty to be involved.

        Blessings to you,

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      How is it with YOUR prayer life?

      By admin - August 25, 2016, 10:52 am


      A number of years ago, I had the privilege of sitting with a Church Council while they considered an interesting question. “If this church were to do only one thing, what should that be?” There were plenty of tentative responses around the table that mostly sounded like questions. Worship? Sing? Teach? And then the room got quiet, and finally the Chair of Trustees spoke – softly but decisively – ““Prayer. If we stopped praying, would stop being the church.” Folks sat with that for a bit, and moved into a conversation about how to make sure that prayer was at the center of the life of the church.


      This week, I have had the privilege of sitting with some of our 2030 clergy in retreat as they wrestle with the question, ”“How is it with your life of prayer?”.   It’s an important question for all of us – lay people and clergy alike. And it’s a question we don’t ask very often. We think it’s private. Personal. And most of us don’t think we “do” prayer very well. We are too busy. We don’t know enough. No one ever showed us how.


      What if – instead of judging our prayers – we just…well…prayed What if we sat for a few minutes and watched God watching us in the same way a new grandparent watches a beloved first grandchild? What if we began to think of our morning walk as prayer – drinking in the changes of season and beauty of creation, all the while giving thanks for the gift of a new day? What if we saw rocking a baby or sitting with a loved one in the hospital or taking a meal to a church member as prayer? What if we understood that helping to roof a Habitat house or serve at the local Food Pantry was prayer? Or that even our next breath is a prayer! Or the busyness of our days? After all, God is in all of it, if we will only stop to notice. What if we started to notice?


      I wonder if prayer isn’t really a lifelong pilgrimage with God toward an unknown destination that might look like healing or katherine officewholeness or worth or belonging or home. I wonder if prayer isn’t about cultivating a relationship – noticing that God is showing up in our lives and our world. I wonder if prayer isn’t about finding our way toward the center of God’s heart, toward our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world, and toward the joy of new life. I wonder if prayer doesn’t take us out of our comfort zones into those places where we are not in control, and at the same time move us toward the safety of grace and love.


      There may not be an answer to my ponderings. Prayer may be all of those things….or none of them. It may look different at different times in our lives. But I think that the question ”“How is it with your prayer life?” is one of the most important questions we can ask of ourselves and one another. It’s also one of the important questions we need to ask of our churches.
      How are we teaching prayer? How are we organizing the life of our church communities so that prayer lies at the center and isn’t relegated to the edges? What can we do to foster a life of communal prayer within our churches?


      So. How is it with YOUR prayer life?


      —Katherine Mulhern, Program Support/Adjunct 2030 Iowa (Young Clergy Support)


      By admin - August 25, 2016, 10:52 am

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