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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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    Pray and Act

    By Brigit Stevens - August 15, 2014, 8:00 am

    It’s too much.

    Everything is just plain too much today.

    Among the Conference staff we take turns writing the blog posts to accompany each week’s eNews. It’s my turn and I have so much to say, but I don’t have the words. It’s just too much today.


    People are dying. People are killing other people. Epidemics of illness of the mind, body, and soul are killing people. Hate and rage and fear are killing people. Our brothers and sisters are dying. In Iraqi Kurdistan, northern Syria, and West Africa, in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the U.S.-Mexico border, in fancy Hollywood estates, and on neighborhood streets in Ferguson, Missouri, they are dying. And those are just the places that have made it to the very limited news feeds I’ve seen today. It’s just too much today.


    I want the words that make it alright. I want to write the prayer that will settle my twitchy, angry, scared soul today. I want to type three or four eloquent Rev. Stevenssentences for you and me to sit down with our kids and neighbors this evening to pray together, maybe include a candle in our front window, and know that we’ll feel a little bit better about things. But I don’t think those words exist. I don’t think prayer is enough today. It’s just too much today.


    Yes, we need to pray. For our sake, for our siblings who are dying’s sake, for the rock of this earth that is groaning and grieving’s sake, for God’s sake, we need to pray. But we also need to act.


    We need to cry out when our brother suffers injustice! We need to write letters, make phone calls, have meetings with our elected officials to beg them to intervene and make policy changes that serve the good of all of our family members! We need to volunteer and donate and campaign for true leaders who will heed those demands and will work for justice for ALL! We need to show up and stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who bear the pains for all of us! We need to open our homes and our sanctuaries to our family members who need shelter, safety, food, and love! We remember that when the body of Christ suffers in any of its members, we all suffer, so we need to tend to OUR suffering!


    We are people of faith. We know the stories of injustice and tyranny, we know the depravity of evil and the true darkness of the places without light. We also know the light. And we carry it. We bring the light to empty bellies with gifts of nutritious food. We fan the flame of the light when our canned goods are accompanied by policy changes that allow the working poor to earn a livable wage and children to receive adequate education in safe environments to rise out of the poverty of their parents. Our prayers are not enough. Jesus demands that we carry his light to the world.


    Today, it’s just too much. We need to pray. But not quietly and politely with folded hands, alone. We need to pray loudly and robustly while holding hands with a sister or brother, offering support, pulling up out of the trenches, standing together in peaceful but adamant protest, sharing the heat of the flame and brightness of the light that is ours to share. We need to invite each other to join in, to share the Good News of the places we can act and the things we’re doing that others can help us with, this is how we are our best as the Church.

    Today it’s just too much to only pray. It is time to also act.

    May our actions be our prayers incarnate, Amen.


    Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister

    By Brigit Stevens - August 15, 2014, 8:00 am

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    Renew the vision

    By Rich Pleva - August 7, 2014, 9:32 am

    I’m supposed to travel to Israel/Palestine in September, so the violence between the Israeli government and Hamas…which would have discouraged me in any case….now strikes me with personal force. Will the trip happen? If it does, will we be safe?


    For many months now, the numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at our country’s southern border has been burgeoning. Eventually persons with various political agendas began to take notice and these children have become a sort of ping-pong ball in the cynical games to which “civic discourse” in our nation has descended.


    A jetliner filled with vacationers and business-people – folk going about the ordinary work and play of life is shot from the air while over eastern Ukraine. I suppose they never knew what hit them, but all of them…298 souls…perished in another deadly game in which they became pawns.


    I have my own perspectives on each of these tragedies (and others), but mostly I’m heartbroken and discouraged. Do goodwillUPDATED rich podium and peace and justice have any sort of chance in a world such as ours? You and I are committed to a faith which has as one of its cornerstones the conviction that one day lion and lamb will share a manger. We believe in the hope of reconciliation, and we eschew as cynical a resignation to estrangement and alienation.


    But in fact, cynicism lives deeply embedded in me. Perhaps by God’s grace you are not so afflicted (I am sure many of you are not) but I know I’m not the only one for whom despair is a daily temptation in the face of wrongdoing and in the face of evil which rears its ugly head, not just in Gaza and over the skies of Ukraine, but even in the neighborhoods of Des Moines and many other places here in Iowa. Young people shoot other young people and others carry fearsome weapons into public places, apparently just to demonstrate that they can.


    What are we coming to?


    I won’t bore you with a journey into theodicy (Google it, if the word is unfamiliar). Suffice it to say – evil is real and is not going away anytime soon. And lest we – you and I – succumb to another outrageous distortion of reality, let us look carefully into any mirror and be reminded that evil doesn’t just live “out there” – it lives within each one of us.


    But that’s not the whole of the story, for in addition to the corruption to which we are each susceptible, there is in every one of us a spark of the divine. We are…every single one of us….capable of….holding the potential for….remarkable grace and beauty and kindness and love.


    “Spiritual but not religious” is nice, I suppose, but it’s not enough.  I’ve found that it takes community for the good to overcome the bad – it can rarely be done by individuals.  Much “spirituality” is individual….but religion is usually corporate – it’s community based.  On the day when I am most discouraged, God inevitably brings across my path a fellow seeker on the journey of discipleship and together….as we imagine what Jesus might think and say and do in circumstances such as ours, we (both of us!) find ourselves encouraged to live one more day with hope.


    My friends, the church is (or ought to be) God’s gift of flesh-and-blood hope in the face of violence and cynicism and despair. Whenever a handful of folk gather around a table to write letters demanding humane treatment for “the least of these (Christ’s sisters and brothers, mind you);” whenever folk work together to be sure the food pantry shelves don’t become bare; whenever voices are raised in praise and joy to the God hope; whenever the broken (that would be you and me) gather at table…at THE table…to wonder at the life-giving generosity and love of God….in those places despair is being faced down and the vision of peace and love is being renewed.


    So…renew the vision of peace and love. It doesn’t thrive in a static sort of way…it must be enacted over and over and over again. This is why we have church….why are ARE church…why God gives church. So do it. Stubbornly and defiantly face violence and death and proclaim the power of love and reconciliation.


    This is our calling, sisters and brothers. Let us not grow faint, but let us join hands….lock arms….raise the song….God is with us.


    With great hope!

    Rich Pleva
    Conference Minister
    UCC in Iowa



    By Rich Pleva - August 7, 2014, 9:32 am

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    The "Call"

    By Brigit Stevens - August 1, 2014, 10:54 am

    I am often asked to tell the story of how I came to be in ministry.  In seminary, and among church-y friends, we talked about our “call” stories, remembering how we heard God’s call to pursue more knowledge, more training, and possibly more responsibility and work among God’s people.  And my story always started like this, “So, I used to be an accountant.”  This was the point when I smiled and looked for the confused looks and started the laughter with my own.

    It’s true.  I was an accountant.  I went to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned a B.S. in Accounting with a minor in Math. A kid from the western suburbs of Minneapolis, with two parents who worked in finance, I was well on my way to fulfilling their dreams of becoming a big-shot CEO, or at least some solidly corporate-suit-wearing-success in a concrete building of the urban jungle someday.

    And, I was volunteering as a leader with my church’s youth group.

    There is something magical about middle-schoolers and pizza and Sardines in church basements.

    That’s where God called.

    There wasn’t a bedazzled telephone in the backroom that rang with angelic harp ringtones, but there Brigitwas a stirring in my heart and soul.  I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I just knew that I really loved those kids and I loved being one of the adults in their lives that taught them how much they were loved by God. I didn’t know that’s what a “call” from God would be like, but I had friends who did. I had leaders and mentors and friends who asked if I’d ever thought of being a minister or going to seminary.

    Eventually, their questions and encouragements kept stirring my heart and soul. I did think it would be interesting to learn more about church-y and God-ly things.  So, to the joy of my mentor and friends who had been doing the nudging and stirring, off I went to seminary, and the rest is, as they say, history.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that I went to seminary (although longer than I would like to admit).  But at the time, it was about the only option for theological education.  Earning a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary was one of the pieces of the ordination path, and was the only acceptable educational path at the time.  And it was a wonderful and magical time of growth, learning, and faith development for me.  I highly recommend it, for those whom it makes sense to pursue.

    However, I am THRILLED that there are now more options for EVERYONE to deepen their knowledge, skills, and faith, and respond to God’s call, the stirring of their hearts and souls, today!  One of those options, a really great option, we host here in the Iowa Conference UCC. It is the PATHWAYS   program!

    PATHWAYS is theological education for a changing world (and that’s not just a slogan, it’s the truth)!  An online format that is accessible to everyone with a computer, internet access, and a desire to learn.  There are classes for exploring and wondering, and there are classes for following God’s invitation to pursue authorized ministry.  Small groups of adult learners work together along the journey, connected through the wonders of the world wide web, and faith and spirit and mind are nurtured and developed.

    Who do you know that should be enrolled in PATHWAYS?  Who is the youth group leader/accountant in your church whose soul needs a little stirring up and nudging? What about the Bible study teacher or Parish Nurse who people look to for spiritual and physical well-being?  Or the mom or dad who can’t leave their day job and after-school schedules for graduate school, but could tap in to the flexibility of a “virtual” school?  Is it you??

    PATHWAYS is now accepting applications for new cohorts in Level 1 and Level 2 programs this fall and winter.

    Level 1 applications due: Sept. 1, 2014

    Level 2 applications due: Dec. 10, 2014.

    Please visit the website to find the online application link or for more info: http://tasc21.net!

    If your heart has been stirred today…click on the link above!  If someone you know needs their hear stirred a bit, send them that link!

    Let’s see what God is calling us all to learn and do and be today!


    —Rev. Brigit F. Stevens, Associate Conference Minister


    By Brigit Stevens - August 1, 2014, 10:54 am

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