Happy New Year with the New Century Hymnal

Since September the congregation has been exposed to a variety of music from The Hymnal (1941), The New Century Hymnal (1995) and Sing! Prayer and Praise (2009). Feedback has been unanimously positive. Our church council has unanimously voted to switch to the New Century Hymnal. It has virtually all the good old hymns from the hymnal but additionally it has music that has become part of our tradition over the years. Even though the congregation is exploring its German heritage, in the United Church of Christ we also value the English and American traditions. Let me show you two examples of what I mean by that:

1. At many memorial services most people want to sing “Amazing Grace”. Well, that was not to be found in The Hymnal (1941) simply because it is part of a tradition with British roots that was of little to no interest to our Evangelical and Reformed ancestors that wanted to preserve our German heritage. In the New Century Hymnal you will not only find this 1779 hymn under the number 547 but also you will be able to read its background: “John Newton’s autobiographical hymn reflects his conversion from his earlier existence as a slave trader. While serving as curate in the English village of Olney, Newton met William Cowper, and together they published Olney Hymns, which included this hymn.”

2. Then the New Century Hymnal strengthens our exploration of German theology even more by bringing us into the second half of the 20th century. As the new year approaches I enjoy reading and singing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s poem “By Gracious Powers”. Again on the bottom of hymn #413 the new Century Hymnal tells you the story: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, professor and leader of the German Opposition, composed the poem on which this hymn is based, “New Year 1945,” while imprisoned by the Gestapo in Berlin. Four months later, Bonhoeffer was executed by special order of Himmler.”

Here are the words by which we welcome the new year 2015, 70 years after Bonhoeffer wrote them:
1 By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, And confidently waiting, come what may, We know that God is with us night and morning And never fails to greet us each new day.
2 Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented, Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear; O give our frightened souls the sure salvation For which, O God, You taught us to prepare.
3 And when this cup You give is filled to brimming With bitter suffering, hard to understand, We take it thankfully and without trembling, Out of so good and so beloved a hand.
4 Yet when again in this same world You give us The joy we had, the brightness of Your sun, We shall remember all the days we lived through, And our whole life shall then be Yours alone.

A Light is Drawing Nearer

The Christmas Fund for the Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund is a Special Mission Offering of the United Church of Christ that grants us an opportunity to recognize and honor those who have served and continue to serve in lay and authorized ministries of the United Church of Christ. During 2013, you provided gifts totaling $1,545,076 – an increase of about $80,000 over the 2012 Offering. Thank You! Our goal for the 2014 Offering is to raise $1,700,000 for the vital ministries of Pension Supplementation, Health Premium Supplementation, Emergency Grants, and Christmas “Thank You” Gift Checks. St. John’s United Church of Christ will accept your donations to the Christmas Fund through the end of the month of December 2014. One of the unique aspects of the Christmas Fund is that the funds provide direct financial assistance to individual UCC clergy and lay church employees – the funds do not support programs or institutions, but people, like Rev. Marjorie Peters (Pseudonym):

Rev. Marjorie Peters was 55 years old when she entered seminary. Her original goal had been to go to medical school. “In those days there weren’t grants and loans like today. I spent 29 years working in four hospitals doing medical research,” she says. “When I lost my job, I was under a great deal of stress. My husband was terminally ill. I didn’t know what I was going to do.” Her pastor suggested that she attend a job-training workshop. “At one point, we were asked what we wanted to do. I don’t know where it came from but when it was my turn I said, ‘I want to go to seminary for Christian ministry,’” she says. “The more I said, ‘No,’ the more God said, ‘Yes.’” It wasn’t until Rev. Peters began collecting her Social Security that she was able to pay off her educational debt.
She was ordained in 1990 at the age of 58. While she was interested in serving only small churches in New England, over the years she also served the Maine Conference on the Commission for Witness Life, and promoted Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM), helping explain its importance and encouraging increased giving. She also served as an elected leader on Association and Conference levels, and on the Church and Ministry Committee. She has been a Sunday School Superintendent, and in retirement, serves as Clerk and Church Secretary in her local congregation.
Rev. Peters was a Congregationalist at the time of the 1957 merger that birthed the United Church of Christ. “I like to tell people that while the UCC was in gestation, I was in gestation as well, since I was pregnant with my second child,” she says. “When the merger…was being discussed, my husband was not in favor of it. I ultimately convinced him otherwise.”
The pension supplementation Rev. Peters receives “has been an absolute God-send! It made a big difference,” she says. “I emphasize to my congregation the importance of the Christmas Fund, that it not only helps retirees but active persons as well. I like giving Mission Moment talks to encourage giving generously to the Offering.” The grandmother of four and great-grandmother of six retired in 2003, and continues to provide supply preaching.

Chanukah – The Jewish “Festival of Lights”

By Rabbi Joshua Lobel, Congregation Beth El, Missouri City, Texas

Rabbi Lobel came to the synagogue around the time Rev. Haas came to St. John’s United Church of Christ, Rosenberg, Texas. Rabbi Lobel will be officially installed on Friday, December 19th 2014 at 7pm. Everyone is welcome to join Congregation Beth El for this service.

This December, Jews around the world will celebrate the festival of Chanukah. Chanukah, which means “rededication”, celebrates the victory of a small band of Jews over the mighty Greek army. The Greeks sought to stamp out the Jewish religion and force everyone to assimilate, to act like them. They even went so far as to desecrate the Holy Temple. But a group of Jews known as the Maccabees, which comes from the Hebrew word for “hammer,” valiantly fought against the Greeks to preserve the Jewish way of life. Though small in number, they defeated their adversaries.

According to legend, after their victory, when the Maccabees entered the Temple and began to reclaim it from the Greeks, they immediately relit the ner tamid (eternal light), which burned constantly in the Temple and has a parallel in synagogues to this day. In the Temple, they found a single jar of oil, which was sufficient for only one day. The messenger who was sent to secure additional oil took eight days to complete his mission, and miraculously, the single jar of oil continued to burn until his return. Because of the miracle of the oil, Jews celebrate this holiday for eight days.

Chanukah is also known as the “Festival of Lights”, as, during this holiday, Jews light a nine-branched candelabrum known as a menorah. The menorah includes eight branches, one for each day of the holiday, and one branch for the shamash candle that is used to light the other candles. In ancient times, oil was used in the menorah. Over time, candles were substituted for oil. The Hanukkah menorah can also be called a chanukiyah.
Oil also plays a role in the traditional foods of Chanukah – potato pancakes, or latkes, and jelly donuts, both of which are fried in oil. These foods remind us of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days when it should only have lasted for one day.

Today, Chanukah reminds the Jewish people to cherish their religion, its unique rituals and its eternal values. It also challenges Jews to “rededicate” themselves to stand against forces that would destroy Judaism, thereby keeping alive the flame of Jewish religion, culture, and peoplehood so that it may be passed on to the next generation.

Christmas Fund

St. John’s United Church of Christ will accept your donations to the Christmas Fund through the end of the month of December 2014.

The generous gifts of UCC congregations and individuals to the Christmas Fund enabled the Pension Board’s Ministerial Assistance program to provide some form of assistance to impact the lives of hundreds of persons during the past year.
• MONTHLY PENSION SUPPLEMENTATION for 408 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay employees.
Our retired clergy/lay employees relied on this income supplementation for basic needs such as food, utilities, and living and medical expenses. Since needs exceed the amount received through the Christmas Fund Offering, assistance was also supported by Our Church’s Wider Mission and legacy gifts to
Ministerial Assistance. The amount of pension supplementation totaled $1,342,000 in 2013.
• QUARTERLY HEALTH PREMIUM SUPPLEMENTATION for 239 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay
employees. These funds subsidized premiums for the UCC Medicare Supplement Plan with Rx so that individuals could afford and receive quality health care. Assistance totaled $508,000 in 2013.
• CHRISTMAS “THANK YOU“ GIFT CHECKS given to 543 retired UCC clergy/lay church employees.
This special gift at Christmas time reminds these Veterans of the Cross that they have not been forgotten and that the Church is grateful for their service. Gifts totaled $235,800 in 2013.
• EMERGENCY GRANTS for 65 active or retired UCC clergy/lay employees. Sometimes those who serve the Church need our help, and emergency funds are available to assist in covering costs that arise unexpectedly – for example, large medical expenses, or home damage resulting
from natural disasters. Emergency assistance totaled $57,000 in 2013.