Sides and Strays for Thanksgiving

Every week I write a reflection for our congregation’s weblog. The national setting of the United Church of Christ offers a Stillspeaking Daily Devotional. And sometimes those are just too good to resist. I wanted to write something spiritually challenging on Thanksgiving this week. But sometimes all it takes is a look into the rounds of our extended church family. Here is the gem I found that was written for today by Donna Schaper:

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Thanksgiving Day is approaching and everyone’s mind has turned to sides and strays. There is little to be done about the turkey, except for the slight possibility that we could talk less about whether it is too dry. There is not much to be done either about the people who are always invited to the table. The regulars will be there, like it—or them—or not.

The experimentation is all in the sides and strays. We can invite someone new. We can notice an exchange student or someone recently widowed or divorced. We can remember that family whose father was deported. We can add a leaf to just about any table.

When it comes to the sides, the fun really starts. This year my husband made sauerkraut again. We spent way too many Saturdays at yard sales trying to figure out the exact right kind of jar to brine the cabbage in. Sure enough, our search found its match at a yard sale dedicated to funding a neighbor’s medical bills. We were so encouraged by the jar and its proffer that we gave a lot more than the quarter they wanted. Isn’t that encouragement? When we want to pay more than a thing is worth? When we want to add a leaf to the table? When we want to do more than talk turkey with each other?

Some have said that the virtue of what we used to call “congregationalism” was in its encounters. Its meetings. Its comings together. Its covenants to walk the way, one with another. I don’t know much about congregationalism anymore. That word feels so dated. But maybe this scripture has it right. Maybe we are the people who will not neglect to meet with each other.

Let us not neglect to have great encounters, superb meetings, good sides and strays at our table. Amen.

What does Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) support?

In the national setting of the United Church of Christ there are four Covenanted Ministry partners who are supported by gifts Our Church’s Wider Mission. We work together to change lives!

The Office of General Ministries houses the President and General Minister who serves in many ways. One strategic role of the President is convening leaders in conversations on what it means to be a faithful, vital, and healthy church. The Office of General Ministries manages biennial convening of General Synod where delegates representing conferences and local churches from across the UCC gather. Office of General Ministries also houses the Publishing, Identity and Communications office. One responsibility they have is establishing and maintaining a web and social media presence.  has over 4,500,000 visitors. The largest number of visitors comes to find a church.

Local Church Ministries supports the local church in many ways. The Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Ministry Team (MESA) team is designed to support Authorized Ministers (Ordained, Licensed and Commissioned) in our denomination from the first inklings of their calling through a healthy retirement. MESA’s ministry is a collaborative effort intertwined with Conferences, Associations, and Committees on Ministry. Congregations large and small are nurtured by Local Church Ministries resources like scholarly reflections for pastors found in Sermon Seeds and Weekly Seeds bible studies for church members, as well as worship materials of Worship Ways. Last year online readers of Sermon Seeds and Worship Ways exceeded 88,000.

Wider Church Ministries is most widely known for the mission outreach work of the UCC because of our disaster ministries. This arm of the church also serves congregations and other settings of the church who strive to be inclusive whether it is multicultural/multiracial, open and affirming, global or accessible to all. In partnership with the Disciples of Christ, Common Global Ministries is the ecumenical global sharing of resources and prophetic vision of a just and peaceful world order, joining with God’s concern for the poor and oppressed.

The vision of Justice and Witness Ministries is of a more just, peaceful and compassionate world. Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (Justice LED) training program for church members, teaches leadership skills to support justice work in local churches and UCC Conferences. Justice and Peace Action Network is a UCC grassroots advocacy effort to educate and engage church members and friends to shape public policy. Last year we’ve emailed over 600,000 “Action Alerts”! And over 35,000 letters, emails and faxes went to Congress and the President. The work of Justice and Witness Ministries is guided by the pronouncements and resolutions approved by the UCC at General Synod.

Serving all God’s Children

Veterans Day
As a United States Army Chaplain this Veterans Day I celebrate all my brothers and sisters in the service, past, present and future. As a Christian Minister I also recognize November 11 to be Saint Martin’s Day. But then again, these two commemorations are really one: Saint Martin is the Patron Saint of Soldiers after all and the US Military Academy at West Point has a St. Martin Chapel for a reason.

Saint Martin’s Day
Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Army of the Roman Empire. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens (modern-day France), he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. Eventually Martin became a Saint and his cloak has been venerated as a relic in the Roman Catholic tradition. The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived.

Professional Chaplaincy
Even though this is a reflection for Veterans Day and Saint Martin’s Day really what pulls it together is the Chaplaincy. The bearers of Martin’s cloak are no longer limited to the Armed Forces but you can find spiritual caregivers in Healthcare, Law Enforcement, Congress, Prison and even the Corporate Sector.

Serving all God’s Children
As I honor our Soldiers, Sailors, Airwomen, Airmen and Marines today I am reminded that they all serve all Americans. And I mean literally all the great diversity of people in the United States. The same is true inside the service where Department of Defense Directive 1020.02E states: “All Service members are afforded equal opportunity in an environment free from harassment and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

Saint Martin did not care who the beggar was or where he was on life’s journey.
Martin shared his cloak with this child of God.

The Decline of Veterans Day

Veterans Day events are growing fewer and smaller every year. Those who show up are more faithful and committed than ever. Veterans organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion are scrambling to keep local chapters operational. As a pastor I enjoy having military honors at the funeral of a veteran but in our community the American Legion cannot even get enough people together for a 21 gun salute. This is a problem because more often than not this time-honored tradition will just have to be skipped.

The decline in veteran culture and organization has one simple reason: The size of the American military has been shrinking for decades. The total number of service members is only half of what it used to be through the 50s, 60s and 70s. From over 3 million we are now down to 1.3 million people on active duty. That is a good thing. We do no longer have wars that are a clashing of the masses, killing tens of thousands in one battle field. We utilize more technology and that means we put fewer bodies in harm’s way. We are keeping American lives safe and fewer families are affected by the horrors of war.

But under the condition of the fallen world that number will never reach zero: “But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!” (Romans 13:4) And that means that brave men an women will have to pick it up for all of us. We only want to send as many to war as we need to but when they come back we pledge our sacred honor to them as they pledged their lives to us. That gets harder the fewer there are. So the decline in veteran culture and organization is both to be mourned and celebrated at the same time.

Happy Veterans Day!