Strolls Through Lent 2016

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Lent is a season for intentionality.
It is about taking care of yourself: Eating better or less, taking a break from smoking. Sometimes it is not about giving up things for Lent but adding things: read more Bible, or: move more. Your friends at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg, Texas, invite you to a series of “Strolls through Lent”. At each station there will be some spiritual input pertaining to the season. The physical challenges of walking may vary but never appear to be over-taxing. Along the way, the people and the sights will create unique adventures. You will notice a good mix of days, times, and neighborhoods. Please plan an hour for each event plus getting there from the church and back. All times are for car-pooling from and back to the church. For parking at the destinations please call Rev. Daniel Haas the day of each event at 801-368-1180. Rain will cancel, cold will not.

Ash Wednesday, February 10th, 8:30 am, Travis Park
The first walk on Ash Wednesday morning is also an invitation to join the Family Ministry team at Cambridge when they bring Holy Communion and Ashes to the residents after our walk. This first walk is a short one – a good way to begin. Those who walk may return to their homes with a renewed sense of loving and belonging.
Our second service for Ash Wednesday will be back at the church at 6 pm.

Monday, February 15th, 8 pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church
The Stations of the Cross are a traditional way of experiencing the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ by way of walking. We will go over to our neighbors at Holy Rosary who invited us to journey through their beautiful outdoor grotto that night.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 6 pm, Seabourne Creek Park
God is still creating. We can join God in that joy and care-taking. We are going to take a “Prayer Walk” through Seabourne Creek Park. Walk through it slowly. Try to see it with God’s eyes. Feel God’s love for the place, the growing things, the people. As you walk, bless the paths and bless the people who will go on them, their families. Pray for God’s healing, guidance, protection. Pray as you feel the Spirit moving you to pray for anyone you see. What will you notice? This prayer walk replaces Confirmation Class and Bible Study that night.

Sunday, February 28th, 11 am, Downtown Rosenberg
Join us in exploring our Historic Downtown District, which offers an eclectic shopping experience in buildings restored to their original grandeur. Visitors browse a collection of gift boutiques, antique shops, gourmet shop, spa, restaurants, and other establishments offering everything from home accessories, collectibles, fine jewelry, clothing, rare books, fine handmade furniture, and great casual dining experiences. For members of the church council this is also the lunch opportunity before our orientation retreat that afternoon.

Tuesday, March 8th, 8:30 am, Del Webb Sweetgrass
Women’s Guild meets this morning at 10 and Margie Krenek has graciously agreed to host our walking group in her neighborhood. Del Webb Sweetgrass is an active adult community for homeowners 55+ where quite a few of our church members reside. We will conclude our walk through this unique community at Margie’s home.

Thursday, March 17th, 08:30 am, North Rosenberg
North Rosenberg, like North Richmond, is a neighborhood that has undergone drastic changes over time. Near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, the Rosenberg Cemetery includes the graves of several St. John’s members. Death and Loss are powerful themes during the Season of Lent.

Palm Sunday, March 20th, 10 am, St. John’s United Church of Christ
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. As early as the fourth century, the church in Jerusalem began the custom of reenacting the entry of Jesus into the city. Come to wave the palms and sing Hosannas! As part of our Strolling through Lent Series we will have an actual Palm Sunday Procession around the church during worship.

Maundy Thursday, March 24th, 6 pm, St. John’s United Church of Christ
On Maundy Thursday the church remembers the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples. We will share their experiences around the dinner tables in the parish hall. The Brotherhood provides soups and salads. You are invited to please bring desserts.

Good Friday, March 25th, 12 noon, St. John’s United Church of Christ
There is no point in celebrating Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without death. Yes, God himself experienced what death is. Our God is vulnerable and thus one of us. Come hear it and see it and get the chills! The Women’s Guild provides lunch beginning about a half hour before the service.

Easter Sunday, March 27th, 9 am, St. John’s United Church of Christ
The sad, empty, dark sanctuary, abandoned on Friday night comes back to joy, life and light. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Death does not have the final say. God is in favor of life and he is going to prevail in the end. Easter Breakfast and Egg Hunt start at 9 am followed by the 10 am Easter Sunday Service.

Catholics in the United Church of Christ


Persons with Roman Catholic background are the majority of new members we receive into our congregation. St. John’s United Church of Christ is normal in that regard. Throughout our denomination around 40% of newcomers were raised Catholic, according to “Catholics in the United Church of Christ”, a booklet composed by two former Catholics who became UCC clergy. Our church council has a significant portion of former Catholics as well.

In that sense it strikes me as odd that we avoid the term “catholic” when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. We need to fix that. As a united and uniting church our main goal is to bring the body of Christ closer to oneness and that is what “catholic” means: the ecumenical church universal. From now on we will go back to the traditional wording as printed in the hymnal.

The experiences of being Catholic are at least as diverse as they are in Protestantism. Whether you received your education before or after Vatican II makes the world of a difference. Whether your weekly CCD classes were top notch or you hardly ever went, determines how familiar you are with the church’s traditions.

Many Catholics, as Mary Luti and Andrew Warner describe it, “would have stayed in the Church ‘if only…’ If only it were okay to be gay, or for priests to marry, or for women to be ordained, or for divorced and remarried people to receive Holy Communion.” These Exiles usually remain Catholics with Mary and the Saints in their hearts. Who can blame them? Complex spiritual journeys are always welcome in the United Church of Christ.

Culturally they are easy to spot. Sometimes a Freudian slip will have them talk about mass, parish, or priest. Please remember: A Catholic priest typically covers a flock of 1,600 whereas the average UCC pastor only shepherds 200. You have more and easier access to your pastor in our tradition. Make use of that!

When we receive new members we celebrate their journey of faith that has brought them to where they are. The book of worship provides beautiful words for the occasion:
“By your baptism you were made one with us in the body of Christ, the church. Today we rejoice in your pilgrimage of faith which has brought you to this time and place. We give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home, and we celebrate your presence in this household of faith.”

If you want to learn more about “Catholics in the United Church of Christ” the 32 page pamphlet is available for pick up in the church office.

2016 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic significance. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the Church.

In Houston our 3rd Annual Ecumenical Prayer Service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held on Friday, January 22, 2016, starting at 7pm. The 2016 host is Pleasant Hill Baptist Church at 1510 Pannell St., Houston, TX 77020. All are welcome!

latviaThe oldest baptismal font in Latvia dates from the time of the great evangeliser of Latvia, St Meinhard. It was originally located in his Cathedral in Ikšķile. Today it stands at the very centre of the Lutheran Cathedral in the country’s capital, Rīga. The placement of the font so near to the Cathedral’s ornate pulpit speaks eloquently of the relationship between baptism and proclamation, and the calling shared by all the baptised to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord. This calling forms the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2016. Inspired by two verses from the First Letter of St Peter, members of different churches in Latvia prepared the resources for the week:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Archaeological evidence suggests that Christianity was first brought to Eastern Latvia in the 10th century by Byzantine missionaries. However, most accounts date Latvia’s Christian origins to the 12th and 13th centuries, and the evangelising mission of St Meinhard, and later of other German missionaries. The capital, Rīga, was one of the first cities to adopt Luther’s ideas in the 16th century, and in the 18th century, Moravian missionaries (Herrnhut Brethren) revived and deepened Christian faith throughout the country. Their descendants were to play a central role in laying the foundations for national independence in 1918.

However, the totalitarian darkness of the 20th century estranged many people from the truth about God the Father, his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, the post-Soviet period has been one of renewal for the churches. Many Christians come together for prayer in small groups and at ecumenical services. Conscious that the light and grace of Christ have not penetrated and transformed all the people of Latvia, they want to work and pray together so that the historical, ethnic and ideological wounds which still disfigure Latvian society may be healed.

I hope you will come and attend this most marvelous service on Friday, January 22, 2016, when the Rev. Joshua Lawrence will represent the Houston Association of the United Church of Christ.

Pastor’s Annual Report 2015

Dear members and friends of St. John’s United Church of Christ,
2015 was a wonderfully busy year in the life of our church:

Besides our weekly 10 am Sunday Service we added a new worship service: Once a month we hold a communion service in the Foyer of Cambridge Square which is open to everyone. This additional worship opportunity has quickly gained a loyal attendance. Yes, as Family Ministry is fixin’ to turn five years old on March 6th 2016, they remain a powerhouse in our congregation.

For the younger side of the house we have fine-tuned our annual cycle of events. There is now a nice rotation of Spring Fun Day, Vacation Bible School, St. Martin’s Day, and Breakfast with Santa. Each of these events allows us to serve the children in our congregation, our neighborhood and our families.

Also, the kids continue to enjoy their weekly Children’s Church which includes adventure, exciting stories, science experiments, arts and crafts, animated video storytelling, and active games-all combined into a living–faith experience that will help children discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today.

As children grow older they will learn to upgrade to a grown-up version of faith. In our tradition Confirmation marks that transition. This year I am able to teach a confirmation class which will lead to a joyous celebration on Pentecost Sunday, May 15th 2016.

I want to thank Leo Niemeyer for taken on the responsibility of teaching Adult Sunday School. This has been a wonderful program. If you can make it to church an hour early I highly recommend you take advantage of this opportunity for spiritual growth. If you are not an early-riser or just want more biblical input, I suggest you look into joining our Bible Study Group which meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month from 6-7 pm.

Our church is a learning community. That is not only true in our local congregation programming but especially for our church’s wider church mission. Members of St. John’s United Church of Christ serve as delegates to the Houston Association and the South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ. Individuals hold Association offices on the committee of ministry, as treasurer and on the executive council. We have strong ties to Slumber Falls Camp. In 2015 we hosted the Spring Meeting of the Houston Association in Rosenberg celebrating our connectedness to everything UCC and to engage in fruitful dialogue with our wider church family. Mirjam and I even had the opportunity to attend General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio, this summer.

We are a pretty diverse group of people where in different stages of life the church means different things to everybody: We baptized five little ones this year, one new member affirmed her faith and we celebrated the lives of eleven persons who died in 2015.

In 2016 I keep asking my old question: Whom are we sent to?
When we are intentional about reaching out to a very specific group of people we get great response. The Sunday we invited the German community attendance went up to 90. When we invited neighborhood kids for Breakfast with Santa 48 turned out. When we add an additional monthly worship service in a retirement home, attendance is very good. I would like for the new council, and ultimately the entire congregation, to start a visioning process for our church. We have great potential, but we must learn to focus our mission and ministry.

The War on Christmas

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Yes, Virginia, there is a war on Christmas.

No, it is not happening right after Halloween when the self righteous do not like the design of disposable coffee cups. By that they only admit not to prepare for their coffee runs by bringing a reusable travel mug. No, the actual war on Christmas is going on right now, between Christmas and Epiphany. Most of our neighbors had their decorations down by December 27th. The Christmas radio station disappears as soon as Christmas begins. Virginia, that is where the war on Christmas is real.

In America there is confusion to when Christmas is happening. Many people and businesses confuse the holiday season with the Christmas season. Christmas is a church service: It is the Mass celebrating the Birth of Christ, short Christ-Mass. Since the 5th century Christians have celebrated the birth of Christ this time of year. Leading up to Christmas is the liturgical season of Advent. Christmas does not start until after Christmas and it goes on for 12 days all the way through Epiphany on January 6th. Whoever insists on saying “Merry Christmas” before then is waging war against one of Christianity’s most important holidays.

How did all of this come about? Well, in America we have a thing called the holiday season. It is the period of time from Thanksgiving until New Year, including such festivals as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. That is where misunderstandings happen: Most major religions have their festival of light this time of year from Hindu to Jewish and Christian. And the retail industry loves this time of year. The cultural commercial holiday season is there to lead up to and support people in celebrating whatever their faith holds dear. The greeting for the season is “Happy Holidays” because it celebrates a variety of wonderful occasions.

As a Christian I indulge in both, the civil holiday season and the liturgical Christmas season. Not everybody knows that they are distinctly separate things and you will always find the terms used interchangeably. But it is my job as pastor and teacher to remind myself and my readers that, yes Virginia, please leave your lights and decorations up until Epiphany. And you, FM 99.1, please play Christmas music not only during Advent but also during Christmas!