Strenghthen the Church this Pentecost

June 4th is Pentecost Sunday. Every year that is the occasion for us to collect a special offering to Strengthen the Church. It is not for our congregation but new and renewing churches in the United Church of Christ. Our Acting Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom explains why the church needs you to strengthen it:

All across the spectrum of western Christianity, the churches are losing membership. Public polling shows that when asked about religious preference, people are marking with increasing frequency, “None.” While this could be deeply depressing to those of us who believe in congregational life…I don’t see it that way.

There is another area that is increasing in its frequency, “Spiritual but not religious.” For me, this is a sign of great hope. People still have a great spiritual yearning. If this is true, and it is, then the church simply needs to figure out how to meet that need. While that’s not as easy as it sounds; it is doable. So what’s stopping us?

Do you remember back when “What was good for General Motors was good for America?” Somewhere back around the 60’s, Japanese imports began showing up on the streets of America. Americans, as it turned out, were clamoring for smaller, more efficient, and cheaper automobiles. GMC was convinced these Americans were wrong. How did that one work itself out? Rule one through one hundred, “Listen to your customer.”

Now, before you rock my world, I know that church is not a commodity to be sold like automobiles. But, I also know that the genius of the congregational movement is that the people are God’s method for discerning the will of God. I believe people are yearning for the “Holy” as never before. They are being distracted, as much as possible, by a culture of consumption but deep down they hunger for deeper things. Our task, as people of God, is to meet that at least half way, if not more.

The problem is in part that it is really hard for congregations to change or refuse to do so. Some can change, but most are unable to make significant changes. It is understandable, as like myself we are who we are. This is why is it much easier and more successful to plant new congregations with their new ways of being than it is to change existing congregations. Now, to be sure, some congregations are in situations where they don’t need to change a thing, but those numbers are pretty limited. If you have a lot of extra pew space on Sundays, and it is getting worse then change is in order.

I am reminded of how trees re-seed themselves. Each year the old Maple tree develops these quarter sized winged-seeds. At the proper time, the wind comes along and seeds go airborne. Flung far and wide these seeds give birth to the future. Is your congregation planting seeds for the future of your beloved UCC church and the sharing of the gospel? I pray it is so.

If you can’t make it it church on Sunday, you can donate online!

Three major holidays that you should not miss this week

Some weeks in the life of the church look so unassuming. What could possibly be special about this week? Well, as pastor I am obliged to give you three perspectives on the next few days that you may otherwise have missed:


The window named “Ascension” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Thursday, May 25, is Ascension Day. It is a major holiday in the Christian tradition. Everybody remembers how Jesus was born on Christmas and was resurrected on Easter. But the final step of the Jesus story is just as important: his ascension into heaven. Luckily for you we will focus on that story next Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ so you won’t miss a thing. Yes, a pastor is a teacher and I am obliged to remind you of the things you need to know about the Christian faith.

Friday, May 26, is the beginning of Ramadan. It is a major holiday in the Muslim tradition. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business, but it is. Because let’s be honest here: How seriously have you been taking the Lenten fast really? I shared my struggles with breaking my caffeine habit. But can you even imagine what it would be like to not eat between sunrise and sunset for an entire month? Our Muslim brothers and sisters live powerful examples of a spiritual practice that we need to get better at again. Yes, a pastor is a spiritual leader and I am obliged to connect you with practices you need to consider.

Monday May 29, is Memorial Day. It is a major holiday in the United States. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business. And to a certain extent that is true. Most Christians in the world have never been to the United States and don’t know what this country celebrates on that day. But for people who live here it plays on an important theme that the Christian tradition has also: Reconciliation! After the Civil War both North and South had regional observances for their own war heroes. By the end of the 19th century a nationwide day had reconciled the memorial into one day for all. That is also what our church’s message is in a nutshell: “That they may all be one” (John 17:21) Yes, a pastor is preacher and I am obliged to find the Good News in all places.

This week I challenge you to look for Christ in the heavens above, try a new spiritual practice for yourself, and work towards reconciliation in our country and around the world.

What strawberries can teach me about putting down roots


The strawberries are growing just fine. So are the tomatoes. And the carrots. And the peppers. And the flowers. You get the picture. Our garden is almost ripe for the harvest. For that to happen it takes the usual ingredients of sunshine and water. But then our garden plants bring their very own special skill to their growth process: They put down their roots.

To a vagabond like me, that is a pretty impressive feat. I honestly do not know what it feels like to live in one place for most of your life. Our strawberries, vegetables and flowers do, but I don’t. In my childhood garden I used to grow all kinds berries and carrots. As a grownup the longest I have ever lived in one place was two years. Our current home holds the record of almost three years. I am turning into a plant that knows how to put down roots again.

The Psalmist knows that putting roots down is an important skill, saying about God’s blessed, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:3) The German in me has always imagined this tree to be an Oaktree of at least one hundred years. The Psalmist was most likely thinking of Middle Eastern olive trees. Some of those trees from biblical times are still around today.

There is something to be said for staying put:

  • You mature more.
  • You wrestle more with yourself and your surroundings.
  • You learn to adjust.
  • You learn to not just move on when the going gets rough.
  • Once you put your roots down far enough the wind can no longer blow you down that easily.

Maybe that is what my garden plants can teach me: Our neighborhood may be as young as 10 or so years but still it is a place worth growing into. There is fertile ground here. Stay and grow.

What is your experience of putting down roots?

Delegate Report from the Houston Association Meeting

Delegate Report from the Houston Association Meeting

Our congregation, St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg, was represented at the April meeting of the Houston Association of the United Church of Christ.

 

The primary discussions at this meeting were about proposed changes to the Constitution and By-Laws of the South Central Conference of the UCC. The proposals will be presented for a vote at the Annual Meeting in Dallas the second weekend of June. There will be other business, to be sure, and worship and songs!

 

Proposals regarding the SCC Constitution include a re-written Preamble, update of purpose and “incorporation” terminology, specific definitions for voting privileges, setting geographical boundaries for the conference, and changing item numbers for articles currently in the Constitution.

 

Included in the proposed SCC By-Laws are a Preamble, definitions for the right to speak and for the right to vote at conference meetings, detailed job description for Conference Minister, church development and renewal, provisions for conference staff including Director of Outdoor Ministry, and some re-numbering of current By-Laws.

 

The South Central Conference newsletter can be sent to your email box. Please contact the office@sccucc.org and ask to be included. It is free and often it is interesting to read. The May 4 communication includes details about the Annual Meeting in June and the proposed Constitution & Bylaws Changes.

 

Discussion of the terminology “Designated Minister” for the South Central Conference was debated at the Houston Association meeting.

 

I learned the UCC has a fundraising arm for the denomination, for associations, and for congregations. How do we raise money from “others” to help our congregations and our work? The UCC is able to advise us.

 

The South Central Conference office will soon be moving to Slumber Falls Camp. Its Hill Country location will afford full-time office staff for the camp and for the administrative office of the SCC. Record keeping and accounting services can be maintained easily for both.

 

The Rev. Jeremy Albers, Director of Outdoor Ministry, reported Slumber Falls Camp has completed a new pool renovation and a new deck overlooking the Guadalupe River. Also, there is a new chef in the kitchen! Look for new events and activities as SFC programming incorporates retreats, field trips, and overseas travel with service opportunities and Christian education.

 

We grow and change together in a community centered not on our selves but on God. The United Church of Christ is known for its welcoming stance toward all people. We were early leaders in the Social Gospel movement, taking seriously Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Because we are part of this faith community, we can each minister to one another in beautiful ways. As I imagine the future, and all opportunities big and small, I know that God will be with me. I pray, also, God goes with you.

 

Sincerely, Ron Gutowsky, your elected delegate.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month


The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network invites us to highlight mental health in the month of May. This is a way for our congregation to begin or to widen our welcome.

Did you know?
Mental illnesses are medical conditions.
Research has shown that mental illness has a biological basis. Mental illnesses are brain disorders associated with changes in the brain’s structure, chemistry and function, which in turn affects how a person thinks, feels and acts.
One in every four adults is affected by mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults in the U.S. experience some kind of mental health disorder in a given year. However, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion. Approximately 1 in 17 Americans, or about 13.6 million people, live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
Stigma prevents many people from seeking treatment. Approximately 60 percent of adults and almost one-half of youth ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year. In some locations, services simply are not available or are not affordable to the people who need them. In many cases, people avoid treatment because of the fear of stigma.
Treatment works and recovery is possible. There is no “cure” for mental illness, but with effective treatment (which may include medication, therapy, other services and support), most people experience relief from their symptoms and live productive, fulfilling lives.
Most people with mental illness are not violent. The most common form of violence by those who have mental illness is violence against themselves. People with serious mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of it.

5 simple things you can do to make the world a better place for people with mental illnesses and their families
1 Be a friend.
Provide companionship and compassion on the road toward recovery. Offer a ride to church or to a local support group. Listen without judgement. Pray for those you know with mental illnesses and for their family members.
2 Be an inspiration. Share your story. Has mental illness impacted you or your family in some way? Your story may empower others to seek treatment or have hope.
3 Watch your language. Pay attention to the words you use and avoid stigmatizing labels. Do not refer to people as “crazy,” “psycho,” “lunatic” or “mental.”
4 Be a “StigmaBuster”. Challenge negative attitudes toward mental illness among your friends and acquaintances and in the media.
5 Learn the facts. Educate yourself about the various mental illnesses. Attend a lecture or class or use the Internet. Good places to start include the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health.