New beginnings

On Easter Sunday 2014 by unanimous vote of the congregation I got elected to be the new pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg. For the following five years we have done some great things together. We started a new Children Church’s program, we took on the sole responsibility for Vacation Bible School which we used to share with our Presbyterian and Brethren friends. We invited the German language community to a variety of annual events. Family ministry expanded its outreach activity by not only bringing communion to members in long-term care facilities but actually hosting all-facility worship services there. I was blessed to baptize and confirm your children, to get couples started into their married lives, and to lead funerals for those whose time had come. There has been some amazing forward movement and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve alongside all of y’all here for five years.

Honestly, we have not sustained our progress over the last couple of years. That’s why I decided to step aside. St. John’s responds well to new pastoral leadership coming in. You are good at building excitement about a fresh start. I hope you will do that again and make it to the next level in your congregational development. There was a reason church council decided to publish my letter of resignation. We wanted to get ahead of the rumor mill. That worked for the most part. The top two most awkward rumors that have come to my attention since were:
– St. John’s is closing its doors
– Rev. Haas is going back to Germany

I don’t have that kind of power. My resignation can hardly shut down a congregation that has existed since 1941. Quite the opposite: Your church leadership is hard at work coordinating with the Houston Association as well as the South Central Conference to plot a path into a prosperous future for this congregation. I am not going anywhere but I am delighted that I have the opportunity to continue ministry locally as a full-time chaplain for Compassus Hospice. Mirjam continues her thriving pastorate at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Needville, and our kids get to keep their familiar environment of home, neighborhood, school, and sports.

I have consistently received a lot of praise for my weekly reflections. I will miss writing them. This is my last one for St. John’s. The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Resurrecting Hope an Easter Message

by Rev. John C. Dorhauer General Minister and President

I walk through the world, opening myself up to the daily vagaries of life’s unanticipated joy and sorrows. I find myself grateful for a faith that orients itself around one foundational belief: resurrection.

Death did not destroy Jesus. That is my grounding fundament. Like every disciple of the risen Christ, I hear and take to heart the words of Paul who wrote that because of Him “we do not grieve as others who have no hope.” (I Thess. 4.13).

To be sure, we grieve.

We worry.

We fear.

We grow anxious.

We are not immune from any of these powerful and life-altering emotions. In the face of what life can throw our way, we too will succumb to experiences that mitigate our joy. Death, disease, hunger, poverty, injustice, fear, warfare, oppression, famine, natural disaster, climate disruption, political crisis, mass shootings all have their way with us. They consume our attention.

They steal our joy.

They strip us of some of the happiness and pleasure that would otherwise be ours but for the sufferings we endure in their presence and aftermath.

There is one thing, though, they cannot do: destroy our hope. The simple belief that death did not contain Jesus grounds us firmly in the horizons of hope. It is perhaps the singular vocational responsibility of the Church, the Living Body of Christ: to procure hope in the face of life’s most disruptive and destructive forces.

Hope calls us to play the long game.

The long game of hope believes that the wars in Yemen and Syria can end.

The long game of hope believes that peace between Israel and Palestine can come.

The long game of hope believes that our children and grandchildren will again breathe clean air.

The long game of hope believes that the immigrant and the refugee, the strangers and aliens in our midst, will find a new home and be greeted with hospitality and freed from the cages they’ve been placed in.

The long game of hope believes that entire cities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and farms in the Midwest destroyed by floods can be rebuilt.

The long game of hope believes that colonial empires can see more joy in restoring equity through reparations than in hoarding wealth accumulated on the backs of enslaved black bodies and displaced indigenous communities.

The long game does not see death as our destiny. It believes that though suffering may endure for the night, joy cometh in the morning. Some new dawns may not arrive as early as others, but we do not lose hope that new dawns are ever before us.

This is where my Easter joy is found: the orientation of hope. It is found in the beating heart of every disciple of Jesus who, once again, will rehearse the remarkable story of his rising from the dead. The miracle of hope in the heart is my Easter joy.

May it be yours as well.

Rev. John C. Dorhauer

Where is your Ground Zero?

Yesterday was one of those days where we had the TV turned to the news for hours. The cathedral of Notre Dame was engulfed in flames. We visited just this past summer and now the place is in ruins. Glued to the TV, I was taken back to September 11, 2001. Is this a terrorist attack? If so, was there going to be a follow up attack? Is the Eiffel Tower next? None of that that happened. Nobody claimed responsibility. While I’m writing these lines, everything points toward an accident.

Somehow this fire struck a nerve, not only with me but at least the people I am connected to on social media. #NotreDame was trending on Twitter and still is. What is so important about this church in a country half a globe away? Three churches burnt much closer to home “on March 26, April 2 and April 4. The first was at St. Mary Baptist Church in the Port Barre; the two others were at Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the small city of Opelousas, the parish seat. “

More than anything, France, with its history of absolute monarchy, perfected the centralization of state power, authority and administration. Everything in France focuses on Paris. Wherever you drive on French highways, signs will show you the distance to Paris. That’s where Notre Dame plays an even more special role. The precise point the distance is measured from is called “Kilometre Zero ” and it is located right in front of the entrance of Notre Dame Cathedrale.

Notre Dame is literally Ground Zero. So it’s okay to leave the TV on for longer than usual. But it raises an important question: Where is your Ground Zero? It’s good to know that about yourself. The three churches that burnt in Louisiana where “black” churches that were specifically targeted by a racist. This injustice cries to the heavens. Where the margins of justice are violated, people cry out. When orientation gets lost, like the one point an entire era focused on, people get irritated. Those so-called world affairs always have a deeply personal effect. They trigger something in you and me and I invite you to think that through and talk about it.

Funeral Service for Delores Hartfiel Wleczyk

Funeral Services for Delores Hartfiel Wleczyk will be on Friday, April 12th at 1:00 p.m. at Garmany & Carden Funeral Home located at 1201 Fourth Street in Rosenberg. Viewing will be Thursday, April 11th from 6:00-8:00 p.m. A reception will follow the service and interment on Friday at St. John’s United Church of Christ in the Parish Hall.

Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Holy Week Worship Schedule

Jesus said the temple would be torn down. Jesus got into trouble with those who were in power – both in religion and politics. If you want to hold on to power, Holy Week is not for you. The beautiful sanctuary that has served the people for generations will be destroyed. Grandparents and great-grandparents were proud founding families and everyone had a story to tell, whose ancestor laid which stone and made such and such contributions. Access to this sacred space was strictly limited by cast and influence, and money. If you are not here to bring your tithe, what are you here for then? Pay up or go home.

Jesus came to Jerusalem and right from the start he didn’t fit in. He was supposed to come as the mighty king who re-establishes King David’s glory – with class and power and authority. Instead Palm Sunday is the celebration of a rag tag bunch of underdogs sneaking into the city on the poor side of town. Please join us for this humble experience on Sunday, April 14th at 10 am.

Church is not a place for the strong. Remember how Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” The people who come to church know that they mess up. They are the ones who understand that they can’t get it all right. We fail. We are the communion of saints, not the communion of the perfect. We gather in holy imperfection. Join us for a sinful meal on Maundy Thursday, April 18th at 6pm. The church council will provide appetizer and main course. You are invited to share desserts.

This week before holy week, our congregation has two funerals. Death is a constant companion in our lives. Good Friday stands as a powerful reminder for that. God Almighty has not shied away from the gruesome experience of human dying. God has experienced the pain and agony and loss just like we do. That’s what Good Friday is all about when we retell the story of Jesus’s crucifixion. Join us for lunch on Good Friday, April 19th at 11:15, followed by the service at noon.

The tables in parish hall are decorated with Easter bunnies. They are a symbol of life. Easter is the hope that death does not have the final say. That is best expressed through symbols like bunnies and eggs. Bunnies produce new life quickly. Eggs look like dead rocks rolled in front of the grave but eventually a little beak comes out announcing new life. Join us for the celebration of resurrection joy on Easter Sunday, April 21st for breakfast and egg hunt at 9 am, followed by the service at 10 am.

Funeral Service for Nelda Gutowsky

It is with sadness to announce the death of Nelda Gutowsky. Funeral Services will be on Wednesday, April 10th at 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s United Church of Christ with viewing for family and friends on Tuesday, April 9th 5:00-7:00 p.m. also at St. John’s UCC.

Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

All Church Read – Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Written by Connie Larkman
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond, winner of numerous awards for his book which chronicles the lives of several families in the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, will be the keynote speaker at the the United Church of Christ General Synod 32 in June. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, a New York Times Bestseller, will also be the subject of the denomination’s 2019 All Church Read.

Evicted, based on years of embedded fieldwork and data, points to eviction as a root cause of poverty. Desmond’s keynote address will take place in the same city as his book, on Saturday, June 22 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. UCC congregations throughout the country are encouraged to organize book discussion groups around Evicted in ways and at times that best suit them and participate in the All Church Read. Everyone is invited to register to attend General Synod to hear Matthew Desmond’s keynote or tune in to the live stream and listen to his address as a group or on your own.

“It’s a deep honor that Evicted was chosen for the UCC All Church Read,” Desmond said. “Without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

His book introduces readers to eight families struggling to make ends meet. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on shelter, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. While they are fond of some of their tenants, as Tarver puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

“The UCC has led on issues of homelessness and hunger,” said Desmond, “and now I think we’re at a time when we ask ourselves what we can about families that are facing exorbitantly high rents and evictions.”

Desmond, the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, focuses his teaching and research on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality and ethnography. In 2018, he received the Stowe Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice, awarded by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center to authors whose work shines a light on critical social issues.

“Welcoming Matthew Desmond to Synod will provide us a meaningful opportunity to engage with his work on poverty in America,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC General Minister and President. “Let’s join together as a denomination in an All Church Read of Evicted. The Rev. Velda Love, UCC minster for Racial Justice will host a group discussion of the book both online and in-person on May 16 at 1:00 p.m.”*

Last year, Desmond’s Eviction Lab at Princeton University published the first-ever dataset of millions of evictions in America, going back to 2000. He and his team launched the Eviction Lab in 2017. They collect national data on eviction to help answer fundamental questions about residential instability, forced moves and poverty in America. Desmond and his team believe that stable, affordable housing can be an effective platform to promote economic mobility, health and community vitality. They hope their findings will inform programs to prevent eviction and family homelessness, raise awareness of the centrality of housing insecurity in the lives of low-income families and deepen our understanding of the fundamental drivers of poverty in America.

Using the Faith-based Reading Group Guide [available here as a PDF], UCC churches can delve into these issues through book discussion groups. The guide prompts readers to consider questions like this, “Faith-based organizations have traditionally had a special responsibility to help the poor. For some people, the less fortunate can offer a unique opportunity to demonstrate the power of their beliefs. Do you believe that your organization can provide support—whether financially, spiritually or socially—to those facing eviction in your community?”