Your Monthly HELPER Newsletter for October, 2018

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Holidays at Settegast Heights Village

200 families live in our church owned, low-income housing Settegast Heights Village. We provide them year-round with a safe and clean living environment along with plenty of opportunities for personal learning and growth. One of the more recent additions is a library. There are many ways to get involved through volunteering. With the holiday season fast approaching here is what you can do:

1. Show up for the Christmas party! That is a wonderful opportunity to tour the facilities and meet residents. The party will be at 7373 N. Wayside Dr., Houston, Texas 77028, on Saturday, December 8th, from 11am to 2pm. As you go, please consider bringing cookies and kid-friendly sandwiches.

2. Give a Thanksgiving Feast to a family in need! Since Settegast Heights is HUD assisted housing the residents do not have an easy time putting together a wholesome Thanksgiving Feast. That is why we ask members of our 16 Houston area congregations to step up to the plate (literally). The goal is to have $25 for each of the 200 families. That means each of our 16 churches should come up with $325 which breaks down to 16 people per congregation. Be one of the 16 and give $25! At St. John’s we will be collecting Turkey bucks every Sunday in October.

UCC Disaster Coordinators watch, wait, pray as Tropical Storm Florence floods North Carolina

Written by Connie Larkman

In the 72 hours since Florence, now a tropical depression, made landfall in the Carolinas, it has not stopped raining somewhere. The tremendous amount of water, with more than three feet of rain expected in parts of North Carolina before this sluggish system moves on, is making it almost impossible for United Church of Christ disaster coordinators to get an accurate handle on how Churches and congregants are faring in this storm. Power outages, flash floods and washed out roads are still commonplace.

“Wilmington is surrounded by water; people can’t get in or out. It’s too dangerous to do damage assessments, and it’s almost impossible to get information right now,” said Jon Wallace, conference disaster coordinator, UCC Southern Conference. “We can get information from our representatives, specific to where they are. But until it’s safe for people to move around, it’s going to be a while yet before we have a real solid damage assessment. Major interstates in the southeast part of the state – like I-95 in Lumberton – have sections that are closed. State roads have completely collapsed in some spots. Right now, we need to minimize exposure to deadly situations.”

As of Monday, Florence has left 18 dead, tens of thousands in shelters, more than a million without power. The wettest tropical storm in North Carolina history has shattered rainfall records, and triggered historic flooding. The storm’s high winds have brought down power lines, uprooted trees, ripped roofs off buildings and blown out windows.

That’s very evident in Beaufort. The Rev. Carlton Davis, pastor of St. Stephens Congregational Church, UCC, said the former Washburn Seminary, now the church fellowship hall, will need major repairs.

“When the storm came through it blew out five windows in the fellowship hall,” Davis said. “Two of them blew completely out – right into the building. The storm blew the paneling right off the walls. The room flooded, and the floor will need to be replaced.”

He and his wife have been sheltering in place, without electricity, since the middle of last week when Florence’s winds first came ashore. They’ve got a tree laying in their front yard, which fortunately missed their home.

“We’ve been without power since Wednesday, and based on what I hear now, if we get it back by Wednesday it will be a miracle,” Davis continued. “Just about everywhere people are starting to scramble and get what they can. The lines at the grocery store and the gas stations are wrapping around the building and down the highway. We’ve had storms before, but this one is bad. People say this one is worse than Hazel (in 1954). We’ve never been this long without power, but we’re managing. Just praying. We still have hope.”

Davis said his sisters evacuated to Raleigh, but with the rising rivers still expected to crest, they are uncertain how and when they will be able to return home.

“This is the worst,” Wallace said. “Florence is a slow moving disaster pulling rain up from the ocean. It’s probably going to surpass any disaster that this state has had. (Hurricanes) Floyd and Matthew didn’t do that, they came in and left – and the magnitude of moisture is just catastrophic. Recovery here is going to take years and years. We are not a resources-rich state. Every dollar will count and will make a difference. That’s where the fellowship disaster partnership comes in. We are consolidating our efforts, but we can’t yet know what the need is.”

The Southern Conference has initiated a partnership effort with ‘formula of agreement’ denominational partners. The Rev. Edward Davis, SOC Conference Minister, has reached out to Bishop Tim Smith, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Bishop Valerie Melvin, North Carolina Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and the Rev. Jim Fisk, Presbyterian Church USA. Wallace said the group has identified three opportunities for work and have begun to explore and discuss and plan initiatives for collaborative ministry in response to Florence.

“We are now compiling all of our inventory within the Conference such as those churches that will provide shelter for displaced victims, distribution centers for collected items, and clergy and laity who will serve as volunteers,” said Davis. “We all have to wait now to start the recovery process. The First Responders are in place. I continue to keep all of you in my prayers.”

UCC Disaster Ministries, which is also encouraging continued prayer for all the families, individuals, first responders and emergency management staff in the region, has already established a 2018 Hurricane Relief response to expand current capacities and assist through established relief networks and partners in the impacted areas.

“UCC Disaster Ministries for its part continues to collaborate with the conference, offering up financial resources, guidance and expertise,” said Zach Wolgemuth, executive, UCC Disaster Ministries. “Right now the best thing people can do is to continue to be in prayer and give financially. We know the recovery from this storm will be long-term and we are committed to being in it for the long-haul.”

“The United Church of Christ’s motto, ‘that they may all be one’ describes the tempo of Florence response in North Carolina just now,” Wallace said. “Neighbor helping neighbor, neighbor praying for neighbor, neighbor rescuing neighbor, neighbor being Jesus to neighbor. May it be so for the long period of recovery. Lord, hear our prayers.”

Give to the UCC 2018 Hurricane Relief Effort in church on Sunday or online here.

Bringing Caribbean Flair To Rosenberg

Nearly twenty children participated in the 2018 Vacation Bible School at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg. We were about the same number of adults who planned and delivered a Bible-based curriculum. Embrace the Fruits of the Spirit was developed by Global Ministries, a cooperative including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.

The Fruits of the Spirit curriculum is based on Galatians 5:22-23 “…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That sentence became the chorus to a song we sang daily. Each day the boys and girls learned a different song to emphasize a gift of the Spirit. Vacation Bible School songs often include motions which make them easier and more fun to learn and sing. We played Caribbean music, too, and walked under a Limbo stick. (How low can you go?)

Children worked daily on a canvas which included symbols from each day. Oil pastels were used to create a visual for each of the gifts of the Spirit. Students helped one another make bracelets with buttons and string. Then, we worked to tie them around our wrists. Cisco Tucker made leather and clay character necklaces for each VBS child.

During the week at Vacation Bible School, young and old worked and played together in family groups. People discovered it wasn’t always the youngest who needed a hand. There were opportunities for listening and doing, watching and reading, writing and drawing, there were so many things to do. We drew cartoons to tell Bible stories. Everyone used their colorful maps to locate the Caribbean countries. Flags from the six nations hung near the sanctuary; we were often stumped trying to match the nation and its flag.

Prepared in our kitchen, daily snacks reminded the children we were studying Caribbean countries. Smoothies, fresh fruit including watermelon, wafer sandwiches and cookies were served during snack time. The mid-morning break was a learning experience thanks to the planning and the working in our kitchen!

Caroline, cousin to Ben, Phoebe, and Marie, was very helpful. She participated with a regular group during the week and on Friday she read a picture book from Colombia to everyone. Each day we looked at the life of a child in a different Caribbean nation: Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Colombia. Abigail, Marie, Makenzie, and Cisco read letters from island children. All the children loved using the microphone as we reported our thoughts to the large group.

Three mission coworkers from Colombia and Jamaica spoke via Skype to our students. We asked questions about where they lived and what they did in their mission work. Students asked questions about daily routines, food, weather, and pets. The coworker in Colombia shared the screen with his large cat. We learned local church missions in the Caribbean host Global Ministries coworkers who work in successful local programs.

Vacation Bible School is always rewarding for children and adults who participate. Promise yourself to be involved next summer!

Global Mission Church

Our church’s first name is St. John’s: Johanniskirche, Jan kostel, Iglesia de San Juan, St. John’s Church… That’s what we call ourselves. We are part of a loud tradition of St. John’s churches all around the world. People of every generation in every nation have been inspired by this grunting prophet. In movies he usually looks like a descendant of Samson, the fine arts depict him as a sophisticated messenger. According to the Gospels he has one purpose: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” It takes a trailblazer to open peoples’ hearts and minds. That’s the mission of St. John. That’s what we are here for. The first article of our by-laws spells it out: “It shall be the purpose of this organization to establish in its community a Christian Congregation for worship, to promote the Christian life, and to advance the Kingdom of God by all available means, both at home and abroad.” How do we do it?

With so many members celebrating their German and Czech heritage, with God’s hands holding the whole world in the parish hall, with the congregation supporting Church World Service through the CROP walk, and giving to all five UCC offerings I think St. John’s is a global mission church. This summer we participated in Global Ministries’ Caribbean Initiative by utilizing their VBS curriculum. During that week three mission coworkers from Colombia and Jamaica spoke via Skype to our students. We asked questions about where they lived and what they did in their mission work. Students asked questions about daily routines, food, weather, and pets. The coworker in Colombia shared the screen with his large cat. We learned local church missions in the Caribbean host Global Ministries coworkers who work in successful local programs. It is amazing to feel our own church at work all over the world. In everything we do St. John’s connects with the wider church and is out there to help the world, making the Lord’s paths straight.

Building on the excitement that was sparked by our VBS experience I invite you to take a look at the process outlined by Global Ministries to officially designate our congregation as a Global Mission Church. It is a five-step process:
1. Gather a team to coordinate the Global Mission Church process
2. Learn about UCC global mission understandings and commitments
3. Evaluate your past and current global mission involvement
4. Create your new action plan for engaging in God’s global mission
5. Commit to carrying out your plan in covenant with Global Ministries

On Sunday, October 16th 2018, right after worship, please gather in Parish Hall for a Table Talk. If you are excited about getting more involved in the Global Church you may even consider joining a coordinating team should we decide to gather one.
Also, on that same Sunday, right before church there will be a makeup session for our spiritual summer reading meeting. If you have not caught up on all of Augustine’s Confessions that’s fine. Books 2 and 5 will probably at the heart of our conversation.

HELPER for September 2018

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The Mindset List: Class of 2022

At the beginning of every school I go looking for the new edition of the Mindset List. The list was initiated in the early days of the internet and has been a popular component of back-to-school talks, faculty orientations and sermons for two decades.

This year the following items caught my special attention:

“Among their classmates could be Madonna’s son Rocco, Will Smith’s daughter Willow, or David Bowie and Iman’s daughter Alexandria.”
– That makes me feel really old! I mean seriously, the Fresh Prince is old enough to have a college-aged daughter. Ouch!

1. They are the first class born in the new millennium, escaping the dreaded label of “Millennial,” though their new designation—iGen, GenZ, etc. — has not yet been agreed upon by them.
– Labels! Isn’t interesting how we find it comforting to put everybody in a tiny little well-defined box? How do you talk about yourself? How do you talk about others?

3. They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
– Truth! What is wisdom and where do you find knowledge? Yes, Wikipedia has done a great deal of making solid information available to the masses. But where do you find solid education and profound critical thinking these days?

14. They’ve grown up with stories about where their grandparents were on 11/22/63 and where their parents were on 9/11.
– Shared trauma! Every generation has its shared trauma. This one brings home what generation you belong to. Our common pain is what defines us.

18. The Tower of Pisa has always had a prop to keep it leaning.
– Resilience! The tower of Pisa has been leaning forever. But for this entire past generation it just could not hold its own weight anymore and needed to be propped up. Every person’s perennial wounds are like that. We may need pain management, crutches, anti-depressants, anything, to keep us going. And that’s okay.

34. Starbucks has always served venti Caffè Lattes in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
– Openness! I must admit, this one convicted me of closed-mindedness. I still have this image in my head of China being a protectionist totalitarian regime. The mental image of coffee in the Forbidden City opens my mind. This generation has only seen an opening culture in China for their entire lives. Let me learn from them how to see goodness.

42. Mass market books have always been available exclusively as Ebooks.
– Newness! I love my Kindle but for me it still feels like a recent thing. College freshmen grew up on Ebooks. It takes time to adjust to a new normal. The Mindset List is a powerful tool to bring awareness to what has been normal for an entire generation. Is surely changes my perception and I hope it changes yours.

State of Slumber Falls Camp

Submitted by Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom

Slumber Falls Camp had an incredible summer of excited campers, amazing programming, and focus on God, creation, and spirituality. Reading through the evaluations, many campers felt that this was one of the best summers that they have experienced. Outdoor ministries and summer camps began in 1958 and have continued every year since then. In addition to retreats, camps, conferences, and meetings, the camp has also hosted individuals displaced by natural disasters and special ministries supported by our churches. What started out as an outdoor ministry program for the United Church of Christ, has grown to enhance the church universal, many secular organizations, and the well-being of our neighbors in need at a time of crisis in their lives.

In the past year and a half, there has been a lot of talk about the state of the camp and the future of Slumber Falls Camp. While the camp was in financial crisis at the beginning of 2017, when I came on board, the Board of Directors, Dr. Don Longbottom, and the Camp Council were in complete support of the camp, outdoor education ministries, and the importance of having a facility and programs like Slumber Falls Camp offers to the church and community. As a result of many groups canceling in 2016 (most due to new priests who reflect for a year before engaging in existing programs), the camp was hit hard financially. Fortunately, the camp had reserves which covered the loss of revenue for that year, but 2017 started without a reserve and group rentals did not pick up until February. It was clear to the leadership that we needed to get the camp in a position to be viable and withstand situations outside of our control that affects our finances.

We were proactive in setting goals to turn around the camp. The first step was to be transparent to our associations, churches, and connected parties. The next step included a hard look at financial spending, contracts, and other services to see if we could save money with different options, which we did and were able to save over $30,000 from our budgeted areas. We increased marketing to our pastors, churches, and local communities of the programs, facilities, and opportunities. In that time, we also lost campers, supporters, and revenue from those who felt that we should not be as inclusive to LGBTQ individuals. During this time, we were also combing through evaluations and suggestions on how we could improve the camp, which led to facility improvements such as road and parking lot repairs, cabin cleanings and remodeling, landscaping, new programming amenities such as Frisbee golf and the updated volleyball court, and new mattresses. The newly renovated pool and John’s Cabin were also needed additions. We were able to fund many of these projects through private donors, grants, and support from the South Central Conference. Earlier this year with the support of a long time camp supporter, we engaged in a process with the Business School at the University of Houston to help us create a strategic business plan. This plan has hundreds of hours researching other camps, interviewing key camping individuals throughout the United States, financial analysis, and idea gathering. The end result will be a solid plan for how we will operate for years to come.

As a result of all these new things occurring at the camp, we have heard that there is some confusion as to the direction of Slumber Falls Camp and that we only have a few more years so why support the camp. If the camp, board, and camp council had set idly by and did nothing, Slumber Falls Camp would face the same fate as many other denomination camps. We are not there yet, and we do not believe that we will be there anytime soon. Yes, the South Central Conference supported the camp with over $70,000, but half of that was for camp improvements such as the road, repairs to the director’s house, office computers, programs, and equipment, which was greatly needed. This year our camper numbers were similar to last year’s numbers, but we have also seen an increased interest in our facilities from larger retreat groups which are booking for this year and next year. We are already implementing parts of the business plan even though it is not quite done (mid-September). Ideally, the camp will be self-sufficient in a couple of years with a stronger financial position to help weather unforeseen storms.

In short, Slumber Falls Camp is in a much better position than the start of 2017, but we still have a way to go. We need advocates who recognize the life-transforming power of a week at church camp. We need our churches and families to spread the word that there is a place where all are welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated as children of God where we teach them what it means to be in an intentional Christian community. We need financial supporters of all levels to help with all aspects of the camps from giving as a Friend of the Camp, to supporting Scholarships and Mattresses, and those that are visionaries and underwriters for the big projects and development of this unique, outdoor ministry in the heart of Texas. Slumber Falls Camp has grown as a ministry over the past six decades and changed countless lives by bringing them to a stronger relationship with God. Slumber Falls Camp is a gem, and I love to give tours, talk history, and imagine the future. I hope that you can make a visit here; follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and our newsletter; and/or share our story with your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone that you meet. Blessings and peace to each of you as we journey together, celebrating as one body and bringing God’s light, love, and transformation to the world.

In Peace and Grace,
Rev. Jeremy Albers & Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom