Healing and Recovery with Creativity


I do not remember the names of my high school music or arts teachers. And they don’t deserve to be remembered. They told me I wasn’t good at music or arts and I believed them. To this day I don’t trust that I am a creative person, at least as far as formal arts and music are concerned. You may be the greatest artist or musician or you may be challenged as I am. Regardless of your skill: creative expression is important for developing and maintaining resilience. I have been part of the Fort Bend Recovers working group for emotional and spiritual health since Hurricane Harvey hit our community. Working with these dedicated leaders and helping our community get back on its feet is very rewarding. There is a lot of resilience that needs to be showcased and celebrated. And that is exactly what we are going to do:

Fort Bend Recovers … with Creativity’s vision is to celebrate our community’s restoration and resilience by promoting healing and recovery through original works. Fort Bend Recovers …with Creativity’s first project will be to present “The Harvey Experience – one year later”. This is the title of the anniversary event. We plan to hold the event on August 25th 2018. We are formulating our call for submissions, developing creativity categories which include both visual and performance art. The call for submissions will be worded to encourage residents of Fort Bend County (young and old) to tell their Harvey story – in writing, poetry & essay, in paintings, in music, in dance, etc. We hope that we will get a Harvey quilt, a Harvey rap song, and many Harvey paintings and drawings and photographs. “Art has a way of transforming hard truth, ugliness, and heartache and turning it into something beautiful. We believe that creative works will be healing for the creators as well as the observers/participants.” — Dr. Amy Harkins, a psychologist with Easter Seals Greater Houston

Fort Bend Recovers…with Creativity is working to finalize the details for The Harvey Experience. The details for the creative works will be posted soon. But don’t let that stop you from starting to create. Express your Harvey experience and share your process. We are not looking for the next Mozart or Van Gogh. My high school music and arts teachers are not invited to the event. You are free to express yourself and find your own voice.

Vet Church at St. John’s

Our congregation has a big veteran population. We take them on field trips like recently to the Lone Star Flight Museum. We offer presentations by the Texas Veterans Commission and others. On June 3rd, 2018 we will bring the Vet Church experience to our Sunday morning worship at 10 am. Vet Church is a community of nearly 3,000 veterans who share life on Facebook and in the real world. The driving force behind it is Matt Williams.

Retired Army Chaplain, The Reverend Dr. Matthew Owen Williams (Matt) was medically retired in 2013 at Ft. Campbell, KY. Matt has chronic pain and struggles with PTSD and Moral Injury. He is now a singer songwriter who is working through his own pain while encouraging other Veterans and Military Families to actually ‘BE’ all that they can be.

“In a world of Virtual Reality, Virtual Friends and Virtual Connection, I had a simple Idea. I would travel around America and play songs to the folks I went to Afghanistan and Iraq with. So many people liked the songs that I just kept singing, writing and playing that guitar. I am just trying be- a face-to-face encouragement. I am trying to be real in a world of virtual. As a Veteran so much about life is surreal. I just want to be real. These songs are me and my military experience: happy, sad, angry –all of It.” –Matt Williams

Matt keeps singing and playing and in this way blesses communities all over the country with his guitar and songs. On June 3rd he will lead our worship service alongside Rev. Daniel Haas so we will all have a chance to extend the love of Christ to those with pain and problems. Vet Church is a bit different than normal church in that it is a virtual community designed specifically for Veterans and those who struggle with PTSD, Moral Injury, Depression, Anxiety, Physical Pain and other Stuff. Please join them online and please join Matt live in Rosenberg on June 3rd.

Strengthen the Church

The 2018 South Central Conference Annual Meeting is coming, are you? Where has the past year gone? It seems as if the 2017 Annual Meeting in Dallas was just a few weeks ago. This year we will be meeting at Camp Allen near Navasota, TX., Friday, June 1 at 12:45pm to Saturday June 2 at 3pm, with the meeting being hosted by our Heart of Texas Association. During our first day together we will hear from our General Minister and President, John Dorhauer preach at the Conference Minister installation. We will also participate in workshops in subject areas reflecting the 5 priorities of our conference:
1. Spiritual Renewal
2. Planting new congregations
3. Re-vitalizing older congregations
4. Living the Gospel according to Jesus Christ
5. Stewardship

We will have a presentation from Joshua Lawrence and Amariee Collins, our Disaster Ministries Coordinators on the hurricane recovery effort. Aside from the business of our conference, there will be fellowship times, clergy dinner, wonderful music and worship. Sisters and brothers, this is our time to gather as a family of faith…it is important. Come, let us worship as a family of faith. After all it is Moral Monday…stand up and be counted.
Peace and Grace,
Dr. Don

PS: You do not have to be a delegate to attend. The presentations and workshops will be uplifting even if you don’t have a vote in the business meeting!

PPS: If you can’t make it to Camp Allen, you can strengthen the church in another important way. This Sunday, May 20th, is Pentecost, and on Pentecost at St. John’s UCC we receive the Strengthen the Church Offering. During this season, I’m writing to ask you to support the Strengthen the Church Special Mission Offering. This offering supports the expansion and vitality of the United Church of Christ. The first half of your gift funds ministry within the South Central Conference while the second half goes to strengthening the church nationally! Our beloved denomination needs your support to fulfill on its commitment to creating a just world for all by investing in new ministries and practices that meet the emerging needs of local communities. Please prayerfully consider making a gift. Thank for your support.

Annual Interfaith Iftar

I am excited! I ordered 9 free tickets for my wife, my kids, my in-laws, and myself. We are going to the annual INTERFAITH Iftar of Ramadan at Maryam Islamic Center in Sugar Land on May 31st, 2018. Here is what is going to happen there:
6:30 PM – Arrival & Socializing
7:00 PM – Program Begins
8:15 PM – Fasting Experience/Iftar
8:40 PM – Prayer followed by Dinner

Amina Ishaq is the Lead for Maryam Islamic Center’s Interfaith Team. Which brings me to the question: Who is the lead of St. John’s Interfaith Team? How come we don’t have an Interfaith Team? Anyway here is her introduction on the importance of the holy month:

“Ramadan is a special and holy month of the Islamic lunar year for over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. It is a time for inner reflection, contemplation, discipline and devotion to God. As we fast and sacrifice food and drink during the daylight hours, we are reminded of Gods blessings upon us and are encouraged to be charitable.
Ramadan is a month of giving and sharing. It is an opportunity for friends and family of diverse faiths to understand one another and to show kindness to those around them. It is a time of renewal and recommitment to bettering oneself. It is a time for one to become closer to God through sacrificing ones most basic need in order to become more patient and disciplined. The holy Quran was also revealed in the month of Ramadan.
The month of Ramadan ends with the celebration of Eid-ul-fitr or the celebration of the breaking of the fast. On Eid muslims pray to God, greet one another happily, exchange gifts, eat delicious food, visit family and neighbors, give charity and have fun.
It is our hope that this Ramadan & Eid brings a sense of peace and hope throughout the world.”

So, don’t miss out. Please join me and my family this Ramadan. Get your free tickets over here. If you can’t make it this time, then at least talk to your church council members about getting an Interfaith Team started at our church. I’d love to help!

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Where does church fit into your life?

We count how many people attend church every week. But that’s not all: we also keep a membership roll of who “belongs to the church”. Then we also look at how much money ends up in the offering plates every month. How big is your church? We answer that question in terms of Sunday attendance, membership and income.

In all honesty, the three measuring sticks of attendance, membership and income are not as accurate as they used to be. Originally the idea was that members attend “their” church regularly and give regularly to “their” church. That is hardly the case anymore. My own son went to preschool at a United Methodist Church. We attended chapel there regularly. I go to spiritual direction in a Roman Catholic Community. My wife serves a Presbyterian congregation and I join them for special services as time permits. In many patchwork families children attend services with mom one week, dad another and grandparents on a third weekend. We have children in our own Sunday School who are part-time Baptists. A lot of children hit every Vacation Bible School in town. Faithful church members of our own congregation – now in their 70s – tell me that was commonplace even when they were little. We went to a First Communion Service last Sunday. It was a great moment for our friends. But the reality is the kids had had communion at our UCC church for years – only on the Catholic side of their identity can they call it “First Communion”.

Bottom line: Everybody is wearing multiple hats. Hardly anybody “belongs to” one particular church. We show up in places. We give when we find meaningful ministry that deserves support. For most people church does not fit into their life at all. So for those who show up and give, let’s celebrate them and not give them a hard time that they don’t abide by some rule of exclusivity. The church as the body of Christ belongs in all incarnations to the one God. Let us wear our human reflections of that lightly.

Under Construction


For a couple of weeks we had some major construction going on at church. The men’s bathroom was remodeled and the main entrance was scaffolded because limestone was crumbling down. The church needed fixing. That is typical. Every building needs maintenance and replacements. The church is no different. It is constantly under construction. And that is not only true for the church building but maybe even more so for the congregation.

The construction that is going on in the congregation may not require scaffolding. But it still requires maintenance and hard labor. Two programs have recently collapsed: We used to have an Adult Sunday School that met right before church. After change in leadership the program just withered away. Multiple attempts at regular Bible Studies started with great enthusiasm but did not prove sustainable. The church needs fixing. Where are the opportunities for spiritual formation that we allow our people to participate in? Faith needs maintenance and hard labor just like a building. Spirituality can break, needs restoration, requires regular updates, should be remodeled to match new challenges. It is not enough to just apply another coat of pious paint. In order for your faith to remain or become meaningful you need to move walls and open up new spaces. Let’s make sure that we remain “under construction”, not just physically but also spiritually.

What Difference does St. John’s UCC make?


142 walkers came out for the Crop Hunger Walk in order to support local food banks and Church World Service hunger relief around the world.

This article by David B. Lindsey was originally published on the UCC’s Vital Signs and Statistics blog. Rev. Daniel Haas shortened it for our specific situation at St. John’s UCC

As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I believe that the UCC makes a real difference in the world. But what difference, exactly, is that? And how do I (or any of us) know that?

For nonprofits (including the church), one way to describe the difference that you make comes from statistics. And last month, congregations across the UCC shared some basic statistics with the wider denomination. Our churches filled out annual reports about average attendance for worship last year, how many new members we received, how many children participated in faith formation, what our income and expenses were, etc.

This exercise is common to most denominations, but its capacity to give meaningful information about the health of a church or a denomination has been questioned in recent years. Are categories like “attendance” and “income” the right things to be counting? In addition to these categories, might the wider church also want to count numbers related to mission activities (e.g. how many meals did your church serve at a local homeless shelter last year)? And is counting this stuff even the best way to assess what difference the UCC (or any denomination) makes?

Church consultant Gil Rendle offers some perspective on this debate in his recent book Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics. In this book, Rendle advocates for a three-fold approach to assessing the health and vitality of a church. He argues that we must consider input, throughput, and output.

Input refers to the resources that the church has. This category is full of nouns: how many members do you have, how much income do you receive, what is your weekly attendance, etc. These are the kinds of things that churches can and often do count, and that frequently go into annual reports. They are also the numbers that the UCC recently asked of your local church. Rendle argues that we have to do this kind of counting. Without this information, he writes, we cannot fully assess how we’re doing.

But Rendle argues that we cannot stop there. After all, just because you have 25 people showing up for a program doesn’t inherently mean they are doing anything Christian! To contextualize input, then, Rendle suggests a second category: throughput.

Throughput refers to the activities you do with the resources you have. This category is full of verbs: how many meals we cooked, how many hours we volunteered, what new programs we created, etc. These activities can also be counted, yet congregations and denominations rarely do so. To my knowledge, the UCC has never asked its local churches to send in this information on an annual basis. Imagine what a sight it would be to see our General Minister and President going around to Conference Annual Meetings each year, joyfully celebrating the millions of volunteer hours that hundreds of thousands of UCC members gave to their congregations in any given year. And the number could be known, if churches were just asked to report such hours along with worship attendance each year!

Still, Rendle argues that we cannot stop there. After all, a group of volunteers can do an activity without it necessarily being a fruitful Christian ministry. How do we know if an activity is having any kind of vital, faithful impact in the world? According to Rendle, we need a third category to assess such vitality: output.

Output refers to the difference or change to be accomplished via input and throughput. In grammar terms, output is where you talk about purpose with phrases like “so that …” and “in order to …”. This is where, to use Rendle’s distinction, counting ends and measuring begins. Up until this point, churches can put numbers on their metrics. At this point, however, the quantitative (i.e. numerical) analysis of your church ends and the qualitative (i.e. descriptive) analysis begins.

This is the point, Rendle argues, where the church almost invariably falters. Christians of every denomination and of no particular denomination frequently do church just to do church, because “it’s what we’ve always done,” and not because there is a specific and compelling change we are pro-actively trying to make in the world. Yet to be considered a vital church, Rendle argues that we need to be able to name and claim (with vibrant, descriptive language) the difference God has called us to make in the world. And Rendle argues that any analysis of a church, a conference, or a denomination’s vitality is not truly complete until input, throughput, and output have all been assessed.

Lest this seem intimidating, let me show you how you can do this work in a single sentence. Consider the following example that you might see in a church newsletter:

“23 volunteers packed 500 meals at last Sunday’s program so that fewer children in our neighborhood will go to bed hungry this summer after the school year ends.”

In this one sentence, we see the entirety of Rendle’s approach to analyzing church vitality. We have the input (“23 people”), the throughput (“packed 500 meals at last Sunday’s program”), and the output (“so that fewer children in our neighborhood will go to bed hungry this summer after the school year ends”). Take note of just how specific the language of the output has to be in order to compete with the input and the throughput. To keep your church’s “eyes on the prize,” Rendle argues that you have to use vivid, detailed language that points clearly to a purpose. Otherwise, folks will just get hung up on the numbers (“hey, last year we only had 19 people at that event!”) instead of seeing how your congregation lives out the gospel (“whatever you did for one of the least of these children, you did for me.”)

Numbers matter, but so do stories. In order to truly see where there is vitality within the UCC, we need to look for both signs and statistics. When we do so, we are able, with God’s grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accurately assess exactly what difference the UCC makes. The more fully we can articulate that difference, the more fully God can grow our denomination in both size and spirit to serve a world that is aching for transformation.

Rev. Dr. David Lindsey currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale, Virginia, in the Central Atlantic Conference.

Autism Awareness Month and the Church


I was wearing all blue last week because it was the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. As a church we need to keep in mind that faith is a very important part of life for so many families in the autism community. Many of these families often feel held back from becoming a part of a religious community because of their child’s diagnosis. They might feel excluded, or just assume that they won’t be supported or accepted.

Autism Speaks hopes that all families affected by autism may be welcomed in their house of worship, and able to become active participants in their faith community. They have put together a list of resources that families and faith leaders may find helpful. As part of their resource guide they share The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child by Andre Masse, CSE, that were first published in the NAMR Quarterly, 1968.

The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child
• Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech for you help us to know that if we persevere we can be understood.
• Blessed are you who walk with us in public places, and ignore the stares of strangers, for in your companionship we find havens of relaxation.
• Blessed are you who never bid us to “hurry up” and more blessed you who do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them for us, for often we need time rather than help.
• Bless are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for our failures will be outweighed by the time when we surprise ourselves and you.
• Blessed are you who ask for our help, for our greatest need is to be needed.
• Blessed are you who help us with the graciousness of Christ Who did not bruise the reed and quench the flax, for often we need the help we cannot ask for.
• Blessed are you when by all these things you assure us that the thing that makes us individuals is not in our peculiar muscles, not in our wounded nervous system, not in our difficulties in learning but in the God-given self which no infirmity can confine.
• Rejoice and be exceedingly glad and know that you give us reassurances that could never be spoken in words, for you deal with us as Christ deals with all of His Children.
• Blessed are you! Indeed!