Walk against Hunger

Thoughts and prayers are not good enough! When in comes to human suffering action is needed. And you have a great opportunity to act in two distinct ways: You can walk and donate! The CROP Walk has raised awareness of hunger in our communities since 1969. By joining the West Fort Bend County CROP Walk you make our voice bigger and louder. The more people join the walk the harder it is to ignore hungry children in our communities. Please come out to George Ranch Historical Park, 10215 FM 762 in Richmond, Texas. Registration is on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and the walk begins at 8:00 a.m. It is a short, easy walk.

Besides your feet, you may also bring your wallet. Funds raised benefit Helping Hands, Needville Food Pantry and hunger projects around the world through Church World Service. Together, we can help end hunger in our community and around the world! You may donate even if you can’t make it on Saturday. Please donate online here.

Over the last 36 years St. John’s United Church of Christ has consistently been among the top fundraisers. This year let’s also be among the largest walking groups! In recent years we had extra support from Boy Scout Troop 309. This year Physical Therapy in Richmond has pledged to bring additional walkers. Join our team and give hunger no chance!

An Easter People’s Lamentation of Hope

In his Easter Message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer invites all in the wider church to celebrate the hope of Easter.

We are an Easter people.

Shaped by the experiences of death, the wells of our enduring faith spring up and speak to us of the eternal.

This fundament, this bedrock, it grounds us.

And, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians – we therefore do not grieve as those who have no hope.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year and a half I have had to remind myself that we are, in the end, an Easter people.

No death we experience will be allowed to offer the last word.

Hope will always abide in the shadows that come with grief and loss.

Let us, then, speak of grief and loss – the collective ennui we share with a suffering planet that is smeared with our toil.

We see tens of millions of refugees swarming the globe. We see decades of advances in social justice being erased by a global shift to the political fringes. We watch nations and their leaders play war games with big and very destructive weapons. We know children are being trafficked, women are being violated, and black and brown bodies are continuously treated with disdain by whites.

My mood has shifted and I am not alone. Say what you want about the current political climate in America, but something has happened to our shared narrative.

Immigrants are enemies.

Unarmed black bodies are gunned down with impunity.

Women’s bodies are trivialized as solely the object of men’s passions and desires.

Fascism is on the rise, creeping into the light after decades lurking in the shadows.

Children go through ‘code red’ exercises that have them rehearsing live shooter drills, wondering not if, but when.

We talk without shame about arming teachers.

I’m looking for my Easter hope.

I’m asking if this is the dying beyond which God has nothing more to say.


God is not silent.

God’s speech resonates not from beyond the madness, but from within it.

On a street corner in St. Louis, a woman preaches at the opening of a child wellbeing center. The preacher has an Easter story to tell. She was left abandoned on that very street corner when she was 9 months old.

In a sanctuary in Madbury, New Hampshire the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ celebrates 14 years of shared life and ministry. They have their own Easter story to tell. Many in the room just weeks ago were detained and threatened with deportation. One pastor’s intervention and dogged determination affected their release. On this Sunday, much more than an anniversary is celebrated as families are re-united.

In the aftermath of one of the most violent and ugly chapters of our collective narrative, teenagers produce their own Easter hope by calling a nation to recognize that our love affair with gun violence is destroying the hope of children. Their fierce resistance has an entire nation marching for our lives.

The tomb is empty.

Oh, to be sure, death has its sting.

There was a body. But the body rises.

God speaks, and beyond the seemingly impenetrable tomb a new word is heard.

Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

May the joy of an embodied resurrection call you to see through grief, listen beyond lamentation, and know beyond a shadow of doubt, Jesus lives.

We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our grief is altered by Easter.

Jesus is risen.

He is risen indeed.

The 10 most popular Baptismal Verses

Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life. I usually have the parents pick a Bible verse for their baby. Grownups obviously get to pick their own. For many years taufspruch.de has helped German speakers to find a verse that matches their life situation. Here are the 10 most popular Baptismal Verses:

1: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

2: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

3: You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. (Psalm 139:5)

4: for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:10-11)

5: for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

6: I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)

7: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

8: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. (Psalm 139:14)

9: Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

10: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16b)

Do you remember the verse you were given? Or can you find it on your baptism certificate? A lot of times, people share with me how it has served as a meaningful motto that has carried them through their lives.

Community Labyrinth for Lent

In the court yard of our church campus we now offer a labyrinth. Everyone is welcome to access it from the West Street side. We will maintain this temporary installation through Easter. If you are looking for a meaningful Lent experience, come on over and walk the labyrinth:

A labyrinth is not a maze. It has one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost in it. There are no dead ends. It is a symbol for life: It may seem chaotic but it moves forward steadily.
As you enter please imagine how you are descending into darkness. A labyrinth has dungeon qualities to it. Ancient cultures have imagined all kinds of creatures in those caverns. It can be a dangerous and deadly place.
Just like the path of life leads to death so is your way into the labyrinth. As you step in you step from light into darkness. The light fades away more and more the deeper you get into it. As you enter please imagine your journey as the challenges and hardships you face in life: the turns you are forced to make, the dirt you have to walk through.
A labyrinth has a center. Once you are in the center stay there for a while. Rest. Celebrate your arrival. You made it through all of life’s troubles. If you are a religious person consider this the end state of your existence whether you call it heaven or Nirvana or however you name it. Maybe for you it’s just the great emptiness.
When you are ready make your way out again. Take with you the strength of having been there before. As you walk out remember how you overcame all those troubles. After all you are walking back towards the light. Find signs of hope along your journey. Remember resources for personal strength that you can tap into. From my Christian perspective I call this part resurrection life. Out of death back to life. From darkness back to the light.
This is a spiritual exercise. If you have an urge to walk really fast get some physical exercise first and come back when you are ready to walk slowly. This exercise works best in total silence. If that does not work for you right now please come back when it does. Find your own pace. Some of the images that may pop up along the journey may make you slow down, some may make you want to speed up and run away. Find your own pace, yet be mindful of others.

Four considerations regarding cremation

Most of us will eventually die. The only recorded exception to that was Enoch “because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). So let’s assume for now that we are all going to die. It only makes sense to think about what you want to happen with your remains after death. As a pastor I get frequently asked if cremation is okay with God. Let me give you 4 considerations regarding cremation:

1. Will I have my body in the resurrection life?
I sure hope not. I hope with Paul that things will be different: “There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.” (1 Corinthians 15:40) Our heavenly bodies will be different. They will not be plagued by disease, they won’t die. Concepts like growing up or aging obviously do not apply in eternity. Yes, we will still be ourselves, but different.

2. If my remains are burnt won’t I be burnt forever?
No. Even when a body rots under ground it will still be renewed hereafter – not physically or literally, but in a way that is whole: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

3. Are their any dangers in cremation?
Yes. As pastor I have seen too often that loving relatives have a hard time letting go of the deceased person. That is normal to an extent. But sometimes families will choose to take the urn home. Sometimes spouses will keep the ashes of their loved one on a shelf in the bedroom or the mantle over the fireplace. That can hinder closure and can delay the process of saying farewell.

4. What to do with the ashes after cremation?
Find a final resting place! I doesn’t matter whether you want the urn in a grave or a columbarium. You can scatter the ashes on designated sites and return your loved one to the circle of life. The main point is finality. Keeping the urn at home is not a good option. Because when you grow older, your children will have to go through your things and have to decide what happens to grandpa’s ashes. Don’t punt that to the next generations. All too often urns end up in garages or storage sheds.

Since 2016 the majority (50.2%) of Americans have chosen cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association has the projected rate of cremation reaching 78.8 percent of deaths by 2035. I suggest to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the grieving process or puts undue burdens on following generations.

Suicide Prevention Sunday

Each year, the United Church of Christ designates one Sunday – usually the last Sunday in January – as a day to recognize the ministries in health and human services provided by the members of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries as well as those supported by our local churches, ministries which respond to human need with compassion and justice. This Sunday is an opportunity for congregations to lift up our common ministry of healing and service to others in Christ’s name.

I have been with St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg, Texas, for 3.5 years now. In this short time frame I have accompanied 5 families who lost a loved one to suicide. It is time we react to this health crisis in our church. That is why we decided to utilize this year’s Health and Human Service Sunday as a Sunday for Suicide Prevention. For our 10 am service on January 28, 2018, I invited Dr. Amy Harkins to co-preach with me.

Dr. Amy Harkins is a licensed psychologist working with Easter Seals of Greater Houston in their Mental Health Program. She is able to meet with adults one-on-one for talk therapy that is goal directed, strengths-based and aims to make small, yet meaningful and sustainable changes to improve the well-being and quality of life of her clients. She has worked with elders, Veterans and their loved ones and is currently responding to the emotional healthcare needs of people recovering from Hurricane Harvey. Dr. Harkins has specialized skills in working with clients who have survived traumatic life events and can assist them in healing the emotional wounds that linger after trauma has occurred. Dr. Harkins earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Arizona State University in 2005. Dr. Harkins is a wife, mother of two young children and a Monarch Butterfly Rancher.

Right after church we will have a table talk in the parish hall. Then and there everybody will have a chance to reflect on their experiences with suicide. Also we will learn how to recognize and support people who are struggling. Please come and learn how to safe lives!

Act Now! Unite to End Racism

Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom

As I write this article, I do so seeking your wisdom. The National Council of Churches and our President John Dorhauer have invited us to be a part of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s martyrdom. The gathering place is Washington D.C. The intent is to continue the work begun by Dr. King.

Living here in Texas and Louisiana, we know that our nation is engaged in a season of soul searching with much weighing in the balance. Voices have been raised in recent days that seem desirous of taking us back to a time before integration and affirmative action. The national narrative of diversity and inclusion is being strongly challenged.

This proposed gathering is an answer to this challenge. The primary question is; Will we in the progressive church rise up and answer this call? So then, I come to all of you. How important do we believe this gathering to be? Getting to Washington DC and staying a day or two will be neither cheap nor easy. Let me describe planned events and then ask for your assistance.

Act Now! Envisions three days of events. April 3 begins at 7pm with an inter-faith event at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral with a Service of Repentance. April 4th begins at 9am with an interfaith service of Prayer and Preparation at the Lincoln Memorial. Beginning at 10am thru 2pm is a rally on the Mall designed to Awaken, Confront, and Transform our hearts and our institutions. April 5th is Lobby Day with the opportunity to visit your political representatives.

I would make the following proposal that we plan to participate in the April 3rd meeting at the Greek Orthodox Church, stay overnight, and then participate in the action on the Mall. Most of us would then make our way back to Texas or Louisiana. I leave you with the following questions.

Do you wish to participate?
Are you willing to be a “go to” organizational person in your Association?
Would you be willing to share in the cost of a chartered bus?
Would you be able to spend the night in a local church?
Please call the Conference Office at Slumber Falls and share any input you may wish to share. The phone number is 830-625-2212 and you may speak to Stacey Silvey. You can also leave a reply below to share your input.

Peace and Grace,
Dr. Don

Are you one of the Wise Men?

This week the church will be celebrating Epiphany. Epiphany is when the wise men from the East finally arrive to see the newborn king. No, they don’t go to the stable in Bethlehem but a house without a city mentioned. The story tells us that they came “from the East”. A lot of times in the Bible that refers to what is now the Baghdad area. It was a long and dangerous trip. For 1,000 kilometers they were just following a star not really knowing where they were going. It takes a lot of dedication to follow a star down to 300 meters below sea level and back up to almost 900 meters. Yes, Google Maps shows the wonderful details of the journey.

I imagine such a trip to be a spiritual struggle as well. It takes a leap of faith. The wise men jumped head over heels into a crazy adventure. Our modern-day equivalent could be jumping into a new job or relationship. Do you remember the excitement and the hesitation you felt at such pivotal moments in your life? What would that look like for your spirituality: If you were to open that old book, make prayer a habit, dedicate time and money to God’s work? Would you embark on a 1,000 kilometer journey to find the Son of God? What struggles are you willing to take on? Once you follow the wise men into the unknown desert one thing you will find for sure: Yourself. May that be your greatest Epiphany!

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

If you are interested in a clash of ideologies, this is not written for you. If you think America is in trouble because fewer people say Merry Christmas, this is not written for you. “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” are not alternatives. It’s not one or the other. Just in the month of December there are XX holidays. So your safest bet it to use “Happy Holidays” most of this month.

With Advent being so late this year, Islam got a head-start in 2017 with Mawlid an Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on December 1. For Christians the season of Advent covers the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, December 3-24. December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, the holiday to commemorate one of the cultural roots of Santa Claus. Catholics put an emphasis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8. Last Sunday you may have seen a parade of horses and many worshipers heading through town. Those were processions held in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a December 12 holiday commemorating an apparition of Mary in Mexico. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah December 13-20 this year. A miracle made the oil last to light all eight candles on the candelabra. Remember how Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place in the inn? The week before Christmas is a week of Posadas Navidenas – their perilous journey reenacted by the Hispanic community. The winter solstice on December 21 is a turning point in the sky and probably one of the objective reasons why so many holidays pile up this time of year.

So far “happy holidays” would have been my seasonal greeting of choice. Now, December 24 changes that. Christmas Eve begins what the church calls Christmastide. The song calls it the 12 days of Christmas which end on Epiphany, January 6. Jesus’s birth, the incarnation of the Word of God, the divine becoming human, is a turning point that starts a whole new season. Advent was preparation, now Christmas means: Christ is born! That’s when I say: Merry Christmas!

But the holiday season continues. December 26 is a day that is remarkable for two deaths: the Prophet Zarathushtra for the Zoroastrian faith and Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church. And the wheel keeps turning until the babe in the manger gets martyred himself. When I say Merry Christmas I mean it. When I say happy holidays I mean it.

At Christmas, Love Wins

In his Christmas Message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer invites all in the wider church to commit to making sure that ‘Love Wins’, no matter the season.

I greet you all in the name of our Risen Savior.

Merry Christmas to each and all!

In this last year the United Church of Christ has been asking what it means to share a common purpose: “to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbor as ourselves.”

It was Jesus who taught us what love of God incarnated looked like. We are his disciples. Our own devotion to God and to Jesus manifests itself in our love for others. Jesus once was asked, “When did we see you hungry and feed you; or naked and clothe you?” His answer was not only tenderly beautiful, it was fully instructive: “Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.”

Therefore, as a means of taking our purpose to love God seriously the United Church of Christ has entered into a season of what we are calling our 3 Great Loves: love of children (“bring them unto me, for to such as these belongs the Kindom of God); love of neighbor (“…whom you shall love as you love yourself”); and love of creation (“when I consider Your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have made — who are we that you are mindful of us? Yet you have made us little lower than the gods, and entrusted to us care over the work of your hands.”).

What better time than this season to commit to our own acts of love for God’s children, our neighbor, and the handiwork of God’s vast imagination — our mother Earth?

In this past year, I have borne witness to what your own commitments to love incarnated look like. I have seen your acts of kindness and compassion change lives.

In Maine, I sat in a church/restaurant where once a week members present a fine dining experience to about 85 homeless residents. In Colombia, I met with peace activists who serve as our co-mission partners and who worked with the government and rebel factions to negotiate a peace settlement that has helped end the longest armed conflict on the globe. In Italy, I met with Reform partners who daily receive refugees from Africa landing on their shores in search of food and freedom. And in Standing Rock we demonstrated with first nation peoples for water rights.

This baby Jesus we will soon celebrate the birth of inspires in all of us an impulse to love. Borne of God’s love for us, we extend that love daily to those most in need of our acts of compassion and kindness. Our own lives are daily transformed by the kindness and compassion of others.

This Christmas, love wins.

May the joy of this season inspire you to know the love of God, incarnated once in Jesus and today in your acts of love — of children, to neighbor, and for creation.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Rev. John C. Dorhauer