Our neighbors have started down a path we took 20 years ago

Last week, four members of our congregation — Sharon Powers Smith, Robin Carlson, Lisa Boyles and Pastor Ara Guekguezian — visited our neighbor, Hope Lutheran Church, on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Their congregation is going through the process to consider becoming Reconciling in Christ (RIC), the Lutheran Church’s equivalent to our denomination’s Open and Affirming process (a public covenant welcoming into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions). We were invited to share our experience about making that change in our church’s fabric in 1998.

We spoke to one of Hope Lutheran’s adult education classes. About 15 people heard our stories and recollections from that period. They asked us questions — many of the same questions we had when we went through the process.

“Listening to their concerns and fears reminded me of us 20 years ago,” Robin said. “I think it was helpful for their church to hear that we had those same fears and concerns and that we listened to our Still Speaking God and chose to walk in the ways of justice and love.  We chose to become an open and welcoming church and we are still here, still doing church 20 years later.”

Sharon described the steps we took on our own journey, led by our co-pastors at the time, the Reverends Gail McDougle and David Brown.

First, we did a book study of “What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality” by Daniel A. Helminiak. Then Gail and David led four congregational meetings after worship on Sundays. The first two were biblically based, reviewing some of what we covered in the book study.

The third week was a powerful discussion with two children of our church — a young man and woman who told us what it was like to grow up coming to terms as a gay man and lesbian woman.

One question that comes up during this process is, “Why do we have to go through this? We are open and welcoming. Why do we have to take this official step?” But hearing from children who grew up among us disputed that, telling us that our informal acceptance didn’t feel very accepting at all.

The final week of those sessions was decision time. After going through the process — all of which took more than a year — we had to decide where to go from there.

The thing about going through all this turmoil is that you are going to lose some people either way. Some will leave if you go through with it, but if you don’t, after all that, some will decide that they can’t abide with staying if we can’t grow.

“We acknowledged the cost of faithful following as well as the cost in merely entering into the discussion,” Pastor Ara said. “The aim is not to make everyone happy, but to faithfully fulfill God’s will for God’s people.”

Some of the discussion at Hope Lutheran centered on what a different place we, as a nation, are in now compared to where we were 20 years ago. But that societal progress is not set in stone.

Lisa brought up President Trump’s recent move to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people. Our country may be a different place than it was in 1998, but in today’s political climate, the presidential administration is taking us backward every day. It’s more important than ever to take a stand for what’s right.

The Hope Lutheran members we spoke to seemed very appreciative of our viewpoints as they weigh this step for their congregation.

Hearing from one another from different places on the journey of faith was a great blessing to me,” Pastor Ara said. “As the four folks from Community shared our story and engaged in dialogue as questions were asked and answered, it was clear that the Holy Spirit continues to move in a powerful way among bodies and hearts that are open.”

Hope Lutheran’s congregation will take this issue to a congregational vote on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Let us hold them in our prayers as they thoughtfully consider this step.

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications/marketing liaison for Community UCC

 

A letter to the UCC Family of Faith: We can’t let evil prevail

This call to action comes from the Conference Minister of the Penn Northeast Conference UCC, with the affirmation of the denomination’s National Officers and the Rev. David Ackerman, Conference Minister of the Penn West Conference UCC:

The news over the past weeks has revealed an undercurrent of hate within our culture and our country. Between the assumption that immigrants walking nearly 2,000 miles seeking asylum are seen as a threat to our security; the pipe bombs mailed to those who oppose our current political administration; the massacre of 11 Jewish citizens during services at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; and the shooting of an African American man and woman in a grocery store after a failed attempt to enter a church of Black worshippers, it is hard to find cause for hope in our nation.

The rhetoric of hate and divisiveness calls for a response from the faith community. While we should not advocate for candidates or political parties, we must advocate for justice, humanitarian treatment of our neighbors, and for safety in our places of worship. We are a diverse nation and until recently that diversity has been seen as a strength. We, in the Church, must stand as moral authorities proclaiming peace and hope, compassion and justice.

Wherever and whenever you have the opportunity to provide wisdom and comfort, inspiration and compassion, I urge you to do so. To be silent is to let evil prevail and we, as people of faith, cannot do that, any more than Jesus could do it in his time and culture. Find a way to bring peace and hope to your faith communities, your communities, our state and our nations.

Today we are asking our members to write prayer notes or notes of compassion to our siblings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Mail them from your local church to them at 5898 Wilkins Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

Participate in a vigil or a peaceful worship process in any one of your communities and if there isn’t one, please plan one.

If you are able, this would be a wonderful way to demonstrate solidarity with our Jewish siblings.

By all means, pray but above all do not fail to speak out or to act. As Martin Niemöller wrote:

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”[1]

We are called to be people of prayer, but we are also called to remember that “The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). May we each and all do our part to make our communities, state and nation places of hope and peace.

Faithfully,

The Rev. Bonnie Bates, Conference Minister

Penn. Northeast Conference United Church of Christ

November birthdays and anniversaries

Each month we recognize the birthdays and anniversaries of our church members. Here are the ones for the month of November:

November Birthdays

4 — Terry Cole

8 — Meg Gallagher

9 — Lisa Boyles

13 — Myra Coble, Shelia Earl

14 — Margaret Fullerton

15 — Josie Cushing

17 — Laurie Labbitt

18 — Vivienne Barrett, Sarah Hayden, Margery Mulvihill,

19 — Janice Perrigo

21 — Jack Wolfe

22 — Tony Fazio

24 — John Donaldson, Eileen White

27 — Jordan Ruffin, Pailey Carroll

29 — Wesley Carroll

30 — Carol Kilburn

November Anniversaries

5 — Myra & Tom Coble

17 — Laurie Labbitt & Ron Perry

 

Journey Into Advent: ‘The Magnificat’ with EJ Hinojosa — Nov. 16-18

Join us for Journey into Advent, our annual deeper exploration into our faith as we enter the Advent season of our spiritual calendar.

EJ Hinojosa is a composer, conductor, vocalist, pianist and music educator. He has been the director of music at Community United Church of Christ, Fresno for five years, where he leads a band and a choir.

EJ holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Fresno Pacific University, where he studied music composition, biblical critique and church music history. He serves as the piano instructor at Roosevelt School of the Arts in Fresno.

EJ has been commissioned as a composer and arranger by musical ensembles in Canada and the United States, including works for local ensembles like Soli Deo Gloria Women’s Chorus, Quintus and several faith-based choral ensembles. He is sought as a coach by solo vocalists, high school choral ensembles, and barbershop quartets.

This fall, he released an album of original music for worship titled “Banner.” EJ is a proud citizen of Fresno, where he lives with his wife, Erin, and their daughter, Rosalind.

  • 7-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 in Hayden Hall: EJ will begin our journey with context of the Magnificat then begin to move us into the creative process. Dessert provided.
  • 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 17 in Hayden Hall and the Sanctuary: Breakfast then we will continue our journey by listening to different examples of the Magnificat. We will discuss those styles and themes and what makes a good Christian worship song. We will work together to set lyrics to music and reflect on what we’ve learned together.
  • 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 in the Sanctuary: Worship with EJ as he continues our Journey into Advent.

Cost is $25 per person for this event. Full and partial scholarships available upon request. Or if you are able, please fund a scholarship.

To register or for more information, call Marilyn in the Church Office at 559.435.2690.

Please respond by Nov. 9 so we may plan for food.

 

Vote Common Good’s final stop before election will be at Community UCC

The Vote Common Good national tour is coming to town. It’s final rally stop before the critical midterm election will be at Community United Church of Christ in Fresno.

  • What: Vote Common Good Rally
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2
  • Where: Community United Church of Christ, 5550 N. Fresno St., Fresno, CA 93710

Volunteers are needed! Contact Felicia Rocha (flearocha82@gmail.com) if you can help with this event.

Vote Common Good is a group of religious leaders, authors, speakers, and musicians who are part of a bus tour traveling across the U.S. Vote Common Good hopes to share the good news of God, which should be good news for all people, and to shift the national conversation from fear to faith.

Christian speakers, musicians and thought leaders are inviting fellow believers to flip Congress for the Common Good in 2018. Nationally renowned speakers will lead a lively event giving reasons why evangelicals should switch their votes this year.

Come out to hear John Pavlovitz, Frank Schaeffer, Doug Pagitt, Christy Berghoef and other speakers accompanied by awesome music from the Rev. Vince Anderson.

Behind the fun, Vote Common Good sends a message: In the 2018 election a follower of Jesus can’t help but know that Congress must change. The Trump administration’s practices go against the biblical Jesus.

Doug Pagitt explains: “The way they treat children; the way they treat refugees and immigrants; the way they treat the disadvantaged; the way they treat our overall sense of kindness and goodness; their seeming total commitment to cruelty, crassness, and corruption” stand in contradiction to Jesus’s teachings.

It is an opportunity to come together and try to live out the teachings of Jesus, not just in our everyday lives, but in the voting booth as well.

For more information: https://www.votecommongood.com/events/fresno-california/

 

Last day to register to vote is Oct. 22!

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States

Monday, Oct. 22, is the California deadline, the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 midterm election.

You can click here to check your voter registration. And talk to your friends and family, urging them to take part in our basic civic responsibility of self-government by electing leaders. And it all starts with registering to vote.

Every election matters, from local issues to selecting leaders who will decide our national issues. During our recent community conversations, a recurring theme of ways our congregation can take action came back to voting — helping educate ourselves and others and to lead education efforts among those around us.