A Message from Pastor Ara: God Comes to Us — the Birth of Jesus

We need at least four weeks to unwrap the gift of Jesus. I have been unwrapping for 40-plus years, in a serious way, this gift of God in flesh appearing. It is a most wonderful endeavor.

This year Robin and I will be gathering with all who show up to consider the four Gospel ways that the gift is received. In our more efficient way, we have a fifth story of welcoming the Christ child, as witnessed in the Nativity scenes that include all the major characters at the same time and place, cows, sheep, shepherds, wise ones, Joseph, Mary, and the babe lying in a manger.

I am ready to hear the sixth story, your story. Join us on Sundays, Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s this Advent season, beginning this Sunday evening with dinner.

We have three locations, and three times and days for you to attend. We will be discussing the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth/The Divine present with us.

Sign up for Sunday evenings at 5 p.m.; Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. at the Pressley’s home in the Tower District; or Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Patty Parks’ in Sunnyside. Robin or Ara will be the facilitators. The Study begins on the first Sunday of Advent, Dec. 2.

I am also on the edge of my seat, as I await ‘the Hanging of the Greens’ on Sunday morning.

Another great way to hear a sixth story is by daily reading the Advent Devotional produced in partnership with First Congregational Church (Big Red). Paper copies will be available on Sunday and each day’s devotional will be posted on our website and Facebook page.

Peace,
Pastor Ara

Advent candles.png

 

Services for Jerry Mulvihill set for Dec. 1

The Memorial service for longtime member Jerry Mulvihill will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in the Community United Church of Christs Sanctuary. The service will be followed by a reception in Hayden Hall. Sandwiches will be provided, please bring cookies to share.

Margery’s Obituary:

Jerry was born March 15, 1953, and grew up in the greater Los Angeles area with his older brother Tom Mulvihill.

Jerry graduated from the University of California Davis with a Bachelor of Arts in Geology.  He loved his time at Davis, and he and Margery got married on the Davis Campus.

After graduation, Jerry spent one year as a geothermal exploration geologist traveling around the western states.  Wanting to settle down, he spent the next 35 years in various positions in the insurance industry.  His last position was as a property casualty agent for James G Parker Insurance.

Jerry and Margery have two children, Marty and Lynette.

Marty and his wife, Nilofar Gardezi, and daughter, Roshan, live in Oakland.  Marty is a founder of Safer Made, a company that invests in companies that use safer chemistry and promote sustainability.

Lynette and husband, Logan Talbott, and daughter, Maggie, live in Truckee.  Lynette works at a physical therapy clinic and enjoys living and playing outside in Lake Tahoe
Jerry enjoyed travel, camping, fishing, boating and the outdoors.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to the National Parks Foundation or to your favorite charity.

Women’s Book group will discuss ‘Love Beyond Belief’ beginning Jan. 15

A new Women’s Book Discussion Group will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15The book is “Love Beyond Belief: Finding the Access Point to Spiritual Awareness” by the Rev. Dr. Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, journalist, and congregational consultant. Thandeka will be the guest speaker at the Interfaith Scholar Weekend, March 1-3.

She was given the Xhosa name Thandeka, which means “beloved,” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984. She is the founder of Affect Theology, which investigates the links between religion and emotions using insights from affective neuroscience.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

“’Love Beyond Belief’ is a hope-filled book reminding us in historical and contemporary terms that we are loved always, even when we feel lost and alone.”

“Love Beyond Belief” is available on Amazon: “Using insights from the brain science of emotions, “Love Beyond Belief: Finding the Access Point to Spiritual Awareness” narrates two millennia of lost-and-found stories about love beyond belief as the access point to the heart and soul of spiritual life. Many of today’s “spiritual but not religious” people — one in four U.S. adults — have found the access point to spiritual experience that Western Christianity lost: unconditional love. “Love Beyond Belief” tracks the history of this lost emotion.”

Robin Carlson, our commissioned minister of Christian education, will guide this discussion, which will go through Feb. 26. Reading assignments are one chapter per week.

If you would like to order a book for $20.75 from the church office, please call 559-435-2690 or email Marilyn (office@communityucc.com) before Nov. 20. Books are also available on Amazon for $24 (paperback) and for $9.99 (Kindle).

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

 

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.

 

Recap of Banner CD release party

~ By EJ Hinojosa, music director

Words can’t begin to describe the gratitude I feel toward our beloved church and every member of the congregation. Our CD Release Party was an incredible success enjoyed by all who could be there.

In all of the festivities, I again would like to acknowledge the primary goal of the project: the celebration of God’s permanence, and the contemplation of what it means to live a prophetic life.

If you were unable to attend the Release Party, fear not! CD’s are available for purchase in the church office. If you would like to get your hands on a copy of the album, please contact Marilyn.

Thank you again, and again. What a joy it is to have the love and support of our extravagantly-welcoming church.

Women’s Book group will discuss ‘The Sin of Certainty’ beginning Oct. 2

A new Women’s Book Discussion Group will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2. 

The book is “The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than our ‘Correct’ Beliefs” by Peter Enns, author of “Let Your Life Speak,” “The Courage to Teach,” “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”  It is available on Amazon.

From Goodreads:

With compelling and often humorous stories from his own life, Bible scholar Peter Enns offers a fresh look at how Christian life truly works, answering questions that cannot be addressed by the idealized traditional doctrine of “once for all delivered to the saints.”

Enns offers a model of vibrant faith that views skepticism not as a loss of belief, but as an opportunity to deepen religious conviction with courage and confidence. This is not just an intellectual conviction, he contends, but a more profound kind of knowing that only true faith can provide.

Robin Carlson, our commissioned minister of Christian education, will guide this discussion, which will go through Oct. 30.

Reading Assignment is:

  • Oct. 2 — Chapters 1 & 2
  • Oct. 9 — Chapters 3 & 4
  • Oct. 16 — Chapters 5 & 6 (through Falling Branches)
  • Oct. 23 — Chapters 6 (start at Meeting New People) & 7
  • Oct. 30 — Chapters 8 & 9

If you would like Marilyn to order a book for you, please call the church office or email her at office@communityucc.com.  The cost is $17.50.

Build a Bigger Table potluck, Neighbors in Need special offering

Oct. 7 is World Communion Sunday. For the potluck luncheon immediately following worship, bring dishes that relate to your background or culture. Fellowship will provide service items and drinks. There will be a sign-up sheet before then. ~ Patty Parks

Neighbors in Need is a special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. This year’s Neighbors in Need special offering will be take on Oct. 7.

Please come to our table and celebrate with us!

Join us for Kick-Off Sunday Sept. 9!

Kick-Off Sunday means we celebrate new members and take part in a BBQ lunch following worship on Sunday, Sept. 9. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun!

The Fellowship Team is hosting a lunch following worship to celebrate Kick Off Sunday. Grilled hot dogs (meat and veggie options), picnic side dishes, desserts and root beer floats will be served. There is no charge, but a “free will offering” is requested to offset expenses. Please consider making a small donation.

Break the Barriers will perform and the Syrian family our church is befriending hopes to attend.