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First Congregational Church of Washington CT, an Open and Affirming Congregation of the UCC
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Page 1 2 3 4 5 6   Entries 11-15 of 29
July 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

Living in Abundance: Joy and Beauty Abound!

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”   Ephesians 4:1-6

               When I agreed to serve as Cheryl’s sabbatical replacement this summer, many of my colleagues in ministry said, “Summer is the best time to do this, summer is the quiet time at a church.”  While it’s true that attendance on Sunday mornings may be a bit lower while people are out of town and Sunday School and confirmation class have ended; my experience here would never allow me to describe this church as “quiet.”  Our church is brilliantly, vibrantly alive, reverberating in all corners with a joyful, joyful noise. 

               Preparations for the upcoming Green Fair are underway.  The children who continue to attend worship are enjoying the playfulness of “Summer Camp Sundays” and the amazing group of young adults we recently received into membership through their confirmation are excited to share their gifts with the church and are actively pursuing ways to further engage with the church and with their own faith journeys.  And they are looking for ways to do so now, not waiting until fall when “things start up again.” Our missions and community outreach continue without slowing down and everyone shares the desire to find new ways to widen our welcome to all.  It is an exciting time here, and to my great delight, anything but quiet.

               All around me I am witnessing the beauty of people participating in the life of the church in a way that truly reflects the grace we have each been given.  It is exactly what Paul intended when he implored his followers to “live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  His instruction wasn’t to live in such a way that would make us worthy to be members of the body of Christ.  He is telling us that as we are members of the body of Christ, by grace, we are already preordained for salvation.  Every action we take, in every aspect of our lives should be informed by that truth and should contribute back into the world some of the grace we have already been given.

               Truly the human family is all one, bound together by one Spirit.  What happens to any one of us, happens to all of us.  This is why we all weep with our brothers and sisters at St. Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, and why we are all damaged by acts of hatred and terror wherever they occur.  More to the point, it is why it is so important that we do always live a life worthy of our call.  Not just within our life in the church, but in every aspect of our lives.  “Bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” means maintaining the unity of the Spirit not just with our friends and neighbors whom we know and love already, but also with the stranger who just cut us off in traffic, the person with whom we are in disagreement, all those who seem so different from ourselves, and even those whom we suspect we hate.  They too are members of the one body.

               Our faith practices this summer are “Living Joyfully” and “Experiencing Beauty.”  Joy and beauty are abundant in this world, but even in their abundance can be so easy to overlook or ignore.  The joy and beauty present in the members and life of this church is remarkable and powerful, and the world needs it.  Let us gather it together, and carry it out into the world, project and follow all that gives joy and allow our beauty to shine in all that we do.  Live, as we are instructed, a life worthy of our calling and, in all humility and with all love, encourage others to do the same.

~ Ellen Willert, Sabbatical Replacement

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June 4, 2015, 10:21 AM

Who's In Charge?

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

One of my Sabbatical activities this summer will be a week-long residency that initiates a year-long course for clergy called “Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership.”  It is offered by the Shalem Institute; and it will be my second Shalem program.  Seven years ago, I completed their “Contemplative Prayer Group and Retreat Leadership” program.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.   For two summers, I spent a week steeped in contemplative prayer—all different kinds of practices: some involved sitting still in silence, some used scripture in various ways, some used movement like walking or dancing, some singing or chanting or listening to music, some involved art, creating it or contemplating it.  All of the practices have a long history in the church.  Their purpose is to deepen the practitioner’s awareness of God’s presence, to build courage and integrity, and expand the capacity for love and compassion.  Among lay Christians, of every denomination, interest in contemplative practices has mushroomed in the past forty years.  In a denomination like ours, contemplative prayer should be the “rule” rather than the exception, because we make no distinction between “religious” and “lay.”  This summer’s “Spiritual Life and Leadership” program will be similar, but focused on spiritual practices for discernment and decision-making in faith communities.

In our church and in our denomination, the “locus of authority” is the gathered congregation.  The local congregation is “in charge” of its own destiny.  That is why we are called “Congregational.”  We have no Magisterium—no Pope, Bishops or hierarchy—dictating what we should teach or how we should organize ourselves or worship.  We are democratic in structure: our regional Associations, state Conferences and national Synod are elected by and are answerable to the local churches, in the same way that our town, state, and national government is elected by and answerable to the citizens of our country. 

There is an important difference, however, between civil government and Congregational church government.  The church’s “democracy” is based in our understanding that Jesus Christ is the only head of the church, and that “in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female.”  As Christ’s disciples, we are all equal and no intermediary is necessary—each disciple has access to Christ through the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among us.  So to say that the congregation is “in charge” is not entirely accurate.  The locus of authority in the church is the Holy Spirit moving in and among the gathered congregation.  Without that caveat, a church would be merely a miscellaneous band of personal egos fighting for control of a non-profit organization. I admit that, sometimes, church meetings look and sound like that; and when they do, it is because we have forgotten who’s in charge.  Civil government is all about freedom and rights and the “pursuit of happiness.”  Church government is all about loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

Worship and prayer are the essence of the church. They are the center of our life together—not because God needs our worship or our prayer, but because worship and prayer open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit moving in and among us.  If in our hurry to finish a meeting at a reasonable time, we leave out prayer, we have silenced the Holy Spirit.  When there is controversy and people won’t be quiet enough to listen deeply to one another, we certainly won’t be able to hear the Holy Spirit.  Everything that we do together as the church, in small groups or large, should be steeped in prayer—in an active awareness of God’s presence.  

I know that I will be spiritually refreshed by the week-long intensive and I look forward to introducing some of the discernment practices that I will be learning when I return in September.

Grace and Peace

Pastor Cheryl

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April 16, 2015, 3:59 PM

Sabbath and Sabbatical

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do he same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed.” Exodus 23.10-12


This month in worship and Sunday school, we will be focusing on the faith practice of “Keeping Sabbath.” The practice of Sabbath is informed by the Genesis story of God resting on the seventh day after laboring for six days to create the world. A day of rest every 7th day is one of the Ten Commandments.  Sabbath is a time to rest from daily work, restore energy, focus on God and reconnect with our spirit and to allow those who work for us to do the same.

According to scripture, even oxen and donkeys, slaves and undocumented workers are to be given “relief and refreshment” every 7th day. God invites us to learn to live in total trust, without anxiety or stress, resting in God’s total abundance and provision.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ legalistic attitude about Sabbath rules, but he modeled how to keep Sabbath both inwardly (through prayer, solitude, silence, and meditation) and outwardly (through communal ritual and acts of justice).This month, we will explore how Sabbath can be more than an impractical commandment and continue to be a blessing in our busy lives.

In our non-stop modern lives, we may have to re-define what it means to “keep” Sabbath, but carving out and protecting times for activities that recharge, refresh, and renew our spirits, minds, and bodies is more important than ever. In our intergenerational coffee hour on the 26th, we will share our experiences and ideas for keeping Sabbath.  

In the scripture passage above, from the book of Exodus, the idea of Sabbath is extended to a Sabbath year, when even the farm land and fruit trees and vineyards are given a year of rest. The academic and ecclesiastical practice of Sabbatical for faculty and clergy comes from this Sabbath year commandment. Among churches in our denomination, a three month sabbatical after five years is the norm. My letter of call includes a three month sabbatical after five years of service for the purpose of continuing education and spiritual renewal. My first sabbatical was back in 2002. This summer, two different and very interesting continuing education programs for clergy are being offered that I would like to take advantage of. When I discussed it with the deacons, we decided that 2015 was high time for my second sabbatical. I am grateful for the opportunity this church is affording me for spiritual renewal and enrichment of my ministry among you. The sabbatical will start after Confirmation Sunday on June 7, and I will return to the pulpit on August 30th.  While I am away, Ellen Willert, our Member in Discernment, will be leading worship and providing pastoral care. I will be writing more about my plans in next month’s Journal, and our head deacon, Wayne Hileman, will be filling in the details about how the church will carry on in my absence. For now, I am excited about focusing on the weekly Sabbath renewal that we are all called to observe, and I look forward to seeing you in worship on Sunday!

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February 26, 2015, 12:00 AM

Shopping for Justice - The Food We Eat

Last month’s focus on Working for Justice, got me thinking about the global interconnections of our daily lives and the impact our simplest consumer choices have on other people’s lives all over the world.  I just started reading the book Where Am I Eating? by Kelsey Timmerman.  The author traveled and experienced work on Colombian coffee farms, West African cocoa fields, Costa Rican banana plantations, Nicaraguan lobster fisheries, and Chinese apple orchards to get a first-hand look at where these staples of the American diet come from these days. In America, we now import twice as much food as we did a decade ago.  Imports account for 86 percent of our seafood, 50 percent of our fresh fruit, and 18 percent of our fresh vegetables. His book explores the global food economy and all the issues around it.  Globalization, workers and human rights, modern-day slavery, the global food crisis, fair trade and immigration are all related to American eating habits.

 Our food can travel half-way around the world to get to us.  I looked at the label on a package of almond paste I bought at Stop & Shop for a special baking project last week.  It said “made in Denmark of the finest California almonds.”  Think of the distance those almonds traveled to end up in my pastry. I don’t want to think about the amount of fossil fuels it took to get that almond paste to my kitchen; but at least it seems safe to assume that the workers who grew, harvested, shipped, prepared, packaged, transported, and sold me the almond paste were adult workers, paid at least minimum wage.  That is not safe to assume, however, when we are dealing with the developing world. Child labor, unsafe working conditions, unfair compensation, outright slavery and animal cruelty are often involved in the food on our tables and the clothing in our closets. 

Next, I’ll read Timmerman’s other book, Where Am I Wearing? that explores the same issues related to the new outfits we will be wearing on Easter. The scope and complexity of the international ramifications of our every purchase can make us feel helpless, and paralyze us into inaction - particularly if we think about trying to work on the governmental level.  But we have power as consumers to change things on a more direct producer-consumer level.  We don’t have to wait for governments to pass laws to protect workers or outlaw pesticides.  One of the easiest and most efficient ways for us to work for justice in our daily lives is to buy fair trade goods when they are available and ask for them when they are not.  

Fair trade is an international social movement that helps producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and promote sustainability. There are national and international nonprofit organizations, like Fair Trade USA, that are third-party certifiers of fair trade products. 

Fair trade certification helps people and the planet to work together so both are healthy and sustained. Fair Trade organizations provide farmers in developing nations the tools to thrive as international business people. Instead of creating dependency on aid, they use a market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives. They also work to raise the consciousness of American consumers to eliminate exploitation. I encourage you to go to their website - http://www.fairtradeusa.org/ - to get educated, excited, and empowered to be a fair trade consumer.

Most supermarkets already sell fair trade coffee and chocolate (look for the fair trade logo on the package), and I read on the Fair Trade USA website that Fair Trade Certified fruits and veggies are also available at retail locations across North America, including Whole Foods Market, Costco, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Earth Fare and more. 

I usually get my groceries at Stop&Shop, and I have never seen fair trade labels on the fruit and veggies there so I emailed a request to them- http://www.stopandshop.com/contact.  If enough of us let our vendors know that we are looking for fair-trade options, we can make it easier for everyone to work for justice globally by acting locally.

Rev. Cheryl P. Anderson, Pastor
First Congregational Church | www.firstchurchwashingtonct.org | 6 Kirby Road | Washington, CT 06793 | 860-868-0569

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January 29, 2015, 2:38 PM

Connecting the Bible with Current Experience

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15.4

What do you believe about the Bible?  We call the collection of writings that comprise the Bible, the “Holy Scriptures.”  What makes them holy? Among Christians, there is quite a range of belief about the origin and authority of the Bible.  Do you believe that is was written by God – possibly by divine inspiration or dictation?  Or do you believe that scripture was written by humans – many people over many years and for many purposes?  And what do you believe about the authority of the Bible? What gives it authority? And what kind of authority does it have for our lives today? Whatever your view of scripture; it is central to our faith as individuals and as a community.  It is the only way modern followers of Jesus can meet him and be introduced to his “Way,” and become his followers.

Christian scripture includes books from the Hebrew tradition as well as New Testament stories of Jesus and the early church – in fact, four fifths our Bible is the Jewish Bible or “Tanak.”  At the heart of the worshiping life of any congregation is the constant beat of scripture. We hear scripture read and preached. Yet the Bible in worship is more than a sermon. Our prayers, our songs, the forgiveness we declare and the commitments we make are formed by scripture. In worship, when we share bread at communion or pass through the waters of baptism, we enter ancient stories. The ancient scriptures become new, as God acts afresh in our lives.  Pastor John Robinson sent off our Pilgrim ancestors in faith with the words, "I Charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.”

As the season of Lent starts this month, we also start a month-long focus on the faith practice that our curriculum calls “Encountering Scripture.”  To paraphrase pastor Robinson: each generation of Christians encounters and interprets the ancient scriptures in a new context.  Modern biblical scholarship, and the rapid social and technological change of our time and place produce new understandings of the Bible as we ask new questions of it. 

Like the Koran, throughout its history, the Bible has been used by some to judge, condemn, and justify violence.  We have a responsibly and a calling in our time to heed Jesus’ call to reconciliation and healing; to replace fear, distrust, and disempowerment with confidence, empowerment, and love. 

            Scripture is our family story, holding us together in a community of faith.  Through Lent this year, we will encounter our family stories in a variety of ways.  Scripture is accessible to all—those who have been reading the Bible for years and those opening it for the first time. Wherever we are on life’s journey, the Bible can connect with our experience.

            Join us in worship this month.  Come with us on a journey of discovery this Lenten season.  Bring your daily life to encounter scripture.

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