Messages from Our Ministers

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by

Weekly Update – April 28, 2017

Please join us this Sunday as we continue to observe the Easter season, the fifty days of Easter. Our tradition affirms forty days of solemn preparation in order to prepare for fifty days of celebration, because the restoration is greater than the loss, and the joy is greater than the grief, and abundant life is greater than what perished. This week we will look at another one of the resurrection accounts, from Luke 24:1-12, What the Women See.

We will also celebrate the Holy Baptism of five month old Maya Miller, with her parents Lindsay and Doug. I think it is the happiest thing we do, to welcome this newest member into our community. It adds another dimension to the Alleluias in the music and the prayers.

I hope we’ll see you,
Jim

p.s. Invite your friends to come for the screening of “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”- the documentary film about the Women’s Movement of the 1960′s/70′s that brought another kind of resurrection to women and to men in American society. At 11:30 in Linden Hall.

Weekly Update – April 21, 2017

We’re still not finished with Easter- we hope you’ll join us Sunday as we sing more Easter hymns, look at another famous Easter story from John 20 (19-31) and the choir delights us all with the Hallelujah Chorus.

There are a lot of activities to choose from in the week to come. Many church people have mentioned participating in the Climate March/March for Science taking place in Boston on Saturday. On Sunday, we are hosting the Death Cafe in the afternoon and are principal sponsors of the Interfaith potluck conversations on race at the Presbyterian Church in Needham at 7pm. And we are hosting three different book groups this week!

I hope you will come by to be spiritually renewed this week- resurrection is happening all around us, and it’s waiting to happen for you.

Sincerely,
Jim

Weekly Update – April 14, 2017

Join us tonight at for Good Friday worship at the Baptist Church at 7 pm and Sunday morning at 10am for Easter worship. We will mark the saddest and the most joyous moments of Jesus’s life, and also that we encounter in our faith journeys. In Romans 6:8 we read that if we make this journey with Jesus, we will experience not only his death- an inevitable facet of the human experience – but also his new life. Resurrection occurs when ever we embrace new life, new opportunities, new beginnings. I see that happening in our church community, and it can happen for all of us. Easter is a miracle, an achievable and replicable one, and my prayer for all of us is that we will be open to it and that we will help make it happen for each other especially this year. Invite your friends and families, and come in expectation ” for lo, the winter is past- the (snow) is over and gone, the flowers have already appeared…” Song of Solomon 2:12 and “See. I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:5.
Hope to see you on Sunday!

Yours in New Life,
Jim

P.S. Easter is a season of fifty days, not just a single day. If you have a testimony about resurrection, a personal story of transformation, a second chance, recovery or a new beginning that you would like to share with the congregation in the form of a five minute message sometime during the season, please speak to Rev. Jim at church or email him at revjim@needhamucc.org.

Weekly Update – April 7, 2017

I hope you’ll join us this week as we travel with Jesus on his journey of love which begins with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Join us on the Needham town green at 9:30am or at church at 10am so that we can experience as a community this time of passion, of deep feeling.

This journey is one best done together!

Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update – March 31, 2017

This Sunday we have a foretaste of the Easter story with the story of Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, four close knit friends, whose lives were disrupted by illness and death. Jesus lives the dynamics of grief and loss that are enacted so vividly in the story that we’ll be recounting in just a few weeks, reminding us that the timeless story of resurrection is one that connects us to Jesus’s experience and his to ours. I love this story perhaps more than any other in the New Testament – they savored it when we read it out loud in the Chapel on Wednesday night during Vespers in anticipation of Sunday, this detailed almost entire chapter, John 11.

I recently read the currently popular novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2017/02/08/grief-ghosts-and-america-lincoln-bardo/1VuOyXTYnREDjOh4clbhiN/story.html. At times comic, at times tragic, at times poetic, it imagines a night that Abraham Lincoln spends in a cemetery with his just buried son Willie in 1863. There are ghosts, there is grieving, and there are references to the Lazarus story. Sometimes literature or music can be a window into a scripture passage; I recommend this book not only as entertainment, but also as spiritual nurture in its own way. On Sunday we’ll use carefully chosen music and poetry to supplement the heart of the scripture text to communicate the message from Jesus to us, “I am the resurrection and the Life.” We’ll hear Kirby Salerno and Gretchen Lanka Allen sing to us the words and music of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” “No One Is Alone” and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay “Dirge Without Music”. Soomi Lee Lowry will render two piano pieces that will stir deep feeling in your soul. And Communion will be offered, the greatest comfort of all, the reminder of resurrection and Christ’s tangible presence in our midst.

Join us for this “early Easter” celebration/, because we have plenty more in store for you throughout the month.
Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update – March 24, 2017

Join us this Sunday as we welcome distinguished Harvard-trained theologian Rev. Irene Monroe www.irenemonroe.com to our pulpit to mark our historic anniversary as a Welcoming and Affirming congregation. I want to give a little context as to why this is such an historic commemoration that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Last weekend I was at the seminary I attended over 30 years ago and where I worked up until a few years ago. They were honoring Rev. Bill Johnson, who graduated 45 years ago (even before me!) who was the openly gay man in the UCC but who was never allowed to serve in a parish. He did great things in the national church setting, but I share this with you because the actions you took a generation ago marked a big step forward in the history of the church. We also honored one of my peers and dear friend Bishop Karen Oliveto of the United Methodist Church, who was recently elected to episcopate in Denver, and will go on trial next month in her denomination just because she is a lesbian http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/court-sets-oral-hearing-on-gay-bishop-issue.
The UCC is still in the forefront. I am glad for years in the ministry in the MCC denomination, and I am grateful that churches like yours made it possible for people like me to work in places like this to day.
So lest it go unstated on this anniversary- from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of so many people like me, who grew up in a different world, or who who are still living in that world, Thank You. You might not have any idea what this anniversary means. It means the world .
Warmly,
Jim

Don’t forget to see Maddie in Fellowship Hall after Worship to buy tickets to the 2nd Annual Chili Cook Off on April 1st!

Weekly Update – March 17, 2017

Please join us for a joy-filled worship service. We are welcoming to our service guest musicians Willie Sordillo and Zoë Krohne to start off our 17th ONA Anniversary Celebration. Willie Sordillo is a jazz saxophonist and the music coordinator of the Thursday Night Jazz Worship at Old South Church in Boston. Zoë Krohne sings regularly at the Old South Jazz Worship as part of the Willie Sordillo Ensemble featuring Zoë Krohne. They frequently perform in churches across the state and have led music programs for state-wide ONA celebrations. They use their music to give voice to issues of peace, human rights and justice. Our own choir will join in sharing two pieces that celebrate 17 years of being an ONA church. Maddie will give the children’s message and I will preach on the well-known passage from the gospel of John, Jesus meeting the woman at the well. After church, please join Sue Findlay-Walters for a mindfulness class in the chapel or buy your ticket for the 2nd Annual Great Chili Cook-Off from Maddie Downer in Fellowship Hall.

All members of our church are encouraged to attend the Memorial Service for Bill Hughes, Mary Lou’s husband who passed away on Tuesday, March 14 after a short time of illness. Calling hours are to be held at Eatons’ on Friday, March 17 from 4 to 7 pm, and the Memorial Service will be held at the church on Saturday, March 18 at 11 am. Let us support Mary Lou in celebrating Bill’s life of 89 years.

Rev. Jim will return from California on Monday, March 20, and I will be in Atlanta, GA for a workshop from Sunday afternoon, March 19th to the 24th. I will be back in time for the retreat on Saturday, March 25th. Next Sunday, we welcome The Rev. Irene Monroe to our pulpit. She was described in O Magazine as “a phenomenal woman who has succeeded against all odds.” An African-American lesbian feminist public theologian, she is known nationwide. She does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “What’s Up?” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and writes a weekly column in the Boston LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows. After worship, she and Rev. Jim will share an in-depth interview.

Hope to see you Sunday!
Heike

I’m writing with the hopes you’ll consider two things in the upcoming week.

1. Attend Lenten Vespers on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. We’ve had between 15 and 20 the
first two weeks and as we learn the musical setting the spiritual feeling has increased. Both Heike and Maddie have done a wonderful job as the cantors, and in the course of 35 or so minutes of singing and praying in our chapel a mystical environment is created.
2. Join us for “All of our Voices and All of Our Visions” retreat next Saturday. It’s an essential part of our re-set process, and will also contribute to our communal spiritual renewal- and it will be fun.

I am writing to you from sunny Berkeley, CA from the campus of Pacific School of Religion www.psr.edu where I was the campus pastor and where I taught up until a few years ago. Im here for the Earl and Boswell Lectures https://psr.edu/earl-17/. If you are interested in immigration matters, the keynote lecturer is Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and his speech will be livestreamed at 9:30 p.m EST – follow the link for instructions. I’ll also be leading a workshop on “Preaching When Boundaries and Identites are Changing”.” On Sunday I’ll be preaching at two services at Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco https://www.facebook.com/MCCSanFrancisco/ where I was pastor for 15 years on “#WeAreStillRising”, a companion piece to the recent ABC series that covered the same period. I look forward to seeing you all this week and will keep you in my prayers.

Warmly,
Jim

Weekly Update – March 10, 2017

This past Wednesday we had our first Lenten Vespers in the Chapel. About 18 of us gathered to sing and pray, using the ancient form set to contemporary music which was new to almost everyone. We quickly learned it. Rev. Heike was the Cantor and the beauty of the song transported us into a prayerful place. This past week many of the Deacons were present, and this upcoming week the Board of Directors will join us- and I hope you will too. Forty minutes of centering at the heart of your week will radiate through the rest.

Please sign up for the All Church Retreat Day on Saturday, March 25th with Suzanne Ehly. I guarantee you will feel spiritually renewed, and also make new connections in the church community as a result of participating. Click here to register.

On Sunday we continue our Lenten Journey of “Letting Go and Letting Love”. The Guatemala Partnership has a presentation during Worship that will make you want to stay for their Report Back in Linden Hall at 11:30am. I am preaching on John 3:1-17, the story of Nicodemus and being “Born Again” or “Born Anew”, a kind of resurrection in itself, and the famous passage in 3:16 that begins “For God so loved the world…”, which Martin Luther called “the gospel in a verse.” The Chair of the Deacons, Susan Lively, offered commiseration over the prospect of preaching on what seemed a strange passage on Wednesday after Vespers where it was read aloud in anticipation of Sunday, but truthfully I have always loved it because it is about change and new beginnings in one’s personal and spiritual life, and I love the promise embedded in it for all of us.

It’s not too late to sign up for the teach-in about Islam and how to be an ally to our Muslim frinds and neighbors right now on Sunday afternoon from 3 to 5 at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church. Join me and some of our Deacons on this important opportunity as we consider what we might do here in Needham to be a welcoming presence.

Hope to see you Sunday!
Jim
p.s.
I am proud to represent our church as I get invited for various speaking opportunities. On Saturday I am speaking in Arlington on how small religious communities cam make a difference in social change http://stsarahs.blogspot.com/2017/02/respecting-sacred-flame.html . This invitation came as a result of my recent talk at Harvard Divinity School).
On Tuesday I am teaching an all day doctoral seminar as a guest lecturer http://www.hartsem.edu/courses/lgbt-history-theory-and-what-a-movement-can-teach-congregations/ at The Hartford Theological Seminary, a UCC Seminary in Hartford CT. www.hartsem.edu

Weekly Update – March 3, 2017

Please join us this Sunday as we begin our Lenten journey, Let Go, and Let Love. Each service will contain a time for reflection and silent meditation, with a prayer written on the theme of that week’s gospel written by a church member. This week’s prayer, based on Matthew 4:1-11 is written by Susan Lively. I will preach on that passage and the title of my sermon is “Let Go, and Let God.”

You are invited to stay afterward for a time of structured, thoughtful and candid conversation about past or current church events held in the chapel called “Let’s Talk, Let’s Listen”. What better time to make a new beginning than now as we start to prepare for new life on Easter six weeks from now?

I hope we’ll see you!

Sincerely,
Jim

Weekly Update – February 24, 2017

Please join us for worship this coming Sunday, Feb. 26, the last Sunday of the Epiphany season. I will wrestle with the gospel text set before us in Matthew 17, the Story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. After church, you are invited to stay for an Adult Education class on Mindfulness, led by Sue Findlay-Walters, beginning at 11:30 am. In anticipation of Ash Wednesday, the children, with their teachers, will watch the preparing of ashes for Ash Wednesday during Sunday school class. The preparation will take place during a little outdoor service. Please bring a coat.

On Ash Wednesday, March 1, Rev. Jim will be available to offer ashes from 7 to 8 am in our chapel on your way to work. We will also hold the Ash Wednesday service from 7 to 8 pm in our chapel. All are welcome! On Thursday, March 2nd, I invite you all to the first Lenten Lunch from 12 to 1 pm at 1180 GPA.

The Lenten booklet is almost ready! I got the editor’s view of all the contribution and I love it. You will too! Well done, everyone, and thank you for your thoughtful contributions. There will be printed copies available in the Narthex by March 1st – Ash Wednesday. We will also have a PDF file available. If you are unable to pick up a copy or want the pdf emailed to you, please contact the church office at office@needhamucc.org or 781-444-2510.

Blessings,
Rev. Heike

I will miss you this weekend while I am away. I have the honor of preaching at the installation of my friend Rev. Diane Fisher as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware http://www.capegazette.com/article/new-pastor-
be-installed-metropolitan-community-church-feb-25/126259
. Diane and I have known each other for 30 years, and served as Denominational executives together for several years as Elders in the MCC denomination. I’ve never been to Rehoboth Beach, but she shays it’s beautiful and I’m looking forward to seeing a different part of the coast, and to being back here next week as we being out Lenten journey together.

For those who wish to receive Ashes at the beginning of the day I’ll be in the chapel on Wednesday morning from 7 to 8 am to anoint you and pray with you briefly before the day begins and we’ll have a worship service that night at 7 p.m. Let’s embark together on time of Letting Go and Letting Love change us as we prepare for Resurrection on Easter.

Yours,
Jim

Weekly Update – February 17, 2017

Please join us this Sunday for Worship as we continue our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, this week looking at Matthew 5: 38-48 and our celebration of Black History month. Bruce Goody will add his musical talents to our beautiful choir for a wonderful rendition of Amazing Grace.

If you live in Needham, you might have noticed an article about our “Welcome Neighbor” signs. The link to the article online is here http://needham.wickedlocal.com/news/20170215/needham-church-sign-welcomes-muslims-immigrants-all-neighbors . At the request of some members of the con have ordered extra sign. If you would like a sign please contact the church office for more information at office@needhamucc.org

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!

Hope to see you on Sunday!

Weekly Update – February 10, 2017

Please join us this Sunday for worship as we continue our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, this week looking at Matthew 5: 13-20. We also have a surprise presentation planned from some students at Needham High school. And we will commission our next delegation from the Guatemala Partnership as they leave for their trip to Santa Maria Tzeja. We will honor the founders of the ministry Clark and Kay Taylor, who will be present at Worship, health permitting.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!

Hope to see you here,
Rev. Jim

Weekly Update – January 27, 2017

Please join us Sunday for our fusion experience of worship and congregational meeting. Two hours start to finish, one room, with food after is our aspiration. Nice hymns (fewer this week), a precise reflection of Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes, Jesus’s Inaugural Address, perfect for a congregational meeting, some inspiring choral music and a surprise flautist you won’t want to miss!

The Board has prepared not only with the hearing but with reports and advance study. We need you- to pray, to be present, to ask questions. This is all about “All of our Voices and All of our Visions” and it starts this Sunday. As I said clearly in my sermon last week, we are a non-partisan group (also non-Parisiam, if you caught last week’s typo) but we welcome people of all nationalities here, regardless of citizenship status. We stretch to be a complex community that is Republican, Independent, Democratic, Green, Socialist and disinterested. We are believers and seekers, some are atheist and here because of their friends and loved ones. This is your invitation, member and non-member alike, pledger and non-pledger, whether you attend frequently or if you’ve been away for awhile-start over, start together, start now.

Faithfully,
Jim

Weekly Update – January 20, 2017

Please join us for worship on this Third Sunday after Epiphany. My sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4: 12-23, and is called “Creating Change.” The title is the same one as a conference I participated in and presented at on Wednesday and Thursday in Philadelphia www.creatingchange.org, and the theme seemed timely in this week of Inaugurations and Marches, endings and beginnings, as a timely spiritual emphasis too.

I had a wonderful time team teaching a class with over 70 students, most of whom were in their twenties, about social change movements, seeing and feeling their enthusiasm about the present and the future. I just participated in a non-Parisian Vigil on the Town Common for Justice and Peace with several church people and the energy and optimism was palpable.

That’s how I feel spiritually about our church, and I hope you’ll come to the forum after church to discuss the reports we’ll be voting on the following week at the Annual Meeting for Business. Your voice counts, even if you aren’t a formal member. So please plan to attend. Annual Reports will be available Sunday, along with the Nominating Slate, in the Narthex and the office of the church building.

A Congregational Church is a spiritual participatory democracy- your opinions, insights, questions and ideas all matter. You must be present however- so this is the time to show up.

Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update – January 13, 2017

This Sunday we will remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our Sunday worship, as part of our month long observance of the Epiphany season. I’ll be preaching from Isaiah 49:1-7 and John 1:29-42. I’ve also deliberately sought out new reading material this year about Dr. King, to see if I could let his life and legacy speak to my spirit in a new light (I’ve listed some of them below). If you get the chance, listen one more time to his “Dream ” speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0yP4aLyq1g Dr. King is more than a single speech, but I find that every time I listen to this speech, I hear something different, some new piece is revealed that nurtures me and my imagination.

I am excited to share with you in this sermon some of the blessings I have received recently, that relate to how we Dream, a Beloved Community into being, as I believe Dr. King learned to do. In a very real way, this sermon began for me at the Christmas Pageant when surrounded by children in the character of an angel I flapped my wings and said Be Not Afraid. The feeling inside of hope I had built a week later in a remote country church in Indiana when I poured the waters of baptism on the forehead of baby Quorra and assured her that she was a new creation in Christ, and there were more occasions I’ll share with you where I experienced these “hope burts”. Do you need your hope enlarged? Come to church this week- for spirited music, for preaching from the heart, for committed community- hope to see you!

Yours,
Jim

New things I’ve read this week to prepare:
I was at a meeting this week for the Moral Revival group to talk about activities for the spring- this is the group that is connected to Rev. Dr. William Barber (several of us read his book on the Third Reconstruction in the Racial Diversity Book Group this fall) and I met Dr. John Robbins, the executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Newton. He just had this article published in Time Magazine, which has influenced my thinking- http://time.com/4622418/muslim-americans-pity-respect-charity/

These are some books I read to prepare
Martin Luther King Jr. : The Last Interview and Other Conversations
https://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Conversations/dp/1612196160/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484332441&sr=1-1&keywords=martin+Luther+King+Jr+the+last+interview

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racist Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery (the author is a one-time Boston Globe reporter)
https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2016/11/10/gripping-fraught-account-covering-police-shooting-deaths-movement-for-black-lives/B8GucH5hHAZug0KkfZZndL/story.html

And then I watched this late interview with Dr. King on the Mike Douglas show, in which he calmly defends his anti-Vietnam war views to Douglas and the singer Tony Martin. It’s a seven minute clip- if you’re drawn in you can go right to the remaining 14 minutes that follow. I like it because it reminds me of the multi-dimensional King. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SfH2uMayks

One final thing- both Heike and I will be speaking in the community about Dr. King. I’ll be preaching on Sunday night at Boston’s Historic LGBT Community Church (everyone is welcome), one of the oldest in the world, MCC Boston, that meets at Old West Church at 131 Cambridge Street at 6 p.m. Rev. Heike will speak on Monday on this year’s theme at 10 am at the High School for the Town-wide observance and it would be great to have a good church turnout to support both her and the event.

Weekly Update – January 6, 2017

I am so looking forward to being back in worship with you this week. I spent last weekend in Tell City, Indiana with a number of my former students from Pacific School of Religion www.psr.edu, the seminary in Berkeley CA where I worked for several years. We had a reunion of sorts there, and I baptized the baby of the pastor of the UCC church. Now all these former students are pastors themselves. It was so moving to see them now launched in their professions- it made me feel proud of them but also optimistic about the future of the Christian Church to see these talented young people and their dedication.

We have many things to celebrate this week. We will be dedicating the new Accessibility Ramp into the Sanctuary. Be sure to thank Blair Wentworth in particular for this accomplishment. My dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Cody J Sanders, who is pastor of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Harvard Square will be our preacher and will lead an interactive workshop for us from 11:30 to 1 pm on Inclusion and Access. It is the perfect way to begin our New Year together.
I hope you will plan to stay. I hope to see you Sunday!
Warmly,
Jim

Weekly Update – December 16, 2016

Join us this Sunday as we combine both the Fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Sunday. Because some people will be traveling on Christmas we wanted to be faithful to the spirit of waiting and longing still for the birth of Christ, but also celebrate what we know will be true a week from now with people who will be absent. We always live in the tension of the yet and the not-yet so we hope to see you for this service of music and prayer. Heike will present a message for the children, and I will preach on Isaiah 40 (Comfort! Comfort my people!) and Matthew 1:18-25 , borrowing my sermon title from Katherine Hepburn’s portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitane in the 1968 film “Lion in Winter” in which she famously says “Every family has its ups and downs..”

We will also receive a Staff appreciation offering so that we can give our hard-working employees a Christmas gift this year. I know you know how hard they work on your behalf through out the year. Please be generous. An envelope will be in each bulletin. You may also give on line on our electronic giving site (click here) or mail a gift in. Nothing from coercion, everything from the heart.

The whole church is buzzing with extra energy. The decorations and music enhance the air of expectation. Love is on its way. The children rehearsing for the pageant electrify the air. Love is coming. The yet, and the not-yet.

Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update – December 9, 2016

Join us this Sunday for worship! Rev. Heike will be preaching for Gaudete, or Rejoice! Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.
After Worship adults and children will be rehearsing for our Christmas Pageant! I’m excited to experience my first Christmas Pageant here with you all.

Perhaps you can join some of us Sunday night at the Boston Islamic Center for “Out of Many, One” (be sure to RSVP HERE) . See the information about the service on their facebook page.

The church has never looked more beautiful than it does at this time of year. Thank you Flower Committee for all your hard work!

Hope to see you this weekend!
Jim

Weekly Update – December 2, 2016

Join us Sunday morning for the Second Sunday of Advent when I will preach on the “Peace” theme of Isaiah 11:1-10 and the role of prophets, by looking at the eccentric character of John the Baptist as presented in Matthew 3:1-12 We’ll hear from the Once in While Choir, and gather for Holy Communion. On Sunday afternoon make plans to return for the Annual Christmas Concert at 4 pm and be sure to bring your friends!

Thank you to all the people who worked so hard to make the AIDS Week activities so special. Our Facebook page preserves many memories. Thank you to the Outreach Committee for making it possible for us to bring together people from the First Baptist Church, the Unitarian Church and people from all over the County for a moving and memorable evening. Cici Hunt and Heather and Kirby Salerno provided exquisite, heart-healing music. I know I’ll never forget one woman who wasn’t from any of our groups standing at the altar in the middle of the chapel and speaking in a quiet, dignified voice as she said, “I light these two candles tonight for my sons Matt and Leo, who died of AIDS in 1992.” We ended with the chapel resounding with shouts of Act UP, Fight BACK, Fight AIDS! – but it wasn’t about the past- it was about the present.

Be sure to Like and Follow our FACEBOOK page – Congregational Church of Needham UCC- you can see almost daily what’s happening here.

Hope to see you Sunday!
Jim

Weekly Update – November 25, 2016

Join us Sunday for the First Sunday of Advent. Our theme is Holy Family, Holy Families. Just as we wait with one holy family long ago for the birth of their holy child. we are concerned today with the well-being of all families. Each week the advent wreath candles will be lit by a different family in our congregation, and an organization we support, typically through our Outreach Committee, will be highlighted. This week the Slosser family will light the candle, and the Kirk family will talk about Family Promise Metrowest.

I will preach “Wait without sadness and with grave impatience”, based on Matthew 24:36-44 and a poem by the late poet Adrienne Rich (a onetime Cambridge resident), whom I had the privilege of knowing in her later years in Northern California. In Christianity we mark time differently, and Advent begins our year, and we begin paradoxically with “the end”. As the poet T.S. Eliot observes “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

We will also begin a week of activities in observance of World AIDS Day on December 1. Our Adult Forum on Sunday after church at 11:30 will feature Boston University Professor Anthony M. Petro. He is personable and smart, and he’ll talk to about a time when religious people thought that AIDS was God’s way of ridding our country of undesirable populations. http://www.bu.edu/today/2015/anthony-petro-after-the-wrath-of-god/

Thanks to our Handyman Bill Donovan and to Blair Wentworth for hanging them, and to a generous grant from the Outreach Committee, we are hosting the only display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in New England at this time. Here is a brief interview with the founder of the quilt, Cleve Jones, about how it got started. Cleve also is an old friend and though he is not religious as an adult in a conventional way, he credits his Quaker upbringing for influencing him in seeing the value of a non-violent folkoric art piece as a means of both protest and remembrance, an “outrage laced with mourning” to quote again from Adrienne Rich. I’m certain you’ll feel it when you walk into the space. I sat in the chapel this afternoon as the sun was setting, reflecting the quilts, and the past, and expectant about what the future holds. I was alone, but not unaccompanied.

Advent is such a holy, spiritual time of preparation. Incarnation – Christmas- requires preparation. Waiting, watching, hoping- I’m so glad we’re doing it- all of us- together.

Yours,
Jim

Weekly Update – November 18, 2016

Last Sunday we had one of our largest attended services since Easter. Many people expressed that they came to church because they were feeling the need for community, feeling out of sorts after the election took an unexpected turn for them. I reminded us in our sermon that our church is home to people of many different politics, although certain values united us. It was an emotional service for many, and I want to reaffirm here that our congregation remains a place where we may disagree ideologically, and still be a sanctuary for all, especially those who feel marginalized or vulnerable at this time.

I went right from church to a prayer vigil in solidarity with immigrants being detained in Suffolk County jail in downtown Boston, many of whom are women and children awaiting deportation hearings(read the story here).

I joined other church people from UUA and UCC and American Baptist Churches and as we sang and chanted- “Estamos con ustedes”- “We are with you”. They sang and chanted back. We could see and hear them and they us through the windows. Some of them made handmade signs and put them up one letter at a time so eventually we saw their message to us “Home is USA with the symbol of a heart. I took a picture and it has been in my mind all week. You may not share my politics but I will share this insight I had spiritually – when we act on our most deeply held values our despair lessens, our hope increases, and our creativity prospers in every aspect of our lives.

All week I saw signs of hope and life in our church- at the finance meeting on Monday evening as we worked on the budget, on Tuesday evening at the Church Board meeting, on Wednesday evening at the Deacon Board, on Thursday evening in the intensity of the Nominating Committee, in the excitement of the Staff meeting for long term planning all that afternoon, in the Living Room that night in our joint Racial Justice Book discussion with members from our church and from First Baptist Church. The Spirit of God is moving through our church bringing healing and hope – breathe it in, breathe deeply and be part of what is happening here.

Join us this week for Thanksgiving Sunday. New Members are being received. The Pledges received these past weeks and at the Fellowship Dinners this weekend will be gathered in and blessed. The Adults and the Youth are singing together in a combined choir. Come share your gratitude with God and with each other.

Yours,
Jim

Weekly Update – November 11, 2016

Join us Sunday for worship as we continue with our theme of “The Gift of Love ” for our Stewardship Campaign. I’ll be preaching on “I Carry Your Heart” by E.E. Cummings, the famous love passage in the epistles of Paul 1 Corinthians 13, and a set of teachings by Jesus in Luke 21:5-19 that are perfectly designed for a confusing time after an election with, what was for many, an unexpected result and a country that was divided before and after the results were announced.

We had a poignant and impromptu time of prayer, song and communion in the chapel on Wednesday night, in which people shared how they were feeling, not only about the election results, about all of the feelings in their lives that this brought up for them. It was one of the most powerful, spiritual times I have shared since coming here in the summer and it reminded me of how important our spirituality is as a resource in dealing with all of the challenges in our lives.

This week the building is abuzz with plans for the Village Fair- I hope we’ll see you Saturday at this great event. And on Sunday we will also pray for peace, which is part of the original plan for Veteran’s day when it was established, and recognize and celebrate you if you were ever in military service. If you have a friend or loved one currently serving, bring a picture of them for the altar and we will pray for them as well.

Come celebrate the gift of Love.

Yours,
Jim

Weekly Update – November 4, 2016

This Sunday we are celebrating All Saints Day. It is a day in the life of the church when we remember and honor the people in our lives who have died but have left their indelible mark on who we are.

For our celebration in worship, you are invited to bring a picture(s) to church of a saint in your life – present or past, a person or persons who have had a saintly influence on your life. We will place their image around the sanctuary to remember that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.”

After church Rev. Jim and Rev. Heike invite anyone who is interested to a New Member Orientation in the Library, starting at 11:30. We would like to take this opportunity to get to know each other and the church community you have sought out. Lunch will be offered. If this time does not work for you and your family but you still would like to find out more about the church, you are invited to contact the ministers directly for a conversation about membership (revjim@needhamucc.org or revheike@needhamucc.org ).

A Message from Rev. Heike

The Festival of All Saints dates to May 13, 609 (or maybe 610) when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. Pope Gregory III is credited with first moving the festival to its present date of November 1.

After the Reformation, the celebration was retained in Anglican and most Lutheran churches. Other Protestants, including Presbyterians, Methodists, and many United Church of Christ churches, celebrate All Saints Day, usually on the first Sunday in November.

I know that some might wonder: why are we celebrating All Saints Day? Aren’t “saints” a thing of the Roman Catholic Church? Yes, you are correct. In the Roman Catholic tradition, someone receiving the title of “Saint” has been officially recognized by the Catholic Church (canonized). Leonard Foley, OFM, editor of the book Saint of the Day, says of saints that their “…surrender to God’s love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes or heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ.”

Martin Luther would expand the idea of sainthood to include all Christians on earth and in heaven. In one of his commentaries he wrote and I am paraphrasing: “Scripture has called us holy while we are still living on earth, if we believe. …We are holy because we have the Word of God, because heaven is ours, and because we have become truly pious and holy through Christ.”

By our baptism we are the saints of the church today, and we are called to live saintly lives which simply means, to live holy lives; lives that honor God and each other. I will expand on what that might mean for us today this coming Sunday.

Hope to see you in church,
Heike

Weekly Update – October 28, 2016

This Sunday we will celebrate the Protestant Reformation in Worship. Rev. Heike has a special Children’s Time planned with “Little Martin Luther”. Bobby Jo Valentine will bring his gifts of music to our Worship Service and then come back to join us in the evening for an extraordinary music experience.

Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, we are celebrating the ordination and installation of Sandra Summers at the Memorial Congregational Church is Sudbury, MA. All are invited to attend this special day in Sandra’s life and ministry.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This Sunday, October 30, 2016 we are remembering the Protestant Reformation in worship. “Little Luther” who traveled all over Germany in 2015 will make an appearance during our children’s time as I hope to explain to the children that October 31st is a pretty important holy day for Protestants around the world. It is, after all, the 499th anniversary of the Reformation.

Why are we still talking about the Reformation? Because the Reformation opened the door to freedom. By the time Luther hammered his 95 thesis to the Castle Church door of Wittenberg, he figured something really important out: God’s grace reigns supreme. Luther helped generations to realize that in the end, we don’t need to do anything, earn anything, say anything, accomplish anything, or buy anything to earn God’s love. We already have it. Problem is that we forget this major aspect of our relationship with God. Our forgetfulness has causes many problems in church and in the world as we try to earn or take away God’s love from someone else.

It’s about freedom – freedom to apply the gospel to our daily lives, freedom not to be defined or feel trapped by the stuff that happens to us, or the dumb things we do occasionally, or the things we think we have done because of God’s grace and love. Luther opened us up to a God who has chosen to call us beloved children, holy and precious in God’s sight.

Luther’s courage to stand up for what he believed set us free: free to risk and serve and help and care and try and struggle and laugh and all the rest. We are free, that is, to love, just as God loves us.

All that is still worth talking about.

See you in church,
Heike.

Weekly Update – October 21, 2016

A few weeks ago Cici Hunt expressed concern about a growing incivility in our public discourse, visible in part because of the elections but certainly it existed prior to the recent debates. This past week Heike, Daryn from the Baptist Church, Abdul from the local Muslim community and I met to begin planning the community Thanksgiving service, and later the Interfaith clergy met at Temple Aliyah and we noted some of the same concerns.

On Tuesday night I was at a reading at the Harvard Bookstore by noted author Rabih Alamaddine . He talked about his own recent involvement in working with Syrian refugees and was sparked into remembering his years of living in San Francisco in the 80′s and 90′s and the seeming indifference in the broader culture to what was happening to people then, and what is happening to refugees today. Last Saturday at the Boston Book Festival I heard Harvard educator Elizabeth Hinton talk about the plight of the ever increasing numbers of the incarcerated in our country, which she ascribed to racism. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by these signs of indifference and not see also the signs of hope and the meaningful ways that people are engaged in overcoming them in large and small ways.

On Wednesday night, 18 people all together gathered in the chapel for “Let’s Talk, Let’s Listen” to process how they felt about our own time of conflict in the past few years. It was candid, personal, civil, thoughtful and spiritual. It gave me hope for the future of the church and also for the world. Most of all, it was real. Everybody who was there showed up and participated. It was a start- there’s never a conclusion- and I hope you will participate in the second session of Let’s Talk, Let’s Listen this Saturday at 10am in the 1180 building and future opportunities not only to process the past but to make sure we learn a new way of coexisting together peaceably.

Come this Sunday to see how Jesus engages us about how we relate to other people as a dimension of our spiritual life . Tom Mollerus will read “Pray for Peace” by Ellen Bass. A local high school student, will share a brief testimony about living boldly and openly with difference. And Cici Hunt will render a song by John Lennon to help us Imagine a new way of being together.

Bring your friends- and be there- the Spirit is yearning for your return,
Jim

Weekly Update – October 14, 2016

Join us for worship this Sunday as we celebrate the Environmental Ministry Team’s ministry, with a special program after worship. Last year they showed the film The True Cost (available on Netflix) and today Mary Lou Andre will discuss how to incorporate the film into our lives and closets today at the Climate Change Café after Worship. We will sing hymns about the earth, and also pray the Merger Poem by artist Judy Chicago. I will preach on Luke 18:1-8 with the theme “Praying for our Lives”.

I believe in the power of prayer to change us and to change the world. Last Wednesday night several of the deacons
gathered in the chapel by Candlelight to learn new forms of prayer, and to pray for each other and the church, for a spirit of renewal and healing. We sang this simple chant, Open My Heart , which I invite you to incorporate into your prayer life as well. Open your heart to all of the beauty that is around us and within us, and to the miracle of new life that God is unfolding here at the Congregational Church of Needham.

Hope to see you Sunday,
Jim

Weekly Update – October 7, 2016

Join us this week as we celebrate one of the most joyous occasions a church can ever know, the christening of a child. Sloane Adam will be baptized in the presence of her parents Neil and Julia, her sister Cecilia and many family members as well. We will also observe the ending of the Days of Awe, and mark with prayer Indigenous Peoples Day, and National Coming Out Day. The choir will sing beautiful music, including Mark Miller’s anthem, I Believe and cellist, Jesse Christeson, will conclude our prayer time with a haunting rendition of the Kol Nidre.

I will preach on Luke 17:11-19, a story about healing and lepers (or, as John Kirk told me, the youth group was certain the story was about leopards) and how I found healing when I visited a former leper colony in Motuko , Zimbabe a few years ago. If your soul needs renewal, join us!

With love,
Jim

Weekly Update – September 30, 2016

It is going to be another busy weekend at the church with something for everyone!

Before Worship come have breakfast with our new Interim Minister, Rev. Jim Mitulski at 8:30am in the library. You do not need to RSVP or call ahead – everyone is welcome! No need to bring anything but your questions, and your vision as we look ahead to the Interim Ministerial Period for the church.

After breakfast stay and Worship with us. We will observe World Communion Sunday, the Feast of Francis of Assisi and acknowledge the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days and Rosh Hashanah.

Following Worship Rev. Jim, Rev Heike and Maddie invite anyone who parents a child or youth ages 0-19 to join them in a discussion on how our youth and CE program can work with your family. Bible Village classroom Open House will be immediately following Worship, Coffee hour will be in Fellowship Hall and Bible Study meets in the Reception Room.

Come back to church on Sunday at 4:00pm, to celebrate our animal companions with an Animal Blessing. Bring your pet, pictures of you pet or your favorite stuffed animal to church as we will be blessing them and all living creatures. Please join us even if you do not have a pet of your own. This is a wonderful experience that everyone will enjoy. Junior High Youth Group will follow the Pet Blessing at 5pm and the Guatemala Partnership will have their monthly meeting in Linden Hall at 7pm!

This is a time of energetic renewal and spiritual reconciliation at the Congregational Church of Needham. We value you and your presence and I hope you’ll be present to participate in our re-set.

We look forward to seeing you!

Please keep in your prayers this week…
Crosby Goshgarian Jr. on the anniversary of his father’s passing.

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – September 23, 2016

Please join us for worship this Sunday. We have two special guests who will be with us in worship, both of whom are old friends of mine. The Rev. Martha M. Cruz is our guest preacher. Adam Lawrence Dyer is a student at Pacific School of religion, a candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry and a published poet. You will enjoy both of their talents. At the same time Rev. Heike will be leading a delegation of sixteen bicyclists on a Ride for Food in partnership with the Needham Community Council. Join us!

This is a time of energetic renewal and spiritual reconciliation at the Congregational Church of Needham. We value you and your presence and I hope you’ll be present to participate in our re-set. Please feel free to make an appointment to talk with me if you would like to talk about what has gone on in the past or what is happening now.

With prayers for you,
Jim

Please keep in your prayers this week…
For healing for Emily Downing.
Priscilla Lazuk who is mourning the death of her husband Al.
The friends of Betty Byers who passed away this week; Betty was a former member of the church and good friend of Jan Davis.
Joyce Bere and her family on the death of her aunt Dorothea Emery, also a former member of the church. An internment service for Dorothea will be held September 24 in Waltham.

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – September 16, 2016

What if every time you woke your sigh was
felt by every being on earth
What if every time you spoke your words
were heard by every ear on earth
This is now
This is we
This is love
This is God
And this is Love beyond God

Excerpts from “Love Beyond God”
by Adam Lawrence Dyer(Skinner House 2016)

Dear Friends,

I continue to learn more about the people and workings of the Congregational Church of Needham. This week I participated in meetings of the Finance Team/Endowment Committee, the overall governing Board, and the Board of Deacons. In each instance I was in the presence of several highly qualified, deeply committed people who gave of their time and their expertise to make sure that we conduct our business in ways that are congruent with our spiritual principles. These are people who have remained steadfast through a difficult time and are prepared now to help us re-set and move forward together into the future.

Our first service back in the Sanctuary was extremely well-attended. The music was vibrant and artfully presented. The children brought energy and joy. Jackie Allen and Frank Luppino joined Rev. Heike and I at the altar for the celebration of communion to embody our partnership in leadership.

I hope you will join us this week as we continue the spirit of Homecoming. Our service will include a contemporary witness from Caryl Johnson about our Guatemala Partnership. Rev. Heike will preach from Luke 16:1-13, on the topic “Jesus did what?” We will have special memorial prayers for Rev. Richard Unsworth, who died this week, and in remembrance of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that claimed the lives of four little girls on September 15, 1963. The Spirit is moving and we hope to see you here!

Warmly,
Jim

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – September 9, 2016

“Home is the place you get to, not the place you came from.” -from Paul Monette’s novel “Halfway Home” (1991)

Earlier this week Danielle, Heike and I walked around the Sanctuary and they showed me how the sound system worked, where we stand, and how the room worked, in anticipation of returning to the Sanctuary for this Sunday’s Homecoming worship service. Though I’ve been here a month, I have only experienced the chapel, and it’s gracious simplicity. Standing in the chancel, seeing the sunlight stream the windows, the vaulted ceiling, I was immediately struck with the spirit of place and felt why the grandeur of the Sanctuary also feels like home to you. I know when we gather at the Communion table on Sunday morning it will feel like a spiritual and family reunion, with God and with each other.

This week I attended several more meetings for the first time- the Music committee, a quick breeze through the Environmental Ministry Team, the Friendly Society (which lived up to its name) and Heike’s noontime Soup lunch. Diane Conroy told me about Circle of Hope, and Susan Kirk and I went over to Family Promise Metrowest. I met the founder of Baby Basics, participated in the community dinner, and saw even more clearly that at the heart of Congregational Church of Needham there is one consistent dynamic: relationships. Family relationships, friends, community relationships, concern for the poor and for the privileged, and love for one another. This asset, along with your faith, will be what helps us re-set after a period of conflict so that the best years of our church will be the years to come.

If you have been away for the summer, or perhaps even longer, please join us this Sunday with an open mind and open heart and experience the new things that God is doing in our midst. I hope to see you at the Lord’s table, and then in the coffee hour, where as the hymn we are singing Sunday says you are “no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child, at home.”

With love,
Jim

If you would like to prepare for Sunday, here is a poem by Massachusetts poet Marge Piercy which we will be using an excerpt from in our liturgy: http://www.best-poems.net/marge_piercy/the_seven_of_pentacles.html

The Guatemala Partnership Team will be sponsoring the coffee hour this week and leading a Report Back from their August Delegation next week after church. To connect us spiritually to their work we will sing this short hymn this week and next (in English) from Guatemala, sung here by our friends at Old Cambridge Baptist Church https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oScsS5EndjQ

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – September 1, 2016

Please join us this Sunday as we celebrate Labor Day Sunday. It’s the last time we’ll be in the chapel this summer – and we have wonderful worship planned. Heike and I will preach a sermon together, modeling what our ministry will be like over the upcoming year . We’ll draw from Matthew 20:1-16, and we’ll also celebrate communion together in a way which will emphasize our unity as a community. We’ll also use the poetry of two Massachusetts poets, Marge Piercy and Mary Oliver, and a prayer by Cesar Chavez. Maddie Downer will enrich our worship with special musical selections. We invite you to bring something for the altar that symbolizes work or vocation or calling for you, as you define it- what brings meaning to how you spend your “wild and precious life”, as Mary Oliver says.

Come, pray, sing and give thanks to God and pray for healing and for hope in the midst of change.

Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – August 26, 2016

This week the church has been alive with the sound of children enjoying Vacation Bible School. Thank you, Maddie Downer, and all of the volunteers who have made this wonderful experience possible.

We’ll hear an update from VBS, and we’ll also bless the backpacks for our congregation’s children this Sunday as part of our worship. I’ll round out our series on legends and stories from the Hebrew Bible by looking at the very last chapter of the book of Exodus. We will also remember the life of Emmett Till, whose short life ended on August 28, 1955, in Money, Mississippi, and contemplate why his Black Life still matters. I always have a portrait of Emmett Till in my office, because it reminds me of why I am a minister, and this essay from the New Yorker earlier this month prompted me to speak about it in church on the anniversary of his untimely death http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-power-of-looking-from-emmett-till-to-philando-castile

Come to church to give thanks this week for children in our midst, and to pray for a better world for them and for all the children in the world. Let the lovely space, and the peaceful music heal your soul and inspire you to larger life.

Hope to see you,
Jim

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – August 19, 2016

I am easing into learning the people and place of the Congregational Church of Needham. I’m also enjoying the cultural life of Boston: I went to a Summer Sing on Monday night at Old South Church sponsored by Choral Pro Musica where we sang through Ralph Vaughn Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem, Tuesday night I heard Jacqueline Woodson read from her new novel “Another Brooklyn” at a book Signing in Camridge and I even squeezed in the new film about Florence Foster Jenkins in Brookline.

This week Blair took me on an extensive tour of our facilities, and even after a couple of hours I’m not sure I saw everything. Be sure to thank him and all of the volunteers and employees who tend with such care to our property in order for us to have safe, welcoming, comfortable and beautiful places to do ministry!

Kathie Carpenter went over with me the 15 year history of our formal Open and Affirming stance; I’ve been working the last few years in Colorado and Texas, where even the UCC churches cannot be counted on to be welcoming places to LGBT and their families and friends. Thank you for setting an example in our denomination and in the community.

I met with a young couple new to Needham, Julia and Neil, whose infant daughter Sloane we’ll be welcoming through baptism into the Christian community; they knew that the Congregational Church was where they wanted to raise their daughter. And Saturday night Frank Luppino is calling together the “Summer Deacons” for an informal gathering with Heike and me, to get to know each other and to talk about how we can strengthen the fabric of community this fall, socially and spiritually. It’s a slow, leisurely building of momentum, appropriate to the season, that anticipates a time of refreshment and renewal once September hits.

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday for worship in the chapel. Susan Kirk, our volunteer coordinator for Family Promise Metrowest (www.familypromisemetrowest.org), will have 25 $10 TJ Maxx gift cards that you can purchase which we will bless the following Sunday(8/28) for the students who are guest of Family Promise as they begin the school year. That Sunday we will also Bless the Backpacks (and the students!) of our own congregation as they begin their new school year!

I will continue our series on legends from the Hebrew Bible and look at Exodus 14, as well as commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the August 23, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Come sing, pray, learn, connect and give thanks to God!
-Jim Mitulski

to prepare for worship this week

read and listen to Dr. King’s speech on August 23, 1963
http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

watch Rep. John Lewis’s commemorative speech at the 50th anniversary on why it was a spiritual event
http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000002404455/march-on-washington-50-years-later.html

pray with this recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” at the March on Washington https://youtu.be/t9iQUIwAgus

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – August 12, 2016

The heat we are experiencing this week makes us very grateful we are able to Worship this Sunday with Rev. Heike in the air conditioned Chapel. She will ponder the age-old question, “Does God have a big toe?” in an exploration of the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis. Rev. Jim will join her on the altar and we will welcome the musical talents of Valerie Becker and special guest cellist, Eric Slosser.

Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday!

P.S. You can catch a glimpse of Rev. Heike preparing her sermon in a post on the church’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NeedhamUCC/ .

Weekly Update from Rev. Jim – August 5, 2016

I am so glad to be here, and to be working among you. My two cats, Keats and Zwingli, have forgiven me for relocating them and I think they like our new sunnier apartment better than our previous one in Denver. I am settling into my apartment in West Roxbury. I even have a Massachusetts driver’s license. And my new work colleagues, especially Danielle and Heike with whom I work most closely, have been patient in orienting me to the office.

I’ve begun meeting people. I had the extraordinarily moving experiencing of attending the monthly community dinner hosted by our church and Baby Basics, and was able to meet many of our guests as well as some amazing volunteers who make this project possible. Monday night I attended a progressive revival service www.moralrevival.org at Bethel AME church in Jamaica Plain where I heard electrifying sermons by notable preachers, including Rev. Dr. William Barber who I had just seen address the Democratic Convention on TV the week before. There was such optimism in the church that night about the possibility for change, and especially for racial justice and reconciliation here in Boston.

This is my first Sunday here, and I am eager to meet you, to pray and sing with you, and to gather at the Communion table with you as we begin this next chapter together. I hope you will join us in the chapel this Sunday at 10 am for worship. We will remember with a special prayer the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 and pray for global peace. Along with the other special music Valerie has planned, my friend of over 30 years Randa McNamara, a distinguished cabaret artist from New York City, will sing a song popularized by Nina Simone, I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, which conveys the spirit of the scripture on which I’ll be preaching from Exodus 3, and my sermon topic, “God Is Still Listening.”

Looking forward to meeting you and yours,
Jim

Weekly Update – June 17, 2016

Please join us for worship this coming Sunday, June 19, 2016. Our worship service – in music, prayers, and the sermon – is dedicated to honor the lives lost in this most recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida.

At 5 pm the Needham Clergy Association will hold a prayer vigil at our church. All are welcome!

Thought for the week

Rachel Naomi Remem, MD once said, “Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life.”

Whenever something horrific like the recent mass killing in Orlando happens, we have a few options available to us about how to react and how to continue life: we can close our eyes to the loss; we can close our eyes to the issues that led someone to do such a violent assault, or we can pray and grieve for the lives lost and families injured and we can work for the living. I am loosely quoting Mother Jones here.

This week I encourage you to grieve and pray for the lives lost in Orlando. And I encourage you to embrace and work for the living because we are called to bring comfort where there is sorrow, healing where there is hurting, kindness where there is cruelty, peace where there is anxiety, unity where there is division, and hope where there is despair.

If you feel moved to take action, “From Prayer to Action” from the UCC offers suggestions. Click the link for more information.

As you pray, please keep the 49 victims of the Orlando mass shooting in your hearts!
Heike

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Weekly Update – June 10, 2016

Please join us for worship and communion this Sunday! Rev. Heike will preach on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 5-18. These are Paul’s most encouraging words to a church community.

After church, please stay for the All Church BBQ. Plan to have lunch with your friends at church. The luncheon is prepared for us by the CE and Youth Committee to say “Thank You” to our church community.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This week in our sermon St. Paul comes across as the eternal optimist when he writes: “”So we do not lose heart! Even though everything around us changes, even dies, our inner nature (or treasure) is renewed day by day by a loving God!” Well, I am paraphrasing just a little.

Some people believe we are hard-wired for optimism. Otherwise human history would have been very short. Some scientist think that people who are overly optimistic, have a “brain defect.” I am not making this up. A study done by the Wellcome Trust Center of London suggest “…that this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain’s failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates.” This is a brain defect I gladly accept and embrace.

Whenever I think of what it means to have optimism, I remember the story below. Every time I read the story it brings a smile to my face. It makes such a good point about the difference between optimism and pessimism.

Have a blessed weekend, and here is the story:

Where’s the pony

There were once two identical twins. They were alike in every way but one. One was a hope-filled optimist who only ever saw the bright side of life. The other was a dark pessimist, who only ever saw the down side in every situation.

The parents were so worried about the extremes of optimism and pessimism in their boys they took them to the Doctor. He suggested a plan. “On their next birthday give the pessimist a shiny new bike, but give the optimist only a pile of manure.”

It seemed a fairly extreme thing to do. After all the parents had always treated heir boys equally. But in this instance they decided to try to Doctor’s advice. So when the twins birthday came round they gave the pessimist the most expensive, top of the range, racing bike a child has ever owned. When he saw the bike his first words were, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.”

To the optimist they gave a carefully wrapped box of manure. He opened it, looked puzzled for a moment, then ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s just gotta be a pony around here somewhere!”
(Source Unknown; found at Stories for Preaching)

Blessings,
Heike

Weekly Update – June 3, 2016

This Sunday is Youth Sunday. Some of our emerging adults will give their reflections as they are about to graduate from High School. Our youth and children choirs will sing, and we will hear our band playing. Join us for an inspiring worship service, starting at 10 am.

After church, anyone who has agreed to help with the annual Holiday Fair, gathers for a meeting in the Library to continue with the planning for the Fair.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate Worship and Communion.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This is the season for commencement speeches. Although I have never given a commencement speech, I could see it as one daunting task. The speech has to inspire, uplift, and yet remind those graduates that hard work has brought them this far, and hard work will continue to be needed if success is to be had in life.

Most commencement speeches tell these young graduates to discover their passion, follow their dreams, and with that change the world, eventually. But in all honesty, most young people don’t turn “inward” first to form a life plan. Like most of us, we look outside and find or see a problem which in turn calls us to dedicate our life.

I wonder what kind of commencement speech Jesus would have given?! Or Paul. Both of these men found their vocation and purpose in serving others by using their God-given gifts. And they did not do it all by themselves but in community and with others.

Their commencement speech would have been short but included everything we need to live a faithful life. It would have included:

Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.
Love your neighbor as yourself
Seek God’s will.
Serve God and others.
Work together.
Be kind.
Be humble.
Be generous.
Ask for help.
Pray.

Simple words to follow that can change the world.

Blessings upon your weekend,
Heike

Weekly Update – May 27, 2016

Please join us for worship this Sunday, May 29th. Maddie Downer, M.Div. will be preaching and Rev. Heike will offer the prayers.

On Thursday, June 2nd we will gather for our last luncheon before the summer, and on Sunday, June 5th the youths will lead us in worship under the leadership of Maddie Downer.

A Message from Rev. Heike

Praying for Peace this Memorial Day weekend

As we ring in the summer this Memorial Day weekend with BBQs and family gatherings, may we also take a moment to remember all those who have lost their lives in wars fought.

May Mother Theresa’s version of the “St Francis” Prayer guide us as we remember:

Make us worthy Lord to serve others throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Amen.

Blessings upon your weekend!
Heike

Weekly Update – May 20, 2016

This Sunday we are welcoming the Rev. Wendy Vander Hart to our pulpit. Wendy is an Associate Conference Minister in the MA Conference of the United Church of Christ whose mission is to “nurture vitality and covenant among our churches to make God’s love and justice real.” Her focus is ministering to the ministry of the churches. She comes to this work after having served two pastorates in 18 years and having served the Conference in many capacities. When weather permits she enjoys golf, gardening and riding her bike. Wendy will be preaching on Acts 4 and her sermon title is “Brave and Faithful Boldness”.

Our chimers are playing the Introit in honor of Frida Boyd, who was one of the original chimers. The group has been practicing under the leadership of Crosby Goshgarian for the past two month, and are very excited to share their newly learnt song.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This weekend 17 women of our church are gathering for the annual Women’s Retreat on Cape Cod and the topic is: Finding our Balance. I got this idea as I was barely keeping up with the interval and strength training I was doing while on retreat at Kripalu. Apparently my sitting vs. moving ratio was totally out of whack. So since April I have been working much more conscientiously on balance in my life between work, exercise, home life and my spiritual life.

I have learnt a lot about balance. A well-balanced life does not mean that all areas that are important in life always get the same attention.

Balance has so much more to do how you feel as you go through life. Are there areas in life you feel too tired or resentful about? That is a sign of imbalance.

You know you have balance in your life when:

  • you enjoy every moment and every second,
  • you can cope with any difficulties,
  • you can be happy without any reason to be happy,
  • you can be yourself and love the person you are.

See, balance has nothing to do with your outer circumstance.

The question though always is: how do I get this balance into my life?

While the answers and paths toward balance are many, one path toward balance is unavoidable for us to pursue which is asking yourself:

  • What do you do to ground yourself daily?
  • What is your daily spiritual practice?

A good grounding that happens daily is the key to building a healthy, happy, and yes, successful life.

The good news is that our Christian faith offers us lots of practices that might lead us to the good grounding in our lives (prayer, meditation, Lectio Divina, etc.). All we have to do is find what works for us.

What is your answer to: How do I ground myself daily? It is worth asking and even more worth pursuing an answer for yourself.

Be well,
Heike

Weekly Update – May 13, 2016

Come and celebrate Pentecost and Confirmation with us this Sunday! We are adding 13 young adults to our membership rolls through the Rite of Confirmation. They have studied together since the beginning of February, and they are ready to affirm their baptismal promises made by their families long ago. They have had mentors by their side to support them as they shared their faith journey with their student.

After church, join Rev. Heike for an informational meeting about the Erie Canal Bike trip in the Library.

Next Sunday, we welcome the Rev. Wendy Vanderhardt to our pulpit. Rev. Vanderhardt is our Associate Conference Minister for the Metropolitan Boston Association of the MA UCC Conference. This will be her first time with us.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This Sunday we celebrate, not only the Rite of Confirmation but Pentecost Sunday as well – the day we celebrate the birthday of the church.

Speaking for myself, I feel that we “normal” Protestants have treated Pentecost like the stepchild of all the religious holidays. We know what to do and how to think about Christmas and Easter, but Pentecost? The story told in Acts 2 about God’s Holy Spirit coming down and unifying strangers so they can understand each other, seems a little, well, odd, or maybe too mystical for our Protestant hearts and minds. I think that we don’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit – the “shy” member of the Trinity. It seems that we can do without the Holy Spirit to be faithful Christians. Maybe, or maybe not.

I am going with maybe not. I think we need the Holy Spirit in our lives and faith journey. When the Holy Spirit came upon the people gathered in Jerusalem, it inspired the community to mission in the name of Jesus Christ. The Good News could no longer be kept to a small group but was carried across culture and ethnicity. Diversity no longer was an impediment to unity but became the vehicle for the Spirit’s movement.

That was then. What about today? How does the Holy Spirit make herself known to us today? Without Her, I could not fathom stepping into the pulpit each Sunday and proclaiming the Word of God. There are moments when I admit to myself, “I have nothing to say!” which is scary, knowing that there is a 48 to 72 hour deadline down the road. But then, as I sit with this nothingness, things start to happen. I firmly believe that this is the Spirit at work.

Or, the artist could not fathom to create anything without the Spirit’s guidance. Or, any problem solved, any creative idea tried, the need to do something nice and kind – all are, to me, movements of the Spirit within us. Sure, we can say that they are the workings of our brilliant mind and intellect. But as persons of faith and having a glimpse of how God works in our lives, all of our creativity are reminders of God’s gift of the Spirit.

I have not found a sure fire recipe that will make the Holy Spirit appear in our lives whenever we need her, but I like to suggest that consciousness makes possible the possibility or, in other words, we should expect the Holy Spirit to enter our reality. If we focus on the Spirit, the Spirit just might show up.

Happy Pentecost!
Heike

Weekly Update – May 6, 2016

Welcome to a busy weekend at the church! Please join us for the first ever Chili Cook-off at the Congregational Church of Needham on Saturday, May 7, 2016 from 5 to 8 pm in Fellowship Hall. Tickets are available in the office or at the door.

Ten chili makers are competing for the title “Chili Champion.” You are needed to cheer them on and like what they have created.
From 5 to 6 pm we will taste and vote for the best chili in the house. After crowing of the champion we will eat dinner (polish off all the chili) together.

There will be an alternative dinner option for those who don’t like chili, or chili does not like them but who wish to be part of this fun evening. The chili will be accompanied by an array of sides: corn bread, chips, salsa, cheese and guacamole. There will be plenty of soft and non-alcoholic beverages offered.
Come and join the fun of finding out who makes the best chili in town!

May 8th is Bible Sunday which we always hold on Mother’s Day Sunday. Children grade K and 4 will receive a Bible during the Children’s Time. Rev. Heike will conclude the sermon series of the Easter season on “Word of the Resurrected Christ.” This Sunday she will preach on the best gift that Jesus gave us – forgiveness. Our Shepherd’s Staff and senior choir will share in the musical offerings.

A Message from Rev. Heike

The season of Easter ends with Jesus’ dramatic ascension into heaven. Scripture tells us that Jesus, after he has given final instructions to the disciples to take and share the Good News with the whole world, is taken up to heaven, his final destination.
It is from the passages that describe Jesus’ ascent to heaven that many Christians have gotten the idea of a three story universe – heaven above, earth between, and hell below, with heaven being the goal and hell to be avoided.

I have always wondered what the point of Jesus’ Ascension is. Scripture said that Jesus would not be around forever after his resurrection. And if heaven is the final destination – the best place ever to go – why worry about what is going on here on earth?

As I shared with the lunch group on Thursday, Ascension Day is not the day that gives us a pass on doing good things on earth while waiting to go to heaven. Instead Ascension challenges us to bring heaven to earth, that is, to continue Jesus’ ministry and bring his values into our world. With that we are simply living into the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Remembering Christ’s Ascension does not invite us to sit and wait until we get to heaven, but instead invites us to “go up” – to find higher ground – not to escape the challenges and problems that this life often offers but to embrace a vision and mission that bring goodness, compassion, and care into our communities and the world. We don’t need to look to the heaven to find inspiration for this work. Our mission here – following Jesus – is to heal, to embrace, to welcome, and to love. We don’t need to wait for a far off day of heavenly perfection. If God is always with us – and I believe God is – then right here and now can be the day of transformation and fulfillment.

Blessings,
Heike

Weekly Update – April 29, 2016

Please join us for worship and communion on this first day of May at 10 am. Our communion celebration will include two children and their families who have gone through a communion workshop with Maddie Downer to deepen their understanding of our communion celebration. Join us for a celebration after the worship service in Fellowship Hall.

After church, anyone is invited to attend a New Member Orientation in the library. If you would like to learn more about our church, this would be a great place to find out more about us and to ask questions about who we are.

Mark your calendars for a great fellowship event on May 7, 2016 beginning at 5 pm at the church. It is our first, never tried before Chili Cook-off. Self-professed chefs have signed up to dazzle us with their culinary delights. You get to taste their creations and crown a winner. Afterwards, we get to eat it all. Tickets will go on sale this Sunday after church.

A Message from Rev. Heike

Sunday, May 1 is May Day. In Germany, May 1 is a national holiday. May Day is an ancient festival to welcome the spring weather and to drive away evil spirits. I find it interesting how many of our celebrations are so deeply rooted in our pagan rites and rituals that date back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Traditionally, people believed that witches held their annual meeting on Walpurgis Night on the summit of the Brocken, a mountain in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, on the night between April 30 and May 1. People believed that it was dangerous to be outside on this night so they lit fires and danced wildly to deter the witches from coming too close to them or their homes. These traditions led to the custom of lighting fires and erecting maypoles still seen today.

I grew up with May Day as a day that celebrated work and workers’ rights. In Germany it is called “Tag der Arbeit.” I remember that the night before May Day, it was mandatory for our school to gather for an evening demonstration where we would walk through town with lanterns (driving away the evil spirits?). The next day was a day off from school, but there were activities all around town we had to attend.

I am glad that we don’t believe in witches dancing on mountain tops anymore, or have to attend mandatory demonstrations. But we can still welcome spring into our lives. And we can and should take a moment to think about the work that we do, and all the workers around the world. We might think about our interdependence. We might think about the fact that many people still work in dangerous environments. We might think about the many workers around the world that are not being treated fairly, or earn enough for a decent living although they work 12 to 14 hours a day.

Lots to think about as we enter into the beautiful month of May…

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – April 22, 2016

Please join us for worship at 10 am as we continue to hear and reflect upon the last words of the resurrected Christ. This Sunday, Rev. Heike will preach on John 21, the famous words of Jesus where he charges Peter and his disciples to “Feed My Sheep.” The sermon will ponder what that actually means and how challenging it has become to feed God’s sheep (meaning us) not just spiritually but also physically. Maddie Downer will offer the Children’s Time, and our choir will be back offering the anthems.

After church, join us for an Adult Education event sponsored by the ONA Ministry Team, beginning at 11:30 am in Linden Hall. We are welcoming Cynthia Hanson to share with us her journey as a transgender person and a person of faith. Lunch will be offered.

A Message from Rev. Heike

With Easter having been early this year and the weather being so nice the last two weeks, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty in the garden when I returned from Kripalu. I have started to weed and turn the soil in my garden, knowing that it is much too early to plant – unless its peas.

Spring brings with it some nice energy that is often released in a good spring cleaning (done that too!) or getting the garden cleaned up after a long winter’s sleep. The sun, fresh air, trees budding and grass turning seem to have an inspiring effect on people.

In case you have some spring energy to share, here are some events that you could link in to:

  • On April 30 Attend City Missions Gospel concert on April 30 at Payson Park Church in Belmont
  • On May 7th sign up to volunteer with the whole family at the Pilgrim Church in Dorchester
  • On May 14th, volunteer at the annual Guatemala Yard sale
  • Go shopping for the Circle of Hope “Baby Shower” gift basket (see bulletin)
  • Volunteer at the monthly Community Dinner held on the first Tuesday of every month in Linden Hall

Spring invites us to get out there and do something. So, do something!

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – April 15, 2016

Celebrate Worship by lifting up your voice! Join us as Rev. Heike kicks-off April Vacation Week with a Sunday Hymn Sing. Large printed pages of our Sunday hymns are available in the Narthex.

After church, please join us for coffee hour in Fellowship Hall or Bible Study in the Reception room.

We would like to extend a big THANK YOU to the Guatemala Partnership, their Servathon volunteers and sponsors! Last Saturday they spent a big part of their day at the church painting the Bible Village hallway and scrubbing all of our our well-used white tables in Fellowship Hall. We appreciate all they do for us every year! Thank you.

Fun & Fellowship Alert

Have you heard about the church’s 1st Annual Great Chili Cook-off? On Saturday May 7th, great chefs from our own church will be cooking up big pots of their special, secret recipe Chili to compete for the 2016 1st place Trophy and months of fame and adoration!

If you would like to throw yourself and your chili recipe into the ring, please email the church office at office@needhamucc.org. If your more of a taster than a chef, fear not! We need discerning palates to judge the winner. The winner will be decided by the tasters votes!

Questions? You can either email the office or speak with Rev. Heike or Maddie(2 of our chili chefs!) on Sunday.

A Message from Rev. Heike – April 8, 2016

Please join us for worship at 10 am. Rev. Heike will be preaching on the “Gift of Courage” that Jesus left his disciples as he appeared in their lives after his resurrection.

After church, please join us for an adult education session, sponsored and led by the Environmental Ministry Team on ” True Costs”, a movie about the environmental, social and economic impacts of “fast fashion,” the current obsession with purchasing the latest trends in fashion.

The deacons also encourage you to stop by their display of “Stop, Start, Continue!” Your voice is important as we start to explore our future as a community of faith together.

A Message from Rev. Heike

I was looking for a funny quote on change to give you all a heads up. After some discussion amongst the deacons, the music team, and listening to suggestions from the congregation, we are making a few tiny changes to the worship service during the Easter season.

We are not changing the order of our worship service but are replacing some to the “old and tried” with the “new yet known.” We will be singing the children out with a new song “Child of Promise, Child of Blessing” and we are replacing “Spirit of the Living God” with two verses of “In Solitude” after the pastoral prayer. Next week, in lieu of a sermon, we are singing hymns of the Easter season. And on April 24, I have invited members of the Environmental Ministry Team to share with me in the Pastoral Prayer.

Change can be hard but “If you change nothing, nothing will be changed.” Or “If it does not challenge you, it does not change you.” Can you tell I had fun at the finding quotes on change?

Come and join us for worship and fellowship!
Heike.

A Message from Rev. Heike – April 1, 2016

Join us for Worship and Communion this first Sunday after Easter. Our guest preacher this Sunday is the Rev. Dr. Rosemary MacKay. Rosemary is an ordained UCC minister who has spent her 32 years (so far) of ministry in hospital settings. She currently is the Spiritual Counselor for Cranberry Hospice in Plymouth, MA. As a member of the Church of the Pilgrimage in Plymouth, MA she works on the adult education committee, supply preaches and facilitates retreats. In her spare time, she sings in Persephone’s Daughters, a women’s choral group in Plymouth.

The Rev. Dr. MacKay was Rev. Heike’s Committee on the Ministry advisor some 20 years ago, and has remained a very good friend over the years.

After church everybody is invited to check out the Guatemala Project Auction items displayed in Linden Hall. All proceeds will benefit our partnership.

Anyone interested in discussing The Holiday Fair and it’s Future is invited to a meeting in the Chapel after church at 11:30 am. The holiday fair is our biggest fundraiser for the church. But with diminishing volunteer and people power, it has become harder every year to “pull it off.” And “…because we have done it always this way…” might not work either anymore. Maybe it is time to rethink the holiday fair? Come and join a lively discussion! Bring your ideas of how to enlivening a wonderful fellowship event or help create a new fundraiser to benefit the church.

A Message from the Deacons

Stop, Start, Continue

The Deacons held an evening of Fellowship and Feedback on Wednesday night in Fellowship Hall. The event was well attended and everyone was well fed! The objective of the evening was to gather feedback from members on all aspects of their church experience. This was done in an interactive way, with members placing post it notes on boards to indicate activities they would like to Start, Stop or Continue.

For those of you who did not have a chance to attend, we would still like to get your thoughts. The boards will be present at coffee hour for the next two Sundays, and Deacons will be on hand to help you with the exercise, if you are interested. So stop by and let us know what you think.

With blessings,
Your Deacons

A Message from Rev. Heike

As our Easter celebration came to an end, we started to hear report that 72 people died and over 300 were injured in Lahore, Pakistan as a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which at the time was frequented by many Christians that day, celebrating the Easter holiday after church.

Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast. Its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a statement that Christians were the target. It was the third bombing in Pakistan this month alone.

As the world still reels from the terror attacks in Brussels on March 23, 2016 we don’t seem to get a break from the violence and terrorism around the world. It seems that it is getting worse and more unpredictably, exactly what terrorism intends to create – an unpredictability that makes us fearful.

I am struggling as much as the next person to address the issue of terrorism and unpredictable violence. Of course, there are the usual yet powerful things we can do as Christians. We need and should to pray – for our world and for the victims and their families of terrorist attacks. We need to pray and let them that we love them and care about them. We also need to pray for our enemies which I know, is hard. Just this week, a good friend said to me, “Unless I have enemies, I don’t know what it means to really love.”

Our Easter faith invites us to do something else: to refuse to let fear rule us. The only way to live life abundantly is to refuse to have fear limit us. And probably our biggest fear is death, the one thing in life we definitely cannot control, no matter where we live in this world.

Easter is the celebration of life, of Jesus overcoming death once and for all, about living life without fear. One way of experiencing the resurrection can be when we let go of the fear that keeps our tomb stone solidly in place.

What will it be? Fear or Faith? It’s the choice we have to make every day.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – March 25, 2016

Welcome to Easter Sunday! Join us for worship on this great day of celebration. The 9 am worship service will include a Time for Children and childcare. At 10 am the children and their families are invited to an Easter Egg Hunt on church grounds. The second service will start at 11:15 am. Both services will feature special music, including the singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus” by Handel. Stanley Normile is our guest soloist, playing the trumpet.

The sermon will be based on the Resurrection story found in the gospel of John, chapter 20, vs. 1-18. Rev. Werder will preach on “Giving up Death” and bringing to a close the sermon series for Lent.

A Message from Rev. Werder

Preparing for Easter

Through the days of Lent, I have been reading “Calmly Plotting the Resurrection” a daily devotional written by the Rev. Donna Sharper. I like what she has to say about getting ready for the Resurrection. I hope you enjoy this piece by Donna as I have because it raises a good question. She writes:

“Along our way in life, we are always involved in the matters of life and death. We are being killed a bit even as we are rising a bit. These patterns are normal. They are inevitable. They are our spiritual refinement.

We sometimes get hit by things that cause us resentment. These things can be as small as a parent who never really loved us, or as large as our country being invaded. In both the small and the large, though, we have to find a place to put our hurt. We could seek revenge. It is probably in the search for revenge that most hurt is reproduced, from generation to generation. Or we can do what kids in rough high schools are told to do: we can ‘eat it.’

Rising is a process of letting go. It is giving in to the process of refinement. It is traveling light enough so that we are small enough to get through whatever cracks we can make in the stones. Some rising is sneaking. Some is just sitting still – and knowing that God is changing us. We are dying and we are rising. We are going to be different.”

As Easter is approaching, we are going to be changed. Question is, what will that look like?

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – March 18, 2016

This Sunday ushers in Holy week with the celebration of Palm Sunday. The worship service reflects on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Maddie Downer our CE direction will give the children’s time, and the choir has prepared some special music for this Sunday. Among the pieces they will sing is “The Palms” by J. Faure.

Come and join us for worship as we get ready for Holy week and Easter Sunday.

Don’t forget to stop by the Garden of Needham Bake Sale! The confirmation class is hoping for your support this Sunday to raise money to build, install and maintain a raised bed garden at the church. Look for mouth-watering and healthy selection of home baked breads, muffins, scones, cupcakes, quiches, cookies and other gardening themed sweets.

A Message from Rev. Heike

We are about to enter our most holy time in our Christian faith. “Holy” are called the days that lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion, beginning with a great parade on Palm Sunday. These days are filled with tears and mystery, and they are part of our journey toward Easter Sunday. Many of us would like to skip the painful parts of our faith journey I think. The days of Holy Week marked by a last meal together, the agony of prayer in the Garden, the kiss of a betrayer and the soldiers’ arrest, the trial, the mockery, the brutality of the cross, the tears by loved ones, the begging of thieves being saved, the intense feelings of being forsaken.

Yes, we would like to avoid the pain and grief of the days ahead and go right to the celebration of the resurrection but we should not. Tears and sorrow are necessary for the journey to Easter. Grief, not faith, will make us realize what gift we have been given in the resurrection.

Grief, tears, and sorrow are, as Nancy Rockwell says, “the heart’s resistance to the dominant forces at hand.” If we stop being sad, or stop shedding tears in the light of injustice or violence or rampant disease, if we stop lamenting of all that harms human beings, we have lost our ability to hope for something better to come. For as long as we lament, as long as we are emotionally involved, we are alive; we are still checked in rather than checked out. It is a strange kind of logic but true.

This week, I encourage you to stay close to the story of Jesus’ suffering. Stay close to your own feelings of grief and sadness. Give in to the tears that might come with grieving. We shed tears for what we love. And it is our love that defies death wherever death has entered our lives.

If you like to take some time out for quiet meditation, come to the church during Holy Week. The Labyrinth will be laid out in Fellowship Hall, and I have asked Maddie to keep up the Stations of the Cross she is using as a teaching tool for our Sunday school this Palm Sunday. Join us for dinner and worship with communion on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016 from 6 to 8 pm.

Peace,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – March 11, 2016

Please join us for worship this coming Sunday, March 13, 2016. The worship service is dedicated to one of Jesus’ most profound sayings: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It is quite a challenge Jesus proposes to his followers. The sermon title is “Giving Up Life – As We Know It!”

After church, you are invited to attend a presentation on: ONA 101.2. The ONA Team will present a narrated slide program of our church’s ONA process, the progress we have made and possibilities for the growth of our ONA ministry. This is particularly informative for people who were not in the church when we went through the ONA study and vote, but all are invited to share their experiences, observations and ideas. Join us at 11:30 for a lunch (soup by Heike) and the program.

Also, the confirmation class is hoping for your support as they are putting together a Bake Sale for Sunday, March 20, 2016 after church, just in time for Easter. This year’s confirmation project is centered on food. The group is planning to build a raised vegetable garden between our two buildings. We are starting small with one raised bed. The money raised will buy all the supplies needed. All the vegetables grown will be donated to the Needham Food Pantry.

Look for mouth-watering and healthy selection of home baked breads, muffins, scones, cupcakes, quiches and cookies and other gardening themed sweets.

A Message from the Deacons

The Deacons would like to invite all members of the congregation to “An Evening of Fellowship and Feedback” on Wed. March 30th in Fellowship Hall from 6:30 to 8 pm. We particularly urge all leaders – committee chairs and their committee members to attend.

The goal of the evening is to begin a process to share and collect ideas for the future direction of our Church. We would like your feed back on the following three questions:

  • What practices should we continue and expand upon?
  • What practices should we start doing that would make our church even more vibrant?
  • What practices should we stop to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past?

The ideas collected will help provide direction and a strong foundation that we can use together, and with our interim minister, to start shaping and building the future of our congregation. A light dinner will be served and childcare can be arranged upon request!

Please join us in this next exciting step in our journey together!

Blessings!
The Board of Deacons

A Message from Rev. Heike – March 4, 2016

Join us for worship and Communion on this first Sunday in March. We are welcoming the Rev. June Cooper to our pulpit. June is the Executive Director of City Mission, an organization in Boston that combats homelessness and poverty through programs that empower, educate and engage.

Rev. June will preach on “Giving Up Our Well-Made Plans,” joining me in my suggested sermon topic for the remainder of Lent. In order for us to walk with Jesus to the cross in Lent, and become a faithful follower, we have to give up something – it might be our well-made plans for the future, or the kind of life that we are living, or being the best and brightest wherever we go.

The children will join us for communion after completing their program in the chapel.

After worship, please join us for the Guatemala Reportback in Linden Hall. Everyone is invited to listen to the experiences of our February travelers.

A Message from Rev. Heike

I have come to believe that our faith is meant to interrupt us. We read story after story in the Bible about God entering people’s life and disrupting whatever they were doing or going or had planned. God comes to them (and us) in unexpected ways and asks us to change directions. Listening to our lives, there probably are many situations that have come as annoying interruptions to our well-planned lives. But I dare say that many of the interruptions were growing opportunities, especially those more serious interruption that changed someone’s course of life – a phone call from the doctor giving you bad news about your cancer tests, that pink slip on your desk, the unexpected loss of a loved one, or an unwanted job transfer all stack up as devastating surprises.

We all have probably learned to live with interruptions, and deal with them as they come, muddling our way through them. Or we could actually look at them as gifts from God. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks. . . . It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path.”

Would this change our attitude toward interruptions, if we were to think of them as messages from God? What if God is trying to tell us something?

Our job as Christians is to listen to God and care about what God might be telling us. But that takes courage to stop in our tracks, listen, see and, if necessary, redirect our path. Bonhoeffer calls that “disruption theology.” The cross of Christ becomes such a disruption…we’ll think about that some more in the coming weeks.

Interruptions are God’s invitation to see God all around us, in the lives of others, in our conversations, in our serving those in need. They are about experiencing true life.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – February 26, 2016

On Sunday, Feb. 28, Rev. Heike will offer one last sermon in the series of “Who We Are”. She will preach on “Outreach”, the fourth cornerstone of what our congregation values greatly. The sermon will offer some insights of what we are doing and why. Rev. Heike will be joined by our CE director Maddie Downer who will lead the Children’s Time.

After church, you are invited to a “Lunch and Learn” event, sponsored by the Outreach committee. Come and listen to four organizations in our town of Needham that are supported by our Outreach funds. The program starts at 11:30 am in Linden Hall. And you guessed right: there will be lunch with the program.

Looking ahead:
Next Sunday, March 6, 2016 the Rev. June Cooper will join us for worship and give the sermon. Rev. June is the Executive Director of City Mission, an organization we support. Here is some information about Rev. June from the website:
“City Mission has been led for 14 years under the leadership of The Reverend June R. Cooper. June is a visionary and compassionate leader who has led the organization through several major changes. Prior to coming to City Mission June lead Boston’s federal Healthy Start program a $100 million dollar initiative that has been credited with significantly decreasing the infant mortality rate in the City of Boston in the late 90’s. She earned a B.A. from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, a Masters of Social Planning from Boston College School of Social Work and a Masters in Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School. She is an ordained American Baptist minister and she has standing in the United Church of Christ. June values the promise of what can be accomplished by mobilizing people of goodwill to overcome injustice. She lives in Boston and is a model train enthusiast.”

Please join us for worship at 10 am and “Lunch and learn” at 11:30 am this Sunday, and come and hear Rev. June preach next Sunday.

Thought for the week
Last Sunday, as people were leaving, someone asked me why the Beatitudes are called “Beatitudes.” I knew that it came from the Latin translation but before I gave an answer, I wanted to check.

This word comes from the Latin word for “happy” which was “beatus,” and the noun form “beatitudo.” When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, the phrases each begin with the word “Beati” which translates in English as “Blessed (happy) are they…”
With that settled, the Beatitudes are a beautiful piece of Jesus’ teaching, and one might even say they are the secret to happiness. What else could lead to a happy life than opening yourself up to the love and grace of God, or when you let go of what you want – or think you want – and trust God in all matters?

The true qualities of life are expressed in the beatitudes – justice, kindness, integrity, and humility. They can become our life force, I believe, when we trust God’s guidance, and God’s guidance alone. They might free us to accept what life brings us and help us to enjoy the goodness all around us despite the world’s and our brokenness.

That might mean that we have to admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, or what Anne Lamott calls the “gift of failure. (1) Many of us may find that language strange, but failure is a gift in that it enables you to accept the humility of looking foolish, of being broken and flawed. In a very real sense, failure enables you to embrace the vulnerability of being human. And throughout the ages, many have recognized the profound wisdom that it is only through accepting our vulnerability that we find the path to peace, the path to blessedness, the path to life and true happiness.

What a relief – we don’t have to be perfect to be happy. Thank God for that!

Blessing,
Heike

(1) Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, 143; she says that failure is a gift in that it “breaks through all that … tension about needing to look good.”

A Message from Rev. Heike – February 19, 2016

Please join us for worship as Rev. Heike continues to preach on this month’s theme, “Who we are” and the four cornerstones for the life of our church. This week, Rev. Heike will preach on the third cornerstone “Education”. Her sermon title is “Sustained by Love: Education for All”.

After church we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk! You are cordially invited to an Adult Education session on Japan and it’s Christian History presented by Yuzo Dort. A lunch will be served by 11:30 am to be followed by Yuzo’s presentation.

Next week, on Sunday Feb. 28, the Outreach committee invites all of us to a “Lunch and Learn” educational session after church. The committee has invited a number of Needham agencies that are support by our outreach monies to hear about their work and their challenges, and about how we can stay involved and support them in their work.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This week, before we start the worship service, I will introduce to you our 2016 Confirmation Class. 14 young people will go on a journey for 12 weeks, exploring their faith. They will have 13 mentors by their side, helping them explore what it means to have faith and how to live a faithful life.

Teaching our kids about faith – from how to get, how to keep it, and how to let it grow, is a tall order, and takes all of us, parents, mentors, pastors, the extended family, and the whole church community.

As a pastor I can teach them the ins and outs of the Bible, or everything they need to know about church history, and even show them examples of people who have, despite life’s adversities, continued to believe in a kind and loving God. But the question is: will all of that lead them to have faith, a faith that will make a difference in their lives, a faith that will shape their futures, a faith that will help them when life takes a downturn for it inevitably will do so? It’s a good question with no easy answers.

I know that I cannot teach them to have faith and to stick to it no matter what life brings. But I can and hope to open their hearts up to faith’s possibilities. Faith is not a given set of beliefs but a path, a way of life. Faith is about trust in God, and about our faithful relationship with God. Faith is about loving what God loves (an idea taken from the work of Marcus Borg).

In Confirmation class we are going to explore what God loves. And we might be surprised when we all find out that we already do and always will love what God loves.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – February 12, 2016

Come and join us for worship on Feb. 14, 2016. This weekend we are celebrating our 16th anniversary of being an Open and Affirming Church with special music and rainbow cookies in coffee hour.

Rev. Heike continues this month’s sermon series on “Who We Are” and is focusing on what it means and how important it is to be an Open and Affirming church and what the work is that lies ahead. Her sermon title is “Sustained by Love – Being an Open and Affirming Church”. The pastoral prayer will be a shared prayer with members of our ONA ministry team.

The children, grades K-8 are in Stevenson Hall for the duration of the worship service, having a Valentine’s Day celebration.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This past Wednesday, the liturgical season of Lent started with Ash Wednesday. Fifteen of us gathered in the chapel for a short service. At the end of the service everyone received the Ashes. At the deacons meeting that followed, someone asked: “How did Lent start, and why do we do ashes? It certainly is not a ‘Protestant’ thing, right?” Right. It is not necessarily a Protestant thing but it can be very meaningful even to us.

Here is some background on Lent: it is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all the Christian holy days, it has changed over the years, but its purpose remains the same: it is a time of self-examination and penitence in preparation for Easter. Lent lasts for 40 days, the amount of days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted.

In 325, the Council of Nicaea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting. It’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church.

How Lent was kept depended on the area but a fast, or giving up certain food items, was always part of the observation.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact number of 40 days in Lent-not counting Sundays, which were feast days. Gregory, who is regarded as the father of the medieval papacy, is also credited with the ceremony that gives the day its name. As Christians came to the church for forgiveness, Gregory marked their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19).

Over the centuries, Lenten practices have changed and become more relaxed. But still to this day, the Lenten practices in Eastern Orthodox churches are still quite strict.

Though Lent is still devoutly observed by the Roman Catholic churches and the Eastern Orthodox churches as well as in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably for Anglicans and Episcopalians), others hardly mention it at all.

We are one of the Protestant churches who have dipped into the spiritual depth of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. It is a time that can mean different things for different people as we get ready for the gift of Easter.

For some, it might be used as a time to get closer to God through prayer, coming to church more often, or finding a spiritual exercise that is meaningful. It is all about repentance which really means returning to God. For some it is about giving up something, for other adding something that allows for self-improvement. For some this is a good time to somehow, in some way reconnect with God and relearn our place in the story with God. And for some it might be about becoming lost in God, in God’s grace, mercy, wonder and peace. It certainly can be a time for us all to keep God close to our hearts, minds, and souls.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Maddie Downer – February 5, 2016

Feb. 7, 2016 will be a busy Sunday at the Congregational Church! Here is a list of all the activities for the morning:
8:30 am - Confirmation Parents meeting in the Chapel

9:00 am - Youth meet to prepare Super Bowl sandwiches. There will be extras for us to buy. Proceeds will benefit our youth groups and their Outreach activities. Here is an insider tip: Roche’s French sub roll is back. That makes every sandwich beyond delicious!

10:00 am – Worship with Communion; children will go first to the chapel and then join us for communion. The Rev. Wendy Vanderhart, Associate Conference minister of the MACUCC will be worshipping with us, and I have invited her to serve communion with us. She will also be available for conversation after the service.

During the service we will also install our new deacons, send off our February Guatemala Delegation, and hear a sermon on our church’s efforts of caring for the environment, the first sermon on a series on “Who we are – the Congregational Church of Needham, UCC, an Open and Affirming Church.”

11:30 am – Confirmation Mentor meeting in the Chapel
Super Bowl pick up in Fellowship Hall
Bible Study in Reception Room
Guatemala Partnership meeting in Library

11:40 am – Friendly Chimers in Sanctuary

So, it will be a busy Sunday.

A Message from Maddie Downer

Our faith is passed on, as it has been from the first followers of our dear Jesus, from generation to generation through the retelling of God’s great and continuing story.

Reflect on your own faith journey for a moment. How did you come to know the songs and stories of our faith? Who embodied God’s love for you? Who told you how God changed their lives and inspired you to seek God in your own life? Who helped you understand God in new ways at each stage of your life – as children, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults? Who continues to challenge you to know God in deeper and more challenging ways than you did before?

Remembering those saints who helped you to see the deep truth of God’s love is one way to pay homage to the community of Christ. Using your experience and personal knowledge of God’s life-changing power to help form the faith of the next generation of Christians is another way. This is a task that falls to all of us, to all Christ-seekers.

You know that saying “it takes a village to raise a child?” It’s true here, too. It takes a village, a whole gathered beloved community of Christ, to pass the faith along to the smallest pilgrims on life’s journey. Who inspired you when you were taking your first tentative steps down this path towards Christ? Knowing all that you know now, who might you inspire? Whose hand will you take in your own? Who will hear you say, “God loves you.” and believe?
Let us pray together:

God, you have formed and reformed us since we were children, like clay, pliable and willing to be held softly in your hands. Continue to turn us on your wheel and to make of us new vessels to pour your love out into the world. In Christ’s name we pray with our whole hearts.

Amen.

A Message from Rev. Heike – January 29, 2016

Join us for worship at 10 am. Rev. Heike will preach on part two of “Jesus in Nazareth.” Find out why he almost got thrown off a cliff. We will be joined by Imani, a group of students from Noble and Greenough school in Dedham who sing songs from the African American tradition, to bring their musical offering to our worship service.

The worship service will end with the Choral Benediction and then we are going right into our Annual Meeting. We hope that you will stay for the meeting but if you can’t and need to pick up your child/ren, please go to the chapel. For all other children there will be childcare in the chapel.

After the meeting, join us for lunch and fellowship in Linden and Fellowship Hall. There will be soup (vegan), quiches, salad, cheese, and rolls on the menu. If anyone would like to bring some cookies to share, feel free. Otherwise there will be yummy clementines for dessert.

We would like to thank Mark’s Moving and Storage. Beth Israel Hospital in Needham donated furniture to the church but we had no way to move it to our building at 7:30am Monday morning. We called Mark’s Moving to get a price quote and when the owner heard the church needed the furniture moved, he donated the moving fee and the furniture was in our building at 1180 GPA by 8:30am!

A Message from Rev. Heike

When I was apartment hunting in Vermont in 1995, I came across a fantastic property and apartment. It was an old church turned into two or three apartments. I thought about how cool it would be to live in a church, but then I couldn’t afford the rent on my starter salary. But it also crossed my mind that it was sad that this church did not function as a church anymore. Maybe too many people had left, or too few people remained to keep it going. So they sold it, and it found its new purpose as an apartment building

As I was thinking of another clever way telling you that you are truly, from the heart, invited to attend our Annual Meeting on Sunday, I got thinking: Who owns the church? A few of my friends I think find it fascinating that I am a minister and so they asked me: How are things going at your church? My church? When did that happen? Sometimes it feels like I spent a lot of time at the church, but I don’t remember ever signing real estate papers that say it is my church.

I don’t own the church. None of the committees or the Board own the church. We, the members, own this church. Jesus is the Head of the Church, but we own this church – the building, the programs, the ideas, and most of all our future! Ownership of anything requires our care, attention, and love. Only then will what we have serve us well and let us prosper.

Is this a good enough argument to persuade you to attend? I hope so.

On Sunday, January 31, 2016, we will first worship together, then meet, and finally eat together! Church fellowship at its finest!

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – January 22, 2016

Come and join us for worship on Sunday! Rev. Heike will preach on Jesus’ first sermon as recorded in the gospel of Luke. The music will be led by Valerie Becker and Denice Koljonen will accompany our singing at the organ.

Please make sure to thank Denice for her help during the past few months while we have been searching for a new organist/ accompanist. The music team is happy to report that SangYoung Kim has accepted the position, and will start with us on Feb. 7, 2016. You will be able to read more about SangYoung in our next FOCUS.

After church this Sunday you are invited to attend the hearing for our Annual Meeting which will take place next Sunday, January 31, 2016 right after church in the Sanctuary. There will be childcare for the meeting, and then we will have lunch together in Fellowship hall after the conclusion of the meeting. We hope that you will come and be part of the Annual meeting of our congregation.

Please make sure that you have Rev. Heike’s correct e-mail address! It is revheike@needhamucc.org. The old address – revheike(at)needhamcongregational.org – is no longer in service and she will not receive any emails sent to that address.

How will you know that there is church or not in case of a Winter storm? While it seems that we will miss the fury of this first real weekend winter storm, we want to be prepared for this snowy season. If we do cancel church on a Sunday morning, here are the ways you can find out:

  • By calling the church. We have set aside a mailbox for weather related news. Just follow the prompts.
  • Check the front page of our website. Danielle Jurdan will post any weather related news.
  • Watch channel 4 (CBS) and/or channel 7 (NBC) for weather related closings. We are part of their system.

A Message from Rev. Heike

This weekend and the next one we get to practice what it means to be community together. This Sunday we will gather for the hearing before the annual meeting, and next Sunday we will hold our Annual Congregational Meeting. Every member is invited – no, is asked to attend because now is the time that we plan together for our future.

A lot has happened in 2015. A lot will happen this next year. In order for us to do the work, we need everyone on board. This is not the time to sit back and watch how the church will figure out its future. Membership is a “give and take” proposition. Membership comes with responsibilities as well as privileges. As members we are asked to give of our time, talent, and treasure. In return we get the opportunity to be a shaper of our future together. The early Christians figured out that only together they were strong and actually could survive in a hostile world.

Our world is not hostile anymore toward our faith. Our world has just become a smorgasbord of choices, and our time and our resources have become precious commodities.

I pray that you make it a priority to be present, especially on January 31, 2016 at our Annual meeting.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – January 15, 2016

Please join us for worship this Sunday! Rev. Heike will preach on John 2:1-11, the Wedding of Cana, when Jesus performs his first miracle – turning water into wine.

The Annual Meeting Hearing will take place on January 24, 2016 after the worship service in linden Hall.

The Annual Meeting of the Congregational Church of Needham, UCC will take place on January 31, 2016 right after worship in the Sanctuary. There will be childcare offered, and a luncheon is planned for after the meeting. All members of the church are encouraged to attend!

A Message from Rev. Heike:

This Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his life and his legacy. In Needham, a celebration will be held at the Needham High School Auditorium, an event sponsored by the Diversity Initiative, the Needham Clergy Association, the Human Rights Committee, the Needham Public Schools and its METCO program. I hope that for many of us it is more than just a Monday off from work.

This holiday is given us to celebrate and remember a person “who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.” (written by Coretta Scott King, The Meaning of The King Holiday – See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org)

His life and legacy has been an inspiration to thousands of people, including me. Here is one way to remember this great man by the words he said:

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)”
― Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Blessings and peace,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – January 8, 2016

Please join us for our worship service at 10 am. Rev. Heike will preach on the Baptism of Jesus. There will be a Children’s time and Sunday school to follow. Denice Koljonen and Valerie Becker will provide the musical accompaniment together with the chancel choir.

Following the Worship Service we will have Coffee Hour in Fellowship Hall or join in the Bible Study Group!

Our Annual Meeting Hearing will be January 24th and the Annual Meeting will be January 31st. If you are writing an Annual report for your group/committee, it is due into the office by January 15, 2016

A Message from Rev. Heike

Happy New Year everyone! I promise this will be the last time I will say this to you. As we start this new year together I want to share a story with you I found amongst my personal readings for each day. It goes like this:

In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of the monarchy. He experienced what today is termed a “midlife crisis.” He went to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative, to spend the rest of his life in the monastery.

“Your majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”

“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”

“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”

That story leads us to these two thoughts:

First, faithfulness is intertwined with faith. We cannot honestly say we believe in God if we are not dependable and loyal to the highest of spiritual values.

Second, faithfulness is not simply a religious duty we employ in Sundays or when we are “supposed” to act like Christians. God expects us to be faithful where we are.

So, as a new year begins, let us resolve to be faithful. When we tire of our roles and responsibilities, let us remember that God has planted us in a certain place at a certain time and told us to be dependable and reliable in whatever responsibilities we have – as a parent, a spouse, an accountant, a welder, a dentist, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a church member – whatever.*

See you in church,
Heike

(*From “Daily Strength for Daily Needs”, January 1)

A Message from Rev. Heike – January 1, 2016

Join us on Sunday, January 3rd for Worship and Communion. Our own Maddie Downer, M.Div., will be preaching Sunday and we invite all of the 6th – 12th graders to listen to her sermon in the balcony during Worship.

After church at noon Emily Verschoor-Kirss and Valerie Becker will jointly present a recital of classical saxophone repertoire with piano. Emily is currently pursuing a Masters of Music degree in saxophone performance at LSU. All are welcome!

New Years Message
Happy New Year! May the God who loves you continue to bless you on your life’s journey.

May the God who cares deeply for you provide you with love, peace, hope and joy!

Even though Christmas is behind us, the work of Christmas has begun as the late Howard Thurman, African American scholar, minister, poet, put it so eloquently in his poem:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To make music in the heart.
(The Mood of Christmas, p. 23)

As we begin the new year, our work as a congregation continues as well. We will have to bring about the changes that will guide our growth; we will have to find the lost and heal what is broken; we will have to bring peace where it is needed; we will have to find the songs of joy that feed our ministry and guide our community.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas to you all!

May you celebrate this holy season with family and friends, but may you also find the time to praise God, remember God’s promises. To look forward in faith. To pray. And to remember your blessings.

May you be blessed with the courage and faith to say “YES!” to hope, peace, love and joy.

May you be blessed with a faith that says yes to God even though our world seems broken because of violence, poverty, and unnecessary suffering.

May you be blessed with a faith in the God who comes to us as a tiny vulnerable human baby and brings with him love for all.

May you be blessed with a faith in the God who plants seeds of hope, peace, love, and joy into each and every situation; each and every life.

May you be blessed with a faith in the God who says that WE, as the body of Christ, can BE hope, peace, love, and joy for each other and all the world.

I am blessed with you – your faith, your courage, and your trust, as we, together, the body of Christ, this community of faith say yes to God once again!

Peace,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – December 18, 2015

Christmas is coming, and we are getting ready! On Sunday, December 20, 2015 we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent by lighting the candle of joy of our Advent wreath. I will preach on “Joy” and the choir will make a joyful noise. There will be joy all around!

The Pageant Cast will meet for lunch and practice after the worship service. The youth group and anyone who wants to can and will go caroling at Avery Crossing Sunday evening. Please see/email Maddie(youth@needhamucc.org) if you have any questions

And then, Christmas! If you have anything that needs to go into the bulletins for December 24 (2 services) and December 27th, please make sure the office has everything by 9am on December 21, 2015!

If you wish to be a liturgist at the Candlelight service at 9 pm on December 24, 2015, please contact Rev. Heike. She has 6 reading parts available for sharing.

The best way to reach Rev. Heike is via e-mail at revheike@needhamucc.org . If you have an emergency, please call her office phone at 781-444-2510 and press 2 to leave a message. Her cellphone will be notified that someone tried to reach her.

Message for the week

Our Advent wreath is almost complete. This Sunday we light the fourth candles – the candle of joy.

Joy is a funny thing! Most often we see joy in children – unbridled and coming from the heart. And it seems that as we grow up we lose the childlike purity of joy. Joy gets often confused with happiness, but they are not the same. Happiness we can create and expect if we “do thing right” but it also can disappear in an instant. Joy is different; it either happens because something touches us so deeply, or we choose joy. And we know joy when we see it and feel it.

We have a choice. We can choose to live in an attitude of resentment, anger and fear or we can choose to live our lives in pursuit of joy – in life and in our faith journey.

There are close to 300 references in the Bible to joy. In the Bible, joy is about trusting in what God is doing. Joy is about the gifts that are received undeservedly. Joy is the antidote to fear and worry.

That is why our Christmas story is filled with joy. The angel brought Mary some pretty upsetting news and yet she decided to embrace this challenge with a joyful heart. The shepherds were scared half to death when the angel visited them in the fields. And then their fear turned into joy when they saw what had taken place.

It is God’s unconventional ways that lead us toward a lasting joy in faith that cannot be conquered by the worries, doubt, and uncertainties of life. But it means that we have to find the courage to trust and be open to God’s ways; trusting that God in Christ is “Emmanuel, God with us.”

May God bless you with joy this Holy Season!
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – December 11, 2015

This Sunday we are lighting our 3rd candle of the Advent wreath, the candle of love. We are also welcoming a very special guest to our pulpit: The Rev. Judy Brain. Judy was a Field Ed. student here in Needham and began her ministry on the staff as Director of Educational Ministries and, briefly, Associate Pastor. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and recently retired from Pilgrim UCC in Lexington after 17 years as senior pastor. A primary focus of Judy’s ministry has been social justice — encouraging congregations to express their faith by promoting interfaith understanding, respect, civility, and peace.

After church the pageant cast gathers for their first rehearsal. There will be lunch in Linden Hall at 11:30 am, and practice starts at 12 noon in the sanctuary. It is not too late to sign up to be part of the cast! Please talk to Teresa Blume and Heather Salerno if you would like to be part of our Pageant this year.

The Youth Group will gather at 4 pm to wrap the Christmas presents from the Giving Tree for the Elizabeth Stone House. If you have not yet dropped off your gift, please make sure it is at the church by noon on Sunday for wrapping.

Thought of the week

I keep buying books. I love books. I have too many of them already but I keep buying books. As I searched Amazon’s website for books on Advent and Christmas (one can never have enough of those books on the shelf!), I found this little gem called “Wonder of Wonder’s” Christmas with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was not just a brilliant theologian but also an amazing preacher and writer.

The book is a collection of his writings – sermons, letters from prison, theology papers – short little pieces to reflect upon during Advent and Christmas.

What struck me was that what he wrote is timeless. You think that what was written was written for our time and yet it was written some 70 years ago while the Nazis were in power and had created a reign of terror. Either things did not change that much in 70 years – since all sorts of ‘terrors’ still reign this world – or Bonhoeffer had such a deep insight into humanity that whatever he thought and wrote, is truly timeless.

As we continue our journey though Advent, let me share a piece by Bonhoeffer with you on peace. He wrote:

“Having peace means knowing oneself borne,
knowing oneself loved, knowing oneself protected;
It means being able to be still, quite still.

Having peace with people means
being able to build unshakably on their faithfulness;
it means knowing oneself one with them,
knowing oneself forgiven by them.

Having peace means having a homeland in the unrest of the world;
it means having solid ground under one’s feet.
though the waves may now rage and break,
they can no longer rob me of my peace.

My peace has made me free from the world,
made me strong against the world,
made me ready for the other world.
but the fact that we are to have such peace with God
is something that goes beyond all human comprehension,
beyond all reason.”

May you find peace in this Advent season!

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – December 4, 2015

Come and join us for all the activities this weekend at the church! They are all meant to help us prepare for our Christmas celebration, for the joy that is coming once again into our lives.

All families are invited of our Annual Advent Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 5 from 3 to 5 pm in Fellowship Hall. Children will be able to do all kinds of crafts – from sand art and wreath making to creating your own edible Winter Wonderland. Cici Hunt will accompany us at the Carol sing.

On Sunday, December 6, we gather for worship and communion at 10 am. Children will attend a chapel program first, and then join their families for communion.

At 4 pm on December 6, 2015 we gather for our Winter Mosaic Christmas Concert in the Sanctuary. I have seen the program which promises to be a delight. The choir, under the leadership of Valerie Becker, has worked hard to get ready to share the fruits of their labors. A reception will follow the concert in Fellowship Hall.

Thought for the week

I am drawn to the quiet aspects of the Advent season – the waiting, the reflecting, the prayers, and the advent music in minor keys. The more the world “ramps up” toward Christmas, the more I feel the need for silence and quietness. I also like to pass on this quietness to the rest of the busy world which is not an easy task.

As I am preparing worship and sermons during this Advent season, I am realizing that none of the suggested scripture passages are quiet and calming. They suggest a ruckus, not a retreat. Stars fall, moons collide, nations groan. God seems to rip open the heavens. Torrents of justice hit the parched earth with ear-splitting force. Mountains quake, fire erupts, seas boils. It is “the season for insomniacs” as writer and pastor Mary Luti says. We are to wake up, and stay awake, and watch out, stand up and raise our heads!

This Sunday, as we light the second candle, the Candle of Peace, John the Baptist is entering the scene, preparing the way for peace, for Jesus, to come into the world. John is loud and weird and he does not mince his word. Repent! he says. Find your way back to God!

So, if you are like me, imagining that God’s healing gift would be a gently, quiet things, the Advent scripture correct us. It’s noisy heavy-lifting which is okay because our hope is that the world might actually hear the divine ruckus – the crashing and banging of God’s ancient promises -which will save us in the end.

May you find the blessings of this Advent seasons in your life!
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – November 27, 2015

Please join us for worship as we enter into the Advent season. Members of our 2016 confirmation class will lead us in the reading of the Advent wreath liturgy. The first candle we light is the candle of Hope. Maddie Downer, our CE and Youth Director, will give the Children’s Time.

Thought for the week

Happy New (Church) Year! Did you know that the liturgical calendar of the church begins with the season of Advent? Advent is maybe the most curious season in the Christian year, and I feel, the most short-changed of all the church seasons. Short-changed because we’d rather jump right into the celebration of Christmas than take our time to wait, prepare and reflect on the meaning of God with us, Emmanuel.

Advent is the liturgical time that reveals the ambiguity of Christian hope and history. The Christ whose birthday we soon celebrate has died and risen but how will he come again? How will Christ be revealed in the ongoing historical adventure? All the scripture readings for Advent are a bit dark and speak of the end of time and judgment. They stand in stark contrast to the passages we long to read about happy shepherds and singing angels and sweet Jesus lying in a manger.

Dare I say we need Advent? While we cannot escape the premature Christmas celebrations all around us, we can choose to live into this liturgical season by taking a more reflective path. Advent challenges us to live with the tension of “this is God’s beautiful world and yet it is broken.” We know that we are far from the “promised land” of wholeness and healing but live in this imperfect universe where injustice, oppression, inequality, and disease are still present.

Advent invites us to reflect on our own restlessness to find peace and wholeness, or our own dreams for our lives in community, or where we need to grow spiritually.

Come and be with us as we enter into the Advent season to worship with holy mindfulness, and to experience God’s generosity once again.

Blessings,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – November 20, 2015

This Week at the Congregational Church

Thanks 4 Giving!
Our Board is cordially inviting everyone to a celebration of our Stewardship campaign on Saturday, November 21, 2015 from 7 to 9 pm in Fellowship Hall.

Join us for some delicious desserts, harvest-inspired drinks and some delightful, old-fashioned fellowship and fun. Please rsvp with Christine Weitzel at cweitzel@verison.net or with the office at 781-444-2510.

Stewardship Update
As of Friday afternoon, we have received $ 273,161.00 from pledging units. We are seeking $ 450,000 in pledges to fund our 2016 budget which means that we are about 60% there! Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far and we hope that those who have not yet pledged, will still do so.

To help us in our stewardship efforts, we have asked Jonah Beukman back to help make some reminder calls in the evening to our members.. Jonah has helped us with our Capital Campaign with great success, with Stewardship last year, and he was available to help us again.

Join us for worship this Sunday as we enter into our Thanksgiving Week celebrations! Our worship is dedicated to the theme of Gratitude with the music and prayers following suit. At 3 pm we are invited to the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration at First Parish in Needham. There will be three children’s choirs performing and many of our local clergy participating in the service.

Thought for the week

Happy Thanksgiving, Congregational Church of Needham!
I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving celebration. As you gather around the tables, or even if you find yourself alone, here is a prayer that you can share with our Source of Life and Love, and with each other.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving
by Howard Thurman

In Your presence, O God, we make our Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
We begin with the simple things of our days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
We bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that we have known:
Our mothers’ arms,
The strength of our fathers,
The playmates of our childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to us from the lives of many who
talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and diverse kinds
of magic held sway;
The tears we have shed, the tears we have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with
its reminder that life is good.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
Amen

Safe travels, and many blessings!
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – November 13, 2015

This Sunday we are happy to welcome the Rev. Estelle Margarones to our pulpit. Rev. Estelle will bring our sermon series on the “Gifts of Community” to a close by preaching on the gift of healing. Rev. Margarones was the part-time minister at Pilgrim Congregational, UCC, in North Weymouth and just recently has been the bridge minister the First Trinitarian Church of Scituate, MA.

Think Fair!

This Saturday is our biggest fundraiser of the year – The Village Fair and Marketplace! The church has been a hive of activity all week. Volunteers have been getting the church tables ready, kitchen elves have been cooking up the most delicious food I have ever tasted and Artists have been getting their wares ready to show and sell on Saturday.

We have a few very talented people from our church who will have artist tables at the Fair! Please make sure you stop by and say hello to our choir section leader – Maggie Furtak at Pate Ceramic’s table, member Nancy Ide Bradham who will have a beautiful collection of her paintings and Donna DeMaria with her booth of really stunning jewelry.

Join us for fun, fellowship and some happy, holiday shopping!

Peace,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – November 6, 2015

Think Fair! We are getting ready for our annual Holiday Fair, and we truly need all hands on deck! Please think about how you can help – either during this next week as we are setting up, or on the day for the fair. See Brenda Metzler after church in Fellowship Hall to sign up!

Next week, we are welcoming the Rev. Estelle Margarones to our pulpit. Rev. Estelle will bring our sermon series on the “Gifts of Community” to a close by preaching on the gift of healing. Rev. Margarones was the part-time minister at Pilgrim Congregational, UCC, in North Weymouth and just recently has been the bridge minister the First Trinitarian Church of Scituate, MA. While seeking full-time ministry, she works as the Creative Services Director for Greater Media Boston.

Thought for the week

For the sermon this week, I have been working on the theme of Covenant. Covenant – the making and keeping of such, is a hugely important topic in the Bible. God is usually the maker of the covenant, and we are the keepers. Again and again, God is gracious and renews God’s commitment to be in covenant with us, and we, again and again, break away from it. The results are mostly devastating for us. In our scripture reading for this Sunday, the prophet Jeremiah reminds the Israelites in the first 30 chapters how they have violated God’s covenant, and in chapter 31 he confirms that despite it all, God is willing to renew Gods covenant with them. And us.

Only churches today talk covenant. It goes beyond just a contract or agreement. And maybe the first thing we think of when we think covenant is marriage. Two strangers find each other, fall in love, and promise each other to spend the rest of their lives together. They promise to love each other, to care for each other, to support each other for the rest of their life together. They are to care for each other with compassion and patience. They are to forgive each other, and at best forget when one or both messes up. They are to listen to each other with open hearts. They are to encourage each other in independent pursuits. They are meant to speak the truth in love. They are to love each other unconditionally in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. They are to be faithful to each other until the end of their days.

Marriage is hard work. Keeping covenant is hard work. The same rules that apply marriage apply when we think about our covenant with God. We are to keep our promises – to love God with all its consequences – just as God loves us.

We are also in covenant with each other. We are a covenant community. The same rules that apply to marriage and to our relationship with God apply when we decide to be part of a, or this community of faith. Within our covenant community we are to love, forgive, care, support, and listen to each other despite our differences. This has never been and will never be easy. Keeping covenant is hard work. But it’s worth it because, to say it with Jeremiah 31: 34, God will forgive our inequity, and will eventually forget. What a promise!

Peace,
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – October 30, 2015

This Sunday we are gathering for worship and communion. During the communion celebration we remember those who have died since our last All Saints Remembrance Day by reading their names.

Coffee Hour will follow the Congregational Meeting on Sunday.

Thought for the week

Happy Reformation Day!

We are about to celebrate the most important holiday in our Protestant history. October 31st is not just Halloween! That date stands for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Germany in 1517. On Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, Martin Luther posted 95 discussion points to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.

Why should we remember this day?

If you are in a church (yes, you are!) where:

  • The Bible is read (in a language you understand)
  • The Bible is preached (in a language you understand)
  • You sing songs based off Biblical truths (in a language you understand)
  • Pray prayers (in a language you understand) that are Biblical in content
  • You are taught that you are justified by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone…

then you/we are in debt to Martin Luther and all those involved in the Reformation. Before the Reformation, all those things listed above were neither practiced nor taught.

The Reformation ended the Middle Ages, and opened up a new era in the history of Western Civilization. It ended the domination of just one church, and created a variety of denominations and churches, one of which is the Congregational Church.

Even more, The Reformation has had its influence reach beyond the religious realm: democracy, capitalism, the sciences, our educational system, family life – who knows what these might look like without The Reformation.

Sociologist Peter Berger said (in The Sacred Canopy) The Reformation is the most amazing organizational achievement in the history of human kind, based on the network of friendships, and these men pressing forward toward the same goal to change churches and nations.

Martin Luther, who sparked the start of the Reformation in Germany, is said to be amongst the top 3 most influential men of the last millennium (Isaac Newton at no. 2 and Johann Gutenberg at no. 1).

Even if you just have the Bible in your own language, then you can thank God for the Reformers.

Happy Reformation Day!
Heike

A Message from Rev. Heike – October 23, 2015

Join us for a busy weekend at the Congregational Church:

  • Our youth groups are hosting the annual Haunted House on Saturday, from 5 to 8 pm! Come in costume! A $ 5.00 donation requested to benefit our youth group activities.
  • Our worship service continues the theme on community. I will be preaching on “The Gift of Hospitality”. I have invited members of our church who are active participants in our Partnership with Family Promise to share in the intercessory Pastoral Prayer during the worship service.
  • Our Shepherd’s staff choir is singing!
  • At 1:30 pm we are baptizing Madison E. Patsavos, daughter of Cheryl and Jonathan Patsavos in the chapel.

On Sunday October 25th at 6:30pm, the Guatemala Partnership is hosting a stop on the national tour of the U.S. sponsored by NISGUA. This year’s tour highlights peaceful efforts of local communities in Guatemala to pursue ecological justice. The guest speaker is Llan Carlos Dávila representing the Diocesan Committee on the Defense of Nature (CODIDENA), a church based organization in Guatemala supporting local communities. He will discuss CODIDENA’s support of community efforts to halt the development of Tahoe Resources Escobal Silver mine.

Dress is casual. A dessert buffet will be provided.

  • Thought for the week

    This week I have been pondering the community’s gift of hospitality. It is a gift that we give and receive, and it is one of our practices of faith. Hospitality is as important as keeping Sabbath, forgiving, praying, and worshipping according to Dorothy Bass.

    For most of us the practice of hospitality takes place within a safe circle of family and friends, or within the known environments of work, school, church and home. In church our deacons greet everyone who comes through the door, you in the pews are encouraged to welcome visitors, and some are even brave enough to show a newcomer around the building and take them to coffee hour.
    Hospitality tends to be seen as a nice extra if we have the time or the resources. We rarely view it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of our Christian faith.

    This morning (Thursday 10/22) I opened my daily devotional e-mail for the UCC writers, and it started out with a scripture reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (16:5). Paul writes, “I intend to pass through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter.”

    Spend the winter? You’ve got to be kidding! Well, that was my reaction. But in Paul’s time, the intended recipients of this letter would not have flinched. Hospitality in ancient times was not practiced out of kindness or friendship but was a matter of survival and good ethical behavior toward strangers. It was part of one’s fulfillment of commandments and laws. Guests who often were strangers were treated well – their feet were washed, the evening meal was shared, and they had a mat for the night. They would move on the next day, making room for new strangers in a family’s midst.

    To us, today, it seems a bit on the crazy side. Who in their right mind, would invite a stranger or strangers to stay with them, even if it’s just for one night, let alone for the winter? No one. I myself would have to think about it.

    Yet taking care and providing for the stranger(s) in our midst is still our mandate, our spiritual obligation as Christians and as a Christian community. It is being done, and this Sunday I am going to share with you how an organization is practicing a kind of pretty radical hospitality.

    Be well, and see you Sunday,
    Heike.

    A Message from Rev. Heike – October 16, 2015

    We are continuing our sermon series on the Gifts of Community, and this week I will be preaching on the Gift of Faith. The sermon will be based on the famous scripture reading in Hebrews 11 about what faith is, then look at the example of Abraham, and why he has been the Poster Child for Faith for some 4000 years. In addition, our children’s choir is singing and Bruce Goody is playing the flute.

    As we have started our Stewardship effort for 2016, Mary Lou Hughes will share with us why she gives to this church in a Stewardship Moment.

    Please join us for worship and fellowship this coming Sunday!

    Blessings,
    Heike

    A Stewardship Message from Maddi Downer, CE and Youth Director, Director of The Center

    Someone else planted the seeds.

    In this church community, we participate together in Christian fellowship, but it is not a fellowship that was created by this gathered body alone. The seeds were planted two millennia ago, when the first Christians were figuring out how to worship and live together. The first gentle, green sprouts stretched themselves out one day in the Protestant Reformation.

    Something altogether new happened when the UCC grew from the roots of four separate faith traditions – those traditions having been tended to by generations of faithful, persevering people (who likely disagreed with each other at least as often as they saw eye-to-eye).

    This church, this tribe of spiritual sojourners, first broke forth from the soil in 1857, a wild sapling of spiritual brothers and sisters who rallied together to build the physical church and community that would come to life inside its walls.

    Perhaps we would like to think of ourselves as the mighty oak standing tall, branches waving gently in the autumn breeze – but I think we’re still saplings. We are still tender and in need of care. We need someone to care about our future, to tie us to posts so a heavy gust of wind doesn’t topple us over.

    Now, we have the honor and privilege of caring for this little tree with so much promise, not only so that we may enjoy all that the church has to offer, but to prepare the way for the next pilgrims on life’s journey. So how do we care for this spiritual home so that it might continue to grow and nourish and provide sanctuary?

    We contribute to the perpetual care of the church. The United Church of Christ’s congregational polity puts responsibility into the hands of the beloved community. The care of the church community is a task that belongs to every member who calls this place home.

    To care for the church in our fullest capacity, we must give to it three things: our time, talents, and treasures.

    We need to give our time, to be here. Our participation in the life of the church will yield a community that is knit together in such a way that it can withstand the stretching of tense and trying times – and our participation will make the gentle times, the joyous times, that much better.

    We need to give our talents, to contribute our passions and skills to the life of this church. If you love to sing, raise up your voice in choir. If you absolutely adore math, finance committee might be just the place for you. If you love the vibrancy of children and their tendency to awaken the child inside, you might consider teaching in Sunday School.

    And finally, there’s that bit that Emily Post would rather I didn’t mention – our treasures. Our real, physical treasures. Bluntly: money. Having conversations about money is hard; it seems there are always more needs than there is funding. These conversations are sacred. We give our money to the things we believe are most necessary, most life-giving, and most holy to us.

    When we give these three things to the church, we are really giving:
    prayerful companionship, community, strength, help to those who need it, relationship, diapers, adventure, community, candles, bulletins, worship, after-school care, a renovated chapel, beautiful music, laughter, quiet moments, ministry, dinner, memories… and the list goes on and on.

    Dear ones, what has this community provided for you? How can you give back? How can you plant the seeds to ensure that the next generation can experience the love of God in this place?

    Hold fast to what is good,
    Maddi

    A Message from Rev. Heike – October 9, 2015

    Please join us for worship this Sunday. We are planning to kick off our Stewardship efforts for 2016. Rev. Heike will continue to preach on the gifts of community, and will be preaching on the “Gift of Hope”. We are blessed to have the musical talents of Denice Koljonen and Valerie Becker accompany our service.

    The nursery will be open for infants and toddlers. Children and youth are welcome in Worship or can come watch a movie in Linden Hall!

    Thought for the week

    For some time now I have been enjoying the website the “Painted Prayer Book” which is the creation of Jan Richardson. Jan Richardson is an artist, author, and a United Methodist minister, and director of The Wellspring Studio, LLC.

    Jan is widely known for her distinctive intertwining of word and image. If you go to the website (www.paintedprayerbook.com) you can see some of her art work. “Mother Root” is one of my favorites.

    In 2013 her husband died very suddenly. And for some time, Jan was quiet. Eventually she began writing again, pieces like the one below I want to share with you. It is a prayer reflection on Romans 4:18, where Paul writes that, “18 In hope he believed against hope, that he (this is actually about Abraham) should become the father of many nations.” Abraham did not know if this is good news or bad news.

    Hope is hard to come by at times, especially in the light of challenging news. But hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for guidance, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what is in the moment. Hope calls us to keep breathing when all seems lost but hope also draws us toward a future where Christ waits for us to work with him and each other on a whole new now.

    Rough Translations(inspired by Romans 4:18)

    Hope nonetheless.
    Hope despite.
    Hope regardless.
    Hope still.

    Hope where we had ceased to hope.
    Hope amid what threatens hope.
    Hope with those who feed our hope.
    Hope beyond what we had hoped.

    Hope that draws us past our limits.
    Hope that defies expectations.
    Hope that questions what we have known.
    Hope that makes a way where there is none.

    Hope that takes us past our fear.
    Hope that calls us into life.
    Hope that holds us beyond death.
    Hope that blesses those to come.

    Let hold each other in prayer this week.

    Blessings,
    Heike.

    A Message from Rev. Heike – October 2, 2015

    World Communion Sunday
    October 4th is World Communion Sunday! We will be celebrating communion together. As a way of feeling connected to the rest of the world, we will hear the Lord’s Prayer said in several different languages and will offer different breads during our communion celebration. All are welcome to come to table!

    Congregational Meeting at 2 pm
    For those who are traveling a distance to church and plan to attend the Congregational meeting at 2 pm but do not want to go home in between, you are welcome to stay at the church and “hang out.” We are planning to order in some lunch, you may bring a book and find a quiet corner, or you may walk the labyrinth which will be laid out in Fellowship Hall after coffee hour.

    Thought for the week

    As you know, I have been thinking a lot about community lately. This is a tender time for our church and my prayers go out to a whole lot of people. I am also finding that people pray for me. To be honest, I am not used to that. Isn’t that my job to pray for you/us?
    The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God every time I remember you…and every time you remember me” he should have said as well. Paul wrote this line while being imprisoned for preaching the gospel. He wanted his people to know that not only is he sustained by his faith in God but also by the support he received from other Christians.

    In community we support and sustain one another. That bit of truth makes me think of an illustration I read recently (in Daily Strength for Daily Needs, One year of Biblical Inspiration by Victor M. Parachin, meditation for August 11). So, I am just going to share the illustration word for word: It tells the story of an “unusual snow storm – six inches- in Virginia Beach. (We New Englanders think of six inches as a dusting, right?) Anyway, along the main road stood several large groves of tall pine trees. The branches were bowed down with the heavy snow. They were so low, in fact, that branches from one tree were leaning against the trunk and branches of another.

    However, where there was a pine tree standing alone, the effect of the heavy snow was dramatically different. The branches became heavier and heavier, and since there were no other trees to lean against, the branches snapped under the additional burden of snow. They lay in the ground broken and alone.

    The same is true for us. When the storms of life strike us, we need to be in a community – standing close to other people of faith. The closer we stand, the more connected we are, the more we will be able to bear up under our burden.”

    The meditation ends with this prayer: “Gracious God, I thank you for placing me in a community filled with kind, loving, supportive people.” Your prayers mean a lot.

    Thank you!
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – September 25, 2015

    The Labyrinth is done! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And it looks really great. Thank you to all who help envision the project, and to the many hands that created it, especially Carol Miller and Rob Dunlavey. All church groups are invited to use the labyrinth if they are looking for another way to pray.

    Our Sunday school doors are open! Parents are kindly asked to register their children so we have their most updated information for our database. Click here for online registration or to print registration forms. Forms are also available at the Church

    This Sunday, Rev. Heike continues the sermon series on Community, and will preach about the first gift: Acceptance.

    Thought for the week

    How do we know God is with us? How do we know God is present – in our lives, in our church, in our world? We can listen to the many scripture readings that tell us that God is with us. When Jacob who up from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in the place – and I did not know it!” Well, eventually he did. He recognized the presence of God as he wrestled with God through the night.

    God is so much easier to feel in our lives when our world is at ease around us, when things are going well and everything is fine. When “dark clouds” gather over us we wonder if God really cares about us and our situation.

    As we enter into this weekend, I encourage you to keep your focus on the presence of God who is right there with us. For many this community is an important part of their lives, and maybe the place where they feel the closest to God. Let us together do our best to find God in the midst of our life together.

    May this centering meditation by Maureen Farrell about community help you as we continue our journey together.

    In this Place
    Find a sense of
    Church
    Community
    Communion
    Hear a call to
    Loving Kindness
    Compassion
    Unity
    Know a time for
    Believing
    Supporting
    Upholding
    Recognize a feeling of
    Openness
    Integrity
    Truthfulness
    Expect a movement to
    Encourage
    Include
    Forgive
    Experience a house for
    Prayer
    People
    God
    Inhabit a haven for
    The Weak
    The Peacemakers
    The Spirit

    Blessings and Peace,
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – September 18, 2015

    This week at the Congregational Church:

    • Our children will join us for children’s time in the worship service and then go off to their Sunday school classes.
    • Our August delegation to our partner village in Santa Maria Tzejá will share their experiences after the worship service today at 11:30am in Linden Hall.
    • You are invited to help paint our canvass labyrinth, starting Sunday afternoon. To sign up online go to http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0844a8aa23a2fd0-labrynth

    Thought for the week

    This week we are bringing a long awaited project to an end. With the outstanding help of Carol Miller we are getting ready to paint our canvas labyrinth. The dream started a few years ago: Wouldn’t it be nice to have our own labyrinth? We were able to borrow a portable one from the Wellesley Village Church for special occasions which caused in us a little “labyrinth envy”. But the cost for a new one is prohibitive.

    Amazingly, Carol sewed together the canvas, and then figured out how to draw a labyrinth onto it. Now we are ready, with help, to paint it and bring the project to a close.

    A labyrinth is an ancient pattern found all over the world and its symbolism points toward all the journeys we make in life. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tool.

    What can walking the labyrinth do for us?

    It can help us in our prayer life. It can provide us a space to listen to God’s voice on our life’s journey

    Walking the labyrinth is a wonderful spiritual practice. It links the physical and the spiritual; body and soul. “The journey is one foot after another and so is the path to the holy inside us.” (Donna Scharper, Labyrinths From the Outside In: Walking to Spiritual Insight, A Beginner’s Guide)

    The labyrinth is a form of pilgrimage but you don’t have to travel too far (just come to the church).

    It builds community among those who build it and those who will walk it and walk it together with others.

    Walking the labyrinth can help us find answers to our questions and calm our worries. But most of all, labyrinths have healing qualities on many levels – emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual.

    Actual research has been done on labyrinth walkers. “Labyrinth walking increases levels of relaxation, clarity, peace, centeredness, openness, quiet, and reflectiveness, and reduced levels of anxiety, stress, and agitation. The experience of labyrinth walking supports recovery, renewal, integration of the whole person, and facilitating a sense of harmony.” (Quote taken from The Labyrinth Society website)

    If you have some time to spare on Sunday, September 20, and Monday, September 21, 2015, join us in Fellowship Hall for the painting. The finished labyrinth will come as a gift to the whole community.

    Blessings,
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – September 11, 2015

    September 13 is Welcome Back Sunday!

    We are ready to start a new program year with you. What can you expect?

    • Our Worship service begins at 10 am.
    • Our Senior Choir will sing!
    • We will celebrate Communion together!
    • Our children will start the Sunday School program and classes!
    • Reconnect with friends and neighbors at a special coffee hour following the worship service!
    • Visit the different committee and team tables to find out about our ongoing activities and programs!

    If you are planning to register your child/ren for Sunday school, please go to the chapel to do so. If your child will join you for communion in the sanctuary, make sure they know where you are sitting.

    Thought of the week

    I love our summer services in the chapel, always have. Our newly renovated chapel made it even more special and enjoyable this year. I love the smaller crowds and the closeness I have to the people. I love the time we light candles for the people in our lives that need our prayers and our world. I like the bond amongst the people who stay in Needham over the summer. And I admit, air conditioning on hot, sweltering Sunday mornings is a special treat for musician, preachers, and visitors alike.

    But (and there always is one) eventually I begin to miss the hustle and bustle of a “regular” Sunday morning at the church: choir members getting ready, kids coming in early to help their parents set up for Sunday school or running off to choir practice, altar guild readying the altar area, musicians putting a last touch on the pieces they are going to play in worship, deacons getting ready to greet anyone stepping through our front doors.

    Community. By our baptism in Jesus Christ we are called into community; called into this community of faith. We are the Body of Christ, and we are it to continue His ministry and mission – to baptize, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to find the lost, to lead the blind, to visit the prisoner, to carry each other’s burdens, to love unconditionally, to bring peace, to be peace. We are not called to this ministry because we are perfect. We do this because we are “perfectly imperfect.” Jesus did not invite the super heroes to carry on his ministry. Jesus’ invitation is open to all who are willing to do “dive in and dig deep.”

    Community is what we do. Community is who we are.
    Welcome Back!

    Blessings,
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – September 4, 2015

    This Sunday we will celebrate our last Worship Service of the summer season in the Chapel with my sermon “Labors of Love” and beautiful music with Valerie Becker.

    Mark your calendars for next Sunday, September 13th, when we celebrate Welcome Back Sunday in the Sanctuary. We will also be holding an Open House for Committees and Teams in Fellowship Hall with Coffee Hour. Take a look around at the different, wonderful work and fellowship happening in our church. This is a great time to find out more about the committees and teams of the church and maybe join one!

    Thought for the week

    Happy Labor Day Weekend!

    For many of us, this is the last weekend before we go back to our routines full-time! Labor Day is traditionally filled with family get-togethers, picnics, parades, and cookouts while enjoying the last days of summer.

    But it is also a weekend that encourages us to think about the work we do, the people that work with us – we for them or they for us -, people who are underemployed or over-qualified, people who work two jobs and still don’t make it to the end of the month. This holiday should give us pause to think about the people that have an effect on our everyday lives.

    So, as you’re about to cut into a humble red onion to accompany the burger on the grill for the family cookout, take a moment to think about the astonishing number of people who have labored over this single red onion.

    Start with the farmer and the labor that goes into creating food.
    Think of the people that work for the farmer who get the field ready for planting, followed by tending, weeding and watering, until they are ready for harvesting, and then the prepping for the onion to get to the market. Think of the people who maintain the water supply, build the farm equipment, and the uncountable labors of people who provide the farmers and workers with everything they need to be human and alive on the planet.

    Move on to think of the people who drive the trucks that transport your onion from the farm to a market, or a warehouse or a factory, of those who build and maintain the trucks, produce the fuel, and everything that the truck driver needs to be a human and alive on the planet.

    Think of the people who pay for and maintain roads and stop signs and lights that assure that your onion will arrive safely to the warehouse or the market and the people at the market who haul the boxes and place your onion in the bins, and the people who take your money at the register and maybe even the person that packs your onion into your reusable tote bag and helps you haul it out to your car. Think of the people who clean and maintain the market, and the people who work at the electrical plant that lights the market and cools the refrigerators, and the people who take the money at the bank so that the manager can pay the electricity bill.

    You get the picture, right? That lonely little onion on your cutting board is part of a vast and complex system of people and their work, seen and unseen, acknowledged and unacknowledged, but without whom your life would be miserable, if not impossible. Innumerable labors bring us our food.

    Let us remember on this Labor Day weekend the many ways we are intertwined and connected, how we are sustained and supported by each other, that the reason we have food on our tables is deeply, profoundly and nobly linked to the lives and labors of innumerable, uncountable people.

    Please join us for worship in the chapel at 10 am.

    Blessings,
    Heike.

    A Message from Rev. Heike – August 28, 2015

    Please join us for worship on the last Sunday of August 2015. Valerie Becker will accompany our singing, Maddie Downer will offer us the prayers, and I will continue preaching on the adventures of the apostle Paul. The sermon will be based on Ephesians 3: 14-21, one of the most amazing prayers in the New Testament. In case you would like to take a look at this prayer before Sunday, here is the Modern English Translation:

    Paul prays for the Ephesians (and us):
    14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would give you, according to the riches of His glory, power to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

    20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

    Thought for the week:

    As I said before, I am grateful for the ability to travel. I think this sermon series has really taught me that actually having gone to some of the places we read about in the Bible, bring the story and people alive. It also deepens our understanding of what we read in Holy Scriptures.

    On our ancient Greece tour in 2012, we also stopped in Ephesus, Turkey. Even though the city lies in ruins for the most part, you can still see the splendor of what it once was. It was a center of learning, and it was visited by many influential Christian leaders, including Paul, John, and Timothy. Ephesus also claims to be the last place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived, though the historical evidence for this is mixed at best.

    The apostle Paul visited Ephesus twice, the first time only for a short time, and on his second visit he stayed close to three years, preaching each and every day the good news to the Ephesians. From there he traveled to Jerusalem where he got himself into trouble and thrown into prison. Eventually he was taken to Rome, and placed under house arrest for some time. We don’t have any information on what happened to Paul in Rome but it is believed that he died a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero who blamed the Christians for setting Rome on fire. Indulge me one more time as I share some pictures of the ancient city of Ephesus, because that is where we are going on Sunday.

    Join us for worship in the chapel at 10 am.

    Peace,
    Heike.

    A Message from Rev. Heike – August 21, 2015

    This Sunday we are continuing our sermon series on Acts, except that I am going to preach on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In Acts it reads that Paul stayed in the city of Corinth for 18 months to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, and to establish a strong Christian community. Well, as you will hear, Paul had his hands full with this interesting bunch of people.

    What makes the work on the sermon particularly enjoyable is that I had been to the ancient city of Corinth in 2012. The archeological site was part of our tour, and even while it lays in ruins for the most part, it was truly impressive.

    We saw a number of temple sites, walked the Lechaion Way – a road paved with marble that connected to two harbors- built with sidewalks. In one area we heard the sound of water running which was the town spring that had been there ever since people lived there. We saw the public bathrooms (not my cup of tea) and the street with merchant’s shops. And we stood at the place where archeologists thought Paul might have stood and addressed the Corinthians. It was an amazing site and for me, it brings Paul’s journey truly truly to life.

    I hope you enjoy the pictures we took, and please join us for worship on Sunday. Valerie will be our Musician, Nancy St. Laurent will play the chimes, and Maddy Downer will lead us in prayer.

    Peace,
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – August 14, 2015

    Join us for worship in the chapel. Rev. Heike is continuing our summer sermon series on the Book of Acts. We are following the apostle Paul on his journey of bringing the good news to the Jews and Gentiles in Corinth.

    Thought for the week
    Things are getting slowly back to “normal” for us in Scituate. After almost four weeks of traveling in Europe, our suitcases have been put back in the attic, our travel clothes has been washed, ironed (yes, I do that!), sorted back into the closets, pictures and videos have been saved on the computer and await processing.
    I know that I am very fortunate to be able to travel. To me, it is a privilege to do so in a world where too many people struggle to make end meet. As much as I travel for fun and to satisfy my curiosity about other countries and people, there is a spiritual/faith dimension to it. Traveling does not just teach us about the world but on occasion it changes our perspective about ourselves and God. Here is just a snippet of my thoughts on traveling.

    1. God has given us a beautiful world.
    2. The expressions of Christianity are delightfully diverse.
    3. Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone.
    4. You meet great people!
    5. Traveling makes you long for home.

    All this thinking about traveling has been inspired by my reading of the book of Acts. The apostle Paul traveled all over the Mediterranean world either by foot or by boat. Chapters 12-28 are his travel log of the places he went to and the people he met.

    Come and join us for worship on Sunday as we contemplate together the important message that he had to share.

    Peace,
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Heike – August 7, 2015

    This week Sandra Summers will join us for Worship. Sandra’s sermon will be on the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-5:11. We are happy to have Valerie Becker lend her musical talents to our service.

    It looks like it will be a beautiful weekend – I look forward to seeing you Sunday!

    Thought for the Week

    Knowing that I would be away from house and garden for close to four week this summer, I had to change my usual approach to gardening. In fact, numerous people asked me what my plans were for this year.

    I seriously considered giving the garden a Sabbath year by not planting anything. This would have been a very Biblical approach because we read in the Hebrew Scriptures to let the land rest every seven years. People of ancient times knew a great deal about crop rotation and then, eventually, letting land rest for a year and only feeding it nutrients so the soil can replenish itself. The timing for my garden would have been about right for that approach.

    But then I thought, I cannot go a year with my own tomatoes and peppers and squash. I eventually decided on starting the garden a little later and pretty much using seeds for most of my vegetable crop (with the exception of the tomato plants). I need to be honest here, I am a plant person. Starting crops from seed is intimidating and all too often it has not worked. For years I have been trying to grow the herb lovage, and I have failed miserably.

    So, my garden this year was an act of faith. Two weeks before we left for Germany, I planted my seeds: cucumbers, zucchini, beans, beets, swiss chard, dill, basil, sweet corn, carrots, green onions, kohlrabi, green and red cabbage. And to my surprise, most everything took. For some reason, the green beans are on strike. Not a one has come up. But it looks like there will be plenty of other vegetables for eating and sharing.

    Many of you know that I love gardening, and that it is part of my faith expression. The parallels between gardening and faith are obvious: faith starts with a tiny seed hidden. So does any plant in the garden. Faith needs to be nourished, tended to, and cared for. So does the garden. Faith needs community for growth and movement. The garden needs the bees, birds, and wind to grow. Faith needs guidance and freedom at the same time. A garden needs to be protected from predators but also needs some freedom to fend for itself. A well-tended faith helps you master the challenges of life. A well-tended garden will bless you with an abundance of gifts.

    May you be blessed with the fruits of your gardens and the fruits of your faith!

    Blessings,
    Heike

    P.S. As it turns out I have an abundance of zucchini, and I am planning to bring them to church on Sunday. If the same is happening to you, why not share? Let’s put them on the refreshment table for taking.

    A Message from Rev. Susan – July 31, 2015

    This Sunday Heike will be back from her trip to Germany and her vacation in Italy. She will be preaching on Acts 11:19-26, the story of the first Christians in Antioch. Antioch was an unlikely place to launch the church because everyone thought it would be started in Jerusalem, but the people in Antioch were so open to the faith that Paul and Barnabas spent a whole year there teaching folks about Jesus. Heike’s sermon will be “When Followers Become Christians”. This communion service will be held in the newly renovated Chapel which is air conditioned. Please be sure to join us.

    Thought for the Week

    We have done a lot of preparation this summer for the start of the new school year. The new building will soon be ready for our new tenants, The Temple Beth Shalom Pre School and Hebrew School. We look forward to welcoming them, neighbors in faith and now, for a year, next door neighbors. The real credit for the initial dream of being able to share our space with Temple Beth Shalom during their renovation goes to Board member Donald Libbey, whose tireless efforts brought this idea to fruition. Don contributed untold hours to planning and thinking through the steps of this collaboration. Under Don’s leadership the Board and the Church has nurtured this vision that our faith communities would benefit from a partnership in which we shared space, and learned from one another.

    This summer Rabbi Jay Perlman and I met to discuss how we might both work together in new partnership while our programs shared space. In addition to the normal exchanges of friendship that will occur naturally when your programs happen side by side, we want to build on our friendship and deepen the links between our two congregations. So in July, Jay and I talked about some ways that we can learn from each other and create an environment where our communities of faith begin to share more intentionally. Here are some of the ideas we are planning to pursue.

    • I am planning to invite Rabbi Perlman to preach in our church one Sunday in the fall.
    • He has extended an invitation to me to preach at the Temple services one Friday evening.
    • He has invited me to join him in leading a Torah study class one Saturday morning, which I am looking forward to.
    • I am hoping to have him lead us in a Bible study class after worship one Sunday.
    • The TBS Pre School will be having a weekly Shabbat Service on Fridays in Fellowship Hall. They have invited me to join them as a guest on several of those occasions.

    I am very excited about the opportunity to deepen our church’s relationship with Temple Beth Shalom and to learn more about Judaism. Many Christians miss a great deal when they ignore the common threads between Christians and Jews. As people of faith in an increasingly multi-faith world, we have a responsibility to know more about our neighbor’s faith. I believe we can only understand Jesus if we start to learn all we can about the faith that informed and shaped his life.

    Just by coincidence our first sermon theme in the fall will be Neighbor. I cannot think of a better way to explore that theme than to try to be good neighbors to our friends in faith from Temple Beth Shalom.

    Peace and blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – July 24, 2015

    This Sunday for worship Sandra Summer will be our preacher. Her sermon will reflect on Acts 17:16-34. The title of the sermon will be “Christian Curiosity.” Sandra writes: “I will look at the example of the Athenians being curious about Paul, and how Paul responds. I will also explore how the UCC’s “Still Speaking God” campaign points to a curiosity and wonder regarding God, which has its roots in John Robinson’s Mayflower writings.”

    She has chosen some great hymns from the Pilgrim Hymnal. We often use the Pilgrim in the summer for some rousing and heartfelt singing.

    Bobby DeRegis will be playing the piano and he has chosen some special music for our worship service in the Chapel.

    He is featuring the music of Johan Pachelbel and will be playing the following pieces.

    • Ricercare in C minor- Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
    • Fantasia in G minor- Johann Pachelbel
    • Chorale prelude on Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein- Johann Pachelbel
    • Toccata in C major- Johann Pachelbel

    Pachelbel has become famous for the Canon we all associate with him, but he was also a prolific composer.

    Bobby writes

    “Johann Pachelbel’s music comes from Baroque period where he was both organist and composer from southern Germany. You may notice in playing his music the organ pedals are not very extensively used. Unlike the north German tradition of organ playing (J.S. Bach), the south German organs had modest pedal divisions, relying mainly on the hands for virtuosity. Pachelbel is the perfect example composer of the south German organ school- minimal pedal use with agile and melodic manual movement. Our chapel organ, built in 1983 by Hans Schmidt of Walpole, Massachusetts, is a perfect example of the Baroque south German school of organ building. It has all mechanical tracker action, and a limited pedalboard that is borrowed from the manual keyboard by a mechanical hitch. Our chapel organ, with 371 pipes, is the perfect replica of a small Baroque period south German organ. One can see how perfectly the music of Pachelbel can be performed on it. This morning’s pieces are typical of Pachelbel’s compositions as church organist. He arranged common hymns into musical pieces, known as chorale preludes. Many ricercares, toccatas, fugues, chaconnes and fantasias were also written for church services and concerts alike. Of all Pachelbel’s music, his most famous composition is the Canon in D, written for strings only. Like many Baroque composers, much of his music was lost and forgotten. The Canon was discovered in manuscript form and first published in 1919, about 230 years after it was written.”

    Thought for the Week

    All summer we have been reading the Book of Acts, a story about the founding of the early Christian Church. What we have learned was that the process of establishing communities of faith was not ever smooth. People were involved, and none of those people was perfect, not a one. So there was jealousy, and competition. There was poor communication and outright misunderstanding. It was all happening with a backdrop of persecution so the sense of danger was often in the air. That is why the apostle Paul wrote letters to the congregations in the first place. Those letters make good reading for all churches. When Paul started the church cells all around the Mediterranean he thought, at first, he could get them going, then leave, and they would continue on their own. But, like little tops on a table, they went for a while but soon became mired in confusion; they needed his guidance and help. So then Paul had to write to them to address issues and even suggest course corrections. The people were grateful for his letters because they took his writing to heart, because he told them the truth in love. They found that his instructions were measured, and full of faith.

    This summer our church needs your prayers. Some of you have come to me confused or concerned about what is happening. You have all received the letter that the Moderator wrote on behalf of the Board and Deacons several weeks ago. It is understandable that many of you have questions. I have lots of questions myself. This summer, let’s try to find ways to trust this process that the Board and Deacons have designed. Let’s also try to resist the temptation to gossip, or add to the confusion.

    Some of you are worried that this is a church; therefore you assume we should not experience conflict. But if the early church is any example all churches wrestle with growing pains especially in times of change. Ours is no different. My only hope is that we can treat one another with kindness and compassion, never losing sight of the fact that this is a church of Jesus Christ.

    On a Personal Note: My book is being published today. It is our story – yours and mine- of how we discovered themed preaching in our church. It is called UnCommon Preaching: An Alternative to the Lectionary. It comes out from Wipf and Stock. I expect to have copies in the Good Book, our Church bookstore in the fall.

    I will be away in August, and Heike will be leading worship and doing all the pastoral and administrative tasks.

    God bless you all,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – July 17, 2015

    I hope you join us for worship in the New Chapel this Sunday, July 19. It is hard to describe how lovely the chapel is with new paint, carpentry, re-positioned organ, more room for chairs. The feel in there is so light and uplifting. You have to see it to appreciate it.

    The Chapel Committee is still collecting your contributions for new chairs. Please contact Keith or Lynn McClelland if you are interested in making a donation for some more upholstered chairs. kmmlkm@rcn.com .

    Here are some of the highlights of our service.

    • Our liturgist will be Maddie Downer, our new Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries. She will lead us in prayer.
    • Candle lighting for Concerns and Celebrations
    • Valerie Becker will lead the hymns and play the Prelude and Postlude
    • My sermon will be from a story in Acts where Peter is in jail and a miracle happens which is hard to understand. It is a new story to me and I have found it intriguing. I think it has a lot to say to all of us.

    Thought for the Week

    In this summer season I want to share some works of encouragement for those who are trying to relax, enjoy some downtime, and refresh your souls. Marilyn McEntyre a professor writes recently about her experience while serving in a small college in California. It was the habit in her department to share tea with other faculty on Thursday afternoons. She grew to value these times when they would come together once a week in the Common Room with no agenda, just conversation and the occasional birthday celebration. No one signed up to do any extra tasks. Things stayed spontaneous until over time the custom fell away. Faculty had more administrative demands, more committee time and eventually those Thursday Sabbaths fell off the calendar. McEntyre write about what a loss it turned out to be.

    “When are we going to stop rewarding each other for doing too much?…Where there isn’t time to eat fellowship diminishes. Conversation suffers. Morale sinks…Rest – real rest, not guilt-ridden stolen time – comes only as a function of trust. I have to trust that others will take care of what I cannot do. I have to trust that others will understand my decision to withdraw or, if they don’t, that God will honor my prayerful decision to take my rest when it makes me a better servant. I have to trust that our times are in God’s hands – not only our ultimate destinies but our evenings and weekends and mealtimes and family times.”

    “I don’t believe it is God’s will for us to be weary. Rest is always a teacher: God is in charge and we are not indispensable. Play is a blessing. In laughter we become like little children; in sleep we are watched over; in lingering over a meal we learn something about love we can’t learn anywhere else. And we are better colleagues when we take time to commune over a cup of tea.”
    {Living By the Word by Marilyn McEntyre, Christian Century, July 18, 2015 p. 19}

    As you plan your time away or enjoy more time with one another please don’t cheat yourselves. There is a reason that God established the Sabbath when Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments. It is part of the Creator’s vision for our lives that we integrate times of energetic activity and satisfying work with times to replenish our minds and souls.

    Peace,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – July 10, 2015

    Last Sunday we had our first service in the newly renovated Chapel, and everyone felt as though the space had been transformed. The new wall treatments have created a space that is wonderfully spacious and draws you into a sacred space.

    This Sunday we have some special worship features:

    1. Seminarian Sandra Summers will be our Liturgist.
    2. Guest organist- Dr. Vicki Anderson, a friend of Doris Cook, will be playing our Prelude, Postlude and Offertory.
    3. Valerie Becker will be playing the hymns.
    4. My sermon will continue our series on The Acts of the Apostles. This week we will look a the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. It is a story about Boundary Crossing. We see in Acts 10 how early Christians discovered community in unlikely places. It is a surprising contemporary story from 2000 years ago.

    Thought for the Week

    This week I read an article in Christian Century by Marilyn McEntyre about how Jesus viewed downtime.

    When the disciples tell Jesus all that they had done and taught they seemed to be seeking praise for their industry and commitment. They are inspiring other people and the crowds are growing. But Jesus does not praise them. Instead he tells them to take a break in a deserted place. (Mark 6: 30-34; 53-56). They will get away from the crowds, the acclamation, the needy, the administration, the mentoring, all of it. He does not praise them for their diligence. He tells them to rest.

    The Bible reports that the crowds follow them to their retreat and try to press their needs upon them. The story reminds us that even when we decide to take a vacation there is no guarantee that others will respect our needs.

    McEntyre writes: “rest – real rest, not guilt-ridden “stolen time”, – comes only as a function of trust. We have to trust that others will be taken care of in our absence.” We have to trust that others will understand our decision to withdraw, or that God will honor our decision to take time and use it. We “have to trust that our time is in God’s hands, not only our ultimate destiny but our evenings, our weekends, our mealtimes and our family time….These things matter… You cannot measure the significance of a shared meal, or a walk without a phone, or a half hour of quiet with your feet up, or a game of backgammon before bedtime. You can only measure it in the way that pleasure slows and opens the racing heart and surprises the weary spirit.”
    {Living by the Word by Marilyn McEntyre Christian Century July 8, 2015}

    I hope you all find some time this summer to enjoy the refreshing rest of a slower pace.

    Finally, I got an e-mail from a woman in our Cancer Support Group from Anne. She had been traveling in Sedona, AZ and visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross on vacation. She wrote that she went into the church set in the side of the red rocks and lit a candle for our cancer group and prayed for us. We have been fortunate that many people in the group have taken trips this spring to sacred spaces.

    I do not know where your summer travels will take you. But wherever you are I hope you will remember to enter the churches on your journey and light a candle or stop to say a prayer for our congregation in Needham.

    Blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – July 3, 2015

    This Sunday we will be worshipping in the Chapel – which will be a great treat as it will be the first official service following the renovation in our Chapel.

    It would be hard to describe the transformation in our chapel, because it has become even brighter and more beautiful. So I hope you will be able to join us for worship. Please be sure to thank a member of the Chapel Renovation Team – Frank Arren, Adele Chang, Keith McClelland, Lynn McClelland, Fabienne Madsen and Ann Nydam. They have done a wonderful job.

    Here are some worship highlights for July 5:

    • Candles for Joys and Concerns
    • Valerie Becker will lead the hymns and music on the new Baby Grand piano donated by the Devereux family.
    • Seasonal Hymns for July 4th weekend
    • Childcare for preschoolers and activity packets for older kids
    • The sermon will focus on the way God’s vision is so much bigger than ours. I will connect some lessons from Paul’s experience founding Christian churches with some examples from American history.
    • Holy Communion will be served
    • The Deacons will serve lemonade on the lawn following worship.

    Thought for the Week

    Last week I attended the biennial Synod of the UCC. A synod is a gathering of clergy and lay leaders from within a denomination. Our UCC Synod brings together 5000 people over 5 days from the 38 conferences in our church. The gathering includes inspiring worship, good speeches, a huge marketplace with booths for many causes and concerns, debate about how to chart the course of the UCC. We met in the Cleveland Convention Center with workshops in breakout rooms and worship in the large space using screens for good visibility. It was very professionally done from start to finish.

    Here are some highlights of this Synod.

    • Election of a new President – Rev. John Dornhauer, from Arizona.
    • Discussion about selling the UCC headquarters in Cleveland after 25 years because they have increased so much in value. The church plans to stay in Cleveland but may consider less pricey building space.
    • Discussion in various sessions addressed:
    • – the plight of Native American peoples, an important UCC cause;
    • – the alarming examples of racism today;
    • – How churches can encourage growth in an era when Protestant churches (all denominations, not just UCC) are closing at a rate of one per week.
    • – How churches can address climate change;
    • – How the church can advocate for the poor in education and healthcare;
    • – The church’s role in the Middle East;
    • – Workshops on internet Bible study groups, how to use websites more effectively; how to attract new members.

    Of course I am really interested in worship so I found the Sunday service very inspiring. A dancer from Julliard gave interpretation to the Scripture reading. The preacher came from Living Water Church in Philadelphia. An African American with a repetitive style, Rev. Dwayne D. Royster had the capacity crowd on its feet clapping many times throughout his powerful prophetic sermon.
    You can see more of the Synod and get a real feel for it at this link http://synod.uccpages.org/

    I had been to Synod before on two occasions when I was a delegate. While it is an honor to be a delegate, it is also a great deal of work. The delegates are required to put in long hours, beginning most days at a breakfast caucus meeting at 6:00 a.m. This year I attended a lot of workshops I had to miss as a delegate, because this time I was freer to choose the events that I thought would be good for our church specifically, or just for my own faith enrichment. So this was a great experience, and I recommend it. The next Synod will be held in Baltimore in late June 2017. Something to consider. Check out the pictures on the UCC website.

    Have a wonderful holiday weekend, everybody,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – June 19, 2015

    This Sunday when we gather in our sanctuary Heike and I will lead you in worship. We will pause to light candles and remember the people who were murdered at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, SC this week. We will celebrate Dr. Robert DeRegis and the Chancel Choir and the way that their ministry of music has led us all year, on their last Sunday leading worship before the summer. Here are some of the service highlights.

    • Recognition of Lynn and David Rhoads on their last Sunday before they retire to North Adams.
    • Blessing of the Travelers - Prayers as we send off Rev. Heike and the Reformation Trip going to Germany next week.
    • The Chancel choir will sing Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer and Sampson’s My Song Shall Be of the Loving Kindness of the Lord.
    • Stay to hear Bobby’s Postlude- The Prelude and Fugue in F Major by Bach.
    • Our Sermon series continues with another story about the early days of the founding of the Christian Church – Acts 2: 22-33.
    • Candlelight Memorial – 9 candles will be lit as we pray together for healing in our nation.

    Updates and Parish Communication

    1. Please notice the new Signs that lead you to our new Administrative Offices in the Building at 1180 Great Plain Ave. They are fun and colorful and we hope that will provide direction.
    2. There is a new Lay Leadership Page on our church website www.needhamucc.org. Thanks to Board member Mike Normile for organizing this.
    3. Prayers for our travelers on the trip to Germany to study the sites of the German Reformation. Led by Rev. Heike, the trip will include – Rein and Alex Verschoor-Kirss, Carol Miller, Martha Lamb, Jan and David Drake, Janet Jankowiak and Mike Normile, Rick Devereux, Jamie Schweer, Jen Larson & Kara Lenorowitz.
    4. Last week we welcomed Marjorie Dean as a new member of our church. Please introduce yourself to Marjorie.
    5. This week we say goodbye to long-time church members Lynn and David Rhoads. Please say goodbye as they prepare to move to Western Massachusetts.
    6. Next week is the Hymn Sing. Our service will be led by incare student Sandra Summers, Musician Valerie Becker, and Deacons Charlie Baker and Carol Oberle.

    Thought for the Week

    Our nation has been riveted by news of the slaying of nine people at a prayer meeting in Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston South Carolina. Among those slayed was a young minister and emerging Black national leader who served as South Carolina State Senator, Rev. Clementa Pinkney. This latest gun rampage comes at the end of a winter characterized by terrible violent hatred and violence in so many cities. But what makes this particularly egregious is the way that it took place at a church prayer group, a place long assumed to be sacred space. We think of our churches as sanctuaries where people can be completely safe and secure from violence.

    Our nation is in shock and so this week in our worship service we will pause and light some candles and have prayers for this church and all people who care about racial justice. I imagine that people across the country will come to our sanctuaries this weekend in grief and disbelief to ask for God’s guidance. But I also hope that the murder of these good people will increase our conviction to do something more about racial justice and gun violence than just to pray about it. Prayer should inform us but it cannot be the sole basis of our response. As people of faith we need to consider what else we need to do. What does God require of us? What does God need us to do to make our nation a place of justice for all and our churches safe harbors and true sanctuaries?

    Patricia Williams Lessane, the director of the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, wrote an op ed piece in the New York Times yesterday. I recommend it along with the one by Henry Louis Gates. I believe it is time to pray, to educate ourselves, to join with other people of faith to consider next steps. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/opinion/no-sanctuary-in-charleston.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-0&action=click This cannot be another moment when we are shocked briefly and then return to business as usual.

    I will be interested to hear your thoughts, to learn about articles you recommend, and to hear your ideas about how our church can be more actively involved in working for change.

    God’s peace,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – June 12, 2015

    We have a big Sunday this weekend. It is the last Sunday for Bible Village and the children will have a program after worship in Fellowship Hall to sing one of the songs they have learned, and enjoy some participation recognition. You are all invited to stay for the fun and an ice cream social.

    ALSO – we are delighted to have as our special guest – Jim Hejduk. Former organist and choirmaster, Jim directed the choir for 12 years in the 1970′s and 80′s, then took a position in Nebraska and then returned to us for another 8 years starting in 1998. It will be wonderful to have him visit from Lincoln, Nebraska where he has retired, and works part-time playing the organ.

    Our Choir has some special music planned and the service highlights include:

    • A prelude by the Friendly Chimers For the Beauty of the Earth
    • The Choir will sing Friedell’s Draw Us In The Spirit’s Tether
    • The postlude will be the Pachelbel Tocatta in e minor
    • Reception of New Members
    • My sermon will be the first in a summer series on the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 8: 26-39. It is a story about an unlikely adult baptism.
    • It is a NAMETAG Sunday so we invite you to wear a nametag; you can get one from the Deacons.

    Thought for the Week

    We will be welcoming some new members to the church on Sunday. They will start the morning in the newly renovated chapel. We will invite them to participate in a ceremony there and then to sign a book. Our book has signatures for adults, printed names of children and even some hand tracings for little kids who cannot write their names.

    We try to welcome everyone and to explain that we are a covenant community, not a creedal one. Our church is different from other Christian churches in some ways. Like other UCC churches, we don’t expect people to necessarily sign a charter or a statement of faith before they join. We do expect them to agree to join a covenant community. It is a group of people who pledge to treat one another as children of God. In the UCC we hold one another in covenants of mutual accountability. We pledge to treat one another in light of Christ’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing more than that and nothing less. But we believe that this example of Jesus sets the bar pretty high and we strive to live in light of that standard.

    This week’s building news includes:
    Our chapel has continued to have some renovations with electrical work this week. I hope you will take a peak in this new and wonderful space on your way down the hall. This week the children will use it for Bible Village, a lovely way to end the Bible Village year.

    New signs
    We have designated the path between the buildings with new signs to help you find your way to the administrative and ministerial offices. We hope you enjoy them.

    Open House
    Last week a group of people stopped by for the Open House and we plan to have one more Open House in June on Tuesday June 16 from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. We will be holding Open Houses in July on Wednesdays – July 15 and 22 – 8:30 – 10:30 a.m.

    Hope to see you there. It is a great opportunity to see the offices and enjoy the beautiful garden.

    Peace,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – June 5, 2015

    This week is youth Sunday and we have a wonderful service planned.

    Here are some of the highlights:

    • Christian Yeh and Elizabeth Kuhlman will sing Philip Dietterich’s Psalm 23 as a duet.
    • Shepherd’s Staff will sing Kia Hora Te Marino.
    • Three of our Youth will offer reflections- Ellen Dunlavey, Isabel Libby, and Madison Darmofal
    • Sam Atallah will play Imagine for the Offering Anthem.

    Our youth will lead worship in what has become an inspiring service, and annual treat.

    Please join us.

    Thought for the Week

    Last week I tried to answer some questions I have been hearing about some of the changes at the church and the transitions we expect over the summer. In the spirit of trying to capture some of those questions and provide clear communication let me continue in this vein. If you have other questions about areas you would like to learn more about please just e-mail and I will tell you what I know or try to find answers for you.

    Heard around the church:

    How do we find you and Heike? We have ordered signs to direct people to the new building where we have moved our ministers offices and administrative offices. We hope you will enjoy the signs, because they add color to the path and help everyone get oriented to our new space.

    Why are there two doors to get into the new building?
    The Building code requires these new entrances. Without 2 doors we could not get an occupancy permit.

    How can we find our way around the new building? I ran the first of 5 Open Houses on Tuesday morning this week. Five people were there and enjoyed the new space, the meditation garden, the refreshments and the opportunity to talk. Please join me at one of these Open Houses to see the building for yourself.

    • Tuesdays June 9 and 16, from 8:30-10:30 a.m.
    • Wednesdays July 15 & 22 from 8:30-10:30 a.m.

    When will the construction begin for the Temple pre School? I believe it will start next week June 15 and be completed by the end of July or beginning of August.

    When the Temple moves in how will their program affect us? They have a PreSchool for 100 students and will need some playground time but they have coordinated their schedules with the other children’s schools. They will have a drop off and pick up plan using the access road on the far side of the property. They will also probably use the space for Hebrew School in the evenings and on Saturday.

    Are there things we can do together? I am hoping that we can share some Bible study. They have a Shabbat service they will hold in our Fellowship Hall on Fridays for families and children. I have been invited and I hope to attend and experience their worship with the teachers and children.

    What should we do with all the empty offices in our main church building until the construction happens there? This week Judi Stewart led a cleaning party and two offices were thoroughly tidied and are now open for use as meeting spaces and conference rooms. She has included a list of furniture that her team is looking for. Perhaps you can help us make the spaces more welcoming. We have made good progress and hope you will take a look this Sunday after worship.

    Why are the doors to our church locked during the week? We have a person in the neighborhood that has been identified by the police as someone on a register for criminal offense. We have been advised to lock the doors for the safety of the children in the building during the week. We open the doors for all scheduled events. We are happy to come to the building to open the space for you. We go back and forth frequently every day. If you arrive at the church and need to get access please call the church office and speak to Danielle Jurdan – 781 444 2510.

    What progress do we have to show in our own building? We have painted the steeple and hope to do some more painting on the exterior in the short term. The Board has worked with the Environmental Ministry Team to evaluate the heating system and there are plans to upgrade that in the short term. They are hoping to produce a display for Coffee Hour to share some of their ideas. The chapel is a new space as of this week. I hope you will be as please with it as I am.

    I understand that this has been a long journey and that we are still on the road with lots of unknowns in the year ahead. But many folks who care a lot about our church are working hard and I think you will see more and more signs of progress this summer. I hope that if you have more questions you will let me know.

    As always, blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – May 31, 2015

    This Sunday we celebrate Confirmation and honor the 2015 Confirmation Class.

    • We will confirm our ninth grade class of confirmands and celebrate this milestone with their families and mentors.
    • Flutist Bruce Goody will be here to play during worship.
    • The Choir has prepared Hopson’s “The Gift of Love” along with a lovely anthem by Brahms, sung in German.
    • Rev. Heike will preach the fifth sermon in our series on Freedom.

    Thought for the Week

    As many of you know this spring has been a time of enormous change for our church. No matter how much we prepare for change when it happens it can be unsettling. Last July we bought the new building at 1180 Great Plane and this year we have embarked on a series of construction phases. As we complete Phase 1 and prepare for Phase 2 we have a lot to anticipate and look forward to.

    • Phase 2 of the construction will be done this summer and will renovate the back of the building for our new tenant The Temple Beth Shalom Pre School and Hebrew School.
    • We all owe a debt of enormous gratitude to Donald Libbey for his tireless work, representing our church in joint plans with the Temple so that our two communities would be able to share this space for the next year or year and a half.
    • The Board expects that this joint effort of two faith communities will be a wonderful community partnership. It will model inter-faith cooperation. It will expand our vision as gathering place for the whole community.
    • It will offer opportunities for shared fellowship and possibly even joint study which I will be exploring. with my good friends and colleagues, Rabbis Perlman and Markey.

    I believe that both our congregations will benefit spiritually as well as materially through this cooperative effort. It will also serve as a model in our community of what an inter-faith cooperation looks like. I think we will all grow in faith and understanding as we share space next year.

    Change

    Even though we have some exciting opportunities ahead, I realize that this has been a time of tremendous change at our church. As a church, we have charted new territory and made some bold decisions. In every decisions the Board has sought your ideas and guidance. They have tried to solicit your suggestions and include the congregation as much as practical in all of these decisions. that has required a level of commitment of time and energy which has been staggering. So I hope you thank them for all that they have done on your behalf. But even with all their hard work I understand that transitions like this are never easy.

    As a pastor I understand that change is hard. The simple fact that we have moved our church offices to a new space may be difficult for folks. I freely admit that it has not been an easy transition for me. One Sundays sometimes I go back and forth several times between buildings. Even after I settled into my new office I have had to work hard to run programs in both buildings. This week, a small team of volunteers will be working to tidy the offices in our church building and make those spaces more inviting and useful.

    • Blair Wentworth has worked with Anne Hayek to do an energy audit for both buildings and they have a report for the next Board meeting.
    • I have asked Judi Stewart to chair a team that evaluates the furniture in our church and help to make new rooms in those former offices.
    • We also need to hear from you about what you want in these rooms and what spaces will make the church more useful and inviting. Please speak to Judi if you have ideas or suggestions.
    • Working with Judi and Danielle we are developing a new series of signs that are simple but cheerful and will connect the buildings visually and help people find the new offices. For a number of weeks now, I have also been concerned that it is not always easy for people to find the minister’s offices or administrative offices in our new building. I am hoping that this simple visual change will address some of the confusion.
    • Two weeks ago the Needham police informed us that someone in our neighborhood has a record as a criminal offender and so with all the children in our building during the school week, we had to make the hard but necessary decision to lock the parking lot doors of our church building during the day. I wish that this was not necessary, but I think there are safety issues that must be considered.

    Finally, I am really committed to making our new building a new gathering space. In the fall we are hoping to have more events hosted from that building when we have a permit to use the kitchen, a long process, still in the works. But for the summer there are things we can do. Here is an invitation that I would like to extend to all of you.

    Open House Dates in June and July:
    I would like to host a series of Open Houses during the week for people who are in town during the day. I will be in the new Dining Room between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. to greet you, to show you the offices, and the delightful new Meditation Garden. We will provide some ice coffee, ice tea and light refreshments. I hope to see you one morning this summer.

    Open House Dates – 8:30 – 10:30

    • Tuesday June 2
    • Tuesday June 9
    • Tuesday June 16
    • Wednesday July 15
    • Wednesday July 22

    Peace,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – May 22, 2015

    This Sunday we will continue our theme of Freedom and this weekend Memorial Day weekend lends itself to this theme in a particular way. I will preach about what it meant to be free in the early Christian Church and what it means on Memorial Day weekend.

    • Rev. Susan will preach on the theme of Freedom with the sermon “Living Into Freedom”
    • Children come to church first for a children’s time, and then go to Linden Hall for a movie presentation.
    • The choir is singing “How Lovely are the Messengers” from St. Paul Oratorio- Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
    • Soomi Lee Lowry is sharing her musical gifts with us during the offertory and postlude.

    Thought for the week from Rev. Heike

    This Sunday, you are invited to wear something ‘red’ because it will be Pentecost, the day which is also known as the Birthday of the church. Red signified the flames of the Holy Spirit descending upon the people gathered in Jerusalem.
    A birthday celebration conjures up a variety of images in our heads: cake, balloons, wrapped gifts, flowers, smiling crowds and excited children. None of these images arise for me when I think of Pentecost, the birthday of the church.
    In fact, many of the depictions of the Pentecost event show people rather scared and confused. It seems that God as the Holy Spirit was not an invited guest, but more like a party crasher who wreaked havoc.

    And in all honesty, the story of Pentecost is not a sweet, quaint story; that of a big party. It is a dangerous one. The story starts with telling us that a small group of believers hid themselves away – maybe out of fear? to wait for the promise of God. It was then, in the midst of fear and uncertainty that the Holy Spirit crashed down upon them. And then things got really crazy with the wind, and fire, and languages, and strangers from all over the Mediterranean world understanding each other and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was all pretty messy but in a way a sign of what church is to be: a group of people marked by diversity and difference; people coming together from all walks of life; some flawed, some smug, some confused; the very people to whom God sent and keeps sending the spirit. And God keeps sending the spirit so we keep the good news of Jesus Christ alive and well not just in our midst, but also take to it into the messiness of this world.

    It is hard for us to imagine, how the church started. It was dangerous business to be a follower of Christ. And yet people sought the freedom in Christ to live their lives which took true courage. The day of Pentecost was just the beginning.

    We are lucky to live in a country that cherishes so many freedoms, religion amongst them. It took the courage of countless men and women to defend these freedoms for them, for us, and generations to come. This is where I see the two holidays we are celebrating this Sunday – Pentecost and Memorial Day – intersect: Freedom takes courage!

    May you have a blessed holiday weekend.
    Heike

    A Message from Rev. Susan – May 15, 2015

    Here are some worship highlights for our Service this Sunday. They all connect with our worship theme- Freedom

    • Heike’s time for Children will be about a collection of school supplies for Santa Maria Tzeja. This project is sponsored by Confirmation students, and enables local students who get an education, and achieve some economic freedom in the village our church supports.
    • We will continue our sermon series on freedom. The Sermon will be about one of the times that Paul and Silas went to jail. But these apostles did not lose their sense of freedom, even in chains. It offers a great opportunity to consider freedom from a new perspective.
    • For the first anthem the Choir will sing Becks He Shall Feed His Flock, an anthem based on the 23rd Psalm, and Isaiah 40.
    • They will also be singing the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian. This spring we remembered the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, and the singing of this anthem is a powerful statement of faith for people of Armenian descent.

    Thought for the Week

    One hundred years ago in the midst of World War I, The Ottoman Empire began the systemic abuse of the Armenian minority in Turkey. It began with the wholesale slaughter of able-bodied men whose historic homeland had been Ottoman, Turkey. In that first phase some men were massacred and others who had been subscripted into the army were sent to labor camps, where the conditions were deadly. In the second phase of this genocide women, children and the elderly were deported and sent on marches at gun point into the Syrian desert with no food or water. Not only did these deportees lose their homes but the army sacrificed their humanity, subjecting them to brutal treatment.

    The word “genocide” was first used to describe the Armenian experience. It was coined to describe a pre-meditated, systemic extermination carried out by a government that has rendered such treatment legal. In all historians estimate between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed. I mention this in my column this week because this April the world noted the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. The reason I believe it is important for people of faith to talk about it is because the Turkish government added insult to injury by denying that it ever happened.

    This month as we focus on the theme of Freedom I am reminded that true freedom depends on freedom of speech. To silence the very mention of injustice is to try to deny the pain of a whole people. But it is also by talking about it that we begin to ensure that people know this hard history so that it does not ever happen again in any land.

    This week as we explore the meaning of Freedom in worship the Choir will be singing the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian. It is a hard language and the choir learned it several years ago to honor several members of our church who have an Armenian background. They also learned to sing this familiar prayer in Armenian as a way to lift up the plight of this people who have suffered so much. I first heard this prayer sung at a wedding reception for the brother of one of our members. I will never forget the fervor of the people who rose to their feet to sing this prayer in Armenian; it meant to much to them that it means a lot to me. When you listen to the choir sing the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday I hope you will join me in pledging that you will not be silent about this injustice, or any time when people legalize wholesale slaughter of a minority group.

    Blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – May 8, 2015

    This Sunday we will celebrate Bible Sunday. We will give new Bibles to the kindergarten students and a kid-friendly Bible to the fourth graders. We do this every year on Mother’s Day because we believe the Bible is a timeless treasure trove of wisdom which we want to share with our children.

    Kindergarten Bible
    This illustrated Bible has some terrific pictures and stories. Both Heike and I have admitted that we still enjoy the illustrations in this book, and we recommend it for children of all ages. We have copies in our bookstore next to the Chapel.

    Fourth Graders

    Fourth Graders get the Blue Bible which is great for that age. It includes questions and notes, and turns the stories into opportunities to dig deeper into what was really happening when Moses and Jesus lived.

    Worship Highlights

    • Youth Choirs will sing A Mother’s Love by Mark Patterson. All the choirs will be singing together for this special anthem.
    • Soprano Beth Sterling will be singing Mozart’s Laudate Dominum
    • My sermon will be the second in a series on Freedom. This week I will talk about personal freedom and freedom of speech taking the story in Matthew 15: 21-28 as my text.

    Thought for the Week

    Some thoughts about Mother’s Day.
    Though I take motherhood very seriously and see parenting as one of life’s great gifts, I also like to remember that originally Mother’s Day was not a sentimental holiday but it was started by Anna Jarvis in 1905. Jarvis was honoring her mother, a peace activist who tended soldiers on both sides of the Civil War conflict. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation to honor mothers on the second Sunday in May. Jarvis hoped to promote human values in the face of war and even a century ago she was increasingly critical of the commercial emphasis in the way people observed Mother’s Day.

    It is easy to forget that Mother’s Day can have an edge to it. This weekend in Boston, many women will be marching for peace in the streets of Roxbury to protest gun violence that has taken the lives of so many children and youth in the city. If Anna Jarvis was still alive today we would probably find her marching in our city streets with these women of color. She came from a family of peace activists who believed that mothers should tend to all God’s children on both sides of life’s battle lines.

    My Mother’s Day came early this week As I have mentioned before in this column, one of my great joys this spring has been to lead the Junior Youth Group for 3-5 graders on Wednesday evenings. We always have fun, talking, playing games; I sneak some faith in too, of course. This week I gave them a chance to make some Mother’s Day cards while I asked some Bible trivia questions. While we were focused on the Bible trivia they made a Mother’s Day card for me and they all signed it. It was very sweet. It said – “Happy early Mother’s Day from your “other children”, the Youth Group. It had a hand drawn picture of the church and a big heart. I love it!

    They really captured the heart of Mother’s Day. It is a day to be human, and vulnerable and kind. It is a day to lift up all the people in our church who care for our children. It is a day to remember all the relationships that nurture us and make life good. It is a day to work for peace, and healing. It is a day to refrain from taking sides in conflict, but to rise above the petty divisions that make life hard. It was started by a family of peace activists who thought that a century ago it was becoming too commercial. Take the best of what they envisioned and let it inspire you this weekend.

    Take care,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – May 1, 2015

    Here are the highlights for this Sunday:

    It is our monthly Name Tag Sunday:
    The Deacons have organized this opportunity monthly to help us grow closer. Join us in wearing a name tag so we can get to know one another better. You can find the nametags in the Narthex before worship. Just ask a deacon.

    Communion Celebration:
    This week we will celebrate the children who have completed the Communion Workshop. As we honor them and their families they will be seated in the front of the sanctuary and will lead us all to the Lord’s Table. This year we have nine children who took the Communion Workshop with Kristen and myself. They learned about the Last Supper and the way that the Sacrament of Communion has shaped and sustained the faith of many Christians for generations. They also helped to make some communion bread which we will serve on Sunday. After the service they will have their pictures taken on the altar and then the CE Committee will serve special cake for this occasion in the Coffee Hour.

    Music:

    • Chancel Choir will sing the Ave Verum by William Byrd (1539?- 1623)
    • Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether- Harold Friedell (1905-1958)
    • Postlude is Trumpet Tune – Alfred Fedak ( b. 1953)

    Sermon Theme:
    Freedom. My sermon on Exudus14:10-18 will be about the Hebrews ambivalence about Freedom.

    All month we will explore different aspects of the theme of Freedom. We have never preached on this important topic before so I look forward to sharing some new ideas.

    Barn Church Raising – We will sell tickets to the special Cocktail party on May 30 at the Dirks. They will be available at Coffee Hour.

    Thought for the Week
    It has been great to see how many of you enjoyed the Hymn Sing. Several of you have suggested that we do this kind of service more often, so we are planning to do another Hymn Sing this summer on June 28.

    One of you sent me this great story about hymns. You were listening to a Japanese television broadcast. The guest that day was Seiji Ozawa, former director of the BSO and Tanglewood orchestra for almost 30 years. I did not realize this but apparently he served as a conductor in Boston for the longest tenure of anyone in that position ever. He has also conducted orchestras all over the world and enjoys worldwide name recognition as one of the most celebrated conductors of our time.

    Apparently at the end of his interview the last question was, “Which musical piece do you LIKE the most?” One would assume with his experience that Ozawa would cite some work from Mozart or Beethoven or Bach. But instead what he answered was “Hymns”. Of all the many pieces, he prefers the hymns.

    Now this story comes from one of our number- Yuzo Dort who ended his e-mail saying:

    I have read before, his mother was a Christian and she played Hymns on a treadle organ when the Maestro was small. So, my guess is that the Maestro got into music from listening to Hymns his mother played on a treadle organ.

    When I need a little encouragement I put in one of the CD’s that I have in my car from a series entitled Great Hymns of Faith sung by the St. Olaf’s Choir in Northfield Minnesota. Widely known as possibly the best collegiate choral group in the country, they bring these timeless words of faith to life musically. But even if I am just singing alone, the hymns never fail to lift my spirits.

    This is why we sing on our way to the Communion Table, and sing throughout our service. It is my hope that the words and music of our faith will become the wonderful library of literature you know by heart and carry with you always. Whether hymns remind you of a beloved family member, or a time when your faith was tested or sustained, I hope our worship services offer the opportunity to join your voice in a chorus of praise to God.

    Blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – April 24, 2015

    When we announced a Hymn Sing for Sunday we did not know how many of you would respond to the call for suggestions.

    But it was wonderful to hear from so many of you- 20+ each with your suggestions of favorite hymns from your family, your own devotional life, and from community experiences that have shaped and sustained your faith. So we have designed a service with hymns everywhere. The choir will sing a hymn for their anthem. The sermon will include lots of hymns. We have a hymn for the prayer response too.

    I hope you enjoy this festival of faithful music. Most of these hymns have formed and sustained the faith of generations of Christians. It will be great fun to sing our praises together.

    As part of this Hymn Sunday, Heike will talk about how a few of these wonderful hymns were written, and the inspiring people who wrote them.

    Thought for the Week

    This week I have been visiting my son and his family for a few days in Maryland. I have done a little babysitting, working remotely, and taken a retreat on spiritual contemplation. But the last 2 days I have amused myself looking at some of the exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution. When I decided to go into the city to explore this national treasure trove of museums on the mall, my goal was to see the National Gallery of Art.

    Yesterday I never got there because I discovered a museum completely new to me – the American Indian Museum. It was stunning, with its stories and movies telling about the native people on this land. And then, quite by chance I found a restaurant in the museum which had a diverse and incredible menu of native cuisine. That was yesterday. But today I as determined to find the traditional art in the gallery. But as I was walking along I spied the entrance to the African Art Museum and decided to take a little detour on my way to the real Gallery. Well, again I was stunned to see the variety and the wonderful exhibit with African and American art juxtaposed. Such an incredible exhibit I dallied and lingered and looked hungrily.

    So like many explorers I set out to see one thing, which would have been a sensible goal, and found more delight in the adventure of following a new and wholly unexpected path. Wherever the Holy Spirit has led you this week, I hope you have found some opportunities beckoned to you here and there and you have seen things you might have missed otherwise, and followed detours that proved providential.

    Blessings,
    Susan

    A Message from Rev. Susan – April 10, 2015

    In the Christian Church, Easter is a season not a day. Easter is a life-changing event for the first disciples and it transforms life as they know it. They had to take the unimaginable and let it sink in. As modern disciples I think we are all still absorbing the Easter message. Join us for worship, Bible Village, Youth Choirs, Adult Education and Youth Groups this Sunday in a spirit of discover and anticipation.

    Here are some of the Highlights.

    The choir will share some of the rich repertoire of Easter Choral Music

    • Choral Response: Christ the Lord is Risen Today - arr. Wilbur Held
    • Anthem: Easter Anthem- William Billings (1746-1800)
    • Offertory: With a Voice of Singing- Martin Shaw (1875-1958)
    • Choral Benediction: This Joyful Eastertide- Charles Wood (1866-1926)

    Bobby will play Easter Prelude and Postlude

    • Prelude: Christ Arose- arr. Wilbur Held (b. 1914)
    • Postlude: Christ Has Broken the Chains of Death BWV 625 J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
    • /ul>

      Choirs will Rehearse

      • 9:15 am- Joyful Noise rehearsal, choir room
      • 11:30 am- Friendly Chime Ringers rehearsal, sanctuary
      • 11:30 am- Hallelujah Choir rehearsal, choir room
      • 12:00 am- Shepherd’s Staff Choir rehearsal, choir room

      Youth Groups will meet

      • Junior High – 4:15pm – Trampoline Park
      • High School – 7:00pm Trivia Night

      Guatemala Report Back at 11:30 – Hear the story of the trip from the February travelers.

      Thought for the Week

      A year ago for my birthday I wanted a worm farm. A neighbor had one and I had been reading about them, so I was eager to try it. Peggy ordered one last February, and I have been experimenting ever since. If you are wondering what a worm farm is and why a grown person would enjoy it so much, let me try to explain. You can order a system of stacking plastic bins or just use a large plastic container with air holes. You can also order worms online these days, and set it up to feed all your vegetable scraps, winter compost newspaper, cardboard egg cartons, shredded junk mail to your worms. The amazing thing is that they will process them- eat and digest them – to create rich topsoil.

      If you asked me a few years ago whether I would be excited about my worm farm in 2015 I might not have answered so enthusiastically. I did not see a worm farm in my future then. But it is really fun. I enjoy watching the colony grow in response to the amount of food I give them. I like having rich topsoil for the garden this spring. I enjoy feeling like I am part of the circle of life- garden to table to scraps to worms, to garden again. Though I know it is an illusion, I like the off the grid aspect of this little venture. I know when you buy your food at Trader Joes, Roches or Whole foods you are not off the grid, but I like the way it keeps me closer to the land somehow.

      This process has been surprisingly nourishing to me. I discovered that the best place for my colony was in the basement next to the furnace. So twice a week I go down to check on the worms. Sometimes they need water in their mix of life. Sometimes they need food. But oddly, I look forward to taking care of these least of God’s creatures.

      This month our theme for worship is surprise. Often life surprises us, or God surprises us in our lives. This month I will be interested to hear more about your spiritual surprises. Please let me know if you took the Prayer Challenge and had any surprises. I would be interested to hear about spiritual practices during Lent or the season of Easter.

      Former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill is most associated with the phrase “All politics is local”. I would suggest All religion is personal. So, when we believe in God the Creator we are sustained by our close-up encounters with creation, whether our spiritual practice is weight lifting, yoga, meditation, walking, writing, prayer journaling, gardening, worm farming or _______ fill in the blank.

      Happy Easter. Happy Spring!
      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – April 2, 2015

      Join us for Maundy Thursday tonight.

      • Supper at 6 p.m. Delicious homemade soups in Fellowship Hall.
      • Special this year- the Bible Village oldest class (grades 6-8) has made Stations of the Cross out of legos and they have them displayed in Fellowship Hall. Special thanks to Mallory Livingston who teaches this class, showed the Lego Movie as part of their curriculum, and encouraged them to depict Holy Week in a medium familiar to them.
      • Service 7 p.m. Join the Ministers and Deacons for communion and a dramatic reading of the story of Christ’s Passion. It is a remarkable service you won’t want to miss. (Please come to the service whether or not you attend the supper.)

      Easter Morning
      9:00 Worship – Children’s Time

      • Chancel Choir sings- Hallelujah Chorus
      • Trumpet – Stanley Normile
      • Worship Leader and Liturgist – Barbara Livingston
      • Preacher- Susan Cartmell

      11:15 Worship – Communion

      • Chancel Choir – Hallelujah Chorus
      • Shepherd’s Staff Singing
      • Worship Liturgist – Heike Werder
      • Preacher – Susan Cartmell

      10 a.m. – Easter Egg Hunt for all ages – pre-school through elementary school.

      • If the ground is too wet this year, which we expect it will be, the hunt will be held in doors. Special instructions for all ages will be provided.

      Thought for the Week
      Last night for the Junior Youth Group that I lead (grades 3-5) we had pretend Last Supper. The group of nine and ten year olds used palms and dried fruit, dishes and napkins, juice and bread. They talked excitedly as they set the table. One held the Jesus doll. One discovered how to make crosses out of palms, and taught the rest of us. They asked for the plates of food to be passed and we all took turns together as we tried to eat the way that Jesus would have.

      When it was time to pray they talked about what they are thankful for. When we broke and shared the challah bread two of them surprised me by reciting the Words of Institution verbatim. It seems they had been listening during communion, and have recited the words I usually say.

      It was more raucous than the paintings, unless you go to the rococo period of art. It was so genuine and heartfelt and wonderfully real.

      No one know exactly what might have happened in the Upper Room all those years ago, but as I told the kids last night, it might not have all been sad. There must have been tender moments, and smiles. At the beginning of the meal someone suggested that we all lift our glasses and toast each other. We had paper cups but it was such a fun touch. I told them that we were toasting Life. “To life”, I said. L’chaim means to life in Hebrew. Then they all practiced making guttural sounds for a while. They charmed me, as you can see. Some people might think this was not a reverent moment, but I believe that reverence occurs whenever people are sincere, and full of wonder. I believe that the Last Supper was important because it can be re-enacted at any dining table, wherever you lift the glass of life and make a toast to the Source of All. L’chaim!

      Like the Fiddler on the Roof, none of us know all that lies ahead, or what it all means, but we know that when we share our lives God is there sitting at the table, laughing, loving us, and showing us that often life is much more rich and wonderful than we ever knew.

      Easter Blessings to you,
      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – March 27, 2015

      Join us for worship this Palm Sunday on the start of Holy Week.
      There is a lot to think about as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem and remember his journey into that ancient city. The story of Holy Week is rich with symbol and meaning. Here are some other highlights of our Sunday worship:

      • We distribute Palms to all who come to worship.
      • Crosby Goshgarian will sing The Palms by Faure
      • The Chancel Choir will sing For God So Loved the World from Stainer’s Crucifixion.
      • My sermon will be the last in our series on Prayer. This week I look at Unanswered Prayer, and talk about the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

      Thought for the Week

      Some years when Holy week arrives it can seem pretty overwhelming. We know how it will end, but still Good Friday is a pretty hard day in this religious drama. When it comes time to tell our children about Easter we are hard-pressed to find words that will do the story justice but not give them nightmares for weeks.

      Just as we spare our children the grim details, it can be depressing to meditate on how Jesus died. But I believe the reason that we need to take time to consider Christ’s death is because we need to make sure that we do something to stop the violence in our time. We need to think about the injustice of Jesus’ death so that we can work to stop injustice in our time. We need to stand at the foot of Christ’s cross so that we will think about whether there are other people who are crucified today, and what we can do about it.

      Sometimes it is only when we realize how others have suffered that we gain sympathy and compassion. Sometimes it takes our own sadness to stop the sadness of others in the world. The reason that we need Good Friday is because we need to strengthen our resolve to stand with Jesus when the going gets tough today. In thinking about Peter who denied Jesus three times we can wonder about when we forget to own Him, or stand up for who He was.

      We need Holy Week in order to do the deep soul-searching that comes when you think about the suffering of innocent people like Jesus. We may only really find our way to Easter if we also question how to address the systemic injustice we have some responsibility to address, in our world today. I like the way our faith realizes that often the hardest journeys in life are the most sacred times. The very name of this week reminds us that we should not fear it, but prepare for this week to reveal some sacred truths, some grace, some miracles of prayer. I fully believe this is a holy time when people all over the world take this journey together. Wherever you find yourself this week – traveling for work, meeting your deadlines, caring for others – don’t fail to pause each day and consider what God is hoping you will see of the holiness in your life.

      Peace,
      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – March 20, 2015

      This Sunday we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The children in Bible Village are trying to learn the 23rd Psalm. Many have done a good job, but they will all benefit from a family read or recitation time. Perhaps you can re-enforce the psalm at home – put it on the fridge, say it before dinner, rattle it off in the car, or play a cd of the psalm put to music. I like to think of people all over Needham saying this psalm to each other in unusual times and places. Use your imaginations. Indulge me here.

      On Sunday March 22 we have a full program planned.

      1. Bobby has visited the Amy Beach library and researched this fine American composer. This Sunday all the choir music will be by Amy Beach, which should be lovely. she was a musical pioneer with a lovely sense of composition. We are so fortunate that Bobby has discovered her and shared his scholarship and choral entrepreneurial flair with us.
      2. I will continue the sermon series on Prayer and will talk about the Mechanics of Prayer – how it works.
      3. Heike will be showing the movie Fed Up after worship.
      4. This week we will have a Labyrinth in Fellowship Hall all week. Please come to walk it and enjoy the walking meditation experience. On Sunday there will be a special table at Coffee Hour to feature the Labyrinth Minister – to raise awareness of Labyrinths and sell some home-made cookies to raise money so we can make our own labyrinth.

      Please Join us.

      Thought for the Week

      Last month in Copenhagen two people were attacked and killed by a gunman who starting shooting at a free speech event and at a synagogue. The gunman, Omar el-Hussein, was killed but not before he killed two civilians and injured five police officers. The people of Denmark took to the streets to mourn by the thousands.

      But the reaction did not end there.
      Muslims in Oslo, Norway decided to go further than just mourning this hard loss. they were concerned about the anti-semitic aspect of these murders because the killer appeared to have targeted a synagogue.

      So in Oslo some Muslims have planned an anti-violence demonstration at their local synagogue. They are planning to form a peace ring around the synagogue as a way to distance themselves from what happened in neighboring Denmark. They hope to make a statement of their own about the inherently peaceful nature of Islam, which has suffered in people’s minds in the aftermath of some widely-publicized attacks in Europe in recent months.

      One organizer is reported to say, “If anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam they will have to go through us Muslims first.” The leader of the synagogue approved as long as 30 people showed up. On Facebook more than 630 agreed to be there.

      This Lent I hope that you are finding some way to deepen your journey with God.

      Perhaps you are working on the Prayer Challenge;
      Or teaching a child the 23rd Psalm;
      Or planning to walk to Labyrinth in Fellowship Hall next week- March 23- 26
      Or taking some small or large steps to make the world more peaceful than you found it.

      Peace,
      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – March 13, 2015

      This Sunday should be lots of fun. We start in worship:

      1. The Once in a While Choir will be singing the Introit.
      2. Joyful Noise and Hallelujah Choirs will be singing too.
      3. Heike will be preaching on the Benefits of Prayer.
      4. This week I will lead Bible Village and tour the classrooms – a rare treat. I will greet at the door as usual.
      5. We have Ramin Abrishamian, a Baha’i leader from Needham coming to speak about the Human Rights Committee at 11:30.
      6. New Families are invited to join me for Alpha in the Library at 11:30. Lunch, childcare and a discussion about the Bible will follow until 12:45.

      ALL THE YOUTH GROUPS will celebrate St. Patricks Day.

      Thought for the Week

      Last weekend I saw a picture of my granddaughter Ruth – tall for six – crossing the Pettus Bridge in Selma. Her mom was leading a delegation from the church she serves and Ruth went along. She told me proudly on the phone that her picture was in the USA Today. It was a crowd shot and I take it on faith that she was in it. I told her I was proud of her.

      Fifty years ago Richard Unsworth from our church was among the brave men and women who originally went to work for justice in Selma. A national treasure, he can still remember those days of uncertainty and faith. When I listened to my own father talk about marching from Selma to Montgomery he seemed so humble to me. Dick seems the same way. He talks about how they did not know what to do but felt compelled to do something. Everyone who was there talks about the power of prayer. Dr. King was running on prayer and political instinct, and strong conviction.

      It is amazing what that bridge has come to symbolize all these decades later. I imagine that the timely release of the star-studded movie about Selma has helped us see that moment in time again, and appreciate the courage of the people who dreamed of a new day and marched to make it possible. It seems so particularly poignant as the stories of racial tension and violence all over this country continue to come to our attention with new shootings almost weekly. Madison, Wisconsin last week and now Ferguson again this week. As we continue to hear about recent shootings on both sides of the racial divide, it raises the level of concern in all of us.

      Perhaps we have come to another time when we need the kind of gritty determination of someone like Dr. King. Even more, I think we need ordinary people who do extraordinary things because they believe in a nation that really has liberty and justice for all. Perhaps. we need the commitment of all people- every race- to re-commit ourselves to the dreams we all hold for this land, what it should and could be.

      Just as the civil rights movement 50 years ago was fueled by prayer, this one must be also. We need more prayers. We need people in the pews of every church and those who never come to church to pray for a broader national conversation about race. I think it is time for much more honesty about racism. At our Board meeting this week Dr. Chang spoke about his family roots in Hawaii and how the native people of that land have been treated; he ended his devotions with a plea that people really listen to one another across racial divides. I believe he was right and I want to encourage us to listen to one another on all sides of the racial divides we know. We need to listen to honest talk about economic disparity that runs along racial lines, about racial bias in our prisons, and about educational inequity that begins at very young ages.

      It will take a lot of prayer to begin to address these issues as a nation. If you have been on the fence about the 30 Day Prayer Challenge and have not chosen a topic to pray about here is one that is crying out for more prayers.

      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – March 6, 2015

      This Sunday don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead. This is the weekend when we spring ahead.
      The extra effort to be at church will be especially worth it as we have a good day planned.

      This week:

      • Shepherd’s Staff will sing the anthem.
      • Flutist Bruce Goody will play throughout the service- which is always a great treat.
      • The Chancel Choir will sing Drop, Drop, Slow Tears- William Billings (1746-1800), arr. Robert Shaw (1916-1999)
      • Bobby has some wonderful Lenten organ music to share.
      • I will continue my sermon series on Prayer- focusing on Jesus’ advice about prayer.
      • OPEN HOUSE in 1180 GREAT PLAIN – Join us for lunch in the new building at 11:30 a.m.

      Talking about prayer is a little bit like talking about swimming or hiking. You can only get so far by talking about it. You really need to experience prayer to get something out of it. SO I hope you will consider the 30 Day prayer Challenge.

      You might decide to take some notes as you begin this journey or along the way, to see if you can track how praying for the same thing can change your prayers, or your outcomes, or even your sense of expectation.

      I hope that the theme of prayer feels like an invitation to take a spiritual journey.

      Whether you are trying the 30 Day Prayer Challenge or still considering it, here are a few prayers that I find inspiring. I share them with you.

      Prayerfully,
      Susan

      Here is the full prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr- which became known as the Serenity Prayer

      God, give me grace to accept with serenity
      the things that cannot be changed,
      Courage to change the things
      which should be changed,
      and the Wisdom to distinguish
      the one from the other.
      Living one day at a time,
      Enjoying one moment at a time,
      Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
      Taking, as Jesus did,
      This sinful world as it is,
      Not as I would have it,
      Trusting that You will make all things right,
      If I surrender to Your will,
      So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
      And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
      Amen.

      Prayer by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

      God grant that right here in America and all over this world, we will choose the high way; a way in which men will live together as brothers. A way in which the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. A way in which every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. A way in which every nation will allow justice to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. A way in which men will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. A way in which men will be able to stand up, and in the midst of oppression, in the midst of darkness and agony, they will be able to stand there and love their enemies, bless those persons that curse them, pray for those individuals that despitefully use them. And this is the way that will bring us once more into that society which we think of as the brotherhood of man. This will be that day when white people, colored people, whether they are brown or whether they are yellow or whether they are black, will join together and stretch out with their arms and be able to cry out: “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!”

      The prayer of St. Francis

      Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
      Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
      where there is injury, pardon;
      where there is doubt, faith;
      where there is despair, hope;
      where there is darkness, light;
      where there is sadness, joy;
      O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
      to be understood as to understand;
      to be loved as to love.
      For it is in giving that we receive;
      it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
      and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life
      .

      This is from a Boston blogger who writes prayers and poems, where it is hard to see where one stops and the other starts. http://thecrystaltambourine.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-prayer.html

      A Message from Rev. Susan – February 27, 2015

      We have a good weekend planned and look forward to a weekend without snow (at least until Sunday evening) which should mean that many of you can gather for worship and Christian Education. It is a good opportunity to be together, to take communion, and to start a new worship theme for Lent.

      Here are some of the highlights for this week:

      • The choir will be singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot“; Beth will sing the solo.
      • The new Sermon Theme will be “Prayer” ; my sermon will be “The Essence of Prayer”.
      • Adult Ed will be at 11:30am. Guests Cheryl Gosman and Dr. Joanne Allen-Willoughby will discuss the status of equality in education and what can be done to create equal opportunities a reality for all children.
      • Bible Village starts a new unit on Holy Week.
      • Middle School will be watching the Lego Movie and creating the stations of the cross out of legos.
      • The children will continue their Lenten Challenge – memorizing the 23rd Psalm.
      • Alpha Luncheon for new Families at 11:30 – 12:45 in the Library.

      We hope to see you on Sunday.

      Thoughts for the Week
      During Lent I hope that you will consider doing the Prayer Challenge – Pray for one person or issue for 30 days.
      What should I pray for?

      • Think of someone who needs a prayer.
      • Think of a situation that might be troubling you or someone you love.
      • Think of an issue or cause you believe could benefit from prayer.

      What is the point of praying for the same thing every day for a month?

      • The hope is that by praying for one thing so consistently you will see some change.
      • Something will improve.
      • It might be your attitude, but something will be transformed for the better.

      Why pray like this?

      • 30 days will change the way you feel about prayer.
      • You will pray with more comfort and confidence.
      • You will get closer to God, just by doing this one exercise.
      • After 30 days you are not talking to a stranger.

      What if it doesn’t work?

      • Let’s cross that bridge in April. But I think you will be surprised!

      Rev. Jamie
      By now you probably have heard that after five years Rev. Jamie Green Klopotoski has resigned her position as Associate Minister for Youth and Children here at the church. We were all surprised and saddened by this decision, even as we celebrate the things she accomplished and set in place. As the Church Board said so well, she has led vibrant programs for youth and children throughout her time here. As we recognize all that she has accomplished I think we all want to be sure that we do everything we can to continue these programs, and help them to thrive.

      Let me tell you a little more about what has happened since the Church Board received her resignation earlier this week and share with you a little more about what we have put in place this week.

      Heike and I have met together and for two hours yesterday with Jamie to make sure this transition is smooth. We all want that.
      Here is what we have done so far.

      • I have decided to be the CE resource for now, and will meet with the Christian Education Committee. I have familiarized myself with the teachers, volunteers, and curriculum. I have reached out to the CE Committee and will attend their meetings.
      • Heike will be the Youth Ministry resource for the interim. She has reached out to the Youth Committee and will be at their meetings and at the Youth Group meetings for the immediate future.
      • Heike and I will attend Bible Village when we are not preaching. So for the next several weeks you will have only one minister in worship once the children leave so that we can help with the religious parts of the curriculum. (Both ministers will be at communion as always.
      • Jamie and I put together a plan for The Center and I have been working with the Assistant Director as he assumed his duties as the new Interim Director. I have confidence in Francis and the entire staff of the Center, most of whom I met with last night.
      • Though it is still early, we are in the process of contacting seminaries to see if we can find appropriate candidates for short-term interim leadership. Eventually, I have every confidence the Church Board will make a plan for finding long-term permanent leadership.

      As you know, all the ministers of this church continue to be committed to the children and youth of this church and that will be something you can count on. We are all working together to make this as smooth a transition as possible.

      As always, we will rely on your patience, your help, and your prayers.

      Peace,
      Susan

      A Message from Rev. Susan – February 12, 2015

      This Sunday we have a lot to celebrate:

      • Joyful Noise under the direction of Valerie Becker- will be singing an Anthem – By n’ By - arr. Robert De Cormier (b. 1922)
      • The Chancel Choir, under the direction of Bobby DeRegis will be singing – Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit – arr. William Levi Dawson (1899-1990). Crosby Goshgarian, baritone.
      • We are taking part in a National Preach-In on Climate Change. Clergy from every faith all over the country are invited to preach about the environment on Valentine’s weekend. The National Preach-In on global warming is sponsored by Inter-faith Power and Light, an organization that brings clergy together to discuss global warming.
      • This Sunday Rev. Heike will take part in their Preach-IN by giving a sermon about God and Creation. Learn more about this effort at Massachusetts Interfaith Power and Light – http://www.mipandl.org/ .
      • Rev. Jamie has a special program planned for the children this Valentine’s Day weekend, but they start in the sanctuary as usual.
      • I hope you will plan to join us for this important service.

        If there are any changes in our schedule due to the snow storm on Sunday you can find updates Sunday morning on the Church website www.needhamucc.org and on our church Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/NeedhamUCC.

        Thought for the Day

        One of my hopes in introducing theme preaching is that we might be able to foster a church-wide conversation about the themes. So when you have ideas or reactions to the sermons I take them seriously and try to include them whenever I can. This month as we have been talking about God, our sermon theme has spilled over into great conversations in the hallway, good topics on Wednesday evening, and hopefully some interesting thoughts as you make your way through the week.

        One of you sent me a wonderful piece about how we grow in the knowledge of God. It appeared on Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation on February 13, 2015. I share it here, because it made me think.

        Peace and Blessings,
        Susan

        The writings of the Hebrew Scriptures show an evolutionary development, a gradual coming to see how God acts in human life. God is not changing; it is our comprehension of God that is changing. As we go through the Scriptures, what we see in Israel’s growth as a people is a pattern of what happens to every person and to every people who set out on the journey of faith. They go through stages and gradually come to see how God loves them and what God’s liberation does for them. But they come kicking and screaming and denying.

        In the first stage, people start to experience the reality of God and God’s love as more than abstract concepts. At the same time, however, they tend to believe that God’s love is limited to just themselves, a select few such as a chosen people or the one true Church.

        In the second stage, people begin to respond to God’s love, but they perceive God’s love as rather totally dependent on their ideal response. They believe that grace is a conditional gift, that God will love them if they are good, that God will save or reward them if they keep the commandments.

        In the third stage, people begin to see God’s love as unlimited and unconditional, but they do not see further than that. They acknowledge that God loves them whether they are good or bad, and that God is gracious to the just and the unjust alike. But they still think that God is doing that from afar, from up in heaven somewhere. They do not yet see themselves as inherently participating in the process. Frankly, they have not discovered their own soul yet.

        Finally, in the fourth stage, they make the breakthrough to seeing that God’s grace and love is present within them, through them, with them, and even as them! The mystery of incarnation has come full circle. They can now enjoy God’s temple within their own body, as Paul loves to teach, and can love themselves and others and God by the same one flow. It is all one stream of Love! They now fully realize that it is God who is doing the loving, and they surrender themselves to being channels and instruments of that Divine Flow into the world.

        What makes Jesus such a special Jew was that he said this divine election was first of all free, and therefore universal, and not bound by any ethnicity or era of time. Grace is inherent to our dignity as human beings. But he learned that and dared to believe it both from the Jewish Scriptures and from his own God experience. He claimed them both.

        You are loved and chosen so that you can pass on the experience, not hoard the experience. In fact, if you feel a need to guard it, as if it were limited or scarce, that is the certain evidence that you have not accessed the Infinite Source yourself. It has to start with some kind of “I got it” experience which should lead to “But everybody else does too!” and eventually a Leonard Cohen kind of Hallelujah! As Ken Wilber so brilliantly says, “Religion starts elitist, but ends egalitarian. Always!” I think it is almost a necessary pattern, but far too many stop half way.

        Adapted from Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament; pp. 110-112
        (published by Franciscan Media)
        Related resource: New Great Themes of Scripture (CD set)

        A Message from Rev. Susan – February 6, 2015

        This week our worship service will be a joyful celebration. We will celebrate 15 years as a community that welcomes all people and remember how that decision has shaped how we treat one another and how we treat ourselves.

        As part of the celebration we have invited Peter Wells, one of our members to bring his jazz band to lead some of the music.

        Here are the Sunday highlights:

        •Arrive early for worship to hear the Original Shepherd’s Pie Dixieland Jazz Bank playing
        ◦Every Time I Feel the Spirit
        ◦Just a Closer Walk with Thee
        ◦I Love to Tell the Story
        • The Chancel Choir anthem will be Gordon White’s Draw the Circle Wide
        •I will be preaching a second sermon on God. My text is John 3:16-21 – Choosing God

        It has been a busy week at the church. I have lots of announcements to share.

        1.Chapel Renovations are continuing and the committee wants feedback on what colors you think we should use to paint the ceiling and walls. Please see their displays on the door to the chapel, and be sure to express your views and ideas in the notebook.

        2.We are hoping to move our offices into the new building at 1180 Great Plain on Feb. 16 and 17. If you can help on one of those days please let me know – revsusan@needhamucc.org. We need help moving boxes of books, some furniture and office supplies. If you don’t have an interest in moving stuff but would like to help set up the new offices I am sure we can use you for that too.

        3.We are hoping to make a Labyrinth that we can use for Wednesday evening Connect Programs. Carol Miller has sewn the canvas and now we are hoping to have a painting party on Wed. Feb. 18th . Sign up with Heike or myself if you can help out that day.

        4.At the Board Retreat the decision was made to invite folks to make proposals for ideas to use the back section of 1180. We expect to rent the space to the Temple for their school starting in the fall for one year, but we need to start making plans for what to do with the space following that. The Board wants to encourage folks to be imaginative about how we can use this space after the Temple preschool is done there in the fall of 2016. There are some clear zoning restrictions so if you are interested call or e-mail the church office for the application and criteria information. 781 444 2510; office@needhamucc.org

        5.We had an article about our church published in Christian Century. Peggy and I wrote about how using the church to promote your mission can make your building an asset. It is really a description about what we have been doing in both our churches for several years now. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-12/asset-management

        Thought for the Week

        You know the story about Moses, and how he was tending his sheep when he saw a bush burning that was not being consumed by the fire. It was such a strange site that Moses turned aside to see it. When Moses was standing there he was aware that he was in the presence of God because he heard God speak to him. He felt the need or urge to take off his sandals. That is a gesture that people still make when they want to show honor to God. If you pass by a mosque anywhere in the world while the service is in session you will find a pile of shoes at the door because everyone inside is barefoot. I always assumed that the reason Moses took off his shoes was because he recognized that he was suddenly in the presence of God. But in reading Rob Bell’s book about God, he makes the point that Moses took off his shoes because he realized that the ground in these parts had been holy all along. He recognized that if God could call to him from a bush, then God was in this desert all along.

        Somehow this interpretation of an old passage changed things for me. What if God is everywhere, and has been here and there all along?

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – January 30, 2015

        We have a wonderfully full schedule this weekend at the church. Here are some of the highlights:

        1. We recognize all our newly elected church leaders and officers in an annual Installation Ceremony. If you were elected at the Annual Meeting please plan to attend worship.
        2. Flutist Bruce Goody and classical guitarist Jonathan Moretz will play throughout worship
        3. The Chancel Choir will sing a wonderful spiritual – “Down to the River to Pray”
        4. Super Bowl Subs – pickup up your order and support the Youth Mission trip – after worship.

        Thought for the Week

        This month our theme for worship is God. You may wonder why it has taken us so long to take up the central topic in all of religion. Why did we leave this important topic until February, and this the shortest month of the year? I like to think that we talk about God in all of our services and classes and support groups and even our meetings. In a church everything we do is informed by our faith in God. But here in this precious high season between Christmas and Easter we pause to think about the One who is the center of everything.

        Today I want to share some information from an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Day by Eric Metaxas. He writes that in 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking Is God Dead?. This article became the sentinel piece in a movement of skeptics and many scientists who believed there was less and less need for God. Around the same time Carl Sagan announced that there were two criteria for a planet to support life: 1. The right kind of star; and 2. The right distance from that star. By Sagan’s calculations there would be one septillion planets (24 zeros) with this capability.

        So the search for life began. Lots of expensive projects followed under the auspices of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Life). Scientists listened with sensitive and sophisticated radio networks. But in 1993 Congress stopped funding this effort. As of 2014 researchers have found no planets like ours- zero.

        The more we learned the more clear it became that Carl Sagan had just under-estimated the how hard it is to support life. We now know that there are so many conditions that have to be just right. Now with 200 possible parameters needed to create an environment that supports life, the probability of another planet like ours keeps plummeting. As scientists learned more and more about the probability of life arising spontaneously the odds seemed to turn against any planet like ours existing at all. The more we learned the more it seemed that figured strictly by probability alone, we should not even be here. There are so many contingencies that must be perfectly met or the whole possibility falls apart. For example, without a massive planet like Jupiter whose gravity attracts most of the asteroids in the region, Earth’s surface would be hit by a thousand times as many as we are. Something to think about when last week apparently we missed a close call with an asteroid. Most of us take safety from asteroids for granted. It never occurs to us that there is something special shielding us from this danger.

        In a short fifty years we have discovered that the odds against life in this universe are incredibly high. And so it makes you wonder. Who parted the waters and brought forth life? Who was the shepherd of evolution, if it was not a natural phenomenon, but the longest odds you could ever imagine. Who is the author of creation, and all we know? It is an old question and one we never tire of asking. Join us for the conversation in February when the topic is God.

        Blessings
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – January 23, 2015

        Sunday will be a very full day. Here are some of the highlights.

        • We will welcome three new families into the Church – the Andrews, the Hurleys, and the Yoon –Turners.
        • The Senior High Youth will be selling Super Bowl subs and treating us to their annual skit to advertise this project.
        • The choir will be singing some beautiful pieces during worship: Lord, For Thy Tender Mercies’ Sake – Richard Farrant (1530-1580), and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – J.S. Bach
        • In my sermon I will talk about some examples of people who have made a difference in the world through their commitment to justice. “The Face of Justice”.
        • Our Annual Meeting will take place immediately after the service in the sanctuary. Join us as we hear the reports of a historic year in the life of the church, and chart our future together.

        I hope to see you at church.

        Thought for the Week
        At Wednesday worship I read a story about a woman who took a trip to Hawaii, went hiking near a volcano and found a small pile of rocks left by a hiker who had passed that way before she did. (Altar in the World a book by Barbara Brown Taylor). Though she knew she would never know who had been there, these rocks were placed so intentionally that they spoke to her of something sacred which had transpired in that spot along the trail.

        It seemed to be a good metaphor for life. We are all on various journeys. Sometimes, when we are very fortunate we see glimpses of holiness. Often we find these traces when we least expect them. Sometimes they come from people we know. Often they just arrive unbidden and take our breath away. They remind us that we are not alone on this journey. They remind us that others have gone before who have similar questions of faith. They remind us that we all need to slow down enough to see the clues that point to something sacred in life.

        On Wednesday I gave the people who attended a rock to remember the story, and use as a reminder to see the gifts of each day. When I was on Cape Cod this summer I found a rock in a gift shop that had the word “God” on it. At first when I saw this rock I took issue with it. I went into a big theological conversation in my head about how God should not be written on a rock for people to buy in gift shops. I worried about graven images and people in the Bible dancing around a golden calf. I branded this a cheap artifice, and went on to look at colorful scarves for a while.

        I left the shop but I wondered about this rock. Another day I was back in the same shop and I looked through the basket of rocks. They were engraved with words like peace, faith, love. There was that one polished rock that said God. This time I knew I had to have it. So I took it home and have put it on the table next to my bed. Sometimes I reach for it when I am wondering about things, or praying. Usually I just glance at it. But it is oddly comforting. I don’t think of it as a symbol for God. I don’t worship it. I use it to remind me that God is there and everywhere. Somehow such a humble symbol like a rock brings that message home for me.

        Wherever you make you way this weekend – hiking, pondering, getting everything done, I hope you remember you are not alone. Strangers have made their sacred way before you. Angels are surrounding you. And God is everywhere.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – January 16, 2015

        This Sunday we will remember Martin Luther King and continue our theme of Justice.

        • Flutist Bruce Goody will be joining us to play during the service.
        • Tenor Brandon Milardo will lead the choir in a wonderful anthem based on the hymn Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.
        • The Choir will also sing The Call from the Five Mystical Songs of Vaughan Williams.
        • Rev. Heike will preach about Justice in our second sermon in the series.

        We hope you join us on Sunday.

        Thought for the Week

        There is a new piece of research out which tests the origins of faith in youth and young adults. Sociologists of religion have tested what accounts for faith in children and youth. Many people assume that the church gives their children faith, but apparently this is not born out in the research. When they explore young adults who say that they have a faith in God, the one thing that seems to determine whether they believe in anything is the faith of their parents. If a young adult has a parent who has faith and talks about it with them when they are young then as the youth grow older they are much more likely to believe in God and place a value on faith in their own lives.

        One of the ironies of church life today is that people seek a church home because they feel inadequate to teach their children about faith or answer the kids spiritual questions. But if churches only teach the children and fail to give resources to their parents we don’t serve the children particularly well, as it turns out. Churches that take seriously the challenge to teach their children and youth the messages of the Bible and of our Christian heritage need to be sure to have a good Adult Education program.

        We also need to do one thing more. We need to encourage you to talk to your children and grandchildren about your own faith. TAKE SOME TIME THIS WEEKEND WHEN YOU HAVE A LITTLE FAMILY TIME- TO TELL SOMEONE YOU LOVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE. It is okay to share your doubts, too. The best conversations about faith are honest and open. Your children will thank you for it. Oh, I know that they may not thank you right away, but they will be grateful.

        And they will love you for it. Everything I know about life tells me that is true. Whether you are skiing or huddling near a fireplace or relaxing somewhere else, find a way to let them know how much you believe in God; it will go a long way toward reminding them how much you believe in them too.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – January 9, 2015

        This weekend our programs are all in full swing.

        1. Bible Village will resume in Fellowship Hall.
        2. Youth Groups and Youth Choirs will meet.
        3. Bobby’s prelude and postlude are great works from Bach- : Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ and In dir ist Freude.
        4. The Chancel Choir is preparing a portion of Vivaldi’s Gloria. some wonderful music.
        5. I will be starting a new sermon series on Justice; this week we look at the Principles of Justice.
        6. Rev. Heike is back from her sabbatical and she will be leading the Adult Education session on the Ten Commandments as the foundation for our assumptions about justice.

        We hope you will join us for worship and education this Sunday.

        Thought for the Week

        As you may know we have the distinct honor to have among our members Mr. Charlie Baker, Sr. This was a big week for the Baker family. The new governor has always been very appreciative of his congregational roots and the way that his childhood in our church shaped his life and his values. On the night before the inauguration Gov. Baker had his staff organize an Interfaith Prayer Service. It was held on Wednesday evening at a large Spanish Pentecostal Church in the South End, Lion of Judah. Governor Baker asked me to participate as a reader, which was an honor and privilege.

        The group of readers included Imam Suhaib Webb, Roxbury Mosque; Rabbi Ronnie Friedman, Temple Israel;Rev. Liz Walker, Roxbury Presbyterian; Bishop Gideon Thompson, Jubilee Christian, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Metropolitan Methodias and others. It was a wonderful gathering of religious leaders from across the state. As it turned out my reading was the first one and I brought greetings from all of you before intoning some words from Matthew 7 about seeking and finding.

        We were all invited to bring a gift from our congregations. The rabbi offered a mezuzah for the state house. The Imam gave a tray with Muslim writing. I brought a paper weight engraved with the words from I Samuel 16:7 “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.I comes from the passage about the anointing of David as King of Israel. I told the governor in presenting it that I believe that Bible says that leadership should always come from the heart and it was the fact that people saw his heart that had made them respond to him. He seemed touched by this. I also wanted to convey my belief that when leaders gather all the wisdom they have from research and pollsters there is another source of wisdom which is often over-looked, the view that comes from prayer, because God’s view and vantage is a powerful resource too.

        Peggy and I both attended the Prayer Service and when I realized, at the last moment that we could include a couple of other in our delegation, I invited Len and Adele Chang, who have known the Bakers since they lived in Needham, when the boys were young. It was a night for non-partisan prayer where some of the most powerful African American preachers in the Commonwealth shared their gift of calling on the Lord in a way that inspired everyone. It served to remind us all that we are strongest when we pull together and ask for God’s guidance.

        It was a real honor to be there, and to represent all of you.

        On the following day Mr. Baker Sr. invited Peggy and me, Sunu and Mike Yeh and Yuzo Dort to attend the Swearing in at the State House. We were honored to be among the personal friends of the Baker family.

        Many blessings to you all,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – December 19, 2014

        This Sunday, December 21st, is Christmas Sunday and the church will be festive with special music, flowers, and our worship will be infused with a special message of hope.

        Here are some of the highlights

        • Flutist, Bruce Goody, and Guitarist Jonathan Moretz will play the Prelude Coventry Carol.
        • The Chancel Choir will sing Gendron’s What Child is This? and The Lamb by John Tavenor, a hauntingly beautiful anthem, as well as Forrest’s There is Faint Music. The music will lift our souls throughout the service.
        • Barbara Livingston will lead us in prayer, as she has all fall.
        • I will preach about hope and how to find it throughout life, no matter what you are facing.

        Thought for the Week:

        There are lots of examples of generosity at this time of the year but one story in the Boston Globe caught my eye this week. It reported on Tuesday that anonymous donors strolled into three separate Toys R Us stores and paid the balance on all the layaway accounts.

        Then a widow made the news for an unusual gesture. It seems that she wanted to give a big gift to the Salvation Army, but she did not think she had much to give. So she had her rings appraised – both her wedding ring and her engagement ring. Then she put them in one of the red buckets with a note attached explaining how much they were worth – $1850, all she had to give away.

        When the news caught on that this widow had been so generous a second widow offered to buy the rings from the Salvation Army for $21,000, much higher than their estimated value. The second giver is hoping to return the rings to their original owner, who gave them in memory of her husband and for the sake of children at Christmas.

        Once news spread of the $21,000 gift it was learned that it was one of nine such offers from various citizens who wanted to pay more to restore the rings to the original owner. one of the offers came from as far away as Tennessee. The money will go to a program in Cambridge for families who cannot afford Christmas gifts for their children.

        There is something about this season that really warms your heart with the goodness it inspires, the way strangers prefer not to take credit for their generosity, and the open-hearted way that folks share. This spirit makes me smile. It gives me an inner peace to see love made real. It quiets me with a gentle awe to think that the air is ripe with gestures of kindness at Christmas.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – December 12, 2014

        This week we worship in the sanctuary where the halls have been decked and the greens have transformed the space for the season.

        Worship will be very special:

        1. The Confirmation Class will lead us in lighting the 3rd candle on the Advent Wreath.
        2. My sermon on Hope this week will focus on the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus – in Luke 1: 39-55
        3. All the youth Choirs will sing a joint anthem – Joyful Noise, Hallelujah and Shepherd’s Staff Choir will combine their voices to sing Peace Peaceby Powell. Ellen Dunlavey will accompany on flute and Dave Darmofal on piano
        4. The Anthem will be one of the pieces from Lessons and Carols Child of the Sable’s Secret Birthby Jones. Brandon Milardo Tenor and Crosby Goshgarian bass.
        5. The service will begin with a prelude by the Friendly Chimers playing a medley of Christmas hymns.

        Thought for the Week
        Waiting is hard for most of us. Yet so many times in life we feel as though we are waiting. As children we have to learn to wait – for dinner, or dessert, or adults to listen, or Christmas morning to come.
        Growing up we have to wait to be noticed, to finish the semester, to improve in sports or music, to find love.

        As adults we also have to learn to wait. We wait for professional recognition, for the right job opportunity, for a big break. Sometimes we wait for love to deepen, or health to improve, or family issues to resolve. We all wait at various times for our prayers to be answered.

        What we learn in a lifetime of waiting is that God can sanctify the waiting times too. We can see these periods as empty, and useless, or we can see them as part of the journey, full of their own potential. Often people make good friends in waiting rooms when they share time waiting for loved ones in surgery. Often people grow wiser, not when they have the answers but when they seek them. We can become more creative simply because we need different answers to life’s persistent questions.

        As you wait for Christmas I hope you find the time fulfilling, and you connect with your best self as you seek to connect with God’s son.

        Advent Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – December 5, 2014

        This is one of the best weekends all year at our church.

        SATURDAY
        We have the Advent Workshop in Fellowship Hall.

        This event is always so much fun for children of all ages, and I have a terrific time going from table to table trying the various crafts.

        This year as a special treat we will be processing to the Tree Lighting on the town Common, as a culmination of the Advent Workshop. This year our town will celebrate with luminary as we light up the night, and the Governor-elect Charlie Baker, will be lighting the Blue Tree on the Common. please join us for the festivities

        • Advent workshop 3-4:45pm
        • Processing into town with luminaries 4:45pm
        • Lighting the tree after a prayer 5pm
        • Activities for all on the Common

        SUNDAY
        Worship at 10:00am features

        • Soomi Lee Lowry who will be playing the piano.
        • Confirmation Class students light the 2nd Advent candle.
        • Communion for all
        • 2nd sermon in a series on Hope. “Hope is Persistent in the face of injustice.”

        Christmas Concert – 4:00pm – LESSONS AND CAROLS
        The choir has prepared beautiful anthems and we will all sing Christmas carols together as we listen to the story of the Bible read by lay readers.

        Come enjoy this beautiful service and make it part of your holiday tradition.

        Thought for the Week
        This Advent our nation is in the throws of a hard conversation about racism. Another Grand Jury has refused to prosecute a police officer this time in the choking death of an unarmed Staten Island man named Eric Garner. I have posted the video of his death on my Facebook page, and you can find it easily on the internet. Sadly, it brought me to tears, even though I knew how it would end. But I hope you watch because I believe none of us can afford to ignore the problem of racism.

        Racism has always been supported by the threat of violence. From the slave ships to the plantations the whole system of slavery was maintained through the threat of violence. After the Civil War it was the continued threat of violence that enforced racial prejudice, and economic sanctions that kept people of color in a place of dis-advantage.

        Sadly, the news of the last 2 weeks has reminded us that we still have been making some assumptions about black people which have led to some very violent retributions. We have also changed some of the way that police officers see their job. The job originated as one where police were safety officers who protected the people of the neighborhoods. Somehow there has been a para-military influence in police training which is making changes in the way that they see their role, and the way that they treat people. We need to have a national conversation about this shift and decide if it is in anyone’s best interests.

        As white people, we often have the advantage of setting a tone in the places where we have influence. I think it is time, for us to decide what kind of a country we want to live in. We need to start deciding today. Do we want a place where white people are scared of unarmed African Americans? Do we want to justify that fear with violent police action that is sanctioned? Do we want to create a nation which is essentially divided by race? Do we want to raise our children in schools where we teach one thing about racism but really believe something else?

        We will be the ones who make racism stop… or not. We will tolerate it, ignore it, or we will decide that things have to change. As we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace into the world, our country seems to be at a moment for some serious soul searching.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – November 28, 2014

        This Sunday we will start Advent with a service of celebration and hope. Here are some of the highlights.

        • The Confirmation Class will light the Advent candle.
        • The Choir will sing the John Rutter piece entitled Look at the World, and Faure’s Cantique du Jean Racine.
        • We will start a new series of sermon on Hope. Each Sunday I will try to examine a different issue in the news and raise the question “How do we find hope in this situation?” This week I plan to address the grand jury verdict in the Ferguson Missouri case against police Officer Daren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, and raise the question of how we find hope, here.
        • Casting for the Pageant is still open, but parts are going fast.
        • Barbara Livingston will join me as liturgist.

        Thought for the Week

        Yesterday I was visiting a woman in the hospital. She asked for a prayer but before the prayer she asked me for an update on the construction. It made me smile. But then many things have made me smile recently. Yesterday the team came to pour the concrete for the walkway between the two building – the main church and the new one. It was raining off and on but nothing stopped these men as they labored all day slogging through cement to make it all smooth. At the end of the day I looked up from my desk as the sun was setting and there was this incredible pink glow in the sunset. It reminded me again what a gift this day had been, and what a gift it has been to watch things progress at our church.

        This Thanksgiving we have a great deal to be thankful for in our church. We have the Christian Scientists to be grateful to. We share a sense of prayerfulness about life with them, and in buying this building we have found that God is working through our common mission.

        I am very grateful to our church leaders, to their work- often behind the scene and unnoticed – to make things work smoothly at the church.

        I am particularly grateful to our Church Board this year for their vision, and their faith in the church. I am grateful to so many of you who have believed in the church and demonstrated that faith in ways large and small.

        As you gather around your table tomorrow, I hope you also know how grateful I am to be on this journey with you.

        Many blessings,
        Susan

        Moravian Blessing
        Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be
        And bless these gifts
        Bestowed by Thee.
        And bless our loved ones everywhere,
        And keep them in Your loving care.

        Thanksgiving
        For each new morning with its light,
        For rest and shelter of the night,
        For health and food,
        For love and friends,
        For everything Thy goodness sends.
        – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

        O God,
        who has set us in a world of soaring beauty,
        and profound mystery. . .
        who has enclosed our years within the eternal context
        of fragrant spring mornings,
        and sparkling winter nights. . .
        who has granted us, over the years,
        the lilt of lively companionship,
        the provocation of ideas and personalities,
        the sheer, clear point of joy
        in creating a thing of loveliness,
        or of excellence,
        the steady, solid support of friendships tried, and tested. . .
        we thank you.
        Above all we thank you,
        for the first flowing of conscience.
        We look back,
        and we recognize, in ourselves,
        the dawning of a conviction that life is not simply
        a random series of opportunities and disappointments.
        We look back,
        and we acknowledge that our life has been a gift,
        a gift to be accepted – savored,
        a gift to be lived out,
        fully lived out between the twin poles of freedom
        and responsibility.
        And now we step forward in this freedom and this responsibility.,
        Free in the knowledge of how little is really essential.
        Responsible in the conviction of how much is desperately needed.
        Help us, living God,
        to maintain this tension,
        this heart-rending,
        heart-healing tension.
        And in all this grant us grace:
        that elusive tenderness
        that blesses all it touches,
        that lightens every load,
        that sings in every song
        and dances in every step;
        that grace which is the flame of love,
        leaping up in our hearts,
        and setting our lives afire.
        Amen
        –Barrie Shepherd – from: Alive Now, May/June 1974)

        Thank You, Thank You, Generous God!
        Thank You, thank You, thank You, generous God!
        You have injected life with joy, thus we know laughter.
        You have dabbed creation with color, thus we enjoy beauty.
        You have whistled a divine tune into the rhythm of life, thus we hear music.
        You have filled our minds with questions, thus we appreciate mystery.
        You have entered our hearts with compassion, thus we experience faith.
        Thank You, God, Thank You. Thank You!
        – C. Welton Gaddy

        An Iroquois Prayer
        We return thanks to our mother, the earth, with sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and squash, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit. We return thanks to the wind, which, moving the air, has banished diseases. We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to our grandfather He-no, .., who has given to us his rain. We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye. Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.

        A Message from Rev. Susan – November 21, 2014

        I hope to see you on Sunday when it is our tradition to begin the week of Thanksgiving with a very special worship service that celebrates so many things that we are all thankful for.

        Here are some of the highlights of the service:

        1. Bobby has a service of music planned that will feature renowned New England composer Amy Beach. He has researched her choral music and brings us the fruits of some of her most beautiful work.
        2. The Chancel Choir will sing ” I Will Give Thanks” with Teresa Winner-Blume singing the soprano solo. This will be a wonderful musical moment in our worship.
        3. Shepherd Staff Choir will sing “A Celtic Thanksgiving”
        4. Bruce Goody will play his flute for the Prelude and Postlude, which is always a treat.
        5. For Children’s Time the Bible Village Children will sing.
        6. The sermon series on Stewardship continues with a sermon about Generosity.

        Thought for the Week

        This fall I have had several opportunities to explore Cape Cod and one of my favorite spots is a trail that starts at the Cape Cod Natural History Museum in Brewster. (This small museum on 6A is really a find, in my opinion.) The trail leads out toward the water, taking you across a marsh and into some woods briefly. The spot I really like the best is tucked in a clearing to the right of the trail. It is marked as a Native American stone calendar. It looks like a much smaller version of Stonehenge, right there near the beach in Brewster.

        It is a place where I enjoy walking around to inspect the stones and look at the signs that explain how the sun shines in a particular way on June 21 and December 21. I walk around the small circle and wonder what it was like to live here long ago, when time was marked by planting cycles and the sun’s trajectory. I try to sink back into time and imagine what those Pilgrims must have looked like to people who had made their homes on these shores for longer than most of us realize.

        It is a hard perspective to hold on to. This week as we celebrate Thanksgiving, a commemoration of a Pilgrim feast with the Native people in the fall of 1621. School children are taught that the Native Americans had a role in the meal, but it is a slippery piece of our history and it slides away from the story. President George H.W. Bush signed a resolution designating Nov. 1990 Native American Heritage Month and every year since 1994 similar proclamations encourage us to consider everyone at the table. I was reminded of this when I read the blog of the Director of the Congregational Library, Margaret Bendroth.

        The Library has in its collections a number of copies of John Elliot’s 1685 translation of the Bible into Native American languages of Dakota, Ojibwa and Muskogee. If you want to enjoy some stories about this era that will ground the whole Thanksgiving experience, try Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick or, even better Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

        We started the fall with a series of sermons on Hospitality. This Thanksgiving holiday is a national celebration of hospitality. It started when Native people met Europeans and showed them how to plant and harvest and survive in this new place. It is a story of how our nation has always been enriched by the impulse to set an open table, greet the stranger with outstretched arms, and show gratitude for the rich diversity of life.

        Whatever your holiday tradition or habit, I hope that you come to your table with an open heart and sense of wonder.

        Many blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – November 14, 2014

        This weekend our church will be bustling with the Village Fair on Saturday November 15. From 9:30 – 3:00pm tomorrow you won’t want to miss the tables of crafts, home-baked goodies, used books, Timeless Treasures, Garden Fence, Elf Shop, the Silent Auction and a wonderful luncheon. I will be at the Bake Table. Rev. Heike will run the kitchen for lunch. Rev. Jamie will run the Elf Shop. This year we also have 23 tables of artists and craftspeople from the community with some lovely gifts for the holidays. This year we have so many tables that we will be fill Fellowship Hall, Linden Hall and the Chapel with crafts for sale. The Elf Shop will be in Stevenson Hall, and the luncheon in the Library. The Village Fair is the best Church Fair in the region, so don’t miss it. Volunteers have been working all week long; you won’t want to miss this Fair.

        Highlights of Sunday Worship

        • Choral Introit by the Once in a While Choir – A Thanksgiving Anthem. May the Light of Love Be With You Everyday.
        • Shepherd’s Staff sings the Anthem -”For the Autumn Sky”
        • The Chancel Choir will sing Ralph Vaughn Williams “Old Hundreth Psalm”
        • My Sermon – “Treasure in Heaven”. I will use some stories from Harvard Prof Michael Sandel’s book What Money Can’t Buy.
        • Following worship the Village Fair continues and the silent auction table is open until 12 noon. It is one of the nicest church community times all year.

        Join us on Sunday!

        Thought for the Week

        I have been reading Harvard Government Professor Michael Sandel’s book this week- What Money Can’t Buy. Now Sandel wrote the book to make some points about human behavior, but his views of the market and the way it can corrupt our best instincts and undermine moral development is a great reminder that the values of the Bible are much more relevant that we often imagine.

        Sandel tells the story of a experiment in modern-day Israel. Israel has one day every year when high school students go door-to-door solociting donations for worthy causes – cancer research, or disabled children. In one study economists divided these students into three groups. The first group got a pep talk about the importance of the cause. The second group got the talk and a monetary award in the amount of one percent collected. The final group got the talk and 10%. The rewards came from a separate source. You will be surprised to learn that the group without the award collected the most. Those who were collecting money for purely altruistic reasons made 55% more than the students paid 1%. Those who earned nothing also raised 9% more than students paid 10%.

        There were a couple of lessons. If you are going to pay people, pay them fairly. But Sandel also concludes that the students who did the good deed for purely altruistic reason gathered more because they had a different kind of motivation. Paying students to do what is right changes the character of the activity. Something meant to be public-spirited turned into a job.

        What I really like about this story was that it supports Jesus’ advice in the Sermon on the Mount – Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust can corrode. But consider the treasures of heaven. Prioritize them. Our church is the place where we remind one another of the real treasure of this life, and together we uphold values which may seem counter-cultural some days. But every once in a while, economists and social scientists prove Jesus really knew what he was talking about.

        When you consider the church and what you will be pledging this year consider the wisdom you can only find in the Bible, the people who give their heart and soul to this place, and the difference we can make, when we do things together, I hope you will be generous.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – November 7, 2014

        This week’s worship highlights:

        • Arrive early to hear the Prelude. The Friendly Chime Choir will play Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee.
        • Halleluiah choir will sing the Anthem
        • Chancel Choir will sing Goss’ O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem
        • Our sermon series on Stewardship will address Scarcity in an Age of Abundance. This series is turning into a critique of our culture. Last week we looked at Time and this week I will consider the cultural messages of consumerism.
        • At 11:30am don’t miss Sue Findlay’s class on Mindful Meditation. Sue is a practitioner and she shares her wisdom at 11:30.

        Thought for the Week

        A few months ago Rev. Jamie reported to me on something that happened in the Chapel. Every week in the Chapel she invites the children to bring their offerings and they have coins that they drop into the plate. But one week a child asked her what the money goes to, and how we use it. So Jamie explained that the money we gather for the church goes to pay for everything we do. The gifts and pledges pay for everything.

        • It pays all the salaries.
        • It pays all program costs.
        • It pays for all out outreach in the community.
        • It pays for heat and painting and plowing, and landscaping.

        When the children heard this message it was like a light bulb went off in their heads. They realized how important the offering was. Some of the teachers and parents who were at the side of the room, opened their wallets and put in more money that day, too. Suddenly, the offering was not a symbol or a formality, but something that was very meaningful.

        When I was talking to someone who ran a large business about our church he asked me how much our budget was, and he was surprised at how low it was. He could not imagine that we could do all that we do with so little. When you stop to think about what our pledges do, it is an amazing effort. The church is pretty frugal, but the message here is that we really rely on your pledge. Next week, our Finance Team will sit down to make a draft budget. If we do not know what we have by Monday night it will be really hard to create the budget we really need and to fund the programs that you depend on from the Church.

        You should have received a letter in the mail asking for a pledge. There was an e-mail that went out this week. But now we really need to hear from you so we can support the people, projects and programs that make all of our hearts sing, and that change the world. We cannot continue to do God’s work in the world and in Needham without everyone’s support. Please let us know what you will be pledging this year. If possible, let us know by Monday evening.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – October 31, 2014

        This weekend we will start a new theme and celebrate the Sacrament of Communion. We have lots of other things to celebrate too.

        • Our youngest Youth Choir Joyful Noise will sing in worship, accompanied by David Darmofal
        • The Chancel Choir will sing The Lord is My Shepherd by Goodall.
        • Soprano soloist, Beth Sterling, will sing Vaughn Williams O Taste and See
        • Barbara Livingston will join me in the Chancel as our liturgist.

        Thought for the Week

        This week I read in an interesting piece in a magazine called Christian Century. (It is for ministers what the New Yorker is for people living in the Big Apple.) They reported on an experiment at the LaSalle St. Church in Chicago. Everyone in the congregation was given a check for $500 and told to do some good with it. The congregation had received an unexpected windfall of $1.6 million. The pastor and the deacons had decided to take one tenth of the windfall amount and divide the proceeds among their members and regular attenders. They called the distribution “loaves and fishes” checks. Referring to the story where Jesus multiplies a small gift of food to feed 5000 people, they hoped to inspire the congregation to consider their checks carefully and use them in ways that would multiply the gift for the sake of God’s kingdom.

        A group of doctors in the church has come together to discuss whether to pool their money and send it to an Ebola clinic in Sierra Leone. One woman who is engaged to be married has been tempted to use her money to pay off her bills. It is a strong temptation, but instead she decided she is looking at ways to use her $500 to support programs for homeless gay and lesbian youth.

        I liked this story which the Century had taken from the Chicago Tribune (Sept. 24). I liked it because the experiment with the $500 checks is a great reminder that we have all been given a windfall. We work hard for our money, and we make sacrifices too. But a great deal of what we have been given comes from luck, the good fortune of our class, or educational opportunities, or our inheritance. So in many ways all our disposable income is a little like a windfall. We have been given the opportunity every year at the season of harvest to decide how to invest it in God’s kingdom. Our church is in the business of making miracles happen.

        Here is an example of miracles you support when you give to our church.

        Needham Steps Up
        12 years ago we provided the seed money for this program and have supported it for over a decade through our outreach money, which you provide when you give a pledge of gift to the church.

        This program run in the Needham High School supplies computer skills, tutoring, SAT prep, and college counseling to students in our town whose parents have never been to college, and who might not get there without help. These students living in our town, many in subsidized housing, need a little extra help to find their way through the college application process. That help has proven to make a huge difference in their prospects. The program started twelve years ago with a grant from this church, and a committee of volunteers made up of church members. One of its graduates, Amy Driscoll ,graduated from Needham High School in 2004. She was a hard worker but did not know how she would get into college. She got some tutoring from Needham Steps Up, rides to the SAT prep course, and help applying for college. That was what she needed and the help came when she needed it. Amy went on to graduate summa cum laude from college. She went on to graduate from law school. In November Amy appears in the new issue of Boston Magazine as one of a select group of promising young attorneys in Boston. Your gift to the church supports this kind of outreach, seed money for programs like Needham Steps Up.

        The great thing about our church is that we are all engaged in the loaves and fishes question. All year long we ask how can we use our gifts to foster miracles of generosity and grace. But in this season of the year you can help make more miracles like’s Amy’s happen with your gift or pledge to the church.

        In this stewardship season I pray that you will find yourself inspired to use your gifts to invest in a church that so often supports programs where God’s kingdom is made visible every day.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – October 24, 2014

        This week we will welcome four new families into our church – 7 adults and eight children. You will have a chance to meet them and hear a little about them during announcements so don’t miss the beginning of the service.

        We can look forward to some great music again this week. The choir will sing Mendelsohn’s How Lovely Are the Messengers, and Bobby has invited Thomas Gotwals as our guest to play the trumpet. (No stranger to the church, Tom shares his gift of music every Easter.) This week Tom will join Bobby in playing portions of Handel’s Fireworks Music for the prelude and postlude.

        This week our guest preacher will be the Rev. Doctor Brita Gill Austern, the Austin Phillip Guiles Professor of Psychology and Pastoral Theology. A faculty leader and pioneer of the Border Crossing curriculum at Andover Newton, Dr. Gill Austern will preach about loving your enemy. Following the service, she will be leading a class and discussion of the concept of Border Crossing and how we love our enemies in a modern world. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear this wonderful speaker. As a scholar. her work has influenced many people, and expanded the world view of many seminary students. As a preacher, she has impressed me for many years.

        Thought for the Week
        Over ten years ago one of our members, Darlene Fisk, was working at the High School in the Metco Office. Her work gave her a view of some of the High School students who were struggling academically, not because they were not smart, but because they did not have a computer in their homes. The youth in the Metco program could get some computer training, but the youth who struggled the most with this problem, were some of their friends from Needham. The children who were falling through the cracks were residents of Needham who lived in subsidized housing, and did not have a computer when they tried to do their homework.

        Some of these same young men and women lived in Needham but did not know how to get into college. They took the SAT but rarely got a chance to prepare for it. They wanted to go on college tours but did not know where to start. No one in their families had been to college so it was a daunting prospect to figure out how to get there.

        Darlene came to talk to me about a problems she saw in Needham. Together we thought about what these kids needed. For starters they needed a computer lab at Cook’s Bridge so they could do their homework. But they also needed tutors who could help when their assignments baffled them, or were beyond what their parents’ could assist with. One of the mothers at Cook’s Bridge became an eloquent advocate for these youth. Several members of this church began to talk about how we could help – Cheryl Aglio-Girelli, Theresa and Bill Gerritt brainstormed around the Gerritt’s kitchen table. I worked with them to allocate some outreach money that had been set aside20 years ago for a local project that would do for local education something like what we have been trying to do in Santa Maria Tzeja.

        A program called Steps to Success was born. In the last twelve years dozens of youth, mostly young adults of color, have been the first in their families to graduate from high school and to attend college. We found tutors and volunteers in the community and from our church. The best projects create energy; they do not drain it from an organization. Steps to Success has changed the lives of many young adults because of our church’s seed money, and a dream we shared of helping the least advantaged students in our town.

        The program now is called Needham Steps Up, and they are giving our church an award at their Annual Dinner on Wednesday evening at the Gold Club. The featured speaker will be a young woman who grew up in Needham and went to college and then law school. She believes that her life has been changed by Needham Steps Up. You should be very proud of her and of our church’s role in giving her a chance.

        I will attend the dinner to receive the church’s award with our current chair of Outreach- Kristin Mollerus. I will say a few words that night. It may be hard not to get a little choked up because I will very proud to think about our church’s role in making so much of this happen originally. Moments like this make me so very proud to serve here as your senior minister. This story is a great example of how clear we have always been about our church’s determination to put our faith into action.

        In the last week you received your stewardship letter. When you think about what your gift will be for 2015 remember stories like this one, and young men and women here and abroad whose lives have been completely changed because of the vision of our church to make a difference in the world. It is easy to forget the scope and range of all this church does, or the impact of our outreach commitment. But there are dozens of stories like this one about people whose lives are transformed by our church. Please pray about your pledge and how you can be part of spreading the seeds of new possibilities going forward.

        Gratefully yours,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – October 17, 2014

        This Sunday our service is full.

        • Bobby will play a Handel Aria for the Prelude.
        • Our Bible Village children will be singing the song they have learned about Father Abraham.
        • We will have the Sacrament of Baptism this Sunday for my grandson, Jed.
        • Peggy O’Connor will join me as the liturgist.
        • Dave Darmofal will accompany the choir in an anthem about God’s call, Beck’s “Lord, Here Am I”.
        • Soomi Lee Lowry will play the postlude.
        • Continuing our theme of Vocation, this week we will look at Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.

        We hope you will join us.

        Thought for the Week
        Several years ago the Nova blog at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/star-in-you.html began with a quote from Carl Sagan – ” Our planet, our society, and we ourselves are built of star stuff.” They went on to reveal that the calcium in our bones and the iron in our blood was created in a star billions of years ago. The only things in us that did not originate in a star are the hydrogen and the lightest elements that were formed earlier (13.7 billion years ago) just after the Big Bang. Astrophysicists tell us that all the elements on earth that are the building blocks for life as we know it, originated at the Big Bang. Most of this article was beyond me but I bet some of you would enjoy it, or perhaps you could write it yourself.

        At the very end of the blog the author took a spiritual turn and said “Just how those atoms and molecules that ended up on our planet went from non-living to living remains one of the great unanswered questions in science.” This is why I continue to hold such a deep respect for the early Hebrews. They wrote marvelous stories to explain what baffles the brightest minds still. One of the strongest early images of the Bible depicts God as a potter. The Hebrews believed that God took the dust of the ground and worked moisture into it until God has this lump of clay. Then God bent down by the river and molded the clay until it took the human form. When God was satisfied God bent over the mouth of the creation and breathed into it, bringing it to life. I have been at several births and this Bible story is as good an explanation as any I know.

        This month we are talking about Vocation and how God calls us again and again throughout our lives. God lays claim on us, because God created us in love, and labored over us, each one of us. But I like the way that the Biblical stories and the astrophysical ones both remind us that we are of inestimable worth. Every person’s birth is a tremendous miracle. Each of our lives fairly ripples with potential. Did you see the newspaper pictures of Bill and Hillary Clinton with their granddaughter Charlotte? This little creature melted them both, no small feat. There is so much we don’t know about life, but we do know this. Whether we come from stardust or God’s breath, or some combination of both, the universe has invested in us. It is a stunning affirmation, and a certain responsibility to walk humbly but intentionally on this earth. It is a reminder life has purpose.

        Come join us on Sunday as we talk more about life’s purpose and God’s call to each of us.

        Peace and blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – October 10, 2014

        This Sunday we will continue our preaching theme – Vocation. I will be preaching about the apostle Paul and how he turned his life around. He heard God calling him in the middle of what he thought was a very successful career. But God really needed him to do something very different with his time and talents. God needed him to be the chief architect for the new church that was starting based on the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ. I hope to talk about Paul, and the way that God calls each of us over and over throughout the course of our lives.

        I am pleased to let you know that Barbara Livingston will be our Liturgist again this week. Her quiet confidence was a gift to us all last week and we look forward to having her here again. An ordained UCC minister with a doctorate in pastoral psychotherapy, Barb is a pastoral counselor and member of our church.

        Thought for the Week

        The President of Princeton Seminary wrote about a young woman who came to him for advice. She was seeking job advice and was weighing two different job opportunities to serve as the pastor of a church in Chicago or in New York. After explaining her dilemma she asked her mentor- “Where am I supposed to be? What does God want me to do?” The older man never answered the young woman’s question.

        He wrote that he was wondering if she really believed that God had a map for her life. Was God really thinking to Himself, “I hope she does not go to Chicago because I cannot help her there.”

        I was glad to read this article, because I think many of us fall into the trap of the young lady in this story. We imagine that God has a plan for us and all we have to do is figure it out. Then we can follow God’s plan and all will be well. But, of course, it does not work like that. Most of us don’t get clear signs at every turn about what we should do next. Sometimes we have an intuition that one option is best, but many times in life we weigh choices that appear to be equal. We may make lists of pros and cons, but then when we cannot reason our way to a clear choice, we tell ourselves that God has a plan, if only we can discern it.

        The truth is that we all have many callings in life. Sometimes we only see these calls in retrospect. Sometimes we feel lost and find someone who rescues us or comes for us. At other times, we start out on one path but find it did not work out, and we really need to try a different path. Often being frustrated can be a sign from God too. God gives us choices because there is no one way to find happiness or faith. God can work with us in Chicago or in New York. God can work with us in every job or calling to grow and find deep satisfaction.

        The novelist Frederick Beuchner says that you are called “to the place where your deep gladness meets the worlds deep need.” But finding your call does not begin with the world’s needs or even discovering God’s will. It starts with your deep gladness, what makes you happy. If you find that, then you will bring great happiness to whatever you choose to do with your God-given gifts.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – October 3, 2014

        This weekend should will be busy and historic too.

        Work Day
        On Saturday, a large group of church members have signed up to participate in All Church Workday from 9-2 on the outside of our new building at 1180 Great Plain Ave.

        This week, the landscaper has trimmed and removed the overgrown bushes and trees between our buildings. Tomorrow, Deacon Tom Mollerus will lead a crew in taking down the fence between the two buildings. Deacon Stephanie Oddleifson will be leading another group in grounds clean up, weeding and raking. Another group will be washing shutters, now visible after the bushes and trees have been trimmed.

        Church Gardener, Debbie Wentworth, has plans for planting the enclosed Memorial Garden and she will begin her work there. Breakfast will be served by Deacon Mary Lou Hughes, and luncheon will be served in the new dining room by Deacon Joanne Seiden. We hope so see you there. The weather service has promised the rain will hold off until the late afternoon.

        Worship
        Our new worship theme is Vocation. This week I will preach about the way that God calls us in our lives. Using the story of how Jesus called Peter, by getting into the boat in the middle of a workday and showing Peter how to be a better fisherman, I will talk about the way that God wants to join us every day in our work lives and wherever we find ourselves.

        This week my liturgist will be Rev. Dr. Barbara Livingston. Barb is an ordained UCC minister and a pastoral counselor at the Danielson Counseling Center at Boston University. She is a member of this church. With her wife, Amanda Wilson, Barb is the mother of two children- Eleanor and Max. It will be great to welcome Barb to lead worship.

        Also, Flutist and friend of music in Needham, Bruce Goody will be working with Bobby and the Choir to bring us some especially lovely music.

        This Sunday we celebrate World Communion Sunday so the Altar Guild has given special thought to the communion table and given it an international flavor.

        Thought for the Week
        This week we begin a new theme, and I will introduce Vocation. You may have heard a lot about vocation if you are a former Roman Catholic. Vocation Sunday for Catholics was the weekend when you hear that the church needs more “vocations”, priests and nuns to take holy orders. While I am always glad to hear that you or your children are considering ordained ministry, that won’t be our topic in October. Instead we will talk about the Bible’s understanding that God calls each of us to walk in faith. That is true whether you are a dentist or teacher, a financial planner or carpenter. Whatever your gifts we believe that they are God-given. As you use them every day, you have a choice about whether to use them in light of your faith or to use them in ways that have no connection to your faith.

        I read a story recently about a village in East Africa. The people in this place do not mark birthdays from the time when a person is born. They commemorate the date as the time when a mother and father decide to have a child. At that moment the mother will often go out on a walk in the woods and talk to God about this idea, and ask God for a tune. Every child has it own special tune. The mother and father sing it together all during the pregnancy. The villagers sing it during labor and delivery. People sing the tune at the child’s wedding and even around the person’s deathbed. When I read that I wondered if these Africans are on to something. Each of us is a song. God is singing a song to the world through our lives. Life offers us so many choices and some of those paths make you happier than others. But the important thing is to find the things that make your heart really sing, so you can attune your life to the song God has given to you.

        Howard Thurman – the early 20th century civil rights leader- said a lot of wise things, but one of his most often quoted remarks was this. ““Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – September 26, 2014

        This Sunday is our VISITOR SUNDAY. I hope you have been talking about our church to a neighbor or friend, so that you can bring a friend to Worship. Bible Village is hosting their annual Open House after Worship so families can see the children’s classrooms, and visitors can take a tour through the Christian Education spaces. Rev. Jamie and her CE Committee have prepared a movable feast, and you can make an ice cream sundae with the toppings you find when you visit all the different rooms.

        The choir has prepared some lovely anthems, and my sermon will finish our series on Hospitality. We have had a lot of fun talking about how to welcome friends and strangers into our homes and our hearts.

        Leader Night
        Don’t forget that Leader Night is Wednesday October 1. The Board will be reporting on the news of the Construction Team, and the plans for three stages of renovation – in both 1180 and 1154 Great Plain to take place over the next years and a half. The project Manager Jonathan Smith will be there to answer questions.

        This meeting is also an opportunity to hear from you. A key piece of the agenda will be the opportunity to have table conversations about your hopes and dreams for ways we can use the new space, as together we shape some new visions for our church’s future. The members of the Board will be on hand to hear your ideas and suggestions.

        • 6:30 p.m. Supper – served by Rev. Heike
        • 7:00 p.m. Meeting – Chaired by Moderator, David Dirks
        • 8:00 p.m. Table Discussions and reports
        • 8:30 p.m. Adjourn

        Please RSVP to the church office at office@needhamucc.org or 781-444-2510 to let them know you will be there.

        This is an important night for church leaders and for the whole membership to hear about the plans for construction, and the possibilities of some new tenants in our space.

        Thought for the Week
        There is a monastery in Oxford Michigan. You have to go up a gravel road to the top of a hill. This place was deemed sacred by the Native Americans in the region, and it retains a special quality about it. One old monk made it his habit to walk the grounds daily to take in the view and vista of this place. He often walked with another monk who had grown up a street-smart kid from Detroit. The two were taking their constitutional one day when they saw a group of boys 11-12 years old. These children were on a field trip from their school for troubled preteens. They were on a hay wagon pulled by horses with some older teens driving. The grounds were well-grooomed without feeling like an institution.

        The monks were deep in conversation and did not really pay much attention to the hay wagons until they had come up close. The street-savvy monk looked up and stood astonished. “Right there in the yard of the monastery, in front of us were the two wagon drivers passing a joint back and forth between each other, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, which it isn’t”.

        When the elderly monk spied the boy, he seemed oblivious. A man from Europe and a monk since his youth, he had never seen marijuana. He was not naïve; it was just not part of his experience. But living with joyful hospitality was thoroughly ingrained in him. The young monk was about to demand an explanation when the older one spoke up. “Young men” he exclaimed with wide-armed relish, “”we are do glad that you are with us today to enjoy the grass”.

        It was an enthusiastic welcome from a hospitable old soul. The teens assumed he was one very cool monk. The old monk simply never thought to be suspicious. He was delighted to see these children of God enjoying the expansive ground and this sweet grass. { This story comes from Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Lonnie Collins Pratt} Hospitality is not really about manners, or a mint on the pillow at night. It is the ability to reach out to another person and be open to them, even when you do not know what they are doing, or where they are coming from.

        What this elderly monk taught his brothers was that when you live with this kind of radical openness, even your gaffes are precious. This Sunday in our church is Visitor Sunday. I hope you have considered who you might invite to Worship on the 28th. We are hoping to welcome some new visitors as friends. What I have discovered in this series on hospitality is that when we reach out even a little beyond our comfort zone to share something we value with someone else, we are the ones who are blessed. Don’t be shy. Whether they respond to your invitation or not, whoever you invite will know you cared enough to share your faith community with them. That is a gift.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – September 19, 2014

        This Sunday we continue our theme of Hospitality. Rev. Heike has read a wonderful book about the history of hospitality. She is looking forward to sharing some of this with all of you. It will be on the “Theology of Hospitality”.

        Leader Night:
        Save the Date for this important Leader Night. (It won’t be only for leaders. Please join us whether or not you currently serve on a Committee or Leadership Team.) The Board will be reporting on the news of the Construction Team, and the plans for three stages of renovation – in both 1180 and 1154 Great Plain to take place over the next years and a half. The project Manager Jonathan Smith will be there to answer questions.

        This meeting is also an opportunity to hear from you. A key piece of the agenda will be the opportunity to have table conversations about your hopes and dreams for ways we can use the new space, as together we shape some new visions for our church’s future. The members of the Board will be on hand to hear your ideas and suggestions.

        • 6:30 p.m. Supper – served by Rev. Heike
        • 7:00 p.m. Meeting – Chaired by Moderator, David Dirks
        • 8:00 p.m. Table Discussions and reports
        • 8:30 p.m. Adjourn

        Please RSVP to the church office at office@needhamucc.org or 781-444-2510 to let them know you will be there.

        Upcoming Events

        Baptisms – October 19
        We will offer the Sacrament of Baptism in the sanctuary. If you are interested in having your child baptized please be in touch with one of the ministers.

        Membership – October 26
        We will receive new members into the church on October 26.
        If you are ready to become part of this faith community please let one of the ministers know, and we will let you know about the steps to Church Membership.

        Thought for the Week
        On Wednesday I went to a book luncheon at the Wellesley bookstore. A lovely invitation from Jen Cusack made me aware of the event. So we went together and had lunch with the author of the book Dinner with the Smileys. On September 7 you may remember that I preached about this spunky and spiritual mother of three boys from Bangor ME, Sarah Smiley. Her husband was deployed frequently overseas, and she was left to eat with her three boys for months. Those dinner without Dustin seemed the hardest part of the deployments. So, one year when the boys were 4, 9, and 11, she decided to invite people to dinner once a week while her husband was away. I told her story in my first sermon on hospitality, but meeting her with Jen was such a treat.

        The event planner at the bookstore had this lovely luncheon set out for us. She had brought her own dishes, cloth napkins and pretty table settings. The roll up sandwiches were catered locally and everything was delicious, right down to the homemade brownies. Sarah was approachable and candid. She signed our books and made it fun. But all the guests were not Wellesley and Needham women. One African American woman arrived late. She had noticed this event online and had not read the book, but was curious. She was blind and had found a ride to Wellesley. She never told us where she was from, but she peppered the author with questions, and ate two full plates of food. Sarah included us all without skipping a beat.

        Our conversation, in that Wellesley bookstore was all about how perfection is so over-rated. We confessed how often we have not invited people over to eat with us because we thought our house was not clean, or properly decorated, or our children were not ready for company. As we talked we acknowledged how silly those rules are. Sarah set the tone. She admitted she had served dinner to a US Senator and forgotten napkins, so she gave her a paper towel for her lap. None of the formality mattered. What mattered in her book and at the table in the bookstore was that we gathered because we were hungry- only part of that hunger was for food. More pressing was our hunger for companionship, for real conversation, for people who ask for second helpings, and dig right in to a conversation. We were fed on Wednesday. Some of the surprises were the most nourishing parts of the meal.

        I highly recommend Sarah’s book- Dinner with the Smileys. We are getting it for the Good Book – our Church Bookstore. I hope that we can think about Sarah some more, and all the ways her example might be inspiring in our families and at our tables. Jen asked her if her book had sparked a movement. She told us that it really hadn’t yet. Americans are still so busy, often too busy, for a meal where we invite people.

        But we all have so many opportunities… every day, quite literally, to do our meals differently. Who knows what could happen when a church in the Boston suburbs read this book and thinks hard about hospitality. Who knows?

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – September 12, 2014

        It was wonderful to see everyone for Welcome Back Sunday last week. This Sunday our theme of Hospitality continues with a sermon on The Discipline of Hospitality. Youth Choir practice begins this week – if you haven’t yet registered you can register on Sunday with Valerie or online here. After Worship join us for the Guatemala Report Back from their summer trip to Santa Maria Teja in Linden Hall at 11:30am or Coffee Hour.

        Last week in my sermon on Sunday I mentioned Sarah Smiley and her book about how she invited people to eat with her family while her husband, a naval officer, was deployed overseas. Her book is Dinner with the Smileys. Jen Cusack has discovered that Sarah Smiley will be doing a lunch and book signing at the Wellesley Bookstore on Wed. September 27th at noon. Jen and I will be going. We’d love to have you come too. Register on the Wellesley Bookstore website; the fee includes lunch and a copy of the book.

        Thought for the Week
        As fall begins we head back to school, to college, to work and to the regular routines of the season. We also head into our silos. Our age silos, that is. My mind was opened to this reality by an article by Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Globe Ideas section on August 31, 2014 entitled “What Age Segregation Does to America” Neyfakh talked about the way that for most of the year, children spend their days in schools divided by grade and age. Adults work in businesses with similar aged people. More and more retired people are seeking communities with people of a similar age. Then folks who need assistance are seeking assisted living communities.

        “It is possible, today, for a middle-aged office worker to go to sleep on a Friday having interacted all week with not one person more than a decade older or younger; the same could well be true for her daughter in college, or her parents living at Pleasant Oaks Village. According to one study, Americans over 60 said that only a quarter of the people they had discussed “important matters” with during a six-month period were younger than 36; if they didn’t count relatives, the number dropped to an astonishing 6 percent.” (Neyfakh)

        What seems “normal” for us today is actually a change when you look at some of the patterns over the span of human history. A certain amount of age segregation makes sense and adds efficiency to a society but long standing patterns of co-mingling are up for grabs today. In the 18th century, children farmed with their parents, teens apprenticed with a master craftsman, and grandparents lived next door or in the spare room.

        What strikes me as I think about this phenomenon is that churches are one of the few places where we go all week long and can see a community of diverse ages represented in the pews. It is one of the only places where we can talk easily with people of all ages. That makes all churches very special, indeed. Our church is particularly remarkable in that we have such a strong representation from all the age groups. Many other churches have one or the other. The older churches tend to have a vast majority of elderly parishioners. The newer churches have young people exclusively. For example, I saw no older people in Rick Warren’s church when I visited there.

        But we celebrate a rich diversity of ages every week in our pews, singing in the choir, participating in various ways in our life together. We treasure that. We work hard to make strong connections within our church. This month as we think about Hospitality – let’s celebrate the ways we are enriched by our own hospitality within the church community.

        Pledges
        Thank you for your gifts to the Capital Campaign! So many of you paid your capital campaign pledge early. This has been such a help as we begin the construction phase of our work and now have a bridge loan with the Needham Bank. Whenever you can help the church by paying your pledge on time or even ahead of time, we all benefit, and our project costs less money overall.

        Stewardship
        If you have not been able to keep paying your stewardship pledge because you have been away or distracted by the fall start-up this would be a great time to get caught up. Anything you can do would be appreciated.

        Thank you for taking this journey in faith, and for supporting this vision with your resources.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – September 5, 2014

        Welcome Back – Welcome back from your vacations.
        Welcome back from sending your house guests home.
        Welcome back form delivering youth to college.
        Welcome back from the beach, the mountains, the rivers and all the natural spots where you find renewal.

        September 7 is WELCOME BACK SUNDAY.

        The Choir will be leading our worship music. We will start Bible Village. We will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion. Soomi Lee Lowry will play the piano. This year for the first time we will do a Blessing of the Backpacks. All school age children are invited to bring their backpacks to the stage in Fellowship Hall. Jamie, Heike and I will do a blessing for children, and parents at 11:30 a.m. All are welcome.

        Our worship theme is Hospitality and I will preach about Abraham and Sarah who welcomed strangers to their tent. While they were serving their guests these strangers were the ones who bestowed on Abraham and Sarah God’s greatest gift.

        Thought for the Week
        This summer I attended a week-long conference at the Chautauqua Institute. I have gone out to the western corner of New York State near Lake Erie for the last six years now to spend a week listening to lectures by the leaders of government and business as they discuss the issues of our day. This year the topic for the week I attended was health care. The institute also has a symphony orchestra, art museum, great book store and a collection of the nation’s best preachers. I started to go there for the preaching, and the lectures. But I continue to go there for the people.

        The institute was created on the grounds of a Methodist Camp Meeting site where they trained Sunday School teachers. But over the last century it has evolved to a world class venue for purveyors of great ideas.

        I don’t go for the intellectual stimulation either. I go for the hospitality. So many of the large denominational houses, which look like old fashioned hotels, have these sprawling porches where people sit on rockers and talk. Within a few hours of arriving on the grounds we settle into this routine of walking to lectures or worship and then talking to old friends and perfect strangers about what we have heard.

        The experience of being in this tight knit community for a week somehow breathes new life into my soul. It makes me feel connected to a larger whole in the people around me and in the broad spectrum conversations about how to make the world a better place for everyone. The empty rockers on so many porches remind me that life is meant to be shared.

        This month our worship theme is hospitality. I think it is a great theme for September. We return to church after the summer and we want to carry some of the summer feel into this new fall season. We want to return to the spiritual home where we know who we are and whose we are. We come to share hospitality with each other and to deepen our understanding of the way God is always hoping we will sit a while and rock and settle into prayer.

        Hope you had some good time this summer to find a porch or two, and pause and refresh your spirit. I hope to see you on Sunday. Our church is in the middle of a great adventure in faith and we all need to nurture our faith in worship.
        Welcome Back!

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Heike – August 29, 2014

        Come and join us for our final summer worship in Fellowship Hall. Rev. Heike Werder will preach on the Book of Revelation and Dr. Robert DeRegis is back and will provide the music during worship. And do not forget to stop back at the church this Sunday from 2-4 pm for a Celebration for Doris Cook!

        Plans for our trip to Germany are on their way. If you or a member of your family (extended family too) might be interested in traveling with us, please let them know. Prices and dates will depend on the number of people going. Expected travel dates are: June 19—June 30, 2015. RSVP by September 15th to Rev. Heike or contact her for more information about the planned trip.

        Thought for the week:

        This Sunday, our sermon series on the “Great Stories of the Bible” is coming to an end. I have chosen to preach on the final book of the NT – Revelation.

        Honestly, I have maybe preached once or twice on this book in my almost 20 years in ministry. I have never warmed up to the book because of its strangeness. I am not into apocalyptic visions about the future, cosmic battles between good and evil, and angels blowing war trumpets. To me they seem too far away from the ministry and message of Christ, too far from the good news I want to share with you.

        Many people over time have bought into this doomsday thinking and theology of Revelation, and new predictions are being made on a regular basis. Remember December 21, 2012? That was one of those days the world was to come to an end according the Mayan calendar. Well, we are still here.

        15 % of people worldwide believe that the world will come to an end, eventually (according to a poll done by Reuters.com in 2012). Some of these people believe that it is going to happen in their lifetime. In the religious landscape of our country, it is amazing how many conservative Christian groups and churches have embraced an apocalyptic theology that feeds on fear, violence and destruction by interpreting Revelation in that way. The Christian Right in the political area has employed the doomsday rhetoric, among them trying to explain the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, and maybe most memorably after 9/11, feeding on a showdown between good and evil and exploiting the growing fears of the American people of terrorism at home and abroad.

        No other book of the Bible has been abused more for the purpose of creating fear in people than the Book of Revelation. The only way to rescue the message this last book of the Bible from such abuse is to take a closer look at who wrote it and what was the specific historic context it was written in. And most importantly, we need to read the book to the end because its message is not one of doom and gloom and the end of all things, but of hope for the future.

        Enough said! Join us for worship as we explore this most interesting and controversial book of our New Testament.

        Blessings,
        Heike.

        A Message from Rev. Heike – August 22, 2014

        Please join us for worship this Sunday in Fellowship Hall. The theme of Great Stories of the Bible continues with Rev. Heike Werder preaching a sermon on the Apostle Paul. Valerie Becker will lead us musically through the worship service.

        Thought for the week

        Our summer sermon series has been a wonderful exercise in digging deeper into the life stories of Biblical characters. This Sunday I am going to preach on the Apostle Paul. Like many people I am torn about Paul. On one hand he was the architect of Christianity and without his determination to bring the gospel to the people, Christianity might have petered out. On the other hand he seems to have said and written about things that throughout history supported slavery, anti-Semitism, and the submission and silencing of women in the church. So, what are we to make of him?

        In my search for the “real” Paul, I have come across some amazing new insights I will share with you on Sunday. I have found a whole new appreciation for his life and his ministry.

        In my research for the sermon, I came across this amusing story as a little introduction to the life and ministry of Paul.

        The story

        A church was in need of a pastor for some time but was having trouble getting one; but not because pastors weren’t applying, but because the congregation always seemed to find fault with the pastors. Most pastors were rejected when the people just read the résumé. Some didn’t have enough experience, some too much, some not enough education, some too much and so on.

        One day a board member, who was getting very tired of this, decided to do something. So the next Sunday, he got up in the pulpit and announced that he had another résumé to share with the congregation. Most of them sat back, folded their arms and began to listen; ready to see what faults they could find on the new applicant. The résumé went like this…

        “Dear church members; I am writing to apply for position as your pastor. My experience is more along the lines of evangelist but I believe I could fill your position adequately. I’ve never attended any bible school per say but I have a lot of field experience. I don’t have a degree on my wall, or a wall for that matter; I’ve traveled around most of my life, renting and doing odd jobs to support myself and preaching wherever I was invited; churches, streets, even jails. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thrown in jail several times and been involved in a few public squabbles. I’ve been accused of being anti-semantic, anti-authority and causing disturbances almost everywhere I go. But I did have a few conversions to Christianity during my ministry as well as a few healings. Thank you for considering my application.”

        Most of the people looked up at the deacon with smirks of condemnation while others chuckled out loud. One man stood up and still laughing asked the deacon, “Does this guy actually expect us to seriously consider him for our pastor? Just what’s this fellow’s name any way?”

        The deacon replied that the letter was signed –
        The Apostle Paul

        Join us for this Sunday for worship as we explore this amazing life of the architect of our Christian faith.

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Rev. Heike – August 15, 2014

        Please join us for worship this Sunday in Fellowship Hall. Rev. Heike Werder will continue the theme Great Stories of the Bible with a sermon on Daniel. Valerie Becker will lead us musically through the worship service.

        Thought for the week
        This week, we will continue our summer sermon series on “Great Stories of the Bible” with the story of Daniel. Daniel is listed as one of the prophets of the Hebrew Scripture. The overall theme of this story is Faithfulness. In my preparation for the sermon I came across this little story:

        Charles Spurgeon (famous British preacher of the 19th century) tells how a boy, reading aloud the account about Daniel in chapter 6, mistakenly rendered verse 3 as follows: “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent SPINE (should have been spirit) was in him.”

        Spurgeon commented that it undoubtedly was bad reading but good theology.

        Faithfulness is about trusting God in all circumstances. For that we not only need spirit but spine.

        As we together think about faithfulness here is another little account of what faithfulness is. Why not take a lesson from Canadian geese? Canadian geese, among other animals, mate for life. They are devoted parents, and their faithfulness is astonishing. Consider this story (found on Homileticsonline.org):

        A pair of geese chose a rather unfortunate nesting spot located close to a road. A few days after laying her eggs, the female wandered into the path of a car. Luckily for her, all she suffered was a broken leg. But while she was whisked off to a veterinary clinic and admitted into the vet’s recovery ward, her faithful mate was left alone to tend their nest.

        The male not only continued to do all the nest-sitting; he also established a unique “coffee break” ritual for himself. When he periodically left the nest to eat and drink, he returned by way of the road where his mate was injured. There he settled down and patiently waited for his wounded mate to reappear. When the call of the nest finally overwhelmed him, the male reluctantly made his way back to his solitary incubation duties.

        The story has a happy ending. Mama Goose recovered and was reunited with her family eventually.

        Come and join us for worship this Sunday!
        Blessings,
        Heike.

        A Message from Rev. Heike – August 8, 2014

        Please join us for worship this Sunday in Fellowship Hall. Sandra Summers, our seminarian, will be preaching, Rev. Heike Werder will offer the prayers for the day, and Valerie Becker will lead us musically through the worship service with the musical accompaniment of Emily Verschoor-Kirss.

        Thought for the week:
        Sandra will be preaching on the story of Jonah. It is by far the funniest story of the Bible that reflects our God’s sense of humor.
        But the story of Jonah offers an important life lesson. It is a two dimension story showcasing human flaws and God’s perfection. It’s a matter of perspective and however we want to view it bottom line is: God is inescapable.

        When God tells us to do something and we run away, it does not only delay the process, it creates a ripple effect that is sometimes stressful for other people indirectly involved. It is silly to think that we can just get a one way ticket to nowhere and God won’t find us.

        Right!

        Instead of dealing with it, we flee…and it is costly. The story invites us to think about a time (or times) when we have ignored God’s call in our lives. We might have known what that call was about but there were simply too many voices that began competing with the call. Or some of us convince ourselves that we don’t have the time to do what God is calling us to do. We have an important job or our schedule is too full. For others, we convince ourselves that we have too much on our plate with family and work. There is no way we can do what God wants us to do because we have too much to do ourselves!

        Slowly, these voices begin to get louder and louder, until eventually we convince ourselves that the perceived inconvenience of God’s call is a sign that we are not called to do it. We say things like “I’d follow you Lord, but I’m too busy right now. Come back to me when I have more time and energy” or “I’ll follow you Lord as soon as I have more money, or as soon as my kids grow up a little bit more.”

        But in the end, no matter how much we ignore, resist, or even bargain, God continues to call each and every one of us to transform our hearts and follow God completely. If we ignore God’s call in our lives, we not only miss out on the opportunity to let God work in us and through us, but we also open ourselves up to missing out on the joy that comes with walking closely with God! Bottom line is: we cannot escape God for God will never let us go!

        Have a blessed weekend! Join us for worship.
        Heike

        A Message from Rev. Jamie – August 1, 2014

        Sunday Worship
        This Sunday Sandra Summers, our seminary student, and I will give a dialogue sermon on Esther. Valerie Becker will lead the music and Soomi Lee Lowry will join on the piano.

        I hope you join us for worship.

        Thought for the Week
        As you may know, the Senior High Youth Group traveled to Wisconsin for their annual mission trip in June. The trip reminds me so much of the Bible story I will be preaching on this Sunday, the story of Esther. The point of the story of Esther is that she happened to be in the right place at the right time to save her people. My favorite quote from the story is:
        “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

        The way the Wisconsin mission trip turned out really made me think that we were there, at the right place, at the right time, to make a huge difference in the lives of the people we met. For example, one of the work teams was assigned to scrape and paint the entire exterior of a two-story home owned by a woman who was having financial troubles and needed to sell it. After we returned, we received this lovely note from the woman. It reads:

        Dear Awesome Painting crew,
        You are the brightest spot of my summer. You have lightened my life and I think of you often; every time I drive up to and away from my house, for certain. I want to thank you for your generosity. I don’t think you have any idea what you did means to me… or what it should mean to anyone in my situation- but it made such an impact on me. I hope one day that A) I can return the goodness to someone, and B) you understand the greatness of your act. I don’t know where I will end up, but I do know that you will always have a place with me! I hope you all follow the great leaders you have who are examples of how people really should live in a perfect world- a world where we all help each other. You are off to an amazing start, dedicating the time you do to helping strangers, and strangers are really really forever and ever grateful!
        Love, Carol

        Carol was not the only person affected by our week in Madison. Everyone involved felt that our week there was really “meant to be”. It all just worked out so perfectly. We knew what our purpose was for that week, and boy did we live it! It’s amazing what can happen when you feel you are called to be exactly where you are and exactly who you are at any given moment in life. What is your purpose? I pray that we can all hear what God is calling us to do, and respond by doing it!

        Many blessings,
        Rev. Jamie

        A Message from Rev. Susan – July 25, 2014

        Sunday Worship
        This Sunday for worship we have David Darmofal leading the music; he has some nice piano music chosen. Our seminary student, Sandra Summers, will be leading the liturgy. This week I will be preaching a sermon on the prophet Jeremiah. When you think of Jeremiah, most of us think of the pop rock song- Jeremiah was a bullfrog. This Jeremiah from the Bible, who lived 600 years before Jesus was something of a bullfrog himself. He was stubborn and provocative and usually right. In the sermon I will be talking about how much we need our prophets in every generation – especially the irritating ones.

        I hope you join us for worship.

        Thought for the Week
        Last week in worship I announced that many ministers and religious leaders from around the country were starting a national conversation about the children who have been coming over the borders in Texas from Central America. The website I recommended was www.theyarechildren.com. Last weekend, I went on the site to read the postings of many hundreds of letters written by ordinary citizens who want to express their thoughts and ideas in the form of letters written in English and Spanish to these children.

        What I have learned is that these children are coming from countries where the drug violence and gang warfare is so unpredictable that they have all witnessed unspeakable violence. Their parents are sending them north in record numbers not because they have no regard for their safety, but because they actually have come to believe that their young children will be much safer taking a journey to the United States than staying in their neighborhoods where children are not safe.

        Since I recommended this website I have learned that our UCC leaders have joined other people of faith in writing some letters to highlight this issue and express the views of faith in this moment, as they see it.

        Here is an excerpt from the letter on our Massachusetts Conference Website. I recommend this and encourage us all to pray and talk about what we need to do.

        It is fast becoming apparent, however, that the collective will to care for these children is far below whatever expectations they might have had. For them, the story that fostered such hope is met with profound disappointment as once in the US they are being detained, disgraced, and deported – treated more like criminals, terrorists, and threats than children, refugees, and victims of unspeakable horror.

        As leaders in this denomination, we stand in solidarity with the children who seek refuge here. Our churches are fast becoming part of a network built to respond to these overwhelming needs. We cannot meet these needs alone. We are seeking to forge partnerships with those who are just as moved by the courage and suffering of these children, and who wish to extend to them love, comfort, and justice.

        Deeply aware not just of our own immigrant stories and roots, but also of the clear biblical imperative to care for the stranger in our midst, we invite all settings and all leaders of the United Church of Christ to respond in any of the following ways:

        • Pray for the children who seek refuge across our southern border, and see in them the face of Christ;
        • Support with your donations organizations that house, clothe, feed, educate, and provide medical care to the refugee children;
        • Write to your elected Representatives and share with them your concern for these children, asking them not to see them as a threat to us or as criminals;
        • Stay alert to emerging opportunities to respond to the needs of the refugee children. One good source can be found here on the UCC website.
        • Prayerfully consider sermons, newsletter articles, adult and youth classes that articulate a narrative of care for the stranger and alien among us.

        The United Church of Christ has a long and proud history of demonstrating courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Now, as ever, our resolve is being tested. It is with a good deal of hope and courage that we face this injustice. Let the actions forged by our compassion silence the voices of hatred and fear that ring right now in the ears of these precious children of God. Let them know we are Christians by our love.

        We are one with you in Christ.

        Here is the link http://www.macucc.org/newsdetail/172873

        I hope together we can work for a world where all children are safe. Perhaps the churches can lend some wisdom in leading people to consider what that kind of world would look like.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Rev. Susan – July 18, 2014

        This is a very special Sunday.

        Worship at 10 a.m.
        Jamie and I will be leading worship together in Fellowship Hall. Our Bible story will be the story of King David, the greatest king in the history of Israel. It is a story about how God used David to dream big dreams for this small nation. I hope to preach about how God has dreams for all of us if we can only listen to them.

        Building Blessing at 11:15 a.m.
        We will be doing a Building Blessing for our newly acquired building at 1180 Great Plain Avenue. The building Blessing will begin with a procession at 11:15 after worship in Fellowship Hall. We will carry the following symbols to prepare for the dedication

        • a cross,
        • a Bible,
        • some crayons for creativity and play,
        • a chalice for sacramental gatherings,
        • a loaf of bread for meals we anticipate,
        • a copy of Focus and a phone for communication and administration.

        I hope you will join us for this festive and sacred gathering.

        Then the Deacons will lead us in springing waters of baptism into the rooms of the building.

        At the end of the ceremony I have asked a food truck to be there so we can all share some lunch together.

        Thought for the Week
        This summer as I study the Old Testament to prepare for my sermons, I see so many connections between this religious history and current events today. Over six thousand years ago Israel was the land to which Abraham came from Mesopotamia in response to a call by God. During a famine, their search for food took them to Egypt where they remained for several centuries. When the Hebrews emerged from slavery in Egypt they returned to the region we call Israel because it had become the symbol of God’s Promised Land.

        But they took this land by force – not a pretty story. The Bible tells of their merciless advance on the territory. Over several centuries they cobbled together a nation. For forty years under the rule of King David, whose story is the topic of this week’s sermon, they held the land secure. But those four decades gained mythic significance.

        For the rest of their history the Israelis were fighting off stronger neighbors or invading empires from the north. Much of the time the Jews were struggling to control some portion of their land, but often they were the subjects of foreign empires, as they were when Jesus lived and Rome controlled the territory. After the Roman Empire fell many Jews immigrated into Europe throughout the Middle Ages, their dream of a Jewish state forgotten. Then in the 1800′s the dream was re-awakened as Zionist emerged in Russia following cruel Czarist persecution (think fiddler on the Roof). The Zionists pushed for a return to Israel, much to the chagrin of the Ottomans who had ruled the region for 400 years.

        But the persecution brought waves of immigrants starting in the 1880′s. By World War I the population of Jews in Israel had doubled to over 60,000. In those days there was some hope for Arab and Israel co-existence. Then after the German holocaust world-wide horror fueled by a century of Zionist fervor focused plans on Israel.

        This sobering history helps us to look with compassion on the people of the Middle East, but it has been a very hard week. This history helps us to understand what fuels Israel’s determination to maintain its borders. But the Bible contains many perspectives; in some places it condones violence against the neighbors of Israel, and in others it counsels kindness. When Israel is cruel or abusive God can also be swift to send a prophet who explains how wrong their acts have been.

        This week I cannot help but wonder where the prophets are today. I know that Israel has a zero tolerance approach to violence from Gaza, and I know that Hamas has not stopped firing rockets. But Hamas is so much weaker, and Israel’s response has been like a furious torrent that has taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinians in the last two weeks. The details of these attacks are sobering and I wonder why the very rocks do not rise up in protest. According to last Sunday’s New York Times the Israelis targeted a mosque and a number of civilian homes. For the few Hamas leaders they killed they also killed dozens of children, people at prayer, and elderly relatives. They targeted a home for severely disabled adults leaving many in burn hospitals. The dead were born unable to speak or escape. One neighbor who lives near the home for the disabled questioned “What would the handicapped have been resisting. The Israelis are bankrupt of targets and of pity.” This week the Israelis killed three children playing soccer on the beach and three other youngsters (8-10 years) in one family who were feeding some pigeons.

        When I travelled to Israel in 2007 and 2010 it did not appear that the Palestinians posed a real threat; they have been crowded into ghettos and systemically blocked from making a living, getting an education for their children, or leading normal lives. The discrepancy between the strength of Israel and that of the Palestinians is stark. The news may portray this as an even fight, but that was not my observation.

        I respect Israel for the faith its people a faith rich in wisdom that undergirds our own. It is a faith that has been tested in the crucible of time, but this week I wonder if the people of Israel have not lost their way.

        Pray for peace,
        Susan Cartmell

        A Message from Rev. Jamie – July 11, 2014

        Join us for worship in Sunday. Valerie Becker will be leading the music. Come at 9 a.m. if you would like to be part of a pick-up choir.

        New Worship Space
        This Sunday we continue to have our worship in the new worship space in Fellowship Hall. I hope that you will join us this week as we worship God together.

        Thought for the Week:
        A lot has happened in my life the past two weeks. I led a successful mission trip to Wisconsin (21 youth, 8 adults, 1 week, 5 projects, lots of memories!). During the mission trip, I learned I was accepted to the Doctorate of Ministry program at Andover Newton Theological School (I will begin the 3-year program in the fall!). I got home at 2am Monday morning, and just 7 hours later, my husband and I became homeowners and we moved in the next day (you are all invited to our housewarming party on July 26 at 40 New Way Lane in Gloucester!).

        As I sit in my new home office, staring out the window at the clear blue sky, the sun shining through the lush green trees, the birds chirping away, the cool breeze on my skin, I feel immersed in all the joy, love, and happiness in my life right now. And it is precisely that joy, love, and happiness that I hold onto to help me get through the bad days. We all have bad days. You know those days that start off bad and then nothing seems to go right all day? Happens to me all the time. There’s even a great children’s book about those kinds of bad days, called “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” by Judith Viorst It starts with Alexander speaking:

        “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

        “At breakfast Anthony found a Corvette Sting Ray car kit in his breakfast cereal box and Nick found a Junior Undercover Agent code ring in his breakfast cereal box but in my breakfast cereal box all I found was breakfast cereal.”

        “I think I’ll move to Australia.”

        Next, it’s time for Alexander to go to school, and things don’t go any better. He’s forced to sit in the middle seat in the back in the car pool, and even when he complains about being scrunched and feeling carsick, no one answers him.

        Once he gets to school, Alexander’s day still doesn’t improve. His teacher doesn’t like his picture of the invisible castle. He sings too loud. He misses the number sixteen when counting. Alexander could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

        After school, Alexander and his brothers have an appointment at the dentist. Guess who is the only one with a cavity? That’s right…Alexander. Dr. Fields tells them to come back next week, and he will fix it. Alexander says, “Next week, I’m going to Australia.”

        Well, poor Alexander’s day goes from bad to worse. He gets into a fight with his brothers and even though they start it, Alexander is the one to get in trouble. They pick up his dad at his office, where Alexander knocks a big pile of books off the desk.

        Back at home, there are lima beans for dinner and Alexander hates lima beans. There is kissing on TV and he hates kissing. His bath is too hot, he gets soap in his eyes, his marble goes down the drain, and he has to wear the pajamas he hates.

        The book ends like this…

        “When I went to bed Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night light burned out and I bit my tongue.”

        “The cat wants to sleep with Anthony, not with me.”

        “It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

        “My mom says some days are like that.”

        “Even in Australia.”

        All of us have experienced terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, just like Alexander. Sometimes we have a string of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days when it just seems that nothing goes right. And sometimes our worries are bigger than biting our tongue or having to eat lima beans. Sometimes it feels, as I think it did to Alexander, like no one is listening to our complaints. But the Book of Job (the topic of this Sunday’s sermon) shows us that God does listen to our complaints. We can yell and scream all we want during those bad days, and not only does God listen and care about how we are feeling, God still loves us in the midst of our complaining and lamenting. You can always bring your troubles to God, and know that God loves you and hears you, no matter where you are. Even in Australia.

        Dear God, We thank you for always being with us, always caring about us and listening to us. Help us to see that we are not alone. On good days and on bad, you are our God. We are your children. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

        Many blessings,
        Rev. Jamie

        A Message from Rev. Susan – July 3, 2014

        Join us for worship in Sunday. Valerie Becker will be leading the music.

        Come early at 9 a.m. if you would like to be part of a pick-up choir. Valerie will be teaching you an anthem that you can sing in the 10 o’clock service.

        New Worship Space

        This Sunday we continue to have our worship in the new worship space in Fellowship Hall. Last weekend we had our first service in that space which had been our sanctuary for decades before the congregation build our current sanctuary. The vaulted ceilings, stately pillars and arches serves to remind us of our history as a people of faith. The room lent itself to summer worship with our central table for candle-lighting, and our grand piano for music. I hope that you will join us this week as we worship God together.

        Sermon
        I will continue our series on Bible stories with a sermon about Ruth. The original boundary crosser, Ruth has a surprisingly modern message for some of the issues we face today. Though her story was meant to address those in Israel who disliked their neighbors, Ruth’s story is equally relevant in a world where border crossing has political, social and religious implications.

        Thought for the Week

        In last Sunday’s Boston Globe there was an interview with Barbara Henry. Mrs. Henry is 82 and lives in West Roxbury. In November 1960, Mrs. Henry was a first grade teacher in a school in New Orleans. She had one student in her class, a little girl named Ruby Bridges. You may remember that Ruby became the 6-year old symbol of our nation’s struggle to integrate our public schools. Over the furious objections of many whites this small girl in her party dress, white socks and patent leather shoes carried her book bag as she walked between federal marshals into the Franz Elementary School each day.

        Bridges later wrote “Even though this mob of white people was out there every day threatening to kill me, every day there was also a white woman there to greet me. Her name was Barbara Henry. She was my teacher.”

        As you might imagine a strong bond grew between the young elementary school teacher and the brave little child who became the face of courage in the struggle for school integration. Mrs. Henry writes, “My first moments with Ruby are as clear today as they were then…when kids are shy they raise their heads a little bit.” She raised her head “enough for me to see her beautiful brown eyes and magnetic smile. I just fell in love with Ruby. We walked upstairs to begin our long, solitary, and wonderful journey. Our only classmates were the federal marshals at the door. I was the gym teacher and the music teacher. We’d do jumping jacks and sing ‘Davy Crocket’. I was just certain I would give Ruby everything I could to become a skilled reader. We created our own oasis of love and learning. We each had hearts free of prejudice. That was the bond that united us and has become indomitable all these many years later.”

        The two re-connected when Ruby called her teacher decades later. They have since been speakers together at teachers conventions from coast to coast. They joined each other on Oprah to tell their story.

        When we pause as a nation to celebrate our nation’s birthday this week, there will be fire works and parades. There will be rhetoric and singing. I hope that we remember that the strength of whatever path to greatness we have paved has been laid with the lives of individuals like Ruby Bridges Hall and Barbara Henry who saw this country as it was and imagined what it might become. Then they bravely forged unlikely friendships. This land is full of thousands and thousands of inconspicuous heroes whose acts of courage demonstrate how much they believe in the principles we cherish as a nation. As you pause to celebrate, thank God for these unheralded men and women who inspire the best in all of us.

        Peace and blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – June 27, 2014

        This Sunday we will move to our summer worship location in Fellowship Hall. This is a change of locations this summer and we need to allow time for the renovation of the Chapel during the summer months. We have chosen the hall because it served as our sanctuary for many decades, and it still has a spirit of worship about it. We have installed 2 air conditioning units and set up enough chairs to accommodate the crowds we have been having in the Chapel. There is a lovely table in the center of the room so you can light the Candles of Concerns and Celebrations. Heike and I will lead the service on Sunday and Bobby will be playing the piano. Soomi Lee Lowry will play two Beethoven Sonatas. The summer series will continue with another sermon on a favorite Bible story. This week Heike will preach on Samson. The ministers have been working all week to transform the space into a good space for summer worship.

        We hope you will join us.

        As you prepare for the Fourth of July I hope you spend some time considering which blessings you have in your life that bring you the most joy, and which freedoms you enjoy that no one can take away. While I believe in the separation of church and state I also recognize on these holidays that our faith informs our sense of well-being and peace.

        Have a faith-filled and blessed week,
        Susan

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – June 20, 2014

        This Sunday in our service we will commission the youth who are part of the Senior High Mission Trip. It is a big trip and we have 8 chaperones going along on this trip to Madison Wisconsin. It is Rev. Jamie’s home church in Madison that will host the trip and facilitate some of the work. They go as our ambassadors. We will send them on Sunday with our prayers and best wishes.

        Our sermon series continues with a sermon on Joseph. There is more to this man than a flashy coat. Joseph grew up to be one of the most powerful men of his time, earning the respect of the Pharaoh in Egypt and administering a food relief program that may have saved much of the Middle East. His journey from conceited kid to wise leader is the subject of Sunday’s sermon.

        Thought for the Week

        When we started this series of sermons on classic Bible stories I knew I wanted to look back at the roots of faith because I thought it would offer us all a good reminder of how our Judeo Christian faith began. I thought it would remind us how our traditions began. These fundamental stories would re-connect us to the foundations of our faith.

        But in looking back in Genesis and finding the connections between the stories of the originators of our faith something else has come to my attention. I have recognized that as people of God we are part of a living organism. The very community is inter-connected. You and I are part of what went before. Our lives build on this tradition whether we see it consciously or draw from some mysterious unconscious well we only see with murky understanding from time to time.

        The gift of our history is that it gives us fresh perspective on ourselves. That is the true gift. We see today through wiser eyes when we make ourselves aware of yesterday.

        Enjoy this spectacular weather. The winter was harsh enough to make us see the summer for the true gift it always is.

        Many blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – June 13, 2014

        This Sunday Bobby has planned some beautiful music.

        • The Friendly Chime ringers will play the prelude- familiar hymn “Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee”
        • This is the choirs last Sunday for the program year so their anthem will be especially beautiful.
        • Eric Slosser will play the cello and Dave Darmofal will accompany on piano.
        • During the Offertory, Soomi Lee Lowry will play Chopin’s Nocturne #20 in C sharp minor
        • Treat yourself; come to worship!

        Our sermon series on Bible stories will continue as I take up the story of Jacob. It is the story of a schemer and a dreamer, and how God chooses him and uses him to make God’s dreams for the world come true. It is a great story, and I hope to share some of it on Sunday.

        Adult Education - At 11:30am Heike will be showing a documentary film about ecologist and spiritual leader- Thomas Berry. This lovely film will be inspiring. She will serve lunch with the movie.

        Thought for the Week

        Cameron Trimble is a UCC Church consultant who leads national workshops on church growth. She describes 7 traits of growing churches: I am paraphrasing her blog but here they are.

        1. They have a sense of adventure. They see opportunities.
        2. They know who they are.
        3. They take risks. They try new things.
        4. They focus on outcomes. They seek good data.
        5. They inspire the world with their vision.
        6. They are self-reliant.
        7. They create trust where teams cooperate.

        When I introduced Moderator, David Dirks, at a recent church meeting I congratulated him on his leadership over the last 3 months. He reminded me that it was a team. That is how change happens in a complex organization like ours. It takes a team. It takes many people putting an oar into the water and rowing in the same direction.

        Over the 30+ years of my career in the ministry I have heard about many churches and synagogues that have passed up the chance to buy the building next door. They regretted it for decades. They paid for their indecision in higher construction costs and lost options. So I was cautiously optimistic when I first learned about the opportunity to buy the DayStar property at 1180 Great Plain.

        But when we go to the closing, we will represent all of you – a huge team of people who have shared their concerns, best guesses, and sincere faith. Mostly we will represent a community of devoted men women and children who have been inspired by a vision we share, humbled by a gift that seems to have fallen in our laps, and invigorated by an open conversation about our church’s future initiated by our Church Board. June 26th will be a heady and humbling day.

        I have never been prouder to serve you,
        Susan

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – June 6, 2014

        We have a wonderful Sunday planned. The choir will be doing an anthem that Bobby tells me is one of the most lovely pieces they have ever performed. It is entitled, “Still, Still with Thee”- text by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1812-1896) music by Fred Gramann (b.1950). Maggie Furtak will sing the alto solo in this work and our friend of many years- Bruce Goody – will play the flute. I hope you take advantage of the chance to hear this piece and join us for worship.

        This week we will also begin our new summer theme- Great Bible Stories. During June we will preach sermons about some of the greatest Bible heroes. This week I will preach about Abraham, the father of three great faiths- Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In researching this Biblical patriarch I discovered that he was a surprisingly modern man in many ways and his life has a lot to tell us about faith today.

        Bible Village Celebration
        After worship join us in Fellowship Hall when Rev. Jamie and the Christian Education Committee will host a year-end celebration of the Bible Village program. There will be songs, recognitions, and lunch provided for everyone. Please stay for this annual event. Support the children and enjoy all they have learned and accomplished this year in Sunday School.

        Thought for the Week
        In 2013 18,090 children were born whose parents named them Noah, making this name of an ancient mariner the most popular boy’s name nationwide last year. When I saw this fact in the Sunday Boston Globe last week I thought about how many people are choosing old Bible names for their children, and wondered what that means. Sometimes a name just seems cool. But I also wonder if parents are seeking timeless names, to confer some sense of tradition to their children.

        Noah is a perfect Bible name because he is one of the best-known faith heroes of all time. Everyone is captivated by the man who built the ark. Noah is a man for all people, too. Traditionalists see Noah as someone who listened to God when others were ignoring God. Rebels see Noah as a man who was independent, a rogue who built an ark when his neighbors scoffed. The Bible says that he was one of the few people of integrity in his day. When people name their children Noah they are choosing a namesake who was honest, trustworthy, and courageous. They also choose someone who had great faith in a time of uncertainty.

        I like the fact that these Bible names are popular again. I like that young couples, whether they know it consciously or not, are seeking connections to the ancient heroes of our faith. All summer our sermons will include stories about some of the great heroes of faith – Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Ruth and Job. We are choosing people whose stories are classic. This week we will do Abraham. Next week I will preach on Jacob, another very popular boy’s name these days.

        Hope to see you Sunday,
        Susan

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – May 30, 2014

        Youth Sunday – This weekend our Youth will lead worship on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. The youth Worship Service is always inspiring. The graduating seniors will share statements of hope and faith as they prepare for high school graduation. It is so inspiring to hear them tell about what the church has meant to them, and to catch a glimpse of what God is doing through them. The children’s choirs will sing and I hope you join us for an uplifting service.

        Congregational Meeting – Following worship our Moderator, David Dirks will lead a congregational meeting to hear, discuss, and respond to the Board’s report on the acquisition of the property next door to the church at 1180 Great Plain Avenue. Click here for a link to the letter he sent last week announcing the meeting.

        There will be an opportunity to tour the Daystar Building on Sunday morning from 9:00am – 9:30am. If you are interested, please park at the church and enter the Daystar Building at the entrance on 1180 Great Plain Avenue. We will need to exit the building at 9:30am so please plan accordingly.

        Update- Last week I attended the Holiletics Festival in Minneapolis Mn. It was a national preaching conference with 1800 pastors in attendance from mainline Protestant churches across the country. In addition to ten representatives that I spotted from the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC, I met some wonderful ministers who serve Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. It is widely regarded as the best preaching conference of its kind in the country and I was not disappointed, I took lots of notes and found several books for new membership as well as Bible study.

        One night in Minneapolis I was able to have dinner with Josh, Alecia, Noah and Flora Scharback who just moved to Minnetonka this winter. They seem to be thriving in their new house and they all send their best wishes to all of you.

        Thought for the Week

        Maya Angelou died this week, and so many people paused to thank God for her life, her voice, and her courage. She had this inspiring way of telling the truth, without flinching.

        Her biography is gritty and uplifting at once. A child raised by her grandmother, she was returned to her mother as a preteen, where she was raped. When she identified the man who raped her, one of Angelou’s uncles killed him and she spent 5 years as a mute, emotionally troubled by what her accusation had wrought.

        The interesting thing about her was that this horrific childhood did not break her. It seemed to empower her to find a voice within herself that could not be stifled, or self-censored ever again. With every passing year her insights were sharp in her poetry. Her courage was unwavering as she talked about racism, sexism and their inter-twined history.

        I have included some of the quotes I found online. I hope to re-read her autobiography this summer, and try in my own way to keep a bit of her light alive. If we all let her light shine a bit through us, perhaps she will live on, in new people and places. Her resonate deep voice was unique, but try to hear it as you read these words. Blessings,
        Susan

        “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
        - Excerpted from Letter to My Daughter, a book of essays (2009)

        “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
        Angelou’s Facebook page

        “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
        -Letter to My Daughter, a book of essays (2009)

        I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
        Interview with Oprah for Angelou’s 70th birthday (2000)

        “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
        Interview from the April 2011 edition of O, the Oprah Magazine (2011)

        “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

        “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
        Angelou’s Facebook (Jan. 11, 2013)

        “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

        A Message from The Congregational Church of Needham – May 23, 2014

        This weekend Rev. Jamie will continue our sermon series on Stewardship with a sermon on “Stewardship of Memories”.

        As a special treat our Anthem this Sunday will be the “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Faure. This beautiful piece was played during the Spring Choral concert so if you missed it here’s a second chance to experience this musical gem.

        Our newly Confirmed 9th graders are conducting a Food Pantry Drive. Please place donated food in the large box in the Narthex.

        On June 1st, Youth Sunday, there will be a meeting in the Sanctuary after Worship led by the Board and Moderator, David Dirks about the Capital Campaign and the Daystar Property. This is an important meeting and we hope everyone will attend.

        This weekend as we celebrate Memorial Day let us remember those who have dedicated and given their lives to protect our country.

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 16, 2014

        This weekend will be busy and uplifting at our church.

        Worship – we will celebrate Confirmation. A large class of ninth grade students who have journeyed together since January will be joining the church. The Deacons will be preparing a special breakfast for them before worship and Heike and I will join hands in saying words of blessing for each of them as their parents and Church mentors join us in prayer. It is a very moving service of worship. Heike will continue our series on stewardship when she talks about the way that we are stewards of our faith.

        Blessing of the Runners – All day on Sunday the town of Needham will be celebrating the Great Bear Run. Many of you will be running in this event. This year Jamie and I will be doing a special Blessing of the Runners in the Chapel at 9:30 a.m. before worship. Please come as you are. We will talk about the passage in Isaiah 40 where it says that those who put their trust in the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary. They will prevail and not grow faint. For our prayer we will ask God’s blessing on all the participants. Who know? I like to think that your time spent in the Chapel on Sunday will be the best way to prepare for the race, and you might run the best race ever. Jamie has some great water bottles to give out to all those who come for the blessing. You will be encouraged to stay for all or part of worship and leave whenever you need to.

        Thought for the Week

        This week at Andover Newton I was fortunate to hear Diana Butler Bass, widely recognized as one of the most prominent Sociologists of Religion today. Author of eight books that have described the modern religious landscape, Bass is best known for her work Christianity for the rest of US , A People’s History of Christianity, Christianity After Religion. In all of her books she has been clear about her impression that we are in a time of religious upheaval which may be part of a spiritual awakening, not unlike the changes that were seen in the late 1500′s when Protestants led by Martin Luther, re-defined churches and eventually broke away from the Roman Catholic Church.

        She mentioned yesterday that she sees signs that we have already entered this new era. Many churches are closing. Others have seen trends of steady decline which they cannot explain or explain away. She has also identified a new breed of church that is thriving in this era. But she says that these churches are as monolithic or conventional. The churches which are surviving today are open to change, welcoming people from every faith or none at all, and radically practical about what works and what does not work. She talks about churches having to “think in new ways” and even re-invent themselves. Churches that are open to this kind of self-examination and experimentation have proved to be enormously resilient communities of faith. It is the churches that are more brittle that seem to break in the winds of change we are currently experiencing. She said that churches that take some risks are more likely to survive than the ones that play it safe.

        In the end she did not offer any prescriptions for minister or church leaders. But she told us that the basic tenets of faith would be more sustaining than we realized. She advocated prayer and meditation. She encouraged people to practice hospitality, in all its many forms, as a spiritual discipline. She encouraged people to refrain from making quick decisions but take time to listen to God’s voice as individuals and as churches.

        She did not give us any answers in the morning, so part of me hoped that she would give us more of a solution in the afternoon lecture. But, in the end, I found her authentic questions and honest analysis re-assuring. As with so many of these lectures, I was aware of how unusual our church is. We have challenges, to be sure, but we are not struggling with the kinds of troubles that beset so many other churches. So I hope we can continue to listen to God’s voice and to be bold and discerning in our discipleship.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 9, 2014

        This week our church will celebrate Bible Sunday and give bibles to the Kindergarten and Fourth Grade. The children in Bible Village will sing their songs for this unit on the Loaves and Fish.

        Our worship theme is stewardship and the sermon will be about the Loaves and the Fish. I have often wondered what really happened when Jesus fed 4000 people with so little. Was it an act of pure magic? Was it a moment when people learned to share? Was something else going on that day which may tell us about our lives today?

        Thought for the week:
        This week I participated in a wonderful event at Andover Newton Seminary on Wednesday. It was the last Chapel Service of the year. It was also the last chapel service for the retiring president of the seminary, Rev. Nick Carter, who has served for 10 years.

        Before the service started Nick Carter said grace at the lunch on the quad and spontaneously some students started to sing his favorite hymn- Be thou My Vision. Then out of the crowd emerged some students who had practiced a solemn dance interpretation of the hymn as the whole group sang together. It was a seminary version of a flash mob, and quite beautiful as people sang and some danced and Nick was quite touched.

        Then we all went into the chapel and Nick preached at the service and spoke eloquently about how important it is for ministers to be humble. He talked about John the Baptist and how John always knew that his role was to point to someone greater than himself. His words were such a great send off to all the young pastors who will be graduating this year and taking on new assignments in the year ahead.

        As my time at the seminary draws to a close this week I find myself more and more eager to share some of the most meaningful memories and moments from my time on that hill. It has enriched my ministry, and so I think it has enriched, albeit indirectly, the life of our church. Lectures that improved my understanding of faith often filtered into my sermons. Ideas from other minister filtered into ideas for church administration and leadership. One of the greatest gifts of this last four years has been the knowledge that so many churches are on similar paths and we have so much to gain from sharing ideas and questions.

        My dissertation tells the story of our church and how we discovered themes for worship, and why they have become so powerful in our services, and in Bible Village. I have quoted several church leaders in the dissertation and I hope to be able to share more of this work with more of you in the months ahead. As I have shared some of these ideas with other minister I am finding interest in theme preaching and I will explore ways to share our experience more broadly.

        Andover Newton was founded one hundred fifty years ago and it has been a gathering place for clergy and lay leaders that has enriched our religious community in New England ever since. I hope and pray that the work I did there and the connections I made will continue to enrich my ministry and our common life together for years to come.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Heike – April 25, 2014

        This Sunday will be the last sermon in the series on Transformation. Before Worship the Men’s Breakfast group will meet for some food and fellowship at 8:45am. After Worship join the Outreach committee at the screening of “A Place at the Table”, sign-up for the May 3rd Day of Service at Pilgrim Church or the Women’s Retreat on May 9-10th, join our Bible study group in the conference room or meet up with other church members for coffee hour in Fellowship Hall.

        April 27th – Lunch and a Movie!
        Join our Outreach Committee in the viewing of the award-winning PBS film “A Place at the Table” with Jeff Bridges. Stay tuned for more events in May from Outreach to learn more about the issue of hunger and to actively make a difference.

        May 3rd Day of Service:
        Participate in this volunteer effort at Pilgrim Church in Dorchester. Families (ages 8+) and individuals will carpool to Pilgrim Church to help prepare and serve a free mid-day meal to in-need members of the community, from 9:00am-2:00pm. Please sign up outside of Rev. Heike’s office or email revheike@needhamucc.org .

        Interreligious Adult Education Opportunity:
        Are you interested in studying the topic of “Revelation in the Abrahamic Traditions” with members of different faith communities here in Needham? If yes, read on! Greg Mobley (ANTS) Or Rose (Hebrew College) and Ms. Celene Ayat Lizzio (ANTS-HC) have invited us to participate in this communal learning experience. For four sessions (May 6, 12, 20, and 27) these three experts will lead us through the topic, and participants will not just encounter people from other religious backgrounds but gain insight into the religious lives of others, including their relationships to sacred text and traditions. The meetings will be held at Temple Aliyah from 7:30 to 9 pm. Space is limited! We are sharing this venture with First Baptist and Temple Aliyah. Attendance of all four sessions is encouraged for maximum benefit. Please contact Rev. Heike(revheike@needhamucc.org) if you are interested.

        Thought for the week:

        Well, my suspicion has been confirmed this week: many Christians see the most important holy event of our faith as a one-day deal. This week, I went to North Hill to celebrate worship with the residents and my colleagues from the Wellesley Congregational churches. As I greeted people coming in I wished them a “Happy Easter”. They looked at me as if I had lost my marbles. One woman said, “Easter is over.” Oh really? There were four clergy people participating in the service, and I was the only one who mentioned Easter celebration. Again, I got some strange looks. My colleague who preached that day did a fine job but had already moved on to talk about other things.

        Again I’d like to reiterate: Easter is more than just a day! We are right now moving through the season of Easter which is fifty days long. It ends on the Day of Pentecost (June 8). This is the time to truly think about what resurrection means, and how it needs to become a daily companion in the life of any Christian. It is not about figuring out what actually happened that Easter morning, but what resurrection means and how it can be practiced each and every day.

        Here are some ways we can practice resurrection in our daily lives. It is easier than you might think.

        • Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you’ll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you.
        • Whenever you do, do it with compassion. It will open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.
        • When you regularly pray for others, you are practicing resurrection.
        • Enthusiasm is the mark of a life-giver. When you can laugh and sing and relish life, you are practicing resurrection.
        • Faith enables us to live with confidence amidst doubt and paradox. When you can trust in your relationship with God, all kinds of leaps and rebirths are possible.
        • Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.
        • Bring hope to someone in despair, bring healing to those in conflict, and you are contributing to the ongoing resurrection.
        • When you can welcome guests and alien ideas with graciousness, you are participating in a new world of hospitality.
        • Your work for justice, freedom, and equality sets the stage for resurrection. When you feed the hungry and stand up for the oppressed, you are a life-giver.
        • Love God, love your neighbor, and love your new life as marks of the resurrection.
        • Nurture yourself – eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest – and you are helping God resurrect your body.
        • When you practice reverence for life, you can’t help but notice all the little resurrections going on all around you, the continual process of creation on Earth.
        • Welcome changes – big and small – in your experience and signal your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.

        Please join us for worship on Sunday!
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – April 18, 2014

        Come and celebrate Easter with us! At 9 am we will have our first Easter Worship Service especially for families. Immediately following the Worship at 10am will be our Annual Easter Egg Hunt. At 11:15am we will be celebrating a second Easter Service. Both Services will feature beautiful music from our Chancel Choir. We look forward to seeing you!

        April 27th – Lunch and a Movie! Join our Outreach Committee in the viewing of the award-winning PBS film “A Place at the Table” with Jeff Bridges. Stay tuned for more events in May from Outreach to learn more about the issue of hunger and to actively make a difference.

        May 3rd Day of Service: Participate in this volunteer effort at Pilgrim Church in Dorchester. Families (ages 8+) and individuals will carpool to Pilgrim Church to help prepare and serve a free mid-day meal to in-need members of the community, From 9:00am-2:00pm. Please sign up outside of Rev. Heike’s office or email revheike@needhamucc.org .

        Interreligious Adult Education Opportunity: Are you interested in studying the topic of “Revelation in the Abrahamic Traditions” with members of different faith communities here in Needham? If yes, read on! Greg Mobley (ANTS) Or Rose (Hebrew College) and Ms. Celene Ayat Lizzio (ANTS-HC) have invited us to participate in this communal learning experience. For four sessions (May 6, 12, 20, and 27) these three experts will lead us through the topic, and participants will not just encounter people from other religious backgrounds but gain insight into the religious lives of others, including their relationships to sacred text and traditions. The meetings will be held at Temple Aliyah from 7:30 to 9 pm. Space is limited! We are sharing this venture with First Baptist and Temple Aliyah. Attendance of all four sessions is encouraged for maximum benefit. Please contact Rev. Heike(revheike@needhamucc.org) if you are interested.

        Church Evaluations: The deadline for Church evaluations has been extended to April 22nd. Evaluations can be dropped off and picked up in the church office or completed online at http://bit.ly/nucc2014survey .

        Thought for the week:

        We are about to celebrate the most important Holy Day in Christendom: Easter. Easter celebrates the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ – the event that I believe gives the only meaning to our Christian Faith. Without the resurrection, our faith would be meaningless and would make absolutely no sense.

        Maybe we are arriving to this Easter celebration renewed and transformed because of the Lenten journey we undertook. 40 days of Lent was a long time, especially if we gave something up or added additional spiritual practices. Finally, the time has come to celebrate.

        Funny thing is that we give the celebration of Easter, of the resurrection, our attention for just one day. On Monday, things are back to normal. We go back to normal. What we are forgetting is that Easter is the span of 50 days, even longer than the Lenten season. Easter is not just the day when the tomb was discovered empty, but a span of time when we are called to consider how we might practice this resurrection in our daily lives.

        Well, how are we going to do that – practice the resurrection? Clarence Jordan the founder of Koinonia Farms which in time birthed Habitat for Humanity said the following: “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship; not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” Our challenge is to worry less about what we believe happened that Easter morning but how resurrection still happens today.

        Wendell Berry, Kentucky Farmer and poet writes that if we are crazy enough to follow God, we should do this: “Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it … Ask questions that have no answers … Plant sequoias … Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable ….” (excerpts from his poem: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front)

        There are many ways to practice the resurrection every day. This Easter and in the days that follow, may we open our whole self – heart, soul, mind, and strength – to God’s inspiring call to new life and renewed love. May we feel God luring us, prompting us, and encouraging us – each day and in each new present moment – to practice resurrection.

        Happy Easter!
        Heike.

        A Message from Reverend Heike – April 11, 2014

        This week at Church please join us for worship as we celebrate Palm Sunday. The Friendly Chime Ringers and the choir have put a lot of hard work into preparing special music for us. It will be a lovely Service.

        Capital Campaign - After church you are cordially invited to attend a “Q and A” session about the Capital Campaign. It will be in the Sanctuary immediately following Worship. Childcare will be provided, and children may be picked up in the chapel after the meeting.

        Hunger Relief Event – The Outreach Committee invites you to a program on Hunger to be held in Linden Hall at 11:30 am. This Experiential event will include lunch. We will also be joined by Rev. June Cooper for the Boston City Mission Society and a representative from the Foundation for Metro West Hunger relief.

        Maundy Thursday – Please join us for a simple soup dinner on Thursday evening April 17 starting at 6 pm and for the Maundy Thursday worship service, beginning at 7 pm.

        Easter Worship – Come and celebrate Easter with us! At 9 am we will have our first Easter Worship Service especially for families. Immediately following the Worship at 10am will be our Annual Easter Egg Hunt. At 11:15am we will be celebrating a second Easter Service. Both Services will feature beautiful music from our Chancel Choir. We look forward to seeing you!

        Thought for the week
        On my last trip to Barnes and Noble, I picked up a book from the bargain bin by A.J. Jacobs called “Drop Death Healthy.” It is about Jacobs’ quest to become the healthiest possible man he can be. This is a challenge to him because he does not like to exercise, loves to eat junk food, and is a workaholic. None of these traits are helpful in his quest for the best possible health. So he has to make choices of how to turn his life around. It is a funny book and very informative.

        And the book does remind me/us that what is great about being human: to have the ability, the space, and the opportunity to make choices. Actually I think there essentially two kinds of choices one ultimately has to make: a choice that is life-giving or a choice that is life taking. I think we know very well what gives us life and what takes life away from us.

        Today as we enter into our most holy week of our faith story, the story begins with hope and promise and possibility. The picture is charming and celebratory – Jesus entering the holy city on the back of a humble beast of burden. But as we know, the story turns into despair, darkness and fear. The whole of the Passion story is all about choices.

        First, the crowd cheers but turns angry and cries out for relief with Pilate trying to find a way through a complicated political mess. Judas succumbs to his darkest self, and Simon Peter denies ever knowing Jesus not just once but three times. Everyone makes choices in this story and the amazing thing is, none of them are life-giving, none of them except one – Jesus, the young teacher from Nazareth, that rabble rouser, trouble maker, rule breaker – only he makes a life-giving choice. And even he struggles.

        If Jesus were telling his own story, I suspect the hardest part to share, for him, might be the garden part. The garden where he is alone, searching, searching his heart and pleading with the heavens, “What,” he begs, “what am I to do? What is the life-giving choice?”

        He could have saved his own life. He could have taken back all his teachings, renounced his truth telling, put out a disclaimer on the miracles and returned to his home town and taking over the business. But that did not seem to him as the life-giving choice. He realized that for him making a life-giving choice, will mean losing his life.

        Few, if any of us, will find ourselves in the garden making such a choice, but we find ourselves daily making choices that are in fact life-giving or life-taking. And there will be times when making the life-giving choice will mean letting go of something, may mean letting something die. Funny how upside-down this feels, how paradoxical it seems – give up to get, let die to live, embrace fear to know courage. And rather scary to think of boiling the whole of life down into two essential notions: either what I am about to say or do is life-giving or it is life-taking.

        As we enter into the holiest of weeks, let us mark and observe the choices we make. With honesty, let us own those that take life away. With relief, let us embrace those that give life. With gentleness and compassion, let us learn to know the difference.

        Please join us for worship this week!

        Peace,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – April 4, 2014

        This Sunday after church, we are celebrating! There will be an extra treat with your coffee or tea to acknowledge our 1st and 2nd graders First Formal Communion.

        We also invite you to meet Valerie Becker, our most talented youth choir director. Please stay after church to meet and welcome her, and consider having your child/ren sing in the children’s choirs.

        Thought for the week:

        As we begin a new sermon theme for the month of April, I feel that I owe you one more thought about the healing sermon series. I did not talk about the healing stories in terms of them being miracles.

        There are 37 miracles reported in the New Testament alone, and all the healing stories are counted as such. The Bible is full of miraculous stories that save, rescue and heal people out of hopeless situations.

        What is a miracle? A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws. What is a miracle in the religious realm? An act or event only God (or Jesus) can perform.

        We probably all have been asked the question: Do you believe in miracles? That is a tough question. If you say yes, then some people might think you are a little “cuckoo”. If you say no, they might wonder what kind of Christian you are.

        Do I believe in miracles? The short answer is yes but maybe not in dramatic/instant ways. I believe that a miracle is an event that strengthens one’s faith, and definitely is an event that changes one’s life. That is how I see Jesus’ miracles: when he enters into the lives of people and they accept him, everything changes. The “before” was usually very bad, but the “after” takes on a whole new life; life that is transformed, made new, made whole.

        Someone once told me that if you try too hard to explain a miracle, it is not a miracle any longer. I think that is true. We can overthink the whole idea of miracles, or because of our faith, maybe we are just to accept them and be grateful for them and be stronger because of them.

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – March 21, 2014

        Spring is here! As we were having lunch on Thursday, at 12:57 pm we all acknowledged that winter has come to an end and spring is springing. Let’s be hopeful that the change of season will be reflected in the outdoor temperatures.

        This Sunday we welcome the chimers and our combined children’s choirs to our worship service. Both have practiced very hard to share their gift of music with us.

        After Worship Professor Greg Mobley from Andover Newton will offer a lecture on “How to Translate the Bible”. It promises to be an interesting session because one small mistake or way of thinking can change our understanding. You can also join us for Coffee Hour in Fellowship Hall.

        Make sure you put March 30th in your calendars to attend the next Climate Change Café where the Environmental Ministry Team has invited Betsy Sanders of the Massachusetts Master Gardeners Speakers Bureau to speak about Native Plants.

        A message from Heike:

        This is really the first time that I have been able to preach all the sermons within the set theme. I was actually worried that I would run out of things to talk about on a particular topic. This month I am preaching about different aspects of healing, and have come to find out that there is much more than enough to preach about than we have Sundays. I trust that it is fine to use my weekly message to add to the Sunday sermons.

        I want to share with you a daily meditation that I found fascinating. David McClelland, Ph, D., of Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated that the power of love makes the body healthier through what he calls the “Mother Teresa Effect.” He showed a group of Harvard students a documentary of Mother Teresa ministering lovingly to the sick, the dying, the “poorest of the poor” in Calcutta, India.

        Next, Dr. McClelland measured the levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva before and after seeing the film (IgA is the antibody active against viral infections, such as cold.) IgA levels rose significantly in the students, even in many of those who considered Mother Teresa as “too religious” or even insincere. The conclusion is obvious: “Tender loving care” is a valuable element in healing.

        Dr. McClelland was also able to achieve similar effects in another way. He asked his graduate students simply to think about two things: past moments when they felt deeply loved and cared for by someone else, and a time when they loved another person.

        I encourage you to use that information in two ways: first, take a look back over your lives and mentally identify all those who deeply loved and cared for us. Let us give thanks to God for sending such fine, caring people into our lives because of their love we are stronger, emotionally and physically.

        And secondly, the effects of the “Mother Teresa Effect” should heighten our desire to touch others with our love and caring. We must remember that in the giving of love not only does the recipient benefit but so do we.

        Blessings,
        Heike.

        A Message from Reverend Heike – March 14, 2014

        This Sunday we are in for a special treat! The Bible Village kids will be singing a special song during Time for Children accompanied by our Youth Music Director, Valerie Becker.

        We are in the midst of our Lenten Lunches. We will have a delicious home-made soup lunch together every Thursday from now until April 10th. Please join us on Thursdays at noon in the library.

        Next Sunday, Professor Greg Mobley from Andover Newton will offer a lecture on “How to Translate the Bible”. It promises to be an interesting session because one small mistake or way of thinking can change our understanding. For example: Was Jesus a carpenter or stone mason? The King James version translates Jesus’ profession to be a carpenter, but there was no wood available in the region. So, what is true? Please join us in Linden Hall. Lunch will be available.

        Weekly thought:
        This week I am going to go out on a limb a bit with the sermon. As we continue our series on healing, I have decided to tackle a topic that very rarely gets talked about in church: mental illness. I cannot remember ever having heard a sermon on that topic nor have I ever wrestles with the issue in a sermon myself. So, it’s time.

        We are eager to talk about healing of our physical ailments but we are less likely to talk about healing our mental ailments. Why? There is so much stigma attached to mental illness. No one wants to be labeled “crazy” or “weak” because the assumption is made if one had more will power, he or she would not have all these mental troubles. Too often, those with mental illness are made to feel like they have a character flaw.

        But think about these statistics from the national Institute of Mental Health: 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about 1 in 4 – suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That translates to 57.7 million people. About 1 in 17 people suffer from a serious mental illness (as defined by DSM-IV). More people suffer from a mental illness than those with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis.

        When Jesus walked this earth, he not just healed people, but he went about changing attitudes. He ministered with compassion, and sought to bring people back into community. And most of all, he was not afraid. I think that kind of sums up the healing ministry of the church today.

        Come and join us this Sunday!
        Heike.

        A Message from Reverend Heike – March 7, 2014

        On Sunday, we continue our Sermon series on Healing with a sermon about the Paths to Healing. Our Jr. High Youth Group leaves today for their Winter Retreat. We wish them good weather and a great time!

        After church, Nate Ramsayer will present the last session of “Bible History 101″. It’s a great series and I hope you can join us.

        Peace,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – February 28, 2014

        On Sunday, we begin a new Sermon series for March. Our theme this month will be Healing.

        After church, Nate Ramsayer will present the second session of “Bible History 101″. It’s a great series and I hpoe you can join us. Nate will also be a guest at the next Friendly program on March 19th where we will celebrate his musical side as he presents a musical program, including jazz standards and oldies from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Dean Martin.

        On Wednesday March 5th we will celebrate Ash Wednesday at the church with a Worship Service in the Taize tradition at 7pm.

        Thought for the week:

        We are about to embark on a new preaching theme for the month of March. It is Healing. I am always tempted to add wholeness to the word because I feel that healing and wholeness go together. This is an insight we glean from the healing stories of the Bible, and Jesus in particular. Jesus does not just heal a certain illness but restores people to a full and abundant life to themselves and to the community.

        As I work with the theme and the chosen scripture passages from the gospel of Mark, I will ask the question: What is needed to be healed? Some of the answers will emerge through the passages, but in my limited research so far there is so much more to healing and wholeness. Beside community, prayer, faith, a variety of methods and practices, knowledgeable doctors, what else contributes to healing? Here is one answer:

        A Garden. This particular healing garden can be found at Legacy Emanuel Hospital Burn Center in Portland, Oregon. Patients would say that the peaceful garden hastened their recovery and touched their heart. One patient recalls that while at the Burn center recovering from her injuries, she would look out the window and see the garden. As soon as she was able to walk again, she was in the garden every day – touching, smelling, and feeling the beauty of the plants.

        “Every day I pushed myself to get up and make at least a couple of treks to the garden. They even served my lunch out there the last two days I was in the hospital. What joy!” the patient recalls.

        “I can’t tell you how important that garden was and how much it meant to me. I could stop at any point, sit and watch butterflies and hummingbirds,” said another patient.

        The Oregon Burn Center garden was modified from the standard healing garden template so that there was shelter from the outside world. Privacy for the patient and his family was paramount. Five seating areas, off the main paths, were created for patients and their families to connect. Since shade was a major requirement, trees are planted everywhere, as are shaded pergolas for seating and places to gather. Some of the garden beds were raised to accommodate wheelchairs and those unable to bend. Paths were made wider for wheelchairs, gurneys, and walkers.
        A profusion of plants for sensory stimulation are everywhere. From fragrant lavender and lemon-scented pelargonium to fuzzy Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) to tasty strawberries, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes – plants were selected to provoke all five senses.

        Bird feeders and nectar- and seed-producing plants such as Echinacea and honeysuckle (Lonicera) were included to attract wildlife.

        Sounds like a little piece of paradise, right? A healing garden with its smells is one way to contribute to people recovery. I hope to discover other contributors to healing we might not always think of.

        Come and join us for worship!

        Blessings,
        Heike
        (This Article was written by Doreen Howard for the American Horticulture Society; she wrote another article on “Gardens for Recovery” an article I would love to read but have not found yet on the internet.)

        A Message from Reverend Heike – February 21, 2014

        On Sunday, we are bringing our sermon series on Good and Evil: The Seven Deadly Sins to a close. The final sermon will be on the deadly sin of Gluttony. Some say, it is the forgotten deadly sin, others say it is the most fun of them all.

        After church, join us for the first of three Adult Ed sessions with Nate Ramsayer on “Bible History 101″. Nate’s, our resident Biblical Scholar and Archaeologist, can always be counted on for fun and informative Adult Ed presentations! Nate will also be a guest at the next Friendly program on March 19th but for this program we will celebrate him as our choir’s lead Tenor. He will
        entertain with a musical program, including jazz standards
        and oldies from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Dean Martin.

        Thought for the week

        The Oxford American Dictionary describes gluttony as “habitual greed or excess in eating”. The common definition of gluttony is to eat, gloriously, generously, wildly, to the point of being so stuffed that one simply cannot eat any more. Think – All-you-can-eat buffets. Supersize me fast food options. Even the ritualistic Thanksgiving dinner. No ‘portion control’ here. For some, these gluttonous moments are an occasional indulgence, and for others, a regular compulsion.

        If I am to believe William Willimon who defines gluttony as the “sin of consuming too much in a world where others have not enough of the necessities of life” I am committing gluttony every day.

        But gluttony goes far beyond just too much food. There are many “too much/too many” in our lives: too much stuff, too much house, too much car, too many gadgets, etc. You know, like I do, where there is too much of a good thing in our life. And when the “too much/too many” become all that we can think about, then we have reached the deadliness of gluttony. The question is: how do we find the “enough?”

        Come and join us this Sunday, as we explore gluttony, the last of the deadly sins.

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – February 14, 2014

        This Sunday, our men’s group will meet before church and continue their own discussion on the 7 Deadly Sins. This Sunday they will discuss Anger and Righteousness. Breakfast starts at 8:15am and will be followed by discussion.

        Our worship and sermon will focus on the 6th Deadly Sin of Lust. Haven’t you been waiting for this one? Next week we conclude this series with a sermon and Gluttony.

        The children will go to the chapel after the children’s time for a movie presentation.

        After church, our Bible study group will continue their work with Sunu Yeh leading it.

        Thought for the week:

        Working on the theme of Good and Evil and basing it the Seven Deadly Sin has been fun and a little challenging at the same time. All of them have positive aspects to them. Think about it: a little bit of pride is called self-respect, and is essential to getting through life as a fulfilled human being and not a doormat. A smidge of envy is what inspires us to get out and be someone, do something, when we see others with aspects of life we wish for ourselves. Anger, well, isn’t it right to be incensed at social injustices, at indifference to suffering, at those who make others suffer? Sloth in moderation is called vacation or resting, and rest is important in busy, challenging lives. Greed is harder to justify because the word is loaded, but like envy, greed can motivate us to do the things that will get us what we want. Do you want a new job or better car? Better get out and work for it. And as long as it is work, and not crime, to get us what we want, fine. What about gluttony? I am not a real foodie but I like a good meal (with too many calories) and celebrate the holidays with family and friends in style. The sharing of food even has holy implications in most cultures, and which of us hasn’t seen something so delicious we just wanted to eat it all? And then there is lust, our sermon topic for this week. Our desire to touch and be touched, which in its best form revivifies and excites, is the love that binds us to another. Some amount of lust keeps us young and is essential in romantic relationships to remain passionate and vital over time. But any of these carried out too far have the capacity to diminish our humanity, and could, at its worst, kill.

        My sermon on lust is based on the great love story between King David and Bathsheba. At least that is how the story has been perceived. But it’s really not about love, but about lust with deadly consequences.

        If you like to explore some “Biblical Reality TV” join us for worship this Sunday.

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Susan – February 7, 2014

        This week our sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins continues with a sermon on Greed. Rev. Heike will be continuing the series and I will assist with the Morning Prayers. The Shepherd’s Staff Choir will sing “Siyahamba”, a wonderful South African Freedom Song accompanied by drumming. It should be lots of fun.

        After Service you have 2 great choices – Hear Heike’s Discussion on “Happiness” along with a Ted Talk on the subject, or try Sunu Yeh’s Bible Study Group. This week they will consider Luke 4-5. No prep needed other than Reading the Bible verses, and showing up to talk. We promise you a lively and stimulating conversation every week.

        This weekend – remember that the youth Group is offering Valentine Babysitting on Saturday evening. You can sign up at this link www.needhamucc.org/babysitting.

        You can also get your Picture taken for the new Directory after Worship in the sanctuary.

        Thought for the Week
        This week I have been reading a book about strong churches. Called Places of Promise, the book outlines 10 strengths of a healthy church.

        1. Growing Spiritually – a church where people feel they are growing in their faith, and the church meets their spiritual needs.
        2. Meaningful Worship – People experience God’s presence, joy and inspiration in worship, and worship helps them in everyday life.
        3. Participating in the Church – People worship regularly and are involved in the church in other ways.
        4. Sense of Belonging- People feel they belong, and have friends in the church.
        5. Caring for Children and Youth – children and families with children feel at home in the church.
        6. Focus on the Community – People are involved in social service and advocacy.
        7. Sharing the Faith – members invite friends and relatives to worship.
        8. Welcoming New People- Many people are new within the last 5 years.
        9. Empowering Leadership – People feel the leaders inspire others to be active.
        10. Looking to the Future – People feel committed to the church’s vision and excited about the future.

        It sets a pretty high bar, but these are all good goals to strive for. I welcome your feedback as we seek together to make our church all that it can be.

        Communications
        I got some good news this week. I learned that 50% of you open these e-mails every week. At first I was not sure how to interpret this information. I wondered if it was “good enough’. Then I heard from a consultant who does websites at churches. She told me that 50% is a terrific response to the Constant Contact. She said some businesses cannot get that rate of response to e-mailed information that they send to their employees. Their employees are paid to read the e-mails they get from headquarters, but they don’t want to, or don’t find the time, or get distracted. We have surround-sound communication these days. We get news through radio, television, newspaper, online, blogs, tweets and Facebook. We have access to so much information that it is hard to know what is important.

        You have choices about what you read, so I hope to make this weekly notice something that is worth your time.

        Spring is coming. I can feel it today.
        In hope,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – January 31, 2014

        This weekend should be fun. We have a lot of great music here at the church!

        Voices Rising Concert
        We begin the weekend with the Voices Rising Concert on Saturday afternoon. You are invited to hear a concert sponsored by the ONA Ministry Team of the church. Tickets are on sale at the door and online.

        Music in Worship
        This week the children’s choirs- Joyful Noise and Hallelujah will sing during worship. The children have prepared some great music. Then the Chancel Choir will sing Ave Maria, from their recent concert, a stunning piece.

        Our sermon series continues on the Seven Deadly Sins when Rev. Heike preaches on Envy.
        During our service this week we will recognize all our church leaders and newly elected officers. Please try to be in the service to be recognized.

        After worship – the Youth Group will sell Super Bowl Subs. Check out the menu at www.needhamucc.org/superbowl . Try their chili which is a new item this year. If you still need to place an order -Shop early in Fellowship Hall.

        Thought for the Week
        As we all weather the weather this winter I am reminded of how stoic we New Englanders have become. In most of Boston, the city streets have turned white from so much salt. People who pass you in the streets are so bundled that it is not uncommon to pass folks where all you can see exposed is their eyes. I try for eye contact because winter can be isolating. But most of us are just enduring this winter now. We are waiting this winter out. That is how we do it in New England. And this is who we are. We are modern stoics.

        Knowing our personality in this region, I think it might be easy in our church to become stoics next winter as well. But I hope not. As I look at the plans for the renovation project I imagine we will be experiencing the church very differently than we normally do. We are currently making plans for many changes, as we evaluate which spaces we can use. Already we are considering the best places for Bible Village and the Youth Lounge. We are considering where to have Adult Ed, and Bible Study, support groups and our administrative offices. It is pretty clear that we will have to be creative. As we weather next year’s storms I think it would be natural to become pretty stoic. That is what we often do with adversity. We survive it.

        But I am wondering if we might consider approaching this construction project with a different attitude. How about stepping back for a minute and considering how to celebrate this renovation. That is right. I said “celebrate”. What if we strive to build our community spirit during the construction? What if we try to engage in some “fun-raising” along with the Fund-raising? What if we find ways to enjoy the inconveniences? What if we consider holding some meetings in other spaces – outside or in private homes? What if we plan field trips that would be enriching, which would build our spirit, sustain our numbers, but take us on adventures while the church building is being renovated? Are there ways to really thrive as a church during this transition?

        Those are my questions for you. These renovations can become yet another winter for the soul, or something much more creative. What if we return to new space in 2015 more vibrant than we are now? What if?

        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – January 24, 2014

        Dear Friends,

        This week we have a full service for you. We will welcome new members before worship and enjoy the annual Super Bowl Skit, which is always entertaining. Our sermon series continues with the Seven Deadly Sins. This week we talk about anger and it is something that we all deal with every day. So I hope you join us as we try to see what the Bible says about anger.

        Annual Meeting
        Following worship we will have our Annual Meeting in the sanctuary at 11:15 a.m. At the meeting we will vote on the new slate of officers and leaders, receive the reports of the ministers and Church leaders for 2013, and vote on the budget for 2014. We will also hear a presentation by the Design Team for the Capital Campaign renovations. Our architect Colin Smith will be there and he will answer questions about the current design plan. This will be an opportunity to hear more about the plan, the schedule, and the progress as we look forward as a church to making our building accessible, energy efficient and much more welcoming.

        Annual Choir Concert
        The real treat on Sunday will be the Choir Concert at 4 p.m. Under the direction of our Organist and choir Director, Dr. Robert DeRegis, the Chancel Choir will perform some lovely music for the season. Bobby has told me that this concert will be a real gem musically. So I encourage you to bring a neighbor, or a friend, or someone who is interested in the church or who just loves good music. We often say that these concerts are of a quality that you would hear in a downtown concert hall, but Bobby and the Choir give them as a gift of praise to God’s glory. They believe that they express their faith through music. Hope to see you at 4 p.m.

        Thought for the Week
        Have you heard people who nurse a particular regret? Sometimes something they have done just weighs them down so much that it is frustrating. They cannot release themselves from its grip. No matter how much you care about them, you cannot seem to help. I have heard people say they cannot forgive themselves for something that bothers them.

        One of my colleagues, another UCC minister, says that this is normal because we are incapable of forgiving ourselves. Only God can forgive. While I understand what he is saying, I think that many people hold on to things long after their statute of limitations has run out. Long after we have confessed them or prayed about them, we still hold onto them. Long after we have talked them over with the people involved, and found what resolution we can, we still go back to them. Years later we beat ourselves up with regrets, or second guesses, or blame.

        I know people who almost treat these old situations like a cow treats her cud; they regurgitate them and chew on them with some regularity. The only difference is that cows do this to swallow their undigested food, and we never finally let these things go. We somehow get stuck in a loop that repeats.
        Often many people can forgive others much easier than they forgive themselves. When you think about it, it seems odd that people who are so forgiving of others cannot forgive themselves.

        During our series on the Seven Deadly Sins we are giving people pebbles at the start of each service as a way to provide some tangible way to give you a change to lay some of these unfinished issues to rest. Perhaps you can at least leave them in the church, if you cannot put them totally to rest. Sometimes the church can hold things for you if they are too heavy to keep carrying. That is not a cop-out but a survival strategy so you don’t have to carry so much.

        Of course, it is just a symbol of an internal process, but sometimes we all need some help. We need the encouragement of a community of faith. We need the affirmation from others in the church. We need to allow God to carry things which have grown too heavy for us. Maybe when we bring these things to God we can allow God to help us let them go finally. Perhaps this small gesture can enable us to realize that God has forgiven us so we can ultimately forgive ourselves.

        God’s Peace to you this week,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – January 17, 2014

        This Sunday we will continue our series on the Seven Deadly sins. This week Rev. Heike will preach about Sloth. Again this week we will have prayer pebbles at the door of the sanctuary so you can take one as you enter the service. Then during the second hymn we will offer the opportunity to come forward to the altar area and deposit your prayer pebble in the jar at the front of the church. During this series on sin we will give people a chance to think about ways to let go of old issues, or worries or habits. While we do not have a heavy-handed view of good and evil we recognize that we all have opportunities to make changes in our lives and to relinquish old patterns so we can start down new paths.

        This weekend I hope you will all consider going to the Martin Luther king Day Celebration which will be held at the High School at 10am on Monday.
        It is always an inspiring community celebration and opportunity to think about our lives in light of Dr. King’s dream of human equality.

        Thought for the Week
        This week I have been so aware of the signs of vitality in our church. Here is a snapshot of some of the people who have given me this impression.

        • Last Sunday morning the Membership Team hosted a breakfast for newcomers. Eight families attended. After the breakfast the children had a supervised playtime while their parents talked about how they found our church and how they have come to think of it more and more as their new spiritual home. The reasons they come are 1. Programs for children; 2. Inspiring worship; 3. A warm welcome from people they meet here. In addition to those 8 new families, another 3 families came to the last Newcomers Breakfast.
        • For the last few weeks I have been working with the Nominating Team to recruit new officers and leaders for the church. For some reason this year those conversations have been particularly inspiring. Not everyone took the jobs that we were offering to them, but they all took the opportunity to serve the church very seriously. In every e-mail and phone call I had the sense that people really took their responsibility to serve the church very seriously. I am very excited about 2014 because we have some wonderful people on our Nominating Slate.
        • On Wednesday night I was attending a meeting of the Design Team for the Capital Campaign. That same night outreach was meeting in another room and an enthusiastic Music Team was meeting in another space. What I noticed most that evening was that the energy in the church was not the energy just a sense of duty, but enthusiasm and excitement.

        As we start this new year and contemplate changes in our building I am pleased to see that the church is so vibrant, and so hopeful about the future. It is very gratifying.

        Peace and many blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – December 20, 2013

        This Sunday we are planning one of the most lovely services of the whole year.

        Music
        Our Music Director, Bobby DeRegis, is planning a wonderful service. Try to arrive early for the prelude. Flutist Bruce Goody will play Bizet’s Entr’acte from Carmen Pianist Soomi Lee Lowry will accompany the choir in Stopford’s In the Bleak Mid Winter. The choir will also sing a lullaby by John Ness Beck. Where Shepherd’s Lately Knelt- Carl Schalk (b. 1929)

        All week long I have been singing the lines of the sung benediction which the choir offered last week. There is something so sacred about the way the church is hushed and listening to each note of the benediction.

        Sermon Series
        We continue our series on Family, and this week I will be talking about the Christmas message of peace and justice, and how that impacts our families at Christmas. Most people assume that peace is just the absence of conflict, but the Christmas message is that peace comes from true harmony. I want to talk about the connection between deep peace that leads toward true happiness and how the peace in the world influences our homes too.

        Bible village and Pageant Rehearsal
        The children from bible village will sing their song during worship. When they bring their music they always share their earnest faith as well. Following worship there will be a Pageant luncheon for the cast families. If you are in the pageant or have someone in it please come to Linden Hall for lunch, and then the rehearsal for the pageant will be held from 12 to 2 pm. Last Sunday the pageant players made a good start and this is a very crucial rehearsal, as it is the final one before the dress rehearsal on Christmas Eve.

        Thought for the Week
        John Grisham has written a small book called Skipping Christmas. It is the story of a family that decides to by-pass the presents, the tree, the parties, and all the whoopla. They have this idea that they will take a cruise, find a more gratifying way to spend their time and still save money. I won’t tell you how it all transpires, but I do think that right about now that notion seems almost attractive to many people. There is a feeling for many of us that we are always behind in our preparations. Some people who are really organized only find that for all their planning all that they have earned is the resentment of those who are overwhelmed.

        So right about now, it makes a lot of sense to triage this whole experience. It makes sense to stop and think about what matters most. There are a lot expectations that are unnecessary, and if you try to do it all you may discover that you simply end up worn out. There are a lot of families where one person assumes all the responsibilities for the holiday and that dynamic does not really bring the family together. There are a lot of temptations in this celebration. So as you begin this week, don’t give up your freedom to make the decisions you can make. Find ways to take care of yourself. Find ways to manage your children’s expectations. Whenever you can, try to choose the spiritual path in this maze of choices you have.

        This week we had a Blue Christmas service in the chapel on Tuesday evening. It was a beautiful snowy night. I had arranged the chairs in the chapel in a circle. The chapel was lit with candles for the most part. The music was provided by Heike on flute and recorder, and Eric Slosser on the cello. Like so many evening services, it has a quiet feeling which was awesome. When the service was ended, we had the labyrinth in Fellowship Hall; some people did the walking meditation on the labyrinth that brings deep relaxation and peace. Other people lingered in the chapel talking for a half an hour. It was one of those nights that feel like such a luxury in this busy season. We just lingered and listened to each other, and allowed the sacred quality of the shared community to wash over us a little longer.

        May the sacredness of Christmas be with you this week. May the best blessings of this season find you.
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – December 13, 2013

        This week we continue the worship theme of Family. My sermon will be about the family of Jesus and the way that Joseph and Mary really supported one another in the early days of their relationship. The sermon will be about how important it is to live with integrity in our families. The title is “When No one is Looking”, and I will talk about how important it is to be considerate in our private dealings with one another.

        The Choir will sing “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” , “Lo How A Rose” and the service will end with a musical “Christmas Blessing”.

        Following worship this weekend,

        • Dr. Brita Gill-Austern, professor of Psychology and Pastoral theology will speak about the true gifts of Christmas. She was one of Heike’s professors, and we both have enjoyed her lectures.
        • Rehearsal for the Pageant begins with luncheon and full rehearsal at 11:30am in Linden Hall.
        • Bible Study continues in the Reception Room with Sunu Yeh leading.

        Please join us.

        Blue Christmas

        When: Tuesday Dec. 17, 7 p.m. – 7:40 p.m.
        Where: The Chapel
        What: Service of candles, music and brief remarks
        Service: Heike will play the recorder; Nate will lead the singing; Eric Slosser will play the cello; Susan will speak.
        Why: This service is for anyone who finds Christmas a hard time of year because of daily challenges, recent loss, winter loneliness.

        Special this year
        We will have a labyrinth for you to walk starting at 6 p.m.

        We had a good response to this service last year. Please tell your friends and neighbors about this special annual event.

        Thought for the Week
        In my house I have a block print which was made by a church member and artist, Anne Nydam. It depicts a family of different ages sitting together with different people touching each other in various ways. I framed it and put it in my front hall to remember how vital these connections can be. It sits in a place where it often catches my eye as I come and go through the front door. So Anne the truth of “Interwoven” is there to keep reminding me of its wisdom.

        My mother turned 90 yesterday. She had a good day and enjoyed some unexpected calls from cousins in Canada, and Scotland. In her later years she has re-connected with various far-flung family members. She helped me see how much she cherishes those connections, and to think again about the strong ties that bind us consciously and unconsciously as families.

        Somehow this conversation brought me comfort. She re-counted again some history of her mother’s large farm family, various uncles and cousins who lived on both sides of the Atlantic, then and now. Though I had heard it before, in an odd way it never grows old. I know she wants us to remember where we all have come from and who we are in the world order.

        This month our theme is Family, and hardly a day goes by that we are not affected, all of us, by the inter-connections we have with the people with whom we share some DNA. Often we forget how we have been shaped by these people. Sometimes we remember at the holidays when we exchange cards or greetings. Sometimes a reunion or birthday brings it all to mind.

        As you make your way toward Christmas I hope you will pause from time to time to remember your roots, your tribe, your people. Remember your ancestors and the various generations that have shaped your heritage and who you are. Sometimes in our fast world we imagine that we have out-paced all these people. Among the scattered peoples of this earth we tell ourselves that we are all one big happy family of life, but then there is something to knowing your kin, learning their secrets, discovering their unique wisdom.

        Stay warm this weekend and as we light the candle of love on Sunday, I hope you remember those folks you call family, and thank God for those connections.

        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – December 6, 2013

        This is the season when we need each other. It is a month when the world is darkest and the earth seems almost gray, even in broad daylight. It is the time of year when candles warm a room, decorations make you smile, and cards mean a lot. It is also the time of year when worship grounds you like nothing else does. The world is all geared up for shopping. The newspaper is heavy with the circulars. We all need an hour to sit in God’s house and breath in the peacefulness of this place.

        Sunday December 8
        Our worship theme this month is Family. Heike’s fine sermon last week launched the theme with a look at the families in the Bible. She talked about how few of those Bible families were “perfect” This week I will continue that message as we examine our own impulses to have a perfect holiday, and turn out perfect children, and live perfect lives. It is a temptation which has a slippery slope, I will address in my message “The Elusive Perfect Family”. The Choir will sing a beautiful Italian lullaby, along with some beautiful seasonal music.
        After Worship -

        • The Design Team and the Board will make a presentation in the Chapel about the new plans for the renovations in 2014.
        • Rev. Jamie will be collecting casting sheets for the Pageant.
        • Rev. Heike will teach the last session of her class on God in America.
        • Sunu Yeh’s Bible Study will meet in the Reception Room.

        Thought for the Week
        There is a feature on Facebook where you “like” things. It gives you the opportunity to weigh in positively. If you like a post you click on the thumbs up icon. If you agree with an anecdote you join the fans who “like” it. However, if you feel really strongly about something you can post a comment, write your reaction, and say something significant. To my mind there is a big difference between “Liking” something and posting a comment about it. When you “Like” it most people do not notice who said that. But when you post a comment, people who are on the page will all be able to read what you said. The comment will appear with your Facebook photo, and everyone will know you made that comment, because they will recognize you.

        There are many times in the Christian year when it is just fine to go alone. You can approve of things and like them, and feel pretty comfortable in the crowd of the faithful. But Christmas is not one of those times when it is enough to “Like” the birth of Jesus. It is one of those times when you need to weigh in. You need to post a comment. You need to put your face out there and say something about what it means to you that God sent a gift to the world.

        Christmas is the season when people notice what you have done. You cannot coast at Christmas. I don’t make this comment to add pressure to your life this Christmas. I say this to encourage you to be intentional. Perhaps that will make it easier to be less overwhelmed this month. You don’t have to be extravagant to have a wonderful holiday. You do need to decide what matters to you. You may need to consider your priorities. Bill Maher says “Jesus does not need more fans; He needs more followers.”

        Don’t just go along with the crowd; make your own statement. Don’t have a merry Christmas; have a blessed one.
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – November 24, 2013

        This Sunday we begin Advent, the time when we prepare for the birth of Jesus. It is my favorite time of the year. The confirmation class leads us as we light the Advent Wreath one candle at a time. As we see the faith of our ninth graders they re-kindle the light of faith in each of us.

        Worship
        This week we begin a new theme. This December our theme will be Family. We will examine what the Bible says about family life. This week Heike will preach about the way that Jewish family life was organized around principles of justice and cooperation.

        Thought for the Week
        This Thanksgiving I hope that when you count your blessings the church is one of those things that you are grateful for. We are all so fortunate to belong to a community of faith in which so many people strive to put their faith into action. Here are some things I feel grateful for from this week alone:

        • The full sound of our choir.
        • The sound of children outside my office everyday- from Preschoolers on the playground, to teens from the Center playing touch football on the lawn.
        • Youth Choirs that learn their music so well that they sing from the heart.
        • The fact that our church is a 24/7 church – this Sunday we served breakfast to the teens sleeping over, lunch to the adult class, and a reception to the inter-faith community gathered for the Thanksgiving service.
        • The way Bible Village and Youth Groups make faith exciting.
        • The new plan for the renovation of our building.
        • The new enthusiasm for Adult Education.
        • The glimpses I see of the way people care for one another because of the church.

        Blessings and gratitude,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – November 22, 2013

        Sunday Worship
        This week we are excited to hear two youth choirs under the direction of Valerie Becker, our new youth Choir Director. Shepherd’s Staff will do the Offertory Anthem, and the Hallelujah choir will sing the first anthem. It should be a rich musical offering. Our sermon series on forgiveness will finish with a sermon on the limits of forgiveness, and how to forgive when no one is likely to repent. I will preach a sermon on “Hard Core Forgiveness”.

        Community Thanksgiving Service
        We will host a community Thanksgiving Service for the town of Needham with all the area clergy. Heike is president of the Clergy Association and has organized a wonderful community worship service. Please come out to support her and the inter-faith community at 4 p.m. We believe Thanksgiving is a sacred tradition and it is one of the best common traditions we share across all faiths. We will all take a short piece of the service and hear from several clergy about the meaning of Thanksgiving from their perspective. Hope to see you!

        Thought for the Week
        As I have been reading about the stories of recovery in the Philippines and the aftermath of the tornadoes in Illinois one theme has caught my attention. In the Philippines, I heard a radio story about people who came to mass last weekend. It seems that in many parts of Tecloban the churches were the only structures that survived, so for many reasons they were full last weekend. The people interviewed spoke eloquently about the power of God. One woman spoke about how her faith was so much more vital in the face of all that she had lost.

        Something similar happened in Washington, Illinois. It seems the storm struck last Sunday morning while most people were at worship. So the fact that the people were worshipping literally saved their lives, in many cases, because the churches survived the storm while the homes did not make it. You don’t necessarily need a storm in your life to be able to appreciate the church. But in both these places where storms have been so devastating the church has been a place of safety and sustenance on every level. When you gather for your Thanksgiving this week I hope that you will remember how much the church means to your family. We are hoping that our active members will make a pledge to the church this week, if they have not done so already. We are asking that people make their pledge before Thanksgiving, as a way to remember the blessing of all our lives that comes from being part of a community of faith.

        If you have not made a pledge for 2014, our pledges support the annual programs you depend on – worship, children’s programs, youth groups, adult education, music and all of our outreach to the poor or dis-advantaged. You can pledge by going to our website – http://needhamucc.org/stewardship-pledge-form , or e-mailing Danielle Jurdan in the church office- office@needhamucc.org.

        Thank and have a blessed Thanksgiving,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – November 15, 2013

        Church Fair
        The church has been bustling all week with preparation for the Church Fair. Things look so beautiful in Fellowship Hall. This is one of the best church fairs with all the traditions you have come to enjoy plus plenty of new features too. Again this year we have artisans who will be selling their hand-craftes goods. Last year that was a wonderful feature of the fair, and increased your options for finding gifts. Join us tomorrow from 9:30 – 3pm. Also several tables need extra help. If you are able to take a shift please call or email Danielle in the church office TODAY – 781-444-2510 / office@needhamucc.org . I will be working, as usual, at the Bake Table, but I could use some helpers myself. Please e-mail me if you would like to take a shift selling baked goods – revcartmell@comcast.net.

        Sunday Worship
        This Sunday we welcome new families into the church. They will be introduced at the announcements and feted in a coffee hour in the Reception Room following worship.

        Our sermon series continues this week. I will be preaching about forgiveness – and talking about the steps of forgiveness, and how we find the grace to forgive someone else. I hope you will be with us for worship.

        The Fair Continues on Sunday
        The church will continue to sell at all church-run tables, and the auction items will be live until 12 noon when the winners will be chosen. Sunday is a great day to shop at the Fair because there are bargains at many tables, and so many people enjoy seeing one another.

        Thought for the Week
        Peggy and I are still on cloud nine after our wedding celebration last Saturday. One of our guests told me that after his wedding to his partner he felt like no prejudice could touch him, and he was covered in a shield so that normal homophobic prejudice just bounced off him. It was such a great image, and I think there is truth to it.

        Thank you to so many of you who shared our joy last weekend. Our hearts are full of gratitude for your many gifts of substance and spirit, your cards, your good wishes, and your love. One of my best memories was of the moment half way through the first dance when the DJ invited everyone to come to the dance floor, and so many did. As I looked around there were children dancing with parents, couples gay and straight locked in each other’s arms, friends dancing, strangers dancing. It was my vision of God’s kingdom with everyone accepted and enjoying themselves. If you would like to see some great pictures of this moment, take a peek at the Church Facebook page, where we have posted the DJ’s pictures. It captures the spirit of the evening.

        Peggy and I are very grateful to Bobby and Heike for their leadership in the service. We really appreciated the combined choirs from both this church and hers – Pilgrim Congregational in Harwich Port for singing the lullaby Everything Possible under Bobby’s direction. It was wonderful. Of course when Soomi Lee Lowry played Dedication by Schumann and Lizst it pretty much sucked the air out of the sanctuary for several moments. We have been blessed with lots of incredible memories to savor. We have put your cards all over the dining room and living room- on the piano, the mantle, the chest in the front hall. It makes us feel surrounded and encircled by your support and gracious affection. Thank you.

        Today I want to leave you with a prayer that I found this week. It is written by Ernest Campbell, the former pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City.

        With yearnings that we cannot fully identify, much less describe;
        With fears too personal to voice; harboring hostilities of which we are ashamed;
        And weighted with a sense of guilt for having done so little with so much;

        We make bold now to pray for ourselves:
        Teach us what it means to live in you,
        To rest in you,
        To hope in you;
        Let your wisdom fall like gentle rain on the parched souls of all who are confused.
        Let your warming, healing light kindle trust in those who are sick or in any way afflicted;
        Let your joy overcome the dolefulness of those who have forgotten how to laugh.
        Shape your grace around our inmost needs, O God. Do not give us over to ourselves.
        Strive with us yet a little longer, for we love you and desire to serve you fully.

        Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

        No one uses “dolefulness” too often these days, but I think this is still a great prayer.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – November 10, 2013

        Sunday Worship
        This month we began the theme of Forgiveness. This Sunday we will continue to explore the theme with Heike’s Sermon “The Other Prodigal Son”.

        This theme has implications for personal life, professional life, and for community life. It also has implications for how we view world issues. The sermon series will use the Parable of the Prodigal Son one of the gems of scripture, and one of the stories which the children will be learning this month in Bible Village.

        Youth Music Survey
        The Music Team has put together an online survey. Please help them out by answering a few brief questions today. Click here to get started!

        Thought for the Week
        When Peggy and I decided on a date for the wedding the best time for our families and the Church calendar was November 9th. As soon as we chose the date I remembered that it was the anniversary of the first time I preached here, back in 1997 as a candidate. Life is odd, sometimes. The church has been such an important part of my life and my personal journey through the last 16 years, so I am really looking forward to sharing this important event with you.

        The anthem for the service will be sung by a choir of combined voices from our church and the Harwichport Church which Peggy is now serving. The anthem that Bobby will be leading is entitled “Everything Possible”. It is a song which was written by a minister and it is a lullaby. The words are quite remarkable. “You can be anybody that you want to be. You can love whomever you will. You can follow any country where your heart leads and know I will love you still. You can be by yourself. You can gather friends around. You can love one special one. But the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.”

        One thing that makes this sentiment so special is that it is still rather rare in some churches. It is still revolutionary in much of the world. This week, Illinois voted to become the fifteenth state to grant gay marriage. It was a hard debate, according to the Chicago Tribune. But as states wrestle with this issue, one by one, we see a sea of change. For this issue has become one of the most stunning turn-around issues of our time. It is a privilege to serve a church that has been so clear for so long.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – October 25, 2013

        This week in worship we finish our October Theme, which is Faith. In the sermon I will talk about times in life when we learn to let go, and how to practice the art of letting go. Sometimes you really need to hold on to things that matter, and other times it is important to let go, so I will try to address the art of learning how to find that balance, which brings peace of mind. Learning to let go is the ultimate test of your faith.

        On Sunday the new Youth Music Director begins rehearsals.
        The schedule for this Sunday the 27th is:

        • 9:15 am- Joyful Noise rehearsal, choir room
        • 11:30 am- Hallelujah Choir rehearsal, choir room
        • 12:00 pm- Shepherd’s Staff rehearsal, choir room

        Stewardship Reminder
        This is the time to make your pledge for the programs of the church. We fund our programs, salaries, and outreach through your gifts every year. When you give to the church you support music and pastoral care, Bible Village and Youth Groups, speakers and support groups, and projects in Boston and Guatemala and beyond. Every fall we ask you to pledge for the next calendar year. We are asking families to give $2500 per year. Some of you cannot do that much but we mention $2500 out as a goal because with this level of giving we can fully fund all the things we need. Some of you give a lot more and we are very grateful for your support. Please make your pledge today on the web site at http://needhamucc.org/stewardship-pledge-form/ or with a pledge form at the church.

        Youth Music
        The Music team is looking for your input as they plan the Youth Music Program. You can help us by following this link to their brief survey. Many thanks. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DFR7XZH

        Thought for the Week
        For a few years, now, I have been fascinated by Pema Chodron. She was not born with that name. She was born in New York City as Deirdre Bloomfield-Brown. She attended Miss Porter’s School and the University of California at Berkeley. After her second divorce, she studied Buddhism and found herself. She changed her name, and continued to study for many years becoming a nun. She was the first American woman to become fully ordained. She was the director of a meditation center in Boulder until she fell ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and was transferred to an abbey in Nova Scotia.

        While there she healed, and started to write many books about peace of mind. I like her books because her face is one of the best faces I have ever seen. Happiness flows out of her eyes. Her books are full of simple and profound wisdom. I believe that God speaks to us through many people, and she has been a great comfort to the women of the Cancer Prayer Support Group, as we often begin our meetings with a short reading from Pema Chodron.

        Life is a Good Teacher – by Pema Chodron
        Right here is a good place to start. Start where you are. This is very important. Meditation practice is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re the person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world-that’s a fine place to start. That’s a very rich place to start. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world, You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are- that’s the place to start.

        It helps me a lot to just think about her wisdom and get into my zen place. The world needs a lot more zen.
        Peace!
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – October 18, 2013

        This Sunday we have much to celebrate.

        When you arrive in the Sanctuary for worship you will notice that we have brand new windows in the Sanctuary, the first part of our capital campaign project. The results are beautiful, and so much more energy efficient. I believe that you will really notice a difference in comfort as the days become more crisp later in the fall.

        Baptism for Carter Nyland
        Carter Nyland is almost 4 months old and he has been coming to church all this fall with his parents Abbey and Chris. He is a delightful baby who has just learned to smile. We will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism with Carter and his parents this week.

        Sermon Series on Faith
        Our series on Faith continues with a sermon about those times when it is hard to continue to have faith – Faith When the Going Gets Tough. I will preach about the time when Moses led the people through the wilderness. It will be a sermon about how to continue on your journey when the honeymoon is over.

        Update on the Renovations
        Following worship you will have an opportunity to give your feedback to the Design Team for the Capital Campaign, as they will be in the Narthex to provide an update on the renovation plans and to hear from you.

        Youth Music Director – Valerie Becker
        Also this week we will have a special meeting after worship to introduce our new Youth Choir Director, Valerie Becker. She will be greeting children and parents in the Chapel following worship. Valerie is the Director of Music at the Winsor School in Boston and the Artistic Director of the Treble Chorus. We hope you will take a moment to say “Hello” and hear about the schedule for youth choir rehearsals.

        Adult Education
        This Sunday Heike has invited Greg Mobley professor of Hebrew Bible at Andover New Theological School to talk about the Minor Prophets. Greg is a lively speaker, and he makes Bible study come to life. Hear him in the Library.

        Thought for the Week
        At the end of August our nation observed the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. There were some big events at the White House, and a community gathering at the Baptist Church in Newton. Peggy and I happened to go to that one, and were delighted to have an array of wonderful speakers, along with Pete Seeger on his guitar. He told us that he was 92, and people were on their feet swaying and clapping as he sang “We Shall Overcome” with his familiar tenor voice. (They actually put Pete Seeger during the Offertory, and people were so excited that folks had trouble passing the plates.)

        What I remember most from this commemoration was a fact that I had never heard before. Apparently, when Dr. King got up to talk he had a manuscript, but he did not stick to it. As an experienced preacher, he knew when to follow his script and when to take wings and fly. That speech was a masterpiece of history, theology and inspiration. But the best part of that speech, the part of about his dream for America, was pure inspiration. It wasn’t written down anywhere. Apparently Mahalia Jackson was on the podium because she had been asked to sing. She must have spoken to Dr. King earlier, because she had heard about his dream for the nation. Somewhere in the middle of the speech we now call the “I Have a Dream” Speech, Jackson urged King to leave his text and talk about the dream. “Tell them about the dream, Martin”, she was overheard to say on the podium. So King left his script and gave forth to some of most beautiful prose in modern history. The whole dream sequence was spontaneous.

        What does this story tell us about faith?

        1. Sometimes when you believe in someone, you need to let them know.
        2. When someone has faith in your ability to fly you need to take the leap.
        3. Often when we step out in faith, the Holy Spirit will meet us and use us to change the world for good.

        I hope we all remember to keep dreaming about what this world could be like, and give voice to these dreams, from time to time.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – October 11, 2013

        Sunday Worship
        This Sunday our series on faith continues as Heike talks about the Parting of the Red Sea. The story of Moses parting the Red Sea is so familiar that Heike found some very funny cartoons which she shared with the staff. One depicted the boy Moses parting his bath water, while his parents told him to stop fooling around and take his bath. The story is pretty funny because we have all grown accustomed to the notion that the Red Sea parted, but on another level the idea of such a miracle actually occurring, is overwhelming.

        I saw a documentary in which experts referred to historical evidence that there was an earthquake in the Mediterranean Sea which caused tidal fluctuations all the way down to the Red Sea; this was posed as a possible explanation of the parting of the waters.

        Heike will be talking about what she thinks happened, and how the parting of the Red Sea has a lot to tell us about faith. I hope you will join us for worship on Sunday. In addition to a fine sermon this week, you can expect some incredible music. Soomi Lee Lowry will be playing the postlude. Emily Verschoor Kirss will play her saxophone. Eric Slosser will play the cello along with Dave Darmofal on the piano. If you can be here, please join us for worship; you will be glad you did.

        Youth Music
        As many of you have noticed our Youth Music Director, Jannatha Coffin-Malia, has been unable to start the fall program year because her mother had a severe fall that required round the clock nursing care at their home. Several week ago, it became clear that Jannatha’s responsibility for her mother would made it impossible for her to continue serving as our Youth Music Director. She contacted Bobby DeRegis, and with regret, he accepted her resignation. We will miss Jannatha, and her creativity, her musical gifts, and the way that she led and loved the children in the youth choirs.

        We are pleased to let you know that Bobby has offered the position of Acting Youth Music Director to Valerie Becker. Since 1983 Valerie has been a member of the music faculty at the Windsor School in Boston. She is the Artistic Director of the Treble Chorus, where she serves as choral director for all choirs, ages 6-18. She has a Master of Music in Piano performance from Boston University, and she has played at the Tanglewood Institute, and the Boston Pops. She has taught children in the Wellesley and Newton Schools, and the Kodaly Institute. What Bobby liked the most about Valerie was her clear affection for children. Please come to meet Valerie, and learn about her ideas for the Youth Choir Program on Sunday October 20th in the Chapel after worship.

        Thought for the Week
        One of our core beliefs is that in our church we offer educational opportunities for people of all ages. Toward that end Rev. Heike has put together a wonderful series of speakers on topics from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Healing and Faith. This fall twelve people have come to Bible Study. We are discussing the life of Jesus and what it means to us. Joining a group is one of the best ways to grow spiritually.

        Many of you like to engage in personal study, and you have asked me how to read the Bible. Some people try to read the whole Bible all the way through, but most people who try this get pretty bogged down. So you might decide instead to read Mark’s gospel. It is the shortest gospel, and it tells the story of the life and death of Jesus. It does not tell everything. You will notice that Mark leaves out the story of Jesus’ birth. But it might be fun to read Mark to see what his slant is.

        If you want to read the Old Testament try Exodus. It tells the story of Moses as he led the people out of slavery in Egypt. Genesis is also a good book to read for stories about the lives of the earliest Hebrews. Short books that you might enjoy are Ruth or Jonah in the Old Testament. When you get to a place where you have questions try looking up some information online. Wikipedia is pretty good now, in giving background explanations for these stories. Before I could use a search engine for Bible study I used Harper’s Dictionary of the Bible; it is still a favorite source of information.

        The Bible translation which the UCC is recommending these days is the Common English Bible. If you have not had a new Bible since you were young, maybe it is time to treat yourself to a more up to date translation. It will make the stories much easier to understand. What a difference I noticed in this new translation. It smoothes the rough edges of other earlier translations.

        One way to learn the Bible stories and enjoy time with your family is to find a boy or girl who has a story book Bible and read along with them. You will refresh your memory, learn new stories, and enjoy your family.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – October 4, 2013

        This Sunday we will start a new theme – Faith. I will be preaching about Moses and how hard it was for him to believe that he was able to face up to Pharaoh. The sermon will be entitled “Faith in Yourself”.

        Everyone is welcome at Communion
        We will serve communion and all the children will start in the Chapel and join us for communion. I want you all to know that in our church no one is ever turned away from the communion table. You don’t have to be a member. You don’t have to be a grown-up. You just have to want to be included. Now some families prefer to have their children wait to take communion until they complete the communion curriculum in second grade. We respect your wishes, and will be happy to give kids in K-1 a blessing, but we will also serve communion to anyone who comes forward to the table. So the choice of coming to the Lord’s Table is yours.

        Thought for the week
        Near the end of his life Thomas Jefferson spent a lot of time editing his Bible to create a new version. His Bible only included the passages that Jefferson could believe in. It left out all the parts that Jefferson found difficult to accept and all the parts that offended his sensibilities. It was a big project for him, and in some ways the culmination of his faith journey. When he completed his Bible, he had only forty-six pages. I have never looked at Jefferson’s Bible so I don’t know what made the cut and what stories did not, but it seems a vast majority of the stories and passages in scripture were offensive to our third president.

        There are many things in the Bible that strain credibility. There are plenty of passages that we may not agree with, or understand, or even appreciate. But I wonder if we only included those passages we agree with if we would not limit God’s ability to stretch our minds or grow our faith. Some of the hardest passages in the Bible deserve our scrutiny; others may hold truths we cannot yet comprehend; still others may be locked in a time whose values we no longer appreciate.

        Oddly, over time the Bible’s very human touches are what I appreciate most, the places where God seems angry but really emotional, and so much closer than a god who is aloof. I like the times when people seem confused but striving to step up and do something, when they don’t really know what to do. It is not the perfect parts, but the imperfect ones that make the Bible sing for me.

        I have to recommend the new translation endorsed by the UCC The Common English Bible. Please check it out. It makes the stories so much more readable. www.CommonEnglishBible.com

        Personal Note
        I am finding lots of people are confused about the wedding on Nov. 9th at 4 p.m. The whole church is invited to the service at 4 p.m. and to the reception at 5 p.m.

        Dinner will be served. We are having a three course buffet. You are all welcome to stay for the whole evening. If you would like to stay for the reception please RSVP so we can plan on having enough food. We have invited all of you because the church is so important to us.

        I am still getting questions about whether we are registered for gifts somewhere. Here are some ideas, although no gifts are necessary.

        • If you would like to give something to the Church Capital Campaign in honor of this occasion that would be wonderful.
        • If you would prefer, a gift card for Home Depot is a great alternative and would help us with kitchen appliances or renovation.

        Thank you for your many kindnesses.
        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – September 27, 2013

        This week is Visitor Sunday. Bring friend, or a new family in the neighborhood. After worship all families are invited to go to the Chapel to hear about Bible Village, and then take a tour of the new classrooms. Refreshments will be served throughout the building in the new classroom space.

        This Sunday our worship theme on Vocation will be completed. I will preach about those times when people feel called to go far beyond where they ever expected to go as disciples. This Sunday we will look at the Story of the Good Samaritan – which is the story which the children are studying in Bible Village. This will enable us all to look at the story from different perspectives as children and adults. It may give some of the adults new ideas about how to support and encourage their children’s growing faith.

        Following worship Nate will finish his lively lecture series on the Dead Sea Scrolls 11:30 – 1:00 in the Library and Sunu Yeh leads a Bible Study discussion on the book- Saving Jesus from the Church – 11:30 – 12:30 in the Conference Room. All are welcome to enjoy these programs. If you would like to attend the Bible Village Open House and still make your class, the tours will be short, and they will be offered between 11:30 and 1:30.

        John Allen’s Ordination – On this last Sunday of the theme Vocation- Hearing God’s Call- we will ordain John Allen. John grew up in this church, graduated from Needham High School, Davidson College and Union Seminary in NYC. From his youth John has heard the call to serve God as a minister, and his sense of vocation has been so gratifying to us in his home church. His sense of purpose has been so clear. This Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. clergy family and friends from throughout John’s life will gather from New York, and Massachusetts to celebrate with him. He has invited his preaching professor to offer the sermon, and Rev. Barbara Lundblad is widely regarded as one of the greatest preachers of our day. Rev. Heike Werder has been John’s mentor through the ordination process, and she will offer the Charge to the Candidate. I hope you will join us on Sunday at 3 p.m.

        Personal Note
        As you may have heard Peggy O’Connor and I will be married in our Sanctuary on Saturday November 9th at 4 p.m. Since the invitation appeared in last week’s e-mail, I have had some questions about whether we are registered somewhere. Peggy and I are humbled by your generous impulses, but we would prefer that if you would like to give us something please make a contribution to the Church’s Capital Campaign, in honor of this occasion.

        However, if you like to bake, there is one more thing you might do for the reception. We are not big fans of wedding cake, but we do enjoy desserts. So we are asking those of you who enjoy baking to consider bringing something for the dessert table. Please call the Church Office – 781-444-2510 or e-mail office@needhamucc.org, if you have a dessert to share. Thank you for all your good wishes.
        Peace,
        Susan

        Thought for the Week
        Several weeks ago I mentioned that in the UCC we take the Bible seriously, but not literally. That concept can be freeing, but it can also lead to lots of questions. Some people assume that if the Bible is not literal, it does not mean much. But for 3000 years Jewish Rabbis have debated the scripture, because they did not believe it was literal, but nonetheless true. The truth of the Bible is often revealed in talking about it, and wrestling with the stories. The Rabbis believed the truth of the Bible is revealed in discussion. As you form your own opinions and then listen to others, the gold in the Bible is refined in the crucible of these conversations.

        How are we supposed to understand the Bible? UCC writer, Rev. Tony Robinson, believes that the very word “understand” has confused us. For most of us who want to “understand” something we try to figure it out, or explain it, or gain mastery over it. Ancient people interpreted understanding very differently. They thought to understand meant to “stand under”. ” It meant standing beneath something that can’t be fully seen or comprehended.” He writes “In the UCC Christians and the church are called to humbly stand under the Scripture, yielding to its strange new world.” {The Bible and the United Church of Christ. P. 1}

        This fall in our church we invite you to stand under the Biblical truth.
        • Listen to scholars.
        • Share your ideas.
        • Raise your questions.
        We have some wonderful Bible study opportunities this fall. I hope you will take advantage of them.
        •The Sunday Lectures at 11:30 on will feature prominent scholars from Brandeis, Boston University and Andover Newton.
        •The Bible Study discussion groups (Sundays 11:30 – 12:30 and Thursdays 10:30 – noon) offer thoughtful and lively discussions.
        •The Field Trip to the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit at the Museum of Science on October 13th. Make your reservation today!

        A Message from Reverend Susan – September 13, 2013

        This weekend we have many things to celebrate!

        Installation – On Sunday at 5 p.m. Rev. Jamie Green will be installed as our new Associate Minister for Children and Youth. Her service will be in the sanctuary and will include the Youth Band, and will have several experiential stations where you can express your faith and experience it. Join us for the celebration.

        New Facilities – Our program year is beginning with some great new facilities.
        The Bible Village program has some new classrooms and great space all together. So when your children go to Bible Village they will not be spread out all over the building for their workshops after the lesson in the Chapel. I hope you have a moment to check out the classrooms on the ground floor. Three of the classrooms have been re-painted and renovated. This change has been long overdue and Rev. Jamie and the Christian Education Committee and pleased with the new space.

        Worship at 10 a.m. – This week our service theme continues on the topic of Vocation- Hearing God’s Call. Last week I preached about Abraham and this week I will preach on Moses and the Burning Bush. Most of us who have chosen a career path don’t think very often about listening for the call of God in our lives, but the Bible shows many examples of people who are in the middle of their life and hear God calling them in a new direction, or to a new project that re-ignites their enthusiasm for life. Moses was a great example of a mid-life career change. The point of this series is that we all hear God’s call throughout our lives in new and different ways. Once Moses responded to God at the burning bush, he changed the way he lived his life, and for the rest of his days he walked with God. Now most of us don’t expect to lead people out of slavery, or to change the course of history. But we all have the chance to walk with God. I hope you join us on Sunday for worship as we all consider what it might mean to walk with God each day. (Last week’s sermon is posted at http://needhamucc.org/come/sermons/ . )

        Thought for the Week
        Today is Friday the 13th. The superstition is that this is not a lucky day. Even today lots of people are worried about this day because they do not trust that it will bring blessings.

        One of you came to my office to say that your sister was attending a wedding today. Their friends had found a bargain for their wedding venue, because no one else wanted to be married today – given the day of Friday the 13th. It shows you how superstitious people can be when they are planning a wedding. Folks get so nervous beforehand they don’t “want to tempt the fates”. Sounds like the reasoning of people in ancient Greece- 2500 years ago. But still this thinking has more currency than we realize. It seems one couple was brave enough to try having their wedding today. Maybe they knew that their love was strong enough to stand up to the test of this old superstition.

        Twenty eight years ago today our daughter Sarah was born. Her birthday is September 13 and it was on a Friday. Now I was never a very superstitious person but any bit of nervousness I had about that day was challenged by that event and the child and young woman she has grown to be. Her birth caused me to re-examine the history of superstition.

        Actually, the Bible came into being at a time when people believed in superstition. So many of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures are stories meant to challenge superstition. Superstitions are not just the product of ancient people or believed only by folks who have different kinds of educational backgrounds from us. They are the attempts that people make in every time and place to make sense out of things that baffle or confuse them.

        What the Bible teaches, is the same thing that I learned when Sarah was born. Love and faith are always stronger than superstition. Love and faith always trump fear, too. Love and faith can guide us toward real truth, and can help us follow our deepest intuition. At our core, we are connected to God’s wisdom. We don’t have to construct rules to ensure safety in an unpredictable world.

        The Bible teaches us that each day is a glorious gift. Enjoy this wonderful and blessed day – Friday the 13th of September 2013.

        Mazel tov to the couple getting married today, and happy birthday-Sarah.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – September 6, 2013

        On this amazing sun-drenched fall day, I send you my blessings and welcome you to a new program year. Our first Sunday of the year will be this week- Sunday September 8, 2013, which is Welcome Back Sunday. We will be starting Bible Village and both Youth Groups will meet. So we have a full program of activities planned. As part of the Welcome Back Sunday worship service, we will have the Sacrament of Communion and families are all welcome to take communion together.

        This first Sunday of Bible Village- please take you children directly to the chapel, to register for Bible Village and begin their program. The children will join us for communion toward the end of the worship service.

        Many people who find this church sense that we are somewhat unique, but they do not know exactly why we are so different from other churches. So I think it makes sense to remind ourselves what we believe, especially as we begin a new year.

        1. Here, in this church we strive not to judge people, but we try hard to see everyone as a gift.
        2. Here, we take the Bible seriously, but that does not mean we take it literally.
        3. Here we take the Church’s traditions and interpret them for today’s modern world.
        4. Here, we think of Jesus as a teacher more than a savior. That said, we also believe that his wisdom is thoughtful, original, and life-changing, still.

        Along with many UCC churches we believe that God is still speaking. We believe that God’s wisdom is not locked in time, or limited to a small geographic region in the Middle East. We believe that God in Christ is loose in the world, and that we encounter God’s grace each day. More than that, we believe that God is doing new things in the world, even now.

        Lord knows, with all the perplexing questions in our society and the concerns about climate change, security, chemical weapons, and healthcare – we could use some divine wisdom, right about now.

        So I hope you will join us for worship this week. I like to think that this hour you spend in worship is your Power Hour. It is that one hour that gives meaning to purpose to the rest of your week. I like to think that that sense of purpose often comes to you in the silence, or the prayer responses, as much as through any words that we say.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Heike – August 16, 2013

        On Sunday, August 18, 2013 we’ll continue to hold worship in THE SANCTUARY because of the work that is being done in the chapel. The abatement work is done but getting new flooring put down will take a few more days. The chapel will definitely be “back in business” by the start of the program year.

        Alecia White-Scharback will be our musician and Rev. Jamie Green will be preaching on Sister Helen Prejean. Even though I know of her, I do not know much about her. I am looking forward to learning about her this coming Sunday. Here is a short biography that Rev. Jamie would like to share with you in advance:

        Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., is a Roman Catholic nun, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. She served as spiritual advisor for convicted murderer Elmo Patrick Sonnier and other inmates on death row, which she wrote about in “Dead Man Walking.” The book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. Sister Helen served as National Chairperson of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1993 to 1995. She also founded Survive, an organization devoted to counseling the families of victims of violence. Prejean now bases her work at the Death Penalty Discourse Network in New Orleans and spends her time giving talks across the United States and around the world.

        Come and join us for worship!

        Thought for the week

        Even though preparing the sermons for our self-elected sermon theme for the summer is pretty labor-intensive, I have very much enjoyed the task of digging deeper into people’s lives. What is interesting to me is that recurring themes in all of the lives of those we have chosen as “Today’s Saints” are surfacing. Two of the themes I see are passion and love; passion for a cause (or faith) and love for humankind. Where would we be without people in our midst that are passionate and deeply in love with, well, us?

        People with a deep passion for a cause are often disliked or looked upon with suspicion. Their passion might scare us or make us uncomfortable or even give us the feeling of inadequacy. But I believe it helps a great deal to see their motives or what made them follow their passion even though we might not always agree with them.

        We’ll see you Sunday!

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – August 9, 2013

        On Sunday, August 11, 2013 we will hold worship in our Sanctuary because of abatement work in the Chapel, the staircase in back and the classroom below the Chapel. The company that is doing the work will arrive very early on Monday morning which means that the space (the Chapel, etc.) needs to be totally empty and prepped for the work to be done. It also looks like that the weather will cooperate and we will not “melt” in the Sanctuary.

        I hope that this small change will not deter you from joining us for worship. Teresa Blume and Rob Dunlavey will be our musician for the hour of worship. I will be preaching on Bill McKibben, one of the leading voices on Climate Change. He is scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, the author of more than a dozen books, environmental activist, founder of 350.org, a global warming awareness campaign that in October 2009 coordinated the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. Actually, if I remember correctly, we rang our church bell 350 times that day to join this global effort. Bill is a Christian and at one time was his church’s Sunday School superintendent.

        I have found a lot of information about him and his work. His tenacity to fight for this planet and its people is truly inspiring, and I believe that he has an important message for us Christians.

        Thought for the week

        How is your garden doing? Does it produce more than you can eat? Why not share? Last year, it was Rev. Susan’s idea to have a “table of plenty” at the church on Sundays after church. Let’s do it again!

        I know that I have a few cucumbers, basil, and beets to share. We’ll swap or simply pass on the goodness of our gardens to any of you.

        See you Sunday!
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – August 2, 2013

        I am looking forward being in worship with you this coming Sunday. I will be preaching on C.S. Lewis and one of his books called “Surprised by Joy”. I was drawn to him because his is a modern day conversion to Christianity story. Since age 15 he declared himself an atheist, having been disappointed by God’s non-presence and disinterest in his life and family at the time. And yet somehow he kept searching and yearning for “the more” which eventually he found in returning to God and Christianity.

        C.S. Lewis is known as a poet, teacher, and literary giant. But what many don’t realize is he also has a solid place among lay theologians as a Christian Apologist – someone who is committed to making a solid case for the Christian faith – which raised some eye brows amongst his friends and colleagues at Oxford and Cambridge.

        C.S. Lewis left us a rich repertoire, amongst them “The Chronicles of Narnia” – a fantastic tale dotted with rich Christian images. It was Tolkien, Lewis’s friend, who pointed out that fact at the time.

        I think what drew me to him was struggle to find faith, to admit it, to embrace it, and to keep struggling with it. Another topic that I thought would be good for us to think about is joy – in life, in work, in faith. These are the things I will be pondering over in the sermon.

        Our music will again be led by Alecia Scharback. If you missed listening to her last week, you are in for a treat. We will also be celebrating communion together. Come and join us for Worship.

        Thought for the week
        As many of you know, Jamie and I went on a classic tour of Greece for vacation. Since we are usually very independent travelers, we wondered how this “group thing” would work out for us. I am glad to report, we liked it. We met some rally nice people from the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And our tour guides were amazing – true fonts of knowledge about Greek history and religion.

        In two places – ancient Corinth and ancient Ephesus- we walked in St. Paul’s footsteps. The ruins of each town speak of the splendor and ingenuity of ancient builders and city planners. Even though it takes some imagination to see what St. Paul saw on his travels, the agora – the market place – was the place where people gathered and heard this message about this new faith in Jesus Christ, the son of God. What compelled people to take on this new faith? What made them stick to it even when the Romans started to persecute them for it? How did Paul do it? The letters we have of his in the New Testament speak of his passion and understanding of the faith in Christ. But there must have been something else that compelled people to follow him. I think that something else was the joy he was able to convey in his new-found faith. His conversion story is pretty amazing by itself, and somehow he was able to pass on this joy – of faith, of freedom, of knowing that God is always with us – and that Christ was the human expression of a loving and caring God. I think it is that joy that C.S. Lewis experienced when he finally gave in and admitted that God is God and he is his.

        Blessings,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Susan – July 26, 2013

        This Sunday Rev. Jamie will be preaching on one of Today’s Saints, and her topic will be Dorothy Day- the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Rev. Jamie when asked why she chose Ms. Day said “ Day, inspired by the teachings of Jesus, was a radical during her time, working for such social causes as civil rights, pacifism, the labor movement, and women’s suffrage. Dorothy Day provides a contemporary model of the qualities of holiness: solidarity with and service to God’s poor, promoting and being willing to suffer for justice, acting in charity, living in community, integrating faith and action through prayer, sacred ritual, and meditation. Dorothy Day is a wise, caring, challenging example of how we can be godly through acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly.”

        Our music will be led by Alecia Scharback. This week Rev. Heike will be back from her trip to Greece and Germany, so she will be leading worship with Rev. Jamie.

        As I mentioned in my column several weeks ago, I will be doing some camping in Brewster on the Cape, and so I am hoping that you will support me by praying that the rain is at a minimum in the next week and a half. After I finish camping I will spend a week in Maryland with Jon and Nancy, as they welcome their second child in early August. I will keep you posted. I should be back in the office for 2 days (August 13-14) for some meetings, and then more camping until August 26th when I will be at the church.

        Over the summer I have been working hard on refining the list of themes and coordinating it with the Bible Village program, so that we are all looking at some of the same Bible stories and faith questions in the year ahead. I am really happy with the themes we have worked on for 2013-2014. You will find them listed below. We are hoping to coordinate our programs and classes around the themes whenever we can.

        • September – Vocation & Call
        • October – Faith
        • November – Forgiveness
        • December – Family
        • January – February Evil & Goodness
        • March- Healing
        • April – Transformation
        • May – Stewardship

        The themes are intentionally broad and general but they all have Bible stories that bring them to life. On the first Sunday of every month we will introduce the new themes and the Bible stories that illustrate them. It has been a great experience coordinating worship and religious education in topical and thematic ways. It has also been helpful to do the doctor of ministry research so that I can feel more secure that what we are doing has scholarly integrity.

        We started the themed preaching project as an experiment, but it grew to be a more and more effective way to organize worship. With the deacons leadership, and monthly feedback, we were able to respond to suggestions, make changes in the themes, and hone the project over the last 4 years. Then in the middle of it, Jamie launched Bible Village, also a theme-based program for the children, and after two years we have been getting very positive feedback from children and their parents. This year we are hoping to begin to coordinate the worship themes in the sanctuary with the Bible Village curriculum, so children and adults are able to connect in the ways that they talk about their faith from week to week.

        Though my academic work grew organically out of the need to know more about Biblical thematic motifs and the decision to go back to school grew out of a practical need to be sure we offered you the best set of themes we could, as I complete this work I continue to be excited about the wonderful connections we have forged between scholarship and the practice of church leadership. The Doctor of Ministry is less theoretical or classically academic than the Doctor of Philosophy, but in their case, my doc tor of ministry work has offered me so many new resources, and new ideas for sermons. So, over the last 3 years this work has benefitted all of us. That is what this program at Andover Newton Theological School is designed to do, and it has been very gratifying to see how it has unfolded.

        God bless you,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – July 19, 2013

        This Sunday we are in for a real treat in worship. Dick Fernandez will be preaching about his friend Joshua Abraham Heschel. Rabbi Heschel was one of the great Jewish minds of our time and Dick is one of the few Protestants to have had a chance to get to know him as a friend. Dick is a UCC minister and he also happens to be the father of John Fernandez, so he has been to our church many times , but never before in an official capacity. I have enjoyed getting to know Dick this year and I think we you appreciate his message and his way of delivering it.

        Our music this week will be especially lovely. Teresa Winner Blume will play our hymns and Soomi Lee Lowry will play two beautiful classical pieces. Their musical gifts are always a very special treat.

        Thought for the Week

        Several weeks ago I mentioned that I have been very much affected by the decision of the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA. Since that decision Peggy and I have decided to get married. We will have our wedding in the sanctuary on November 9th at 4 p.m. This decision is a thoughtful one and we would really like to share this moment with all of you. In so many ways you have been part of this journey for both of us. You affection for Peggy and your support of me through the last several years has been both healing and life-giving. You will always have my devoted appreciation. Our celebration will be a party – an opportunity to celebrate how far we have all come in this country in terms of striving to welcome and affirm all people. We are hoping that this will be a celebration of this church’s willingness to make openness and affirmation an important part of who we are and how we live our faith out loud.

        We really want to invite all of you and will be sending out wedding invitations in the fall but we wanted to make sure you had the information so you could…..

        ——————————————————————————–

        Save the Date
        November 9, 2013
        4:00 p.m.

        Food and festivities will follow the ceremony in Fellowship Hall.

        There seems to be Biblical evidence that Jesus enjoyed weddings (John 2)
        so I intend for all of us to have a good time at this event.
        I have hired a DJ; so put on your dancing shoes, and come celebrate.
        It truly is a great moment in history, to be alive.

        ——————————————————————————-

        Thank you for your graciousness in supporting us. I feel so blessed to have been called to this church.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – July 12, 2013

        This Sunday our worship will continue in the Chapel. Teresa Blume will be our pianist and Emily Verschoor Kirss will play her saxophone. There will be some lovely music.

        Our Summer worship theme is Today’s Saints. You can take a look at all the modern saints we have considered on the bulletin board in the hall outside the reception room. It is a wonderful display of some of the great religious thinkers and inspirational heroes of our time.

        This Sunday I will be preaching about Robin Meyers. I read Robin’s book – Saving Jesus from the Church, and really enjoyed his somewhat irreverent but common sense and deeply faithful approach to religion. Robin is the senior minister of Mayflower UCC Church in Oklahoma City, one of the largest UCC churches in the country. In the last 25 years, Mayflower has consistently been one of the fastest growing UCC churches in the country. While that is a great statistic, Robin was not really on my radar screen as an example of one of Today’s saints until I attended the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC in June. Robin was our keynote speaker, and he was both entertaining, and inspiring. I hope you enjoy the chance to meet Robin and get to know him on Sunday.

        Thought for the Week
        Several of you have asked me about my summer plans. For the last 4 years Peggy and I have gone to Chautauqua institute for a couple of weeks to drink in the intellectual and musical air of that outdoor spa for the mind. It has been a great experience to hear some of the greatest leaders from government, business or university circles. I laughed one day when I sat on the grass and fell asleep listening to Andrew Young talk in an open air lecture hall. “I must have been tired because I fell asleep listening to one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time.” But this year we are not going to Chautauqua. While I may miss it, I think it is a great decision to mix things up a little, and I am really looking forward to a vacation spent doing less time in lectures and more time biking.

        Peggy is an interim minister and this year she is serving the UCC Church in Harwichport. So we will be forced to spend August on Cape Cod. Ah well. We are hoping to have some time to work- she at the church and I in the library to make some progress on my doctor of ministry dissertation. If you are in Harwich look me up. I should be in the stacks on the 2nd floor most mornings at Brooks Library on Main St and Bank St. in Harwich. But if there is sun in the afternoon, you will find me on the rail trail.

        One of the things we are really looking forward to is camping in Brewster for a couple of weeks. Not everybody likes to camp. But there is something about living in as tent for a week that refreshes me. I am not sure how to explain it exactly. Whenever I think about why I like it two things come up for me.

        First I like the way it makes me feel free. When you stay in a tent you begin to recognize what really matters in your life, and all the other things that are not very important slip away. Camping helps me focus on simple things- like how to make dinner, how to get more air in the blow up mattress, how to keep bugs out of the tent, or how to keep the milk cool. Something about the simplicity of everything is very spiritual too .Being out in nature is just very calming for me. Now I know that this is not true for everyone, and I am not sure I fully understand it, but I feel myself calm down in a tent.

        I understand it is something of an illusion because I have my car and my credit card with me, if I need it, but something about camping makes me feel self-sufficient, and there is something very satisfying about that. When I ride my bike to the beach, it feels so free. The journey itself is fun. Just being outside, I fall in love with the earth all over again.

        You don’t have to go camping to enjoy nature. I imagine everyone reading this has a favorite spot where you feel more spiritual because you have connected with God in nature. I hope that if there are places that you cherish because they feed your soul, you will find the time or opportunity to drink in earth’s goodness and crawl into God’s lap again, this summer.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – June 28, 2013

        This Sunday we will be worshipping in the Chapel which is air conditioned. Many people enjoy these summer services as a special treat, because the setting is intimate and school-age children are included, and we begin the service with an opportunity for everyone to light candles of concern and celebration.

        This Sunday our sermon series on Today’s Saints will continue with a sermon on Roger Shinn. “Who the heck is Roger Shinn?”- you might be asking. Roger Shinn is one of the key leaders and founders of the UCC. A congregational minister and professor of theology at Union Seminary, he wrote the UCC Statement of Faith- which is an eloquent statement about what we believe about God and Jesus. More than his words, we will celebrate Shinn’s life, and the way he lived out his faith. A decorated veteran from World War II, he became an advocate for peace. A native from Ohio, Shinn grew up in a German-speaking community but he had a vision for a church that included all people.
        I hope you will join us on Sunday morning at 10.

        Thought for the Day
        When the Supreme Court heard the case the arguments in the DOMA case this winter, I sat up listening to CNN at night. CNN played an audio feed of the arguments and flashed the picture of the speakers onto the screen as the debate progressed. It might seem like pretty dull television, but it was important to me. The debate was hard to read to someone without legal training, and I had no clue what the court would decide. The gay rights legal team looked really happy at their press conference that week, but I was reserving judgment.

        Yesterday’s decision that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional took me by surprise. I sat stunned at my computer. People wanted to ring the church’s bell and I thought that sounded like a good idea, but I remained subdued.

        I thought about how much has happened in my lifetime and the changes no one saw coming over the last decade:

        • Gay people can get married now in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
        • Civil Unions are legal in 8 more.
        • In 2011 President Obama was the first president to support gay marriage.
        • This spring Ohio Republican Sen. Bob Portman announced that his son is gay and he favors gay marriage.

        I also could not help but think about all the people who struggled to be who they are, and lost that struggle.

        • Adults who suffer from depression because they grew up thinking they were an abomination.
        • Teens who ended their lives because they feared they were gay.
        • Families who were torn up by this issue.

        I thought about all the people who have negotiated personal transformations on this issue, people who risked ostracism by being honest with their families, their co-workers, their neighbors, and their churches. Low and behold when people were honest, everybody’s worst fears have not been realized. In fact, many families have been strengthened, not destroyed by these honest encounters. Many businesses, neighborhoods, and churches have been enriched and transformed by these revelations.

        At the end of the day, my daughter Elizabeth called to celebrate. She was so excited and said, “I feel better, now.”

        “Why” I asked. “It never made sense to me that I should be able to marry Seth, whom I met 3 years ago, but you could not enjoy most of the rights I have with the person you love and have known so much longer.” Leave it to your children to state the obvious, and shake you into the moment.

        Really, it has been the relentless refusal of the youth of this nation to subscribe to the bigotry that characterized former generations that has carried the day on this issue. Young adults- conservative, liberal, evangelical or progressive – are not buying the bigotry, this time. In their deliberations, the Supreme Court acknowledged this. The youth have helped us all find our way. Thank God.

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – June 21, 2013

        This Sunday we will give a special blessing to the Youth Mission Trip participants. They are headed off to New Jersey this week to stay in a UCC Church in Tom’s River and do some clean up from the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy. That work is on-going and our youth will be teaming up with youth from another UCC Church in Connecticut to repair homes and clean up debris still there a year later. A huge group of teens and some wonderful chaperones are scheduled to leave on Tuesday. We will send them off with a prayer this Sunday. Our worship music will feature our choir soloists – Soprano, Caitlin McCarville, Alto, Maggie Furtak, and Bass, Crosby Goshgarian. Denice Koljonen will be at the organ sharing her talents, and Soomi Lee Lowry will be at the piano.

        A musical feast awaits. This will also be Heike’s last Sunday before she goes on her vacation.

        Our sermon series topic is – Today’s Saints. This week I will be talking about a local rabbi who has earned an international reputation for writing to people of all faiths about faith, Rabbi Harold Kushner. I hope you will join us.

        Thought for the Week
        This morning I had a list of things I wanted to do and so I got up early. When I went outside to get the newspaper I saw some of the strawberries were really red. So I lingered and bent down to pick the first one that caught my eye. One of my favorite sounds all year long is the distinctive pop of a ripe strawberry. It is such a satisfying sound and it carries the anticipation of a very tasty piece of fruit because it is the sound of ripeness. Though I had a lot of things on my list, I did something unusually fun. I stayed for 15 minutes and picked strawberries. It feels confessional to tell you this in some ways.

        It was early and the neighborhood was quiet, and it seemed I was all alone in my small garden. While I was picking strawberries I heard the birds singing away. One strawberry plant led to another and soon I had a basket full of deliciousness. As I paused there to take the morning in I was reminded of something I read once by a religious author. He said, “What do you think it will be like when you meet St. Peter at the gates of paradise. Will he ask you what you did with your life? What will you say? Will you reply – I got up early every morning and made long lists and completed them by bedtime? Will you re-assure him that you took care of everything and nothing was don’t poorly on your watch?

        Most of us have been trained to think we need this kind of drive to succeed. And often, we do. But I think it is easy to let the balance tilt toward industry so much that we miss nature’s beauty or life’s surprises.

        I hesitate in writing this because I know that it might be easy to hear it as a criticism. This is the longest school year in recent memory and it is haaard to do everything, and now the minister thinks God is not happy because we are not out there in the early morning picking strawberries. Please!

        What I am trying to say is I hope you really enjoy the week ahead. If you are a parent, you have earned a rest. Be sure to take it. Actually, I think God would want you to slow down and relax this summer. Enjoy!

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – June 14, 2013

        This Sunday is the Chancel choir’s last Sunday leading the worship music and they have planned a lovely set of anthems with some special solo pieces too. I heard their rehearsal last night and this is lovely music. We will have the Sacrament of Baptism for Josephine Dancy daughter of Ellen Busher and Chris Dancy (whom some of you may know as a teacher at High Rock).

        Our summer sermon series is Today’s Saints, and this week Rev. Heike will be preaching about Dietrich Bonhoeffer- a brilliant theologian who was the leader of the religious resistance in Hitler’s Germany. Growing up in East Germany, Heike has a unique perspective on his life, and the sacrifice he paid for his faith.

        Thought for the Week
        For those of us who toured the Christian sites in Turkey just 6 weeks ago, it is pretty eerie to watch the news and to see places where we stood now serving as the sites for demonstrations and police crackdowns. We were in Istanbul for two nights and our hotel was a few blocks from Taksim Square. One evening we strolled through the square searching for a restaurant. It was a beautiful wide-open space with construction in the park. This construction has provided fuel to the uprising, from what I understand.

        Turkey has always been a crossroads for the world and it holds many forces in tension. Nowhere is this clearer than in Istanbul. The city sits at the intersection of the Bosporus and the Aegean. A crossroads for caravans and trade routes, this city served one of the earliest areas of Christian conversion. Later sultans ruled the Ottoman Empire here for 10 centuries. It is a Muslim country and you feel that when you go there. But it is distinctive in that Turkey is striving to maintain a strong separation of church and state. So Turkey is striving to discern a unique religious path with 80 -90% of the people practicing Islam, yet most of them cherishing their secular freedom to dress in Western style.

        It was the night we were searching for a restaurant though that comes to mind when I read the news these days. While we sauntered back to our hotel we saw a demonstration. It was hard to know what people were demonstrating for because the language barrier prevented us from understanding much. But we could not miss the sudden arrival of many police in the square as the demonstration continued. We decided not to linger there that night, though not much transpired in the end. When we asked our guides the next day, they down-played the incident, but tourism is the second biggest industry in Turkey. Judging from the people we met there, it is a country that needs tourists and will suffer from this turmoil.

        It is a real privilege to be able to travel to places which have Christian historic significance, and then to see the layers of history in these modern lands that house ancient sites. On the two trips to Israel and now this one to Greece and Turkey it has been amazing both to recognize the historical significance of the archeological sites, and to see the modern political and religious challenges of the Middle East. My prayers go out to the people of Turkey. The people I met were very grounded, hard-working, and warm. Clearly, they bear the scars of some hard economic times, but this nation is also full of hope. Often people stage demonstrations not when they are in despair, but when they are in the process of imaging a brighter future.

        Enjoy Father’s Day.
        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – June 7, 2013

        Dear Friends,

        This Sunday we will have an annual treat- Youth Sunday. I think you will be amazed at the thoughtfulness, musicality, and dedication of our youth. The youth choirs will sing special music. The Youth Band will lead some of the worship music. But the real highlight will be the opportunity to hear a large group of our graduating senior talk about what the church has meant to them as they have grown up here. I predict that their message will be inspiring and moving. So make sure you have the chance to hear them all at 10 a.m.

        Thought for the Week
        My daughter Elizabeth will be married to Seth Carrier on Saturday. Liz and Seth met at Andover Newton in the refectory one day in 2010. I know exactly when they first met because I was there. I had invited Liz to eat lunch there. While we were talking, I sensed she was distracted. I looked up to see that she had noticed a young man who had just entered the cafeteria. Seth must have seen her too, because he took the empty seat at our table and pretty soon it was clear that Liz was not paying much attention to me at all.

        It was the following summer when they went on a mission trip to Haiti that they became really committed to each other. I knew Liz had fallen in love with Seth when she drove to Oklahoma to be with him that year. She drove the whole way in August in a car so old that the AC was broken. Seth and Liz have been happy together in Tulsa. They are both UU ministers, and for the last year Liz served as pastor of Hope UU, while Seth has been a chaplain in a local hospital.

        After their wedding they will be moving to Indiana where Seth has a new call to the UU church in Muncie. I did not know much about Muncie before this, but it is a lot closer than Oklahoma, and we have learned that Muncie is home to the Ball Jar Factory, and the University named for its founder- Ball State.

        I share this story with you, because whether we realize it or not, most of us want our children to be happy, but often that means they will have to find people or causes that distract them so much that they lose interest in us, and follow the path of new adventures. We want them to be happy, but that often means that they will reach for new horizons or wander far from home. In the process of watching them grow, if we are lucky, we grow a bit ourselves, too.

        So, I am afraid I will not be able to be at Youth Sunday this year, but I bet you will learn a lot from our youth.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 31, 2013

        This week we will be welcoming new families in worship, and starting our summer worship theme.

        The theme for the summer services is Today’s Saints. Our sermons will focus on people who have changed the world through their faith. This Sunday I will be speaking about Desmond Tutu, and how his faith in the goodness of people has transformed South Africa and offers us an example of how to live with courage and compassion- even in the hardest of times. I hope that you will join us for worship.

        Following worship Bible Village will have a big year-end celebration. There will be a luncheon served by the CE committee in Fellowship Hall. The children will sing songs, and get attendance awards. All the pre-school students will be recognized as they rise up to begin attending Bible Village in the fall. The program will last about 45 minutes and the whole church is invited.

        Thought for the Week

        Each week when we pray- “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, we acknowledge that forgiveness of others is intimately connected to our own sense of freedom from the guilt and negativity we carry about our own misdeeds. Finding we are forgiven can be the key to extending forgiveness.

        The March issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion has a new report on forgiveness. I found the findings interesting.

        The study discovered that people who thought God loved them and forgave their transgressions are far more likely to “turn around and absolve others.” Trusting God’s forgiveness, helps people forgive themselves. Then it is easier to forgive someone else. The two aspects of forgiveness have proved to be linked.

        The other finding was that the ability to accept God’s forgiveness and also pardon others is linked to substantial health benefits. While forgiveness is a very personal issue, it is linked to better mental and physical health. Forgiveness has been linked in studies to lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, and a higher self-esteem and sense of life satisfaction.

        Research also discovered that people who set conditions for forgiveness – like acts of contrition – lose the psychological benefits of forgiveness. Apparently, the health and psychological benefits are associated with unconditional forgiveness.

        These studies are careful to point out that they do not apply to people who have been abused or violated necessarily, but are part of research on less egregious hurt or pain. In general, in daily cases of family stress or slights at work, people who can put the hurt behind them, do better.

        One final piece of research reported in the Review of Religious Research said that how people are treated at church also has a big impact on their emotional health and well-being. The difference hinged on whether fellow worshipers modeled compassion or judgment. People who were more satisfied with the emotional support that they received from fellow church members were more likely to forgive themselves than those who did not sense this support.

        To learn more about this- check out Christian Century, May 1, 2013 – p. 15. It is fascinating reading.

        Have a good weekend,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 24, 2013

        This Sunday we conclude our series on Legacy and Rev. Jamie will be preaching, while Rev. Heike assists with Liturgy. Shepherd’s Staff choir will be singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” led by Jannatha Coffin-Malia, the Postlude will be a performance of the Friendly Chimes. We have called it a Celebration Postlude. This will be a wonderful service from start to finish. So try not to miss it.

        Capital Campaign
        The Public Campaign is making progress every day. Every gift will count. Later this summer, the Board will make some decisions about how to prioritize the construction work which will begin next spring in 2014. If you have not pledged to the campaign you can pledge by :

        1. Sending in a Pledge form http://needhamucc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/WHatHowPledge-web.pdf
        2. Using our online pledge form http://needhamucc.org/capital-campaign-online-pledge-form/
        3. Calling the church office- 781-444-2510.
        4. Email your pledge to pledge@needhamucc.org.

        This is an ambitious plan and we cannot achieve it without the support of everyone. Please join us.

        Thought for the Week
        On our trip we had a great time visiting Ephesus. It was one of the highlights of the trip. Ephesus was a bustling ancient metropolis on the Aegean Sea. For over a thousand years before Jesus was born, there was a thriving city in Ephesus. It was a place where people worshipped at a Greek Temple that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world- on par with the Parthenon.

        Today Ephesus is a huge archeological site with big building. It is only partially excavated. Like many ancient cities, it was the dwelling of hundreds of thousands of residents, many of them slaves. A large commercial class grew rich from trade. It was the place where Paul spoke in the Temple to Artemis (Acts 19). We learned on our trip that Paul would often go to the public places and then debate with scholars and speak about Jesus, explaining that Jesus was God’s Son. In those open forums people would stop to listen, and some would debate. It was through these various conversations and public testimonies that the earliest Christians founded a church in Ephesus. We know this place was important to Paul because he wrote a letter to the Ephesians which we have in our New Testament.

        One of the amazing parts of the story of Ephesus was the tradition that John – the man who wrote the fourth gospel – lived there. When Jesus was crucified, he told John to take care of his mother Mary, and he told his mother to treat John as a son. Now this part of the crucifixion was only remembered in John’s gospel, so some scholars take it with a grain of salt. But in truth the gospel of John has a theological flavor and a Greek influence which would have been consistent with someone who lived in Ephesus. So the notion that John went there is quite plausible. There is a huge church dedicated to John and people think it was built over the spot where John was buried.

        There is also a lovely spot on the hillside outside of Ephesus with a chapel on the place where Mary was said to live out her days. On the day we visited this place it was so beautiful. The trees were well groomed and much loved by the people there. The chapel was small and people went through it with a quiet reverence, lighting candles and saying prayers. Apparently, people have been coming to the chapel from all over the world for centuries. One nun from Germany even had a vision of the place in the 18th century long before most Westerners knew it was there. Her vision corresponded to the real spot in every detail.

        This weekend, as you celebrate Memorial Day and remember those who risked their lives to protect our country, I hope you will also think about all the people of faith who inspire you. For our summer services we will be talking about Today’s Saints. The ministers have created a list, but if you have ideas about modern saints from the last 100 years please pass their names along to me, Heike or Jamie.

        On a Personal Note
        My mother had a bad fall several weeks ago. She has been in a nursing facility because she broke her shoulder. I will be gone on Sunday because I will be flying to see her as she settles back into her apartment. I will be preaching on June 2 when we start our series on Today’s Saints.

        God’s peace to you,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 17, 2013

        This Sunday we will celebrate the Rite of Confirmation with our Youth. This is always a very moving service when the ninth graders take a step in faith at the culmination of their 12 week program. This week Rev. Heike will be preaching on our theme of Legacy and talking about the legacy of Christian Communities and how it shapes and informs our faith.

        Sunday also includes Bible Village and Youth choir rehearsal .

        Also after worship
        Track the Footsteps of Paul

        We invite you to a session in Linden Hall at 11:30 when we will share some stories of our trip to Greece and Turkey as we report on our experience learning about the early Christian Church. Some of the journey was inspiring, and some of the experiences were funny. We will give you a taste and experience of what we saw. In terms of seeing history come alive, this trip matched the one to the Holy Land three years ago. We learned so much and had such incredible adventures. We look forward to sharing them with you this Sunday!

        Thought for the Week
        On the last day of our trip we explored a place in central Turkey called Cappadocia. It is mentioned in the Pentecost story in Acts 2. When the people gathered from all the lands in Jerusalem at Pentecost some of them were from Cappadocia in central Turkey. In the miracle of Pentecost they learned about the story of Jesus. Traditions tells us they returned to their homeland and established churches. For reasons no one really knows the Cappadocians lived in caves. People speculate that the soft rock formations in that region lend themselves to cave dwellers. Others think they lived there for safety. Living as they do along a trade route, which became known as the silk route in later years, they found safety by building homes in rocks and even, in some cases, in underground cities. On the last day before we began our journey home, we spent the entire day exploring the caves and taking a tour of one of the underground cities.

        As you might imagine, these have become places of curiosity and many tourists in the area spend time exploring these places. To our surprise what we discovered was that one whole valley of the area was an ancient Byzantine religious center. In the middle of the region were not just houses, but a whole series of brightly painted churches in the caves. Each one prettier than the last, the walls were covered with painted murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ. In one region I must have visited 6 churches and seen a six story monastery for nuns.

        It was so elaborate and beautiful, and remote that it raised many questions for me. It made me wonder about the faith of these people. It made me wonder why they felt the need to be so secluded. It made me question the times in life when faith is private or even secret. It made me question the impact on the world of a faith community shrouded in secrecy. I think there are times in our faith journey when we have to curl up, or lay low or re-group. But I hope that there are also times when we can be witnesses who are sure of our faith commitment, I hope there are times when we are even bold in our willingness to tell people about our faith, or evangelize for our church, especially if it means something to us.

        Lots to think about…..

        On a personal note- Friday of this week I will be inducted into the Jonathan Edwards Society- an honorary academic society at Andover Newton Theological School. While this is not a big deal in some ways, it is important to me, so I thought I would share it with you.

        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – May 10, 2013

        This week we celebrate Bible Sunday in worship. The ministers will give our Bibles to the Kindergarten and the Fourth Graders.

        Our theme for May is Legacy – and my sermon will address the topic of why the Bible is so important to our faith as a resource for adults and children.
        There is a new article in Christian Century about how the Bible is R rated, and I hope to address the importance of the Bible for adults faith formation. As I have just returned with a group of church members from a trip to Greece and Turkey, I hope to work in a story or two from our journey.

        I hope to see you on Sunday.

        New Families
        The next opportunity to join the church will be on Sunday June 2. Already we have three families who are ready to join the church that day. If you would like more information about membership please attend a Breakfast for New Families – May 19th at 8:30am in the Reception Room. If you cannot attend the Breakfast but would like to learn more about Church Membership please speak to me or send an e-mail to me at Revsusan@needhamucc.org.

        Thought for the Week
        On our church trip to Greece and Turkey we looked at archeological sites everyday. Throughout the two weeks we learned a lot about the Greco-Roman world and gained a new respect for the cities that were build and the way that they have stood the test of time. We started the journey on the Acropolis in Athens. There at the center of the city is a great monument to ancient architecture an engineering. There at the top of the main hill in the city center is a temple to Athena. Constructed in 432 BC, the Parthenon was a masterpiece of engineering, art and human organization. When you walk around the site and survey the size and scope of this magnificent temple at the top of the hill you gain a new appreciation for how people knew so much about architecture in those days. You come away from this site forced to reconsider the modern prejudice that ancient civilizations were inherently primitive.

        It was amazing to learn that so many of the Roman cities and Greek temples we visited on our trip have survived for centuries. Some buildings are buried, but many of the places we saw are remarkably intact, or are in the process of being reconstructed by archeologists. The whole experience gave me such an appreciation for the fact that some of the great civilizations have left an enormous archeological legacy of lasting beauty. I was not so naïve as to imagine that these building were made without great human cost, and a huge slave population. The beauties of the ancient world were created and maintained at great human cost.

        The trip made me think about what our legacy will be- in our civilization. How will history tell our story? What will people remember us for? What impact will we make and what treasures will we leave? I hope to have a chance to share some of the stories and pictures from this remarkable experience.

        When we visited churches- ancient or modern- I made sure to light a candle for the church, and to say a prayer for our community of faith, especially now, as we look to the future and consider what our architectural legacy will be.

        I look forward to seeing you all soon,

        Blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Heike – May 3, 2013

        This is a busy weekend for our church community: at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 4th please come and cheer on our children’s choirs in their performance of the “Prodigal Clown.” Admission is free!

        The Junior High Youth group will hold a sleepover at the church from Saturday to Sunday, and in their time together they will create care packages for people in need who come to the church.

        On Sunday, we will worship and celebrate communion together, and after church you are welcome to join the Environmental Ministry Team and the Outreach Committee in a Day of Action for Mission 4/1.

        We are offering a number of activities:

        • Write a letter/s to our elected officials about earth care;
        • Ask our guest, biologist and horticulturalist Sharon Soltzberg anything about trees and sustainable gardening; and
        • After lunch join us for some work around the church. We will trim bushes and trees and plant annuals around the church. Prepare to get a bit dirty, and be so kind as to bring your own tools.

        Thought for the week:

        I admit, it is Thursday afternoon and I am having a hard time sitting in front of my computer thinking deep thoughts. I’d rather be out in my garden pulling weeds, churning soil, thinking about what vegetables I am going to plant this season. This stretch of beautiful spring weather invites us to be outside to work and play. Spring unleashes a very positive kind of energy and for me, it actually is a welcome time to connect with our Creator on a very earthy level. For me it is a time realizing the many blessings we receive from God.

        I know that many of you like to garden, and many more enjoy the beauty of colors and smells that surround us at this time of year. As you do your work outside I wanted to share this Garden Blessing with you.

        God bless this garden through which your glory shines-
        May we see in its beauty the wonder of your love

        God bless the soil rich and teeming with life -
        May we see in its fertility the promise of new creation

        God bless our toil as we dig deep to turn the soil -
        May we see in our labor your call to be good stewards.

        God bless each seed that takes root and grows -
        May we see in their flourishing the hope of transformation

        God bless the rains that water our efforts to bring forth life -
        May we see in their constancy God’s faithful care.

        God bless the harvest abundant and bountiful in season -
        May we see in God’s generosity our need to share.

        God bless this garden as you bless all creation with your love -
        May we see in its glory your awesome majesty. Amen

        (Blessing written by Christine Sine from To Garden with God)

        Blessings on your week,
        Heike

        A Message from Reverend Heike – April 26, 2013

        This Sunday we welcome Rabbi Jay Perlman for a lecture on “Judaism 101 – the Torah, the Prayers, deeds of charity and justice.” Jay is a remarkable leader of Temple Beth Shalom, and I am glad that I get to work with him and his colleagues through the Needham Clergy Association.

        The whole series on “The Jewish Roots of Christianity” has been really educational for me. I had never really explored our common roots in such depth through the books I read, the documentary we saw, and Prof. Mobley’s lecture. It is sad that our “parting of the ways” has caused so much destruction and hate throughout the centuries. Therefore I am doubly grateful for Rabbi Jay for sharing his wisdom with us. And, as I said before, I can listen to him for hours.

        On May 5th the Environmental Ministry Team is planning a Day of Action for Mission 4/1. The specifics are still being worked on but for you it means to take a moment after church to write/send a letter to our elected officials to encourage them to support every measure possible to protect planet earth – our rivers, mountains, and fertile lands. Materials are available in coffee hour. And after lunch together, we will work around the church – trim bushes and trees and plant annuals. Please bring your tools and wear your garden clothes. You will be playing in the dirt!

        Speaking of dirt, on May 12, 2013 join us for a showing of DIRT: THE MOVIE a thought-provoking, humorous and substantial look at the glorious and unappreciated ground beneath our feet.

        All these events include lunch and good company.

        Thought for the week:
        On Saturday, April 27th, I am spearheading a Public Forum on Gun Safety. The idea started to form in February. By then the tragedy of Newtown was two month past us, but the discussion about gun control was just beginning to heat up.

        There was not much discussion in Needham. We held a candlelight vigil on December 18th, and the Needham Times had a long article about how to cope when a tragedy of this proportion and violence hits a community in January.

        There also were a few editorials. But unless I missed it, not much was said or written. And maybe for good reasons: we are not worried. We live in a safe community. Statistically, Needham is the 248th safest community to live in in MA (out of 254 in 2008). Massachusetts itself has good, solid gun laws, ranking 4th after California, New Jersey, and Hawaii. Maybe we really don’t have to worry.

        We also know that there are towns in Massachusetts where people, especially young ones, get shot and killed. Almost every day we hear of accidental shootings – often children are the victims, and close to 50% of all suicides are successful because there is a handgun in the house. This year will see more than 30,000 people die because of guns. The Children’s Defense Fund says that more people have died from guns than lives lost in all the wars fought in the history of the United States. I think that those numbers deserve our attention.

        In the past weeks I have learned more about guns and violence that I ever cared to learn. Having grown up in East Germany where no one could own a gun, the whole gun culture seemed very strange to me. After I watched a PBS special called “After Newtown: Guns in America” (you can still watch it online), I began to understand what the discussion is all about. But we still have a hard time talking about gun control without getting into each other hair.

        Rather than talking gun control and the politics involved in the matter, other voices, especially those in the medical community suggest that we talk about it in terms of Public Health and Safety. Guns will not go away; we know that. They are part of the culture and make-up of our country. And yet we can do things that address safety for the sake of our public health.

        I am joined by some great people on Saturday: Jon Mattleman from Needham Youth Services, Dr. Bradley Linden (member of our church) and Dr. Eric Fleegler of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Kathy Walsh, a concerned resident of Needham, and who has been my co-leader in the effort. It is an educational forum (not a political one) where we can learn about the issue at hand, and share our thoughts and concerns.

        Why have such a forum? In church we have talked about the compassion of Jesus, and that compassion gets expressed in two ways: charity and Justice. Charity means that we mourn and pray of all those lost to gun violence and their family. Justice will come when we take courage to solve the underlying reasons of violence.

        Come and join us on Saturday at 10am in Fellowship hall for the public forum on “Gun Safety – a Matter of Public Health.”

        Blessings on your week,
        Heike.

        A Message from Reverend Susan – April 19, 2013

        This Sunday I will preach about Non-Violence. It is part of our series on Jesus, and what made him so remarkable. All month we are talking about why his followers decided that Jesus was the Son of God. This Sunday we planned to look at Christ’s revolutionary notion of the power of non-violence. Honestly, sometimes I think God might actually be guiding us, because we chose this topic weeks ago and now it takes on a whole new meaning in light of the week we have had in Boston.

        This Sunday we have a full service -

        1. Our Vacation Bible School children will sing songs from the week. There have been 48 campers and 15 staff members leading children in games, stories and crafts all week long. They will share their songs on Sunday at the Children’s Time.
        2. We will welcome New Members, and there will be a special reception in their honor after worship in the reception Room.
        3. Heike will give a blessing to the travelers who are headed to Greece and Turkey next week on a pilgrimage to the sites where the apostle Paul started the early Christian Church.
        4. Following worship Prof Greg Mobley, who teaches Hebrew Bible at Andover Newton Theological School, will lead our Adult Education hour with a talk on the Jewish Christian connections.

        I hope you join us on Sunday morning.

        Thought for the Week
        Last night in our sanctuary all the clergy from the whole town gathered for a healing service. Heike started the service, as President of the Clergy Association. Then ten of the religious leaders read prayers and spoke words of healing from every tradition in our community – B’hai to Methodist, Jewish to Muslim. Two by two they approached the pulpit and lectern spoke words of faith and lit candles. Nate Ramsayer led a sung prayer response. Soomi Lee Lowry played Brahms Intermezzo, and Bobby DeRegis played the Adagio for Strings. Then we all lit candles in the darkened sanctuary and listened to Cantor Marcie Jonas from Beth Shalom, sing Ose Shalom while members of the synagogue joined in spontaneously.

        You can see video of the service on the Needham Patch and our Facebook page. When the clergy gathered in the reception Room after the service we stood in a quiet circle, all touched by this experience. In the hallway after the service, neighbors from different faith communities in our town came out of the service together.

        In the days ahead we will have opportunities to reach out to our neighbors and friends to offer comfort and compassion. We will also have the temptation to become more guarded and isolated. While I believe in safety wholeheartedly, I think one of the safest things we can do this week is forge stronger bonds of human community with the people around us, and work together to build peaceful neighborhoods. The forces of terror are diabolical, and they have the power to make us terrified, if we allow that. But terror only works if we become frightened of one another.

        One of our members has a cousin whose daughter was badly injured on Monday. Please pray for Gillian Reny (17 year old senior in high school); we sent her a prayer shawl through family members in our church. Many surgeries this week have saved her legs, but she has a long road ahead.

        This week I have been praying for Gillian and all of you. I think one of the best things we can do this weekend is to hug our loved ones, pray for our city, and step back from the news and try to find a quiet space in each day when we can just breathe in God’s Holy Spirit. In those calm moments may we all find some comfort and solace.
        Peace,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – April 5, 2013

        We are planning a wonderful weekend at church. There will be a lot of great opportunities on Sunday.

        The sermon theme for April explores the character of Jesus. The disciples saw qualities in Jesus that brought them into God’s presence. Who was he and why do we worship him? This week we talk about his ability to forgive in a sermon on forgiveness. The choir has prepared some lovely Easter music which you will really enjoy. Plus- there is a lot to do on Sunday…

        • First Formal Communion – 24 children in grades 1 & 2 will lead the congregation at the Lord’s Supper. They have completed the communion workshop, and learned about the sacrament. It will be important to honor them as they take this step in their faith journey.
        • Coffee Hour Reception – for the families of the Communion Class.
        • Mission 4/1 Earth – Come to Linden Hall after worship to learn more about this environmental ministry.
        • Design Team Presentation in the Chapel 11:20 – Come to hear about the new Capital Campaign- “Building for the Future” Kirby Salerno and the Design Team will lead a presentation.
        • Join us for an Arm Chair Trip to Turkey – Join us at 11:30 in Linden AB as we hear from Jackie Clayton and Sr. Minister Emeritus Rev. Dr. Paul Clayton about Turkey today. Jackie grew up in Turkey, a daughter of UCC missionaries.
        • Bike Ride – Ride the Patriot Trail with Rev. Heike. She will lead a trip that leaves the parking lot at 11:45 a.m.

        Thought for the Week

        60 years ago members of this congregation used Fellowship Hall as their sanctuary. In those days they envisioned a new sanctuary which was built in 1953 and dedicated in 1954. Their vision and then their sacrifice resulted in a new worship space which we enjoy each week. Their ability to look ahead created a space which is serene and elegant. It has served us well for 6 decades and still remains our spiritual hearth because those men and women built something that would be good for people who would come after them.

        Now, it is our turn to build a church for the future. It is our turn to make a building that reflects our values, and communicates them architecturally.

        We come to you to ask that you make a pledge to this capital campaign. We are asking everyone to take the annual pledge and match it with a pledge to the capital campaign for 5 years . So if you give $2000 to the church annually, please consider pledging $10,000 to the capital campaign. We are asking people to really make a serious commitment, not unlike the one people made in 1950 when they envisioned the sanctuary we love today.

        We hope that if we all strive to be generous together we can make our church more accessible, more energy efficient, and the welcoming space we need as we look to the future.

        Please make your pledge by May 31.

        With hope and blessings,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – March 14, 2013

        This Sunday will be a real liturgical treat. I hope you will be with us in worship. All the young Choirs will join the chancel Choir for a special Palm Sunday Anthem. They will tell the story of Palm Sunday in music. The Chancel Choir has some other special holiday music planned which will be a delight to hear.

        My Palm Sunday Sermon will be about Jesus’s entry in Jerusalem, and how to see it through the eyes of his Jewish disciples- Entitled “Passion, Persistence and Peace”, I will examine who Jesus was and what he was trying to say by riding into Jerusalem on a colt.

        Maundy Thursday – Join us for a dramatic telling of the Holy Week Story- with the deacons taking the parts of the disciples. Again this year they have worked with Josh Scharback, a church member and London-trained actor, to bring this story to life. Those who came to last years’ service came away with the feeling that this service had transformed their Holy Week and brought new meaning to Easter.

        Next Sunday is Easter Sunday – Don’t forget that we will have two services -one at 9 a.m. one at 11:15 a.m. The worship will include the Easter parts of Handel’s Messiah performed by the Chancel Choir and a spring ensemble. In addition, trumpeter, Tom Gotwals, will be joining us to play the prelude and postlude. It should be a stunning service with so much Easter music.

        The Easter Egg Hunt at 10 a.m. will have 3 sections for various ages. It is a perennial favorite for so many children and youth.

        Thought for Holy Week
        Yesterday I took one of my daughters to Watertown for a treat. Liz was in town for a conference and after she was done I made an appointment at a place that does Barefoot Reflexology. Several years ago I was given a birthday gift of one of these foot massages, and discovered it was one of the most relaxing things I had ever experienced. So every once in a while, for a treat I invite someone to come and try it.

        You start with your feet in a bucket of hot water and rose petals, while they massage your neck and arms. Then you sit back in a chair and they massage your feet one at a time. They play soft music. Like many massages, it is an experience that is designed to help you let go of any tension you are holding. Each time I go the barefoot reflexology so effective that it is not unusual to fall asleep.

        But yesterday in the middle of this massage I began to think of Jesus. I know, I am probably losing you now. Only the minister would think about Jesus during a foot massage. Maybe it occurred because we are approaching Holy Week. But as I was sitting there entering this blissful state, I realized that Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples. When I first read that story that takes place in Holy Week, I always found it a little creepy. I could not imagine being a disciple if my teacher were determined to wash my feet. It just seemed too much like a situation with shaky boundaries. I rationalized that in the Middle East their feet were hot from walking miles in sandals, but still.

        Yet, yesterday, I really thought in a new way about the story of Jesus- washing the feet of his disciples.

        Yesterday as I was sinking into the delicious state of relaxation I realized what a gift Jesus gave his disciples. I realized what a kind man he must have been. I thought about how much they trusted him. Somehow the relationship Christ has with the Twelve suddenly took on a new dimension.

        As you prepare for Holy Week, I hope you have your own epiphanies,
        Peace, Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan – March 14, 2013

        Tonight, Thursday March 14th, is our Healing Service- All are welcome from 7-7:30pm. Nate will sing, and Bobby will lead the music. I will speak about the Samaritan Woman at the well and there will be candle lighting at the altar. It is a short but very powerful service.

        This week we will continue our series on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith with Heike’s sermon on Jesus the Rabbi, and the role of teaching in our church and in Judaism.

        We will also celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism. Our choir is preparing some wonderful music and Rev. Jamie will lead the Bible Village children in a song from this unit on Jesus.

        Following worship- we invite you to attend an Information Session on the Church Capital Campaign- Building for the Future.

        Join us in the Chapel at 11:20 to learn about the new Building Design from the chair of the Design Team- Kirby Salerno.

        Hear about the proposal, ask questions and find out how you can be part of making this new building project happen.

        Learn about the Bible - Nate Ramsayer continues his series on “Echoes from the Past: the Bible’s Un-Divinely Inspired Texts”. Join Nate for more excavation of Biblical texts in Linden Hall. Lunch is served.

        Thought for the Week

        Today I was riveted by the news of the selection of the new pope. It was an incredible moment. During the day I had occasion to go to The Center to confer with Sandra Summers, Head Counselor at the Center. I learned from Sandra that the pope had just been chosen. Together we watched on CNN Live streaming it on her computer, to see pictures of the white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel, and awaiting the announcement about who the new pope would be. Back in my office I continued to monitor the news, and when the name of Pope Francis was announced, I quickly Googled the name of Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina. The Wikipedia site posted his status as Pope Francis within seconds and I scrolled down to read about his background.

        The irony of this experience was not lost on me. As cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel to choose a pope in a time honored tradition that has been used for many many centuries, we tracked their progress on phones and computers, and read about the new pope on Wikipedia. So we scrambled with all the latest devices to know more about a man who had been chosen by an ancient rite of succession. How odd that thousands of people had crowded into Vatican Square to watch for smoke and then tweeted the news. How odd that this traditional church had chosen someone from the Americas, and he had taken the name Francis- never before used.

        As he greeted people for the first time as pope I listened as he led the entire congregation of 100,000 in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I thought about last Sunday’s sermon on that same prayer and how it has such ancient roots that pre-date Jesus and the Christian Church. These words in use for 500 years by the time Jesus put them together into one prayer, had established order during this papal transition, and held the world rapt. Then this new pope asked for a moment of silence as he entreated us to pray for him. Suddenly we all grew quiet joining in this powerful, deep, full but wordless communion. It was a remarkable moment. Old and new held together in the stillness.

        If you missed it you can watch it all on your phone or computer. The smoke, the pope, the quiet confident new leader, the people, the tears, the faith of many, the silence. Just as the Lord’s Prayer so often brings us together each week, today this prayer held much of the watching world together, and the silence seemed more eloquent even than those hallowed words.

        Peace and Shalom,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending March 8, 2013

        This weekend our series on the Jewish roots of Christianity continues. My sermon will be about the Lord’s prayer, and how many of our ideas about prayer actually come from Jewish tradition. Looking at the Lord’s Prayer really drives this home because we assume this prayer is so uniquely Christian.

        Many of you have been responding to my invitation to let me know what you think about the series, and what questions you have about this topic. I hope that you will weigh in this weekend too. There are several places to raise your questions.

        1. On the bulletin Board near the sanctuary we have a place for comments.
        2. You can send me an e-mail- revcartmell@comcast.net
        3. You can talk to me.
        4. You can post something on the Church Facebook page.

        This weekend we are having 4 more at home events where you can learn about the design for the Capital Campaign. I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity. Please come to one of them, if you can. We want to share this plan with you. We want to include you in the conversation about how to build the church we need for our future.

        Shalom,
        Susan

        A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending March 1, 2013

        This Sunday we start our March theme- which is both new and timeless – The Jewish Roots of Christianity. So you can tell all your Jewish friends that we are getting in touch with our Jewish roots at The Congregational Church of Needham. The truth is that we often forget that Jesus was Jewish. Even when we do remember that salient fact, we don’t appreciate what it means, or how Judaism impacts the Bible- through and through. We too easily forget that Jews and Christians share this entwined faith story. This week I will be preaching about the Law. Many Christians distinguish between Christians and Jews by saying that Jews believe in a God of laws and Jesus introduced a God of Love. Not only is this distinction too simple, but it is not correct. So this Sunday I will take it on in a sermon entitled- What Would Jesus Do. I think that this series is vitally important to our faith, especially as we strive to build a multi-cultural world. The choir has a Hebrew anthem.

        The children’s programs are in full swing. The Prodigal Clown is in rehearsal. We have some new books in the bookstore. Join us on Sunday!

        Thought for the Week
        We are embarking on a capital campaign unlike anything we have endeavored in our church in almost 100 years. The last time our church thought so comprehensively about our space it was after a major fire, and people rallied to re-build. But this time, we are thinking in imaginative ways about how to design and create the church for the future. The campaign – Building our Future – really gives us a chance to enable our building and its architecture to become part of our covenant.

        • We say we are open to all, but our main entrance is a back door all week long,
        • We say we are stewards of the earth, but our building leaks heat and we need to replace every window and most of the doors.
        • We say we are open to people of all abilities but, if you cannot walk, our ramps are steep and inconveniently placed.
        • We have a deep sense of community outreach but our building does not take advantage of our space on Great Plain.
        • We want to show you the new design so we have set up times when people can come together to see the plans and talk to a representative of the Design Team.
          These meetings in the homes of church leaders will take place over the next 2 weekends. You should have received an invitation. I hope you will be able to attend one of them.

          We will look forward to seeing you. Please join us.
          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Heike for the week ending February 22, 2013

          This week we are concluding our sermon series on Community Service. Our speaker will be Dave Johnson who will share with us his community service experiences, and especially his work with our Guatemala Project.

          We might think of community service just within our own communities or the big city right next to us, but often community extends beyond our own borders and comfort zones. His message is entitled “Working Together” and Dave will share with us that sometimes we might be surprised how we can meet the needs of others in unforeseen ways.

          After church, our regular programs will resume – rehearsal for the musical, chime ringer practice, and Rev. Peggy will lead us in her third session on Prayer in Action by making prayer bracelets.

          Thought for the Week
          This past Wednesday I led a short worship service with communion for the Avery Crossing Community. I prepared a nice little Lenten reflection on the theme of wilderness. In the gospels we read that Jesus, right after his baptism, went into the wilderness to get ready for his ministry. The gospel of Marks reads that he was driven out into the wilderness, kind of thrown into it without choice in the matter.

          Since I have not yet been to Israel, I don’t have a first-hand understanding what the area is like that Jesus would call the wilderness. But watching the video series “From Jesus to Christ”, the visual images of the Negev are stunning and not a place I would ever want to be stuck in for 24 hours, and even less for 40 days. Only those with the best survival skills, physical and spiritual, would make it out of there alive.

          Throughout the centuries, the 40 days of Lent were a kind of religious boot camp as people prepared for their baptism via hardcore spiritual exercises of praying, fasting, and repenting.

          Today our Lenten practices find much softer expressions: giving up chocolate simply does not compare to 40 days in the desert or a prayer regimen of repenting. The question is: Should we go deeper – seeking some hardcore physical and spiritual challenge, or looking for spiritual danger or disorientation, or find some kind of desert that will bring us closer to God that would make us stronger in body and spirit?

          Coming back to my little worship community at Avery Crossing, as I was getting ready for the service, the activities’ director pulled me aside and said that they had just lost two residents, one over the weekend and one person passed away that very morning. In fact, she said that since the beginning of the year, 5 residents passed on, and 13 during the past year. That is a lot of loss to deal with for the residents of Avery Crossing. My worship group knew every one of them.

          Maybe we don’t have to find a good desert to build up spiritual strength. The kind of hardcore spiritual training happens every time we lose a loved one or good friend and we don’t lose hope. Our faith gets stronger whenever we overcome that wall of failure or disappointment, or we can shed that landslide of guilt. Our spiritual muscle gets a good workout when we don’t accept the ways of the world where hunger, hatred and violence have the upper hand, but when we get off the couch and do something about it.

          The good news is that we don’t have to “train” on our own. Somewhere in that desert of grief, hopelessness, and despair, is God – guiding us, touching us, sheltering us, calling us, and leading us out of whatever wilderness we are in.

          Peace to you in this Lenten Season.
          Heike

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending February 15, 2013

          This weekend our series on Community Service will continue with a sermon story by Mary Lou Hughes who has decided to spend her retirement working as a volunteer at Tippett House, our Needham community hospice. Her message is entitled “Living the Good Life” because she has spoken often about the way that this new chapter has been more fulfilling even than she expected.

          Also, following worship, the youth will be rehearsing and practicing for the musical – “The Prodigal Clown”. I hope you will join us for worship

          Thought for the Week
          Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. It is the day when we begin the spiritual journey of Lent. It gets its name from the ashes which people put on their forehead, an ancient symbol of mourning or penance. In some churches Ash Wednesday is a time to remember our sins.

          While I think we can always benefit from any honest self-examination, I like to think of Ash Wednesday as a day to start a more intentional walk with God. It is a time to re-examine our New Year’s resolutions, at least the spiritual resolutions, and think about how to walk in Christ’s footsteps. I don’t think most of us are very sinful, but we may be neglectful. We may forget the precious gift of each new day. We may ignore our prayer life. We may forget our neighbors.

          So this Lent, you have a chance to set a course for Easter. Don’t let Easter take you by surprise. Really set your sails for this day when Jesus changed the world. Really consider where you want to discover new life. What course or path do you want to chart for this 6-week journey?

          • Peggy is offering 1 more Prayer in Action workshop. Feb. 24. Make some prayer beads at 11:30 in Linden Hall.
          • Spring Cleaning, Sunday Feb. 17th – Heike is leading a Sunday morning discussion on this book of writings for Lent. Sundays 8 a.m.
          • Lenten Luncheons – Thursdays during Lent – Heike will be serving soup and offering Lenten musical selections.
          • Sermons will focus on the Jewish Roots of Christianity. Come to get in touch with your Jewish roots.
          • Put your Faith in Action – Feb. 23 – join us at Pilgrim Church in Dorchester for a volunteer day.
          • Healing Service – March 14 – short service 7-7:30 p.m. Join us for candles, music and a short message.

          We opened the chapel yesterday and people came throughout the day to light candles and offer prayers for themselves or someone else. On the altar I had a print from one of Rembrandt’s famous paintings- “The Prodigal Son”. It is a depiction of the prodigal who has come home, and he is kneeling in his father’s embrace. In this print I see someone who has come home to God’s love. I think that Lent is an opportunity to come home to God.

          Wherever your journey takes you this week I pray you have safe and restful travel. Renew your heart, your mind and your soul.

          Peace,
          Susan


          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending February 1, 2013

          In February our worship theme will be Community Service. For this series of sermons I have asked four people or groups of people from the congregation to talk about the way that they put their faith into action. Starting this week- Feb. 3 – we will start the series with Marnie Kaufman.

          I have asked Marnie to speak on Sunday about her experience being diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, and how she decided to start a cancer research foundation.

          I hope you join us for worship, because Marnie has a very moving and inspiring story to tell, and she is one of the great lights of our church and our community.

          Thought for the Week
          This Sunday we will be recognizing the leadership of our new Deacons and installing them as spiritual leaders in the church. In the Bible people who were singled out for leadership would be asked to kneel in the group while a priest or prophet poured oil over their heads, a symbol of God’s anointing them with power, and conferring holy authority. In our service this weekend, we will place our hands on the new deacons shoulders, and this act will be an outward and visible sign of a new authority which we grant them as spiritual leaders of our church.

          In the same service we will ask the members of the Church Board who are present to stand and be recognized, as they are the leaders entrusted with our fiscal and fiduciary leadership.

          If you have been elected to any new office in our church at the Annual Meeting we will give you a chance to rise, and be recognized before the service begins.

          Our church is strong today because so many of you have shared your vision, your creativity and your wisdom with us. It is a joy to be part of such a vibrant group of leaders.

          I hope you will join us for worship this week.
          Susan

          Community Service – Every Sunday all month long the sermons will feature a story from one of you about how you put your faith into action in service to the community.

          Feb. 3 – “Turning it Around” – When we face challenges in our lives we have a choice about how to respond. When she was diagnosed with Adenoid Cycstic Carcenoma, Marnie discovered that hers was such a rare form of cancer that there is almost no research on it. So she started a research foundation from her home, and through her fund-raising she has met dozens of people who have this same rare form of cancer. Her work on their behalf has led her and husband Jeff to work together to raise awareness, and bring hope and support to people who would have faced this disease much more alone, without the foundation’s support. Through their foundation the Kaufmans have formed a community of doctors, scientists and patients who care about each other and care passionately about how together they can find new treatments.

          Feb. 10 – “Going Green” – What difference does it make that as people of faith we see ourselves as stewards of God’s creation? Rein and Carla Verschoor-Kirss will tell their story about what they have done in their lives to support environmental change, and why.

          Feb. 17 – Living the Dream. When she retired, Mary Lou Hughes decided to continue working in the community. So the first day of her retirement became the next chapter in her life, and she started to work as a volunteer at the local hospital as well as the Tippett House, the hospice on South St. She refers to this change as “living the dream” because her work has been so fulfilling.

          Feb. 24 – Guatemala – What difference Can We Make? Representatives of the Guatemala Task Force will speak about why they are passionate about the church’s partnership and how they believe that this connection has expanded our view of community.

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending January 18, 2013

          In worship this month we have been having fun – talking about the way that our church is shaped and transformed by the Rites and Sacraments of the Church. This Sunday, we continue the series when Rev. Jamie Green will talk about her passion for confirmation. Jamie wrote her senior thesis at Harvard Divinity School on this topic, and created a new curriculum to accompany her paper. She will share her vision and ideas with us in this sermon. As she will be preaching we will invite school aged children to be part of worship, and provide child care for pre-school children in the nursery and pre-school areas.

          At the Annual Meeting on January 27th the members of the church will be asked to vote on a proposal to call Jamie to be our Associate Minister for Children and Youth. It is an affirmation of her current role that would create a commitment to this ministry, and give a benefits package consistent with ordained ministry standards in the Massachusetts Conference.

          This weekend after worship we will have an Annual Meeting Hearing and people can peruse the Annual Report of the Church, and ask questions about anything in that report. The moderator and members of the Board will be present to answer questions about the budget or any items on the warrant for the Annual Meeting.

          Thought for the Week
          This has been a week of change for me. A week ago it became clear that I needed to switch my office and Jamie and I decided to swap offices. No big changes are quick or completely straightforward. So I have moved temporarily into one end of the Reception Room, until the transition is complete. But in the process of packing up my files and books, I had an opportunity to read through 15 years of notes and memorabilia. Some were too precious to let go of, but many served as a reminder of the steady way that so many of you have offered your care, your support and your kindness. There were boxes of children’s drawings, notes of encouragement, and little gifts that touched me again and warmed my heart.
          The children’s drawings, and the notes after funerals were the most poignant and heartfelt, so I kept some. My heart was very full by the time Peggy and I packed it all up.

          How does this change affect the church?

          • If you schedule an appointment with me, I will be seeing you in the Reception Room for the next 2-3 weeks.
          • If you normally hold your meetings in the Reception Room- you may need to find an alternative space, for now.
          • If you see boxes of books in the hallway across from the chapel- they will go away in a few weeks’ time.
          • I have a locked cabinet in my temporary office and I hold to the same standards of confidentiality that I had before.
          • One reason the move is taking a few weeks is because the walls in the new space need insulation to ensure complete confidentiality in the new office.

          Though it may be several weeks before things are settled, I am looking forward to this change. Already, this transition has offered me a chance to feel more connected to this church and to our history together. I will keep you posted.

          Blessings,
          Susan

          P.S. – This Martin Luther King weekend I hope that you and your family find ways to remember the life of this great profit, and reflect on why Dr. King’s life changed this country and continues to make a mark on our lives today.

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending January 11, 2013

          This Sunday our series on Rites and Sacraments continues when we participate in the Sacrament of Baptism for Nathaniel Johnson. My sermon will be about how baptism is powerful. The sacrament informs our perspective on life all through our lives. I hope you will join us for worship.
          Following worship we have two important gatherings –
          Professor Greg Mobley – will be talking about his new book on the Old Testament. Greg is one of the most popular professors at Andover Newton because he is smart and funny and deeply faithful – all at the same time. Don’t miss his talk at 11:30 in Linden Hall. Lunch and child care will be available.
          New Families Reception – If you are new to our church and would like to meet other new families or learn more about becoming a member of the church please stop by the Reception Room at 11:15 for chance to talk with one of the ministers and pick up some information. These gatherings are brief, informal and fun.
          Thought for the Week
          In two weeks we will have our Annual Meeting – Sunday Jan. 27 after worship. This year we will have a much more interesting meeting than usual. The Board and Deacons of our church are recommending that we call Rev. Jamie Green as our Associate for Youth and Children. Her position at our church as a full-time minister will not change, but it will be formalized, we hope when we vote as a congregational to call her officially. Her work in our midst has been exemplary and her energy and faith has brought new vitality to our youth and children’s programs. What we have discovered was that people have really responded to her ministry. In many cases, they have found our church because of these children’s programs.
          Whenever we call a new minister we ask her to preach and Jamie will be preaching on January 20. Next Sunday she will be talking about Confirmation, a topic she wrote about in her senior thesis at Harvard Divinity School, and one she is passionate about. She will explain the meaning of confirmation in her sermon. Then we will vote on calling her at the annual meeting – January 27th. If you are new to the church and have not joined officially, please join us to share the excitement of this moment. If you are considering joining the church you might think about doing it on the 27th because it will enable you to participate more fully.
          We have been blessed to have this opportunity to bring Jamie to our church, and grateful that in staffing for growth we have seen our church grow before our eyes.
          Peace,
          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending January 4, 2013

          This Sunday we begin a new worship topic together. Our Theme will be Rites and Sacraments in Christian Community. This week I will talk about the meaning of communion in our church. The choir again has some beautiful pieces to share. Why not join us for the warmth of Christian communion?
          A big Senior High Ski trip is pulling out of the parking lot in a few hours and they are looking forward to a great time together.
          Looking ahead
          Jan 13 is the Sacrament of Baptism
          Jan 27th we will welcome New Members
          If you are interested in the Sacrament of Baptism or in joining the church call or e-mail me revsusan@needhamucc.org.
          Thought for the Week
          Several years ago I was eating with some people and someone in the group was bemoaning something that happened a long time ago. We listened for a while. Then quietly, one man said, “Well, that is all in the past, now.” So many times those words have come to mind, when I could not change something that still lingered in my mind and upset me. And I would say the words that man had said at dinner- “ It’s in the past”. I imagine the man never knew what a gift his remark has been for me. It has helped me to sort out the things I can change, and the things that need to be released.
          I have been taking a lot of yoga over the holidays. I like this one teacher who always leaves us with some wisdom. Just before New Year’s she said something that stuck with me. She said – leave this yoga class on the yoga mat. Just as I was trying to figure out what that meant, she said that we should try to leave the things of 2012 alone. They are all passed now, and a new year is dawning. We will be better able to greet its possibilities if we do not give in to the temptation to spend very much time re-hashing our old regrets or grudges.
          I am still thinking about this. Like a lot of things in life, I imagine it will take practice to really live in the moment.
          Happy and peaceful New Year to you all,
          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending December 21, 2012

          Sunday and Monday Services

          Sunday – We will celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent with our Festival Worship at 10 a.m.  The Confirmation Class will light the candles. The Chancel Choir will lead us in worship with their lovely music. Our sermon series on love culminates with a sermon on Self Love as we look at the familiar story of Mary in a new light. Please join us for worship.

          On Monday December 24 join us at 4pm for our wonderful Christmas Pageant and at 9pm we will celebrate a Candlelight Worship Service. I look forward to celebrating with you.

          Thought for the Week

          Last night we had very special service in the sanctuary. It was called a Blue Christmas Service. The idea for a Blue Christmas service came from an old Elvis Presley song- “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you. When those blue snowflakes fall that’s when those blue memories call.”  The service was intended for people in the church or community who are missing a loved one this Christmas, or worried about their jobs, or struggling with medical news, or in a low place this year. If you are feeling blue then sometimes all the good cheer of the holidays just makes it worse.

          These services have been done across the country for a number of years, though this is the first time we had one. When we were planning the fall worship schedule it seemed important to have this opportunity for people that find Christmas is a hard time of year. Little did I know that we would be having such a hard week on so many levels. We met in the sanctuary and lit some candles and listened to Bobby play the piano while Nate led the singing. Afterward Heike and I prayed with people personally.

          The service was simple and honest.

          You might assume that a service like this would be depressing, but oddly, it wasn’t. It was peaceful and I hope that we offered a space to allow people to lay their burdens down, if only for a while.

          Churches cannot make the world alright all the time. But we can be committed to journey together, no matter what happens. We can pledge that you will not have to be alone when you have a hard Christmas or hard time in any season. We can decide that no one has to face the storms of life in isolation.  Some of you made meals for people in our church who are sick.  Some of you assisted at Larry Meehan’s funeral this week. Others took flowers to the sick or prepared the church for Christmas worship. Many of you helped one another quietly and steadily in ways I don’t even know about.

          This church has found ways to be a team, a community of faith – 600 strong. When you join this community of faith, it does not mean that life is suddenly perfect, but it does mean that you don’t have to face life alone. You have the support of your family of faith, and the love of God is made known in new ways.

          Children and the News

          Many of you have been talking to me about how to talk to your children about the recent events in Connecticut. First of all, in my experience children sense your tone more than your words, so if you are frightened that is what they feel. If you are nervous that is what they pick up too.  It is a little hokey but I always found comfort in listening to Mr. Rogers when my own children were young. I am not sure who liked him more- me or the children. I have included a link from his website which might provide a resource for you as you think about how to best support and nurture your children this week.  I hope it is helpful.

          http://www.fci.org/new-site/par-tragic-events.html

          I believe that it is the unspoken messages that are most unnerving for children because they feel your emotions. So maybe the best thing you can do for your family is to take care of yourself.

          As always, you have my blessings.
          Susan  

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending December 14, 2012

          This Sunday we continue our series on Love. My sermon is entitled Tough Love – How to love when the going gets tough. The choir will do some more wonderful Christmas music this week. The Pageant Rehearsals begin with a special luncheon for the cast directly after worship. We will light the Advent Candles, and all enjoy the Sacrament of Baptism along with Heather and Kirby Salerno and their daughter Lucie.  I hope you join us for the festive holiday worship service.

          Thought for the Week

          One of the great privileges of my position is that people often come to me with their questions of faith. Many folks want to know more about how to understand the mystery of the life and death. Do we meet God?  Are we judged?  How do we know we are doing the right things?   These are most important questions anyone can ask. They have been asked by people of every faith for centuries.

          My answer to all these questions comes from my conviction that love is eternal. The things that we do that show love never die. The love we have for others is a living demonstration of our faith. The openness of our love is what people see. I believe it is what God sees too. God sees our motivations, and our actions. God sees our generosity and our restraint. God sees us clearly, and honestly. But if we live with love then our lives are better here and now. We don’t have to wait for “heaven” to know the rewards of a generous heart. Love changes our relationships, and when we find the grace to love people who are hard to love, our kindness can serve to redeem those relationships.

          As for hell, I often wonder if we don’t create our own hell. Rabbi Kushner says that if we are sarcastic our children will be sarcastic, and we will watch them inherit our bitterness. That is punishment enough. But he says the opposite is also true. So when we are kind, our children grow accustomed to kindness and show the trait too. There is a great reward in seeing that your legacy is kindness. Our love lives on in them, and that love does not die. It is eternal. Then, love is our legacy and the knowledge that love lives on after us in every home we have influence over.

          Blessings
          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending December 7, 2012

          In this season of celebration the church has a great weekend planned.

          Our worship service includes some lovely music by our growing Chancel Choir.
          Our Sermon series in on Love and I will be talking about how relationships shape our lives and teach us how to love. We might think that we already know how to love and bring that knowledge to our loved ones. But I will argue that we are all learning how to love, and we learn on one another each day. I think that message is at the heart of the story of Mary and Joseph. Certainly, in the beginning of their engagement, their relationship had a rocky start, and they had to learn how to really love.

          Love is like yoga.  My yoga instructor thanks me for practicing yoga.  On a good day, we practice loving. Love is one of the most difficult and precious things we practice in life.

          The Youth Choirs will be practicing music on Sunday. The Youth Groups will be meeting too.

          Giving Tree. We have given out all the tags from the Giving Tree- which is awesome.  I am preparing to be impressed by your generosity in this season of gifts. You always make me proud in the way you give to the families in temporary shelter at the Elizabeth Stone House.

          Nate is the Rick Steeves of Archeology. Don’t miss Nate’s 2 talks in December on Biblical Archeology. He is an incredible speaker and an engaging one. The room fills up fast, so grab your coffee and snag a seat.

          Thought for the Day

          This week I have been visiting with several families where someone has cancer. These visits have had some sadness, but it was not the taste of sadness that I took away with me when I left. These visits had a different flavor – and a feeling of calm and blessing. You probably think the minister is supposed to say that. Or maybe you imagine that I am putting a happy face on things.  Or perhaps, it all seems too counter-intuitive. But in each of the homes that I was privileged to be, I felt real peace. When I asked myself how these families could be at peace with each other in the face of uncertain tests or a hard diagnosis, I came to see that there was so much deep affection in these homes that the genuine love I felt in the air, changed things.

          Oh I know we all joke about the way we yell at our children. We joke about the frustrations of serving meals in a car as we take children to the next practice or game or lesson. We joke about how life is hard and silly in turns. But often we forget that homes built with love are built on a rock. All the shifting sands of modern life don’t shake that kind of foundation.

          As you run from store to party to church this week, remember what matters most in this season of joy. Remember the ones who love you – really love you. Don’t lose sight of your own capacity for love either, especially in these days leading up to Christmas. Then, if you can, remember how much God loves you, and try to meditate on that.

          Peace,  Susan

           

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending November 30, 2012

          This Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays all year long. With very little extra effort, you can spend most of the day at the church.  Sunday morning our worship includes anthems by the Youth choirs and a lovely solo during communion by our Youth Music Director,  Jannatha Coffin-Malia. We start a new series of sermons on Love. Rev. Heike begins this series with a sermon talking about “God’s Love for Us”. It is a wonderful way to start Advent- considering how much God loves us. Often, in times of stress, it is easy to forget how much God loves us; that is precisely when we need to know it most. We think that this message is at the heart of our faith and important to remember in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  

           

          Advent Workshop 2-4 p.m.

          Join us again at 2 p.m. when we fill Fellowship Hall with food, crafts and fun galore. Bring your children, and extend an invitation to a neighbor family seeking a church. Make an Advent wreath for your home or a gingerbread house. Make a Christmas card for someone who cannot get to church or a decoration for your tree. Or just walk around and sing Christmas carols and have some cider and cookies. Don’t miss this annual favorite.

           

          Christmas Concert 5 p.m.

          The Christmas Oratorio by Saint Saens is one of the most lovely Christmas pieces for string and voice. Don’t miss this concert. Our soloists have mastered this incredible piece, and the sanctuary will be decorated for Christmas. So come early because this concert is growing in popularity in our community. Each year the crowd is bigger and bigger.

           

          Thought for the Week 

          One of our most important jobs as adults is to pass our faith on to the next generation. It is hard to do that without nurturing our own faith.  Often the questions that children ask about faith are tricky. They push us. Sometimes children give voice to our own questions. They make us uncertain and wonder about God, too. Wise parents think about the questions children ask. Sometimes these questions confuse us.

           Sometimes these questions bring us to church after a long time away. Sometimes these questions start a new faith quest in us.

          I have a book to recommend- When Children Ask About God: A guide for parents who don’t always have all the answers  by Rabbi Harold Kushner. He believes that some of the questions children ask are not always asking for a literal answer. For example, when children ask “Is there really a God” they are not always asking for proof of God’s existence. They might, instead, be asking if the world is stable, secure or purposeful. Little children may want to know if they can trust things. Teens who ask this question may be seeking to understand if life is fair or just. “If the idea of God is to mean anything to a young child, it ought to be reassuring.”

          Rabbi Kushner advises that one of the best ways to re-assure children is to teach them that they can trust you – the ones who have authority in their lives. That will go a long way to helping them feel secure, and then in believing in the God you believe in.

          Sometimes our children find faith because they see that it is important to us. Our children know what we value – what we really value- better than anyone. They watch us like hawks. They get who we are. They discover what intrigues us, what we fear, and what we cherish. In the baptism service there is a question for the parents- “Do you promise to live you faith out loud so your child will learn from what you do as well as what you say?” It speaks for itself.

          In this season of Advent most of us come like children to our questions of faith. We wonder about God, and whether everything is “right” with the world. We want to be re-assured by a story we know all too well, but never seem to tire of. I hope that your faith is challenged and enriched this Advent. I also hope that you will discover that you can draw even closer to God, as you sense God drawing closer to you.

           Blessings and peace,

          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending November 25, 2012

          This Sunday we have some interesting worship plans.  Our worship theme this month is Wholeness, and our topic for Sunday is Spirituality. The service should be fun. Jamie will be doing our Children’s Time, and leading the children k-6 to Bible Village for a lesson there. We will also offer childcare for pre-schoolers. CiCi Hunt will sing a special anthem about gratitude, and Emily Verschoor Kirss will accompany the senior choir on her saxophone for their anthem. 

          For the sermon I have invited three family members  to join me in a preaching conversation about spirit-filled living.  Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd is the Senior Minister of the River Road UU Church in Bethesda MD; she is my daughter-in-law. Rev. Elizabeth Cartmell Ladd is the minister of Hope UU in Tulsa OK and she is also my daughter. Rev. Peggy O’Connor is the Interim Minister of the Hingham UCC Church; Peggy is my partner. We did a dialogue sermon together in Tulsa in September, and we decided this topic would lend itself to a similar sermon. Each of us will speak briefly about how spirituality informs our work for justice, our relationships, and has the ability to transforms lives. I hope you find it interesting and stimulating.

          We are appreciative that Heike is being flexible so that we can all be together this weekend in the Needham pulpit. She has accepted the invitation from the Hingham UCC Church to be their guest preacher so that Peggy can be here with us. Hingham is so close to Heike house that she is expecting some of her tennis friends to go to Hingham and hear her, which is a rare treat for them. We think it is a win-win.

          Thought for the Week

          Last week the sermon was on gratitude. In the sermon I mentioned the Gratitude Project, a program where people adopt the discipline of thinking about the things for which they are truly grateful. The people at the project discovered that the discipline of thinking about gratitude can give you more energy, more patience, and a better perspective on life. Most people will be thinking about gratitude this week. But in the process of getting to the Thanksgiving meal some people will be battling traffic (How do you battle traffic really? )  and dealing with airport security.  So I hope that as you make your way to the meal you practice gratitude. It might help you feel better, or at least take the whole thing in stride, if you bump up against delays or travel challenges.

          We tried the gratitude exercise in our Cancer Prayer Support Group. It was a very touching exercise on Monday, and it reminded us of the beauty of thanksgiving.

          I hope and pray that you have a good holiday, and hug the ones you love, and feast on food, and friendship, and fun.

          Blessings and peace,
          Susan

           

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending November 16, 2012

          This weekend the whole church will be one big festive holiday bazaar. Don’t miss our annual Village Fair. This year we will have all the things you love.

          • Delicious luncheon – with lobster rolls, Haitian pie and a hearty German lunch,
          • Garden Fence – for holiday wreaths and center pieces
          • Timeless Treasures
          • Used Books
          • Jewelry
          • Baked goods
          • Elf shop for children’s shopping
          • Great Auction Items
          • PLUS – more craft tables than ever

          Don’t miss the Fair; it is the best old fashioned fair for miles around!!

          On Sunday the Fair continues from 11:15 until 1 p.m.

          Worship at 10 will be full of Music

          The Friendly Chimes will begin worship playing with their debut at the introit. This group of women has been practicing all fall, and you will be delighted and charmed to hear them.

          Children’s Time will feature the Bible Village children singing a favorite song. It is always a great treat to hear them share their faith through music.  Shepherd’s Staff- our teen choir will sing the first anthem on Sunday.  Of course, our Senior Choir will lead us in worship as they do so beautifully each week.

          The Sermon Series on Wholeness continues with a sermon on Gratitude. Our whole country is talking about gratitude this week. However the Congregational Church invented the notion of thanksgiving. It is our concept, our history and the well from which we draw as people of faith. Jesus was a man who lived with an enormous sense of gratitude. He showed his followers how gratitude can change your life.

          This Sunday we will talk about Jesus’ ideas on this subject, and how they may differ from the everyday notions of thanksgiving. I think that Christ’s gracious way of living is much deeper and profound than just remembering to say thanks. So I hope you will join us when we start this holiday week with a service on gratitude Sunday morning at 10.

          Blessings to you all, and safe travels,
          Susan

           

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending November 11, 2012

          This month we are examining the wisdom of Jesus and how it affects us.

          On Sunday we will continue our sermon series on Wholeness. It is fitting that we talk about Balance. When God created the world, God spent a period of time industriously making the waters and the land, the plants and animals. Then, God even made the people. The Bible says that took one week- six days to be more precise. God had a good week. But then the Bible says that God was tired and God needed a rest. Sometimes our best weeks can also be tiring weeks. That was the case for God. So God rested. That notion that rest was part of the balance of life was established long ago in the dark recesses of time. So we each struggle with finding the right balance in our lives too. How do we find the right balance? How do we discover when to rest? How do we give ourselves permission to slow down? That is the topic of this week’s sermon. I won’t be talking as an expert on balance, but as one who struggles myself to find the right mix every week. I hope you will join us as we continue the series on Wholeness.

          I heard the choir rehearsing last night and they sound so wonderful. Our regular Chancel Choir will be joined by the Once in a While Choir led by CiCi Hunt. This informal pick-up choir has some wonderful singers, and they will be singing a David Roth song. Join us for a spirited worship service on Sunday.

          Thought for the Week – Luminary Walk

          Last Sunday night Heike and I had so much fun enjoying the Luminary Walk. As President of the Interfaith Association, Heike had spent the afternoon helping to set up the Luminary Labyrinth along with a group of Olin students. When dusk fell the Labyrinth was lit with little lights, and children started to run through the spiritual path on Greene Field. As it grew dark the children and adults settled into a somewhat quieter pace exploring the path together in groups.  Neighbors and friends walked in pairs. When Heike and I took the path, the air was crisp, the energy was high, and we bumped into church people at every turn- quite literally. But all evening we were delighted to see so many of you on the Town Common enjoying the fun of this new experience.

          It was such a delightful evening, – so community building, so wholesome, so full of hope. It was designed by the committee that is seeking to build a community center here in Needham, and it served so many purposes. It was a fund-raiser. It raised awareness. But it also was a fun-raiser.  I especially liked that the Luminary event occurred on one of the darker nights of the year. That first evening after we have turned the clocks back is often such a downer. But this event turned something that can be bleak and lonely, into a community-wide celebration.

          I think I can speak for Heike in saying that we really enjoyed seeing so many of you out there.  And I was so proud of Needham.

          This week, I hope your spiritual journey is filled with light. As you find your way along the path, even if you face some dark times, I hope you know that you don’t walk alone.

          God bless,
          Susan

          A Message from Reverend Susan for the week ending October 26, 2012

          This is a wonderfully busy weekend at the church. The Senior high will host the community-wide Haunted House this Saturday 5-8 p.m.  Come – bring your family. Bring your neighbors. You will be proud of the church, and of the youth. They always produce a very creative and amusing Haunted House. It will be fun for the whole family.

           

          Sunday Morning - We complete our sermon series on Jesus when Heike takes a fresh look at whether Jesus was the Savior of the world. What does that concept mean, and what does it mean for us today?  Do you think of Jesus as your Savior?  In what ways is he the Savior of the world? Heike will take a new look at this traditional concept, and bring a new interpretation to the word Savior.  You won’t want to miss this last portrait in our October series – Who was Jesus?  

           

          Adult Education - This week a new series will begin on the timely topic of Bullying. Throughout the series we will have films, speakers, and several panels of school counselors as together we talk about one of the biggest challenges that face children and youth today. The series will start at 11:30 in Linden Hall, and a light luncheon will be served. This week’s focus is on Middle School.