June 14, 2024 by  
Filed under What If? blog

Jesus spoke to his followers in a parable about planting seeds.  In cold climates, seeds can take many months to grow into plants and bear fruit.  The job of gardeners and farmers is not only patience.  The job is also to tend; to fertilize and water and weed until at last the fragile plants break forth, and then leaves, then flowers and finally produce.  It takes a long time for seeds planted to bear fruit.

This week many congregations will be celebrating Juneteenth.  Juneteenth has been celebrated for generations in African American communities, although for some communities this will be the first year that this celebration is acknowledged.  It takes a long time for seeds planted to bear fruit.

The seeds of Juneteenth were planted on June 19th, 1865, when troops rode into Galveston, Texas announcing the end of the civil war and the freedom of all enslaved Americans.  This was good news, yes.  But this good news came more than two and a half years after the signing of the emancipation proclamation. It takes a long time for seeds planted to bear fruit.

Juneteenth was heartily celebrated in the early part of the 20th century with rodeos, speakers, preachers, music, worship and heaping tables of food, but those celebrations were largely shut down during the Jim Crow era.  Recognition of Juneteenth began to be revived in black communities by activists in the 1960s and 1970s.  The first legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday was introduced in 1996.  The legislation was finally signed into law in 2021.  It takes a long time for seeds planted to bear fruit.

Whether your Juneteenth celebration this year is generations old, or is new this year, remember that it is the fruit of a seed planted decades before you were born.  And the cycle does not end with this generation.  As is the nature of growing things, the fruit you enjoy this season will produce seeds that will also, in their time, bear fruit. It takes a long time for seeds planted to bear fruit.  May the seeds you plant this Juneteenth, however small or mighty, grow beautiful in its season.

What if…we embraced the “Spirit for All”?

May 16, 2024 by  
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Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Hole Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

On this day, we remember that we are co-creators with God of the reign which is to come. Pentecost reminds us that we are never alone in the co-creation. Both those within our church and those without can be vessels of the Holy Spirit, and when we speak, we will be heard and understood. And the promise of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit does bot just fill us with words, but also incites us into action on behalf of the divine.

Look around!
What work is the Holy Spirit ready to do through your community?
How can you contribute to that?
How can you embrace the ‘Spirit for All’ ?

What if…we embraced the gift of the Earth?

May 6, 2024 by  
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As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his Love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. –John 15:9-17

As we enter May and all of the wonderful spring opportunities that gives us, we are taking this time to look ahead to the busy month as we prepare for Pentecost.

We will also be celebrating Rural Life Sunday on May the 19th and offer this special prayer of thanks to the Lord for all he has given us.

Great Thanksgiving Communion Prayer for Rural Life Sunday:

Dear God, Creator of all things,
Long ago in the very beginning, you knelt down and scooped a handful of dirt and you knew it could live. And so you formed us, not crawling upon the face of the Earth, but intimately connected with Her.
In all times and places, your people have looked at the soil and, having first given thanks for what that soil can bring forth, have planted seeds, tended and sown.
The result of that gratitude and hard work is laid before us now on this table. Wheat and water, ground and risen, become bread. Grapes painstakingly crushed became juice/wine. Like Jesus who gathered with his friends on that holy night long ago, today people give thanks for the elements before us, and for the lands and people that produced it. We sing with gratitude as your people have sung across the lands and the generations.
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in eth highest!
Blessed in the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

What if we talked to more people?

April 19, 2012 by  
Filed under What If? blog

Throughout our exploration of how to grow our church, we have challenged our members to come up with both public and private “What if?” statements. Some of these have been shared, paper leaves hanging from the vine in the church’s narthex.

One of the earliest leaves carried a potentially loaded message: “What if we all talked to more people during coffee hour?”

The message, of course, is that to be truly open, friendly and welcoming, we have to be, well, friendly and welcoming.

This article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch drives this point home.

What do you think? What can we do as a church to continue growing, furthering our mission?

What if… We imagined the possibilities?

July 17, 2011 by  
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Thanks to Judy Hertenstein, who recently presented her own “What if” moment during worship.

Imagine What’s Possible! That was the theme for the Missouri Mid South Annual Gathering last weekend. There were a multitude of What If ideas presented from the “imagine a New World” where we are all One to individual ideas. As religion has been used as an excuse for war, we need to recognize our unity and to become One body in Christ. We can share diverse gifts and talents in the common cause of serving in the name of God. What if we looked at everyone out of love? Not only those in our family or close friends but also the stranger on the street, even the drug addict, the convict…they are all children of God. What If we reached out to each other intentionally? There are many who lack Hope because of their situations…unemployment, health issues, financial worries, grieving, family dysfunction, and others. What If we really listened to what others have to say not just with our ears but with our hearts also? What If we reached out to each other with the real desire to understand each other and a willingness to work together? Giving Hope improves relationships. With LOVE and HOPE, JOY can follow as we serve Christ as ONE body. Imagine What’s Possible!

What If each Sunday we really heard the story again as if hearing it for the first time? We need to really listen, not only with our ears but with our heart. And not only on Sunday, but in our daily prayer and Bible reading, really listen for what God is saying to us. We may hear God’s plan for us. We need to realize that God’s plan is not always our plan…deep listening may give us a better picture. Imagine What’s Possible!

As we are looking at growing the vine together, we are in fact growing in numbers. We will be welcoming new members on July 24. This is good, but that is not the only way we can grow. What If on Rally Day we all wore something green or something with Ivy, not just the word, but perhaps a picture? And here’s a novel idea, What If some other Sunday we all wore hats? These are just other fun ways to say we are a family. Let’s become a true community of Christ…every member contributing unique gifts and using those gifts for the work of Christ. All things are possible through Christ. Imagine What’s Possible!

The Conference Annual Gathering was a wonderful event. Of course there’s the business of the Conference—including the annual budget proposal. The deficit is finally becoming manageable due to some restructuring, sound investing and local church support through OCWM. Then there is the good food and fellowship. It is like a yearly family reunion with members of all UCC churches across the conference reconnecting, sharing, praying, singing and playing together. I even got to play pinochle with Jeff Whitman, our Conference Minister and with a classmate from 40 years ago. What If a group of us went to the Conference Annual Gathering next year? Everyone is welcoming and caring. Imagine What’s Possible!

Other What Ifs dealt with local church…What If we changed our worship service to be less predictable…more variety in music? What If we changed the rhythm and style of some well known hymns…not all the time but occasionally…a little jazz, a little gospel, a little rock and roll? We do some of this on special Sundays, like camp Sunday and Youth Sunday, but how about other times. What If we became a part of the Creative Faith Project? Think of all the ways art…in all its many forms…drama, painting, dance, handicrafts, music…can be a part of the worship experience. This would be another opportunity to revitalize Ivy Chapel. Imagine What’s Possible!

How do you unlock what’s possible? What’s your “what if”?

What if… we recognized the Holy Spirit?

June 7, 2011 by  
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Thanks to Ivy Chapel member Jo Ann Moody, who recently shared her “What if” reflection with the congregation during worship.

How many of you were here the cold Sunday morning in late January, when Dan announced Ivy Chapel was initiating a “Growing the Vine Together” theme and we planted sprigs of ivy in these two planters? I imagine there was some skepticism the plantings would grow, and the theme would catch-on. But here we are, it is early June and look what has been accomplished!

With careful tending and nurturing by Ivy members with gardening expertise, we continue to have ivy growing and thriving in these specially decorated pots. Perhaps one of these surviving vines is one you planted! Question is, who is the Gardener helping Ivy Chapel UCC to grow and strengthen our vines?

I suggest God’s Holy Spirit is among us, helping us find our roots and spread our shoots. The Holy Spirit is taking our “Growing the Vine Together” journey with us, nurturing our ideas and giving us strength to stretch and grow in ways we can only imagine.

Early in this process, I remember hearing a trustee say, “What if we grew enough ivy to cover Ivy Chapel’s big hill so it would not have to be mowed?” What an idea, that a few sprigs, planted on a cold Sunday in January, would survive and eventually grow to spread their beauty beyond these two pots, and provide a benefit far beyond today’s simple existence.

What if our ideas and actions coming from our “Growing the Vine Together” initiative creates new roots here at Ivy Chapel, and off-shoots in our community and elsewhere, that has far more reaching impact than envisioned today!

What if we accept God’s gift of Grace and fully invite the Holy Spirit to be a part of our own journey and Ivy Chapel’s journey? What if we used this journey to take our theme to another level, one where we “Love God; follow Christ; serve others.”

Imagine the possibilities!

What do you think? What can we do to grow?

What if… you shared your church with just one friend?

May 19, 2011 by  
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What if you shared your church with just one person?

What would be the impact on your fellow members? On your church? On your friend?

What if everyone did the same?

What if everyone invited a friend to church on Sunday? Or to the church picnic? Or bible study?

Sharing your love for your church and for God isn’t hard, is it?

What do you think will happen?

What if… we discovered the Messiah is one of us?

April 29, 2011 by  
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Thank you to Ivy Chapel Member Rod Hertenstein, who recently shared his personal “What if” reflection with the congregation during worship.

The “why” of these “what if” moments is to imagine what is not, but could be. To dream, of spirit filled ways we could grow. This is hard. There’s a cost—making dreams real means commitment, follow through. Hard enough, but there’s something else we need now to name, something even more daunting, because most visionary dreams require of us the thing we most seek to avoid, even dread, and that, brothers and sisters, is CHANGE. Big dreams demand new attitudes, sometimes a radically altered perspective.

We resist this because we already have perspectives and attitudes. Many of us, and I am included, have been sharpening and grinding our personal perspectives, our personal attitudes on all things, for decades. We live in this private zone of comfort– DO NOT DISTURB.

The thing is, my “what if” this morning may disturb your perspective. When you first hear it, you may choose to dismiss it out of hand as “ridiculous, unbelievable.”

Well, here it is: “What if we were to discover that the Messiah is one of us.”

I know, it does sound impossible, but humor me a bit by hearing a story. This is told by Megan McKenna: “Once upon a time there was a wise abbot of a monastery who was the friend of an equally wise rabbi. This was in the old country, long ago, when times were always hard, but just then they were even worse. The abbot’s community was dwindling, and the faith life of his monks was fearful, weak and anxious. He went to his friend and wept. His friend, the Rabbi, comforted him, and said “there is something you need to know, my brother. We have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.” “

What,” exclaimed the abbot, “the Messiah is one of us? How can this be?”

The Rabbi insisted it was so. The abbot returned to his monastery wondering and praying, excited beyond words. He would walk down the halls, past a monk, wondering, is he the one. Sitting in chapel, praying, he would hear a voice and look intently at a face and wonder, is he the one. The abbot had always been kind, but now began to treat all of his brothers with profound kindness and awe, ever deeper respect, even reverence. Soon everyone noticed. One of the other brothers came to him and asked “ what had happened?”

The abbot told him what the rabbi had said. Soon the other monk was looking at his brothers differently, with deeper respect, kindness, awe, reverence. Word spread quickly: the Messiah is one of us. The monastery was suddenly full of life, worship, love and grace. The prayer life was rich, devoted, passionate. The services were alive and vibrant. Soon the surrounding villagers came to the services, listening and watching intently, and many joined the community of monks. After their novitiate, when they took their vows, they were told the mystery, the truth that their life was based upon, the source of their strength, the richness of their life together: The Messiah IS one of us.

The monastery grew and flourished in house after house, and the monks grew in wisdom and grace before each other and in the eyes of God.” So the story ends. Could it be our beginning? Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is within us. We proclaim the Messiah is among us, and the church is the visible Body of Christ on earth.

What if it became our joy to discover glimmers, thru words and deeds, acts of love and sacrifices, glimpses of the Messiah in each other– visible today in one person, tomorrow in another, but always present among us. Call me a dreamer, but what if we turned away from the faults, fears and failings of each other, and focused, like a laser, only on the moments when glimmers of the Messiah emerge in one another. What if this became our passion?

What then might we become, might we do together as Ivy Chapel, the Body of Christ, where the Messiah IS one of us?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

What if… we all smiled more?

February 12, 2011 by  
Filed under What If? blog

It sounds kind of corny, especially as the snow starts to melt and we’re all feeling a little happier.

But what if we all smiled more?

What affect would this have on our lives? How would it make us feel? More importantly, how would it make other people feel?

Think about this over the next week as you go to church, to school, to work, to the store. What if we all smiled more? How would it affect you, and those around you?

During Ivy Chapel’s recent annual meeting, members of the congregation were invited to write their “What if” thoughts and challenges on paper leaves, which now decorate the Narthex. This post was inspired by one of those anonymous comments. We will be sharing more soon. Please feel free to share your own “What if” challenge in the comments below.

Do you check in at church?

February 2, 2011 by  
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Do you check in at church?

It’s a question that has many meanings in today’s ever-connected world.

Check in of course, has a virtual meaning. Today, people check-in on Facebook and other location-aware applications using their smartphones. It’s a way to share with friends, family and co-workers details about what’s going on.

Maybe you check in at the movies. Maybe you check in when you go out to eat. But do you check in at church, sharing the event with your family and friends on Twitter and Facebook?

What if we all checked in at church? What if we shared what we do every Sunday morning with those who matter the most of us?

What if we invited others to check in with us?

And what of checking in?

Are you checked in when you are at church?

Are you truly engaged, listening for God’s words and ready to take action?

What if we were all truly checked in?

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