Pastor Ponderings – January 2023

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

2022 has only a couple of days left, and the new year begins. With a new year, comes all kinds of new opportunities.

First, after 13 months of prayer and discernment, First Christian has heard, and is listening to God’s voice, and asked Faith to join them in conversation to merge our two churches. Council has approved moving forward with these conversations. This is a very exciting time for everyone, while at the same time, may be somewhat scary. We have no idea what this means yet, or how things will look. There are so many questions, and no doubt there are many concerns. Will we stay UCC? Will we be DOC? Will we be both? Will we be neither? (All four of these are options!) What will we call ourselves? Who will be our pastor? And no doubt, so many, many more.

Council has given authority to the committee, which was put together when we first entertained the idea of First Christian moving into the building, to meet with First Christian’s folks starting in January. We will begin by putting some sort of plan and time line into place which will involve open conversations with each of the congregations, and with them together. If you have questions, please let me know. At this point, I can’t promise that I can answer much more than I am telling you here until we get into the process, but I am all ears! The members of the committee are Mark Christy, Amy Dowell, and Jill Pepper.

In the meantime, I invite you to start writing down your thoughts and questions, as well as your creative ideas. If you are like me, I have notes everywhere! That way, you are ready for when the time comes to address them.

Please know, dearest friends, that if this is God’s plan for our journey, it will be done with God at the center, and will be done together.

The other is that I am taking my Rest and Renewal from June 5—September 3. I will be back in the office on September 4. This is 13 weeks instead of 12, as I will be attending the UCC General Synod as an Iowa Conference Delegate June 30—July 4, so I will be working one week.

Jill Pepper will be covering for me for part of the time—June and July. August is yet to be determined. We will know for sure by the end of January. This too, could be a time that is nerve-racking. But please know, this is a time for me to rest and get some of my energy back. I am going to do a little traveling to visit family, and do some reading, a little crafting, and spend time in meditation and prayer practices each day. Ultimately, I will be doing things which bring my heart joy.

We have so much to be thankful for, and there are so many blessings coming our way! Thank you, 2022, for all you have given us. Welcome 2023!!

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – December 2022

“The Word became flesh and made a home among us.” ~ John 1:1-14

We are officially less than a week away from the first Sunday in Advent. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone!

This year, our Advent/Christmas worship series is called “reflecting the sacred”. When something is described as “sacred”, it is dedicated as “holy” or “set apart”. As we journey together during this season, I invite you to think about what it is that is “sacred” to you. What do you personally set aside as something that is “holy”?

I would like to invite you to take a step back this Advent and Christmas, and begin to look at your life with eyes that see everything as “sacred”. To help you do that, I am inviting each person to participate in a Photo-A-Day Challenge. To the right is a list of items for each day of Advent, ending on Christmas Day. As you move through your day, I invite you to find where that word speaks to you in your life, and then take a picture of it. I then invite you to go to our Facebook page and upload your photo. You can do so with or without an explanation.

If you are unable to post it on our Facebook page, please send it to me, and I will post it, again, with or without an explanation, or even a name if you wish.

If you are tech savvy, there are several filters you can use to make the background blurry (it’s called bokeh). For iOS, there is the Kaleido Lens app, and for Android there is the Kaleidoscope Camera app. You can also look at Soratama Lens for fish-eye bubble lens, or Crystaliq-Prism & Photo Editor. If you have trouble, let me know and I will see if I can help you!

Even if you are not interested in sharing your pictures on Faith’s Facebook page, I invite you to do this for yourself, so that you can reflect on what is sacred to you. (And join us on Facebook to see what others are posting!)

However you choose to participate in this daily reflection, I pray that you continue to find what you are seeking as you journey through this season. May God continue to watch over you, and bless you more deeply than you could ever imagine!

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – November 2022

“The Word became flesh and made a home among us.” ~ John 1:1-14

We are officially less than a week away from the first Sunday in Advent. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone!

This year, our Advent/Christmas worship series is called “reflecting the sacred”. When something is described as “sacred”, it is dedicated as “holy” or “set apart”. As we journey together during this season, I invite you to think about what it is that is “sacred” to you. What do you personally set aside as something that is “holy”?

I would like to invite you to take a step back this Advent and Christmas, and begin to look at your life with eyes that see everything as “sacred”. To help you do that, I am inviting each person to participate in a Photo-A-Day Challenge. Below is a list of items for each day of Advent, ending on Christmas Day. As you move through your day, I invite you to find where that word speaks to you in your life, and then take a picture of it. I then invite you to go to our Facebook page and upload your photo. You can do so with or without an explanation.

If you are unable to post it on our Facebook page, please send it to me, and I will post it, again, with or without an explanation, or even a name if you wish.

If you are tech savvy, there are several filters you can use to make the background blurry (it’s called bokeh). For iOS, there is the Kaleido Lens app, and for Android there is the Kaleidoscope Camera app. You can also look at Soratama Lens for fish-eye bubble lens, or Crystaliq-Prism & Photo Editor. If you have trouble, let me know and I will see if I can help you!

Even if you are not interested in sharing your pictures on Faith’s Facebook page, I invite you to do this for yourself, so that you can reflect on what is sacred to you. (And join us on Facebook to see what others are posting!)

However you choose to participate in this daily reflection, I pray that you continue to find what you are seeking as you journey through this season. May God continue to watch over you and bless you more deeply than you could ever imagine!

~ Always Peace, Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – October 2022

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~ Luke 6:38

 It takes a village…….

It takes a village to raise children. Sometimes, as parents, we just need help. Although they are our children, they aren’t in our eyesight 24/7/365. Whether they head to a sitter, preschool, school, a friend’s house, belong on a team, somewhere along the line, someone else is caring for, feeding, teaching, leading, or coaching them. And that’s good! Sometimes another authority figure needs to help, because they just won’t listen to us parents.

In the same way, it takes a village to be a church. Or rather, it takes community. When we are in community, we each have responsibility to make sure things are getting done. A healthy community needs each person to pitch in and help, making sure that the same people aren’t always doing everything. Faith UCC is no different.

It is wonderful to be able to be in fellowship with one another and to participate in things like Sunday School, and Coffee Hour, Vendor Fairs and our Holiday Bazaar. But in order to have events like these, we need people to help with their time and physical abilities. I understand that not everyone can physically help, but many of us can.

For instance, we all enjoy Coffee Hour, but the same people are having to clean up each week. Let’s spread the task around. It isn’t difficult: putting food away, taking care of coffee, and washing, drying, and putting away a few dishes. What about you? Can you help for one Sunday a month? If you are unsure about something, it’s okay to ask for help!

The Holiday Bazaar is coming up. We will need lots of help for this.  Even if you can’t help for long, we are asking that you do offer your time and physical help. We are a small church, but we are mighty, as long as we all work together.

Thank you in advance for your help! It really does take a village! ~ Always Peace, Pastor Heidi

Pastoral Ponderings – September 2022

Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.”   ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17 (God’s Word Translation)

Breathe in. (You can do this…) Breathe out. (You are not alone…) Breathe in. (You can do this…) Breathe out. (You are not alone…)

School is back in session, and for families, that can mean a busy calendar. Practices for sports, rehearsals for music, games and concerts, Scouts, and everything else that has taken the summer off. Church is no different. The difference this year, is that for the last 2 1/2 years, we have had very little on our calendar, thanks to the pandemic. But as life moves through that in into the post-COVID reality, Faith UCC finds our calendar filling up quickly! We have much happening in and around our churches (First Christian included!) and that fills my heart with joy!

First, let’s start with our worship time change. Beginning September 11, we will move to our non-summer hours. However, instead of moving back to our “normal” 10:30, we will move to 11:00. This will allow First Christian to move their worship service from Saturday evening to Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. In between those times, from 10:10-10:50 a.m., we will hold combined All Ages Sunday School, Adult Sunday School, and Fellowship Time. All Ages Sunday School will be similar to what we have done for our Messy Church VBS, beginning in the sanctuary for the story and singing, and moving into the Fellowship Hall for activities. Also in the Fellowship Hall, on the side closest to Pastor Linda’s office, we will have our Adult Sunday School. Fellowship time will be where the activities are for All Ages Sunday School. At 10:40 a.m., choir will begin to rehearse in the choir room.

I know this sounds busy, and it will be! And I am not sure if the space will work, but we are going to give it a try! If it doesn’t work, then we will figure something else out! This is exciting for both Faith UCC and First Christian, as we are moving forward in what God is calling us to do and be, and that is truly two churches who believe in putting our FAITH FIRST.

Following worship on September 11, we will hold a brief congregational meeting to discuss expenditures for the parsonage bathroom. The background is that the tub is breaking down and is in need of replacement. The ceiling has had mold since we moved in 9 years ago, despite painting it with KILZ paint several times over those 9 years. Between those two things, we will end up replacing the flooring as well. Council will be asking for the approval of $5000 to cover material, labor, as well as anything that might come up that is unforeseen. Please try to join us for that meeting.

Sunday, September 18 will be our final All Ages Messy Church Vacation Bible School from 4-6:30 p.m. “Love Our World.” We will have sandwiches and chips for supper.

Saturday, September 24 we have our Fall Spectacular Vendor Fair! We will need volunteers to help set up, welcome people, and clean up/set up for Sunday. (See below) There will be a volunteer sheet out in Fellowship Hall.

The next day, Sunday, September 25, we will host the Eastern Iowa Association Fall Annual Meeting. Pastors and lay people from all the Eastern Iowa Association will be coming for an hour of education (2-3 p.m.), then the meeting and sharing Holy Communion (3:15-4:30), and finally a meal (4:45-5:30). I will need a few people to help with the catered meal. Again, there will be a sign-up sheet in Fellowship Hall.

(This doesn’t affect Faith, but then on Tuesday, September 27, I will be hosting a potluck Clergy gathering at Tabor Farm Vineyard and Winery in Baldwin.)

Yes, this makes for a busy calendar, but after so long of not being busy, my heart is so full! I do pray you will join for at least a few of these ministries with us!

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – August 1, 2022

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching“… ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

 I had a conversation with a mentor and colleague of mine the other day, and the topic of discussion was what we were planning to do about confirmation this year. Curriculum has changed in the more than a decade since she and I have served together, and she felt it was time for her church to move forward in a new direction. It was a great conversation, and helped clarify my own thoughts on what we, as this particular faith community, need to begin thinking about to grow into Body of Christ that God is calling us to be.

In the history of the UCC, and in most denominations in the United States, the Church as an institution has been declining. This isn’t new news. But add to that the fact that once churches re-opened after the worst of the pandemic, many people haven’t gone back. Even with people worshipping online, churches across the country are having to face the difficult questions of “Who are we now, given we have half the number of members we had 2 years ago?”, and “How are we going to make it in the next 2 years?”

In this new time, as I have preached several times, we are in a very unique place in history. We are going to be able to rewrite how the Church, as the Body of Christ, will be in our world. But we need to use discernment and move forward with intention.

This means getting back to our roots, beginning from the beginning. In our conversation, my colleague and I decided that there are certain things that an intentional Church community needs to learn and do: love one another, no matter who, no matter where, no matter what—the first and most important commandment; to forgive as we have been forgiven; who God is, and how to have a relationship with Them; same with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit; and to serve one another. Everything else will come.

In light of these things, what we do as a faith community should revolve around these truths, and if they don’t, we don’t do them. This might mean we are going to do things differently, and sometimes not at all. And that’s okay. We will introduce new things, and that is good as well!

One of those new ways happened last Sunday evening. We had our first of three All Ages Messy Church VBS with First Christian. I said if we got 20 people to come, it would be great; and if we got 25 to come, I would thrilled. We ended up with 33 people from ages 1.5 years to almost 90! We had an amazing time! It was new, but the Holy Spirit was present and playing, and it was exactly what it should have been. A faith community learning about the Love of God together. (We hope you can join us August 14 for the second VBS—Love Your Neighbor.)

One of my favorite camp songs is “It Only Takes a Spark.” What other things can we do differently in order to grow into the Body of Christ in this new time? Do you have ideas? Is the Holy Spirit laying something on your heart? Is there something we are missing currently that would help you, or others, want to see happening within our church? Remember, some of the old familiar things, which we loved and were good in their time, may need to stay in the past, in order to make room for new things to take root. Some will take lots of thought, some will be no-brainers, and others will shove us out of our comfort zones. But that is what we do as a faith community. And if it doesn’t work, then we will try something else. What “spark” can Faith UCC be in this post-pandemic world?

In the meantime, be sure to watch the bulletins and announcements to see how you can use your gifts to serve this wonderful Faith community.

~ Always Peace, Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – July 2022

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. ~ Deuteronomy 7:9

In our Wednesday morning Bible Study, we are studying the Book of Revelation. I love this book for the blessings it offers (yes, BLESSINGS), as well as the imagery.

We have just finished John of Patmos’ letters to the seven churches, and at the end of each letter, the study guide asks us what our take away is. Upon reflection, I realize it’s all about standing firm in our faith—no matter what we face, and that we are to live in covenantal or right relationship with one another.

Covenant is hard. It is the steadfast promise that God makes with Abraham and Sarah that they will be the parents of nations; the rainbow set in the sky to remind God and us that God will never again purposefully flood the earth to wipe out humanity. It is the promise through the risen Christ that our sins have been wiped clean.

But covenant requires humanity to actively take part and hold up our end. Abraham and Sarah needed to trust God; humanity must love God and one another.

The UCC is a covenantal denomination. When we join a local congregation, we make promises to be engaged and help support that congregation through our time, talent, and treasures. We promise to serve God and one another.

As a local congregation, we covenant with the wider church to be in relationship with them, to serve together, pool our resources, and grow the Body of Christ.

For Faith UCC, this includes three things:

  1. That we actually participate in the Eastern Iowa Association, which is made up of 31 other congregations. We do this by serving on committees (I am the current treasurer) and pray for one another.
  2. We belong to the Iowa Conference, where we widen our service and support, and in our case, that grows into the Tri-Conference, which is made up of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences.
  3. Finally, we support the national setting—for most of us, that is financially and through prayer, but maybe one day it will be serving on a committee.

Currently, Faith UCC is working to strengthen our relationships with the Eastern Iowa Association and Iowa Conference. We will be hosting not one, but two events which offer an opportunity for you to serve these wider entities.

On July 12, we will host a Conference wide Clergy Day Apart from 10-4.
On September 25, we will host the Eastern Iowa Association Fall Annual Meeting from 2:00-5:30, which includes serving a meal. (You are all invited to attend this! It will help you understand our role in the Association!)

We also have the upcoming JAM (Joint Annual Meeting) October 9-11 for the Tri-Conference which will be held in Sioux City.

Please watch for further details on how we can practice our part of being in a covenantal relationship for all of these events! ~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – June 2022

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what isexcellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” ~ Philippians 1:9-10

As we look to the future and continue to discern what call God is placing on us as a church community, one of the most important things we can do is be honest with ourselves. Honest about who we are, and what we as a community are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually able to do. This will sometimes include difficult questions and conversations.

This month, we are going to begin discussing the ministry of our annual Holiday Bazaar, held on the first Saturday of November. The Attic Shop was added to the Holiday Bazaar in 1982, which means this event has been going for more than 40 years! That is a long time, and it has been wonderful. As I read past annual reports, there were many changes made to the bazaar along the way—times were changed, meals added, attic shop added—and now it is time for us to take a breath and evaluate once again.

Every year it gets harder to make this event successful. We have fewer volunteers, even since you called me here. And let’s face it, none of us are as young as we used to be!

Currently, we are in need of someone who will be willing to step up and lead the Attic Shop portion of the bazaar. Leading means just that—making sure there is a team to help clean and price the items (or choose to do it differently); make sure there is a team to help set up the week before the bazaar; a team to cashier; a team to walk around during that Saturday and help customers; and a team to help pack everything that is left over when the bazaar is finished.

At our Council meeting on Sunday, we decided we want to see what you think. Please watch your email (or mail) for a short 8 question survey regarding the Holiday Bazaar. We are asking that you answer the questions no later than Wednesday, June 1. We will collect the data, and then we will have a brief congregational gathering following worship on Sunday, June 5, where we will give you the results we collected, as well as offer a time for further discussion.

The purpose for this survey is to see if we are going to continue forward with the Holiday Bazaar, either as we are doing now, or with some changes, or if we need to let it go and find other fundraisers that will fit our congregation’s gifts and talents differently.

I know these discussions are difficult, because we like things the way they have been, but as we have all seen over the last 2 years, life is different, and honestly, different can be good! It can breathe new life into us, so that we can breathe new life into our community, and into our world.

As we continue with these difficult discussions and decisions, remember that we are not alone because we are being led by the Holy Spirit, and keeping God at the center. When we do that, we can be confident that we are following the missional path that God is leading us to. May it be so.

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – May 2022

“He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” ~ John 20:15-17

We are in what the church calls “Eastertide.” This is the 50 days between the experience Mary and the other women had at the empty tomb, to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit blew in through the Upper Room and landed as “tongues of fire” on each of the disciples, causing them to speak in different languages. The blowing of the wind changes their lives forever.

The empty tomb, with the linen death cloths folded on the stone where Jesus lifeless body had been laid, changed lives forever. What is interesting in this passage, is that Jesus, while wanting to comfort his friend, tells Mary she can’t hold him because he “had not yet ascended to God.” She didn’t recognize the one she called Rabboni, because he looked different.

Maybe this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to Mary, he “changed” in front of Peter, James, and John on the mountain top when Elijah and Moses appeared in the Transfiguration.

Okay, let’s go even further back. Jesus is the ultimate “change.” He is the Son of God, come to earth in human form (and yet fully divine). Being born as a human baby, to live and breathe, to feel and taste and smell, to experience life like a “normal” human, Jesus changes from whatever form he was prior to birth, to human—made from dirt—having sinew and bone. He changed from something we “normal” humans couldn’t see—or really understand—to something tangible, something that made sense to our brains.

What if that is what change is all about? What if the whole reason things change—whether it is how we understand the world as we grow from infancy to adulthood, or making leaps and bounds in technology, or figuring out how to be neighbors—is because we are moving from one state of understanding to another state of understanding? What if we knew deep in our cores that we can’t stay the same, life can’t stay the same, because there is always something better to be working toward?

What if this is the case when it comes to being church—the Body of Christ? Depending on your age, the world has watched the decline of the church since the 50’s. Our sanctuaries are no longer full. Our Women’s Groups no longer meet during the day because most of the women are working. Our Men’s Groups don’t meet for Saturday breakfast because there are games to coach, children to chase around, and chores to be done that can’t get done during the week. And don’t get me started about children and youth programs!

Again, what if this change is what the church needs? Maybe, like someone with an addiction, the Body of Christ must hit rock bottom before we face the reality that change is inevitable, and the church was never supposed to be tucked away from people in a building in the first place? Before he leaves earth to ascend back to God, he tells the disciples “Go into the world and make disciples.” GO INTO THE WORLD.

Faith UCC is at that critical point. We need to decide what our “change” is going to be. We need to be talking about how we will GO INTO THE WORLD and make disciples. We are small in number, but we are HUGE in compassion, care, forgiveness and love, and those are the things we need to be sharing with the world.

In the months and years to come, how can we—Faith UCC—spread God’s love and light in the world? How can we be the salt and light we are called to be? We have started, by sharing space with First Christian, by opening our doors to Cub and BSA Scouts, to a homeschool group. But what else can we do? Can we do a neighborhood clean up? Can we worship differently? I know that is a really hard question, and thinking about changing how we worship makes us uneasy. But worshipping like we do now is not how we will survive. So what can we do differently? Let’s start talking about these things. If we do, maybe we won’t have to hit “rock bottom.” Maybe we can show up changed, like Jesus, and be who we were created to be in the first place!

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi

 

Pastoral Ponderings – April 2022

“He is not here; he has risen!” ~ Luke 24:6-7

By the time you read this, we will officially be over half done with the season of Lent.  It always amazes me how quickly this time of reflection and repentance goes by.

This year, we have been discussing the topic of being “Good Enough”, just as we are. In a world where we are bombarded by people telling us we need to be better, to be more successful, to produce more, God loves us just as we are—flaws and all! And what a beautiful message to hear!

As we continue to walk this journey, we find ourselves being presented with many “firsts.” This is the first time in the history of Faith UCC that we have shared ministry space with another church. This is the first time in the history of Faith UCC that we have shared decorating the altar. This is the first time that we have shared our Soup and Conversation in the way that we are. (Yes, we have shared with Edwards a couple years ago, but this is the first time doing it this way!)

Maybe the biggest “first” is going to be Easter Sunday morning. As you know, First Christian worships at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoons. But to celebrate EASTER SUNDAY, on EASTER VIGIL SATURDAY, doesn’t fit the narrative. After much discussion among themselves, First Christian decided they would like to worship as their own church on Easter Sunday (not combine worship), as this is their “first” Easter outside of the building they sold.

Pastor Linda and First Christian’s board approached me and asked how we could make it work. The answer that Faith UCC came up with was another “first.”

This Easter, April 17, First Christian DOC will worship at 9:00 a.m., and Faith UCC will worship at 11:00 a.m. Please feel free to join either service, either in person, or on Facebook Live.

We have also been invited to join the P.U.N.C.H Annual Easter Egg Hunt at Cork Hill Park. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. In the meantime, may you remember, in the core of your being, you are GOOD ENOUGH!

~ Always Peace,   Pastor Heidi