Less than two weeks ago, we lifted Psalm 121 in memory of Robert Huckins, who had this text highlighted in the bible he used while serving in the military. Nancy Thomsen has also selected it for Mickey’s service this week. It just so happens to be a part of our lectionary readings today, AND integrates well into the tidings Cherlyn, Chuck, and I bring back from our SD, NE, & IA Joint UCC Annual Meeting. Hear this poignant (and insistent) reminder that no matter our circumstances, God keeps us in tender embrace.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
My heart is still in rhythm with the energy of our UCC Joint annual meeting this week. And I am thrilled to share highlights along with Chuck & Cherlyn today. We heard from our Conference Ministers, engaged with excellent guest speakers, enjoyed family reunion-style conversation with our UCC siblings in SD, IA, & NE, and tended to the real-life aspects of shared ministry- like budgets and bylaws! :) Our local churches don’t get many opportunities to fully engage the wider church- but this morning is one of them, so feel free to ask questions of Chuck, Cherlyn, or I to learn more after the service.
Here’s the 5-word vision of a healthy church offered by our keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell. A Participatory, imaginative, community of hope. We participate in a movement guided by the gospel, which asks us to imagine a world in which hope not only changes us, but brings us into community. That’s a participatory, imaginative community of hope. And you know what my first thought was? That’s us! We, First Congregational UCC in Pierre, SD ARE a healthy church! In fact, Cherlyn & I shared several knowing glances when speakers offered ideas that WE ALREADY DO. Like sharing a giving story each week in worship; like developing a church culture in which we ask for what we need and offer what we can. Like experimenting with new ideas, because we trust God has been alive in this community long before us, and God will continue to guide this ministry long after we’re gone.
Martha shared a key principle that’s at work within healthy churches: We are always in the act of balancing gratitude and grief, fear and joy. That’s how hope is born. She says, “Hope is what we’re willing to commit to, regardless of what happens. It’s not about knowing, it’s about dreaming into the future together, and being delighted at the ways God shows up.” Church, WE ARE a participatory, imaginative, community of hope, and it my sheer pleasure to celebrate that with you all. Loving is who we are.
Here’s one example of the connection I felt when we were together with our UCC siblings. Some of you may recall our October Messy Church text was John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I love this text, especially during a windy week like we’ve just had. It turns out, our new Executive Conference Minister Phil Hart does too! He used this exact scripture as his address to us Tri-Conference churches, as we embrace “The possibility to be unpredictably moved by God.”
That is what makes ministry unique…we follow Spirit at work around us, within us, before us and beside us. We don’t know what the future holds, but we trust in the One who holds it. I have a final connection to share, but before I do, I’d like to offer Chuck & Cherlyn a chance to speak.
Rev. Phil Hart spoke of the love he’s witnessed between the SD, NE, and IA UCC churches. I agree, the energy and love at the conference was palpable. Loving is who we are. My final connection is a tangible one. We have been invited to participate in THE FIRST sister church connection in our tri-conference. What does this mean? We form an intentional relationship with one other church, and we’ve been paired with Mayflower UCC in Sioux City, IA. In fact, Cherlyn & I met and brainstormed with Linda, a church leader from our new sister congregation. We don’t yet know HOW our relationship will form, but we are committed to this experimental way of expanding the reach of our participatory, imaginative community of hope. So be watching for ways YOU might engage, support, and learn from the ministries at Mayflower UCC, AND help us dream about how we might be good neighbors with them, in the name of Christ, the author of all our hope and faith. Amen!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.