Tagged with Annual Meeting

Celebrating 2019

Matthew 4:13, 17-23

As Jesus begins his public ministry, he takes a stroll by the Sea of Galilea. While he is walking, he spots two brothers, Simon and Andrew, going about their daily work, casting a net into the sea. Jesus calls out: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately, Simon and Andrew leave everything behind, to follow Jesus.

Jesus walks on, with his two brand-new disciples in tow. While they are walking, Jesus sees two other brothers, James and John, going about their daily work, mending their nets. Jesus calls out to them – this time, we don’t know what he said. What we do know is that these two brothers also leave their lives behind, to become disciples of Jesus. Now they’re a group of five.

Like many biblical stories, this one leaves a great deal unsaid. I have a lot of questions. Have Simon, Andrew, James, or John ever even met Jesus before?  Did they have an initial discipleship interview, so that they could learn more about the position, and he could learn more about them? Are fisherfolk the only people available to be recruited for discipleship by the sea of Galilee, or does Jesus have a particular fondness for people in that profession? Is there a reason Jesus chooses two sets of brothers? What about Jesus compels these four to give up their livelihoods, and their families, to follow him?

There are a lot of holes in this story. There are a lot of spaces that require our imagination. Perhaps the most confusing part of this story, though, is Jesus’ invitation itself. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  What’s that, now?  Why would anyone want to be forced to catch other people in a net?  We can give thanks that there seems to be only nets, not hooks, used in fishing in this story. Still, what a terrible way to describe the role of disciple, the work of ministry.  What a terrible way to describe the wonderful tasks of showing forth God’s good news and inviting folks into God’s grace.

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” I’ve never really liked this invitation from Jesus. But this year I heard it differently. Maybe it’s because this fall we talked so much about being bound together in love, and binding the world together in love. What if Jesus saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea, and he thought: that’s what God needs. Folks to cast out a web that others can catch onto, to save themselves from drowning in despair or loneliness or luxury or want. What if Jesus saw James and John, mending their nets, and he thought: that’s what God needs. Folks who are mending what binds us together, so that we can find one another and God again, so that we can be tied together in holy community.

The story of our ministry this year, and every year, is a story of webs and nets and ties. It’s a story of connections.

This year we have continued the work of connecting with one another across demographics and ministry areas and organizations, with programs like Sunday Fellowship Food & Fun, and interactive services like Maundy Thursday, with combined choirs, and with community partnerships.

This year we have connected through giving. Folks gave with extraordinary generosity to our annual appeal. We gave $43,000, 11% of our budget, to our mission partners, as well as in-kind gifts for Open Table, Prison Gift Bags, Minuteman Arc Holiday gifts, and Mitten Tree items.

This year we have continued to explore and expand our dedication to inclusion.  We discussed White Fragility. We kept working on our worship resources. We added an automatic door opener to our main entrance. We tried more inclusive words for well-known hymns.  Stick around for Annual Meeting, when we hope to expand our Open and Affirming Statement.

This year we have connected through acts of care. We supported one another through losses and memorial services and surgeries. We have delivered flowers and made visits and knit shawls and written cards and welcomed visitors. We have even baked pies. And each week, folks offer rides to church, prayers, a listening ear.

This year we have connected by through acts of service, small and large. Folks showed up to water and weed and prune the garden throughout the year. We worshipped in the garden all summer, thanks to a dedicated crew (especially Andrew). David Frink and others have fixed and installed countless items. All year, folks have showed up to move chairs, and platforms, and bell tables; to serve food and set the communion table. Each Sunday, there are people making coffee, handing out bulletins, singing, reading, helping with Sunday School, counting the offering. The Schummers even designed and installed a new name tag holder!

Maybe there have been days where there were too many items on your list of church to-dos, and you wondered: why am I doing this?

I suspect that for most of us, it was because one day, someone, or something, whispered in our ear: Come, and be part of it. There is a place in God’s great community for you. And not only that: you can be a caster of nets. You can be a mender of nets. You can be a bringer of good news. You can become part of the binding, part of the weave, part of the stretch, part of the strength, that reaches out into the world for others to grab onto.

Because all those acts of service combine through the power of the Holy Spirit into something amazing that none of us could have put together by ourselves, that looks something like all ages and abilities giant uno games; the wonder of a child; the joy of finding a place, a home, a friend.

Thank you all, for what you have given to West Concord Union Church. Through your ministry, we have witnessed the glory of God here among us. Thanks be to God.


1 Corinthians 12:12-26

There is a great video online made by Temple Shalom in Cincinatti called, “The Little Table.”

It starts out very simply. Two people have flyers for a game night at the temple. They wish that they had a little table to display the flyers in the lobby. So, they bring the suggestion to a temple board meeting.  Leaders discuss if they need a little table in the lobby. Then the question arises: if this community truly needs a little table, can’t they use one that they already have, rather than spending money on a new one? Already, things are getting heated: not everyone is using the right kind of tone while talking about the little table. Finally, a compromise is reached: they will try to find a donated table.

But it doesn’t end there. The person who agrees to seek out the donation of a little table feels overworked and refuses to follow through. A new volunteer with a business background is called in to help the board with a little table cost/benefit analysis. However, the board still cannot agree about the little table. Finally, an outside consultant is called in. He has a PhD in little table buying.  He leads the board in a visualization exercise: do the game night flyers desire to be displayed on a little table? Just what kind of little table would be right?

At the end of the video, a new table finally arrives in the lobby, accompanied by tears of joy and feelings of accomplishment. The flyers for game night are lovingly arranged on top. Unfortunately, the game night happened eight months earlier. (you can watch the whole video here!)

Sometimes I wonder why people put up with the church. Churches, like temples and many other kinds of human communities, are terribly inefficient. We try to include lots of different people.  Everyone brings their own backgrounds, skills, perspectives, and inclinations.  Coming together on anything can be difficult: whether it’s big things like our worship style or major renovations, or small things, like little tables.

If you’ve ever thought that West Concord Union Church is unique in facing this challenge, let me assure you: we are not. That little table video struck such a chord that it has been viewed over 18 thousand times. Even the apostle Paul, addressing one of the earliest churches, long ago, and far away, has something to say about the struggle to find unity in community.

Don’t forget that we are one, Paul tells the church in Corinth. The church, in its diversity, is still one body. We have different gifts, but they come from the same spirit. We give different services, but all of them are activated by God. Therefore, we must find a way to work together.  What’s more, we should unite not through any kind of hierarchy, but in a radical form of equality. He says: “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect… God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

This sounds great — but the struggle is real to come anywhere close to the vision Paul calls us towards. It is hard to share! It is hard to share decisions. It is hard to share money. It is hard to share a building, and staff time, and worship.  It is hard to share with well-meaning people who somehow disagree with our own invaluable wisdom. It is hard to share, and it is hard to trust: trust that we ourselves, in our imperfections and particularities, are recognized, and valued, and even treasured, by God and this community.

Doing things together is hard. Sharing things together is hard.  Trusting in one another is hard.  So it is important that we take the time to recognize, and celebrate, what we manage to achieve despite all of these barriers. It is important to notice the startling beauty of what we do together, despite and because of our differences.  What have we done this year?

  • This year we have continued our great strength in music, thanks to Jim and Susan and so many committed musicians.
  • This year we have continued our great strength in our ministry with children and youth, thanks to Jessica and Joyce and Melissa and Lisa and so many committed parents and other volunteers.

  • This year we have continued to nurture adults in fellowship, worship, and enrichment, from Walden prayer walks to bible study, Parent discussions, and book group
  • This year we have continued and grown in our Sunday Fellowship ministry, celebrating its 35th anniversary, deepening relationships with staff and families, and sharing our witness with the wider church.
  • This year we have continued with vibrant Sunday morning worship, continuing to increase participation in the service, trying new sermon series, singing Mr. Rogers, adding a screen to the sanctuary (with a new version still in the making), expanding accommodations so that more folks might participate fully.
  • This year Our community is growing in its generosity, both to and from the church: we got an incredible response to our Congregational Giving appeal, we gave 11% of our 2018 budget to supporting mission partners; we gathered items for Open Table, the Prison, Mitten Tree, Angel Gifts, and more.
  • This year we have done more together, with each other and the wider community:  the Minute Man March, apple picking, a vigil at Kerem Shalom, an Open House

Please join me in prayer. God, it can be so hard to recognize that we are one body: all, indispensable; all, treasured; all, a part of a beautiful whole. Bless us with love for one another, Gratitude for what we share, and courage for what lies ahead. Amen.