Pastor’s Word

Our Work Remains

Our Work Remains

By Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

We have a new president.
We have a new tone.
We have a new national agenda.

Our work remains.

I suspect that for most Americans yesterday, inauguration day, was a refreshing ray of hope amid the ongoing challenges we face. I found it uplifting to hear a president speak with rationality, compassion, honesty, sincerity, unity, and civility. It stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric we have been hearing on many fronts for far too long. And I hope it becomes the prevailing tone throughout our nation’s leaders and the general population. As we all know, there are many challenges that we face right now and bitter division among us will not provide the focus we need to move forward.

I especially found Tuesday night’s service of mourning at the Washington Mall moving. I hadn’t planned on watching it (and didn’t even know it was happening) but stumbled across it when I turned on the news while washing the dishes. It was beautiful. To have our national leadership recognize the loss and grief we have experienced during the pandemic was powerful.

For many of us, all of this is a welcome change.

However, while this may change may be refreshing and point in a new hope-filled direction, it doesn’t significantly alter OUR purpose to worship God, embrace all people, minister to one another, work for justice and peace, and render loving service to God’s world.” Whether these ideals are the focus of our national agenda, or the antithesis of it, they remain our call from God. The question remains, “How do we live out this mission?”

There are two main ways we can embody this call from God: communally and personally. Communally refers to the work we do together as the church. Personally, as it implies, is the work we do individually in our own lives. As a member, or participant, of BCCUCC you accept the challenge to live out our mission in both realms. How are you doing that?

To be honest, the pandemic raises significant obstacles to this. It is not easy, or even possible, to engage in our regular activities while following the necessary pandemic precautions. Yet that does not mean we cannot succeed at finding new ways of worshipping God, embracing all people, caring for one another, working for justice and peace, and rendering loving service to God’s world. It only means we may need to be more creative in our approaches.

For instance, caring for one another may simply mean picking up the phone and giving a call to someone from the church you haven’t seen in a while. Say “hello.” Ask how they are doing. Tell them you miss them. This may not be all that creative, but it takes a step beyond just turning to them during in-person worship, shaking their hand, and saying hello during the passing of the peace. It takes effort as well as creativity to minister during a global crisis.

What about rendering loving service? Have you reached out to your neighbors, coworkers, or acquaintances to see if they need anything? We may not be able to do a Loaves and Fishes run, but we can collect blankets for TAPIN, buy groceries for our neighbor, or write a card to a relative we haven’t seen in a while. There are so many ways to simply say, “I love you,” without words that can express God’s love for others in our lives.

Are you interested in working for justice and peace? Take a look at the eBridge each time it comes out. Our Mission and Justice Team always has a list of links to events, programs, and projects you can learn from or participate in. Check it out.

Worshipping God and embracing all people, likewise, can be experienced in multiple ways. Yes, we have virtual worship, and that may or may not be your cup of tea, but you can worship God in so many other ways; with acts of kindness, through reading scripture, by starting a personal prayer routine. And embracing all people should start in your own life. Who are those you struggle most to understand or accept? What can you do to change the way you look at them? How can you better accept them, as different as they may be, as beloved children of God? There are so many different and unique ways to be in ministry and to grow in faith. Which are you choosing?

Last month, I asked to “Turn the Page” on 2020. We have, thank God. But what are we going to do with the blank slate that is before us? How are you going to support global, national, and local initiatives that run parallel to our shared mission? How are you going live out this same mission in your own life, and in your own immediate surroundings? Each of us, no matter how restricted or confined, are capable of this is on some scale. Think about how you can do it.

So, welcome to our new administration. Welcome, to our new national priorities. And welcome to a renewed commitment to our ongoing mission from God. May we remain faithful to our call.

A Change of Perspective

A Change of Perspective

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

It’s a New Year! No matter that we’re only a few days past 2020, it does feel like a fresh start. Have you made any New Year’s resolutions this year? (Is anyone doing that this year?) If you did, have you kept them? Or are you finding them already broken? If you have made resolutions and are finding it hard to keep them, I hope you’re allowing yourself some grace. While the desire to make changes that will enhance our lives is worthwhile, studies show that change doesn’t happen overnight – it certainly doesn’t happen simply because the calendar changes. True change often takes time and continued rededication.

This year, I’ve heard friends speak about setting “intentions” instead of resolutions for the new year – what they want to work toward. It still involves setting some goals, but perhaps with a gentler and more measured approach. One thing a new year does offer us is a starting point, a place to begin. The clean slate of a new year offers us a fresh canvas upon which we can paint new possibilities. If you don’t paint or draw, you may get the same feeling from looking out the window of an airplane, or standing on top of a mountain looking out on the landscape spreading before you. Either way, we may find ourselves awed by the openness and vastness.

If you are a hiker (or have been a hiker), you’ve probably experienced this yourself. Although I would never characterize myself as a hiker, I learned to appreciate this from a hike I went on with my dad when I was little. My dad was someone who loved the outdoors. He grew up on a farm in Illinois and his idea of relaxation almost always involved being in nature. We spent several summer vacations touring national parks out West where he would take day hikes into the woods or to the top of a peak to see the promised vista.

When I was about seven, we went to Glacier National Park in Montana. We stayed in a cabin, which was fun by itself, and enjoyed being deep in the woods. Mostly I stayed with my mom, who wasn’t interested in hiking at all. But, one morning, my dad took me with him on a short hike to a scenic overlook. Now given my age, it was probably a small mountain (or a big hill) that we hiked that day. But as we hiked, it started to feel like a very big mountain to my legs and feet. About half way up, I got tired and didn’t want to go on. But he was insistent that I could make it all the way to the top, so I trudged on. When we reached the scenic overlook, I had to admit that the view of the valley from that perspective was beautiful. And it changed my perspective about the energy exerted to get there.

Many things can cause us to change our perspective. It can be accomplishing something we didn’t know we could do, like hiking up a mountain. It can be new information that changes how we understand something about ourselves or our world. It can be a supportive comment from a friend that help us see ourselves differently. It can be an answer to prayer that helps us see a challenge in a new light. A shift in perspective doesn’t have to be earth shattering to have an impact on us. The author Anne Lamott, the novelist who has also written several books about her own faith journey, notes that a shift of only eight degrees can help us see things very differently (Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, p. 40).

Only eight degrees! I find that comforting. Meaningful change doesn’t require us to do a 180. Even a change of eight degrees in our perspective can lead to change. Only eight. If you think about it, with a shift of eight degrees in your focus, you may see the dust bunny in that corner that you hadn’t noticed before. Or you may notice the beauty of that lone leaf holding on to the bare tree branch against all odds. Or you may see the book on the shelf that you thought you’d lost. Maybe a shift in perspective of only eight degrees can help you see the way God is guiding you out of a situation you’ve been struggling with. Or help you see the way God is with you, even now, even while you’re waiting for guidance.

For those of us who look to the biblical record for guidance, it’s often helpful to look at the familiar stories from a new perspective. It can help us see aspects of the stories that we may have overlooked. Starting this coming Sunday, Dale and I will be exploring some familiar parables from a new perspective. With the help of a book by biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine, we will be looking at these familiar “short stories” from the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish audience and seeing how they would have received them. How would they have understood the grain of mustard seed, the yeast in three measures of flour, the pearl of great price, or the lost coin? We know that Jesus used parables to challenge his audience to see the familiar from a new perspective. Looking at them from a first century Jewish perspective offers us the possibility of gaining new insights into their meaning. We invite you to join us for this journey exploring the parables in a new light.

This is what a new year offers us – the opportunity to expand our sights beyond the familiar, and perhaps to set intentions that will shape our actions for the next year and beyond. And, as Anne Lamott notes, even if your perspective shifts by just eight degrees, it’s enough to create meaningful change.

Turn the page…

Turn the page…

By Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

Every year around this time all the TV stations usually come out with their “The Year in Review” shows that highlight all the major events of the past year. I seldom watch them because I lived through the year and feel I can probably remember the key moments most of the time. This year I haven’t seen any of those retrospectives advertised. This could be because I watch so little live television these days. Nearly everything I watch is either sports (yes, they’re live), online, or streamed from one of the major streaming networks. The other reason could be that networks are afraid people are feeling a lot like me this year. I really don’t want to watch a “greatest hits” of 2020. 2020 hit too hard. I’m hurting and in pain, and I don’t want to relive any of that! I say, “turn the page and move on.”

Are you ready to be done with 2020? Even if you are, the reality is that this transition to a new year is just a made-up division. Our calendar is created to help us keep track of time and events, but bears little difference beyond that. In all likelihood the world will not change significantly from December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2021. However, for me this year’s change over brings with it a lot more promise.

Normally I only look forward to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with mild interest. This could be because when Elizabeth and I were dating as teenagers (yes, it’s been that long!) we always seemed to get into a fight on New Year’s Eve. But more likely it is because I am always a little sad to see the past year go. No matter what year I’m saying goodbye to, there were important happenings and milestones that took place. I’m always a little sad to see them move along and be placed in the “remember when” bucket. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good things I’m looking forward to in the year ahead, only that I’m mildly saddened to say goodbye some years.

2020 is different. There were undoubtedly good times and milestones that took place this year, but I am more than ready to move on. Everything this year has been overshadowed by the pandemic and the dramatic changes it has had on our lives. Not to mention the more than 300,000 people who have died as a direct result of Covid-19 in the US, or 1.7 million around the world. That’s a lot of grieving. That’s a lot of loss.

The strange thing is that Covid-19 and the pandemic measures are going to be with us well into 2021. The most recent news that I heard is that most people won’t be receiving vaccines until summer or even into the fall. That isn’t definite for it was only a few weeks ago I was thinking I might be in line for a vaccine by early spring. Who knows? What we do know is that life for most of 2021 may look a lot like life for most of 2020.

So why am I optimistic? The short answer is because of hope. I hope that 2021 will see the end of this. I hope that at some point in 2021 we will be able to worship in person. And not just gather as few of us in the building, but perhaps have everyone present AND be able to sing together, shake hands, and greet each other without masks. Wouldn’t that be special? Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

This hope brings with it a whole lot of questions. Like, what will our membership look like when we return? Will we lose members? Will we gain members? What will the needs of the community be at that time? How will things have changed? Will we be comfortable touching each other? Hugging? Singing? How long will it take for us to once again feel relaxed in a room with a large number of people? What challenges will these changes bring up? How will we handle things financially? Emotionally? Spiritually? Will we need to do ice-breakers at worship so we can remember who everyone else is?

A few things are certain. One is that God is with us now and will be with us then. This pandemic tests each of us continually. Yet we are not alone in this struggle. We have each other and we have God. It is a comfort to me knowing that the church (and the people that make it up) has been through trying times and survived. We will too. God will see us through this and all that is to come. This is the second certainty. We will get through this. We may not know how things will be different on “the other side”. But we will get through and have the assurance that we can handle whatever awaits us. I truly believe that.

The last certainty is this: I’m ready. I’m done. 2020 can move along. It’s time to turn the page and see what the future holds.

Christmas Miracles

Christmas Miracles

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

During the Christmas season, I gravitate toward books that have uplifting messages of love and hope. For my personal reading, I also tend to choose books with a Christmas theme or books set during the Christmas season. This year, I’ve been reading a series of books by Debbie Macomber featuring a character by the name of Emily Miracle, also known as Mrs. Miracle. You may be familiar with Debbie Macomber’s books or the made-for-TV movies (on the Hallmark Channel) based on some of her books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her works, Debbie Macomber’s stories typically feature likeable characters for whom faith is either central to them or at least a part of their lives.

Mrs. Miracle is certainly a likeable character with a lot of faith. She shows up in people’s lives when they need a little help, a little miracle. You might say she’s an angel, albeit an angel that looks like everyone else. The only truly miraculous thing about her is that somehow she knows things about people that they haven’t shared with her. She seems to always know what people really need, even before they’ve realized this. Emily Miracle is a comforting figure, rather like the wonderful grandmother you either had as a child, or wish you had had as a child.

As I’ve been enjoying these stories this year, I’ve been struck by something – the primary role of Mrs. Miracle is to bring people together. She has a “knack” for bringing individuals together who have the ability to help each other. When Mrs. Miracle brings people together, they find what they need, be it love, companionship, comfort, hope, joy. Of course, there may be a little “magic” involved in getting these people together, but the real magic happens after people get together. And that is something people create themselves. Ultimately, then, the real miracles in these stories are the miracles individuals create for each other through acts of kindness, through caring, and through love.

We often say that Christmas is a season of miracles. We have a sense that anything can happen. After all, we’re celebrating the miraculous birth of the baby Jesus and the hope which Jesus’ life brought into our world. In our own lives, this may be a season when we look a little more intently for miracles, especially when things are difficult. It’s a season when we look forward with the hope that things will get better, that we will find what we need to feel the comfort and joy that the story of Christmas promises to us. Sometimes we find these miracles in some rather astounding ways that we just can’t explain. And that’s wonderful. But more often than not, I would guess that we find these miracles within the relationships we have with each other – through people reaching out in little (and not so little) ways to offer support, and care, and love. You might say that the miracles of the season are found in each other.

Many years ago, I found myself on a cross-country train at Christmas. I was going from upstate New York to California to see my mom, who wasn’t doing well. It was a sudden change of plans from a large family gathering on the East Coast to my solo trip across the country. And as I boarded the California Zephyr in Chicago in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I wasn’t exactly in the Christmas spirit. I was still feeling more than a little glum that evening as I went to the dining car for Christmas Eve dinner. And then, everything changed.

When I reached the dining car, I was met by members of the crew wearing headbands of reindeer antlers, some with green and red bells hanging off the antlers, jingling merrily as they walked the aisle between tables. I had to smile at that. Then, I was seated with an older couple from Michigan who were traveling to Denver to see their daughter and son-in-law, and brand new baby grandchild. And we had the nicest conversation. To top it off, the dinner was delicious.

That year, all of us on the train were away from home for Christmas Eve. The crew members were working their jobs. The passengers were in route somewhere. Not one of us had a Christmas tree that night, or church services, or brightly wrapped packages waiting for us the next morning. And yet, it truly felt like Christmas as we shared in the seasonal silliness and companionable conversation. We became a patchwork family that night, sharing of our selves. The warmth of the Christmas spirit that enveloped me that evening lifted my gloom, and renewed my sense of hope. For me, that was more than a small miracle and it sustained me as I continued on to my destination.

Now, I didn’t meet anyone named Mrs. Miracle on that trip, but I did meet several individuals who helped me see the miracles around me. I definitely felt God with me, guiding me to meet the people whose presence and conversation would sustain me and strengthen me. But, just as with Mrs. Miracle’s “knack” for bringing people together, ultimately it was up to us to extend to each other the care and compassion we needed. That Christmas showed me that such miracles are all around us just waiting for us to see them. This year, when so much is different, may we each find the miracles we need to feel the hope, peace, joy, and love of this blessed Christmas Season. Merry Christmas!

I Believe Even When…

I Believe Even When…

by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

Fill the Night with Music and Light

I know it may seem early, but your church leaders are hard at work preparing for this year’s Christmas and Advent seasons. Did you know that Advent is only a few weeks away? For weeks now Dale, Linda, and Andrea, along with the Worship Tech Team, Chancel Team, and the choir, have been laying the foundation for a special Advent and Christmas Worship Series entitled, “I Believe Even When… Fill the Night with Music and Light.”

This worship series will run from Nov. 29 through Dec. 27. It will include all four weeks of Advent, Christmas Eve, and the First Sunday of Christmas. It is a series designed to help bolster and celebrate our faith even during trying times. And NO ONE can say that 2020 hasn’t held trying times!

The I Believe series focuses on seasonal scripture, powerful and upbeat music (including some old favorites), and congregational participation. Members and friends are invited to participate in many different ways that are outlined below. However, the best way you can participate is by showing up. Join us on Sunday mornings on Facebook or on the Website. I know it isn’t the same as being together in person, but this series promises to be provide numerous opportunities to have a deep and moving Christmas season even during these challenging times.

We need your help!

There are three main ways you can help make this worship series deeply meaningful for yourself and others.

Creche Pictures – Does your family own a creche? Do you ever set it up at Christmas? We’d like pictures of it even if it isn’t fancy. I guarantee you there will be at least one rubber ducky creche! You can take a picture with your camera or phone and send it over to us. Either email it to Dale or Linda or upload directly to the “Creche Picture” link that will go out in the eBridge.

Fill in the Blanks – We will be utilizing a new litany each week written by members of the congregation. It’s easy to help. All you have to do is fill in the blanks of this statement (see below) and email it to Linda or Dale.

“I believe that ___[fill in the blank with a lament, a sorrow, a confession]__ AND
I believe that ___[fill in the blank with a prophetic word of change or hope]__.“

Example:

“I believe that we have looked the other way too many times AND
I believe that we are capable of facing reality and working for change.”

Offer to Read – There are lots of opportunities to participate in worship throughout this series. Would like to read a short prayer or help “light” the Advent Candle? Would you kids, spouse, parents, or other like to read? Again reach out to Linda or Dale and we will be glad to help you record something (or perhaps be live on Sunday) if you would like to help out. We want EVERYONE to feel welcome helping to lead worship!

Create an Advent Wreath – Traditionally through each week in Advent we light one candle in the Advent Wreath. These candles often represent Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. This year, CEYM is working with Andrea to put together Advent Candle kits for all our families registered for church school. However, everyone is invited to utilize your own Advent Wreath at home. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Just having four candles is all you need. Then you can light a new one each week during worship.

Hope

Hope

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm to give you a future with hope.” Jer. 29:11 (NRSV)

We are quickly approaching the time of year when things begin to change again. On Saturday night, daylight savings time officially ends and we turn our clocks back one hour. On the bright side, we regain the hour of sleep we lost last March when we “sprang” ahead. But it also signals the beginning of earlier sunsets and longer nights which many of us find challenging, especially this year when we are hunkered down more than usual.

Saturday is also Halloween which is going to look different due to Covid. I’ve seen some very creative contraptions on YouTube for distributing candy while maintaining physical distancing. I don’t think I’ll be trying any of those, but I was happy to learn that the parents and children in my neighborhood are planning a Halloween costume parade in the afternoon – an opportunity to see the kids’ costumes, cheer them along, and keep everyone safe.

And of course, three days later, we have election day. Perhaps you’ve voted early, or voted by mail, but all eyes are securely fixed on November 3rd when we find out who will be president for the next four years. Actually, given the number of mail-in ballots this year, we may not have a final tally on November 3rd. Just one more oddity in this already very odd year.

Do you remember the very first time you voted? I do. It was an election of board members for the local water district in my home town in California. I was so excited to vote. I had no idea who any of the people were on that ballot – after all, it was the water district board and I hadn’t even realized we had one. Nonetheless, I was excited to vote.

The year before that, even before I could vote, I volunteered to make calls for a candidate in the California presidential primary. After school and on weekends, I made phone calls to get out the vote. And on election night, I was so excited to be present with other volunteers ready to cheer my candidate’s victory! Only, he didn’t win. I was crushed. How could that happen? I had made so many calls; we all had made so many calls. To add insult to injury, the celebratory sheet cake someone had delivered was suddenly taken away when it became certain there would be no victory party. A slice of cake would have been nice, even in defeat. Just a slice to cheer us up a little bit and to acknowledge the hard work we had done. Instead, there was nothing and we all dispersed rather soon after the cake disappeared.

The very first year I was eligible to vote for president, a candidate conceded the election while I was still standing in line waiting to get into my polling place. It was after 6:00 p.m. West Coast time. As I stood in the cold and the dark with my fellow voters, word began to trickle down the line that it was over. Of course, there were still important state elections and ballot questions to decide, but now my vote for president – my very first vote – was moot. I don’t think I had cake that night either.

Of course, there have been times when I have voted for the winning candidate. But, probably like most of us, this hasn’t happened all the time. Sometimes when my candidate loses, it feels worse than at other times. No matter what, I try to stay hopeful. Hopeful that our system works. Hopeful that good people will prevail and make good decisions that will make things better. But, most of all, I try to remember that ultimately God is the source of my hope. Staying hopeful and staying engaged is so important because things can, and do, change.

I’m certainly not trying to make any prognostications about the upcoming election. But I do know that some of us will cast our ballots for the person or ballot initiatives that will prevail and some of us won’t. And this will be hard because this election has become infused with a heightened level of anxiety about the outcome. I am hopeful that each one of us is voting from a place of deep consideration for the welfare of our country and all of its citizens. But, no matter who wins the presidency this year, our country has a lot of work to do – work to bring us together, to really listen to each other, and to respect each other even when we disagree.

I remain hopeful that this is possible because of my faith in God who has assured us that the future God wants for us is one with hope. Because of this, I remain hopeful that next Halloween will look different than this year. Next year I’m hopeful that we will be able to gather together, go trick-or-treating in the way we have grown accustomed to, and hug each other tightly. Because of this, I’m entering this season of shorter days looking ahead to the time when the sun will shine later into the night. In the meantime, I look forward to the time when we will light up the night to celebrate the one whose birth brought the light of hope more brightly into our world.

I am also hopeful that we will find ways to come together as a country to work for the good of all our citizens. The time has certainly come for us to do so. The words of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah give me hope that God is working with us to make this happen. My hope remains strong because I know that with God all things are possible.

Church Chats with Pastor Dale

Church Chats with Pastor Dale

by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

I want to connect with you!

For some of you, it has been ages since I have seen you or spoken with you. Even the simple handshake or hug with an exchange of a few sentences after worship or as we walked out of a church meeting felt like enough to stay connected, knowing that if anything serious was going on you could easily whisper something to me and let me know you were going to call.

Now, these simple little exchanges aren’t happening.

As a church we’ve come up with numerous ways of reaching out and providing opportunities for people to remain connected with one another. Some of these are in person options, like our Parking lot Prayers and Taizé meditations, while others are virtual, like our relaxation through coloring adult group. Today I’m inviting you to a series of small group gatherings that we are calling Church Chats with Pastor Dale.

This series of gatherings are a chance for me to connect with each of you in a small group setting where we can share a bit with each other about how we’re doing, what challenges and joys we’ve faced in the last 8 months, and what role the church is orcould be playing at this time. I hope these groups will be serious, fun, meaningful, and comfortable. Most importantly, I hope it will help you and me feel more deeply connected. The planning team and I have a handful of questions that will prompt our discussions and then we’ll see where the Spirit leads us.

Right now, five sessions planned for roughly 6-8 people in each. They take place at random days and times hoping that EVERYONE will find a time that works for them. Obviously, we’ll only get by 30-40 people at these first 5 sessions, but I’m happy to schedule more if people respond. When I have done similar sessions in less daunting times, everyone has walked away saying, “That was wonderful! We should do these more often.” I anticipate you will feel the same.

The current sessions are scheduled for

  • Thurs., Oct. 22, 2020 at 3:30 pm
  • Mon., Oct. 26, 2020 at 7 pm
  • Thurs., Nov. 5, 2020 at 7 pm
  • Mon., Nov. 9, 2020 at 1:30 pm
  • Sun., Nov. 22, 2020 at 11:30 am

You can sign up through Signup Genius or by contacting the church office (401) 246-0111 and leaving a message, or by emailing 

[email protected].

With these groups being so small we considered holding these sessions in person outside at the church. In person would, of course, be ideal.

However, that would have raised questions about accessibility, travel, and weather. So instead we opted for Zoom. It’s not ideal, but with such small groups I think we can still connect and share meaningful conversation.

I want to thank Amy Barkat, Pat Stoddard, and Liz White for working with me to plan and organize these events. Their input has been invaluable, and this wouldn’t have happened without them. I also want to encourage you to sign up. For without you, these sessions will go nowhere. Come join us, and let me know how you’re doing these days.

What’s In a Translation?

What’s In a Translation?

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister (Designated Term)

A week ago, our Confirmands received their Bibles. It was a chilly Saturday along the banks of the Barrington River behind the education building here at the church. The sun was shining, and Fall was definitely in the air. It was part of our Confirmation Celebration (postponed from May) which will be officially celebrated this month during our virtual worship service on October 18th. As is the case with so many things this year, we’re doing things a little differently.

One of things we did differently was to record the Confirmands releasing doves with only immediate family present. In addition to receiving their Bibles, the Membership Team gave each Confirmand a cupcake (in lieu of the traditional celebration cake at coffee hour) and a river rock inscribed with the date. In short, we continue the traditions we can and modify those we cannot. It was different, but it was also good – good to gather within the guidelines set by the state to celebrate the faith journey thus far of these eight young people. You will see the recording of these events during worship on Confirmation Sunday – mark your calendars for October 18th!

This week, I’ve been thinking about the gift of a Bible to commemorate each Confirmand’s faith journey to this point and to support each one along this continuing journey. As we all know, the journey of faith is never over. We are always faced with new challenges which call upon us to grow in our faith. As a Christian community, we reach out to others for support and turn to our Scriptures to help us along this way. As I thought about the significance of gifting each Confirmand with a Bible, I got to thinking about my own Bibles.

As a pastor, I have several Bibles: a more formal-looking Bible with a black “leatherette” cover for reading in worship services, a couple of big study Bibles with footnotes galore, and a few Bibles with different translations of the original Hebrew and Greek. While I appreciate all of these Bibles, my personal favorite is one I ordered many years ago from Better World Books. I had begun attending a Congregational Church and noticed that the Bible in the pews, and the Bible from which the Scripture was read every week, was different from the Bible I had been using my whole life.

I had grown up in a church that read and studied the King James version exclusively. I had grown up believing that this was The Bible, the only Bible. I had become so accustomed to hearing the language of “thee” and “thine” that to hear “you” and “yours” was a little unsettling. It didn’t really sound “religious.” But I was also curious, so I took meticulous notes in the margins of my Order of Worship one Sunday about the version in the pews – a New Revised Standard Version. I wrote down the publisher information, the date of publication…the whole deal. Then I went online and ordered a second-hand copy, second hand because I wasn’t sure I’d like it very much. It was an experiment. An experiment that has paid off.

When I opened the package a couple of weeks later, I found a rather non-descript hard-bound Bible with a dark blue cover. Nothing notable about that, except when I opened the cover I found that this Bible was dedicated to a Julianna from a Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. I have often speculated about why her Bible ended up at Better World Books. Did she already have a favorite Bible? Did this one get lost in a move and donated to a thrift store?

I don’t know how it ended up at Better World Books, but I am grateful it did because it has become a treasure to me. It’s the Bible I open when I’m seeking direction. It’s the Bible I have filled with bookmarked passages that have helped me find God’s word speaking to me. It’s the Bible I read from each morning before beginning my day. It’s become a cherished companion on my own faith journey. And I’ve grown accustomed to the more “updated” language.

In seminary, of course, I found so many more translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the NET Bible, the New King James, and one called The Message. Each version of the Bible (and there are many more versions than these four) offers a slightly (and not so slightly) different translation. And each one provides a different insight into how we understand and perceive God and God’s word for us. In particular, The Message is written in contemporary language that often surprises me with new ways of seeing familiar passages. Exploring different versions can wake up my study even as I may still find myself going back to the NRSV I got second hand.

It’s funny though, how the version (the translation) we grew up with sticks with us. I found this out a few years ago when I was in Appalachia with a group of seminarians. In the Baptist churches and the Evangelical churches, the King James version was, and is, the version. Hearing passages read in the Old English, I found myself reciting along. It was like putting on a well-worn pair of jeans or a favorite pair of shoes. It fit in all the right places. It took me back to sitting in the pews with my mom and my grandmother, the language so evocative and familiar. It took me back to the beginning of my journey learning about God, about how much God loves me, about how much God loves each one of us.

And through the language, I was suddenly connected to the people I met in Appalachia in churches I had never visited before. The Bible can do that too. When I open my second-hand Bible and see Julianna’s name inside the cover, I feel a connection to her. I hope she has a Bible she treasures, a Bible that is also well-worn and filled with bookmarks. I hope the language, whether “old” or “modern,” helps her see how much God loves her too. I hope reading it and hearing it read aloud reconnects her with those who first showed her what love looks like. I also hope she knows that her Bible which found its way to me is being looked after very well.

Changing Priorities During the Pandemic

Changing Priorities During the Pandemic

by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

I don’t think any of us expected the pandemic to be going on as long as it has. Initially I thought we would have a few weeks out of church and then back in the pews. Then I thought, “Certainly by summer things will return to normal.” Then, “Well, the fall is the time.” Today I heard that the director of Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s plan to get vaccinations out to the general public as soon as possible, announced that a vaccine “will not be widely available to the general public until summer or early fall of 2021.”

That’s a long way off!

As the effects of the pandemic have continued for nearly seven months now, I asked the church council to explore what the most pressing priorities are for the church right now. After a fruitful discussion at their September meeting, the council made a few decisions that will have short and long term implications for our ministries.

Putting Brakes on the By-Laws
The first of these decisions was to suspend the Vision 2020 Team. This was partly due to reassessing priorities and partly based on a recommendation from the by-law revisions (AKA Vision 2020) team. The reality is that this group has been working hard since June of 2019. They have developed a new system of church governance that will minimize elected positions, streamline our efforts, and open the door for more people to begin or continue ministries that they are passionate about.

It’s pretty exciting! It’s also pretty ambitious.

The team is now at a point where they need to refine the details of their vision and begin to share it with the congregation. This led to two concerns:

  1. Is during a global pandemic a good time to introduce a substantial change in the way we do business?
  2. Is using Zoom and other physically distanced approaches an effective means of trying to convey a new vision of the church and receive helpful feedback?

The team and the council felt the answer to both was “no.” Therefore the Vision 2020 Team has been suspended until a time closer to when the congregation can gather en-masse and hold meaningful conversations.

Who Will We Need When All This Clears Up?
The second decision holds perhaps greater impact for our church in the short term. The council decided to suspend the search for a settled Associate Minister of Congregational Life. This was a hard decision.

When the Church Council voted to move forward with forming a search committee in March, they did not expect the pandemic shutdown to last this long. We felt confident that the job description we prepared would remain relevant post-pandemic and that our finances would hold strong. Well, the pandemic has lasted longer than any of us guessed and it is worth revisiting both of those assumptions.

Our ministry has changed since March and it will likely keep changing in the year ahead. A question I ask is, “What will we need from a settled Associate Minister in the post-pandemic church? I don’t know. And I don’t think we will know for another 6-12 months. Times and the church are changing and we don’t know yet what they will become.

Also, while our financial outlook remains strong right now, we do not know what it will look like as we move through 2021. I am optimistic that giving will continue to keep pace with expenses, but for now that is just optimism and not based in any concrete numbers. We will learn the answer to this soon enough.

For these two reasons, along with a third I mention below, the council decided that now is not the best time to hire a new settled associate minister. We will instead seek to continue working with Linda as long as we are able and follow up with another interim or designated term if need be. We will restart the search as soon as we are confident in what our ministry needs will be and what our financial outlook presents.

So What Are We Doing Instead?
This is the question we are asking now. In addition to the points raised above, the council recognized that those two priorities were very demanding on my time. The originating question for the discussion was, “What ought our priorities be at this time in the life of BCCUCC?” Should I be spending hours each week working with these two teams or would my time be better spent supporting and initiating ministries directly related to keeping us strong and vibrant during the shutdown? Obviously, by the results, the council decided on the latter. The would like me to be focusing on keeping us healthy, strong, and vibrant right now.

But what does that mean? We are still wrestling with that answer. I am hoping that the council will continue that conversation each month. Not only the council, but our ministry teams, deacons, and other missional groups should be asking that question too. We can’t do ministry the way we always have. So, how do we still remain relevant in this day and time? There are still needs in our congregation, community, and world. How can we still fulfill our individual and collective ministries when we can’t do it the “old way”? We have to adapt.

I hope that as we continue this journey together we can keep this conversation going. I hope we can keep adapting. I hope we can keep reinventing ways to be in ministry that makes a real difference in peoples’ lives. Even if we have to suspend some of our planned activities, with faith, I know we will make this happen.