Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plymouth UCC Men's Fellowship and the Ft. Collins Islamic Center

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Jake Joseph, the (newly engaged!) Acting Associate Minister at Plymouth UCC in Ft. Collins. He wanted to let me know that from Oct. 23-25, Plymouth's Men's Fellowship Group would be holding a shared retreat with men from the Ft. Collins Islamic Center. 

I thought this was brave for both groups. Not because they're so different from each other (although they might be); but because it takes courage to do something differently when you've done it the same way for years. 

Along with building informative Q&As for both faiths into the programming, the men from Plymouth UCC have decided to adhere to certain Islamic restrictions out of respect and brotherhood. According to Wayne Shepperd, Chair of the Plymouth Men's Fellowship, the men from both faiths will abide by these rules: 

  • We will not have any alcohol at the retreat.
  • We will adhere to Islamic dietary restrictions.
  • We will not proselytize, or attempt to convert anyone to our religious point of view.
  • We do not represent all Christian or Muslim points of view and are not experts.
  • We will be open minded in our discussions and actions.
Ft. Collins Islamic Center
It's not that hard to cut alcohol and non-Halal food for a few days, but I think being open-minded is easier said than done, especially when groups intentionally discussing things on which we may not agree. I think of myself as a pretty open-minded guy, but I will admit; I don't quite understand it when someone has a more fundamental view of faith. I can imagine myself being someone aggravating to those with a more robust belief system than I, Muslim or non. 

During the retreat, Plymouth members have promised that they'll take some pictures and send me some highlights of what happens at the retreat. When that happens, I'll post another blog of reflections from this weekend. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Measuring the Successful Church

Just today, we received the UCC's 2015 Statistical Profile, sent over by our Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD). 

In the report, I knew I'd see one thing: From the time our denomination began in the 1950s, the number of our congregations has slowly declined. We've been hearing about that for years. 

"Bad news, Everyone!"
What's interesting to me is how much this statistic plays a part in the church's narrative, UCC and non-UCC alike. If you're involved in the church at any level, you've likely heard (maybe for decades) that the church is dying; people are turning away from their local churches in droves. It seems that God and faith just aren't as important to us as they used to be. 

I'm not trying to discount these numbers, but I think we're being unfair to our good work if we judge the success solely by that one statistic alone. If you're the CEO of a company and you find out that your revenue is off the charts and you're hiring more people than ever, that's great--unless you run an unsustainable company with lots of turnover and low morale. 

Maybe lots of turnover isn't THAT bad.
Here's another statistic from the same report: Across the UCC, giving/Mission dollars are up. That means that, despite lower numbers, we're actually giving more money to charitable causes. And, while you could make the case that we'd be giving more money if we had more people in our churches, I would counter that we did use to have more people, and we gave less

It makes sense, I guess, that we'd point to our numbers when we evaluate how we're doing. If our numbers are high, it means that more people have found a spiritual home, and that individual churches have more capacity to do ministry. 

However, if we're doing good work (and we are) and we feel at home in our individual churches (which we do), isn't that a pretty big part of success? Have you ever been at a large gathering, only to realize that your interactions are much more meaningful within a smaller sub-group of friends? 

"This party is lame, let's get out of here."
Despite our shrinking total of members, which can sometimes feel unsettling, we have reason to think that we're very successful indeed. 

How do you measure your church's success? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Community UCC of Boulder Holds Silent Vigil for the Earth

The following is a guest blog from Rev. Harriott Quin of Community UCC, Boulder. 

Photos courtesy of Rev. Rick Danielson of Community UCC, Boulder. 

On Saturday, September 26, a beautiful late summer day, members of Community United Church of Christ, Boulder, and representation from the progressive Boulder Catholic Community in Discernment, gathered at noon on the Boulder Pearl Street Mall at 14th Street to hold a Silent Vigil on behalf of Justice for Our Earth – Justice for Our Children

The September 26th date was chosen to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis to the United States when he addressed, among other issues, global warming caused burning of fossil fuels for energy. Our CUCC artist, Rod Swanstrom wrapped a banner covering a large kiosk at that location on the mall. On it he had drawn large pictures of the Earth ringed around by children holding hands with the headline “Justice for Our Earth – Justice for Our Children."

Before the start of the Silent Vigil, members and friends of Boulder CUCC gathered to take part in a brief worship service standing in front of our banner. A member of the Catholic Community in Discernment read the first two paragraphs of the Papal encyclical “LAUDATO SI – Care for Our Common Home": 

Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

Then a Responsive Reading Earth Prayer from the U.N. Environmental Sabbath Program was conducted. Finally, Rev. Rick Danielson, minister of Boulder CUCC, did a brief meditation. 

For the next hour, participants in the Silent Vigil ringed the kiosk, joining hands to stand as silent witnesses to our religious-based concern for the wounding of Our Earth and the fraught legacy we are leaving to future children. 

Several other participants engaged in dialogue with pedestrians on the Pearl Street Mall with information about the August 3rd Presidential EPA Clean Power Plan and Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants, as well as information about how individuals can live more effectively to reduce their Carbon Footprint on the Earth. Many signatures were gathered for a letter to support President Barack Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan, and to support Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who will oversee the EPA Clean Power Plan at the state level.

At the end of the Silent Vigil with 21 adults, 4 children and 1 infant there was a sense of accomplishment for honoring and caring for Creation in a public way as progressive Christians.