From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Weekly Pastor’s Update

May 18, 2018

 A meandering burn in the Scottish highlands

A meandering burn in the Scottish highlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Backcountry …

“No poet ever found his muse, till by himself, he learned to wander down some trotting burn’s meander and dare not think too long.”   Robert Burns

Poets, bards, artists and musicians often speak of entering the creative realms through the influence of an “inspirer,” sometimes known as a muse, or a daimon.  These masters are the first to acknowledge that our true potential is “quickened” by a power beyond ourselves. So it is with the Holy Spirit - the promised advocate whom Christ assures the disciples will make their hearts leap into verdant life once again.  I am forever drawn to Robert Burns’ counsel for anyone trying to discover the “inspirer.”  We must go to those places where our soul is exposed to beauty … without expectation, without demand.  So as we enter this glorious season of Pentecost, I wish God’s blessing on all your meanderings into the frontier of your own true potential.

Sunday, May 20    Pentecost Sunday  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:   Psalm 104 and Acts 2: 1-21

Text:  “Suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.”  Acts 2.2

Sermon:  “Second Wind”

Tease:  This Sunday we hear one of the greatest narratives of the Christian faith.  It is the story that speaks to us about the beginnings of the Church, the moment when the Spirit of God “blew” into a gathering of Jesus’ followers and forever changed their own life stories.  It is a story filled with amazement and confusion, with disbelief and wonder.  It is a story that has been seen as a beginning… as a new birth.  What do you suppose would happen if we were to hear this story yet again, not as something weird that happened a long time ago…but in such a way that connects it to our own lives and faith today?

Our Church’s Wider Ministry - Opihikao, Hawaii

 Rev. Eric S. Anderson, Pastor Church of the Holy Cross, UCC; Hilo, Hawaii

Rev. Eric S. Anderson, Pastor Church of the Holy Cross, UCC; Hilo, Hawaii

 You may remember Rev. Eric S. Anderson, who served as our Associate Conference Minister for Communication before accepting the call to serve as Pastor of the UCC Church in Hilo, Hawaii.  Eric helped us design our very first website many moon’s ago.  He recently gave the denomination an update on the Kilauea eruption - which I am excerpting here:

“Hawaii has a land area nearly that of the state of Connecticut, all the result of molten rock rising from miles beneath the surface.  The current outbreaks are the latest in a twenty-five year-long eruption. Though no sizable rivers of molten rock have emerged, 2,000 people have been driven from their homes.  Twenty-seven homes have been destroyed, along with nine commercial buildings. Fortunately, there has been no loss of life.  Red Cross officials report that around 15% of the evacuees are currently residing in shelters, as most turn to friends and family, trusting in the tight bonds of this community.  Members of the Puula United Church of Christ (three miles inland from the active zone) and the Maunakea Congregational Church have been laboring to find places for dislodged members and family. ‘The Churches are really reaching out,’ says Rev. Michael Warren. ‘Everybody is doing food and contributing.  The faith-based force has really come in.’ However, Rev Warren fears that nearby communities such as Opihikao could be cut off.  There are relatively few roads in the affected areas.  In addition, parts of the coastline may not be stable, and further earthquakes could trigger a collapse and create a tsunami.  This kind of natural disaster happens in slow motion.  It has no discernible end in sight.  It’s not like a hurricane, which arrives, makes its mark and leaves …and then the recovery can begin. Residents cannot know how long it will go on, how large it will grow, or how many will be affected.”

We will continue to pray for Eric, and the people of the Big Island as we await further news of this ongoing disaster.

See you Sunday,

Royal

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

May 11, 2018

 "There be Dragons"

"There be Dragons"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Backcountry …

“Indeed the water I give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:14

As the glory of May-time unfurls in every leaf and flower, we are also beginning to feel a new vigor and energy surging within us.  The Welsh have a name for it -  Nwyfre -  a power that rises up from within, whether we are speaking of the earth, or ourselves.   Nwyfre has been traditionally represented by an “awakening” dragon.   In fact, this symbol is emblazoned on the Welsh flag - thereby reflecting the proud spirit of a people who derive their sense of well-being from the energy of a land that has sustained them for nearly thirty millenniums.

In a couple of weeks’ time, we will be celebrating Pentecost and the “coming” of the Holy Spirit.  But, rest assured, that power already stirs within us.  The dragon is awakening from its winter dormancy to empower us with renewed energy and life.

Sunday, May 13   10:30 a.m.    Morning Worship

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 1;  Acts 1:15-26

Text:  “…and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven.”  Acts 1:26

Sermon:  “Out of the Ordinary”

Tease:  As we begin our preparations for Pentecost, we examine the story of Matthias, the man chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.  It’s no “burning bush” story, to be sure.  In fact, what stands out is how ordinary the selection process ends up becoming – a casting of lots.  We learn nothing of Matthias’ qualifications.  And we will learn nothing about his subsequent performance.  And yet, his selection tells us volumes about the meaning discipleship and the expectations we bring to our own role within the community as faith – as ordinary as that life ends up becoming.

 Lava flow in Leilani Estates,  Hawaii

Lava flow in Leilani Estates,  Hawaii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Church’s Wider Ministry - Kilauea Eruptions

Last Sunday, we began praying for the residents of the Big Island of Hawaii.  By now, we have seen the footage of lava fountains spewing into the air.  More than thirty homes have been destroyed, forcing some 1700 residents to evacuate.  While there have been no further reports of lava flow since Wednesday, the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory continues to issue warnings that additional  outbreaks are likely.  Hawaii County civil defense administrator Talmadge Magno said, “This could be happening for a long time, or, mysteriously just stop.”

Volunteers are currently assisting about 200 evacuees who are now sleeping at emergency shelters, but lawmakers are concerned it could take weeks, or even months before they will return home.  Cracks are making many roads “not passable.”   Authorities are permitting those who can access their homes to gather belongings, but with the caveat that they might have to rush out again.  One of the ongoing dangers is the emission of deadly Sulphur dioxide gas.  This gas and other pollutants (like ash) settle with moisture and dust to create a deadly volcanic smog, or “Vog,” causing any number of respiratory complications.  Residents also have to be constantly aware that the explosions provide little, if any, warning and can send “ballistic projectiles” (from the size of small pebbles to giant boulders) into the air.

So, this situation remains volatile on the Big Island.  We will continue to pray for those impacted by these developments and await further information from UCC Disaster Relief about efforts, supported by our OCWM mission dollars that are supporting this vulnerable community.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Royal

Road Rules:  “A mother understands what a child does not say.”  Jewish Proverb

From the Backcountry ...

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

May 4, 2018

TraLa.jpg

From the Backcountry …

It’s time to go “A-Maying!”   Through the centuries, winter-worn revelers have greeted the explosion of May-blossom, sunlight and burgeoning life with song, Maypole dancing and other forms of communal frivolity.  Despite our Protestant forebears’ best efforts to discourage the rowdy and sometimes lusty enjoyment of Spring’s exuberance, “A-Maying” has always found ways to express itself.  Physically, psychologically and spiritually, we need these moments to throw “work-day commonplaces” to the wind and simply delight in the bright joy of living.  So go forth!!  Make merry.  Pursue something the gives you great pleasure.  Let your natural joy find the best ways to express itself.  Tra La!

Sunday, May 6   Holy Communion   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 47;  Luke 24:44-53

Text:   “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”

Sermon:   “On The Edge”

Tease:   The story of Jesus’ ascension defies any human logic.  What does Luke mean when he asserts so matter-of-factly:  “Jesus withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven?”  Surely, his statement demands a few more details.   What actually happened?  How fast did he ascend?  Where did he go?  The author makes a second attempt to recount the same event in his Book of Acts.  (None of the other Gospel writers even give it a try!) In Acts, he simply tells us that a cloud came in and “hid him from their view.”   It’s as if Luke takes us as far as he can … to the point where traditional language suddenly stops working … and we must muster the courage to venture beyond that edge … and into uncharted spiritual territory.

Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM)

 Humacao Church Camp

Humacao Church Camp

Puerto Rico Update

As we continue to hear alarming stories of Puerto Rico’s struggle to recover the ravages of Hurricanes Maria and Irma last September, the United Church of Christ has been very active in the relief effort.  We are partnering with the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Puerto Rico  (The Evangelical United Church of Puerto Rico.)  In addition to the $52,000 of  initial assistance to meet immediate needs, our denomination  is making a $155,000 investment to develop both short and  long term hurricane response efforts  around the city of Humacao - on Puerto Rico’s eastern shore. This city was selected in consultation with our Iglesia Evangelica Unida partners.  There is a church and a camp located in the area that are currently being repaired and will serve as a base for volunteer work crews in the region, beginning June 1.  The UCC has commissioned long-time Partners in Service, Judy and Doug Moore, to oversee the hiring of contractors who will undertake heavy tasks - like roof reconstruction.  The Moore’s are also coordinating volunteer work teams for ongoing clean up, painting and miscellaneous repairs.  These teams will be housed at the local camp.

One of the established goals of the UCC Disaster ministries is long-term strategies.  Needless to say, hurricanes are a way of life in the Caribbean.   The Moore’s will spend much of their time helping the community determine plans that will provide more organization  in times of disaster.  Church facilities throughout the region will become storage facilities for water, food, and other emergency supplies. The initial $155,000 investment has been earmarked for the coordinator’s salaries, purchasing a  vehicle dedicated to disaster recovery work, construction materials, tools and supplies and the all-important generator ( with back-up ) to restore power to the camp, as needed.   Our congregation pledges funds from our annual Operating Budget to support Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) which will be supporting all these efforts.

Tra la,

Royal

Road Rules:  “We’re all wanderers on this earth.  Our hearts are full of wonder.  Our souls are deep with dreams.”  -  Romanian proverb

From the Backcountry ...

 Nebraska Arbor Day, circa 1908

Nebraska Arbor Day, circa 1908

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update  (Arbor Day Edition)

April 27, 2018

From the Backcountry …

Each generation takes the earth as Trustees.  It is our responsibility to bequeath to posterity as many forests and oceans as we exhaust and consume.”   J. Sterling Norton

Happy Arbor Day!  Journalist Julius Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline moved to the Nebraska Territory in the Fall of 1854.  In those days, Nebraska was a treeless expanse of prairie land, basking in the sun. The first thing the young couple did when they settled on their 160 acres near Nebraska City was plant trees and shrubs on their homestead.  Soon afterward, Sterling became editor of The Nebraska News, publishing articles on agriculture.  Even though plants thrive in harsh sunlight, Midwest crop cultivation needs trees - as barriers against the brutal winds that sweep across the plains.  Farmers also need trees for fuel, building material and shade!!  In time, Morton began writing a very popular column about environmental stewardship, emphasizing the importance of trees to the interrelatedness of life.  In 1872, he approached the state Board of Agriculture to set aside one day a year to plant trees.  His proposal was unanimously approved and April 10 was designated as that special day.  Prizes were offered to the counties that planted the largest number of trees.  To everyone’s astonishment, Nebraskans planted over a million trees that first “Arbor” Day.  It wasn’t long before other states followed suit.  By 1920, 45 states had joined in the springtime festivities.   Through the years, Morton became a renowned environmental spokesperson.  He was always quick to remind audiences that while other holidays celebrate something that has happened in the past, Arbor Day reflects our ongoing hope in the future.  The simple act of planting a tree signifies the confidence that the tree will grow and one day provide “wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty for ourselves and our children.”  The observance of Arbor Day was eventually moved to the last Friday in April. 

Sunday,  April  29    Fourth Sunday of Easter  10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 22;  John 15: 1-8

Text:  “Abide in me, as I abide in you.”   John 15: 4

Sermon:  “All vine and No Taters”

Tease:   I am choosing some old Appalachian wisdom as we reflect on Jesus’ final conversation with his followers.  “I am the vine,” he says, “You are the branches.  Those who abide in me will bear much fruit.”  The image of a grapevine graced the entrance to the Jerusalem Temple. So, he’s reminding us that no matter what the future holds, his teachings remain the true life and way for God’s faithful.   It’s easy to detect the health of a grapevine by counting the clusters of plump fruit.  Not so, with sweet potato vines.  In fact, one can be tending wonderfully verdant vines, but when the time comes to pull the tubers beneath the surface …well, let’s just say grandma won’t be baking no sweet potato pie.  Which is to say, when it comes to abiding in Christ, there’s always the danger of being “all show and no substance.”

arborday2.jpg

The Wider Church  -  More About Trees

Trees benefit our Health:  Trees act as a filter - absorbing pollutants from our atmosphere.  They provide shade and reduce noise.  In fact, research shows that within minutes of our being among trees, stress levels are reduced – which does wonders for our blood pressure and heart rate.

Trees benefit the Environment:  The carbon stored in their wood helps slow the rate of global warming.  Trees also prevent flooding and soil erosion.

Trees benefit Wildlife:   One of our stately Maple trees in the churchyard can be home to as many as 500 different species of critters.

Trees strengthen Communities:  Trees are a source of community character and pride.  They are also a phenomenal education resource in bringing groups together for activities - like hiking and birdwatching.   They are essential in helping children discover their sense of adventure!

See You Sunday,

Royal

From the Backcountry

North Greenwich Congregational Church

Pastor’s Weekly Update

April 20, 2018

earth.jpg

 From the Backcountry …

“If I’d been born in space, I would desire to visit this beautiful planet.”    David Brown, astronaut.

The photographs of Earth from space remain the iconic images of our time.  The planet appears so peaceful and inviting … so bright and harmonious.  How difficult it is to believe that such a magical sphere could be home to so much suffering and destruction.  How difficult it is to believe that this picture of perfection could be so vulnerable and endangered.   As we pause this weekend to observe the 48th Earth Day, let us consider the ways we walk this good earth.  Instead of carefully measuring our steps, we tend to stomp with an entitled disrespect in every stride.  Let’s take a moment to remember the sacred dimensions of this planet and our dependency on its fragile resources.  We are a part of this earth... not the earth of us.   Our every step should bring a blessing upon this beautiful planet.

Sunday, April 22    Fourth Sunday of Easter   10:30 a.m.

Lectionary Readings:  Psalm 23; John 10:11-18

Text:  “I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me.”  John 10:14

Sermon:  “Hook, Or By Crook”

Tease:   One of my most memorable experiences was visiting a Bedouin encampment on the Palestinian West Bank.  My stay included time in the fields with the shepherds and their flocks.  Once the sun was directly overhead, we guided the sheep to a small watering hole where a number of shepherds and flocks gathered for a time of refreshment.  What was truly amazing was the way in which the flocks intermingled with each other, with no markings to differentiate one group from another.  But, when it was time to go, each shepherd had their own distinct call and the flocks separated themselves and went peacefully on their way.  Each sheep knew the sound of his, or her own shepherd.   Needless to say, this lovely passage offers some welcomed guidance in cacophony and confusion of our own time.

 River of plastic in Pacific Ocean

River of plastic in Pacific Ocean

WIDER MISSION -    Earth Day 2018    

Plastic Pollution

Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day, a global observance focusing on the stewardship of the planet.  This year, emphasis is being placed on the plastic pollution that is poisoning our land and oceans.  Every year, some 15-51 trillion pieces of discarded plastic find their way into our oceans.  It is estimated that 40% of the water surface of the planet is now covered with swirling “gyres” of plastic products - grocery store bags, food containers, coffee cups, drink bottles, straws, etc.  Obviously, this crisis is impacting the health of sea birds, turtles, seals, whales and other marine mammals that ingest, or get entangled in these materials.  Ultimately, our own health is impacted because seafood consumes large quantities of plastic’s harmful by-products.

Earth Day 2018 is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to change human attitudes and practices about the use of plastic in our daily life.  If you haven’t done so already, take an inventory of all the plastic items that you use in the course of a day, or a week.  One thing is certain; this plastic never “goes away.”  The health of our environment will require us to make a serious effort in reducing the consumption of plastic on an hour-by-hour basis.

See You Sunday,

Royal

Road Rules:  “Yesterday, I was clever … so I decided to change the world.  Today, I am wise … so I am deciding to change myself.”   Rumi