A Faith Witness shared in worship on July 22, 2018
I grew up White and privileged, although for nearly all of my life I did not know what “White Privilege” was. In fact if someone had told me how deeply and thoroughly I was affected by white privilege I might have denied that it even existed. I was like a fish trying to describe water, unaware of water while being completely surrounded by it. Only after being out of the water for brief moments have I been able appreciate a little bit of the white privilege that surrounds me every day.
I was raised in a small town in NE Ohio where there were few families of color and life was relatively easy and stress-free. My family was politically conservative and I thought nothing of this---until I encountered a Congregational minister during my adolescence, who would turn out to be the most important male mentor in my life. He was among a group of progressive young UCC ministers in the 1960’s and 70’s who challenged our generation in many important ways. College and various international experiences throughout my medical career further shaped my understanding of how incredibly diverse the world really is. The poverty I saw firsthand in India and Nicaragua had a lasting impact on me. I eventually decided to work for an American Indian Health organization in Seattle, to which I remained committed for 40 years. It ultimately proved to be among the most satisfying of all of my career opportunities. At the same time, I worked at a small clinic serving families, residing in the Seattle zip code that is among the most ethnically diverse in the US. I cannot pretend to fully understand how people of color from so many other countries, who don’t speak English struggle to live and adapt in our country--- surrounded everyday by so much that is unfamiliar, by a potentially adversarial police force, and by subtle or dramatic expressions of bigotry and hatred.
Nevertheless, I gradually grew comfortable in simply engaging with many of our families. I gradually learned a bit of some of their languages, favorite music, customs, and humor. Every day I was enriched in some way by amazing diversity. Surrounded by so many families from around the world, I occasionally made mistakes in my behavior or language---simply out of ignorance. For those transgressions I was forgiven—often with a sense of humor, that I appreciated so much. Many of these families became personal friends, making it especially poignant for us to say good-bye to each other when I retired. Those personal connections and little bits of understanding were enough to calm any fear I might have about some of the groups very different from me--- fundamentalist Muslims, Communist Chinese, or ultra-orthodox Jews. In fact my relationships with many of these families opened my heart to a curiosity about their beliefs and customs, which only served to deepen our friendships.
We are now back in a small NE Ohio town that is predominantly white. I continue to be surrounded by and benefit from white privilege, perhaps with slightly fewer blind spots, thanks to Federated’s and the UCC’s engagement with the WP and Sacred Conversations curricula… and to 40 years of exposure to the rich diversity in the world “above the surface of the water”. I only hope and pray that I do not become too complacent and comfortable in a world that sometimes seems too ready to discount the value of diversity. How badly we need fewer walls and more bridges.
Let us pray: God of All Life and all People, keep our hearts open to each other, especially when we become fearful of the differences that divide us. Guide us to greater wisdom and understanding not just toward tolerance but toward the deeper love and connection we all seek. Amen
A Faith Witness shared in worship on July 15, 2018
David exuberantly celebrates the Lord through dance. He’s also known for his songs praising the Lord. Some of the most amazing and spiritual moments of my life have come through music. I’ve been fortunate enough to sing with the combined choirs in two masses—An American Hymn Requiem and this year’s Sunrise Mass. Few things move me as much as Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corups,” which uses an old text about Jesus’s suffering and death, set to painfully beautiful music as only Mozart can. And after “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on Easter, I always look at my mom and we say “Alright, now we’ve been to church.” The brass, Marcia on organ, the combined choirs, and the whole congregation singing about the risen Christ—I could probably leave after that. Sorry Hamilton, Susi, and Mark, but no sermon can put the presence of God in someone like that grand, joyous fanfare.
But the effect these kinds of music have on me is much more profound than listening to my favorite symphony or even hearing The Cleveland Orchestra. I believe God is present in all music—how else could you explain its divine effects?—but religious music stirs something in me. It’s like I can feel the faith of the musicians washing over me—or as a musician, my faith radiating out into the congregation. I want nothing less in life than to bring that kind of tangible joy and comfort to everyone I meet.
This isn’t necessarily in the form of music, though I certainly enjoy delivering God’s message trough that medium. At the core of my faith is the belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of the lord, and that here on Earth, that means everyone deserves equal treatment. I’m called to devote my life to living out that principle. I’ve always known that, but I haven’t always known how I was going to do it. At first I planned to bring the joy of music to kids as a music educator, and then I even seriously considered seminary. But I’ve found my place is in the field of law. I’ll be starting my first year of law school at Cleveland-Marshall next month. Marshall is very social justice oriented, and that’s one of the many things that drew me to the school. Their motto is “Learn law. Live justice.” I’ve started thinking about them as the UCC of law schools, and that is the perfect place for me. They have connections with many areas of public interest, and that’s the type of law I intend to practice. Whether it be as a public defender, working for a legal aid society, an immigration attorney, or something else entirely; I’ll be helping the down-trodden, the over-looked—the lepers and the blind beggars.
If it hadn’t been for the church and my faith, I think I’d probably still find myself in a field for the good of humanity. Both of my parents are in professions that help people and they’ve always stressed the importance of helping others. But what I’ve gained through my faith is a deeper reason for doing so. While I could have all these values without necessarily being religious, faith makes this passion so much richer. I feel I’m led to this work not only because it gives me satisfaction, but because it’s where God needs me to be. There are countless ways to live by Jesus’s example, and I’m fortunate to have found the one that best fits who I am. It will come with its fair share of moral issues. I’ve often wondered how I’d handle defending a rapist or someone who beats their children. The best I can say for now is that Jesus loves someone facing even the most heinous charges as much as He loves you and me. I don’t understand this kind of love, but I benefit from it. I can give someone a chance for a fair trial without condoning their actions. Too often race and socioeconomic status play a role in who is charged and with what crimes. Maybe I can help to eradicate these biases. The rest will come with prayerful discernment. I don’t expect following my call to be easy, but I know it’s the only thing I can do—and I can’t wait to get started. Let us pray.
You know our paths much better than we do. Walk with us along them. When we feel discouraged or burnt out, remind us why we’re there. In times of triumph, let us dance like David.
A Faith Witness shared in worship on May 27, 2018
My wife Jane and I are moving to Asheville, North Carolina in July, so in Hamilton’s words this is my “Farewell Discourse.” It’s a time to reflect on our time here and impart our most deeply felt, caring thoughts to those who we love, those who have become a part of our lives, those who have become a part of us so deeply that we will take them with us wherever life take us.
It wasn’t long after we arrived in Chagrin Falls in 2009 that we found Federated. In fact, it was right here in the Family Life Center that we first met what has become our beloved Federated Church. I came from my lifelong Disciple church in Euclid where I was most recently the Minister of Transformation and Jane came from Seattle having “escaped” the Catholic Church nearly forty years ago. We had stars in our eyes for each other as we started out on this new adventure together.
That first day, we met Amanda, Maren, Nelson and Nancy Fenner, and of course Hamilton. Everyone was enthusiastic, creative, and welcoming. Not long after we came to the Bell Street service, we joined a book club on the Parable of the Prodigal Son led by Dan Kershner. In 2010, we were married at Bell Street and Marsha Snavely and Brian Duffey provided the music.
Then we joined the Inquirer’s class and made our membership official. A pilgrimage to Israel and Turkey allowed us to meet many of you as the Holy Land came alive for all of us. Picture fishermen taking their nets out of wooden boats as Bill Mason was baptized by Hamilton in the Jordan River, near the Sea of Galilee. God was certainly present.
Music is very important to Jane and me. We met in junior high school because of our love for music. The music at Federated contributes to the worship experience in a way that defies description. We’ve enjoyed the leadership and creativity of Amanda, Chris, Joshua, and Pat Haynish, and the talented performances by Randy Fusco, Barry Stees, Marsha, Kiko, Beth, Bruce, and Thaddeus with the bell choir.
After Dan DeWeese retired, I was asked to join the Search Committee chaired by Greg Davis. Although I had been on previous search committees, I found this group to be particularly thoughtful, prayerful, sincerely dedicated to the task at hand, respectful of other opinions, and very willing to enjoy each other’s company. We spent about two years before calling Susi for the position. We contributed as individuals but operated as a unit. Among others I met Jim Cunningham, who always had a story and a strong opinion, Martine Scheurmann who was full of energy and organization, and Dona Sutherin. Dona and I have a special connection and appreciation for each other that continues today due to our work together. It brings a smile to our faces every time we meet.
I’ve been fortunate to use my professional skills with the Finance Committee, and working directly with Sarah, Amy, and Church Council. I’ve attended many Men’s Breakfasts and still haven’t figured out how Barry Biggins can get the best speakers and serve the best breakfasts. I’ve attended services at the labyrinth and with singing bowls. I participated in the Maundy Thursday service. I’ve enjoyed the Daniel Plan classes. Most recently, I’ve joined the Social Justice Advocacy Ministry led by Susi and in just a few months have experienced White Privilege education, two vigils for violence in our society, seen many thought provoking movies on current social justice issues, and participated with the March for Our Lives in Cleveland. I’m presently focused on Dawn Dole’s subcommittee on environmental social justice issues.
The depth of our friendships is still growing. I started with Dan Kershner at the book club and we marched together in the March for Our Lives. We travelled with Mike and Gay Quinton to Israel, Turkey, Greece, and did some star gazing in St. John in the Caribbean.
The heart of the Federated spiritual experience for me begins with Hamilton’s sermon and the Sunday worship service. It’s been something we look forward to every week, and he continues to teach us about ourselves and the divinity and great love of God, and he does it with humor, personal experiences and with scholarly theology. Jane and I now become a part of the expanding Federated South congregation and look forward to listening to the worship service on line like many others already do.
My faith has soared because of the ministry of Federated through its people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The opportunities to participate and grow or find your faith are limitless here. The ability to join or start a ministry is precious and encouraged by all. The depth of the learning experience is so meaningful that it is truly inspiring. I ask one thing of you. Please take care of this ministry. Take care of it by participating. Take care of it by supporting it. Take care of it by reaching out to others and growing it. Take care of it by experiencing it in every way you can. Don’t put it off.
Jane and I still have stars in our eyes. We’re off on a new adventure and we’ll be looking for a way to continue our spiritual growth in the mountains of western North Carolina. But a part of our hearts will always be here, and we’ll never let you go. We are forever grateful to each one of you and to God who brought us together in this special place.
A Stewardship Faith Witness shared in worship on October 22, 2017
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We spent 3 years coming to Federated before joining last year. I could say, not joining earlier was a scheduling issue. But revealing more, I admit that the idea of being a faith or stewardship witness completely terrified me!
I feared I would have nothing to say.
Lately, I’ve had an imminent feeling that I would soon be asked to be before you – and I was secretly okay with this.
Why we joined and why we give is best explained through some little stories.
We first started coming here because Lisa wanted a deeper spiritual connection for herself and our family. We experimented with other places but didn’t really, “feel it” as Mark Simone might say. We enjoyed Federated. Nonetheless, early on, different among us would make weak excuses for not coming. We were “too busy”, “had too much homework”, or just “needed to chillax”. But, Lisa held strong and excuses began melting away.
Anna went through confirmation this year. Parents attended some sessions led by Mark and Tony and I was lucky enough to be with Anna when we discussed the Fruit of the Spirit.
I will never forget the happiness that enveloped Anna when her friends shared that the fruit that most embodied her, was “joy”. She lit up with a beaming smile when she realized she gave joy to others. That night around the dinner table, Anna led the same discussion. “Hey Lance, which fruit do you think best embodies you?” “Hey Beckett”, she said, “Which do you think best describes Mom, and why?”
When it comes to words, Lance is more Hemingway than Tolstoy. When I ask him why he loves coming here, he says, “I just like it”. He cherishes his time with the JOY group and Marty, gets immense satisfaction out of helping others, and found spiritual enlightenment while summiting a 13k foot peak in Colorado as the sun rose over a herd of elk. He and his friends agreed, “What other reason does one need to believe in God?”
Beckett came downstairs early a few Sundays ago, dressed in a nice collared shirt, his hair combed and calmed – which is quite a feat! I asked, “What are you doing?”; he replied, “I just want to be ready to go to church.” He used to be petrified to come on this stage for ‘time with children’. But recently, he strode forward without looking back for reassurance.
While our kids love the ‘treats’ in Fellowship Hall, they come because they feel the presence of God and unconditional love. Lisa and I have a hand in this for sure, but we have only exposed them to you, and it is you who have enlightened them.
My mom and dad came here with us Sunday September 17th. My dad preferred a Catholic mass. I wanted to tell him that he’d benefit more from hearing Hamilton or Susi, but I refrained. In the end, he couldn’t get his iPhone to locate the nearest church (I feel only a bit ashamed for not helping him but knew it was for his own good!).
Hamilton serendipitously spoke about God’s inactions. If you were here, you will no doubt recall the telling of 24-year-old Alex who drove his car off a bridge in Boston. The father admonished a friend who said, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” “It was not God’s will that Alex died”, his father said, “God is not a master puppeteer but rather chooses freedom for us and choice from which love springs. God’s heart was the first to break when the final water washed over Alex’s car.”
My dad lost his father prematurely 50 years ago, and he has never understood why God did that, or why he didn’t intervene, or why she left a widow with 11 children. As we exited the pew, my dad wept openly to me. Tears flowed down his checks as he told me, in his happiness, that he finally understood that God had neither allowed his father to die nor taken his father away. In fact, “God’s heart was the first to break”.
What is it worth to me, that my father can wash away 50 years of pain and doubt in 20 minutes in our church?
As for me, every Sunday for years when I speak the Lord’s prayer and say, “…as we forgive those who sin against us”, I have chipped away at trying to forgive a colleague at work. I am delighted to share today that I have forgiven him and it is a liberating feeling.
What I know, is that when we come here, my entire family experiences peace and mindfulness. This is our oasis in a sea of busyness and of expectations we feel we have little control over. We always leave with a spring in our step and with joy in our hearts.
On the topic of giving, the days I like the least here are those October sermons rich with requests for our commitment. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of people always calling and asking for money.
But on reflection, I know the ask would not be constant and strong, if it were not required. And when I search my heart, and reflect on why we come here and why we give, I know there is no better or more important commitment that we can make. I cannot value the increased enrichment that my family and I have received by being welcomed and bettered by all of you.
And for that, I say, “Thank you”. But I also say, “Let us give, and give now, and generously, so that we can get on with being enlightened, more joyous, and better servants.”
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, reveal to us in our reflection the vast gifts we receive from you, this church and our family here. Inspire us, in our gratefulness, to share back generously so that we may be even more fulfilled. In the Lords name, we pray, Amen.
Reflections on the Rejoice & Renew Capital Campaign shared in worship on August 20, 2017
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I’ve been asked to talk about why I support the Rejoice and Renew campaign. It’s been a long time since I did any public speaking and I’m a little nervous, so I may need to read some of this. Please bear with me.
I thought it would be helpful to tell you a little about myself and the history of the building you are sitting in.
The Federated Church began as the Disciples of Christ Church in Chagrin Falls in 1835. I was baptized shortly after that….no, just kidding….but I was actually baptized in this church, many years ago.
When I was a child, Sunday school at the Federated Church was very important to me. Take a look at the photograph by the coffee dispenser in Fellowship Hall…there are about 200 kids in that picture. I wasn’t in that class from 1925 but my mother was, third row up, five from the left, thirteen years old.
In those days you got a medal for perfect attendance at Sunday school, with yearly bars hanging off it, sort of like a military badge. I strutted about with my medal, proud of my ten years of singing “Jesus loves me.” In reality, I didn’t have a choice. You see, my mother was the secretary (and treasurer) of the church at that time and she was required to be present every Sunday morning. She wasn’t about to leave me at home alone, to get in trouble.
Actually, the church was a pretty cool place and I loved it…we had a full-scale gymnasium and basketball court (where the third and fourth floor classrooms are now) and I belonged to the “Green Deacons” team. I think someone gave us an over-run of green uniforms. A lot of them had the same number. I had the number “6” on my back, as did four of my team-mates. You can imagine what happened when our coach, Rev. Ron Woodruff, said “send in number 6.”
Anyway, we played against the other church teams every week. We also played against the boys from the reform school in Hudson…we weren’t quite so “churchy” or polite on those days.
My father graduated from Orange High School in 1928, the year before the Great Crash. We never spent a penny if we didn’t have to. I was always taught to prepare for the worst and celebrate the best…and give thanks for God’s gifts in our lives.
In the early 1960’s, it became apparent that the Federated congregation was vastly outgrowing the original sanctuary (which is now the chapel) even with three services on Sundays. The Trustees deliberated long and hard with Rev. Townsend on what to do. It was a tough decision…they had to commit to a vision way beyond their means…building a totally new sanctuary and rebuilding the support areas was far beyond what they thought they could do. Many questioned the decision because it might put the church in debt for decades. But my father led the capital campaign and with God’s help and guidance they were able to raise more than 60% of the cost to build our beautiful sanctuary and classroom and office areas.
It was not easy. I remember my parents pledged $25,000 to help build the space where you are sitting now. That was a huge thing for a five-person family with kids in college. It was nearly a year’s salary for my father and it took them many years to pay it off. It was much more than they could afford, but they believed it was the right thing to do and they acted on that belief.
That was more than 50 years ago. My parents are long gone, but I feel their presence often. They check in with me…they want to know if I am doing the right things. Sometimes I don’t know. I don’t always understand what God’s will for me is in this life. We all take wrong turns occasionally..but there are certain “bedrocks” in our lives that we can depend on. One of those bedrocks for me is the Federated Church.
I was married in this church (twice…I’m a slow learner, but I think I’ve got it right, this time). I recently learned that after 50 years of membership, I am a “valued elder.” How did that happen? I’m still a teenager in my head. But I hope to die here and be buried next to my folks.
My story is not your story…but it could be. This is the kind of place where you can raise generations of your family. The church will be there when you need it. Now it’s our turn to be there when the Church needs us.
I live in Florida seven months of the year; I am only here for maybe three months. When I come back I see the changes that you might not notice. It’s not just the steeple clock, stuck at 10:55 for years or the ceiling falling down in our sanctuary or the paint peeling in our chapel and our 20 year-old carpet, worn threadbare by thousands of footsteps…it’s everything. It’s time. We need to update just about every aspect of the church and we need to honor the commitment of those who came before us, who believed that if they built it, those who would follow would maintain it.
Can you imagine the vision and sacrifice of our church members…folks like you and me…who in 1964 said “let’s do it” and closed down the church for months while construction took place and Sunday services were held at the Philomethian school auditorium. There was no nursery or Sunday school…mothers held their children in their laps. Sunday offerings were in cash, often in coins. They believed it was the right thing to do. They were willing to live that belief.
The time has come for us to live that belief and to honor their commitment with a commitment of our own. Rejoice that you have the chance!! In today’s world, we are not often called upon to act on our beliefs. How about you? Can you afford a few dollars a day for your bedrock? The Church needs you.
I think it’s time to step up to the plate. It will make you feel good...and It’s the right thing to do.
My Mom and Dad would say so and yours will too.
May God add His blessings to my words and to your commitment. Thank you.
PLEASE JOIN ME IN THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER Heavenly Father, we thank you for the vision, effort and sacrifice of those who came before us, to build this beautiful House of Worship. We thank you also for those who have struggled to maintain it over the years for our use today. Guide us as we thoughtfully consider what we can do to preserve and enhance this place for the generations to come. Give us strength to take the extra step and act on our beliefs. Watch over us and our children and guide us in your ways. In Jesus name we pray, amen.
A Faith Witness shared in worship on July 30, 2017
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A seed. Why do we plant it? Because of faith. Faith that a miracle will happen and that this seed will explode with new life. My faith journey is a story of the power of the seed. And how God comes to us in ways we can’t imagine.
I had just received an offer to work for the Science Museum in Rochester, NY. I was ecstatic. Life was good.
I ran over our mail box. “Are we moving?” our kids asked. Finding a flattened mailbox had become a sign to my kids that we’re moving. I say I’m ok, but evidentially I’m not really ok. I ran over another one. “It’s a good thing our neighbors like us, Mom!” said my kids, trying to be helpful. Yes, it is.
I find that I do better with change if I’m moving towards something. So, when the phone calls started.. I stopped and listened. “Come train to be a Master Gardener”. Research, science, growing new life. Hey, that sounded good. A new seed was planted in my life.
A year later, the 2nd phone call came. “Kate, come be a Horticultural Therapist.” Wait, why me, and what the heck IS Horticultural Therapy anyway? But Karen was patient. And something told me to listen. So I finally did. Another seed planted.
After 2 years of training, I walked out the door armed with new skill sets. I was excited! I have worked with people who are blind, people living at Menorah Park who have Alzheimer’s, people who are trying to create new lives for themselves after strokes, children with chronic health conditions at the Cleveland Clinic. I have walked into multiple facilities thinking that I was going to help people, that I was going to make a difference. But what I received back was so much more.
My first job as a Horticultural Therapist was at a day facility for older adults, those with compromised health and low income. It was mostly an inner-city population, and I clearly stood out as a minority. Many of these clients had grown up in the South, raising their own vegetables, an important part of feeding families. Gardening was familiar and some were willing to try it again. We planted seeds together. We shared insights. We were learning together.
I admit it. I had some favorite people. One of the women loved to sing. I loved to sing. So, here we were, singing together, and creating new rex begonias. To do that, you mutilate the leaves, take straight pins, and pin them to moist soil. “You know,” she said, looking at the mutilated plants, “when I grew up in Georgia, we used to walk to school.. barefoot. Just a small group, walking down a dirt road. The yellow school bus would drive by, throwing up dust. The white kids got to take a bus. They would stick their heads out the windows and spit on us.” I froze. She just sat there, this usually joyful woman, with her head hanging down. Words tumbled out. “I am so sorry that happened. You never should have had to go through that. That was awful.” Not eloquent, but of the heart. She nodded. Maybe a seed had been planted… of understanding in me. A seed of being heard perhaps, by her.
Another woman told me about little white boys hitting her on the back of her legs with switches, trying to get the people to work faster. The whole time she’s telling this story, she’s helping me with a project. Huh. One morning a young aid came in to work, all shaken up. She told me about leaving Aurora Farms, and having her car stopped and totally searched- without a warrant. Then she was taken to the local police station and interrogated. She had not been shoplifting; she had been racially profiled. This was a joyful, well-spoken gal who was going to school at night to get her bachelor’s degree. The joy of life was visibly gone.
I have heard more stories, and each time have tried to apologize. Someone needed to. I’m apologizing for my own prejudice as well. What do we really understand of another person’s life if we haven’t walked in their shoes? Or at least walked next to them for part of their journey?
I have been working with this particular health care institution with inner city populations for almost 16 years now. Despite living with little resources, health difficulties, and prejudice, I hear many participants say again and again: “God is great. God is good! God will get me through everything.”
Clients and staff have taken me under their wing, taken me into their homes, invited me into their churches, and worry about me when I look sad. They entrust me with their broken stories. I consider many to be friends. I hope they consider me to be one as well. I believe we’ve planted seeds of faith together.
I’m going to challenge myself, and all of you, to plant new seeds. Talk to someone different today. Find out what roads they are walking down. Come to one of Spiritual Formation’s presentations this fall on handicapped individuals, on lifestyles different from yours. Imagine walking in their shoes. Come to Telling Our Story’s presentation on people with Alzheimer’s this October and learn helpful ways to support their families.
Jesus walked with lots of people. And God is still walking with all of us. I know this. Some of the best people in my life have told me that “God is great. God is what gets me through this journey!” Trees of faith have grown in me from those shared seeds.
I’d like to end this story with prayer.
“Lord, please help us to join together in our journeys, to hold each other gently and with care. Help us to listen to each other and to you. Open us up to planting new seeds, trusting that you will help us work with love. God is Great. God is Good! Amen.”