A Faith Witness shared in worship on September 29, 2019
A Faith Witness shared in worship on September 22, 2019
I've been using this phrase with my family & friends & frankly, even with people whom I've just met. I've said it many times over the last 19 years. Some days, I'm not clear why God choose me for this role in the last third of my life. On other days, when I can not only sense the " struggle " that someone is dealing with but also hear it in her voice, or in his gestures, for at that moment I'm pretty clear that God placed me with them for a reason. My cane simply changes the chemistry of our conversation. "Everyone has a cane, mine shows" is just a vehicle which allows us to have a more substantive, candid & healthy conversation.
" it's a gift to exist & with existence comes suffering " Stephen Colbert said recently. Boy, is that ever true.
My cane has been a positive too. (some days I say that cheerfully - other days pretty grudgingly)
Frequently, God has to tap me on the shoulder and remind me.
Regarding all the people I've met over the last 19 years, I'm convinced that I would have never learned many of their names & their rich histories if I hadn't had this cane ! Plus I've gotten to learn a little Arabic / German & Armenian
My awareness that everyone has issues has allowed me to become a better listener ( I think? I hope! )
When someone says " oh, but I don't have anything to deal with compared to what you've dealt with - I always try to fashion my response to never diminish their own hurt - their pain - The issue that person is dealing with is hugely important - it is front & center
I never say " I know how you feel - " I have no idea how you feel" only you do - my cane has taught me that by genuinely asking & genuinely listening, I can help communicate God's love to & for you - hopefully you can just soak in that love !
My realization that I have a cane has frequently challenged my abilities to be grateful. I find it to be a delicate balance between celebration & lamentation. The celebration in the form of memories of an awesome sail on Lake Chautauqua - with the rail in the water - Carl or Peter or Erika on the high side with me - being soaked not only with water from the bow but also with the acceleration of being alive, really close to nature - close to my children- close to God. Yet, also lamenting that those days cannot be replicated
I try to celebrate & be grateful everyday - to let the opportunity for God's gifts soak me with the love that love
expressed by Kath & her patience - her cheer leading - her prodding - her kindness & love
expressed by the offer from a business colleague for a comfortable stool or chair for a 10 hour event with architects & designers
expressed by one of my grandkids carrying the book -Peter & the Wolf directly over to Gramp's & climbing onto my lap ready for the read
expressed by the stranger who helps me over a snow bank on west 7th & St Claire
expressed by the friend who grabs me that coffee in fellowship hall
expressed by the Cleveland orchestra at blossom playing Elgar's "Enigma Variations”
expressed by a friend who repairs a shower seat
expressed by the fellow who holds the restroom door for my wheelchair
possibly expressed by being dealt 22 points with a seven card suit in bridge
possibly expressed by the tribe beating the Yankees or Boston
And certainly expressed by the cardinals / blue jays / red tail hawks during the day & the bard owls at night heard from my bedroom window
God's hand is placed on so many things right in front of me in the course of a day for which I'm grateful
A Faith Witness shared in worship on September 15, 2019
Based on Acts 8:35-39
When I was about 3 years old, I myself was baptized in a church in Switzerland, by my grandfather, who was a minister there. My parents had both been born and raised in Europe, and had met and married in the US. My baptism took place during their first trip back to Europe, to introduce each other – and me – to their respective families.
Even though I don’t remember that sacrament, that baptismal water that was poured over me nurtured a seed of faith within me, and I became part of the Christian community. As such, I have received a legacy of faith, the Christian faith that began with Jesus, and has grown and spread and deepened. All those who have followed Jesus, who have proclaimed his love and salvation throughout the ages have been part of that legacy of faith, from the more well-known like Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene, to the more obscure, like Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch, and a woman named Susanna, my namesake, mentioned in the gospel of Luke. Throughout the years, the centuries, the millennia, countless faithful followers have added to this wonderful legacy of our Christian faith. And this has been bequeathed to us.
In addition to receiving this legacy through our baptisms, however, we also have the privilege, the responsibility and the calling to influence it, to add to it, to shape it for future generations. By our own lives, by our words and actions, we transform and deepen and widen this wonderful and beautiful Christian inheritance we have received. We do this both individually, and, as part of a church community.
This year, we as the Federated Church community celebrate 100 years of our part in this legacy. I have had the deep joy of living out my call, my vocation as part of this wonderful church community since 2005, first as a member, and then later as your pastor. I have loved every aspect of my ministry here, feeling like I have been able to use my gifts and talents in a way that have supported and maybe even expanded the missions of this church. This community has been home for me, has challenged and nurtured me, and has also been a shore of love, affirmation and inspiration. The legacy of this church, which you have all contributed to has shaped me, and I pray that my ministry here has helped shaped this church’s legacy as well. We will always be part of each other’s stories, each other’s inheritance of faith.
So if you had asked me even a year ago when I was going to retire from my ministry here, I would probably have said “Not for a long, long time.” Since my mother’s death in February, however, my life has changed. Momentous occasions often cause us to step back, to reflect and re-evaluate our lives. And part of that process for me has been to think about not only my faith legacy, but also my parents’ legacy to me, and how I am being called to live out of that legacy. And while I don’t yet know what that will look like, the stirrings within me are moving me to minister in a different way going forward.
This decision to retire in December both scares me and grieves me, especially since I will be leaving here and don’t yet know where I will end up. But I feel like wherever it takes me, it will honor the legacy of my father, who grew up in Italy in abject poverty, and came to the US to make a better life; it will honor the legacy of my mother, who to marry my father, left Switzerland, a country she loved, and spent much of her life working with children. As a child of immigrants, I am feeling a tug to perhaps minister to others like myself, other children of immigrants who have not been as fortunate with finding their footing in this country as I have been. Is this where God is calling me? I don’t know for sure yet, but I do know that I need time and space in my life to be open, to listen, to discern. My parents left me a legacy of not being afraid to let go of the shore and float into the mystery of an unknown future. My church has left me a legacy of trusting in God as I float into that mystery.
Our baptism bequeaths to us a legacy which calls us to follow Jesus. It is often fraught with difficult decisions, frightening challenges, and an uncertain future. But may we live into that legacy, trusting that no matter where we go, we are always and everywhere buoyed and surrounded by the God’s sea of love, in which we live, and move and have our being. Amen.
Chant: Let Go of the Shore (Karen Drucker)
Let go of the shore, and let the water carry you.
Let go of the shore, float into the mystery... (Repeat)
A Faith Witness shared in worship on August 25, 2019
Good morning! In reading today's scripture passages in preparation my Faith Witness I was struck by the image of the Repairers of the Breach in the verses from Isaiah, so let me read that to you.
9 If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
When I first read this passage, I came to wonder what is the breach that needs repairing?
After a little investigating, I discovered that this passage was probably written after the Israelites' return from the Babylonian Exile. The exile occurred after Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Israelites around 587 BC and lasted for over 50 years. I also learned that the Babylonians had a very specific “immigration policy” when dealing with the conquered Israelites. They took in exile only the wealthy, the powerful and the religious elite of the country. The poor, the homeless, the widows, the unskilled were left at home, temple destroyed, priests gone, leaders killed/exiled. So there was a physical and spiritual breach caused by the conquest and exile. Meanwhile, those elites in exile looked to purify their religious practices. Upon returning home, they sought to instill these practices among those left behind.
For more context, I read the preceding verses in this chapter. As these verses make clear, another breach resulted when the exiles returned. Isaiah says to the returning Israelites:
“Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
The Prophet makes clear that what these people needed were not instructions on how to fast, but food, clothing, housing, and justice. Those returning elites had caused a breach by modeling some of the oppression they had experienced in Babylon on their own people.
The tendency of those in power to impose their practices on others without true understanding of who those others are and what they need is a constant in human history. But God has spoken powerfully to these oppressors through the prophets and through Jesus. You probably recognize these words from Amos, written many years before Isaiah:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
This month marks the 400th year of an event that led to the most serious breach in American society. In August of 1619 the first African enslaved people reached the Virginia shore, beginning our national nightmare known as slavery. In my study of racism, I have learned that Emancipation did not stop white people's subjugation of our African American sisters and brothers, nor did the passage of the 1960s civil rights legislation completely repair this breach.
Racism endures through putting old wine in new bottles. Today we live with the effects of mass incarceration, neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s by our government remain poor and unsafe and it seems like the lid that once held society's worst urges in check has come off.
Taking all this in overwhelms me at times. But there are two different approaches I have found helpful in my small attempt to repair this breach. I can recommend them to you today.
First I try to attack systemic racism wherever I can. Like most white people -- and like those Israelites returning from exile -- I have a huge blind spot which prevents me from seeing how those different from me experience society's power structure. I am educating myself and I am vocal with my elected officials when I see policies enacted that disadvantage the minoritized in our society. I show up at protests and vigils.
Second I address my own personal racism when I recognize it. Words and actions matter. I have adopted my wife's policy regarding my choice of words. If I use a term or adopt a position which hurts a person or a group of people, I stop and apologize. Even if I meant no harm, I must acknowledge that harm was done. It is not for me to decide if I've harmed someone or not.
Another action I've taken is to try to get to know people who differ from me as people and not as representatives of their race. So often whites encounter African Americans in a benefactor/recipient or clerk/customer relationship. Melinda and I have become friends with two women from Mt. Zion Congregational Church. We have worshipped together and have socialized together and continue to find ways to enjoy each others' company.
We all have an opportunity to share fellowship with members of Mt. Zion on Friday, September 6th at our joint Cookout. I hope you will join us in bestowing an extravagant welcome to our guests on that day! Please sign up after the service today in Fellowship Hall.
Perhaps some of what I've said will inspire you to act. Educate yourselves through reading. Join our Social Justice Advocacy Ministry. Take time to make conversation with someone different from you at work. Listen to what they say and try to learn what they care about and what makes their heart sing!
Will you pray with me? This prayer is called the Ubuntu Prayer
I am because you are...you are because I am I am the ancestor and the unborn You are the ancestor and the unborn When I fail, you fail...When you fail, I fail When I thrive, you thrive...When you thrive, I thrive Wherever I go, I carry you Wherever you go, you carry me I am the ancestor and unborn You are the ancestor and the unborn I recognize the God in me, just as I recognize the God in you I am because we are...you are because I am I love you because I am you I love you because I am you I love you because I am you
A Faith Witness shared in worship on July 21, 2019
My mother was a world champion worrier. She could worry about anyone or anything. If I was looking in the refrigerator for something to eat, she would tell me not to stand there too long because I might catch a cold. I know I’m dating myself but when I was in elementary school the girls were only allowed to wear skirts and dresses. In the winter, I had my winter coat, but my mother always made sure I was wearing wool or flannel long pants under my dress. And my parents drove me to school. So I had to walk all of about 100 ft. in the cold. But you get the picture. I was always used to having someone worry for me.
Perhaps because I knew she would worry about things for me, I made it a habit not to worry too much myself. Oh, I would worry about things like finishing a paper when it was due or studying for a test. But not about small things or at times big things for that matter. Rather than worrying, I found that what worked best for me was to not actively think about something. In due time, the answer would come to me. A former minister of ours would say that you should pray for discernment – that the outline of the answer would become progressively clearer to you. And that usually worked well for me.
Doug and I joined this church in 2002, and sometime after that, I began attending the Friday Bible study group. I noticed that in our discussions, several of the women used the same phrase – “let go and let God” or ‘let go of a problem and turn it over to God’. I realized that phrase described what I had been doing all along. I had the faith to turn my worries over to God and trusted that my Savior would let me know what I should do about a given problem. Not that I didn’t do research, or talk to other people about it, or blithely go my way without giving it another thought; I just didn’t worry. And sometimes the answer that came to me wasn’t the one I’d hoped for, but I would at some point realize it was the right one.
Through my life I have had ups and downs, good times and bad times and everything in between. As I get older and look back, I give thanks for having God there by my side throughout it all. And I have the utmost faith and confidence that will continue into the future, until I close my eyes and meet God face to face.
A Faith Witness shared in worship on November 25, 2018
How many of you have ever provided care to someone you love?
Perhaps aging parents .. or emerging young adults, small children, adolescents .. or siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors .. MAYBE even church friends?
Providing ANY kind of care to those we love can be HARD sometimes. Be it emotional, physical or even spiritual care.
I like to think of all the people I count on for my ‘care’ as part of “Team Kristi” .. for these people in my life – I am grateful .. thankful and indeed blessed.
I would like to think I am someone who is positive .. patient .. and kind. And YET, depending on who you ask .. I MAY have been known to be a little dramatic .. lack patience in certain circumstances and maybe even lose my cool every now and again. I’m definitely NOT perfect.
Some of you have known me for a very long time. Some of you I’ve only come to know in the last few years.
While I’ve often referred to our now young adult ‘kids’ having ‘grown up’ here at Federated – and YOU being an important part of that journey .. ACTUALLY, YOU have watched ME ‘grow up’ here .. in my journey of determining my personal values, strengthening my spirit-led leadership .. and in deepening my FAITH.
I consider YOU part of Team Kristi. For this .. I am indeed grateful .. thankful and blessed.
Through this journey – you have seen me at my best and at my worst … in good times and in bad – on the brightest of days and the darkest of days. Life can be hard – traveling life’s journey alone can be hard. It’s always better to have a team to support you. Isn’t this why we choose to worship in a community of believers and seekers .. instead of alone?
When I’ve faced my darkest days – it has been easy to want to stay under the covers or hide in the back. Honestly, on those days it was easier to just stay home.
I’ve faced some of those dark days in the last year – I’ve had the now famous ‘hiking incident of 2017’ which left me facing chronic physical pain. Then, I had shoulder surgery in early 2018 to fix something actually ‘fixable’ - which turns out was, let’s just say .. complicated. Then, I faced a mysterious systemic-wide condition compounding these other physical issues with extreme fatigue and achiness – making everyday things like sleeping or showering or preparing food really difficult.
Needless to say – since it was hard just to shower, let alone get in/out of a car – I wasn’t able to get to church for a few months.
And I know .. all too well .. that EACH of us has a story like this. Be it physical, emotional, or personal challenges that we’ve had to overcome. And let’s face it .. MY pain may not compare to yours .. let alone compare to infamous stories of those who faced significant challenges like Bethany Hamilton who had her arm bitten off by a shark or Nelson Mandela or Helen Keller or even the stories in the Bible of those who also faced significant challenges like Joseph (of the Old Testament) or Job or Moses or Jonah.
And yet, MY pain AND yours is both real and worthy.
I was in a Mom’s book group when our kids were little and we read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogul. What I remember taking away from that book group was – we can’t protect or ‘save’ our children from every hard or difficult or challenging situation they face. And in fact, when we make too much of a big deal out of a skinned knee – and you know kids get PLENTY of skinned knees – you can actually make the experience, or the pain, WORSE.
I have been blessed here by Team Kristi … like calls when Lou noticed I was missing and not in my favorite pew … like emails from Hamilton and Susi who offered prayers .. like a note from Elsie showing compassion by sharing her own personal journey .. like Paul offering sincere concern over my well-being .. For these and many many others I am grateful, thankful and blessed.
I’m going to be honest .. I’ve had to dig really deep to come to a place of acceptance for this outpouring of concern and support. While I may appear to be someone who likes to be the ‘center of attention’ – I definitely do not seek attention in this way. I’ve had to look at all this support in a DIFFERENT way – reframing and knowing that these church friends really did not only have the best intentions … AND church is a place where I am loved and accepted for who I am. I have been able to realize that many people traverse this journey of life alone – without anyone ever noticing they were limping, in pain or facing tough times.
Indeed, it is through life’s darkest moments, through grief and pain, that I have learned the most and grown significantly.
Who’s on YOUR TEAM?
Join me in prayer.
Dearest mother, father God. Thank you for the blessings of skinned knees and pain .. thank you for the community of our church family … thank you for the care, concern and unconditional love from our support teams. We are all blessed. Amen
A Faith Witness shared in worship on November 18, 2018
I’m happy to be here this morning….in fact, at nearly 71, I’m happy to be almost anywhere this morning.
A little more than a year ago I was asked to talk to you about what the church means to me and why I supported the Capital Campaign. I’ve been a life-long member of this church; so were my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. My great-great-grandmother was Lucinda Gates, from Gates Mills…. so it should have been easy, right?
Not so easy…. but I reminisced about the church before this sanctuary was built and the difficult process the congregation went through in the 1950’s and 60’s to make the commitment to build this sanctuary and remodel the rest of the church. As many of you know, the chapel used to be the main sanctuary of our church and next to the old church were two or three perfectly good houses, where you are sitting right now, that had to be demolished in order to make room for this building. If you think “historic preservationists” can get a little excited now, you should have been here, then.
Anyway, the point of my testimony was that members of this church made sacrifices and made a commitment for the future, so that we could be here today. And I asked those present to make a commitment as well, to maintain and update what our church family had built more than 50 years ago.
Apparently it made an impact. After the service, two of the members of our congregation came up and told me that they had decided to double their pledges for the campaign as a result of my comments. That both pleased and terrified me because I thought “…maybe I should come out of retirement and go back to work as a fundraiser!”
I got over that pretty quickly.
But I am thrilled to be standing here in front of you today, in this gorgeous renovation of our house of worship, with its shiny brass railings and new paint job and improvements in almost every aspect of the building and its systems. What a fantastic thing God has done for us…and we have done for the future.
This is living testimony to the fact that this building isn’t yours or mine…this land isn’t ours…all of the beautiful things you see around you aren’t ours…they belong to God and we are only privileged to be trustees of all of these things while we are in this life, to maintain and preserve them for those that will follow us. And what a privilege it is, to serve as trustees and servants of God, just like those who came before us. Look around you. This place is better than ever, better than we imagined. It is just fantastic. Truly amazing. I think we and should give God and ourselves our staff and everyone who made this possible, a round of applause, don’t you?
When I talked to you last year, I recalled how my father, Carl, was on the Board of Trustees of our church at the time this sanctuary was built in 1964. My mother, Cathryn Groth, was both the secretary and treasurer of the church. Want to guess what I did every Sunday? Perfect attendance, ten years in a row. Got the medals and bruises to prove it.
Anyway, I know Carl and Cathryn are smiling right now and I can feel their blessings on our church and on me and you for making the commitment we did. It wasn’t easy. Important things rarely are. But we pulled together and we did it as a faith community, not as a bunch of individuals or as single donors who want to have their names on things.
And that’s what it’s all about. We are a People, not a Place. The Place is important, but the People are what make it happen. It’s what makes me fly up here from Florida this week, just to talk to you. It’s what makes the choir members show up week after week, in sunshine or snow, to enhance our worship. It’s what made our fundraisers and committees work so hard to help make all of this happen. It’s what makes all the activities and organizations that depend on this Place, real and alive. It’s what keeps Hamilton and Mark and all the other dedicated members of our staff working so hard for all of us… and for all of those who are not part of our congregation… so that the world might know that We Are the People of God. We Are the Federated Church, and by God we’re proud of it.
So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this happen. Carl and Cathryn thank you. My grandparents thank you. And my children thank you. Your dedication to the capital campaign and this year’s pledge program and all the other programs and staff of our church will have an impact for generations to come.
Last year I concluded my remarks by saying that supporting the Church was the Right Thing To Do. I conclude this year by saying that it was and is the Right Thing To Do and with God’s help, WE HAVE NOT ONLY DONE IT BUT WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO IT FOR GENERATIONS TO COME.
Look around you. Isn’t this the best thing ever? Praise the Lord. Congratulations to all of us and Thanks Be to God.
A Faith Witness shared in worship on September 30, 2018
Ok, now be honest. How many here have at some point in life, been on the receiving end of a parent saying, “Now, you LISTEN to me!”?
I promise I won’t embarrass any of you by asking if you ever resorted to actually using that line!
A few years ago, I offered a faith witness on the importance of Stephen Ministry and how it called to me. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Stephen Ministry is a commission of empathetic listeners who provide care to those going through a difficult time in life, or just being there for someone who needs a friendly ear. Needless to say, “listening” and how to respond to what we hear are the main focuses and practices of Stephen Ministry. We also discuss when it’s advisable for us to keep our mouths shut!
One of Federated Church’s beliefs is that “God is still speaking.” Obviously, as faithful parishoners, we want to take advantage of what is being said. But how do we listen? Are we listening effectively and to the best of our abilities? With that in mind, remember that a Stephen Minister’s effectiveness can only go so far. If a care receiver told me that they heard God speak to them in either Morgan Freeman’s, or George Burns, or Charlton Heston’s voice, I’d be happy to listen, but that person may also need more than what a Stephen Minister can offer. And between you and me, if I do hear the voice of God, I really hope he sounds like Alan Rickman.
We are given five senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Science informs us that there are probably many more, but for today’s purpose, let’s stick with five.
One of the most eye-opening things that expanded my understanding of the senses came from an NPR program on autism and how those with autism perceive the senses. One of the presenters who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s felt that ALL of his senses were generated through touch. The sense of touch is self-explanatory – our skin comes in contact with something, it activates our nerve endings, and we feel it. Hence the two words “contact” and “activate.”
We taste something when our taste buds are activated by something touching our tongue. Hearing occurs when sounds waves make contact with and activate our ear drum. Sight occurs when an image makes contact with the retina which activates the brain to form that image. Smell occurs when an aroma makes contact with and activates our olfactory organs. With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine how many additional ways that God is trying to “speak” to us.
How do we enable ourselves to receive such a message? Well, years ago a violinist college classmate of mine told me something that a Boston Symphony violist shared with his students. Eugene Lehner was a highly respected violist and member of the Boston Symphony for decades. Lehner explained that there was an extremely difficult time in his life. It had become so bad that he even contemplated ending his life. But something changed his mind. One day, while walking, Lehner smelled bread, fresh out of the oven at a local bakery. Did that solve his depression? No. Did it make his difficulties go away? Of course not. Did it save his life that day? Yes! Lehner went on to live a full life playing, teaching, and coaching music, and being a positive force in his students’ lives.
I’ve always believed that God works through people, either directly or indirectly. I’m sure that that baker had no idea that what the aroma of what he baked that day would give Eugene Lehner pause to reconsider what would have been a fateful decision.
So, let’s be open. What is that sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell trying to tell us? The sentence, “God is still speaking” may take on a whole new, invigorating meaning.
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
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
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
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.”