Category: Reflections

Summer Journeying

I’ve been thinking about journeying and what that means. Every summer, since I was small, I have spent time at my family’s lakeside cottage in Denmark, Maine. It’s so familiar to me – the sights, sounds, smells – that it’s like home away from home. There are things I love to do while I’m there – swim in the lake, go out for an early morning canoe ride, walk along the pine-scented roads, hear the loons calling at night, drive into town to visit the book store and get water at the town spring, stop for an ice cream at The Gazebo.

I also like to stretch out of my usual routine too – I often love to take different routes to get to the cottage, visit a town I haven’t been to before or a new shop. Talk to neighbors I haven’t met before. Stepping out of my comfort zone stretches me, and I often end up feeling that my little adventures feel God-inspired. When I’m open to it, I meet people and see places I might not have otherwise. And when my time in Maine comes to a close, I am always happy to come home again to Austerlitz and my family.

Some of you know that I have been a member of Al-anon for a number of years. This has very much been a part of my personal and spiritual journey. And one thing that I love about Al-anon is that no matter where I am in the world, the welcome that is read at the beginning of each meeting contains many of the same elements. It is this that makes me feel at home, no matter where I am, and no matter if I have never been to the meeting before or am among old friends.

As July approaches, I find I’m looking forward to our summer worship in a similar way. We’ll be journeying forth, to Richmond and West Stockbridge. being welcomed by these other church communities, meeting new people, and seeing good friends, being led in worship by pastors we know and some that are new to us, learning by worshipping with others. There will be familiar elements and perhaps different ones that we can appreciate. I hope you, too, will take part in and enjoy our summer worship journey.

Journeying, being welcomed, being in community, learning, and coming back home again.

Tempe Croke

Caretaking

Most days you can find me out back or along the perimeter of my property contending with invasive plants that are encroaching and overgrowing the rock garden behind my house. We know the multiflora roses, bittersweet, honeysuckle and garlic mustard. For the first time I just identified Japanese knotweed sending up its asparagus like spears. All of these species were not native to our region but cause harm to our existing forest and field scapes. It is a never-ending task to remove them and actually can be satisfying. As I am engrossed in the physical tasks, wielding my mattock, tugging out root systems, my mind engages in other imponderables.

I recently was reading part of Krista Tippett’s interview (Becoming Wise An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living) with her former Yale Divinity School professor of the Hebrew Bible, Ellen Davis. They were examining specific words and translations of words in the Bible. In particular, in the King James version the translation of God’s blessing on humankind in Genesis was embraced as the “rallying cry by Christian colonizers and industrialists and explorers: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’“ Professor Davis offered that the actual Hebrew word used is a strong word but rather than understanding it as dominion she considers it as a challenge to humans to exercise skilled mastery amongst the creatures…of which we are one. Skilled mastery, not in the sense of dominion but in the sense of responsibility for creatures, for the land and the waters, for creation. We have much work to do in this interconnected realm.

As I continued in my further musings, I found myself considering our little church and the tasks before us. I believe that we do serve as caretakers of our church, our church family and its building and even beyond in the wider community.

One of the tasks we are embarking upon is our search for a new pastor. We started with an Ad Hoc Transition Team which has crafted a draft of our profile which we will tweak and then submit to the Conference to initiate our search. The Transition Team needs to reconfigure as a Search Team. We need a few dedicated folks to serve in the screening of profiles and the actual interviews. We will probably conduct much of this process via Zoom. We do not know how long the Search process might take. It is another stepping out in faith with no exact time closure.

We ask for five members to please step forward. If you have questions or are so inclined, please speak with Pat or Susan or myself. We hope to form this important team in June so we can proceed with our Search.

Prayerfully,
Jay Aronson

Setting Sail

I spend the Winter months in warmer climates, as many of you know. Philip, my late husband, and I started doing that some years ago, when after his first bout of chemotherapy, he became extremely intolerant of cold temperatures, and it was necessary for him to get away from the cold. And after his death in 2020, I decided to keep going South in the winter because hey, it’s just pleasant to stick your toes in the warm sands of St. Augustine Beach in February.

One curious thing about Florida is that there are remarkable thrift shops. Think about it – nicknamed “God’s waiting room”, Florida has a disproportionate number of elderly. And when they pass away, often the family members do not wish to retrieve their belongings. So donated to a shop they go – perhaps to benefit a cause – animal shelters, etc. The thrift shops are chock full of wonderful items. I was perusing one of my favorite shops when I saw a worker lift a beautiful boat up on a sales shelf. It had a $6 price tag on it. It never made it to the shelf because I snagged it!

The upcoming Sunday, I was deacon at the St. Augustine UCC church, and the scripture readings were all about being tossed about on stormy seas. I took my little boat (pictured above) and set it on blue fabric (actually several scarves, also purchased at the thrift shop) made to look like waves on the altar table. Candles and a low bowl of water completed the table. I hope the table helped bring to life the scripture passages. Later I took it down to the beach, slid it into the surf and photographed it before leaving it with a friend for safekeeping.

The image of this little boat will now serve another purpose – it is to be our vessel on our journey as we set sail, searching for new pastoral leadership. What do we need to take with us in our boat? What are the essentials? What can we leave behind? How do we navigate? You’ll see this boat often as we wind our way through the process – as we ‘set sail’: which is our first step, just simply raising our sails as we prepare to launch a search. Soon, we hope, we will sail off in search of a new chapter.

Susan Bues for the Transition Team

A Spirituality of Nature

Katherine Houk

As I am writing this, it is the month of March. Last week the air was filled with fat fluffy clumps of snowflakes, swirling gently in the chilly breeze. Today we have temperatures in the high fifties, and the snowdrops and crocuses that poked up during the past week are blossoming. By the time you read this, it will be April. As always, I look forward to the rebirth of the land in Spring, its beauty and life-affirming energy, which feel especially important in these turbulent times.

In her Transfiguration Sunday sermon, Patty Fox spoke of “mountaintop experiences,” during which the Holy shines through and touches us; our experiences of the “living light,” a feeling of unity within us and around us. In particular, she mentioned a person who, to re-experience such moments, would “call up prairie grass” to soak in its memory and pray. And remember the hymn/spiritual/Appalachian song “Down to the River to Pray?”

All my life I have experienced the natural world as sacred. Experiences among the trees, with plants and animals, with sea and sky can be healing for me, sometimes even transformational. In her sermon, Patty said that, for the most part, people don’t like to talk about their experiences of the sacred. They may fear being disbelieved, even ridiculed. I believe that good can come from such sharing. It is reassuring to know that we are not alone, and we have much to learn from one another.

In January, I made the decision to offer a Creating Space series which values the expressing of our sacred moments, specifically those occurring within the natural world. The novelist Saul Bellow once said, “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

Putting together our nature experiences with our need for an “eye in the storm,” I offer this series as a way to express such sacred moments. The three gatherings are entitled “A Spirituality of Nature.” In this series, after first teasing out what “a spirituality of nature” might mean, we’ll explore ways to foster openness while engaging with the larger-than-human world. During the week between each session, we will individually immerse ourselves in engaging with nature. When we come back together, a vital part of our gathering will be expressing our nature experiences in whatever way is right for each of us: story, artwork, photography, poetry, journaling, movement, or song, and sharing with one another in a safe space.

If this series appeals to you, visit www.creatingspacecollective.org to register for A Spirituality of Nature. The meeting dates will be May 11, 18, and 25 at 7 pm. This series is open to people from any faith tradition or none; please spread the word to friends and family, and remember—the outdoors is calling you.

The Saul Bellow quote is from Conversations with Saul Bellow, edited by Gloria Cronin (University of Mississippi Press, 1994).

Free Speech – is it Now a Cause for Division Too?

In early February, NPR’s Fresh Air featured host Terry Gross interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a History Professor from Acadia University in Nova Scotia. I was riveted. I was shocked. I was dismayed and ultimately, saddened at the legislation that is in place or is being attempted to be put in place our “land of the free” to stifle free speech.

One would think that free speech is secure in our country as a core belief and value on which we were founded. We teach truth and want our children to learn true history so they can develop values and morals worthy of global citizens. Don’t we?

Dr. Sachs talked about three main areas of concern he is tracking: racial justice, LGBTQ regulations and prohibitions, and abortion rights. Many of these new laws center on regulations imposed on educational institutions with severe, draconian punishments for “violators” whether they be teachers, administrators, or Boards of Education. Thirty-five states have introduced bills and twelve states already have laws in place that prohibit discussion of critical race theory (CRT) – despite the fact that CRT has only ever been on the curricula in graduate school. That is only the beginning of the push to quell discussion of race-related issues.

As if that weren’t enough, many states are encouraging parents and citizens (even students) to report ‘violators’. Students are encouraged to film teachers with their smart phones. While curricular transparency is a good thing, privacy of students is another. It is NOT all right to have the student who is struggling in the classroom filmed, nor is it all right to have the student with the black eye from their abusive parent seen in a smart phone video.

There’s more distressing news on restrictions of and banning reproductive rights, from the Supreme Court to state legislation – some giving the unborn more rights than the person carrying the fetus, and further restrictions on rights for LGBTQ people cited in Dr. Sachs’ interview. I encourage you to listen to it. Book bans, penalties, limitations on how and what to teach, extreme scrutiny – this is leading to an exodus by teachers and a disincentive for anyone to consider teaching as a career. The list of people who are at risk grows – librarians, educators, election workers, doctors, legislators – it is truly frightening. We must be vigilant.

Susan Bues

Love Remains – One Great Hour of Sharing

One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) is one of three offerings the Canaan Congregational Church sponsors during the year to support our wider mission. This offering enables the United Church of Christ to reach people and communities affected by disaster, violence, displacement or poverty, in the United States and throughout the world.

OGHS works with congregations and organizations locally, those vested in the affected communities, so that we can be present quickly, and help the people living in those communities rebuild their lives. This year’s OGHS theme is Love Remains. 

In the theme scripture (1 Corinthians 13), the Apostle Paul helped newly converted Christians at Corinth embrace the virtue of love. Love is an active decision to think of others before self; to work on behalf of others; and to care for other with acts of kindness and advocacy. Paul taught that community is less about “me” and more about “us.”

Putting love into actions is a call to us to help our neighbors, near and far, as we have the ability. The Apostle Paul reminds us, just as he did the Corinthians so long ago, that the greatest expression of our connection to others is the way we love them. Our generous gift to One Great Hour of Sharing – United Church of Christ enables our church and our worldwide partners to make a difference in lives and communities around the world. Together, we are responding to disasters, supporting sustainable farming, education, and health initiatives, as well as pitching in to assist people fleeing violence from their home communities. We receive this offering with joy, believing that, despite all the challenges facing the world, love remains.

On Sunday, March 27, please join with members from several thousand fellow UCC churches to support One Great Hour of Sharing. We will be accepting donations throughout the month of March.

Please make your check payable to the Canaan Congregational Church and indicate in the memo portion that the check is for the OGHS offering. Donations may be mailed to the Canaan Congregational Church, P.O. Box 66, Canaan, NY 12029. 

Ed Fallon, for the Missions Team

Core Values

As we bid Pastor Patty our heartfelt farewell and find ourselves adrift in this Lenten period we are in a place of transition. We have been here before and it is part of the cycle of life, especially in a small church. Just two years ago we can remember the total upheaval we were in when we were in stay-at-home mode and faced deaths of several beloved members, and then Pastor Charlie died suddenly. Pastor Patty came into our midst in June 2020. She got to know us in both small outdoors groups and virtually on Zoom. In the fall we met for two sessions of Appreciative Inquiry and out of those conversations the Creating Space Collective was born. In January 2021 we launched Creating Space. With the award of the UCC grant for $7,500 we have been affirmed in our efforts to reach out to individuals who might not attend church on Sunday but wish to engage in our spirituality and art workshops.

Most recently through Creating Space we had the pleasure of being led in a Contemplative Prayer workshop with Rev. Mark Longhurst. To gather with him these many years later with our many intervening circumstances… he is the father of two sons for example and we have rebuilt our church… it was a reunion of old friends. We may be in different moments in our lives, but we could still connect deeply.

We will be meeting with our Area Conference Minister Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa for the first time on March 17 during our Council Meeting. We welcome anyone who is interested to join us in this meeting. Rev. Terry will be supporting us in our next steps as we consider our pastor search.

We have a thoughtful tag team of pastors who will lead worship in the coming months.

Our Transition Team, which includes Pat Wallender, Susan Bues, Katharine Houk, Ed Fallon, Jennifer Hay and myself, has met twice. We wish to honor our community that we have built through these years and which has helped to sustain us through much adversity: fire, family losses, pandemic. We have reflected upon how we share core values with the Shakers: community, inclusion, innovation, integrity and conviction. We hope we can strengthen our community which has been fragmented during pandemic. This will be a labor of love for one another as we go forward.

Jay Aronson
Moderator

About January 6

Dear Beloved of God,

On Sunday we shared our reactions with one another to the violence that occurred last week in both Washington DC and various other places across the country.  We considered how we, as people of Christian faith, ought to respond to the challenges our country is currently facing.  It was the consensus of those in worship that we need first to talk about difficult subjects with those with whom we share at least some commonalities before we can dare to enter into conversation with those who have opinions that are at the extreme opposites of our own.  It appears our thoughts on this subject are not far off from those of the national body of the UCC.

In their statement condemning “the insurrection that took place at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021” the Elected Officers of the United Church of Christ named this as a time “for the church, in all denominational contexts, to release support of white power and white privilege and to embrace fully the call to follow Jesus.”  We, as members of the United Church of Christ, have been asked to engage not only in moments of “sober reflection and fervent prayer”, but also “brave conversation and a willingness to break down the barriers between us and within our communities.”

And so, beginning this week, I will be offering opportunities for us to be in conversation about the role of racism in our collective story as Christians.  This is not a simple exercise in academic musings but rather a real time necessity if we hope to be genuine witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus in Berkshire and Columbia counties.

The resources that I intend to use will include:

A documentary video called:  White Savior: Racism in the American Church.  This one hour video explores the historic relationship between racism and American Christianity, the ongoing segregation of the church in the US, and the complexities of racial reconciliation.  You can find it using this link:  https://www.amazon.com/White-Savior-Racism-American-Church/dp/B07ZS6B9FB/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3R8L29CDD43K3&dchild=1&keywords=white+savior+racism+in+the+american+church&qid=1610401009&sprefix=white+savior,aps,189&sr=8-1

A UCC study resource:  White Privilege: Let’s Talk – A Resource for Transformational Dialogue which can be downloaded here:  https://www.sneucc.org/files/files/documentsmissionjustice/white-privilege-curriculum.pdf

Please take time to view the video and review the UCC study in preparation for our discussions.  I will likely plan a mid-week evening Zoom session, but also hope to integrate the material into our Sunday morning services.

Thank you for taking this critical step with me.

Peace,
Pastor Patty

Deaconing

My first experience with a Congregational Church was years ago, when I was living with a friend in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Her family belonged to the Congregational Church in Monterey, and one Sunday, I went with her to a church service. I have to tell you that when the pastor came down from the dais to ask if there were any joys and concerns that people would like to share, I was blown away. I was so struck by how people were speaking right up and sharing their very real joys and concerns. Having grown up in the Catholic Church, this was not something I was familiar with, but something that held so much meaning for me. And then when the pastor offered up a prayer, off the top of his head, which included all of the things people had shared about, I knew I had found something very special—something I had been looking for in my spiritual seeking.

When my husband and I moved our young family to Austerlitz 15 years ago, it didn’t take me long to find Canaan Congregational Church. I hadn’t been to church in several years but happened to see something in the paper about Canaan having just held a Harvest Fair. I went to church the following Sunday and felt welcomed from the moment I walked in.

It wasn’t long before I became a member, and then a deacon. Being a deacon has been such a good fit for me. It involves not only helping with the service each week, and helping administer communion, but also connecting with and offering pastoral care to our church family.

I have recently stepped into the role of lead deacon and am looking forward to serving our church family in this role. I’ve had such good role models over the years in the work of deaconing, including Jean Dickason, Pam Lappies, and Philip Bues, and hope to continue from their example. If you or someone you know would like to be on our deacon contact list, please feel free to let me know and a deacon will be in touch.

Blessings and gratitude,

Tempe Croke

Thoughts About Privilege

Inspired by Pastor Patty’s reflections on recent Sunday mornings, I have been thinking about the idea of privilege, the subtle and not so subtle ways in which society favors one group of people over another. Though I have never considered myself especially privileged, the fact that I am a white, cisgendered, heterosexual woman who has an education, a place to live and enough to eat, means that I am. I have been taking it for granted. With that in mind, I decided to make a practice of observing the role of privilege in my life at present, and to think about how I have been privileged in the past.

The following is a hodgepodge of loosely connected observations and memories.

I was waited on in a store a few weeks ago by a kind black man whose accent I think is African. He struggled with communicating with me and I started to feel impatient. I am grateful I found the grace (thank you, Holy Spirit!), to imagine how hard his life must be, and to appreciate his efforts. I have never needed to move to another country or learn a new language and use it in a job.

My cousin Alex is a transgendered woman. She is much younger than I, and we don’t live near each other, but I know something of the struggle she went through to be where she is now. It was very hard, and family relationships were strained for a long time. Fortunately, she seems happy now, and some of the relationships have healed. I have never had to go through anything like that.

I have vivid memories from childhood of signs announcing “whites only” and “colored” restrooms and drinking fountains in our little Kentucky town. I was in Catholic school and being taught by Franciscan nuns that racial prejudice was a sin against God, and I remember being very aware of the contrast between what I was being told and what I was seeing, and aware that being white was easier than being black. (I can’t stop myself from adding here that I think those nuns were amazing!)

When I watch the evening news, I am reminded of how privileged I am. Stories of immigrants desperate to find a peaceful place to live, children going hungry, bombed-out buildings—all demonstrate how privileged I am to live the way I do.

Age has brought privilege as well. I am about to receive my second vaccination against COVID-19. I understand that from a public health perspective, it makes sense to vaccinate older people first, but I am uncomfortable that I, a healthy retiree who can stay home to avoid infection, am being vaccinated ahead of grocery store clerks and the many other people who have to work in public places.

I can think of many other examples of the privileges I have received simply because of who I happen to be. I didn’t earn them, and the less privileged are at least as deserving as I am. Paying attention to privilege seems to me a spiritual practice, one not meant to induce guilt but to grow compassion for people who have struggles I’ve never had to face. All it requires is a willingness to be aware.

—Patricia Wallender