Monthly letter from Pastor Catherine

 
October 2017
 
 
Dear Faith Community,
 

 United Church of Disaster Ministries teams are reaching out to pastors and congregations across the entire peninsula of Florida, as all involved try to assess the damage left behind by Hurricane Irma. 

The job is being made more difficult by chaos created by the ferocious winds, driving rains and surging waters of the hurricane, which made landfall twice on Sunday along the Gulf Coast as a powerful Category 4 storm. Downed power lines, uprooted trees and lingering flood-waters present challenging conditions to the first responders.
Almost six million people across the state remain without power.

“Power might be at a premium for a while,” said the Rev. Alan Coe, UCC Florida Conference disaster coordinator. “200,000 people in Collier County are without power in the Naples, Marco Island area, and there’s a boil-water alert. They will have to rebuild the electrical system. 170,000 people in Lee County are without power – including the cities of Fort Myers, and Bonita Springs. Crews are going out doing assessments, how they can get power on to most people the fastest. It’s a waiting game.”

“All the communities in the path are struggling with power issues,” Coe continued. “There is no gas — but once it is delivered, the stations will need power to pump fuel. After Hurricane Wilma, in 2016, some of the church folks said power was out for eight days, and this is worse than that.” 

Coe, who with his wife left his home in Naples and rode out the storm with friends in Bonita Springs who have a generator, was almost certain their place would be flooded. He was hoping to get by there today, to check it out.

“We dodged a bullet with the storm surge, when the hurricane went back into the gulf — that was a relief for the whole county. When we were getting ready, packing up to come over here, we were moving things up to higher ground. We expected to get flooded.” 

He is also hoping to get by to check on his church, Mayflower Congregational UCC in Naples. 

Then, he said, once some of the obstacles hampering rescue efforts have been handled, and the millions of displaced Floridians begin returning to their homes, the UCC Disaster Ministries team can make some initial assessments and long-term recovery work can begin.

“Our denomination helps those nobody else is going to help. That process takes time to identify,” Coe said. “After Hurricane Katrina, we were able to be there a couple months after the storm. We will help those who don’t have the means to do it themselves. We do what we can with the money that comes in for recovery efforts.”

The United Church of Christ launched an 
appeal for Hurricane Irma just before the storm hit, and has collected $2,000 as of this morning. One hundred percent of all gifts are going to disaster recovery in Florida and in the Caribbean. 

As of Monday, Sept. 11, 
seven people in the U.S. have been killed by the storm, with 37 more fatalities in the Caribbean

Irma has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, but continues to cause flooding in South Carolina. For updates on Irma, bookmark the Disaster Ministries webpage 
http://www.ucc.org/disaster_hurricane_2017_relief for more information as it comes in from UCC churches around the area.

We of Faith Community UCC are already present in the relief efforts through our offerings to Church World Service (disaster kits, school kits) and United Church of Christ special offerings of Neighbors in Need (see further information in this newsletter) and One Great Hour of Sharing. If you would like to give to these relief efforts, please make your checks out to Faith Community UCC and write “Hurricane Relief”, “Church World Service”, “Neighbors in Need”, or “One Great Hour of Sharing” in the memo line.
            And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of      these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40
 
Blessings on the Way,
Pastor Catherine

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September 2017
 
 
 
 
Dear Faith Community,
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me….Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me….I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” – Psalm 139
 
I was waiting to have my nails done the other day when I picked up the August 21, 2017 edition of People magazine to pass the time. You have to understand, I really do enjoy thumbing through this magazine and getting caught-up on the “rich and famous”  – but I can’t exactly explain why.
 
On the front cover was the title “Special Report: Faces of Heroin – In America, Someone Dies Of An Overdose Every 10 Minutes”.
 
I was shocked at the blatant title! More shocked by the statistic!
 
I couldn’t help myself – I had to look at the faces – honor students, executives, grandparents, newlyweds – and my heart sank and my breathing quickened . . .
 
My mind and heart quickly flew to 28-year-old Nick Martino  – our beloved from our congregation – so full of potential – who overdosed on heroin and died on July 12 this summer  . . .
 
There is so much we don’t know . . .  about our bodies, our emotion/mental capabilities,  . . .
the drugs we use from over-the-counter, from the pharmacy, from family medicine chests, from the streets . . .
 
Mental illness and addictions tell many lies. One of them is that we are somehow beneath God’s love. But it just isn’t true. God knows us, and God knows when we suffer. God loves us immensely in those moments, and I truly believe God wants healing for us. 

The job of the church is not to create stigmas that keep people from getting help. It’s to break those stigmas apart and offer God’s hope. If you are suffering, don’t listen to the lies of the disease. Instead, listen to God’s hope. And then, make the phone call for help that you’ve been putting off. Tell your pastor, tell your family, tell your friends. . . 

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and as a child of God, you deserve to feel that way.

Prayer
God, as your people may we break down the stigmas of this world, and proclaim the wonder of each of your children. Amen. 
 
In the love of God through Jesus Christ,
Pastor Catherine
 
 

 

August 2017

 

Dear Faith Community,

I would like to invite you on a journey with me.

The Bible is filled with examples of journeys as the means necessary to transform people from unbelief – to belief – to action. Ranging from Jacob to Moses to Jonah to Paul and even to Jesus, journey is the path they each took to wrestle with their doubts/demons/angels and ultimately to discern God’s Call to action.
Right now, human civilization is on the brink of the greatest crisis that has ever been experienced. I’m talking about the destruction of the life systems of God’s Good Creation – and it is caused by us, simply by the way our modern society has chosen to live.
 
Here’s the difficult truth: the next 10 years are a critical period in which we must change or the survival of billions of people and future generations to simply live is at risk. This Creation Crisis is such a difficult truth to understand and accept that many of us have, like Jonah (and Paul), chosen to head in the opposite direction of what God is calling us to do.
 
So, consider this an invitation for you to participate in a journey to discern how God would have us live.Sustaining Creation – A Faith Journey is a four-week (eight-session) series created by Rev. Terry Gallagher (who supply-preached for me about a year ago) intended to guide Christians on an extended journey to a new understanding of our Call to live sustainably with all of God’s Good Creation.
 
Richly grounded in scripture, this series includes reflections, interviews with Creation Justice faith leaders, taps into the wisdom of noted authors, takes the audience on location to ponder the Climate Crisis and includes discussion time so that together we can seek to discern how God is calling us to respond. Included in the series are participant discussion guides and action steps to living sustainably.
 
In worship each Sunday during the month of September, we will encounter (through video) four of the Sessions.  Anyone interested in further discussion may meet with me at a designated table during Hospitality time (or in my living room on September 10 – Balk’s Open House). For those who would like to dig deeper, you may go to www.sustainingcreation.org to view all eight of the Sessions free of charge.
 
Sustaining Creation – A Faith Journey
~ Part 1 The Situation We Find Ourselves In
            Session 1.A Things Have Really-Really Changed                    Sunday, September 3
            Session 1.B Some Deadly Serious Risks Lie Just Ahead         Sunday, September 10
 
~ Part 2 So Why Aren’t We Responding?
            Session 2.A Old Stories That Are No Longer True          To be viewed on your own
            Session 2.B Those Pesky Human Behaviors                    To be viewed on your own
~ Part 3 And Yet There Are Reasons to Hope
            Session 3.A Hope Arising Out of New Technology                Sunday, September 17
            & International Cooperation
            Session 3.B Hope Arising Out of Ancient Stories                   Sunday, September 24
            Made New Yet Again
~ Part 4 Discerning God’s Call
            Session 4.A Where Do We Go from Here?                       To be viewed on your own
            Session 4.B How Do We Get There?                                 To be viewed on your own
 
From Genesis we read “God saw everything that (God) had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) From Psalms we hear “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) Jesus said “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
 
We know that things have really changed, but what can one or a few people do to really make a difference? Where is God calling us to go? How do we get to where God is calling us to be? Come, see what God can do through us!
 
Blessings on the journey,
Pastor Catherine

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June/July 2017
 
 
 
 
Dear Faith Community,
 
 On June 25, 2017 our beloved United Church of Christ will be 60 years young! Let’s celebrate!
 
Rev. Jack Batten (my Dad) was a delegate to the Uniting General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio on June 25-27, 1957. Rev. Batten will preach for Faith Community on June 18, 2017 (he’s in-charge of the large celebration in St Louis on the actual anniversary, June 25, 2017) relaying the history as well as the vision for the future of United Church of Christ.
 
In preparation, let’s remind ourselves of who we are:
 
Our faith is 2,000 years old. Our thinking is not.
We believe in God’s continuing testament.  This is why we are committed to hearing God’s ancient story anew and afresh in our lives and in the world today.  We try to remain attentive to God’s creative movement in the world. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive, and your head and heart are both welcomed into our places of worship.  We prepare our members and leaders to be engaged in ministry in the present and future church, and we embrace all kinds of communities and new modes of thinking.  Why? Because God is still speaking,

No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
We believe in extravagant welcome.  This is why we insist that God’s communion table is open, not closed, and God’s gift and claim in baptism are irrevocable.  We advocate justice for all.  Our congregations extend hospitality as a sign of God’s inclusive love.  We teach that evangelism — offering bread to those in search of it — is God’s mission.  Our perspective is global, not provincial.  We work with — not against — people of other faiths.  Why? Because God is still speaking,

Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
We believe the church’s mission is to change lives — individually, systemically and globally.  We work to make transformation possible, but trust in God’s grace.  This is why we insist that churches must be places of vitality in worship, learning and advocacy. We are committed to working for justice, and we believe that lives are changed through global experiences and friendships.  Why? Because God is still speaking,
 
Please see http://www.ucc.org for more information on what we believe, our ministries, our statement to faith, etc.
 
May God continue to richly bless us!
 
In the love of Christ,
Pastor Catherine
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May 2017
 
Dear Faith Community,
 

 Here I am trying to think of what I should write about for the May Newsletter and it is only April 4th – not even Easter yet! I was scanning the UCC Website (ucc.org) when I read the following article which resonated with me; I hope it resonates with you and gets your thinking cap on!

 
March 22, 2017
Written by Chris Davies
 
Social psychologist Brené Brown writes about the Rising Strong process as one where we walk into our stories and own them and rumble with them.  Then, we get to choose how they end.  To me, the process seems just right for our churches and where many of us are, now, in the work we are trying to do for the sake of the gospel.

First, what she calls the Reckoning: we walk into the messiness and reality of our stories.  We start making up in our heads what Brown calls the SFD, or, s­—– first draft, a term borrowed from Anne Lamott.  What are the stories we are telling ourselves about our church?  Maybe: If I get the worship service just right, then more people will join, and the young families will be interested.  If we advertise well, then the children will choose church over soccer.  Or we place blame: It was THAT pastor’s fault we’re declining, or THAT member who caused a split.  Or we go internal: the church is a reflection of my ministry, and both are failing.

Next, the Rumble: where we step in and own our story.  We challenge the SFD and notice where we’re blaming, escaping into shame, or stepping out of responsibility.  We take a real and highly compassionate look at ourselves and our reality.  Even our mistakes, we hold with compassion, because we did the best we could with what we know.  We look at our community and context, and the facts of where we are now, with compassion.  Can we upkeep this building any longer?  How much energy do our lay leaders have, really?  What’s the expected impact of this program?  We rumble with the reality, with deep compassion.

Finally, the Revolution, or where we go from here.  How do we take the story that we’ve now looked at with grace and intention in conversation with our communities and write a new ending for our church?  What’s the bold decision we’re willing to make so that the endings of our stories are beginnings of something more?  God knows a new thing is coming— a new way of being, a new way of church, a new way of loving our neighbor as ourselves… one beyond the personal, and into the public, the political, the possibilities before us.  God invites us, over and over, to be transformed in the renewing of the mind, for what is to come.

It’s clear to me that the work Brené Brown does in
Rising Strong is resurrection work.  She helps chart a path that can be a tool for being a resurrection people.  And we know that one who knows the Way, intimately, has gone before us, showing that more love and more life even after death is possible.  Let us live into our resurrection stories!

Sparking Ministry Conversations
  1. What story does your church need to RUMBLE with?  What’s the story you tell yourselves about how it’s happening?
  2. Does the SFD above match the context of American Christianity today? What can you learn when you engage with compassion?  How does your immediate community play into your story?
  3. Where’s the possibility? What’s the ending you want to write for yourself?
So what are you thinking, my Resurrection people?
 
Blessings,
Pastor Catherine
 
 
 
 
April 2017
 
 Dear Faith Community,
 

 I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses . . .

And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own,

and the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

 The beautiful story in the garden (so beautiful that it inspired this much-loved hymn by that name) doesn’t worry about the technical details of “how” Jesus was raised. It focuses instead on how Mary experienced Jesus’ resurrection. Key to this experience is a profound change in the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene –  and all of the disciples of Jesus right down to today. From now on the disciples of Jesus are even more than they were before, children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus…not persons who are under parental care as dependents…but adult believers who belong to the household of God.

What does Easter mean? What is the Resurrection of Jesus about? Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have written an excellent book on the last week of Jesus (titled, appropriately, “The Last Week” – the book we read last year during Holy Happenings) that culminates in the Easter experience and its two-fold significance, both personal and communal. Our joyful proclamation, along with Mary Magdalene, that “Jesus lives” claims that he “is a figure of the present, not simply of the past…The spirit, the presence, his followers knew in him before his death continues to be known….” In John’s theology and in the theology of the church, this holds a call for us, personally and communally. “The Way” Christians follow is the path of transformation, “the path of personal transformation,” Borg and Crossan write. The garden encounter that Mary Magdalene experienced is familiar in different ways for us today, when we experience resurrection and new life, when we encounter the risen Christ in our own lives. But there is the other side, too, for “God has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who killed him,” Borg and Crossan write. Even after he is raised, Jesus “continues to bear the wounds of the empire that executed him,” and yet, “if Jesus is Lord, the lords of this world are not.” And that, Borg and Crossan write, tells us something about God: “Easter means God’s Great Cleanup of the world has begun–but it will not happen without us.”

We may feel very close to Jesus when we imagine ourselves in the garden, “walking and talking” with our risen Lord as the hymn describes. But following Jesus after that encounter, according to Borg and Crossan, means sharing Jesus’ passion for “the kingdom of God, what life would be like on earth if God were king, and the rulers, domination systems, and empires of this world were not. It is the world the prophets dreamed of–a world of distributive justice in which everyone has enough and systems are fair.” This beautiful world, Borg and Crossan write, “is God’s dream…that can only be realized by being grounded ever more deeply in the reality of God, whose heart is justice. Jesus’ passion got him killed. – but God has vindicated Jesus. This is the political meaning of Good Friday and Easter” (The Last Week).

That sounds as if there is more for us to do than merely take good news back to the others: it’s a call for our whole lives. The world should be able to see in our lives our own passion for the truth that Jesus is risen and that God has begun the “Great Clean-up,” the one that won’t happen without us. If we go back to our lives tomorrow as if nothing has changed, what then have we really experienced?

 

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!

 Pastor Catherine
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Crossroads Kids Club at Tioga 

~ Faith Community in Action ~

One-by-one they arrive at the school – laden with curriculum notebooks – ready to show their identification – allowed to enter the fortress – coming with one purpose in mind – to share the love of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Tioga Wolves! (That’s the Tioga Elementary mascot – the Wolves).
Our first afternoon of Crossroads Kids Club was a success! Nine 3rd-5th grade students attended with 13 volunteer mentor/teachers from Faith Community. This dynamic team is composed of the following people: Jan Zator, Virginia Skinkys, Kathy Dewart, Barb Seltzer, Heather Smith, Rexene Carlstrom, Sue and Keith Schmitz, Randy Putman, Leo Figueroa, Kevin DeCherrie, and Jim Hamill.
With the leadership of Pastor Catherine and Matt Armstrong (founder of Crossroads Kids Club) this tremendous team prevailed against the unexpected onslaught of PTA parents competing for space and attention while setting up their Book Fair in our shared space. But with awesome Bible storytelling, science projects, praying, singing, and dancing to the “Nae Nae” video, our Faith Community crusaders prevailed even over the offer by a mom of either soccer or Kids Club!
Energized by compassion, commitment, and craziness – this team will continue telling the story of God’s Love every Wednesday during the school year – until the last Wolves shall lie down with the lambs!
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