Monthly letter from Pastor Catherine

 
 
 
August 2020
 
 
Dear Faith Community,

After 69 funerals, 27 baptisms, 22 receptions of new members, 16 Confirmations of Baptismal vows, 8 summer weeks of Vacation Bible School, approximately 125 Crossroads Kids Club meetings, 9 Christmas Cantatas, 107 newsletters, 109 Council meetings, 9 Christmas services, 9 Holy Week/Easters, 133 Communion celebrations, and 466 Sunday worship services . . . 

My departure as your Pastor and Teacher can be emotional for us all. Even though I firmly believe God is opening space for new ministry opportunities for Faith Community, a breadth of emotions will occur during this time of transition.

And now I commend you to God. . .’  When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.  There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again.  Then they brought him to the ship.                                                         Excerpt from Acts 20:17-38

Nobody likes goodbyes, and we go to many lengths to soften or avoid them.  A colleague leaves or a friend moves, and we say it’s not goodbye because we promise to have lunch, or to write, or to Facebook.  Sometimes we avoid the moment altogether.

When Paul says goodbye to the Ephesians, he gets it right.  He remembers what they did together, he tells them what they mean to him, he commends them to God.  The word “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with ye.”  Saying it is a reminder that even when we’re apart, God is with us both.  It’s an act of faith that if God is with you and with me, then somehow we’re still together, and that in the end we’ll join each other at a reunion in God’s heart.  It’s a promise that even when I can’t be with you, God will be, and that will be sufficient.

On Sunday, August 30, we’ll have to say goodbye to each other.  It’s worth doing well, for it’s all about faith.

 

With my love to you always,

Pastor Catherine

Prayer

Oh God, all these partings are hard.  When I have to say goodbye, help me to cling fast to the faith that you are with us always, and that all of us will one day be reunited again in you.  Amen.

 

 
 
 
 
July 2020
 
Dear Faith Community,

How can we be “witnesses to the ends of the earth” right now? I have found some help from St. Benedict and St. Gregory.

I am still trying to figure out the spirituality of staying home. When a highly communicable virus is spreading among us, the most loving way to treat our neighbor is through physical distance. This doesn’t stop the work of the church. I am so grateful to my colleagues in ministry who have found a way to continue worship services online, offer pastoral counseling over the phone, and mobilize a pastoral care team to check on members and friends. Across the country, pastors are delivering sermons online and hosting digital worship services from their living rooms.

All of that is faithful spirituality. But how do we best fulfill our mission to be Christ’s “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by cloistering ourselves at home?

I have found help with this question by remembering the contributions of St. Benedict and St. Gregory. This is not the first time in human history that we have faced widespread disease that leads us to prayer.

The sixth century was a long, horrible time in Rome. The city had long fallen to a succession of invading armies. The economy was in shambles. And the Plague of Justinian was ravaging the city. People were frightened for so many reasons. But it was also the century that gave us St. Benedict, who wrote the rule that still guides many monastic houses to this day. This rule included a daily rhythm of prayer, work, and the singing of the psalter—including the psalms of lament. Down through the centuries, and the succession of plagues to follow, the people took comfort in knowing that the monks were voicing their laments and petitions to God.

The sixth century also gave us St. Gregory, who reluctantly left one of those monastic houses to become the pope. Not only did Gregory take over the ecclesiastical leadership of the church, but he also sold church property in order to feed the people of Rome. He called himself “a contemplative condemned to action.” But his “action” entailed a careful balance of caring for the poor and developing a theology of prayer for the monasteries. In other words, Gregory saw cloistered prayer as an active way of caring for the world.

The monks weren’t trying to escape the problems of the world. They brought society’s pathos with them into the monasteries to devote themselves to a life of prayer for the world’s salvation. Gregory wrote that our prayers begin with humility over the “agitation of the world” we cannot resolve. Staying in prayer, he claimed, leads us into contemplation, which then leads to visions of the goodness of God. This vision of the Savior with us leaves us with humility in gratitude. So the journey of prayer is from humility in agitation to humility in gratitude.

These days the agitation of the world is ever present before us. People are being hurt physically, emotionally, and economically by this virus and social unrest. We’re separated from each other, and our virtual communications and classrooms are only virtually satisfying. Even our leaders have more questions than answers, and it is not clear how long this will last. This has come upon us so fast that every week we become nostalgic for the previous one. Yes, we have been humbled by this virus and social unrest. Gregory would say that is a call to prayer for the world.

To be clear, his point is not that we might as well pray if we have nothing else to do while stuck at home. His ministry is a testimony that our prayers in humility are also a means of activism. We join 1,500 years of cloistered monks who brought the world’s laments before God in search of a vision of salvation. It’s hard to think of anything more effective than placing a sick world back in the arms of its creator and healer.

Through prayer, we demonstrate our resolve not to flee the dangerous virus and hide at home, but to turn those homes into monastic cells that actively call for God’s salvation to find its way to the ends of the earth. These are prayers not just for our family, our community, and our neighbors, our country, but for the world. The whole world needs our prayers for holy intervention today.

If we stay in prayer long enough, Gregory promises, we will find the vision we need that today is not the end of the story because a savior is still at work. The God who was so clearly faithful in our past is going to be faithful today, tomorrow, and through eternity. And then we are led to humility in gratitude that God is with us.

But remember, the monks engaged in this journey through prayer as a daily routine. Don’t be dismayed if after getting a glimpse of hope you find yourself again humbled in agitation. That’s a daily invitation to prayer. Along the way you will keep seeing ways God is at work today, which leads back again to humility in gratitude.

I am grateful for glimpses of God’s salvation through the heroism of health-care workers who tirelessly put themselves in harm’s way by caring for the sick. I’m grateful for the leaders around the world who have made hard choices to put human lives above tax revenues and public convenience. I’m so grateful to our Council and other members and friends of Faith Community who are doing whatever it takes to ensure we are still a high-functioning, loving community of compassion and care.

And when anxiety and agitation come knocking the next day, we have no way to find the perfect love that casts out fear apart from prayer. It’s humbling

In the love of Christ,

Pastor Catherine

(With appreciation for M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and author of The Pastor as Minor Poet.)
 
 
 
 
 
June 2020
 
 
Dear Faith Community,

Under the state’s shutdown order, why is it OK to go to the grocery store or Walmart, but it’s not OK to go to church? Both are big buildings that have a lot of people in them. What’s the science behind this?

From an article in the Chicago Trib – “We’ll give it a shot: While we don’t have all the answers, we are holding off on church services for now because:

1) Lessons learned from the Mount Vernon, Washington, choir outbreak earlier this year where 53 choir members became sick and two died. One symptomatic person attended a rehearsal and likely sickened the rest. A published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the outbreak determined that the act of singing – vocal chords that push droplets into the air – caused the COVID-19 virus to spread more than it would in other spaces, such as a grocery store, unless there’s an outbreak of singing at your local Jewel – which is unlikely.

2) Religious services also involve handshaking, breaking of bread, passing of trays, Sunday school and preaching, all within the confines of the church – not all buildings are spacious – for an hour or longer. Even under social distancing rules and facial coverings, the closeness and traditions of a religious service can make it riskier than a trip to the store.”

That’s the situation today – but it doesn’t mean churches should remain closed in two weeks or two months.

Our Church Council will be meeting on Tuesday, June 9, at 7:00 pm via Zoom to discuss this very topic. We have guidelines from the State of Illinois and from the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ – but the ultimate decision to open Faith Community for in-person worship rests with our Church Council acting as the congregation between our congregational meetings.

When we do re-open, you can be assured that all precautions to safeguard health and well-being will be implemented . . .  I certainly have been thinking of this for the past couple months!

It is understandable that in this pandemic we feel particularly frustrated and vulnerable, separated from the very moorings that keep us steady and hopeful. But these limitations won’t last forever . . . and we offer worship via Facebook and YouTube in the meantime, and I’m only a phone call away.

Courage and faith,

Pastor Catherine
 

 

 
 
 
May 2020
 
 
Dear Faith Community,

I’m writing from home; we are still under the “shelter-in-place” dictum in response to the COVID-19 virus. Many have expressed feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, lack of control, . . .

Church looks different. Family looks different. Home looks different. School looks different. We can no longer take daily life for granted, even as we can’t take toilet paper for granted, even as we can’t take having proper protection in the ICU for granted.

Many in our capitalist system and our individualistic society have rendered faith as unimportant and acts of selfless love as obsolete. Now we are asked to sacrifice for one another. We need Easter more than ever, and we are stuck in Lent.

We’ve mistreated valuable people and made them invisible. Home health care and hospice workers are easily dismissed in America, while stock traders are valued. Our prized possessions arrive in a box on our doorstep from halfway around the world, and only now that they might be carrying a virus do we care about the low-wage worker in Asia who sewed our new dress or the Amazon worker who raced to get back from her three-minute bathroom break to tape the box together on time.

A gift of this pandemic is that we can no longer make each other invisible.

Before we all faced social isolation, I visited a member for the last time, and she grasped my hand as we prayed. In our clasped hands I felt the buzz of the Holy Spirit, the power of human connection that cannot be quantified. She shared the wisdom of her many decades with me, and I shared the hope of the church and the gospel with her. Together we bore witness to the inherent value of relationship and love. I don’t know when I’ll be able to hold a non family member’s hand again.

Our faith communities have long been a primary place where we could learn these lessons—about the value of sacrifice and taking care of one another, about doing things that hurt us financially to save us emotionally and spiritually. Already pastors I know are taking pay cuts, right when the world desperately needs its spiritual leaders to guide it from death into life and from grief into hope. Churches, like schools and other institutions, were already struggling financially.

Now we’re all walled in, distant from one another—and all we want is to be together, to touch one another without fear. It took a long time for capitalism and individualism to distort the gospel of Jesus in America. Like a virus, our isolation and disaffection spread slowly at first, then faster.

We won’t reclaim the gospel in days or even weeks, even though people of faith are reminding us right now, in virtual worship and Zoom meetings, that love is worth much more than whatever wealth we could ever amass. We’ve long been used to drawing comfort from our isolation and our self-reliance.

We’ve bought into the American idea that we can keep ourselves safe. That self-preservation is the greatest ideal and that all of our problems exist outside ourselves—in Guatemala, in Mexico, in the “inner city,” in China, in Italy. We are untouched by the other—until we are not, until our common humanity rushes in and brushes up against us. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne from the 1570’s. “Any man’s death diminishes me.”

How did we all get here—isolated, wondering why our neighbors are so far away, wondering why we are all so scared and so far from God? And how, in a time of pandemic, can we get back?

For one thing, we can look around and notice that the people holding us together are those we have too often erased: the health-care workers, the overnight grocery store stockers, the child-care workers and teachers, the factory workers who make toilet paper and protective masks, the oldest and wisest among us.

My friends and I tell each other that we are walking around on the verge of tears so often these days. We’re crying out of fear and uncertainty and anxiety and lack of sleep—but also because of all the people we see who are refusing to give in to hopelessness, despair, and isolation. They remind us of what it is to be God’s children.

God works mysteriously. In these days of social isolation, my faith is renewed by love. Making of masks for the Bensenville/Wood Dale Food Pantry volunteers –  who continue to work offering sustenance to the food insecure. By our video team working until all hours of the night so that Easter morning worship would be offered on Facebook and YouTube. By our office administrator, who called to tell me that someone had mailed in an offering, a harbinger of faithfulness and hope that the church would continue to renew life in the midst of death. By our Sunday School volunteer putting together weekly packets of Sunday School material—just as we put our community back together, one phone call, one Facebook worship service, one prayer at a time.

Faith and courage my Dear Faith Community,

Pastor Catherine
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
April 2020
 
Dear Faith Community,

After the first Easter morning, nothing for the followers of Jesus was ever the same again. 

Up until that point, Jesus might have said and done some perplexing things but nothing that couldn’t be understood in his role as a teacher and miracle-working prophet. Others had come preaching peace and love. Others had come working miracles. Others had travelled as itinerant preachers. Others had died at the cruel hands of the Romans. But on Easter morning all of that changed.

Now Jesus was present with his followers in a new and radical way. Each time he was present in those early days, his followers didn’t always recognize him at first. He was the same Jesus and yet he was somehow different, and he promised to be present with them from then on in a different way than walking alongside them on the dusty roads of Palestine.

Jesus’ great prayer, in the gospel of John, prepares disciples for a new and radical presence, which will transform their relationships with each other so much that they become like the relationship between Jesus and God; united in oneness.

This is the community to which we are called by God in this Easter season, a community of oneness in our faith in Christ in which love is our highest aspiration. A community where for the sake of our life together we are willing to see things as they really are not as we might like them to be, or might fervently wish they were, or as we think they should be, but actually as they are.  In the loving care of community we can have the courage to look, clear-eyed at ourselves, knowing that we are loved by God – as we are, not as we wish we could project ourselves to be.  We can speak and act truthfully when we see injustice and unfairness in our families, our communities, and beyond.

“That they may all be one” – is our United Church of Christ motto – and the hope and prayer of our Savior.

Blessings on The Way of Jesus Christ,

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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