Monthly letter from Pastor Catherine

 
 
 
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
 
March 2020
 
 
Dear Faith Community,

Four thousand years ago a momentous meal took place.  Sitting around the table were Moses, his brother Aaron, sister Miriam, and the multitudes of Israelites preparing to leave Egypt.  It was the first Passover meal.

Nearly fourteen hundred years later, Jesus sat at a similar meal with his disciples.  The story of Moses and his leadership in the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was retold.  When Jesus and his friends ate that Passover meal, they were a small band of Israelites living in the midst of the oppressive Roman Empire, and Passover’s story of freedom and resistance to powerful political rulers resonated with poignancy and passion.

Jesus’ Passover meal, of course, became one of the most famous Passover meals in history. It both drew on and recreated the events of the original Passover from Egypt, and it foreshadowed the world-changing events of Jesus’ death. It has been immortalize in innumerable pieces of Western art, most famously Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper, and is remembered and reenacted by Christian communities around the world every time we celebrate Holy Communion (otherwise known as Holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper).

So the Passover meal is one of the interesting places that Judaism and Christianity intersect – intersections that are, at once, rich, complicated, and engaging and sometimes tense.  Jews – even Jews who observe very few other religious rituals – celebrate a Passover seder each year, a meal that commemorates the events of the original exodus from Egypt. Christians celebrate Jesus’ Passover seder when we take Communion and specifically recall Jesus’ Last Supper on Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday. (Please see later in this newsletter the invitation to our Christian Passover Seder Meal to be served on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020, 6:00-8:30 pm).

But, more fundamentally is the radical claim that one meal – one momentous meal, the Passover seder – can in fact change our lives.

Passover is God’s invitation for each of us to become free.

God invited the Israelites four thousand years ago . . . 

God invited Jesus and his disciples 2,000 years ago . . .

and we are invited today . . .

will we accept this invitation to freedom . . .  in God’s love?

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Catherine
 
 
 
 
 
February 2020
 
Dear Faith Community,
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the magi and shepherds have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun:
To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken soul with love,
to feed the hungry children with warmth and good food,

to feel the earth below, the sky above!

To free the pris’ner from all chains,

to make the powerful care,
to rebuild the nations with strength of good will,

to see God’s children ev’rywhere!            Jim Strathbee, 1969, in response to a Christmas poem by Howard Thurman    

“To bring peace among the people” –  is the calling of the disciples of the one we know as the Prince of Peace.
We just sang this hymn on Sunday, January 5, 2020 in our worship.
Threats to that peace are numerous and can be felt in all corners of the globe. Today especially we are mindful of the global unrest ensuing given the latest actions of the United States and Iran. Both governments have taken steps that the other could determine to be an act of war – a war this world does not want, does not need and will not win. It is a war that many fear, once started, could trigger disasters felt in every part of the world.

I invite all who are willing and able to commit to a day of fasting for peace – a personal commitment of spiritual practice and discipline centering on the mindfulness that makes for peace between peoples and nations.

Please also feel free to contact your elected representatives and let them know that you are participating in a time of prayer and fasting for peace and would encourage them to use the power of their office to do what they can to avoid any further escalation which could lead to war.

In the words of a beloved hymn, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

 
Your humble servant in Christ,

Pastor Catherine

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1
 
 
 
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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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