10. What if church is like spinach ...?
You know, like something that you hated as a kid but you love as an adult because you eat it in ways that suit you much better. Guess what? A lot of people are having the same sort of experience with church . . . In the UCC, things are often quite different and worth checking out.
UCC churches tend to tailor themselves to fit the people they feel called to serve in their local community. The result: A wide variety of musical traditions, expressions and values that have integrity and purpose. From conservative to liberal, we're not short on variety.
8. No apologies...
You are what you are...and so are we – we like ourselves just fine. Find a church where you will fit in, be nurtured and challenged to grow.
7. No waiting...
You don't have to join to be active in many UCC churches. If you want to get involved, many of our churches will find a place to help fulfill your need to give – whether or not you decide to join.
6. No boxes
God can blow the lid off any box, unfold it and turn it into a dance floor. We tend to be the "out of the box" people. Among our many firsts, we were the first mainline church to take a stand against slavery (1700), the first to ordain an African American person (1785), the first to ordain a woman (1853), the first in foreign missions (1810), and the first to ordain openly gay lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons (1972). We value education for all people. We founded Harvard and Yale, as well as many historically black colleges, six of which remain affiliated with the UCC to this day.
5. One God, One Faith, One Baptism for All
When we baptize you into our community, we promise that we will never take it back – no matter what you discover about yourself or what others discover about you along life's journey. We believe that baptism places each of us into the "body of Christ" and lasts forever. Some are baptized as infants, others as adults. Some are sprinkled. Others are immersed. Some reclaim their baptism from a previous church life. For each of us, however, baptism is big enough, strong enough and cleansing enough to last forever. We believe that everyone – old, young, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, physically or emotionally challenged, rich or poor, sure or unsure, lost or found, Democrat or Republican has a place in the body of Christ. Baptism is like a badge that says, "you're a full member of the church and no one can take that away from you."
4. Good News People
We believe that No. 5 is good news!
3. "Party" Church
God is having a party and we are all invited. At God's party our spiritual hungering is fed and our thirsting is satisfied. At God's party we get strength, stamina and community support that helps us through the tough times that come to everyone. Feeding our spiritual hunger helps reduce those, "I can't believe I'm so stupid" moments – but we'll never eliminate them all. That's why we need friends and companions and not judges (no offense to judges) for the journey.
2. Spiritual Guidance...
It's not about commandments. It's about relationships – even with God. The most important relationship is our relationship with God. Second most important is our relationships with the rest of the human family. In balance, these relationships produce justice amid injustice, kindness in the face of meanness, and the humility of self acceptance that comes as we sense the presence of a God who knows our inmost thoughts and loves us uncontrollably – just as we are. Spiritual journeys can be like the exercise equipment we buy and leave under the bed. Without coaches and workout partners, most of us don't stick with it. We're the "Journeys Wanted" people . . . bring yours.
1. We're waiting for you.
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Open the poster you want to use and click anywhere in the text box in the lower left hand corner. Delete any information already there and replace it with your Church’s name, address, city, state, zip code, phone number and website address. These files can't be saved after you make your changes but they CAN be printed! So, if you take it to your favorite printer, the customizations are simple and easy! But you'll have to add the changes everytime you print a new batch.
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1. Honor thy Mother | Customizeable version
2. Here's to Mom | Customizeable version
3. WOW | Customizeable version
4. We only accept sinners | Customizeable version
5. Shelter for the spiritually homeless | Customizeable version
6. Do you know every word, but none of the meaning? | Customizeable version
7. Do you know every word, but none of the meaning? v2 | Customizeable version
8. Please return. No questions asked. | Customizeable version
9. Jesus wandered alone for 40 days. How long have you? | Customizeable version
10. Religious freedom doesn't have to be an oxymoron | Customizeable version
11. Turn your other cheek, not your back | Customizeable version
12. Red state, blue state or joyous state? | Customizeable version
13. If you think getting up Sunday mornings is hard, try rising from the dead.
14. Our faith is 2,000 years old. Our thinking is not.
Called Out eNews is the electronic newsletter on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns produced by the the Health and Wholeness Advocacy Office of Wider Church Ministries.
To subscribe, click here.
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Called Out eNews 2007-06-19 [PDF]
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The Chicago Temple
June 11, 2006
This message comes via Rev. Dr. Jane Fisler Hoffman, Conference Minister of the Illinois Conference. It was preached on Trinity Sunday by Rev. Philip L. Blackwell, pastor of the downtown Chicago United Methodist Church, also known as the Chicago Temple.
I said to everyone involved with printing the bulletins, “Please put two m’s into the sermon title. I don’t want to talk about God’s ‘coma’ and have to revive the ‘Death of God’ theology of the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s God’s comma.”
And here it is, right here. I am wearing a comma lapel pin that was given to me by my good friend and United Church of Christ minister, Chuck Wildman. The comma is part of the most recent advertising campaign of the UCC. The punch line is, “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma.” That’s a good line. I asked Chuck who said that, which famous theologian. And he replied, “Gracie Allen.” Some of us remember Burns and Allen. Gracie Allen at her theological best, “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma.”
The television ads accompanying this advertising campaign for the United Church of Christ were rejected by the major networks – CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX. “Too controversial,” some said. “Too religious,” others judged. Imagine, something religious being controversial. What the video shows is a traditional church family sitting in a traditional church. A woman nearby struggles with a crying baby, the traditional family glares disapprovingly, and then they push an ejection button and the mother and crying child are jettisoned from the church. And then the family ejects a poor person, a gay couple, and a Middle Eastern-looking man. Finally, the voice over said, “God doesn’t reject people. Neither do we.”
The networks did not want anything that provocative on television. Imagine all that we see each day on the screen, and the message that God does not reject us is too much.
The essential truth of that spot announcement is our point for this morning: God continues to reveal new truths to us. God continues to build new communities for us. God continues to reach out to us so that no one is left out of the family of God. So, let us not dare to put a period where God has put a comma.
This notion of continuing revelation makes some people uncomfortable. After all, isn’t everything that we need to know in the Bible? Isn’t everything already said and done? Some of us remember the old bumper sticker (have you noticed that there are no new bumper stickers these days?), the old one dictated, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
But, if that were true, then the disciples of Jesus would have been misled. They believed that God was doing something new in Jesus Christ. There would have been no new revelation in what Jesus said and did. All that about, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘Turn the other cheek,’” all of that would have had to be thrown out. No new interpretations allowed of the scriptures. No healings of unclean. No challenges to the moneychangers and the legalists. No inclusion of the outsiders. No calling Jesus “Messiah,” “Lord,” “Savior.” All of that would have to be considered an “activist” interpretation of the text, in this case, what we call the Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament. Without perceiving God’s continued revelation in Jesus the Christ, there would be no New Testament.
And there would be no Church. We understand today that the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is what we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of God’s self to the Church so that we may exist throughout history, around the world, with vitality and purpose.
Do we understand what we have just said? We have spoken in Trinitarian terms. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an affirmation of the Church that God continues to reveal to us God’s truth, God’s will, God’s intention for us. God’s communication with us is filled with commas, not periods, not full stops. And beware any of us who try to end God’s story prematurely, saying that we now know all there is to know, and close the book on God.
The Trinity is a complex concept – God, Three in One and One in Three, in traditional language Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in functional language Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. I attended the General Conference several years ago and overheard a conversation in the hallway in which a prominent minister on the fundamentalist side of things was saying to a newspaper reporter, “Now, we believe in three gods. The Jews believe only in one, but we believe in three – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” And I intercepted the reporter after the conversation and pleaded with him not to print that.
We do not believe in three gods. We believe in one God who reveals the divine truth and love to us in a multitude of ways. And the best way that the tradition has been able to characterize it, the dominant metaphor, has been to imagine God as playing three characters in a drama, three “personae.” One is the creator who relates to us through all there is around us, another is the redeemer who relates to us personally so that we all might be made whole through him, “saved” as John the gospel writer puts it, and a third person who relates to us is the sustainer, the one who energizes us, who keeps us going. It is not a logical construction, but it reveals a truth beyond logic. At the heart of God is the divine urge to relate to us. The concept of the Trinity is relational, and it is all about loving us, John 3:16, not condemning us, John 3:17. God is writing human history with commas, not periods.
Today we have a lot going on. Not only do we honor this as Trinity Sunday, but also as Peace with Justice Sunday. And you see the description and envelope in the bulletin that underlines the belief that God’s love needs to be revealed continually in the real world of politics, food, and human rights. This also, by our own declaration, is Reconciling Congregation Sunday. Today we honor a decision this congregation made a decade ago publicly to make clear that we welcome everyone into the religious life here at the Chicago Temple. Every week we place our welcoming statement in our printed material:
We know that some people read that and decide to stay away from this church. We sense that many more read it and come close to see if we really mean it, if we really live by it. Earlier this year, in the face of the divisiveness over homosexuality that rends asunder the United Methodist denomination, our Church Council reaffirmed this welcoming statement. This is who God calls us to be here in the middle of the city. This represents our faithful intention. This is our expression of John 3:16 and 17, of God’s love for the whole world, “God so loved the world,” and of God’s acceptance, “not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through (Jesus Christ).” Our welcoming statement stands in the tradition of acknowledging that God continues to reveal divine truth to us. It represents our comma, not a period.
Let’s put our statement into an historical context. October 1845, two theologians, Jonathan Blanchard and Nathan Rice, debate in Cincinnati. The issue: the Bible’s view of slavery. For four days, eight hours a day, they contended, Blanchard appealing to the whole scope of the Bible, the principles of justice and righteousness, to the declaration of the unity of all as God’s children, Rice quoting over and over chapter and verse justifying slavery.
Today could we imagine such a debate over slavery? Could we imagine people invoking the legal definition of African-Americans as three-fifths of a person? There is no debate. There is no defense of what John Wesley called in his own time the “inexorable villainy” of American slavery. But at one time slavery defined the American church, and the Methodists split north and south like everybody else, and it was not until 1939 that the two regional segments of Methodism were reunited. And it was not until 1968 that full inclusion of African-Americans was completed. Today it is a mark of shame upon us. But then, it was an open debate. God continues to reveal truth to us. God continues to write the story with a comma even when we try to end it with a period.
The role of women in the church, the next big debate after slavery. Do you know who the first woman was who was ordained by a recognized church body in America? Antoinette Brown Blackwell in 1853, by the Congregationalists. She was the sister-in-law of the first female doctor in America, Elizabeth Blackwell. Over the years, I have gone out on a genealogical limb trying to connect our family with that branch of the Blackwells. I have not found the connection yet, but what a great family tree to be part of.
This summer the United Methodists will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first woman ordained in our denomination, only a century after the Congregationalists! But it was a tough fight. For decades people said, “But look what it says here: ‘Woman, keep silent in the Church.’ Paul said it, so it is true forever.” John Wesley was ahead of his time when he invited women to teach classes and read scripture in public. But it took the institution a long time to erase the period where God had only put a comma. Tuesday night Cerna Castro Rand will be ordained an elder in the church. Last year Cheryl Magrini was ordained a deacon. Is there any doubt about their gifts or call to the ministry? None at all, but within the lifetime of some of us their ordination would not have been possible. God’s continued revelation enriches the Church. A comma, not a period.
Friday Sally and I accompanied our two grandchildren, Karl age 4, (that’s Karl with a “K”), and Julia, 2, and their parents, Liz and Dave, to the Field Museum and the Planetarium. Eighty years ago, the exhibits that dazzled us would not have been possible. At the Field Museum, it was the story of the evolution of life on our planet. At the Planetarium it was the telling of the beginning and continued change of our universe. In the 1920’s any scientific evolutionary theory was under attack by the Church. There was the Scopes Trial in Tennessee, Darrow versus Bryan. Clarence Darrow had his office in the Chicago Temple during those years. Today we claim him; he never claimed us.
Darrow lost, and Scopes was fined for teaching non-biblical theories of science. Today, except for the most hard-boiled of literalists, there is little debate over the role of science and the complementary, but distinct, role of faith. The stories of creation in the Bible, and there are many of them, are the faithful witnesses of the communities who told the stories. They are not to be read as astrophysics. But, the Church has been so slow to erase the period it placed after the Book of Genesis that it took the Vatican 350 years to forgive Galileo for being right! “Do not put a period where God has put a comma.”
And so, I suggest, it is with our welcoming statement. What we say about all people, and expressly about gays and lesbians and transgendered people because that is the issue of the day, grows out of our respect for God’s continuing revelation. As James Russell Lowell wrote, “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth.”
Our statement grows out of the impulse to argue from the spirit of the faith rather than the letter of the law, the general rather than the particular. And if some insist that we must argue about the particulars in scripture, chapter and verse, then let us start not with sexual identity issues, about which Jesus says nothing, but with caring for the poor, about which he says a lot. And about hospitality for the outsider, and about tithing and the use of money, and about hypocrisy and lying, and about mean-spiritedness, and about warmongering, and about violence, and about god-forsakenness in our personal lives.
We welcome all because God has accepted us all. We know that because it has been revealed by God the creator, by God the redeemer, and by God the sustainer. We know that because God, in big and small ways, continues to show us what is of most importance and what is irrelevant.
Let us pray that the Church be relevant to God as well as to society. Let us pray that we remain open to God’s lead so that the whole world may know of God’s love, a love that does not condemn but brings new life. God’s story continues, comma after comma after comma. Thanks be to God! Amen.
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God has a great party going on
St. John's United Church of Christ
Oct. 13, 2002
Gracie Allen, who was married to George Burns once said, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." Never place a period where God has placed a comma. The wedding guest wearing the wrong clothes in the scripture today is an example of what happens when we put a period where God has placed a comma. Too bad for him! What is this story about, you might ask! Well, let's take a look.
The story is really an allegory of salvation history. It is a symbolic attempt to describe for us the salvation process. It is a picture of salvation. The wedding feast represents the age to come. It is eternity, heaven, eternal life. The king throwing the party—that's God. The party is for his Son—the Messiah, the one we call Jesus Christ.
There's an interesting passage in Revelation 19:7-9 that sheds some light on this messianic banquet. John writes: "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Remember this for later. Then the angel said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!"'"
Now, that means you and I are blessed. We are blessed because we have been invited to this wedding party. You and I have been invited to the eternal celebration. Matthew says in 22:14, "many are invited." I believe the word "many" really means "all." I believe that Jesus died for everyone. And If Jesus died for everyone, He is going to include us all on the invitation list for the eternal party. That is just logical. Why leave someone off the list whom you bled and died for?
Yep, we are all invited.
Jesus also says, "but few are chosen." This statement—"Many are invited, but few are chosen"—is not a prediction of the proportion of the saved to the damned. Matthew is not trying to frighten Christians with the thought that the statistical odds are against them. He is attempting to encourage us to make a vigorous effort to live the Christian life. He is prodding us not to be complacent in our walk with Christ. He is giving us a heads-up that we need to be careful we don't fool ourselves into thinking we have achieved spiritual perfection. He is encouraging us to keep growing. God says, "You are invited—comma." Look how many of the invited guests in this story don't even show up for God's party. Check out this bunch in verse 3 that was invited and flat refuse to show up—period. Then in verse 5 right in the face of the king some of them decided work was more important then the party—period. They decided that their livelihood was more important then their life. Seems what they were bringing in was more important than what they were giving out. They were more interested in protecting what they had than in using what they had to help someone else enjoy the party.
Our periods don't stop God
It gets worse in verse 6. This gang of thugs abuses the messengers. The prophets and missionaries who bring the invitation are laughed at, shouted down or dismissed because the invitation means the invitee is required to do something different then they had been used to doing—period.
Problem with our periods, though, is they don't stop God. Those periods only stop the ones who put the period where God has a comma. You see, God is not ready to stop moving. He won't use a period until the end of time. He is still moving. When we lay down a period in our spiritual journey we miss what God is doing next.
Anyway, back to the story. God invites some more folks and they respond to the invitation. In this invitation God invites all kinds of people—some good, some bad. This invitation goes out to some scary characters. He invites folks we wouldn't want in our house. Thieves are invited. Homeless folk, poor people living in trailers are invited. Immigrants from Arab countries get an invite along with people living with HIV and AIDS. God wants them all—us—at his party. So this mob of "undesirables" comes to the party. They come because they know God is better then anything else they could have in this life. They want the best, so they accept God's invitation to celebrate Jesus.
That is, except for one man. Now, this is important. In verse 11 the king notices a man not wearing wedding clothes. The poorly dressed man had heard the invitation—like we have heard it. The man had accepted the invitation—like we have accepted it. But, the man did not respond with a changed lifestyle. He put a period where God placed a comma. The required garment for this party is righteousness. Remember the passage from Revelation? "Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)" That means living in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Righteousness is easily explained in one sentence: it is the sentence that is Matthew 28:19—"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
Wow! Have you worn the garment of righteousness recently? Have you noticed it hanging in your closet lately? When do you remember seeing it last? Did you send it to the cleaners and forget to go get it back? Did it get packed away with the winter stuff? Have you gone and made a disciple lately? Have we been obeying everything Jesus has commanded us? Wow! Have we placed a period where God has only placed a comma?
Hearing the invitation to receive Jesus Christ isn't enough. If we stop there we are placing a period where God has placed a comma. Accepting the invitation to receive Jesus as your Savior isn't enough. If we stop there we are placing a period where God has placed a comma. We are called to put on the garment of righteousness, to obey everything Christ has commanded and make disciples of everyone. We are called to walk the walk, to talk the talk, to put our money where our mouth is, lead by example, carry the torch, beat the drum, tell the story, get our hands dirty, think outside the box, carry our cross, follow Jesus Christ.
If we chose to place a period anywhere in our spiritual journey as individuals or as a church we will be like the man who was thrown out of the eternal party. Today is a great day to erase the periods we have been using and replace them with God's commas. Hey, God has a great party going on and he wants us all in the celebration. Come on! Put on the garment of righteousness and join the party. It's not too late! God is still using commas because he hasn't reached the end of the sentence yet. For the rest of our lives, let's get dressed and go party with Jesus.
The General Minister and President and The Stillspeaking Initiative are pleased to convey the following
We, the steering committee members of Confessing Christ, offer this modest essay in the form of a letter to the church. We hope that it may provide further theological dimensions to our denomination's recent efforts to reach out to the world. It attempts to ground the hospitality that the United Church of Christ has been celebrating in our ecumenical heritage and to give it further specificity so that its uniquely Christian nature becomes clear. It could function as a theological resource for "stillspeaking" congregations and other groups in our denomination...
These small pieces are intended to be our gift to the church, a gift intended to invite and stimulate theological reflection informed by our common Christian heritage. They are the fruit of a lengthy and passionate theological conversation among our membership.
Yours in Christ,
Convener of the Steering Committee, Confessing Christ
Statement on Christian Hospitality [pdf]
Send us your stories and ideas for growing your hospitality. Tell us what's happening in your area. Drop us a note at email@example.com
Not 18? You can still make your voice heard!
Just because you're not old enough to vote doesn't mean you can't be involved in the elections. In fact youth voices are needed more than anything in politics. Throughout history, political leaders have looked to young people as a source of inspiration. Elected officials love to talk about what youth "want" or "need." In the elections, let's speak for ourselves.
There are a number of ways to get involved in the elections and make an impact on our country's future. Get together with your youth group and engage your local congregation and community. Here's some ideas from OFOV:
Just because you can't vote doesn't mean others shouldn't. Sometimes people just need to be reminded that it is their privilege and their duty to vote. Jog their memory and sign them up!
- Set up a voter registration table before and after church.
- Register people at church suppers, coffee houses and other events.
- Go out into your community and register voters at the local shopping center, grocery store, fair, baseball game, etc.
- Encourage your school administration to hold a registration drive or include voter registration cards with high school diplomas.
- Plan a coffee house or a concert. Not only will this provide an opportunity for your buddy's band to perform in front of a live audience, it will provide you with a room full of people ready to register to vote.
- In the weeks leading up to the elections, invite your congregation to a series of movie screenings. You can show fun elections related films or serious documentaries on issues you're interested in - However you want to do it! Set up a location, invite your congregation, pop some popcorn and get them signed up to vote!
Get Out the Vote
- If you have a license, volunteer to drive individuals to the polls. You've finally got your license - put it to good use!
- Organize or participate in phone banking or canvassing.
- Volunteer to provide child care or to walk peoples' dogs while they vote.
- Make signs and put them up around town reminding your community to go to the polls. Maybe even put an election day countdown outside your church!
Want more ideas?
Check out our resources for college students!
Youth Ministries or Sunday School
Do you lead the youth in your congregation or teach Sunday School classes? Why not use that as an oppertunity for discussion. Here are some sample questions to get you started.
- Why do you think voting is important? Why do you think some people don't vote?
- Who is running for office and what do you think they stand for?
- How do you believe people should be treated in our society?
- What things do people need to live a good life?
- What are a few local, national, and international problems (that you see on TV or in the newspaper), and what can we do to help solve them?
- What are some examples of public policies from that past that were harmful to people (e.g. slavery, the Holocaust, lack of voting rights for women and minorities)? What does our faith or ethics tell us about these policies?
- What are issues being discussed in the campaigns that have moral or ethical dimensions (e.g. hunger, environmental protection and education)? Explain both sides of the debate.
- What did Jesus say about taking responsibility for our society?
- Can you name some New or Old Testament figures who were part of the political debate of their time? (Moses and the law, the prophets, etc.)
- Have a "Love Your Neighbor: Vote" poster contest in your church or community, or ask youth to create posters or fliers that inform their congregation and community about the upcoming elections.
- Create an "investigating political reporter sheet" and have youth interview family, congregation, or community members with several questions: Have you ever voted? Are you registered to vote? Did you vote in the last election? Do you plan to vote in this election? Is it important we vote? If so, why? What issues concern you? Which presidential candidate do you think best represents your views? Why?
- Become media watchdogs and examine election coverage. Use our Media Monitoring guide.
Justice and Witness Ministries is one of four Covenanted Ministries in the UCC, helps local congregations and all settings of the church respond to God's commandments to do justice, seek peace and effect change for a better world. The work of JWM is guided by the pronouncements and resolutions approved by the UCC at General Synod.
|Who We Are|
Our Mission: To speak and act prophetically through community mobilization, leadership training, issues education, public witness, and public policy advocacy.
Guiding Principles - JWM is:
- Inspired by God's grace and through the prayerful discernment and courageous witness of God's people.
- Grounded in biblical and theological understandings of God's mission and the justice and compassion to which the gospel calls us.
- Rooted in the conviction that all forms of oppression and injustice can be overcome.
- Committed to full inclusion and to creating institutional structures and practices that support the self-determination of those who have been marginalized and silenced.
- Called by God to have a transforming impact on local, national, and global communities.
- Encouraged by the prophetic witness of the United Church of Christ in the past and present, and dedicated to sustaining this witness into the future.
- Convinced that God's vision of "Another World is Possible"