Notes from Our Pastors

First Congregational United Church of Christ, Appleton, Wisconsin

Moving Mountains

August 18th, 2017 by Carolyn Frederick in Uncategorized · No Comments

It was Wednesday evening on our Boundary Waters Canoe trip. We had spent the last two days with moderate levels of activity and then had a layover day to rest, restore, and observe God’s incredible creation. Now the group had to decide how to get home. The conversation swirled with ideas concerning the few possible routes. We finally settled on one of the longer options, which would take us through a different set of lakes, offer us greater challenges, and capitalize on the skills we had learned the past three days. Then a small group of the students agreed that “Well, we will just try this loop and if the weather or our energy doesn’t keep up, we will just make a different choice.” I then pointed out that our options were limited, and said “While it’s good to be flexible, one thing I have learned is that when we make choices, we need to commit to them and this route we are choosing will be difficult and will require our commitment.” The group made the commitment.
The next day, to our surprise (because I forgot to look at the topographical map!) mountains appeared and soon we were carrying 50-pound packs and canoes through the boulder fields of an ancient mountain range. I will say, not lightly, those portages were some of the most difficult that I have ever completed, so I can only guess how daunting they must have been for our new wilderness recruits.
For many, these mountain portages would have not been doable, or at least, been such a major setback that if completed would have elicited complaining and resulted in a negative experience. But our group was committed. As a team we offered care and respect for each other in light of the work the Holy Spirit was doing through our spiritual growth. I saw our team grow and own their choices and moral remained high. Because of all this, we were able to “move” through these mountains.
Ever wonder about your own “mountains”? Ever want God to “move” a mountain from your life? It made me think of Matthew 17:20 where it says, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
On the one hand, the mountain itself never moved but we moved through it. Individually we could have not accomplished this and yet we were all better for the experience. On the other hand, I guess God did “move” that mountain from our lives- because it was no longer a looming impediment but rather just part of our faith community journey together. God moved mountains because of the kindness and compassion that our team experienced as the Holy Spirit taught us how to care for one another.
So, how might God work in your life to move mountains as your faith, your community, and your commitment carry you along uncertain journeys?
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Nick

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I’m Here!

August 11th, 2017 by Kathryn Kuhn in Uncategorized · No Comments

I’m here! It feels good to say it, and to feel (almost) settled in a new office space with new partners in ministry. My first few weeks allowed me to unpack my boxes, spend time with other staff and lay leaders, and make just a few visits. As Pastor for Congregational Care and Mission, I am beginning to glimpse what this will look like. This combination of roles will be new for all of us, but I am energized by the possibilities moving forward.

I’m here! I say this after being away for a few days on a pre-planned family vacation. I’m a firm believer that a new “home” doesn’t really feel like home until you’ve been away from it for the first time, and then come back. As I drove in this morning, I felt grateful, hopeful, and eager to come back. Later today, I lead worship at Peabody Manor, and then I’ll be back for the Corn Roast. How exciting! I look forward to getting to know you as a community of faith. I’m here, and hope you will feel free to reach out to me if I can be of help or support, or just to talk. I look forward to getting to know you.

I’m here! I also say this to myself to remember that I am here. Not there. Yet. It will take me a while to learn this new routine, and how we will work together as a church family. It may take me months just to learn your names! I am praying for people and communities and situations I am only beginning to know. I’ll be learning about the variety of ways we serve our local community and beyond. I’m learning, and maybe the most important lesson I can learn is to be patient, with myself and with all that is new and different. I’m here. Not there. Yet.

Of course, just as I am learning these things about you, you will be learning about me. You will be the ones to discover where my ministry is similar to others you have known, and where it is markedly different. You will be the ones to sense my strengths, my weaknesses, and my “growing edges”. I pray that our years together will be blessed by a sense that we are on this journey moment by moment, learning and growing together in faith, held together by the grace of God. We are “here”, at the beginning of something new! I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us…

Here by God’s grace,
Rev. Kathryn Kuhn

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No One Likes to Hear the Truth

August 6th, 2017 by Steve Savides in Uncategorized · No Comments

The letter came from city hall to our home and contained an ominous warning: if the bushes on our property bordering the back alleyway were not trimmed, we would be in violation of ordinance so-and-so dash whatever and subject to escalating fines.  At the bottom, it contained the note that “This action is in response to a complaint from a neighbor.”

So what was my first thought?  “Gee, I better trim those bushes!”  “I’m glad the city has let me know of my responsibilities.”  Or “Who is the rat-fink neighbor who turned me in?!”

You know what it was.  And, of course, I was ridiculous.  This was nearly 25 years ago, the first home we had owned, and the first time that we were completely responsible for its care, including trimming its bushes.  I remember clipping the bushes in the front so that they looked nice from the kitchen window, but I left the back.  (What –  did I think the bush-trimming fairies were going to do that for me?)

No one likes to get corrected.  No one likes to find out they were wrong.  No one really likes to hear the truth.

That’s what Jeremiah thought as he was looking at the breakdown of covenantal relationship in Israel.  One of the first signs of that breakdown, according to Jeremiah, is that neighbors can’t be honest with each other: “Beware of your neighbors and put no trust in your kind, for all your kind are supplanters, and every neighbor goes around like a slanderer.  They all deceive their neighbors, and no one speaks the truth…” (Jeremiah 9:4).  In fact, Jeremiah asserts, falsehood can become a cottage industry, a profitable venture.  He could have been speaking about talk radio, Breitbart News, Alex Jones, and all manner of fear-mongering peddlers of falsehood when he wrote, “They bend their tongues like bows; they have grown strong in the land for falsehood and not for truth” (9:30).

Too often we ensconce ourselves in an echo chamber of our own thoughts and opinions.  All we want are affirming voices, comforting messages, reassuring lies.  But every now and then the truth arrives, whether in a conversation with a neighbor, the words of a prophet, the work of a real journalist, or a letter from City Hall.  Are you ready to hear the truth?

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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Farewell (For Now), Friends

July 28th, 2017 by Jeannie Douglas in Fellowship · No Comments

Dear members and friends,

How exciting it has been to be your interim minister this last year and a half. Moving forward when one enjoys a church is very hard to do, but life is a journey of experiences, and this was an experience we joined in together. If we face those experiences with expectation, we will see and experience many of the great things God has in store for us and our futures.

Before we look ahead, I would just like to say thank you to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your spiritual journey. Getting to know all of you and to be a part of your lives, even for a short time, has made my life better. As I continue my work as an intentional interim minister, I realize how very big our church family really is and I realize I have had the opportunity to meet so many people I can call family. Now you too are a part of that family, and my wish for you is that you can see how far and wide this family reaches.

During my time at First Congregational United Church of Christ, I have seen so much potential within each of you and within this church. I would like to encourage you to continue to look deep within yourselves to find your own potential, and to find the best within yourselves and those around you. I would also encourage you to continue your journey with the Horizon Team as they continue to bring new and innovative ideas.

As I have learned more about FCUCC, I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of expanding my knowledge and growing in my ministry. I have been blessed to have such caring and competent colleagues in Pastor Steve and Pastor Nick. I have also marveled at how well the church staff work to together and help everything run smoothly

As you look ahead to whatever God has in store for you, I would like to persuade you to pray for each other every day, pray for your staff, pray for your choir leaders and members, and especially pray for Pastor Steve, Pastor Kathryn and Pastor Nick, for it is only with prayer and God’s guidance that you will stay strong and be led in the direction God is calling this church. And as you continue to grow, know that God’s hand is in everything you do.

As I say goodbye, I want you to know that you will be missed. I have enjoyed your friendship and your support. I will continue to pray for you and hold you in my heart. My hope for First Congregational UCC is continued spiritual growth and that you continue to reach out to your community and beyond. I know God will bless you as you reach into your hearts and touch and love all those who you encounter.

May God’s many blessings be upon us all,

Rev. Jeannie Douglas

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Upholding Public Norms for the Common Good

July 28th, 2017 by Steve Savides in Recent events · Spiritual living · No Comments

An editorial from the June 8, 2017 issue of the Christian Century articulated in a helpful way concerns I have been having about our political discourse and its effect on our larger social interactions. If you are offended by any criticism of the president’s behavior, then skip down to the last two paragraphs where the issue is not HIM, it is US.

Institutions thrive on adherence to unwritten rules. They depend on people speaking and acting with fairness, respect for others, accountability, transparency, and honesty in a host of ways that cannot be codified. This makes institutions extremely vulnerable…for they do not automatically defend themselves when norms are under attack…

An ongoing threat to our democratic institutions is the behavior of the current president, who regularly displays his contempt for the moral norms by which democracies flourish. According to these crucial but largely unwritten rules, a president tries to avoid even the appearance of financial impropriety… a president upholds impartial legal processes… A president doesn’t question the legitimacy of judicial rulings… A president chooses language that dignifies rather than degrades the office that he holds. These norms are nowhere precisely specified—we recognize them most clearly when they are violated.

The fact that so many people, including members of Congress, are willing to shrug off [President] Trump’s actions or seek to explain them away suggests that the moral power of these norms was waning well before Trump took office. He is symptom as well as cause of a moral crisis. We seem to be losing a shared sense of what it means to be a responsible citizen, of how to engage in the public square with integrity, and of how to pursue the common good—and of whether any of that even matters.

… Democracy is more than the office of the president or any one occupant of it. Democracy is built from the ground up. Each of us has the power to reaffirm in our own interactions the norms that govern public life and to insist that our public representatives do the same. Beyond that, each of us can also build up the various institutions in which we participate—church, school, university, corporation, and local government—by doing the everyday things that foster trust and respect for one another. We help the institutions we value to flourish by exemplifying these norms and encouraging others to do the same.

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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A Wilderness Adventure

July 13th, 2017 by Nick Hatch in Fellowship · Youth activities · 1 Comment

group photo

How was the Boundary Waters trip?

Well, it was many things.

We had all kinds of weather: some days were 74 and sunny with great swimming, other days it was 47 and raining. We had all kinds of terrain: some of our lakes were glass-smooth others choppy, some portages short and flat, and others pretty brutal. We had a layover day without portages and a really, really long day with very tiring portages. It was also a pilot trip: meaning that we “experimented” with our routes, activities, and as a leader I tried to intentionally mix it up. Our group choose a difficult route home halfway through and that changed the nature of our time together- we traded some formal learning for the physical challenge of the route.

But some things were consistent, like group morale. What a positive, thoughtful and committed group to take into the wilderness. They were supportive, fun and literally never complained. Their commitment was strong enough to take them through some very challenging circumstances.

What was truly amazing was to see God at work: building a team, teaching us how to care for one another, and helping us think deeply about the spiritual significance of God’s incredible creation around us.

So how was the Boundary Waters trip? Fantastic. Brutal. Relaxing. Exhausting. Faith filled. Fun. It was all these opportunities cast against one of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere. It was a privilege to get to know our youth more deeply and lead with Phil. And, since it was a pilot trip, the students journaled and provided some very valuable feedback that will be incorporated for upcoming wilderness experiences. So, I look forward to our next adventure!

Pastor Nick

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Evidence to the Contrary

July 10th, 2017 by Steve Savides in Spiritual living · No Comments

Let’s face it — sometimes it’s hard to see Jesus. It’s hard to see the loving power of justice in this world. Fed on a steady diet of television and pulp movies, of advertising and self-promotion, of bad news at home and abroad, it’s no wonder so many people’s faith lives are starving. They don’t see God. They don’t see Jesus. They don’t see love and justice. Where are they to look to find such things?

“My 3-year-old was on my heels no matter where I went.” So writes a mother. “Whenever I stopped to do something and turned back around, I would trip over him. I patiently suggested fun activities to keep him occupied. But he simply smiled an innocent smile and said, ‘Oh that’s all right, Mommy. I’d rather be in here with you.’ Then he continued to bounce happily along behind me.

“After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, I began to lose patience. When I asked him why he was acting this way, he looked up at me with sweet green eyes and said: ‘Well Mommy, my Sunday School teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps! I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours!’”

That’s right — us. That’s where people look. They look to us for evidence to the contrary, evidence that Jesus still walks the earth even in times of trouble, confusion, chaos and doubt. It’s humbling to think that the faith of so many depends on our faithfulness, our faithfully taking the walk of discipleship.

What is it that the prophet Micah tells us to do? “… do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Such a walk would certainly help others follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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The Heart of the Matter

June 29th, 2017 by Jeannie Douglas in Humor · Spiritual living · No Comments

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough-looking, leather-jacketed motorcyclists decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his French fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it.

How do you think he responded? He calmly rose, picked up the check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.

When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, “Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” She replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.” (Found on the internet.)

How do we forgive? Peter thought he had the answer, but Jesus gave him an answer that seemed impossible to fulfill: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Have you ever been forgiven? I mean truly forgiven. If you’ve been forgiven, the necessary outcome is that you learn to forgive other people — from the heart — not just mumbling it, not just putting on a smile when inside you’d like to tear out their hair, but actually releasing them and the right to expect or demand anything from them; to take on a mindset that keeps you from ever speaking evil of them.

Forgiveness is a very heavy word to speak and act to practice for a lot of people. Even some Christians find it difficult to forgive. But forgiveness can bring you many blessings. Some of Jesus’ last words were “Father, forgive them,” for even he knew the power and blessings of forgiveness.

Some of the boldest and most fearful words we can ever pray are the ones that Jesus taught us to use when He said, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” What would happen this morning if God were to forgive you in the same way you were forgiving to others?

Peter was curious (as we are sometimes) “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” And Jesus’ answer will always be “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Rev Jeannie Douglas

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How Do I Know What God Wants Me to Do?

June 23rd, 2017 by rbentz in Questions of Faith sermon series · Spiritual living · No Comments

Note: Rev. Kathryn Kuhn is the candidate to become our Pastor for Congregational Care and Missions. She is leading worship this morning and was invited to share the Pastor’s Message.

I was told I could choose any text for Sunday’s service, but the question of faith already assigned for the day is irresistible. It’s the kind of question that tricks me into thinking I have a quick and easy answer. Surely I have a tried and true formula I’ve been relying on all these years to help me navigate life’s twists and turns?

This is a crossroads question, the kind that comes up when a decision needs to be made. Will I turn right, or left? Vote this way, or that? Tell my partner/my boss/my pastor what I really think or feel? Or will I keep quiet?

As people of faith, it would be helpful to know which direction, which action most align themselves with what God wants us to do because that would be the obvious path to follow.

I know some people who claim to have heard God’s voice directly guiding their actions. A classmate in seminary claimed God woke him from a deep sleep with the words, “You fool! Get yourself to seminary!” That was his call to ministry. I applied to seminary after deciding law school wasn’t the right fit. I knew I wanted to be with people wherever they were on life’s journey, but I wasn’t sure what that might look like as a vocation. I wasn’t sure about being called a fool, but I sure envied my friend’s clarity of purpose.

A few decades later, I can see how God has guided my life as I consider where I have been. Honestly, though, I’m still learning how to answer this question of faith as I look forward. How do I know what God wants me to do? Absent that clarion call that wakes us from our slumber, we are left with prayer, reflection, discernment in community, and ultimately, faith. And not just faith in God but faith that wherever we are led in life, God is with us and for us. Maybe that is the greater choice we make at the crossroads — letting go of the false notion that we make one choice with God, and the other without.

I am looking forward to meeting you this Sunday, and listening together for all that God wants us to do and to be.

God be with you,
Kathryn Kuhn

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A Spiritual Journey

June 16th, 2017 by Nick Hatch in Spiritual living · Youth activities · No Comments

Many of you may already know that next Sunday, nine adventurous souls from our church will be heading to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) wilderness for a week of canoe camping. The BWCA is a million-acre wilderness an easy day’s drive from our church and comprises a vast network of rivers and lakes that have never been timbered or developed. It’s a land that has been set aside and “forgotten” by the increasingly far-reaching hands of humankind. It is, in my opinion, one of our nation’s gems when it comes to experiencing wilderness and God, and learning of oneself. But what we are about to experience is anything but a week of play.

Our seven-day experience has been carefully crafted as a spiritual learning experience organized around three key principles: to understand ourselves as a faith community, to grow in our leadership abilities, and to grow in our spiritual life by connecting with creation. I wrote a journal to guide us in this process. The journal contains daily divisions of labor and leadership; everyone takes turns in all aspects of camp life including leading and navigating our flotilla of canoes. We will spend time in the morning praying for one another and the day ahead, and in the evenings join together in a Bible study working through the seven days of creation in Genesis. One special treat is our Wednesday afternoon solitude experience, where each person is dropped off on varying rocky points on Long Island Lake for an afternoon alone with God and guided Taize meditations in our journal.

One might ask, Why put in all this effort? Because, in the words of John Calvin, “The whole world is a display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice and power — but the Church is the orchestra.” It is part of the church to educate and facilitate spiritual growth in the context of building an ecological theology for members of all ages. God’s presence in creation is undeniable. Growing and understanding our relationship to creation itself is a necessary, biblical and essential aspect of coming into discipleship of Christ.

Please say a prayer for us, for safe travels and for the Holy Spirit to move among our small traveling group. Even though we will be far away and isolated from the rest of our church, by the grace of God we will be growing our bonds and narrowing our separation as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Nick

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