Notes from Our Pastors

First Congregational United Church of Christ, Appleton, Wisconsin

The Dream That Came True

May 20th, 2018 by Steve Savides in Uncategorized · No Comments

Maxwell Anderson, in his play Valley Forge, shows us George Washington in a time and place where dreams were impossi¬ble. No food to eat, no money to pay the soldiers – cold, sick¬ness, and desertion. He goes to his knees and prays to God in the play. And then Washington, after the prayer, says, “What I fight for now is a dream … something that’s never been on earth since men first worked with their hands … the right of free men to govern themselves in their own way … If you’ve lost faith in this cause of yours, we’ve lost the war … and the men we’ve left on the battlefield died for nothing whatever, for a dream that came too early … and may never come true.”

Washington was a dreamer whose dream would ultimately come true. Those cold and starving sol¬diers didn’t stop until the dream came true.

“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Peter says on Pentecost, quoting the prophet Joel to interpret the miracle of wind and fire they had all just witnessed. I know there are times when you feel like giving up, like our dreams, like GOD’s dreams for US are impossible and will never come true. I feel like that too, sometimes, but maybe that’s the time when you and I most need to take a trip over here, to the church.

There’s really nothing in human history that can explain this place. We believe that this building came as the result of miracles – Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ resurrection, the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit. I guess that makes us dreamers, too.

On the shoulders of the dreamers for God, the prophets like Joel, the courageous apostles like Peter, and the hosts and generations of brave women and men of faith has the church of Jesus Christ been built. The Holy Spirit did not abandon Christ’s people after Pentecost. In fact, the Spirit still comes today to bring us surprises; to bring us dreams. With God’s help, those dreams can come true.

Your friend and fellow dreamer,
Rev. Steve Savides

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In Praise of Women!

May 13th, 2018 by Kathryn Kuhn in Uncategorized · No Comments

First Congo member Sara Companik has been named by Samaritan Counseling Center as their 2018 Connie Steele Woman of Strength! Sara was nominated for her tireless commitment to restorative justice through the Prison Ministry Network as well as the ways she stands up to injustice through ESTHER, the League of Women Voters, this congregation’s ministry, and much more.

Today is a good day to recognize strong, courageous women. Mother’s Day started out as a recognition of many women whose contributions to justice and peace improved the world around them. Some history:

We often forget the radical roots of Mother’s Day. Far from being an intimate celebration of family life, Mother’s Day had its origin in work for justice and peace.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist strategies to unite former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—issued a widely read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mother’s Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother’s Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting the limitation and sentimentality of what it had become.
(by Ann Hanson; see

This backstory for Mother’s Day is helpful as many of us celebrate those we call “Mom” this Sunday, but also as we reflect on the many women who inspire us. Congratulations, Sara, and THANK YOU to the many women in our lives and in this community, whose concern for peace and justice makes our world a better place!

Your friend and fellow minister,
Pastor Kathryn Kuhn

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Throwing Darts

May 6th, 2018 by Steve Savides in Uncategorized · No Comments

Sally relates an experience she had in a seminary class given by her teacher, Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith was known for his elaborate object lessons. One particular day, Sally walked into the seminary and knew they were in for a fun day. On the wall was a big target and on a nearby table were many darts. Dr. Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry. Then they would place the pictures up on the target and throw darts at them. One classmate drew a picture of the person who had stolen a boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of a bratty little brother. Sally drew a picture of a disloyal former friend, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on the face.

The class pinned their drawings up on the target, lined up and began throwing darts. There was much laughter and high spirits as the students threw their darts, some of them throwing with such force that the target was ripping apart. Dr. Smith asked the students to return to their seats. Dr. Smith began removing the target from the wall. Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus.

A complete hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered his face and his eyes were pierced. Dr. Smith said only these words: “Just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Sometimes we think it’s safe to hate, to revile, to despise and demonize. What is the old Alice Roosevelt quote? “If you have nothing good to say, come sit by me.” We revel in our hatred sometimes, directing darts of outrage at our targets with the heady force of self-righteousness.

But turn the picture over. Look more honestly at the effects of your hatred. Who are you really hurting?

Your friend and fellow minister,
Pastor Steve Savides

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A Time for Renewal

April 29th, 2018 by Nick Hatch in Spiritual living · No Comments

We are so blessed to have your presence in worship today! We have over fifty children and youth who are leading us in our service of healing and wholeness. They have worked hard on their roles. Our prayer for you is that this is a time to hear and experience God’s merciful gifts in your life. We pray that through the varied opportunities in this morning’s service, you might make a new connection to renewing forgiveness and healing grace, of God in Jesus Christ, working through the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of being renewed, I will be taking a few weeks of vacation in May and will not be in worship again until May 27. Additionally, I wanted to talk a little bit about my Sabbatical coming up June 4-August 26. At FCUCC, in the seventh year of service, a pastor becomes eligible take a Sabbatical of three months in length. Our Employee Handbook defines the purpose of this time away as “a leave of absence for further training to pursue special research or study, engage in writing and travel, or do other activities, which will prepare the pastor for more effective ministry.” Really, sabbaticals are a time of renewal meant to prepare Pastors for another season of ministry.

My sabbatical has been designed around re-connecting with God in creation and sharing this love with my family. I have a variety of experiences, which will aid me in meditating, learning, and growing my awareness of God’s majesty in nature. The primary purpose of this time is to reconnect and enrich my spiritual life anticipating the output the coming years will require. In order to honor the intention of my sabbatical, I will be disconnecting from FCUCC entirely for these three months. I will not be available or reachable. If you do have a need; we have two gifted and loving pastors to fill this role and an excellent CYF staff to answer questions. If you see me out in public, don’t shy away; just be aware that in order to honor my sabbatical commitments I will not engage in discussions about church life, no matter how exciting they might be.

I praise God for the exciting and enriching years we have spent in ministry together and look forward to the years that are to come. May God deeply bless your summer and provide for your renewal and the spiritual sustenance needed to carry on in the mission of discipleship.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Nick

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Welcome, Mildred Chepkonga and Jeremiah Kibor!

April 22nd, 2018 by Kathryn Kuhn in Fellowship · No Comments

What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people! – St. Teresa of Avila

For many months, the Kenya Partnership Team has been planning and anticipating the arrival of our dear friends, Mildred Chepkonga and Jeremiah Kibor. Finally, they are here!

Mildred and Jeremiah made the long journey from the Kerio Valley, to Nairobi, to Chicago, to Appleton, just in time for last weekend’s winter snowstorm. They arrived Friday night, and spent all day Saturday and Sunday just like the rest of us – in awe of our strange spring weather. Jeremiah, a retired teacher and a leader within the church community in Kerio Valley, had never seen snow. Mildred, a primary school teacher and leader within our partnership, used a snow blower when she visited Wisconsin in 2014, but that was nothing compared to snowshoeing, climbing vast snowbanks, and even helping one of the Van De Hey’s neighbors move their snowbound vehicle. Never in our planning for their visit did we think we could provide such an opportunity for them to experience such historic Wisconsin weather!

This Sunday, we will hear from Mildred and Jeremiah about life in Kenya, the well-being of the students we sponsor, and opportunities for deeper relationship as we prepare to celebrate the 20th year of this partnership in January 2019 when a small group of us travel to Kenya. I hope many of you will attend this week’s 10:30 AM service, where they will share greetings with us, and also join us for lunch in the Fellowship Hall at 11:45 AM. Even if you have not signed up to attend, you are most welcome to join us.

In the brief time I have spent with our Kenyan friends, I have learned so much about their country, the educational system in Kenya, and even some of the tribal history that affects current events. I have heard about their families, and they have asked about mine. We have spoken of faith, hope and determination. We have begun to envision next steps for our partnership. Our friendship is growing, not according to our plan, but according to God’s plan. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to greet our Kenyan friends while they are with us. You will truly be blessed if you do!

Your friend and fellow minister,
Pastor Kathryn

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Notes on Jubilate Deo

April 15th, 2018 by Steve Savides in Music · No Comments

We are so grateful to the choir and orchestra for presenting Dan Forrest’s Jubilate Deo this morning. To better appreciate this wonderful piece, it might be helpful to be guided by Dan Forrest’s own notes:

Jubilate Deo brings to life the global aspect of the traditional Psalm 100 text, “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands,” by setting it in seven different languages and drawing from a wide spectrum of musical influences. Each movement combines some characteristics of its language-group’s musical culture with the composer’s own musical language.

– The opening movement sets the ancient liturgical Latin translation of the Psalm in a rather American musical idiom, reflecting various influences from the composer’s native country and introducing key musical motives for the work.
– The second movement sets the “from age to age” portion of the text in Hebrew and Arabic, evoking ancient cultures from the Middle East. The music intentionally intertwines the two languages in a symbolic gesture of unity between these cultures.
– Movement three uses Mandarin Chinese in a tranquil setting of the shepherd-sheep metaphor from the traditional text and quotes “the Lord is my shepherd” from Psalm 23, while the orchestra evokes the sounds of traditional Asian instruments.
– The fourth movement shifts to Africa, setting celebratory portions of the text in Zulu and drawing from African vocal and drumming traditions.
– Movement five represents Latin America, setting Spanish text to a folk-song style melody and blending traditional folk instrumental sounds with polyphonic textures from the classical choral tradition.
– The sixth movement, “Song of the Earth,” portrays the Earth itself singing—first wordlessly, but eventually finding its own voice—and leads seamlessly into the final movement.
– The finale unites many of the key themes and cultures from previous movements with other material, both old and new, as all the earth sings as one, “omnis terra, jubilate!”

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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Death and Laughter

April 8th, 2018 by Steve Savides in Humor · No Comments

The great English Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1787-1833) is reputed to have said on his death bed, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Holy Humor Sunday is a time when we seek to find the comedy in dying; more precisely, in the triumph over death granted us by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God has power even over death, we can laugh as we live and as we die, confident in the “sure and certain hope” of life everlasting. That’s what we are celebrating this morning in our readings, in our songs, in our stories, in our worship.

I also wanted to include a personal note from one of Edmund Kean’s lesser antecedents: I am appearing in the UW-Fox musical, Spring Awakening, over the next two weeks. This show has an R rating for strong language and frank sexual situations. I play several roles in the show in support of the youthful cast and am proud to be a part of their company.  I appreciate the point of view it offers: if you raise your children in ignorance, they will grow up to act like ignorant children. But if you would be offended by the subject matter or language; or if you would find it disconcerting to see your Pastor playing some rather mean folks, then it would be a good night for you to find a good comedy on Netflix or pick one up at a Red Box.

Might I suggest My Favorite Year in which Peter O’Toole shares the Kean quote above?  Or how about Shakespeare in Love which finds much to laugh about in the midst of a young Will Shakespeare’s tragic struggles? If you want to laugh your way through the Resurrection, Cary Grant can help you in Topper or Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep in Defending Your Life. Or how about two of the best romantic comedies of all-time: Some Like It Hot and Tootsie?

May your hearts be lifted by the Resurrection and may you laugh your way through life and death!

Your friend and fellow minister,

Rev. Steve Savides

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Living and Dying with Christ

April 1st, 2018 by Steve Savides in Easter · No Comments

Hans Kung, a great German theologian of the last generation, reported on a conversation he had with Rudolf Bultmann, a great German theologian of the previous generation. Kung asked the famously skeptical Bultmann whether he felt that Christ lives because we believe in him. In other words, is Christ alive only because we remember him? That would mean that Easter is really the story of the church keeping Christ alive by its memory of him and its preaching of him as Lord and Savior.

“No,” said Bultmann, “Christ does not live because we believe in him; we believe in him because he lives.”

On Easter, we do not keep Christ alive. Christ keeps us alive. He opens up the tombs of our own making and banishes the forces of death in all the forms we embrace them; jealousy and fear – gone! Greed and envy – get out! Cowardice and narcissism – get out right now!

In the 1930’s there was a Christian missionary in Burma who had spent many, many years among the people there telling them of the love of Jesus Christ and good news of the Christian Gospel. The missionary developed a very serious disease and it was known that he would die within the next year or so. His friends urged him to return home, to fly back to Great Britain so that he could say farewell to his friends and family. The missionary refused. He decided to remain in Burma, among the Burmese Christians in the final months of his life. His friends asked him why. He explained, “Unless I die there, they will not believe that I love them.”

For love of you, Jesus died here, among us. By the power of the resurrection, the tomb prepared for Jesus has been emptied, the very power of death broken, and new life brought to the light of God’s new day. Let us walk together into the shining light and new life of Easter!

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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Remembering Reverend King

March 25th, 2018 by Steve Savides in Social justice · No Comments

April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That will be a difficult day for all of us who have worked and prayed for the kind of peace, unity, and justice that King spent his ministry and life pursuing. How far have we come? How far do we have left to go? These questions will haunt us as the anniversary approaches.

It is in honor of King’s life and legacy that I have worked, in partnership with Pastor Alvin Dupree of Family First Ministries and several other local church pastors to organize a community worship service. This service will mark this tragic anniversary and recommit ourselves to the road of justice lying ahead. It’s been an interesting process, working with folks who come from a very different branch of the Christian family tree, to find common faith and common purpose. King’s prayer below has been a source of strength and inspiration along this journey.

We thank you for your church, founded upon your Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray,
but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you.
Help us to realize that humanity was created to shine like the stars and live on through all eternity.
Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace.
Help us to walk together,
pray together,
sing together,
and live together
until that day when all God’s children
– Black, White, Red, Brown and Yellow –
will rejoice in one common band of humanity
in the reign of our Lord and of our God, we pray.
– The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Please plan to join us for “Remembering Reverend King: A Community Worship Encounter” on Sunday, April 8, at 3:00 PM in the Grand Ballroom of the Paper Valley Hotel. Those interested in being a part of the mass choir are invited to come at 1:30 PM for a time to rehearse with our music directors, Phillip Swan and Erica Hamilton. May God bless us with comfort in our grief and strength for the road ahead!

Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides

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A Part of Something Bigger

March 18th, 2018 by Kathryn Kuhn in Fellowship · Lent · Mission trips · Social justice · No Comments

First of all, THANK YOU. I’m learning that when something is asked of you, First Congregational, you don’t mess around! Your response to the request for protein bars and toothpaste for our Back Bay Mission trip was over the top, as was the response to the hygiene items drive for the homeless. Literally, your contributions far exceeded the space we made available.

I’m grateful not only for the contributions, but for the ways the generosity doesn’t stop there. This week, 10 of us from our congregation (and 3 others from Wisconsin) will immerse ourselves in the work of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS. We’ll deliver protein bars and toothpaste, but we’ll also do whatever is needed to be of help and support for Back Bay’s work. That might include carpentry, sorting items in the food pantry, cleaning showers at the day center, or any number of other tasks.

We’ll be taking items and offering service while we’re there, but I’m certain we’ll also bring something back. The most exciting part of a mission trip for me is never what I do or what I offer, but what I learn from the experience, and how my heart is opened just a little bit wider for having made the journey. It’s hard to predict what that will look like. I do know it will involve other peoples’ stories, learning about the history and culture of a place I’ve never visited before, and likely feeling challenged to venture outside of what is familiar and comfortable for me.

The request for protein bars and toothpaste came about because others who went to Back Bay last year realized there was something specific we could bring with us this year that would be useful. (Thank you, Nancy Brown-Koeller, for identifying this need!) And so the cycle will continue. Ideally, what we bring back with us this year from Back Bay (and other opportunities for outreach through our congregation), will keep the cycle of generosity, gratitude, servant leadership and spiritual growth moving forward.

Thank you for being a part of something bigger and greater than you now know.

Your friend and fellow traveler on the journey,
Pastor Kathryn Kuhn

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