First Notes September 2017

The summer is not yet over—it is still the middle of August as I write this—but it won’t be long before the start of the program year is upon us.  Yet, from this vantage point it sure has been a busy summer.  Salem has sent two groups of people—a group of youth and an intergenerational group—on mission trips to Minneapolis and Back Bay Mission, respectively.  Both trips (aside from some travel difficulties for the second group on the return trip) were successful by any way of measurement.  The work of the Five Practices group continued on through the summer and it has had an impact on the continuing work of the Church and Ministry Committee, the Mission and Stewardship Committee, and the Worship Committee, to name just a few.  We had a very successful Membership Gathering in July and one is being planned for early November.  Our regular summer events—such as the Church Picnic, VBS, and the hosting of the band concert concessions—also went well.

On a personal note, my sabbatical time in June was productive, as well.  I put down the foundation work for the Jonah musical and I have hopes that October’s sabbatical time will help me bring that project to completion.

Summer was not a time to mark time; it was a time to move forward.  All of this activity has been part of an effort to move the church’s resources toward mission—the sharing of the Good News with the world around us—and away from maintenance.  Some maintenance in the church’s ministry is necessary, but our maintenance work should not prevent us from being a people dedicated to mission, and that is what I believe Jesus calls the church to do.

It is my hope that we will come to the start of a new program year ready to face new challenges.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

P.S.  In response to some of the questions that I’ve had about a Monday morning book study, we will resume this in November.  I had thought about starting in September, but that would only give us three weeks before I’d have to take a month-long break for my sabbatical time.

First Notes – June 2017

As I sit down to write this page it is the Monday following the youth-led worship service of May 21st.  What a wonderful experience the day was!  The service, which was prepared and organized by Marsha Meyer, was conducted by our young people and the music was provided by the House Band and our church school children.  We are so fortunate that we have young people in our congregation who are so eager to be a part of leading worship, and what a great send-off for the church school programming year.

Now, to look ahead.

As some of you may know already, I will be taking sabbatical leave during 2017.  If the idea of a “sabbatical leave” sounds strange to some of you, it is a scheduled time of study leave set aside for pastors to study, to learn, and to recharge.  Sabbatical leaves are a fairly common thing in churches, and I’ve taken three of them since we instituted the policy back in 1996—a month in 1999, a month in 2006, and two months in 2011 (the leave was expanded when Rev. Boda-Mercer was called in 2006).  Leaves can be taken once every five years, but as you can tell, I’ve waited longer between leaves in some cases.  Per Consistory approval, I will take the first of my two months of leave from June 5th – July 4th; the second will take place during the month of October.

Every sabbatical leave I’ve taken has had a purpose and a goal—this isn’t time to loaf in a hammock or work on my yard.  In 1999, I studied small group ministries; in 2006, I read through a list of a half-dozen or so books that I had wanted to get to but hadn’t gotten around to reading; in 2011, I wrote music for use in worship.  This time around I want to work on another musical project:  a musical based on the book of Jonah.  It’s an ambitious project and I may be in way over my head on this one, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.  In my absence, Dale Miller will cover pastoral emergencies, and between Dale and the Five Practices working group worship services will be handled, as well.

While some pastors may do extensive travel or pursue study opportunities that will take them out of the area, I have no plans to do any of that.  My travels will not take me past the Wisconsin state border.  I’m comfortable with that, though, because Salem members have been very good in the past about using common sense about what to do with me during my previous sabbaticals and respected certain expectations.  Odds are that you might see me around town during my leave.  You don’t have to pretend that you don’t see me or be afraid to say “hello”.  We just won’t be talking about VBS or how the worship service went on Sunday.

I do ask, though, that you keep me in your prayers during this time as I will keep you in mine.

And yes, last but not least, the church picnic will be held on June 25th.  There will be more details about that event in this letter.  I won’t be there to share in the fun, but I’ll be thinking about you.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – May 2017

This writing finds me on the Thursday after Easter.  Holy Week and the Easter services are just in the rear-view mirror.  All told, it wasn’t a bad week and there was a little uptick in worship attendance from the previous year, especially on Easter Sunday.  I know that several of our members brought in visiting relatives to worship; others—perhaps more nominally connected to the church—came to worship for reasons of their own.  In any event, I was glad to see the people who were here.

The appearance of new faces and the reappearance of some lesser-known faces reminded me of a blogpost that someone on social media had shared with me during Holy Week.  “fatherjeremy”, an Episcopalian priest in Oregon, stated that there were things that congregations could do to prepare themselves for the visitors who come to the church’s doorstep on Easter.  Some of his suggestions were common sense applications of hospitality; say “hello” to someone you don’t know; if someone is sitting in the place where you normally sit (i.e. “your” pew), cheerfully sit somewhere else; be helpful (especially if the visitor appears lost or confused about what to do next); just be yourself (unless, of course, “being yourself” means being rude and surly; then you may want to rethink that).

However, the biggest takeaway I had from the blogpost was this:  do not think you’re being cute by saying to people that you don’t recognize, “You know we are here every Sunday,” or “You know we are open more than Christmas and Easter” (the same thing, by the way, goes for doing this to people whose attendance in church may be infrequent).  That sort of thing is deadly, regardless if it’s clergy or laity making the comments.  The attempt to shame folks in this way isn’t cute, clever or funny.  The attempt to needle isn’t going to be well taken.  It’s just rude.  So, please, don’t go there.

While it might be a little late to apply this to Easter, 2017, Christmas is coming up in eight months, or so.  Given that we are trying to find ways of practicing radical hospitality at Salem, it’s a good lesson to file away.  It all fits into one of the core principles of hospitality:  “Be kind to one another.”

I don’t know what brings people to church at Christmas and Easter; it might be an invitation from a family member or it might be a sense of spiritual awakening or a desire to connect to community.  In any event, I’m just glad people come.  Perhaps if they are treated well and find the worship experience a welcoming one, they might be inclined to come back.  One can always hope, right?

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – April 2017

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Despite the fact that earlier written accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, found in Mark’s gospel, says that Jesus warned the disciples at least three times that he was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem, the disciples were truly blindsided and devastated by the events of Holy Week. I’m sure that right up until the time of Jesus’ arrest they were certain that Jesus would display a triumph of force over his enemies. When that response didn’t come, the feeling of failure must have been overwhelming.

It was only then—out of the ruins of that devastation—that God could rescue them from failure and point them towards a new reality and a new way of life based on the news of the Risen Christ. It was only through death that resurrection was possible.

I know that I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating again: I’m pretty sure that Easter is not primarily a child’s holiday—at least not from the religious side of things. Sure, baskets full of colored eggs and chocolate rabbits may hold some attraction for children, but Jesus and resurrection? It takes a few life experiences to gain a full appreciation for all that Easter can mean. It takes a few losses and a number of failures to help understand these things. I remember being fairly zeroed-in on the whole business of Easter as a child, but there was a lot I still had to piece together as I look back on it (and I’m still piecing things together!).

And to that end, I invite you to jump into the story to re-tell and re-live the story once again, this year. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday. From Good Friday and Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday. I invite you to catch the story in all of its fullness and to see where you find yourself in that drama. I invite you to share in the joy of Easter Sunday. A list of times for the worship services and special events of Holy Week are listed further on in the body of the Chapel Chimes.

May these days ahead truly be a time of blessing for you and those whom you love.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – March 2017

The purpose of this month’s front page is three-fold:  the first is a reminder of the midweek events that will be held during the upcoming Lenten season; the second is to extend the invitation to discuss an upcoming Wisconsin Conference resolution that will be voted upon at the 2017 annual meeting; the third is to sign post an update on the “Five Practices” initiative that Salem will be participating in.

As most of you are already aware, the Lenten journey begins on Wednesday, March 1st—Ash Wednesday.  Our worship, with Communion and the imposition of ashes, will be held at 7:00 p.m.  Over the next five Wednesdays, we will be gathering for worship at 7:00 p.m., as has been the custom at Salem.  The theme of this year’s midweek services will be “The Final Week,” which will look at the important days in the last week of Jesus’ life.  The schedule of topics for each of the five sessions is, as follows:  March 8th — Sunday:  A Day of Triumph; March 15th (Sticky Faith) — Monday:  A Day of Bold Action; March 22nd — Tuesday:  A Day of Confrontation; March 29th — Thursday:  A Day of Remembrance; April 5th — Friday:  A Day of Suffering.  In addition to the worship services, we will hold our Soup and Sandwich meals on those days beginning at 5:30 p.m. and there will be opportunities for study between supper and worship.  I hope that a good number of you will be able to participate in these events over the next several weeks.

Following up with the reminder of the upcoming Lenten activities, I want to extend the invitation to participate in a special study scheduled for March 29th.  Back in 2016, a resolution was passed at the Wisconsin Conference Annual Meeting that invited local churches to study a resolution to make the Wisconsin Conference an Immigrant Welcoming Conference.  After a year of study, a vote will be taken at the 2017 Conference Annual Meeting to ratify that status (again, a reminder:  resolutions passed at the Association, Conference, or General Synod level are not binding at the local church level).  Our study on March 29th will look at how scripture speaks to the issue of immigration and the ways that Christian communities may respond to it.  It is my hope that our time together will help us to approach this issue through the insights our faith can give us.

Finally, I want to sign post Marsha Meyer’s article about the “Five Practices” initiative that Salem is currently undertaking. According to United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase, thriving congregations embody five practices:  radical hospitality, passionate worship, extravagant generosity, risk-taking mission and stewardship, and intentional faith development.  It is our hope that Salem will learn how to better carry out those practices and discover what it is that God is calling us to become as a congregation.  What we are looking for isn’t one person or group’s agenda on what the church should become, but what God wants us to become.  It is an exciting time for our congregation and I strongly encourage you to read Marsha’s update and the other updates that will come in the months ahead.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – February 2017

Given that Easter falls on April 16th this year, we will have a relatively late start to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.  In fact, this is one of those rare years where Lent does not overlap into the month of February.

Over the years, those of us in this part of the Christian tradition have changed our way of looking at these Sundays that fall after Epiphany.  Back when I first started out in ministry, we treated this time as almost a separate season to itself, complete with its own themes.  We used the same liturgical color – white – that we used for Epiphany itself.  Now, we reckon these days as part of “ordinary time,” a non-specified time of the church year with Sundays that can be numbered, and we use the same color that we used for all of those Sundays after Pentecost.

Still, this time of varying length between the Epiphany and the last Sunday before Lent seems to have a quality of its own.  We begin on the heels of the story of the visit of the Wise Men, which is a story of light and revelation.  Then, in rapid succession, we read the stories of Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee, which itself is a narrative of light and revealing.  Finally, on the Sunday before Lent we have that wondrously odd story of the Transfiguration:  Jesus is revealed in a flash of brilliant white light, foreshadowing his resurrected glory.  He appears with Moses and Elijah.  Then, the vision ends, and it is time to come down from the mountain and begin that final journey to Jerusalem.  We begin with glory and revelation and we end with glory and revelation.

It is my wish that the stories of light and revelation that we touch on during these weeks of the church year may be a welcome time of hope in what is often a dark season of the year.  The light that came to us at Christmas, and has been gradually revealed to the world during these last weeks of the church year, cannot be overcome by the darkness around us.  This should be good and welcome news.

May your journeys in this season be filled with light and hope.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – January 2017

As we welcome 2017 into the ranks of history, I come to you with an assortment of odds and ends  this month instead of some great overriding theme.

First, due to an oversight on my part, I neglected to share with you my appreciation in the previous month’s newsletter for both the recognition of my 30th anniversary milestones (years of service at Salem and ordination) back on October 30th.  Although I had the chance to write a note to the Consistory and to express my appreciation from the pulpit, I didn’t have the chance to do so in the Chapel Chimes.  Not only did I want to thank you for the recognition of those milestones, but I want to share my appreciation for the gift of the liturgical stoles that were a part of the celebration (at this writing I’ve already had a chance to use the green and purple stoles—white will get worn on Christmas).  My family and I were most grateful for the celebration and the opportunity to reflect on the years that we have shared together as pastor and congregation.

Second, Sunday, January 8th, which is observed on the liturgical calendar as “The Baptism of Christ” will give us the opportunity for each of us to remember and celebrate our own baptisms.  Baptism is one of those occasions which is done only once but can be remembered and affirmed a number of times in a lifetime.  We will have the chance to not only remember our baptism but also to reflect on the promises that were made on our behalf and claimed by us later in life.

Third, Salem will be hosting a Community Service of Healing on Tuesday, January 24th at 7:00 p.m.  The service, which will include participation from other area clergy, will feature worship, a moment of teaching, and opportunities to seek out healing prayer and the laying on of hands, if that is desired.  We had services like this some time back, and a number of our local clergy felt it was time to bring back the practice.

Last, I want to acknowledge the group of individuals who helped to repair the siding on the east side of Fellowship Hall.  Spearheaded by Jeff Bender of the Consistory’s Property Committee, Jeff Greuel, Dick Groene, Andy Hartmann and Dale Miller became the work group that tackled the siding job–many thanks to all of you for a job well done.

That ends the laundry list.

May God bless all of you and all those who you love in the new year ahead.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – December 2016

As a number of you may have figured out by this time, I haven’t exactly been bashful in hiding my concern and lament over what’s happened in the popular culture during our 2016 national election. We’ve had other contentious elections and have experienced other turbulent years in our nation’s history.  I’m old enough to remember 1968 with some clarity.  This year seemed different, though. With the internet, social media, and wide variety of blogs and websites available to the general public it has all gotten more intense, personal, and frankly, nasty.  Perhaps this conflict has largely come about due to competing ideas of what the future of the nation should look like.  When visions clash, it can ignite the sparks.  In the meantime, the rest of us just look on in open-mouthed amazement as the flames grow higher around us.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Advent is just around the corner as we try to sort all of these things out.  I know that much of the church misunderstands what Advent is all about; it isn’t a time to prepare for the upcoming Christmas season, but rather it’s a season to prepare for that coming day when that new thing that God is creating will come to pass.  It will be that time when the thing we pray for every week–“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”–will be a reality.  It will be that time when the Kingdom or Reign of God will be realized in full.

In the current time, we struggle with the gap between what is and what God promises.  The words of the Advent hymn I learned as a third-grade child puzzled me: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”  Now, I understand it better.

That time of “not yet” seems like a time of exile, a time of being away from the thing that we’re supposed to be.  God has better things in mind and we are not there, yet.  Human governance, even in a republic crafted as well as this nation was put together, will always fall short of our ideals.  The ultimate trust and allegiance in this life can’t be given over to princes and mortals who cannot save (Psalm 146); it can only be given over to God.

During Advent, we pray, we discern, and we join God’s redeeming and reconciling work in this world as we look for the completion of God’s Reign in our midst.

May God’s blessing be upon you and those you love in this season of Advent.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – November 2016

I have an assortment of odds and ends for you this month.

First, in last month’s Chapel Chimes I wrote a bit about the notion of “covenant.”  Covenant is an arrangement that involves a series of promises that we make to one or more parties involved in some kind of an agreement.  If covenant relationships are to work properly we need to become accountable to the other parties in that relationship and vice versa.  Here is the point I want to pursue:  if belonging to a church is one of those covenant relationships how are we accountable to one another?  I believe the answer to that question is that we should pursue both excellences in our own personal expressions of faith and to let the spirit of love be at work in our relationships with one another.  We should offer the best of ourselves in all that we do and to show a spirit of patience with one another.  As Colossians 3:13 puts it, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Our own journeys of faith should be marked by love, humility, and contrition when necessary.  If we can do that sort of thing we can become accountable to one another as members of this household of faith.

Second, like a good number of you, I am looking forward to seeing this national election season draw to a close.  The level of nastiness expressed by supporters of the political candidates seems unprecedented to me.  In some cases, people have stopped speaking to one another and friendships have ended on account of these differences.  I would remind each of us that, no matter who you have supported, we will need to find a way to mend the tears in the nation fabric and become one nation again.  It’s my hope that Christian people can model out a spirit of reconciliation and that what happens on November 9th and all of the days after matters as much—if not more—than what happens on November 8th.  We should always remember not only who we are but whose we are.

Third, it is Salem’s turn to host the Community Service of Thanksgiving, which will be held on Wednesday, November 23rd at 7:00 p.m.  Combined choirs from First Congregational and Salem will provide special music and pumpkin pie and coffee will be served following worship.  I hope that all of you will be able to take advantage of the special opportunity to give thanks to God for all of the blessings in our lives.

Last, a reminder:  Advent begins as early as it can in 2016, and the First Sunday of Advent will be Sunday, November 27th.  The days will get here sooner than we realize.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – October 2016

Covenant.  It is a word that is defined as an agreement—between two or more parties—and it’s a fairly big word in our faith tradition.  God first established a covenant with Abraham and Sarah’s descendants:  I will be your God and you will be my people.  Jesus spoke of a new covenant of reconciliation with God that was sealed by his death and resurrection.  Not only has God made covenant with us, but as members of the household of faith at Salem, we also make covenant with one another.  Participation in a household of faith is a voluntary matter; no one can force us to belong to a certain community of faith or any community of faith.  What we are and what we can become as a congregation comes from what we agree to do together.  (This sort of thing, by the way, is what we expect of the young people of our Church School and Confirmation classes.  There are expectations of how to act in class and how we treat classmates and teachers with respect.)

And I think that it’s a good thing for people to remember and renew the important covenants in their lives.  On a few occasions in my ministry, I have presided over the renewal of marriage vows on significant milestone wedding anniversaries.  I believe that these renewal of vows serve as both a reminder and a recommitment to the promises that were made years ago.  Perhaps Christians should strongly consider doing that kind of thing with the vows that were made on our behalf at baptism and claimed as our own at confirmation.  It might not be the worst idea for Christians to frequently (on an annual basis) renew their promises made to God and made to fellow members of the church.  Will we profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?  Will we promise to be Christ’s disciples, to follow his way, to resist oppression and evil, and to witness to work and word of Christ as we are best able?  Will we promise to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ?

Every renewal and recommitment to those promises is a re-strengthening of covenant.  It is a reminder of who we are (and perhaps most importantly) of whose we are.  Covenant reminds us that we are not alone in this spiritual journey.  We are dependent upon God and we are dependent upon one another.  It is a reminder that we are stronger as part of a community than we are by ourselves.

It is my hope that as we begin a process of congregational renewal that we will have the opportunity, as a faith community, to renew our covenants and our commitments to God and to one another.  More details will follow on that in the weeks ahead.

As speaking of things that we covenant to participant in, I want to make this brief signpost about the “Neighbors in Need” (NIN) all-church offering that we will be receiving on Sunday, October 2nd.  NIN is a special mission offering of the UCC that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States.  More details will follow within the body of this issue of Chapel Chimes.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. James Hoppert