First Notes – November 2017

Rev. Hoppert is on Sabbatical. Our guest blogger is Dale Miller, Lay Minister…..

Dear Friends,

As we turn our calendars and autumn winds toward winter, the month of November promises to be a busy and important one.  It will be a month filled with meaningful worship opportunities and important decisions for this congregation.

On November 2nd, the Consistory will host another in a series of Membership Gatherings designed to facilitate ongoing conversations about timely and important topics in the life of our church.

Sunday, November 5th is All Saints’ Sunday.  During worship we will pause and remember all of our members who entered the church triumphant in the past year.  Memorial gifts will be acknowledged and dedicated, as well.

Stewardship Sunday falls on November 12th.  This is a time of discernment and commitment crucial to our ministries and to the personal faith development of our members.

Before you know it Thanksgiving will be here.  As is our tradition, we will celebrate and worship on Thanksgiving Eve with our sisters and brothers at First Congregational UCC.  We will also have the opportunity to meet their newly ordained and installed pastor, Rev. Kristal Klemme.

By months end, we will close out the liturgical year and begin preparation for the Advent season, which commences Sunday, December 3rd.

Add in all the regular monthly activities and we have ourselves a full calendar.  There is, however, one more occasion to consider.

If you have been following the weekly financial updates in the bulletin on Sundays, you are aware of the substantial shortfall in our giving, relative to our 2017 budget.  Such a serious shortfall impacts the ministries of the church in a very negative manner and certainly inhibits any hopes for meaningful change or growth.

In order to reduce this deficit to a more manageable level, church leadership has designated November 19th as Festival Sunday.  As you know from past experience, on Festival Sunday (and Saturday), members are asked to faithfully and prayerfully give twice their regular offering.

Without question, joyful giving and extravagant generosity are hallmarks of a vibrant, faithful and forward-looking congregation.  You have heard my strong convictions on this subject on numerous occasions.

This message is an important one, strong and true, but I’m afraid that I have been an ineffective messenger.  So, I will not subject you to another of my narratives on this matter.  What I will do, and what I probably should have done long ago, is step back and let God step in.

Humbly and faithfully, I urge each of us, over the next weeks, to spend time in prayer to discern God’s call on our lives and what or who it is we worship.

By the way, we call it Festival Sunday as homage to our ancestors in faith, the Israelites.  Shortly after the Ten Commandments, God instituted three Great Feasts to be celebrated by the Children of Abraham.  One of the feasts was named The Festival of First Fruits, during which the first and the best of the spring wheat harvest was brought as an offering to God.  It was a celebration of God’s provision, a joyful acknowledgment that they belonged to God.  It was faith and trust and gratitude lived out.

May it be so for us.

Faithfully,

Dale Miller

First Notes – October 2017

At this writing I find myself preparing to take the last half of my sabbatical time.  As I’ve written earlier, I put down the foundation work on the Jonah musical in June:  it’s time to bring the project to completion this next month.  I put myself on a fairly disciplined schedule last time and anticipate doing the same this time, as well.  Again, I ask for your prayers during this time; I will keep you in mine.

As was the case the last time, the leading of worship and handling of pastoral care emergencies will be left in capable hands.

And in the meantime, the ministry of the church will move ahead.  I’ve given a lot of thought about the whole “From Maintenance to Mission” emphasis that we’ve been undertaking through the “Five Practices” work in the past months.  The work is ongoing.  Certain changes have been undertaken; others will be in the offing in the weeks and months ahead.

One thing I have learned in all these many years is that changes can be unsettling and that the older we get the more we tend to be less fond of change.  Yet, the thing I remind myself of is this:  some change will be necessary for any living thing to keep living.  I’ve never been fond of change for change’s sake, but some of those changes can propel us forward in positive ways.  A church birthed and guided by the restless Spirit of God can expect to be nudged from time to time.  What we shall become as individuals and as a community is a mystery to us now.  All that is certain is that we are all pilgrims on a journey.

May all of your journeys be filled with the presence of God’s Spirit.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. James Hoppert

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.

5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Rev. Hoppert is on Sabbatical.  Our guest blogger is Marsha Meyer, Directory of Youth & Family Ministries..

As we continue this journey through the five practices of fruitful congregations, these ideas are more clearly coming into focus.  Without radical hospitality, we will not grow as a faith community.  Without passionate worship, we will not feed our souls, without intentional faith development, we will not grow into our faith.  Without risk-taking mission and service, we are not living the call to love our neighbor.  Without extravagant generosity, we are not trusting in God’s abundance.  We need all of these practices in order to be a fruitful congregation.

We are at the half-way point in our sessions.  Having just completed the intentional faith development session, we have had hours of conversation about what ‘intentional’ looks like.  The chapter of our study begins telling the stories of our faith from different places in time and ends with this story…..

…a young woman pulls into the church parking lot just before the session begins. She’s running a little late.  Like most Tuesdays, she’s still wearing her suit from work, going through her evening blur of movement from the office to school to soccer practice to drive-thru to church.  Her son dumps his fast-food wrappings in the trash bin beside the door as he carries his school books into the building.  He’ll work on homework while Mom does her “Bible thing.”  She slips into the room as the video begins.  Her closest friend is there and welcomes her into the seat beside her.  They had signed up for this together, deciding to “just do it” after years of wanting to study the Bible.  The class also includes two couples; two older women; a graduate student from the university; and the leader, recently retired from the bank.  She didn’t know most of these people before they signed up for the Bible study, but she’s been amazed at how much she’s learned from them as they’ve shared their thoughts about faith and God and Scripture and about how much she’s come to care for them as they’ve shared their lives.  The Tuesday evening study has become a time of refreshment for her each week, an oasis of encouragement, learning, and support.  For ten minutes, they listen to a seminary professor on the video talk about the stories of Moses, his birth and marriage and encounter with God.  Then they walk through the readings, sharing observations and questions.

Every day for the past week, she has spent time reading Scripture, sometimes lost in the archaic practices and customs and confused by the stories and characters.  She has so many questions about God.  She wasn’t sure she had time for this kind of study, and sometimes even now she thinks she’s wasting her time.  Moses seems way back then and way over there.  Then the leader talks about Moses’ call- the bush, the fear and humility, and the excuses and justifications given to avoid doing what God asks.  Her stomach tightens as she hears people tell about times they’ve felt called by God to do something and have repeated the same excuses themselves.  She looks at her own notes from her reading through the week, and she sees the questions she wrote.  “How does God call people?  Sometimes I feel called, but I’ve never heard voices or seen a burning bushes.  Am I being called?”  She shares her questions with others and discovers that they wrestle with the same thoughts.  The evening ends with prayer, and after she drives home with her son, sends him to bed, and nestles herself into her favorite chair, she finds herself praying, asking, and hoping, “What will you have me do, Lord?”

Taken from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase, pages 61-62

Food for thought….

There must be a reason that you’re connected to the church.  Why church and not something else?  What are you seeking?  And how can this community of faith help?  The Five Practices team looks forward to having a conversation with you about this during our Membership Gathering which is planned for Wednesday, July 12th at 6:30 pm. – Marsha

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