First Notes February 2018

For the first time since 1956, we have a year where Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day (not so great if you’re giving up sweets for Lent) and Easter Sunday falls on April Fool’s Day; (everyone is going to want to be a comedian that day).

It’s a relatively early start to Lent, so that time will be upon us quickly.  Although midweek Lenten programming isn’t anything new around here, we will be doing something different during this Lenten season:  we will focus both a book study and our worship services on the themes of Eric Elnes’ book, Gifts of the Dark Wood.  The “dark wood” represents a place where we might find uncertainty, temptation, and solitude, and a journey into that woods can teach us some lessons in faith.  We will begin our time on Wednesday with a simple meal at 5:30 p.m., and a study on the Elnes book at 6:00 p.m., in Fellowship Hall, overlapping with the meal time (Marsha’s article in this month’s Chimes will explain the study in more detail).  Worship (slated to be 30-40 minutes in length) will follow at 7:00 p.m.  Our weekly themes will be, as follows:  February 14th – “Where We Find Ourselves”; February 21st – “The Gift of Uncertainty”; February 28th – “The Gift of Emptiness”; March 7th – “The Gift of Being Thunderstruck”; March 14th – “The Gift of Getting Lost”; March 21st – “The Gift of Temptation.”  Worship on March 14th will also feature a service of Holy Communion.

The season of Lent is a time that encourages spiritual discipline.  Some may fast and give something up.  Others may take something new on.  This study will give us an opportunity to take on a moment of reflection and growth, and I encourage you to be open to it.

Finally, a word about the membership information forms.  I want to thank those of you who have turned them in:  updated contact information is always appreciated in an era where phone numbers and e-mail addressed change so rapidly.  We are, however, still waiting on a number of them, and I would encourage those of you who have not filled yours out to do so, at your nearest convenience.

I have had persons ask me why we have asked everyone to state what their membership status is, and they wish to be considered as a Member in Covenant or as a Friend of Salem.  The simple answer is that it gives us the opportunity to give witness to our desire to be part of this household of faith at Salem.  How often do we give that idea much thought?  How often do we have the chance to make a declaration of it?  If we asked to go on the record for our connection to organizations in the secular world, is it a hard thing to ask that we do it for our connection to the church one time a year?  Some food for thought.

As I say, Lent will be upon us sooner than we know.  May this upcoming season give you opportunities for spiritual growth and nurture.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – January 2018

FIRST NOTES

 In some ways, the January front page for the Chapel Chimes is the hardest one to write in all of the year.  We are not even at the midway point of December as I write this, and I’m supposed to be in a January mindset.  If God allows, there will be a lot of things going on in the last two weeks of December that will shape how we see the coming of the new year and a new month.  All of those happenings are but potential events that live only in my imagination.

However, this is what I do know:  come January 1st, Dale Miller will be in his official capacity as Salem Plankroad UCC’s licensed lay minister, and his Service of Farewell will have been a memory.  I want to take this time to express my deepest gratitude for Dale’s ministry in our midst and for his support and friendship in and outside of ministry.  It has been a pleasure to watch Dale utilizing the gifts and talents he possesses for ministry.  Those gifts and talents will now be utilized in a different congregation, and our loss at Salem will be Salem Plankroad’s gain.  I’m sure you will want to join me in wishing Dale all of the best in this new calling.  Our hearts and well-wishes go with him.

What is also certain at this point is the outcome of the December 3rd congregational meeting to vote on proposed by-laws changes.  The vote, which was 68 yes, 28 no, and 4 abstentions, sets in motion changes in our definition of membership.  We are asking persons on our membership roll to let us know if they desire to continue to remain with Salem as a member in covenant, and to re-affirm that covenant on a yearly basis.  Instead of having the church monitor communion and attendance requirements as the basis for membership, it will be church members deciding, for themselves, what their level of involvement will be.  It is a commitment that we make to God’s work and to one another, as members of the congregation.  Instead of spending time on bookkeeping and maintenance tasks, we will be encouraging people to be actively involved in the mission of Christ’s church.

It’s a new step for our congregation, but it’s one that we feel will free us to more fully pursue the mission of the church.  I anticipate that it may take us a few months, the first time around, to get all of the pieces in place, but I believe it can have a positive impact on the life of the congregation in the long run.

In keeping with this new move, we will be setting aside time in worship, both on January 6th—Epiphany—and January 7th—the Baptism of Christ—to remember our baptism and our covenantal relationship with one another.

Perhaps it is typical of January that we focus on both farewells and new beginnings.  May God’s grace be with all our endings and beginnings in the new year.

Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Jim Hoppert

 

 

First Notes – December 2017

Two weeks into my return from sabbatical leave, I believe I’m caught up on all of the loose ends!  I am pleased to report that I was able to finish what I set out to do at the beginning of October:  put 16 songs to the Jonah musical into a final draft form.  Dialogue still needs to be finished and there’s another song that I discovered needs to be written to fill in a gap, but the project has definitely moved forward.  I appreciate your thought and prayers during the time I was away.  It was a busy, productive time.

As we look forward, we will be entering the busy days of Advent and Christmastide.  We will get as late of a start on Advent as is possible to get this year:  December 3rd.  However, that distinction doesn’t mean much.  The secular world has been ramping up Christmas ever since Halloween was finished.  The hype and the noise will be at fever pitch by the time you receive your newsletter.

I personally find noise and the hype—as well as the hectic pacing of the days—to be something that I tolerate less and less well as time goes on.  And as time goes on I have started to dream a dream for a different kind of December.  Perhaps it’s unrealistic, but I dream of a December that isn’t so much a time to prepare for Christmas celebrations but is a time to prepare for the coming of God’s Reign into my life and into the world.  I dream of a December where the pace is slow enough to allow for moments of reflection, moments for the expression of genuine friendship and hospitality, and moments of genuine joy.  I dream of a December that is marked by simplicity instead of complexity.  I dream of a December where acts of mercy, kindness, and justice are common and not rare in this world.

What kind of December do you dream of?  Is it a time where the things of God’s Reign take priority or is it a time when those things take a backseat?  May this December be a time for all of us to pursue those dreams which draws us closer to God’s plan for us and this world.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

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