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

First Notes – September 2016

When it comes to the life and ministry of the church, the fall of the year is the time when the programming of the church comes back to life again. Church school, Confirmation, and choirs come back into session.  Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings are filled with a new energy.  Given what goes on in the church during the fall, it is a good and fitting thing to talk about growth and new life.

Not only is it a good thing to talk about growth, but it is a necessary thing. There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the state of decline in numbers and in activity throughout the Christian Church in North America. It is a condition that has affected almost all of our churches.  We can respond to that situation by either denying that reality and by doubling down on the same old approaches to things, hoping that something will change (someone once said that this sort of thing is the definition of “insanity”) or we can open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, open ourselves to the future, and explore new possibilities. Within the churches of the United Church of Christ’s Wisconsin Conference we’ve wrestled with—and discussed at great length—the choice that is put before us concerning the future.  The “Shift: From Maintenance to Mission” initiative has been a part of that discussion and it is a discussion that Salem’s leadership has begun having.

During a recent meeting of the Consistory’s Church and Ministry Committee we spent a good portion of our time together discussing the direction of the future. If one could sum up the most important thing to come out of that discussion it is that individuals, as well as the church community, must make the choice to grow.  Growth is not something that can always be measured in raw numbers (like dollars or people in the pews), but can be seen in the quality and depth of our faith.  Is God more a part of the center of our lives, or does God occupy the fringes?

What I am encouraging every member of Salem to do is to consider making a commitment to grow in his or her faith. I am not saying that it has to be big huge changes in our faith; sometimes we begin with small steps.  That could be a commitment to pray more often, or study more scripture. It could be a decision to become more involved in one of the church’s ministries.  It could be the choice to be a positive, caring witness of love in action in our workplaces or among our circle of friends.  Whatever it may be, I am asking each of us to make the decision to grow and stretch ourselves a bit.

Now, I know that some of you will say, “Why should I have to grow?  I’m too old for that sort of thing” or “I’m really comfortable with where I am now.  Why should anything have to change?”   My response is this: there are two states in living organisms.  We are either growing and changing, or we are dying.  Even for those of us who have reached physical maturity, our cells in our bodies continue to grow and become replaced. Our bodies are constantly changing.  The moment that stops, we start dying.  It really is that simple.

Growth needs to happen in our lives. There is always a push forward to birth and life.

For example, children cannot continue to gestate in the womb indefinitely.  Eventually birth must occur, or else death ensues.  The same thing holds from a spiritual standpoint, as well.

Can we make the commitment as individuals and as a congregation to grow, even in small steps?  That is the question that I want each of us to prayerfully consider in these weeks ahead.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – July & August 2016

My reflections this month may not seem profoundly theological—unless you include gratitude as something profoundly theological (and I do).  And at this time I wish to express my gratitude to God for those folks who have given their time and talent during this season of activity around the church.

As is the case for many of our homes, summertime is also a time of increased maintenance for church’s buildings and grounds, as well.  Not only are there “inside” things that need to be done, but there are a whole host of “outside” things that need to be tended to.  I want to lift up our Consistory’s Property Committee—Kathy Zimmermann, Jeff Bender and Kymn Schicker—for their oversight on these matters.  And aiding them in those maintenance tasks is a faithful core of individuals who have lent their energies and skills to various tasks around the church.

I want to take a moment, to publicly acknowledge this group of folks.  Now, I did my homework and tried to include everyone to whom credit is due—but, unfortunately, I may inadvertently miss someone.  I apologize for that, ahead of time.  No omissions are intended.

So here’s a list of the folks who have helped out with various tasks.  Helping with grass cutting have been Gene Boll, Tom Melger, Ken Schaap, and Richard Groene.  Evan Sukowaty, Richard Groene, and Tom & Carol Fischer Melger have worked on spreading mulch.  Evie Ketsch and Janice Bunyea have tended the weeding.  The reconfiguration of the electrical service box at the far end of the Christian Education wing has been undertaken by Ed Ardell, with the help of Gene Boll and Darla Ardell.  Scott Bunyea has completed the wiring for the new WiFi stations around the church.

Again, I say, I may have inadvertently omitted a name or a set of tasks—and I apologize ahead of time if that was the case—but I wanted to acknowledge the jobs that were  done during this time of increased need and the people who helped do them.  Whether it’s these tasks, or other tasks that continue to happen all year round, we have a dedicated group of people at Salem who care about the church.  I give thanks to God for all that you do.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – June 2016

As I write this month’s front page, I am looking at the first week of the spring season where long sleeves and sweaters will not be the outfit for the day.  It is a grand and glorious milestone!

For those of us who have an interest in cultivating green and growing stuff, this marks a time of planting, watering, tending and weeding.  This work of cultivating new life will be ongoing over the summer months—and into the fall—until that time comes when the killing frosts arrive and growth is stopped.  We are in a season where the world around us is full of activity.

And while nature is in a season full of life and growth, we, in the church are in that phase of the church year called “Ordinary Time.”  On the surface of it, that doesn’t sound like a good phase to be going through.  “Ordinary Time” sounds kind of dull and unexciting.  Who wants a steady diet of “ordinary” in their lives?

Perhaps “Ordinary Time” isn’t as bad as it sounds.  “Ordinary” does not describe the character and quality of time but instead describes the fact that the Sundays in this group are not a part of a special season (like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter) and are numbered as they are.  The longest stretch of “Ordinary Time” happens between Trinity Sunday and the Reign of Christ Sunday and it accounts for a lot of Sundays in the church year.

Now, even though these Sundays aren’t a special season like Advent, Lent, or Easter, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have purpose behind them.  Often times we emphasize the growth of the church—as the Body of Christ—or the growth of the individual Christian.  Not surprisingly, the color of these Sundays is green, which symbolizes growth.

It seems that the church has just entered its own growing season, just like the natural world around us.  Are we ready for growth in the life of the church and in our own personal spiritual lives?  The things necessary for spiritual growth are not really a mystery:  it requires prayer, the study of scripture, the willingness to be a servant of Christ to others, and a desire to remain connected to the church, the Body of Christ.  Just as there are no shortcuts to cultivating plant life, there are no shortcuts to cultivating spiritual life, either.

The green time is upon us—in nature and in the church.  Are we ready to get our hands dirty?

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – May 2016

On May 15th the Church of Jesus Christ will celebrate its birthday on Pentecost Sunday.  Depending on how one reckons the starting point, we will either be celebrating our 1983rd or 1986th birthday.   That’s a lot of candles on the birthday cake!

The reason I mention this upcoming milestone is that the thought of it is something that makes me ponder the miraculous origin of the church.   If someone were to come up and ask me why it is that I believe the things that I believe about God, Jesus, and the church, I would have to pin a lot of that on what happened in that span of 50 days that developed the church as we know it.  Much of what I personally believe about God comes from what I have come to learn about God through Jesus.  And why is it that I place so much stock in Jesus and what we believe about him?   Those beliefs, it turns out, are based on the miracle of the church, itself.

What makes the existence of the church such a linchpin in my belief system?  Simply put, like N.T. Wright, I can’t explain the existence of the church without the resurrection of Jesus and I can’t explain the mission of the church without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Without a Risen Christ, there is no church. Under any other circumstance, the crucifixion of Jesus should have marked the failure of the Jesus movement: by rights, his followers should have either have scattered and gone off to other movements, or a successor would have tried to take over. None of that happened with the church. They didn’t scatter and there was no new “Jesus” type to take over the movement.  They held on to the belief, until their dying breaths, that Jesus had appeared to them, and they believed that he was still present to them through the power of God’s Spirit.

Yet, as important as the resurrection was, it was not enough to give us the church that we know: that would require the Holy Spirit to guide and move this largely illiterate group of fisher folk into a dynamic world movement.  Without the Spirit, the church may never have left the confines of Jerusalem.  I can’t explain the church, the rise of the Apostle Paul, or any of the other things without the Holy Spirit, either.

So, happy birthday, Church!  With all of the flaws and imperfections that we may have been party to over almost two millennia, we are still the Body of Christ to a broken world.  It’s very existence is a testimony to the transforming power of God.  What we shall become and form we shall take in the future remains a mystery, but there will always be the Church.  We have God’s promise on that.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert