Where From Here?

Where From Here?

SLIDE 3: WHEN PEOPLE EMBRACE THE WAY OF JESUS EVERYTHING CAN CHANGE

X WHEN PEOPLE EMBRACE THE WAY OF JESUSThe early church in Jerusalem didn’t quite know where to go or what to do. They were at a crossroads. They worshipped daily in the Temple, held their mid-day potluck dinner to which they invited everyone, where they broke bread, passed the cup of wine and remembered Jesus. The Temple authorities had tried to intimidate the leaders of the fledgling Christian Community – Stephen had even been stoned to death — and many of them had gone into hiding in Samaria, where they began preaching and bringing Samaritans to the way of Jesus. Was that permitted? I mean wasn’t the way of Jesus intended for Jews only? How could they begin to include those dirty rotten Samaritans in the community of faith? When people embrace the way of Jesus everything can change!

SLIDE 4: PHILIP AND THE EUNUCH

X PHILIP & THE EUNUCH Philip was one of the deacons, who had begun preaching in Samaria. And then one morning, while he was praying Philip heard a voice saying, “Today, walk down to the Jerusalem to Gaza road!” So Philip went. And while he was on the road he met an Ethiopian, a Eunuch, who had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he was returning to Ethiopia. As a result of the scattering of Jews throughout the world after the first destruction of Jerusalem, a community of Jewish traders and businessmen had grown up down in Ethiopia. One of these Jews had been chosen by Queen Candace to be her minister of finance, so he was very influential.

Perhaps the Eunuch had been disappointed by his pilgrimage, for according to the Law of Moses a eunuch was not allowed to enter the inner courts of the Temple. Anyway on the way home he was pondering a passage from the Prophet Isaiah — Chapter 53:

As a sheep is led to the slaughter,     and quiet as a lamb being sheared, God’s servant was silent, saying nothing.     He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.

SLIDE 5: BAPTIZE ME

X BAPTIZE MEGod prompted Philip to climb up into the Ethiopian’s chariot, and when he discovered the passage with which the eunuch was wrestling, he used that as an opportunity to share the story of Jesus with him. The Eunuch responded to the narrative of the passion of Jesus with great hope. If the Messiah could be executed on a cross and yet live again, there was hope that even a mutilated black Jew could be fully accepted into the household of faith. He asked to be baptized, and Philip obliged. The Eunuch then returned to Ethiopia sharing the story of Jesus, and God led Philip on his way to continue the ever expanding circle of the people of the Way. According to tradition the Ethiopian Eunuch’s name was Simeon Bachos, and he is credited as the founder of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

SLIDE 6: WHERE FROM HERE?

X WHERE FROM HERE 1I believe the story of Philip and the church is important for United Church. The early church enjoyed initial success, but then they had to confront the question where do we go from here? This spring has been an extraordinary period of activity, when much of what we have worked for in the past couple of years has come to fruition in the life of the United Church of Huntsville. In February we proved that we can find the resources to help this congregation thrive. We have moved ahead on refurbishing the church kitchen. We are in the process of getting rid of junk and cleaning up our facility. We are making improvements to the sound system in the sanctuary: new sound board, microphones, amplifiers and speakers. We have also consulted with a professional sound engineer who has helped us to discover that we need to make changes in the acoustics of our sanctuary, so we can hear clearly what is being said through the sound system. Matt Youngkin found on sale on the internet some special sound dampening material. Soon we will begin experimenting with new sound panels on our walls to decrease the amount of reverberation in our sanctuary, so we can hear more clearly.

SLIDE 7: PARTNERING WITH OUR NEIGHBOR

X PARTNERING WITH OUR NEIGHBOROnce again we entered into a cooperative agreement with our neighbor St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to jointly sponsor a successful Vacation Bible School, and by the end of June, the initial installation of our Healing Steps Labyrinth should be complete. Soon to follow we will pour sidewalks, create benches, landscaping and some shade, where people can sit and rest. I would like to be able to forward the church phone to my cell phone, so I can have office hours on the Labyrinth in order to attract people from the community to the Labyrinth and our property.

SLIDE 8: SUPREME COURT SUPPORTS MARRIAGE EQUALITY

X SUPREME COURT SUPPORTSFor a couple of years we struggled with the decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation. Now all of a sudden on Friday the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the action of General Synod back in 2005 embracing marriage equality. The rest of the culture is catching up with us.   Apparently Roy Moore has decided that he is above the Supreme Court, but he may become the first Alabama Supreme Court Justice to be impeached twice.

SLIDE 9: RE-VISIONING

X REVISIONINGWe also included in our 2014 Annual Report a copy of the Re-visioning Report. In case you missed that report, I have re-printed some copies and they are available as you leave the sanctuary this morning. I also included in your bulletin a copy of the proposed Mission Statement. Allow me to highlight some of the recommendations included in the Re-visioning report.

SLIDE 10: SERVE OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR WORLD

X SERVE OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR WORLDCentral to the Mission Statement included in the Annual Report is this paragraph: “Our primary mission is to connect with and serve our community and world. Empowered by the spirit of God, we affirm our journey to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ, seeking peace and justice for all.” Our mission statement makes clear we are not a club. The community of faith is not about us, rather we are called to the way of Jesus in order to serve others. Thus, one of the recommendations of the Re-visioning Report is to reduce the number of people serving on administrative boards and committees, in order to release more time and energy for mission reaching outside of our congregation.

SLIDE 11: TECHNOLOGICALLY ADEPT

X TECHNOLOGICALLY ADEPTThe Re-visioning Report also recommends that we become more technologically adept, because reaching a younger generation will require mastery of internet communications and social media. Sharing our worship on the internet will be an important step in inviting younger people to consider walking through the doors of our church.

SLIDE 12: COACHING — MENTORING LAY LEADERSHIP

X COACHING MENTORING LAY LEADERSHIPWhere do we go from here – ever expanding circles of inclusion. But as Bill Tucker points out diversity and inclusiveness are hard to achieve. When people are very different from one another, maintaining cohesiveness as a community of faith is difficult. So, this Spring Bill Tucker and I attended a webinar about Church coaching from the Center for Progressive Renewal. Church coaching is an institutional version of spiritual direction or individual coaching. A congregation seeks out an outside consultant to help the congregation recognize its strengths, weaknesses, and identify the congregations opportunities for growth. By utilizing someone outside of the congregation, someone who does not have a dog in the fight, the church can avail itself of a more objective perspective in visioning its future. If our congregation would decide to enter into the coaching process one of our specific goals would be mentoring lay leadership.

SLIDE 13: WE HAVEN’T ALWAYS HANDLED TRANSITION WELL

X WE HAVEN'T ALWAYS HANDLED TRANSITION WELLCoaching costs money and should not be undertaken lightly. Unless the leadership of the congregation is willing to commit to working through the process, then the investment in coaching would be wasted.   But let’s be honest about our own history. We haven’t always handled transition well. Assuming we don’t need help, because we are so smart would be a mistake.

SLIDE 14: WHERE FROM HERE?

X WHERE FROM HERELike the early church, the United Church of Huntsville is approaching an important time of transition and growth. We all need to prayerfully ask the question, “Where from here?” God is powerfully moving through our culture, and the United Church of Huntsville has been on the right side of history. United Church and the United Church of Christ have been on the cutting edge of change and justice advocacy. People outside of the church are aware of our witness and will be drawn to our diversity, and authenticity. If we can seek help in telling our story, the United Church of Huntsville, can grow and thrive in the next decade.

 

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The Blessings of Vacation Bible School

The Blessings of Vacation Bible School

SLIDE 7: VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL 2015

X VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL 2015 Vacation Bible School 2015 has come to a close. During VBS we often have as much meaningful contact with some of the children attending than we have in half a year of Sunday school. Also Vacation Bible School is sometimes our first contact with a child. For instance, I remember the first time I met Evan was years ago at VBS. So Vacation Bible School is very important in the spiritual formation of children. I can still remember clearly in my own childhood green Kool Aid, graham crackers and singing a hundred verses of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Do any of you have memories of Vacation Bible School? Summer Church Camp and Vacation Bible School are important opportunities for sharing faith with children. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

SLIDE 8: VBS HAPPENS IN THE SUMMER

X VBS HAPPENS IN THE SUMMER The first blessing of VBS is that it happens in the summer. During the school year children are so busy with school activities and sports leagues, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, swimming, and social activities that even intrude upon Sunday mornings, it is hard for the church to claim enough of a child’s attention to make an impression on his or her life.   In the summer life slows down a little bit, not much but a little, so for at least a couple of mornings or three evenings in a week we can teach the children some songs, read scripture, and have recreation and crafts organized around a religious theme. Also with a longer time period to work with Vacation Bible School lessons can sometimes become more creative and dramatic, employing skits and puppets, rope swings and water slides – activities that are truly memorable in the life of a child.

SLIDE 9: MANY ADULTS PARTICIPATE

X MANY ADULTS PARTICIPATE     The second blessing of Vacation Bible School is that many, many adults participate. Often our children’s ministry gets tucked off in a room or a Sunday school wing, and the majority of the congregation can lose touch with the children.   During Vacation Bible School many adults are brought in as craft volunteers, recreation supervisors, snack servers, meal preparers, story tellers, teachers and helpers. Some Bible Schools end up involving more adults from the congregation than there are children. Also, clergy have an opportunity to participate in Vacation Bible School in a way that often isn’t possible with Sunday school. Children have an opportunity to experience the Pastor in shorts and sneakers. Adult involvement is a testimony to the children that they are loved and cared for by their congregation, especially when older adults, who are not their parents take a role in nurturing them.

SLIDE 10: UNLESS YOU BECOME LIKE CHILDREN

X UNLESS WE BECOME LIKE CHILDRENThe third blessing of Vacation Bible School is that Adults need Bible School as much as the children. Adult spirituality tends to become over intellectualized, stuffy, and pompous. As Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” We need the simplicity and faith of our first song this morning. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud, it is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” A little conga beat might loosen some of us up too! We’re too stuck in the mud of our own religiosity, and some upbeat music that helps us get up and move our bodies can also move our spirits.

SLIDE 11: FULL OF WONDER

X FULL OF WONDERA fourth blessing of Vacation Bible School is that the activities for the kids can catch us unawares, and remind us that God’s world and the gift of life are awesome — full of wonder! I have been especially impressed with VBS curriculums that have included science labs as part of their program. We need to communicate that science is not the enemy of faith and a natural curiosity about God’s world is good. Watching the fireflies come out on a summer evening and sitting in the cool of the day treasuring the sunset can fill us with awe and wonder. Unless we change and become like children we will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

SLIDE 12: KID’S ENERGY RUBS OFF ON ADULTS

X KID'S ENERGY RUBS OFF ON ADULTSA fifth blessing of Vacation Bible School is the opportunity to allow some of the energy and faith of children to rub off onto adults. Now I am truly exhausted at the end of VBS, however, the enthusiasm and joy of children is inspiring. Everyone needs to take some time to play like a child in order to be renewed in spirit. Go down a waterslide. Swing on a rope swing. Play tag. Run, skip and jump just for the joy of it.

SLIDE 13: FAITH OF A CHILD

X FAITH OF A CHILDAs for the faith of a child I will repeat a story from 42 years ago, I now fully appreciate again. It was the pre-school class. The teacher asked the children to form a circle and each child was supposed to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

The first little girl prayed, “I thank God for the flowers.”

The next little girl prayed, “I thank God for my Mommy.”

Finally, it was the turn of a little boy, who prayed with such complete intensity and sincerity, “I thank God I didn’t pee in my pants today.”

SLIDE 14: TRUST GOD EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT

X TRUST GOD EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHTThe faith of children can remind us that even in old age if we will just trust God, everything will be alright. Even in death everything will be alright, because we are all part of the silent memory of God.

SLIDE 15: MUSIC THAT MAKES US WANT TO MOVE

X MUSIC THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO MOVEThe sixth blessing of Vacation Bible School is the music. Now I don’t want to be too critical of formal worship. After all that is what most of our people like. But sometimes the tunes and the tempos of many of the songs of the past are just a little stiff. There was a time when we thought worship was supposed to quiet, dignified, sit still be quiet kind of stiff. The music of VBS invites us to get up and move, wiggle, tap our feet, sing out loud, laugh, hold hands with our neighbors. “Every move I make I make in you, you make me move – Jesus. Every breath I take I breathe in you. Every step I take, I take in you. You are my way Jesus. Every breath I take I breathe in you. Waves of mercy, waves of grace, everywhere I look I see your face. Your love has captured me. Oh my God this love how can it be?”

SLIDE 16: RELEASED TO DANCE WITH THE WIND OF THE SPIRIT

X RELEASED TO DANCE WITH THE WIND OF THE SPIRITThe music of VBS makes our feet want to dance, makes our hearts beat a little faster, and moves our spirits. We adults need Vacation Bible School as much as the kids, maybe more. We also need quiet time, reflection, Tatsiana’s beautifully contemplative music, and we need to learn to dance in the spirit, even if we can’t quite move that way anymore. For one day when we are released from this life, we will be free to dance with the wind of the spirit. In the words of the poet Rumi:

SLIDE 17: ALL RETURNING TO YOU, OH GOD!

X ALL RETURNING TO YOU OH GODLove is the dancing cry of the soul, calling the body to worship Like a shining whirlpool, or a spinning mayfly So is love among the skies.

I leap across the mountaintops, madly singing the song of all songs I float through the ether, intoxicated, thrilled I think only of your love, your calling to me And I dance the thousand dances of love, all returning to you, oh God!

SLIDE 18: NAKED IS FREEDOM!

X NAKED IS FREEDOMThese are the blessings of Vacation Bible School that free us from all pretense and stuffiness. For one day when we return to our creator in death, we will be freed from the façade of the ego to melt naked into God. For the spirit blows where it wills, we hear the sound of it, but we cannot capture or contain it. And this is not a frightening prospect, if we have become like children again – precious much beloved children of God. I remember a long time ago we were trying to get Elizabeth, Damian and John ready for bath time, and the next thing we knew we had three naked children running through the house yelling: “Naked is freedom, naked is freedom.” Those joyful children spoke more truth than they knew, for when our egos are stripped from our spirits we will finally know that naked is indeed freedom, when we come home to God.


Yes, We’re the Church Together!

YES WE’RE THE CHURCH TOGETHER!

SLIDE 3: BEANIE WITH PROPELLAR

X BEANIE WITH A PROPELLERWe have been together a long time here at United Church. My candidating sermon was in August of 2001 before 9/11. Sometimes it is hard to believe it has been that long. We were all a lot younger then. I knew from the potluck supper the Saturday night before the candidating sermon that I was in for an interesting ministry here at United Church. First, Herb Younkin showed up wearing a beanie with a propeller on top – this was the church’s trusted Financial Secretary? Then when there was a polite question an answer period during the dinner, people cut right to the chase — “How did you two meet?” And finally when I was asked to say a few words, I thought I might try to inspire a sense of loyalty and a willingness to tackle challenges in the future, and so I asked, “What would you be willing to give to insure the future of United Church?”

And Billie Krone responded in a loud stage whisper, “Not much!”

SLIDE 4: I THINK WE WILL FIT IN HERE

X I THINK WE WILL FIT IN HEREYes, I knew Beth, Elizabeth and I were walking into a challenge, but, driving back to Illinois, I turned to Beth and said, perhaps prophetically, “These people are odd. I think we will fit in here.”

Some of you probably felt this pastor and his family coming to live with you were a little odd. Maybe you just decided to accept us, because Leah and her family were already here. And before I go any farther allow me to acknowledge the many contributions that Beth, Elizabeth, Leah, Rocky, Damian, John, Alexis and Sophie have made to United Church. Especially when I go back through Vacation Bible School pictures I am aware that in so many ways, we couldn’t have done it without them.

SLIDE 5: THIS CONGREGATION AIN’T NO WHITE BREAD CHURCH

X AINT NO WHITE BREAD CHURCH As one member of United Church has said, “This congregation ain’t no white bread church.” We are tremendously diverse, odd, possessing unusual gifts and talents — everything from artists to weavers, to musicians, to chemists, to engineers, to rocket scientists, and even simulation specialists. We are unusual, and we have successfully embraced our diversity defending one another’s right to be different from each other and the norm theologically, socially, economically, politically, ethnically, and sexual identity. At United Church there is no norm. In the process of adopting an extravagant welcome for everyone, we have all had to stretch and grow and discover that no matter how different we are from one another we are all precious much beloved children of God.

SLIDE 6: COVENANT TO PRAY WITH AND FOR EACH OTHER

X COVENANT TO PRAY WITH AND FOR EACH OTHERWe have learned that part of the love we share for one another and with God is expressed in our covenant to pray with and for each other. I lift you up in prayer, you lift me up in prayer, we hold hands, and together we continue on our spiritual journeys. Especially, when we confront illness and death, we offer to one another support and love, for when we are truthful we know we are all mortal.

SLIDE 7: REACHING OUT IN MISSION AND SERVICE

X REACHING OUT IN MISSION & SERVICE At the United Church of Huntsville we are also dedicated to reaching out in mission and service to others: Foodline, the Huntsville Assistance Program, Habitat, First Stop, our own Homeless Outreach Program, Water Testing, the Sock and Glove Tree, the Cookie Walk, and the new Labyrinth. We understand that to walk in the way of Jesus means ministering to the very real physical and spiritual needs of others.

SLIDE 8: THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY POTLUCK

X CHURCH OF THE HOLY POTLUCK  Despite our diversity we share in common our love of food. We love to eat — the Church of the Holy Potluck. We have grounded our extravagant welcome in good eats, and like Jesus we help people find God by bringing them to the Sharing Table. We practice a table fellowship where everyone is welcome. And sometimes respecting one another’s food allergies and preferences is even harder than making accommodations for differences in theology and devotional practice – gluten free, nut allergies, onion and garlic allergy, vegetarian, vegan. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, or what you eat, you are welcome here. And that is why we join together for communion on this special Sunday to find our common life together in the sharing of the bread, or the rice chex as the case may be and the wine.

SLIDE 9: TOGETHER WE BECOME THE BODY OF CHRIST

X TOGETHER WE BECOME THE BODY OF CHRIST We cannot follow in the way of Jesus alone. As our call to worship last week said: “One person’s eyes can’t see the world of need. One person’s feet can’t take him or her to all the places of loneliness. One person’s voice can’t shout to make people hear. One person’s faith can’t bring a world of peace. But if two and two and fifty make a million, we’ll see that day come around.”

SLIDE 10: WE ARE INTENDED TO PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT

X WE ARE INTENDED TO PRODUCE GOOD FRUITAs we gather together remembering Jesus in the breaking of the bread, something special happens. The love of Jesus binds us together and we become the Body of Christ in the world the hands and feet of Jesus ministering the needs of other people. We become the good soil in our scripture this morning. The seeds of love sprout and grow we know not how, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain appears. We are intended to produce good fruit. If we trust God, follow the way of Jesus, the Commonwealth of God will appear.

SLIDE 11: WE ARE OH SO HUMAN

X WE ARE OH SO HUMAN The church is not our building, as beautiful as this sanctuary and window may be. The church is not its clergy. The church is not its lay leaders. The church is not the people in the pews. The church is all of us together, seeking to love one another as Christ has loved us. And that is really the hard part isn’t it? We are oh so human. We don’t always get along or appreciate one another’s idiosyncrasies.   But the call of Christ is to hang in there and love one another, even when we don’t like each other very much.

SLIDE 12: WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHER

And that brings us to our second hymn this morning and the theme of our worship today.

I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people. We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colors and all X WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHERages, too from all times and places. Sometimes the church is marching; sometimes it’s bravely burning, sometimes it’s riding, sometimes hiding; always it’s learning. And when the people gather, there’s singing and there’s praying; there’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes, all of it saying:

I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

Yes, we have been together a long time. God has blessed us, and I believe as we continue to love one another as Christ has loved us, the love of Christ will cause the Commonwealth of God to grow, bloom and bear fruit in the midst of us.


The United Church of Christ Has Made a Difference!

The United Church of Christ Has Made a Difference!
SLIDE 3: ORDAINED JUNE 5, 2015
X ORDINATION SALEMOn June 5th of 1975 I was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ. Next Saturday and Sunday we will commemorate that event with a “roast” and communion. But I don’t want this celebration to be about me, but rather the 58 years of ministry and witness of our United Church of Christ.
SLIDE 4: MERGER 1957
X MERGER 1957In 1957 the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches entered into a merger that formed the United Church of Christ. This was a truly historic occasion, that two denominations with very different ethnic backgrounds could manage to come together to form one Church. From our beginning, the United Church of Christ has been in the forefront of a prophetic ministry advocating for peace and social justice.
SLIDE 5: BILL GREEN’S VISION OF A UCC CHURCH IN THE TENNESSEE VALLEY
X BILL GREEN VISIONBill Green as a very young man from a small United Church of Christ in East Central Alabama was invited to a conference on race relations held at the Florida Conference Center of the United Church of Christ. One of the presenters at that gathering was a young African American Pastor Andrew Young. If you haven’t heard Bill’s story I encourage you to ask him to repeat it to you. But as Bill testifies, that Conference opened his eyes and changed his life. And that is why, when he moved to Huntsville with Sara, he very much wanted to participate in creating a United Church of Christ in the Tennessee Valley. Indeed, our celebration this coming weekend is a tribute to Bill Green’s vision and perseverance.
SLIDE 6: RAY AND SHIRLEY BERRY
X RAY SHIRLEY BERRY I also want to take this time to lift up the witness of our founding Pastor Ray Berry. Ray grew up in a small Christian Church in L.A., lower Alabama, and then he attended seminary at the Hartford Seminary Foundation, where his roommate was Andrew Young. I also want to note that Shirley received a degree from Hartford Seminary in Christian Education. When I was attending Trinity College, I became the legislative-aid to State Representative George Ritter, in whose District Hartford Seminary Foundation was located. In fact the Seminary and its faculty were major supporters of George and many progressive reform movements in Connecticut.
SLIDE 7: RAY WE NEED YOU IN SELMA
X RAY WE NEED YOU IN SELMARay Berry and his wife Shirley came to Huntsville to serve as the founding Pastoral couple of United Church. In 1965, fifty years ago, Ray received a phone call from his former roommate, Andrew Young, who had become Martin Luther King’s chief lieutenant, saying, “Ray we need you in Selma.” So Ray went, and he was on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, as a religious witness for Civil Rights and racial justice. Ray and Shirley finally left Huntsville to go serve as missionaries among the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota.
SLIDE 8: LAKOTA QUILT
X LAKOTA QUILTAnd Shirley very generously donated a lovely quilt to United Church made by ladies of the Lakota Sioux. We auctioned off that quilt, which Beth bought, and now Beth would like to donate that quilt back to United Church, have a cabinet built, and put the quilt on display as a tribute to the ministry of Ray and Shirley Berry. Ray and Shirley represent a part of the history and witness of the United Church of Huntsville we do not want to lose.
SLIDE 9: WE HAVE COME OF AGE
X WE HAVE COME OF AGEThe merger that formed the United Church of Christ was not without its rough patches. In 1970 I was sitting in on a national meeting of the Stewardship Council, and at lunch several of the people at the table were discussing the rivalries between the CC’s and the E&R’s during the merger. During a lull in the conversation I mentioned my interest in their conversation about the rivalry between the CC’s and E&R’s, because I had been confirmed after the merger, and all I could remember was the United Church of Christ. Several people at the Table looked at each other and asked, “Has it been that long already?” I believe that the United Church of Huntsville, founded after the merger, and my ministry of forty years in the UCC represent a milestone for our denomination. We have come of age.
SLIDE 10: ADVOCATE FOR JUST PEACE

A crowd of demonstrators gather at the Washington Monument for a rally to protest the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1969.

A crowd of demonstrators gather at the Washington Monument for a rally to protest the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1969.

Of course Civil Rights and Racial Justice have not been the only prophetic witness of the United Church of Christ. During the Vietnam War, our denomination was in the forefront of advocating for a just peace. And allow me to relate a story that might become lost, if it is not repeated and shared. On November 15th of 1969 the New Mobilization to End the War was sponsoring a march on Washington. They were expecting a half a million people, however, a week before the giant demonstration, they had run out of money to pay their phone bill and the Nixon Administration was putting pressure on the phone company to pull the plug on the phones. A potential disaster was shaping up.
The United Church of Christ stepped in with a loan to the New Mobilization to keep the phone bank open. It seems like a small gesture, but witness to the way of Jesus is often made up of small gestures. And the Nixon administration apparently thought it was a very important gesture, since the White House ordered the IRS to investigate the United Church of Christ with a view to taking away the church’s tax exempt status. A prominent Washington law firm stepped in to defend our denomination gratis, and the IRS backed off.
SLIDE 11: REV. DR. WILLIAM R. JOHNSON
X REV, DR. WILLIAM JOHNSON<img Meanwhile the Golden Gate Association of the United Church of Christ made history on June 25th of 1972 by ordaining the Rev. Dr. William R. Johnson, the first openly gay minister in a mainline Church. This began a long struggle in our denomination for recognition and acceptance and finally affirmation of LGBT persons.
SLIDE 12: MARRIAGE EQUAITY
X MARRIAGE EQUALITYAnd then in 2005 at the General Synod in Atlanta, Georgia the United Church of Christ became the first mainline denomination to embrace equality in marriage. I remember at the time I said to myself, I probably won’t live long enough to see gay marriage accepted as the law of the land. But I think the action taken in Atlanta helped to move the rest of the nation to change our collective attitudes toward gay persons. And surprise, surprise on February 9th of 2015 here in the sanctuary of the United Church of Huntsville we made history, even here in Alabama, by celebrating the marriage of Joseph Parker and Brian Inzer. The United Church of Christ has made a difference!
SLIDE 13: HAROLD WILKE
X HAROLD WILKEThere are many, many more ways our Church has made a difference in the world. And I think we have time to mention one more centered around the life of one of the great saints of our church, Harold Wilke, that I am just beginning to fully appreciate.
SLIDE 14: COULD DO EVERYTHING WITH HIS FEET
X HAROLD WILKE DO EVERYTHING WITH HIS FEETThe Rev. Dr. Harold Wilke was born in 1905 without arms. His mother made the decision at the time that her third son would be able to do everything that his older brothers could do, who did have arms. A story is told of his mother that when Harold was about three he was down on the floor struggling to get into a shirt. A neighbor said to his mother, “Oh why don’t you help the poor dear.”
His mother through clenched teeth responded, “I am helping him.” Harold went on to learn how to do everything with his feet. He could do everything his older brothers could do except cut meat, and button his top collar button. Bill Green will testify that he sat at the dinner table with Harold Wilke, and watched him eat his dinner with his feet. He learned to drive a car, and he pastored a church. I have heard accounts of Harold baptizing babies with his feet.
SLIDE 15: AMERICAN DISABILITIES ACT
X SIGNING OF THE AMERICAN DISABILITIES ACTHarold was arrested during Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1960’s and that inspired him to become an advocated for the Civil Rights of the disabled. His work advocating for the disabled was so important, President George H.W. Bush invited him to the White House of the signing of the American Disabilities Act of 1990, a landmark piece of legislation that has paved the way for accommodations for disabled Americans. The United Church of Christ my friends has made an incredible difference in the life of our nation and the world.
SLIDE 16: THE UNITED CHURCH OF HUNTSVILLE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
X UNITED CHURCH OF HUNTSVILLE MAKES A DIFFERNCEAs much as we discount the church for being irrelevant and slow to change, our denomination and even our congregation have been important in changing the culture around us. And allow me to share one last story from our recent vacation. I was checking into the Hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, and the check-in clerk addressed me as Robert Hurst. A woman standing in the line next to me said, “Oh you’re Robert Hurst from the United Church in Huntsville, Alabama?”
Some what taken aback, I said, “Yes?”
“Oh I live in California, but my father was a scientist in Huntsville, and I’ve read all about you and your church, and your sermons on the internet, and it is such and honor to meet you.”
I was speechless, except to say, “Thank you.”
SLIDE 17: PROUD TO CLAIM UNITED CHURCH AND 40 YEARS OF MINISTRY
X PROUD TO CLAIM UNITED CHURCHNow I know it is important not to let that kind of experience go to your head, but I want you to know that the United Church of Huntsville, and the United Church of Christ do make a difference in the world. And I am proud to claim this congregation, and I am proud to have given 40 years of my life in ministry in our beloved United Church of Christ. Together we make a difference in our world following in the way of Jesus.