It Is Time
SLIDE 3: I THINK WE WILL FIT IN HERE
A little over sixteen years ago, November 30th of 2001, we arrived at the United Church of Huntsville. The congregation had been deeply divided. They nearly imploded in early 2000, and then after Interim Pastor Roger Lovette’s persistent preaching to forgive one another, the congregation overcame enough bitterness to issue a call for a new pastor in August of 2001. After the candidating sermon as Beth and Elizabeth and I were driving back to Illinois, I turned to Beth and said, “You know these people at United Church are odd, I think we will fit in here.” With that auspicious comment we began what has turned into a sixteen year ministry.
SLIDE 4: REMARKABLY CREATIVE CHRISTIAN ED PROGRAM
Early on in our time at United Church we had many children and young people in this congregation. We had a remarkably creative Christian Education Program.
SLIDE 5: CONFIRMED MANY YOUNG PEOPLE
In the spring of 2002 we confirmed a class of four young people: Melissa, Ellen, Abigail and Nathan. Two years later we confirmed another four young people in 2004: Elizabeth, Zach, Damian and Kimberly. We turned around and confirmed four more young people in 2005: John, Madison, C.C. and Robert. Then we had a three year gap and confirmed Zoe, Alexis and Karl in 2008. Finally in 2010 we confirmed Christopher and Elizabeth, and then we had a long dry spell. The Sunday school dwindled. We hardly had enough kids for a one room Sunday school.
SLIDE 5: CONFIRMED EVAN AND COLE
And then this year, we have confirmed Evan and Cole, and received Patrick in membership. We have young children again, and beginning in this January Ruth Votava is restarting the nursery (And Beth and I can’t volunteer). We are also going to split the Sunday school class into children and youth. This congregation has a bright future, if we are willing to work to nurture these children and young people in faith.
SLIDE 6: WONDERFUL VACATION BIBLE SCHOOLS
Another part of the story I want to tell is about Vacation Bible School. We had some wonderful VBS programs. Under Leah Christakes’ leadership we experienced the magic, and we utilized our youth in producing a program for our younger children – everyone benefited. I can’t show all the VBS videos, but allow me to share with you the 2009 Vacation Bible School video.
SLIDE 8: ONE WEEK OF VBS EQUALS A SEMESTER OF SS
We simply need some adults who are willing to provide leadership and invest some energy in doing something really fun with kids. And don’t allow money to prevent you from putting together the best Bible School you can. Leah did fund raising and people came forward to donate, because they believed in the power of Vacation Bible School. We have more contact hours with kids during a week of Vacation Bible School than we often manage in a semester of Sunday school.
SLIDE 9: VBS WITH ST. STEPHENS LED TO LABYRINTH
In 2009 we also organized Vacation Bible School with our neighbors next door St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. And that partnership led to our sharing with St. Stephen’s in building our Healing Steps Labyrinth. Rather than turning in on ourselves and insisting that we weren’t going to share any of our open space, we finally decided to reach out to build a handicapped accessible Labyrinth with our neighboring congregation. When we are willing to cooperate with our neighbors miracles can happen.
SLIDE 10: STILL SPEAKING CAMPAIGN
Another important development in the life of United Church came in 2004, when the United Church of Christ began the God Is Still Speaking Campaign. Do you remember the “Bouncers Ad” that kicked it off?
SLIDE 12: BOUNCER PICTURE
For that time the “Bouncers Ad” seemed a little edgy for some people, but as we began to do some soul searching we realized that United Church wasn’t going to turn anyone away. We really do believe that in the name of Jesus Christ everyone is welcome. And so we began talking about extravagant welcome. We raised some money and aired the Bouncer’s Ad on television and then the “Ejector Ad,” and pretty soon people began showing up.
We even produced our own commercial that tried to capture the important discriminators that set United Church apart from many other churches.
SLIDE 14: UCH COMMERICAL PICTURE
“Your personal faith is respected. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive. You are encouraged to seek your own understanding of the Bible. You are encouraged to live your faith by helping others. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” And now we can add our faith community is “Open and Affirming.”
SLIDE 15: BECOMING OPEN AND AFFIRMING
The struggle to finally embrace the Open and Affirming message took a while. Eddie Colf led the Diaconate and Congregation in discussing all the ramifications of declaring our church Open and Affirming. As Bill Green likes to note Eddie did not rush the process. He had the patience to wait until everyone had had an opportunity to express themselves. And in the end the vote was nearly unanimous. We had taken a giant leap forward to embrace equality for all.
SLIDE 16: ROUND TABLE ICE GROUP
Another important experience for me and United Church over the last 16 years was the Institute for Clergy Excellence. The Round Table ICE group brought us into an experiment in interfaith relationships. Our friendship with Rabbi Jeffrey Ballon promoted cooperation with Temple B’nai Sholom that led to an interfaith journey to Israel in which several of our members participated. When people of faith with good will join hands, even when our faiths are different we can all benefit.
SLIDE 17: BIRMINGHAM 8 AND PATHWAYS TO THE DIVINE
The interfaith ICE Group the Birmingham 8 provided the opportunity for me to travel to Bangladesh and India. As a result of that travel I brought back the twelve interfaith pathways to the divine. And Rose Rushin then used those twelve pathways to organize at United Church a Jazz Vespers Service.
SLIDE 18: MISSION AND SERVICE
Mission and Service has been an important theme in the life of our congregation over the last sixteen years. We have participated in Habitat for Humanity. Through Sue Duthie our congregation has been an important supporter of Foodline. Through our fifth Sunday Offerings for the Diaconate Fund. We have participated in the Huntsville Assistance Program. Through Rollan Edwards we sent an ambulance to Honduras and supported several ministries in that country. Through Alix Morehouse we have provided assistance and support for the homeless and First Stop. We also faithfully decorate the sock and glove tree to share with our brothers and sisters in the Lakota Association of the South Dakota Conference.
SLIDE 19: RELATIONSHIP WITH SEC & UCC
I also want to note that during the last sixteen years we have strengthened our relationship with the Southeast Conference and the United Church of Christ. When I arrived we had members who were openly hostile to the Denomination and the Conference. We have remained a Five for Five Congregation participating in all our of our denominations special offerings. We have also made our relationship to the United Church of Christ a cornerstone of our identity. And I want to thank June Boutwell our Conference Minister for being here today for the liturgy of farewell and release and for the wonderful support she has been giving our congregation as we move into this time of transition.
SLIDE 20: FAREWELL AND RELEASE
Sixteen years is a long time, and I could go on and on. But I think we need to wrap this up. When we come to the Liturgy of Farewell and Release, I want to ask Beth and the rest of my family present to come forward to stand with me. The life of a minister is difficult, and the life of the clergy family is also tough. So I want to thank my family for standing by me during these sixteen years. I could not have done it without you.
SLIDE 21: ENDINGS ALWAYS HAVE MIXED FEELINGS
Some people have asked me, “How do I feel?” Endings always have mixed feelings, but more than anything else right now the feeling on top is relief. I have struggled over the past two years with arthritis and now four surgeries three of them in the past year. Trying to keep up has been hard, and I thank the congregation for all of your patience as I have struggled to make it to this final Sunday. Fifteen months ago United Church and St. Stephen’s held a training session about our new Labyrinth. During one of the exercises we were asked to carry a stone as we walked the Labyrinth to symbolize our burdens. I realized that I could not lay that stone down until today. I have kept my stone here in the pulpit. After our celebration today, I will walk the Labyrinth once again, and lay my burden down in the center.
SLIDE 22: IT IS TIME
Like most retirees I will no doubt experience feelings of loss and grief, but right now I feel relief. Thank you for these last sixteen years. As the sermon title implies it is time. It is time.