The Old Bur Oak

I heard a news story a couple of years about an old Bur Oak tree on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor (above). The oak dates to at least 1764, 73 years before the university moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor.

However, the 65-foot tall oak stood in front of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, which was slated to be expanded. The tree would have to be cut down or relocated. The estimated cost of $400,000 to move it seemed to doom the tree until students and community members started a campaign to raise the funds. With the help of a large donations, the goal was reached.

In order to move the tree, its 44-foot diameter root ball was wrapped in plastic and burlap, then rested on long metal pipes. Workers next inserted and inflated giant air bladders to lift the 700,000-pound package of tree and earth. Two transporters were then inserted to carry the tree, at a pace of about 1 mph, 500 feet down the street to its new home. There it could live, easily, for another 250 years or so!

I thought about that old oak tree as we move into 2018, which will be the 295th anniversary year of this congregation. Like the tree, the world around us has changed dramatically in the almost 300 years of our existence. From our founding in a sparsely-populated area of Dutch farmers, we now live in a densely-populated metropolitan area within an easy drive of New York City. Likewise, the neighborhood around us has developed and changed greatly over the years.

There are, I believe, two different ways for the church to view these changes. One way is to lament the way the world has transformed, to “circle the wagons,” and to focus on survival by focusing inward. The other way is to see the changes as both a challenge and an opportunity, trusting the God’s Spirit is still at work in this world.

At our Annual Meeting in January, we shared the report and stories of the ongoing ministry of South Church. I was pleased with energy and enthusiasm that the congregation has exhibited over the past year as we explored the “New Beginnings” discernment process. I would ask for your continued prayers and support as we move together into God’s future.

Finally, a reminder that the season of Lent begins this month on Ash Wednesday, February 14. We will be worshipping that evening at 7:30 pm with our friends at Clinton Avenue Reformed Church. We will also begin our Lenten Soup Supper on Monday, February 19—see details on the front of this newsletter.

Grace & peace, Mark

Miracles At Christmas

At the heart of the coming Advent and Christmas seasons is Emmanuel, literally meaning “God with us.” As we enter again into this holy time of year, I share the reflection below from Dan Hooper. Dan was a former colleague—a talented musician, gifted writer, and wonderful human being—who died expectedly and too soon in 2010. I always think of Dan this time of year and offer this in tribute to him.

Miracles At Christmas

It was a miracle of agreement. Either Mary or Joseph could have said, “No.”
It was a miracle the couple arrived in Bethlehem.
The journey was difficult and she should have been resting.

It was a miracle they found shelter. The town was full of strangers waiting to be counted.
It was a miracle the infant was welcomed and healthy.
Every birth is a miracle, but not all births are welcomed, and not all infants are healthy.

It was a miracle that shepherds listened when angels sang.
It was a miracle that the stars were seen, understood and followed by wise men from afar.
The stars are always in motion, but not all mark them with wisdom.

It was a miracle that the story survived for us to hear. An angry king tried to squelch it.
It is a miracle that we can see God present in human form.
To think that unconditional love chose to share the human condition!

It is a miracle that God is present in human life. 
Equally miraculous—human life has been changed by one infant’s birth.
Every birth changes a family, but this one changed the world.

For when we consider all the sorts and conditions of humankind,
all the chances this story had to go off track,
all the darkness that surrounds this profound light:

We understand that the true miracle of Christmas is Love—
    Love that moves through the universe in order to be with us
    so that we may start to know the Love that lives in each of us.

Emmanuel – God with us!

- Daniel Lee Hooper, 2009

Entering Autumn

Dear South Church Members & Friends,

     Earlier this year the congregation completed the “New Beginnings” process which helped us look toward the future of South Church. I was pleased to discover that there was a clear consensus on a new missional emphasis: Living out our Christian faith by caring for the world on God’s behalf. Encouraged by this new direction, we started planning to offer GriefShare, a grief recovery support group ministry where you can find help and healing for the hurt of losing a loved one.
     We will begin this ministry of care and compassion by offering “GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays” on Sunday, November 12 from 3:00—5:00 pm in the Church House auditorium. Please let your friends and neighbors know about this important program.
    In January, we will offer GriefShare, a 13-session program that uses video presentations and small groups for people who have lost a loved one. GriefShare helps people embrace the grief process and start rebuilding their lives as they go through the process of dealing with the pain and the hurt that comes with losing someone. The program will begin on Tuesday, January 9 at 7:00 pm and will be held every two weeks. Please look for more information and for sign-ups coming soon.
     I also want to give an update on the exterior restoration work that’s being completed on our historic 1799 sanctuary. There are some photos on the cover page of this newsletter and also on our church Facebook page. The steeple and weathervane has been painted and most of the repair and painting of the wood trim will be finished this week. The round window in the tower had the frame replaced and the etched glass will be reinstalled in it. Look for that installation to occur in the next week or so.
     The new Vermont slate has been installed on the east side of the roof. The west side will be completed over the next two weeks as some adjustments were need to deal with a 6” dip along roof surface. Thank you for your patience as this important project is completed!

Peace and grace,

An On-Going Task

I read a news story a few years ago about the completion of the largest dictionary in the world—the 40-volume Dictionary of the Dutch Language. Work on the dictionary began in the 19th century and took almost 150 years for Dutch and Flemish lexicographers to complete! It has more than 45,000 pages and documents words going back to the year 1500.

There’s just one hitch. The Dictionary is only current to 1976, meaning that it is now more than 40 years out of date. Never fear, though, the editors are back at work on a second edition—just don’t expect it to be completed in our lifetime.

I’m sure there are many lessons that can be drawn from this story, but mine is this: Some tasks are never done. They just keep going and going and going. I know I feel like that sometimes on Sunday afternoon when I realize that there’s yet another sermon to prepare in the less than a week!

The life of a congregation is also an on-going task that’s never quite done. While this can lead to weariness and inertia if we’re not careful, it also points to the continued life, work, and ministry that we are privileged to share as the body of Christ. Our enduring task of the church is perhaps best summed up in Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

This disciple-making work is foundational to all that we do—in worship, mission and outreach, faith development, the care of neighbor, and fellowship. So, I’d like to commend to you the wonderful, on-going work of this congregation that you will find listed in the pages of this edition of the South Church Life. I also want to highlight a couple of projects:

The month of October brings us to the beginning of our annual Stewardship season. The theme for this year is Live Generously. Sunday, October 15 is the kickoff of our Stewardship emphasis and more details are provided on the cover page of this newsletter.

In worship, we are moving back into the sanctuary on Sunday, October 1 after four months in the Auditorium. We will soon be dedicating our new hymnals, which arrived over the summer. We are also in the third year of using the Narrative Lectionary, which guides us through the Bible from September through May.

The Property Committee has been busy over the summer supervising the exterior renovation of the sanctuary. The repair to the base of the steeple tower is complete, with new copper roofing and new lights for the spire. The old slate has been removed from the main roof. The next phase of work will focus on the tower wood restoration, removal of the protective glass on the windows, wood trim restoration, and the installation of the new slate. In addition, new wood louvers in the tower and damaged wood parts for soffit are being fabricated as well as a new round window frame for the rose window.

Peace and grace, Mark

Moving into Summer...

As we move into the summer season, I’d like to share some updates and news. Below are a few items of interest—please let me know if you have questions or comments.

* New Beginnings Process – I reported in the newsletter last month that we had received the report of our group facilitators. Based on what we heard in the small groups, there was a clear consensus on a new emphasis: Living out our Christian faith by caring for the world on God’s behalf. The Session has established an Implementation Team to work on the details of living out this new call. If you would like to be involved, please contact me, Flo Lilley, or Bill Henderson.

* Sanctuary Renovation and Restoration – Our historic 1799 sanctuary is in remarkably good condition given its age. However, we have known for several years that there are some problems at the base of the Spire, that the roof is aging, and that the exterior woodwork needs updating and repair. Our architect, C. Michael Campbell, reported at the May Session meeting that he has completed his drawings and plans and we are now in the process of bidding out the work. We expect the restoration work to begin this summer and it should take 2-3 months to complete.

* Summer Worship Schedule - Like last year, we will have a full summer of worship here at South Church. The Worship and Parish Life Committee anticipates that we will move Sunday worship to the Church House Auditorium on June 11 and remain there for the summer. We will have two short sermon series this summer—six weeks on Ephesians and the five weeks on the book of Revelation. More details on both series can be found inside this newsletter.

* Vacation Bible School It’s time for VBS—the week of June 26 from 5:30-8:00 pm at Clinton Avenue Reformed Church. The theme for this year is “Maker Fun Factory—Created by God, Built for a Purpose.” Volunteers are always welcome and needed, so please consider helping out. More information is available on page ___.

* Old Manse sale: We have run into an unexpected roadblock with the prospective buyer of the old Manse property/subdivision in regard issues with the title. It’s not clear at this time when this will be resolved. The Session is also considering another proposal that would involve a lease agreement. Look for more news soon.

Please have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Grace and peace, Mark

New Beginnings Update

For the past few months the congregation has been involved in a discernment process called “New Beginnings.” At the heart of this process is a question: “What is God calling our congregation to do and to be in this time and this place?” We began last Fall with an assessment of our church’s mission, finances, facilities, and programs which were compiled in a 71-page report.

On the first Sunday of February, we gathered for a special worship in the Church House auditorium when some of the elders led worship to kick-off the small group meeting phase of the New Beginnings. Since then, four small groups met to have conversations about the assessment of the congregation and to explore possible future options. A total of 35 people (participants and facilitators) took part in the lively conversations.

The next step is to gather the information and ideas generated by the small groups and to begin discerning how the Spirit is moving among and to move toward a decision for our future. The facilitators are currently meeting and working on these questions:

  • Based on these conversations, what would you say were the points of agreement?
  • What seemed to be the greatest opportunity for ministry in our context?
  • After listening to all the groups, which decision do YOU think is best for us?
  • Next steps and writing the report to the congregation.

A report to the congregation will be completed soon and there will be another special worship service to give thanks for the New Beginnings process and to hear the report. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about the process, please feel free to contact me.

Please also note the events coming up this month. Our annual Cooper’s Pond Clean Up, we join with the community in a “spring cleaning” of Cooper’s Pond is scheduled for Saturday, April 8 at 9:00 am! The next day, Sunday April 9, is Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week (see the schedule on the front page), with Easter Sunday on April 16.

I will close with the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who invites us in a prayer of patient trust to: Above all, trust in the slow work of God:
Only God could say what this new spirit
            gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
            that his hand is leading you
 and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
            in suspense and incomplete.       

Grace and peace, Mark