After Easter Implications

Dear South Church Member & Friends,

            As we move into the month of May (and the weather finally warms up!), I want to share some thoughts on this season after Easter, which is called Eastertide. These Sundays before Pentecost Sunday (which this year is on May 20) give us time and space to envision and absorb the implications of the resurrection of Jesus.

            We’re reminded again that Jesus did not come to establish a cult of personality or a following that depended on his presence. Instead, he came to inaugurate a community of people who witness to and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. It’s within the context of this community (what we now call ‘the Church’) that this ‘upside-down” kingdom can begin to be comprehended. It is through this community that people are formed and transformed into the likeness of Christ.

            The formal, theological word for this is ecclesiology (from the Greek ekklesia, which means “the called-out ones” and “the visible assembly”). The church is the visible, intentional community whose main function is to ‘practice resurrection’ by calling people to a larger identity and purpose. “Once you were not a people,” we read in 1 Peter 2:10, “but now you are God’s people.”

            So, what does this post-Easter ecclesiology mean for us? It offers creative ways to think about our life together. Three metaphors for the church rooted in Scripture are: 1) People of God, 2) Body of Christ, and 3) Temple of the Spirit. Each correlates to one of three persons of the Trinity, emphasizing the communal nature of God.

            The church as the people of God connects us to our Jewish heritage and to the exodus, where the Hebrew people are called and set apart as God’s chosen. Just as Israel was “blessed to be a blessing to all people,” so too is the Church called to be a blessing to others. Practicing resurrection means service to God and to the world God loves.

            The image of the body of Christ is powerfully articulated by Paul. The Church as a body is a living organism, connected both to the living Christ and to one another. Just as the parts of the body need one another, so individuals who make up the Church are also interdependent. Practicing resurrection means that our identity is greater than any one person or group. Together we are the body of Christ.

            The early church we find in Acts is a strong example of the temple of the Spirit. After Pentecost, the disciples come out of hiding and boldly proclaim the gospel, performing “signs and wonders” for all to see. The church holds all things in common and no one is needy or neglected—a compelling witness to the Spirit of Christ. Practicing resurrection means being a community of disciples.

            As we move forward together at South Church, my hope and prayer are that we too are a lively witness to the good news to God’s world.

Grace and peace, Mark

Showing Up

Dear South Church Member & Friends,

            First, a word of thanks to everyone who assisted with Holy Week and Easter Sunday worship. The helping hands of so many folks behind the scenes made for a wonderful and meaningful worship time. And I want to add a special “thank you” to our Music Director and Organist Al Adair, to the member of the Chancel Choir, and to the other musicians who participated in worship.

            Recently I read an article titled “Church Is What We Create with Each Other” by a writer named Erin O. White, who belongs to a small Methodist church in western Massachusetts. Here’s a portion of what she wrote:

For a long time announcements bothered me. I thought they kept us from what mattered, that they were housekeeping, business best conducted somewhere else. Was now really the time to talk about pancake breakfasts and broadband networks? But I’ve since come to understand that yes, actually, now is the time. Because I’ve learned—over many, many years—that church isn’t about order or quiet or even ritual so much as it is about showing up. For yourself, for God, and for the people around you who need to feel—just as you do—that the blessings and burdens of being a human are not theirs to bear alone.

            I thought about that article, especially the part about “showing up," when on Easter morning we read from John’s gospel 20:1-18. The story focuses on Mary Magdalene, who “showed up” at the tomb before sunrise. As far as we can tell, she didn’t come expecting a miracle or a resurrection but still she was there, perhaps to experience once again (as Erin White puts it) “the blessings and burdens of being a human.”

            Because she showed up and stuck around even after the disciples left for home, Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the Risen Christ, who called her by name. This is a powerful, enduring lesson for the church: that we are not mostly about order or ritual, but about showing up, faithfully and expectantly.

            As we move into the Easter season and into Spring (and hopefully to warmer weather!), I would invited us all to think and to pray about where we are being called to “show up.” Maybe it’s with family and friends who are in need of companionship? Maybe it’s with a group or community organization that needs our support? As the saint of the church Clarence Jordan once said, “The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of life…The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home to him, but that he is risen and come home to us.”

            I will conclude by mentioning two South Church programs that you might consider showing up to: First, our GriefShare grief support ministry continues to thrive and is a wonderful place of support. They meet again on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 pm. Second, this month we are starting a Cancer Support Group, that will meet on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 pm. Please consider “showing up”!

Grace and peace, Mark

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