FCC

From Tom’s Pen

April 2017

May God’s blessings be with you as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection!

Holy Week is a special time in the life of our faith, where we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Lord’s Supper, His betrayal and crucifixion, and then ultimately His Resurrection. You are invited to join with us during all our worship opportunities during Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and our worship at 11 AM where we will celebrate Palm Sunday and also celebrate the confirmation of Reece Hamilton and Emily O’Neil. Following the service, we will celebrate Emily and Reece with a special coffee hour. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are worship experiences and remembrances and celebrations all their own, and I encourage you to come to all of the worship opportunities that you are able to.

One of the ways in which we are described as Christians is that we are an Easter people, or a people of the Resurrection. As we move toward the celebration of Easter, I think it would be helpful to explore this a little bit. The Resurrection brings together everything Jesus was about in his life and ministry, as the apostle Paul said, if Christ was not raised our faith, and all that we work for, would be for nothing. Part of being an Easter people is the idea that we believe that our walk with God does not end after our bodies die, but that we are resurrected into eternal life, and because of Christ’s resurrection we have eternal life. Being a resurrection people means that we trust in God to lead us in the right direction, that we live our lives for Him instead of living in the ways of the world, which leads to sin and death. Being a people of the resurrection means that not only do we wait for the next life with God, but that we also work with the help of the Holy Spirit to make the life in this world better for everyone. The resurrected Christ lives on in us…it is a light that cannot be hidden, but it must be allowed to shine. In the times we live in, we are always challenged to live out the spirit of the resurrection in our everyday lives. The way of the world is self-centeredness and despair, the way of Christ is about abundant life. The world needs us, it needs the people of the Resurrection more than ever. So, as we celebrate Easter, let us always look for opportunities to let the light of Christ shine forth from us. May you be richly blessed this Easter and beyond.

In Christian Love,

Tom

March 2017

With the beginning of March this year we also have the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a traditional time of preparation of forty days leading up to the celebration of Easter. During this time, we are called and challenged to engage in a time of study and reflection, so that we may grow our relationships with God and one another. Easter is one of the defining markers of our faith, as Paul the apostle has told us. During Lent, we have opportunities to share and grow in our faith, beginning with our Sunday morning worship services at 9 & 11. We also have a time of study and fellowship each Wednesday until Holy Week at 7 PM in the Social Room beginning on March 8th. We will study the book, “Give Up Something Bad for Lent” by James W. Moore. On March 8th, we will look at the material from chapters 1 & 2. I have some hard copies of the book available if you are interested…the cost is $9. The book is also available digitally on Kindle and Nook.

Just recently, we remembered the story of the Transfiguration, which always happens on the last Sunday before Lent. That Scripture lesson is so important because it reminds us of the transformative power of God’s light, that is always shining on us. This Scripture reminds us that we always have the opportunity to reflect that light out into the world. As we enter this season of Lent, this is something we can reflect on and put into practice. If we are not reflecting the light of God into the world, then others will have a hard time seeing it indeed. You are the body of Christ…look for opportunities to reflect the light.

In Christian Love,

Tom

February 2017

God’s grace, peace and love be with you!

Usually, the start of Lent, which is Ash Wednesday, happens on one of the Wednesdays in February. Easter is later this year (on Sunday, April 16th), and this means that the start of Lent is later. Honestly, I have to say that I like it better when Easter is later (and therefore Lent begins later.) This means that we have at least a greater chance for better weather as we progress through Lent and then have Easter. It also gives us a little more time between Christmas and the season of Lent (which is Epiphany). As we have a whole month between now and the start of Lent, I want you to know what we have planned.

Ash Wednesday is Wednesday, March 1st, and we will have worship in the Sanctuary at 7 PM. Each Wednesday following up until Holy Week (March 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th, & April 5th) we will be invited to gather in the Social Room at 7 PM for study and conversation, which is continuing our tradition of gathering on Wednesday evenings during Lent. This year instead of a meal, we will have coffee and cookies available to share during the study and fellowship time. If you would like to volunteer to bring the dessert/cookies and/or prepare the coffee and drinks for one of the Wednesday evenings, that would be great! This year we will be studying Give up Something Bad for Lent by James W. Moore. Historically, we have always valued the practice of giving up something for Lent. Many times, this ends up being giving up something like chocolate, for example, knowing that after Easter Sunday we can once again enjoy what we have given up. This book/study challenges us to take it further—to give up something we are better off not doing. We will be invited to seek God’s help to focus on eliminating one habit or attitude that is destructive. Imagine giving up envy, jealousy, self-pity, apathy, procrastination, gossip, resentment, or negative thinking. Life would be much better. Lent is an ideal time to look at these things, to prepare to give up something bad while preparing to fully embrace the Good News of Easter. Our Wednesday evenings will be following this study, and my sermons during lent will be on the scriptures and issues that the study brings up. If you would like a hard copy of the book, I have several available, and if we need more, we have time to order them. If you would like a hard copy, please let me know by Sunday, February 12th so I can order them in one shipment. It is a small book and an easy read…the price for a hard copy is $8.70. It is also available on Kindle or Nook if you would like that format. If you are not interested in buying the book, you will still be able to attend the study and follow along with no problems.

Recently, I have been reminding us, with some frequency, of our baptism, and our baptismal vows, that is, how we have promised to live as followers of Christ. In the world we live in today especially, we cannot afford to be complacent with this or to take them for granted. Through the constant vigilance of the living out of these promises is how the Good News proclaimed, and lived into action in the world. Love and justice begins with us…I invite you to continue to lift this up in prayer and be in continued conversation with one another as to how God is continuing to call us to live out our promises…and be a part of God’s abundant life.

In Christian Love,

Tom

January 2017

God’s blessings to you as we begin this New Year of 2017! It is my hope and prayer that your life will be filled with God’s good blessings throughout this New Year!

The New Year is both a time of looking back and a time of looking forward. Each year has been filled with its challenges and blessings, and 2016 has been no different. This last year, we have welcomed some wonderful new folks among us, we have continued to reach out into the community in innumerable ways, have had successful events and speaker series programs, we have continued to be strong in all of our mission work. We have made different repairs to the facilities, and will continue to do so this year. We have had challenges also in that we have lost some of our beloved First Church family members as they went on to be with God in the last year. While we miss them, they live on with God, the angels, and the saints and they live on in our hearts and in our memories.

Also this last year, we have been participating in the “Vitality Days” program that has been put together by our association. We have been working on strengthening our ministries as a result of participation in this program. At our Informational Meeting, which has been scheduled for Wednesday, January 11th at 7 PM, we are going to talk about income and expenses for 2017, which is something that we do every year, and we are also going to talk about what we have been learning from participating in the “Vitality Days” program so far. The events to date have been focused on worship and administration, and we have some exciting new developments that we are working on that we would like to share with you at the informational meeting. One of these is that we will be switching to a new management software called “Breeze” which will give us many better options when it comes to keeping track of information, getting information out to folks, as well as offering automatic and electronic giving options. There is too much information about this new program and everything else we have been working on to write about in an article, so come and join us for the meeting on the 11th so that you can hear all about it!

A brief thought as we end one year and begin another…I have heard the statement made on many different platforms (news programs, internet sites, news articles, word of mouth) that 2016 has been a particularly bad year and they can’t wait to “get it over with.” The thought behind that is, most likely, that 2017 will be better because 2016 was so bad. Whether a year has been good or bad (or any period of time, for that matter) is always dependent on our point of reference and focus. The Holy Spirit has carried on His good work throughout the last year just like He always has. So, reflect on how God’s Holy Spirit was working in your life and in the life of the wider community in the last year. True, there were challenges, extreme divisions, uncertainties about the future, deaths and tragedies, but, those things happen every year. How have you grown closer to God in the last year? How do you resolve to continue to do God’s good work in the world in 2017? How will you support the work of our family of faith…by strengthening one another, and showing God’s love and justice in many different ways? This is how 2017 will be better than 2016, not by less “bad stuff” happening, but through our resolve to live out the Good News that God has written on our minds and hearts. I look forward to ministering in 2017 with you, and living out that Good News that God has called us to live out. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, we can make, with God, 2017 a very good year indeed.

In Christian Love,

Tom

December 2016

Join us during Advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ! We will have a sermon series through Advent in which we will take a look at how our living in God’s economy of grace and justice is the antithesis of the life-threatening addiction to money, success, exclusion, and looking out for ourselves. The chimes of the clock-tower bells in Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” provide a wake-up call for Ebenezer Scrooge and turn him from his resentment, fear, and isolation. Just as God’s presence was born anew into this world, we too can be born anew, woken up and redeemed into renewed life, joy, passion, generosity, humility, and love. Here is our sermon series for Advent:

November 27th, First Sunday of Advent: “Bah Humbug! Making Change” & “The Remembrance of Christmas Past: Hope from Heartbreak (Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7 & Luke 1:46-47, 52-55 and Isaiah 2:9-6 & Luke 2:8-14) “Bah Humbug! Making Change”: The cultural context in which Dickens placed his powerful Christmas story was 1800’s England–a time of great divide between rich and poor–something on which Dickens wanted to shed a light. His main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is clear as the story begins that the only redeeming value in life was in getting more money. He lives in resentment, fear and the ice-cold frozen state of watching out only for himself. God’s economy, on the other hand, says that there is enough for all and all are worthy of the abundance of life and joy, freedom and sustenance. Will we “make change” and move toward the richness of peace for all or will we continue to be chained by the poverty of exclusion? The Remembrance of Christmas Past: Hope from Heartbreak: Anyone who has ever been in therapy knows that shining a light on our past requires courage… and hope. When the Ghost of Christmas Past makes a visit, Scrooge is immediately afraid of the light that emanates from it. But as he begins the terrifying journey, he sheds a tear for the disappointment of his own past and compassion slowly begins to make an appearance in his life. How will we be inspired to share hope in the midst of the world’s heartbreak?

December 4th, Second Sunday of Advent: “The Life of Christmas Present: Look Upon Me” (Scripture: Deuteronomy 15:7-11 & Matthew 2:1-18) Ebenezer Scrooge has a prescription for humanity at the beginning of the story– the poor have only themselves to blame and would be better off dead. So when he is visited by the spirit of the present, he is admonished to “look!” He must really see the truth of the suffering world and his own hand in it. Love is the center of the message this week. What if we modeled our Advent and Christmas comings and goings as if we actually believe that God has already blessed everyone and we are called to make visible and tangible those blessings?

December 11th, Third Sunday of Advent: “The Hope of Christmas Future: Death-Defying Acts” (Scripture: Revelation 1:4 & Luke 4:18-19) Fear of the future. We all have this to varying degrees, affecting our behavior, our relationships, our generosity and our ability to truly know the joy of life. The journey of Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is harrowing. He tries to hide from it, run from it–to no avail. It is only when he realizes that he has the power to change the destructive course he is on that his fear is transformed to joy. Along with Scrooge, we can defy death-like attitudes and reawaken to life. No matter how far off course we might have gone, “we haven’t missed it!”

December 18th, Fourth Sunday of Advent “A Journey to Bethlehem: An Interactive Experience” Join us as we have a brief worship in the Sanctuary at 10 AM then go on a journey through the town of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus. This allows us not to just hear the Christmas story, but experience it!

Christmas Eve: “The Redemption of Scrooge: Keeping Christmas Well” (Scripture: Luke 2:1-20) “Keeping Christmas well” is not about signs of our own prosperity, but signs of our own redemption–getting our true selves back so that we might give of ourselves with joy. In this story, Scrooge’s journey is not complete until he reconciles with his family. “Scrooge knocked at the door and asked to be welcomed, and with joy, he was. If Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we!”

Christmas Day: Join us for worship at 10 AM as we celebrate the newborn Christ by singing our favorite carols and worshiping the God who makes it all possible!

On Thursday Evenings in Advent (December 1st, 8th, 15th, & 22nd) join us in the North Room in the Parish Center as we engage in further study and discussion on the “Redemption of Scrooge”. We will meet at 7 PM.

On Friday December 2nd, everyone is invited to join us in the Social Room where we will gather to watch the movie “A Christmas Carol” at 7 PM. We will have childcare for children 3 & under where they will have activities of their own. Come and be with us for a fun movie night!

November 2016

God’s Grace, Peace, and Love be with you!

The month of November is associated with Thanksgiving. In many ways, it is my favorite holiday. Not just because we get to eat all the traditional Thanksgiving stuff, but because it is also a great opportunity to really consider and appreciate all the good things that God has given to us. As we gather with one another in worship this next month, and as we celebrate with our family and friends, let us take special time and consideration to be thankful for all that we have been given. So, in your prayer life, take care to give thanks for some things and people in your life that perhaps you may not normally lift up in thanksgiving so often. Take time to give thanks for and appreciate the small things in life that God has given us. For example, as pertains to me, I don’t always think about how thankful I am for the conversations and interactions I have on a daily basis, and how there is always opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work, even in what we think are the smallest or most insignificant of ways. We are thankful for all of the blessings that God sends our way…the changing leaves, our family and friends, the opportunities we have for love and service, and many more. Remember these things this month.

November is also the time where traditionally, in the midst of our gratitude to God for all that we have been given, we consider what God is calling us to do, and how God is calling us to respond to the mission we have been given…and it is a mission that is blessed and that also brings abundant life. So, I invite you to consider prayerfully how you will respond to this calling. The Holy Spirit is doing good things amongst us and through us out into the wider community. As we are well aware, the world is in much need of the Good News of Christ. As St. Paul said so long ago, during the time of the earliest church, all of us make up the body of Christ, and we are individually each members of that body. The church is not the building in which we gather at 22 Liberty St, but it is all of us who gather there that make up the church. In order for the body of Christ to function, we have to be “all in.” We all remember not so long ago when the Cavs were going for the championship…we are “all in” to say that we are supporting the Cavs. God calls us to do the same thing when it comes to living a life of faith. It is only when we are “all in” do we truly open ourselves up to abundant life. Abundant life comes through the Holy Spirit working through the body of Christ, which is us. The difference you make with your gifts and service are without price, because hope and salvation can’t be bought, but are gifts that God uses us, the church, to deliver to the wider world, and to one another. We are the hope that this world, this community, and we as God’s people, need. So consider prayerfully and carefully about how God is calling you to respond to share what you have been blessed with.

In Christian Love and Thanksgiving,

Tom

October 2016

God’s grace, love and blessings be with you as we enter the month of October! Up to this point, the weather has been pretty great and we will see how long it can continue. We have known October and specifically Halloween since the middle of August (or earlier) when they put the Halloween stuff out, and about 3 weeks ago already I saw a store I went into had the Christmas stuff out already. Time passes quickly, but we need to enjoy everything in its own good time. As usual, we have lots of things going on in the life of the church and on the church calendar, so please don’t forget to check it out and perhaps put it up on the refrigerator as a reminder. In particular, I want to call attention to Trunk or Treat that we are having on the 29th. The sign-up sheets for everything that we need as well as a sign-up sheet for your car to be in the trunk or treat (it’s a fun time…if you have not done it before, trust me, you will enjoy it!)

On Saturday, October 15th, a small group of us from the congregation are attending the Vitality Days program that the Eastern Ohio and Western Reserve Association are putting together. We hope to get insight and ideas from this time over the next 6 or so months that we will be spending (primarily one meeting a month). Please keep this process and the entire congregation in your prayers as we study and reflect on the very important topic of congregational vitality.

I would like to encourage you, as I always do, to avail yourself of all the opportunities that the church has for you to grow in your faith. In addition to Sunday morning worship we have small groups that you can be a part of, as well as Sunday school for all ages, and other opportunities as well. On Tuesday evenings in the Lounge in the Parish Center at 7 PM there is a Grief Support Group and studying time in which we share and learn with and from one another about the process of grief and try to live into God’s healing together. I would encourage you if you are in the grief process to join us. If you know of someone who could benefit from such an experience, please let them know about this group. It is open to all who would like to be a part of the group, which means it is for members of the congregation but also for any in the wider community who would like to attend. Also, on Thursday evenings at 7 PM in the North Room in the Parish Center, we are studying Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Even though this book and these thoughts were put together back in the 1940’s, they are still relevant for us today and the concepts in the book are easily applied to what is going on in the world today and what is going on in our lives today as regards our faith. So please join us for a great study and a great discussion.

Next month (November) we will celebrate Thanksgiving as we always do. Part of celebrating thanksgiving is also taking seriously the claim that God has on us to be generous. In order for us to be in the right frame of mind and feeling for good stewardship, we have to set the tone. We have to come at things with the right attitude. Just recently, I said in a sermon that in one sense, “fighting the good fight of faith,” as it says in 1 Timothy, has to do with maintaining proper perspective and vision. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, there will always be challenges. We will always have some difficult obstacle in our lives to deal with, no matter what is going on. It could be difficulties with money, relationships, loss, health, or anything else. Fighting the good fight of faith though is about realizing and being thankful for our blessings that we do have in spite of whatever it is that may be bringing us down. The reality is that we have the opportunity to be content because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who blesses us in innumerable ways. This peace is a peace that goes beyond understanding and can only come from the kingdom of God, which is both within us and yet to come. We don’t have to look for “the light at the end of the tunnel,” because God’s light is already surrounding us. Sometimes, the obstacle with which we struggle is blocking it out for us, but we can’t let it. The key to being open to experiencing God’s blessings is to notice and give thanks for all of the blessings that are happening in your life, and in the life of the church. Just a little thought of gratitude as we progress through fall…it makes all the difference.

In Christian Love,

Tom

September 2016

Well, school has started and we are now getting into the fall! Pretty soon, we will be talking about pumpkin flavored and scented items, hayrides, apple picking, and all of that other good stuff. It also means that we will soon be heading into colder weather, the leaves will be changing, and then comes…well, I won’t mention it, but you know what it is. September is one of my favorite months of the year, as far as weather goes. So, before it gets too cold, get out there and enjoy some more of it!

With the start of school we will also begin a new Sunday school year. We begin with an all church picnic and celebration on Rally Day, which will be Sunday, September 11th. We will have one service at 11 AM on this day, with a picnic and fun activities following. We will have good food, carnival games, corn hole, and the bouncy house will be out there (and if it’s warm enough, we might have a water game out there, too!). We are also asking if everyone would bring a salad, side dish, or dessert to share.

As we have been saying for weeks now, we are in the process of putting together a new church directory. It has been quite a few years since our last one, and so it is time to put a new one together. It is important that we get everyone’s picture on the dates we have scheduled. (I will not repeat that information here because you can find it elsewhere in this newsletter). I can also assure you that we have talked to the representative from the company and have heard from folks that have worked with this company in the recent past that they are not high pressure. It is no secret that they are trying to sell photos…that’s how they make a profit. However, you do not have to buy any, and if you don’t want them, all you have to do is say “No thank you” and you will be on your way. Everyone will get a free 8×10 photo and a church directory. This is also a good opportunity, however, for those who would like to purchase professional photos and not have to go somewhere else and make a different appointment for them. We will also make sure that we set up the picture taking and consultation in an area that does not involve stairs. So, if you have not signed up yet…please do so ASAP online or by calling/emailing Christy in the office to get on the schedule.

We will also welcome Fr. Jerry Bednar toward the end of the month for our Speaker Series…please refer to the article in this newsletter for more information on this event, which will be informative and thought provoking as we consider our own faith and that of our Muslim neighbors.

Now that I have mentioned some important practical concerns in the life of the church, I would like to offer a bit of reflection. When we went back home to visit my family at the end of July/beginning of August (my parents still live in the same house I grew up in), we were watching MSNBC (yes, some “yays” and some “boos”, but relax…it is what it is) and during this particular show (can’t remember which one it was) they were talking about everything going on with the presidential election (this was right after the Democratic convention) they were discussing what was wrong with everything. During this discussion, people gave all kinds of your typical answers, it is one party’s fault or another, it is the people on Wall St., it is (place your favorite target here.) I must admit that I was only half listening to begin with, because most people were saying the same stuff that we have continued to hear for a long time…nothing new, just a different day. However, I perked up a little because one of the experts on this particular panel (he was a doctor, a professor of something), said that what we really have going on is a “character problem.” No one on the show dwelled on his answer at all, but that was the best little nugget of the God’s honest truth I have heard for a long time. The problems we are having as a society, while complex, all boil down to the same simple cause, which is the failure to live by the Golden Rule. Have I failed at this? Of course I have, from time to time…so have all of us. However, it is the ideal is what is important, it is the goal that we have to strive for. It is essentially what we are about in building the kingdom of God on earth, the task that God continues to give us, His church, to do. While it seems very difficult to live by this rule, it is our calling, and by our example and our effort, guided by the Holy Spirit, will make the world a better place. We never know the difference that we make in the lives of others, and we never know the kinds of seeds that we will help plant. We pray for those affected by violence, by the flooding in Louisiana, and all these other concerns, we continue to lift up in prayer, along with many other people and situations. We also, work to help build the Kingdom of God every day. We are not powerless to effect change in this world, but rather, we shape our lives and, on a bigger scale, we shape the world with our choices and priorities. This is how the world will be made better…God working through us!

In Christian Love, Tom

August 2016

This last month, a few of us from the congregation had the pleasure of doing a week of mission work at Hiram Farms in Hiram, OH. Hiram Farms is a farm that has a mission of employing adults who are on all different levels of the autism spectrum. They raise chickens, hogs, cattle, there is a sheep and a goat in there, as well as raising different kinds of produce in the garden and greenhouse. The day to day operations of the farm are run by the farmers (those who work there who have autism) and the staff. There are things that come up that need to be done, however, that are outside of the scope of the day to day operations, both from a labor as well as from a financial standpoint. Operating, as you might imagine, on a razor thin budget, the farm employs people who in many cases would not have jobs or engage in society in a meaningful way. Most likely, many of them would be put in homes of different kinds and would be left there, or, they would be the sole responsibilities of their families or may even be left on their own. While we were there, we worked. We put up fencing around the cow pasture. We worked on building a chicken coop. We built platforms that will hold rain collection barrels that collect the rain from the gutters in the barn so that the water can be used to water the animals and the plants in the garden. We did a little weeding and helped with a few “regular” chores as well. It was hot, it was a lot of work, and because of the combination of the heat and the hard work we got tired. Sometimes, what we were trying to do frustrated at points. Working through all of the challenges, however, we were also living out the love of God in a brand new way, and being the church in a new way that was needed. So, I am grateful for the opportunity that we had to work on the farm! The next time we have an opportunity to work on and with a mission such as Hiram Farms, I would encourage you to participate. Whenever we go on mission trips, they always involve hard work but they bring their own wonderful rewards, too!

As I reflect on the work that we did there, I don’t think about how hot it was and how difficult things were sometimes given the circumstances. I think about hope and love. Change was accomplished on that farm through things that we did, with the help of the Holy Spirit giving us those abilities. To me, it is very empowering and uplifting that the Holy Spirit works through us, God’s people. It also gives me hope for the world we live in, which, admittedly, is hard to maintain sometimes. Wherever we turn, it seems as things are in a sad state of affairs, and this is especially true in that it is a presidential election year. Those who have been listening on Sunday know how I feel about that already so I won’t go into it here. However, real change will not come from people in the political circle, but will come from us and how it is we choose to live. We choose to live with the light of Christ and live it out in real terms, or we must be satisfied with more of the same of what we have been seeing and experiencing in the world. Our sphere of influence (where we are and who we interact with on the local level) is where we have the opportunity to enact the most change. So, let the hope and love of Christ live as we seek to change the world in the direction of God’s kingdom. This will be the change we wish to see.

In Christian Love,

Tom

 

July 2016

May the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

As is usually the case, there is a lot going on in the life of the church throughout the summer. The Painesville Community Theater has gotten off to a good start, and the kids are enjoying the program. They have two different camps this year, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning camp will be putting on the play “Sleeping Beauty” and the afternoon camp will be putting on the play “The Magical Land of Oz.” The performances are scheduled to take place here in the Sanctuary on August 6th, and I encourage you to put that date on your calendar and plan to attend.

The sign-ups to volunteer to be a host for the St. James lunch/dinner program are going well. We have some dates open during the month of August and that first week in September. (Meals will be prepared and served here Saturday-Tuesday beginning on July 2nd through September 6th. I am glad that our congregation was able to step up in this important way to help make sure that those in need will be able to be fed during this time of transition while St. James is undergoing their much needed renovation.

Speaking of sign-ups, we are also in need of folks to help with working the table for the church at Party in the Park. Information is located in a separate article here in the newsletter. It is important for us to use every opportunity we can to connect with the wider community, and this is one of the ways in which we do that.

If you would like to help us with another hands-on project, we will be doing some work on Hiram Farms to help them with their ministry. This farm is a working farm primarily for children and adults with autism. We will be doing this the week of July 18th. If you would like more information, there is a separate article in this newsletter that tells you all about it…we would love to have you join us.

Now that I have mentioned some things that we have coming up in the life of the church and how important they are I would like to share a little reflection with you. This last month, we had another mass shooting which again causes us to lean on and reflect on our faith and the state of the world, among other things. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Orlando. Again, though, we are surrounded by many voices around this incident…some good, some bad. Admittedly, I find it difficult sometimes by the seeming demands of the world to “speak out” on everything. If you follow Christ, then the shooting, just like any other, is wrong and evil…that’s pretty much it. Following that, we pray for those affected and as Christians, who have promised to show love and justice, at our baptism, confirmation, or affirmation of faith, we work to bring Christ’s kingdom into the world where we are in the ways in which we are empowered to do so. Sometimes, it could mean political action, such as writing our government representatives, perhaps protesting, writing and speaking, and the like. Really, if we want God’s love to be a priority in the world, we ourselves have to make it a priority for us day to day. When we interact with others, what kind of message are we sharing? Is it the message of Christ, or is it something else. Do we share the love of God, or do we only focus on what we think we need to do in every given moment. The very best thing that we can do is to make the community around us better by living in the Holy Spirit, which means doing all we can to work for and build up the kingdom of God. Will this be a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us? No it won’t, but without living for God’s kingdom there will be no change…things will go on as they are and as they have been. How should we respond to these things as God’s people? Pray and work. Lift up people in prayer, and work to bring the kingdom of God into the world around us. If we keep our eyes on the prize of co-creating, with God, a community of love, peace, and justice, then we will be responding the best way we can and it will achieve results. Again, this is not a guarantee that tragedies like this will never happen, but it is the path toward real change. God gives us the strength, courage, and purpose. As First Church, Congregational, this is our mission, to bring the Good News of Christ into the world and to live it.

In Christian Love, Tom

June 2016

We have celebrated Memorial Day, and school has now let out for the summer. We are in the midst of perhaps doing some planting, getting those outside projects done, and taking advantage of the warmer weather to enjoy God’s creation. When we look around and see the flowers, to see the beauty all around us, we give thanks to God.

There are lots of things coming up in the life of the church as we enter the summer. Vacation Bible School will be happening later this month, and I encourage you to invite your kids, grandkids, neighbors, etc. It promises to be a fun time and we will also learn about our faith. Also, later this month, the Painesville Community Theater will begin, there are two camps this year, and there is still time to sign up. There are scholarships available for kids who like to attend for all or part of the cost. We will also have the opportunity to participate in a mission project next month at Hiram Farms…more details will be forthcoming.

You may notice that there have been some TV’s put up in different locations…one in the Social Room, one in the Beckwith Lobby, and one will also be going up in the Chapel Lobby. These screens will give us the opportunity to display announcements, information, as well as any pictures or movies we would like to show on them. I think that these are a great addition to our facility. Not only is it a great reminder to us about what is coming up, and it allows us to see what has been happening, but it also allows the many folks from the community who use our building to see what it is we have going on in the life of the church. This is another opportunity to advertise who we are and what we do as a family of faith to a wider audience.

Soon, we will also be removing the wall in the upstairs that separates the Davis Room (the big room upstairs above the Social Room) from the Youth Room and the Bell Room, turning that into a bigger space. This is so we can have a larger activity space/meeting room, and we can continue to use the Social Room for meals, meetings, and so forth. This will also help us with having to set up and take down tables constantly…the more “active” activities will have a place to have them upstairs, while the Social Room will continue to be used as it has been. We look forward to having some dodgeball and other classes and games up there! I would also like to encourage everyone that if you are planning to have a meeting/event here, please get it on the calendar…just a friendly reminder. We have quite a bit going on here at the church and we need to make sure that everything runs smoothly…so please email or call Christy if you are planning something so that we can check and get it on the calendar!

On another note…I am a reflective person by nature, and I got to thinking the other day as the school year is almost over about time. After the kids came home from school on the first day of school this year, I listened to their gripes about how they have a long time before next summer comes. I remember clearly telling them that, “summer will be here before you know it…only 179 days left of school.” Well, guess what…we are here already, it has arrived before you know it. Time passes quickly, and we are often left thinking where has it gone, and what we have spent it on. It has been scientifically proven that our perception of time does change as we age, it seems to go faster because we notice less of the little stimuli that we noticed when we were younger…and the less you notice the faster you perceive time to pass. Even so, we have as much time each day as when we were younger, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Time is best fulfilled when we have our priorities in line. Are we living out God’s blessings, taking time to live God’s kingdom…or are we doing other things? Make God’s kingdom a priority, as He has made you a priority. This is where God’s blessings have the opportunity to flourish. We have as much time as we need. This summer, we celebrate God’s creation, and we work towards bringing about the kingdom of God.

In Christian Love,

Tom

May 2016

During this month of May, I am doing a sermon series on some topics in church history, and tying them into our life of faith today. Things that happened in the past do not just stay in the past, but they have a tendency to repeat themselves and then continue, in different ways to have an impact on our lives, and our life of faith, where church history is concerned. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Church history can be exciting, but it is also very relevant, and gives us much opportunity for learning. Here is the schedule for the sermon series:

May 1st: “Who is Jesus’ Message For?” Scripture: Galatians 2:11-14; 3:19-29. It wasn’t always understood that Christ’s message was open to everyone. One of the struggles of the earliest church was who should be a part of the church. This is important as we continue to be welcoming of all as the body of Christ.

May 8th (Mother’s Day): “Who is God?” Scripture: John 1:1-5; 3:16; 20:19-23. The concept of the triune God was not always taken for granted in the early church. The church struggled to figure out who God is, and the struggle continues to this day. We will also reflect on the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and explore how we see God, as Christians, has a positive impact on our faith walk.

May 15th: “War and Peace: To Fight or Not to Fight.” Scripture: Matthew 5:9,38-48; 26:50-53; Luke 22:35-38. As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be peacemakers, but it seems as if this is not always possible. When, if ever, is it ok to respond with violence? We will also look at answers from church history such as the Just War Theory. All of these can help us with the world we live in today as violence is a growing issue in our society.

May 22nd: “Faith vs. Works…Is There Really a Problem?” Scripture: James 2:14-26. Since Martin Luther and the time of the Reformation, there have been questions around faith, works, and what is or isn’t required for salvation. How should I live my life as a Christian? This topic continues to have relevance for us today in how we follow Christ.

May 29th: That They May All Be One: What it Means to be a Part of the United Church of Christ. Scripture: John 17:20-21. We are reminded that our relationships with one another as a family of faith are important, and always need to be built up. We are also reminded about always extending this message of love and family to the wider world.

I hope to see you all in worship this month as we explore these topics and grow our faith!

In Christian Love,

Tom

April 2016

As we have just celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord, I hope that you have felt the presence of the risen Christ blessing you in your life! Even though the Resurrection happened going on 2,000 years ago, it remains as powerful as it ever was. I think on the events that we have just remembered and celebrated this last Holy Week along with the situation we find ourselves in the world today. What does the resurrection and all the events of Holy Week that we just experienced have to say to us today? In answer to this question, there are probably many answers that we could give, but here are some reflections:

Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is indeed King. Sometimes, our expectations of what that means don’t always go along with the reality of Jesus mission, as evidenced by the people who were in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered. Palm Sunday for me is a powerful reminder that Christ is indeed King. There are many other “kings” we could place on the throne in our lives. There are many ways in which governments, whether it be ours or ones around the world, make decisions that serve only themselves or the few, or let people suffer while making no decisions at all. I think of the presidential election this year, which has been filled with sensonalitionism and rancor, many have expressed the feeling that they particularly feel they are only voting against people rather than for others. The events of Palm Sunday, and all through Easter, remind us that God is not bound by governments, or anything else on earth that seeks to take charge of our lives. No matter what happens to us, what happens to this country, the government, or anything else around the world the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with us, reminding us that we are never separated from God’s love. Jesus began a revolution of truly epic proportions on Palm Sunday, being the king of our lives in saving us from anything that would separate us from the love of God and would allow us to descend into despair.

Holy Monday was the day in which Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple. The area where the money changers were was the outermost court of the temple, the only place where Gentiles were allowed to enter. This is where people bought things for offerings to give to the priests, or just bought things for themselves period, and they exchanged money to be able to make offerings in the temple. The people who were exchanging the money basically always miscalibrated the scales and/or influenced the exchange rate so that they would make the most profit from the people. Jesus got angry with this and turned the tables over. In order to remove the power that sin has over our lives, we have to turn to God and have a relationship with him. This relationship leads to outward positive actions, including serving God and others. It can’t come from just doing something wrong and then paying for it to make it right, but it begins with love in a relationship. Jesus also reminds us that we are called to bring about God’s kingdom into this world, which includes bringing economic justice and taking part in ending the suffering that exists in this world because of it.

Maundy Thursday is about Jesus giving of himself for us, as represented in the wonderful gift of the Last Supper. This points us toward the hospitality that we extend to everyone as the church. Jesus told the disciples that He was giving Himself to them, that he wanted to have a relationship with His disciples in a very intimate, unconditional loving way. He loved everyone there, even Judas who would betray Him, and Peter who would deny Him. Again, this is a wonderful gift that reminds us that no matter where we are in life, we are loved unconditionally by God. Maundy Thursday also takes its name from the Latin mandatum, which means “mandate,” and comes from the command to “love one another as I have loved you” during the footwashing. This is, in part, where our encouragement comes from to live a different lifestyle from the world, one that is composed of love and service. It is our calling and our responsibility to live this in the world.

On Good Friday, Jesus was killed as a common criminal. To the authorities, a dangerous nuisance was removed…he was dangerous in that he was a threat to them. He was a threat to the Romans because anybody claiming to be a king was treason. He was a threat to the Jewish authorities because he was subverting everything that they said about how to have a relationship with God. They thought they had won, they thought they had killed Jesus and that all of this would go away. We, also are faced with tragedies, whether in our own personal lives or in the lives of others, we recently saw, for example, yet another terrorist attack in Brussels where many people lost their lives and many were injured. Death, though, would not have the last word….because Sunday was coming!

Easter Sunday…the glorious day where sin and death were defeated. The violence, suffering, and death that is in this world have no power over the Good News, over God’s unconditional love! So, when we face tragedy, when we wonder if everything is going to be “OK,” we always look to the resurrection, because Jesus took sin and death away as obstacles that would have kept us away from God. It is in this hope which we live. No matter how many terrorist attacks, no matter what evil things we see, there is always the promise of new life, there is always the promise of resurrection. The face of the resurrected Jesus lives on in our faces, in the faces of each one of us. This is also the Good News that we need to pass on to the whole world!

In Christian Love, and Giving Thanks for the Resurrected Jesus,

Tom

 

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First Church Congregational
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Painesville, OH 44077
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