The Conference Office will be Closed for Christmas Week.
January 2, 2014
Greetings Members & Friends,
Welcoming the Stranger Among You...
Well, here we are. The 18th of December. One week until Christmas. The Advent Express train has been gathering a head of steam, racing toward Christmas Eve and our annual celebration of the Birth.
This has been an unsettling Advent for me, the first time in 12 years I was not actively planning the season as a local church pastor. And I have a confession to make (lay folks, change the channel now. Your pastor might not want you to read this next part).
I miss it. I miss the hustle and bustle; I miss the balancing of what Christmas has become in the secular world with what it means to us as a congregation; I miss the controversy over whether it's OK to pull out our Pilgrim Hymnals so that our generally inclusive congregation can sing the old beloved carols unreformed by gender neutrality; I miss the sometimes snarky discourse over the color of the Advent candles, and...
Whoa. Just had one of those moments. I can't get this vision out of my head of Flora and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty standing over an Advent Wreath with their magic wands, "Make it pink!" "Make it blue!"
Whew. Still with me? Here's the part that you may find surprising. In spite of all the things that conspire to make it hard, I love Advent. And I suspect most pastors do too. And in addition to all the obvious answers to why, here's my #1 reason.
On Christmas Eve, you have a chance to be with and love people who only enter your sanctuary once a year. It's your congregation's opportunity to take marginally attached folk and help them find a spiritual home. It's a night when you put your best foot forward, not just for yourselves, but for the stranger among you. It's when you can make the case that your congregation, your United Church of Christ congregation, is a sort of hospital for the religiously wounded, where no matter who they are or where they are on life's journey, that they are welcome. A place where the spiritual but not religious could find a home. Where the questioner and doubter would be welcomed. Think of your church as the stable. The best accommodations? Perhaps not. But the stable is the one that welcomes the stranger, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the vulnerable.
So, as you finish planning for Christmas Eve, keep these people in mind. Be sure your worship is welcoming, hospitable, that you print the words to every prayer in your bulletin, that you avoid 'church-speak' whenever possible, that you present love and acceptance as your chief witness. In Randolph Center we served communion on Christmas Eve. Perhaps that seems out of place to you. But we thought of those who only come on Christmas Eve, or are there for the first time in years, or never before, and we wanted to welcome them to the birth and the table. Jesus' table.
Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season. God has great things planned for us. I can't wait.
Rev. Jim Thomas
Associate Conference Minister for
Stewardship, Church Vitality, and Finance
Conference Office News
~The Conference Office will close at noon on Friday, December 20 for the staff Christmas luncheon and remain closed through Christmas week and New Year's, reopening January 2, 2014.
~No E-KIT will be published on December 25 and January 1. Next issue will be January 8, 2014.
Conference Ministers' Schedules
~Lynn Bujnak is currently on leave of absence.
~On Sunday, December 22, Pam Lucas will be worshipping at the United Church of Fairfax and meeting with the Church council.
Local Churches - 2014 Yearbook Reporting
All the annual Yearbook reporting forms and instructions, with the exception of your personalized Local Church Report (Form G), will be available for download at www.ucc.org/research/yearbook.html after January 6th. (Please make a note on your calendar.) Click on the link for Yearbook and all the forms and instructions will be posted. We will also have links posted on the Conference website www.vtcucc.org.
Simply download a copy of each form and you can complete it on your computer. You can print a copy or save a copy and mail it into the conference office. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to complete the forms. If you do not have this program it can be downloaded for free at http://get.adobe.com/reader/. Follow the instructions provided on this website to download and install.
A personalized Local Church Form is available by emailing the conference office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The online system is again being offered for you to submit your forms. Instructions for accessing and using the UCC Data Hub will be posted online and on the conference website.
The due date for church forms will be March 16th. Please make note of this date. There is no longer a "church officers'" form as the National offices are no longer keeping track of this information. This is the last year the UCC will be accepting paper forms. I will offer training sessions for those of you who need them for doing the forms online. Please call me to set up a time. I will also make a computer available in the office for doing the forms online if you would like to come here to do them.
Please do not contact the UCC Research office for information about the Local Church Reports. If you have any questions, please contact me directly at email@example.com or 802-728-4999.
Administrative Assistant and Placement Coordinator
Conference Year-End Information
Our Conference books, for donations intended to be credited for 2013, must be received at the Conference Office no later than January 10, 2014. Any contributions received after that date will be credited for 2014.
The date must be strictly kept - as the national setting also has a deadline - and if our forwarded contributions are not received in Cleveland on time, none of our December or early January offerings will count as we wish them too. Please help by passing the word to the people in your congregation responsible for sending in remittances.
--Rev. Jim Thomas
Associate Conference Minister
for Stewardship, Church Vitality, and Finance
Christmas Fund 2013
The generous gifts of UCC congregations and individuals to the Christmas Fund enabled the Pension Boards' Ministerial Assistance program to provide some form of assistance to impact the lives of approximately 900 persons during the past year.
CHRISTMAS THANK YOU CHECKS to 500 retired UCC clergy/lay church employees.
MONTHLY PENSION SUPPLEMENTATION for 395 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay employees.
QUARTERLY HEALTH PREMIUM SUPPLEMENTATION for 228 lower-income retired UCC clergy/lay employees.
EMERGENCY GRANTS for 45 active or retired UCC clergy/lay employees.
Click here for more information.
● Southwest Association - Southwest Breezes, Winter 2013 Newsletter - Click here.
| Annual Meeting News|
The Vermont Conference Annual Meeting
is going to be different this year!
Earlier date: Friday/Saturday April 25-26, 2014
New place: Lake Morey Resort, Fairlee, VT
Different focus: A retreat experience, alongside needed elements of annual meeting business, with time for contemplation, exploration of spiritual practices, and more...
Our theme: "Rooted and Grounded in Love" Ephesians 3:14-19
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! - All members of the Vermont Conference United Church of Christ are called!
The 2014 Annual Meeting of the Conference will be held in April instead of the regular first weekend after Memorial Day. Because the meeting is earlier, so is the Call for Resolutions.
If you, your church, a committee or department of the Conference would like to submit a resolution to the Annual Meeting, please visit the Annual Meeting Webpage for all the information. Please review the instructions and guide for the correct formatting for resolutions and note the deadline of January 20th for resolutions for this meeting.
If you have any questions, please contact Lynn Thomas at the Conference office at 802-728-4999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Items of Interest
News from Camp Agape - We are so appreciative of your ongoing support as we begin to plan our NINTH summer of providing a loving camp experience for children with a parent in prison. As the snow outside swirls around in the icy wind, nothing brings a smile to the face like imagining our campers rolling down a grassy hillside in the sunshine. This contrast of weather is an apt metaphor for the role of the Camp Agape experience in the lives of our campers. Neuroscientists are learning more and more about the chilling lifelong effects of the chronic stress brought about by adverse childhood experiences, and the regenerative and resilient effects of stable trustworthy relationships with compassionate adults in the lives of children undergoing stress. In simpler words, we have heard this confirmed over the years by our campers: "This isn't camp, it is heaven." "This is the first time in two years that I have felt safe." "At camp, I can just be me - the real me."
This past summer, we served 59 children. There were 40 children between 8 and 11 years of age, and 19 youth between 12 and 15 years of age.
You might ask: "What can we possibly offer children living with such chronic and toxic stress in their lives?" What we have to offer is our friendship, our reliability, and the unconditional love and acceptance that we have experienced ourselves when we have been truly open to the presence of Christ in our lives. This is what we attempt to offer the children. It is only possible through your continued prayers and support.
Click here for the complete letter from the Camp Agape Board of Directors.
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Winter Solstice Celebration - A liturgy to mark the longest night of the year, with rest and reflection that counters the crazy pace of the secular Christmas season. Click here.
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Global Ministries Alternative Christmas Opportunities - What gift will you give this year? It may seem like a simple question, but as we reflect on the lessons of Advent we often find that the "stuff" we give falls short of the true gifts of the season - Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. Global Ministries believes that these rare and precious gifts should be shared globally.
With an Alternative Christmas Gift you honor your loved ones and make a difference in the lives of people around the world. It is a gift that does not get returned, a gift that never breaks, a gift that does not require a trip to the overcrowded mall, and a gift that will be deeply cherished by all who receive it.
This year, Global Ministries invites you to surprise friends and family with a gift that cannot be found on any shelf - give Hope, give Joy, give Peace, and give Love with an Alternative Christmas gift. Click here for more information.
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Palestinian Refugees Continue to Hope for Justice - Help raise awareness and support the cause, with Fabric of Our Lives Dolls. Today, there are an estimated 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. The YWCA of Palestine implemented the Fabric of Our Lives Project to raise awareness about refugee rights and to support the livelihoods of women and their families. In collaboration with Palestinian women artisans they offer Fabric of Our Lives Dolls.
Each doll is exquisitely hand-carved from olive wood, chosen because it's a symbol of peace reminding Palestinians that they, like this sacred tree, are rooted in their land. Dolls are dressed in beautiful, hand-embroidered ensembles characteristic of a particular region.
To learn more about the Fabric of Our Lives Project, click here. To order Fabric of Our Lives Dolls from UCC Resources, click here.
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A Monthly Message from the Department of Mission's Just Peace Advocates
I turned the radio off quickly. It was not what NPR calls "a driveway moment." The author of a book entitled "Dirty Wars" was talking about the rise of U.S. Special Forces operations around the world. Jeremy Scahill said that our Special Forces have a wide mandate to strike in countries where the President determines there are terror threats.
"They can go in and snatch someone or kill them. These operations are called F-cubed operations-find, fix, finish. You find the target, you fix their location, and then you finish them off. And that could come in the form of a night raid, a missile strike, a drone strike, or . . . sending Delta Force in to snatch someone off the streets of another nation."
I thought, "I should do something about this." Then, immediately, "No, it's way too complicated," and I hurried out of my car, eager to escape the conscience-jabbing radio.
The world's issues are, indeed, complicated. We can't get our minds around them. It's not entirely clear what's right and wrong. So we stand on the sidelines or bury our heads in familiar, comfortable ground. We leave wealth and poverty, war and peace, freedom and oppression to the professionals.
The complications of justice and peace issues provide a handy excuse to do nothing. But Jesus doesn't let us off the hook. While we may quibble over what his provocative instructions exactly mean (turn the other cheek? love your enemy?), the sum of his life and teachings provides crystal clear evidence that we are to make justice and peace personal matters. Turning the radio off doesn't discharge this responsibility.
We don't have to be foreign affairs experts to do something. We only have to be Christians, only have to ask ourselves, "What would Jesus have us do?"
Member, Bethany United Church of Christ, Montpelier
|Upcoming Events, Webinars, Online Seminars |
Don't Forget the Following Events!
Town of Williston Concert to Benefit College Street Congregational Church Restoration Fund. Friday, December 20, 2013. 7:00 PM. Old Brick Church, Williston, VT. Click here for more information/tickets.
Christmas Music Performances - click here for a listing.
Blue Christmas & Remembrance Services - click here for a listing.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Services - click here for a listing.
Howard Dean to Speak at First Congregational Church, Burlington - First Congregational Church is pleased to host Governor Howard Dean on Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 11:15 AM immediately following worship. We are excited to have Governor Dean reflect with us on how we can live out our faith in the political arena and nurture our democracy. What are the fresh ways in which people of all ages can be better involved in political and civic life in America? What are the key issues facing our country at this time and how might we as voters, people of faith, and potential and current office holders make our way through the current political and social landscape? What are the problems and where is the hope? Drawing on his rich experience as Governor of Vermont, a Presidential Candidate, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, founder of Democracy for America, a member at First Congregational Church in Burlington, and as a political analyst frequently sought out as a guest on network news programs, Governor Dean promises to offer very stimulating insights and perspectives which will be inspiring to all.
For more information, please contact The Reverend Peter Cook, Senior Minister, at 802-862-5010 Ext. 110. Pcook@FirstchurchBurlington.org.
More 2014 Events to Keep in Mind!
2014 Woodbury Leadership Workshop. January 24, 2014. Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA. Registration is now open. Click here for more information/registration.
Tending the Fire Retreat Series. February 4-6, 2014 / April 1-3, 2014 / May 27-29, 2014. Essex Center United Methodist Church. Registration is now open. Click here for a flyer.
2014 Ecumenical Advocacy Days. March 21 - 24, 2014. Washington, DC. Registration is now open. Click here for more information/registration.
UCC New England Women's Celebration IX. March 28 - 30, 2014. Portland, ME. Registration is now open. Click here for more information/registration.
Vermont Low Income Advocacy (VLIAC) Legislative Day. April 4, 2014. Statehouse, Montpelier, VT
UCC Office Support Staff Network (UCCOSSN) Annual Conference. April 24 - 26, 2014. Charlotte, NC. Click here for a flyer.
43rd Annual New England Association of United Church Educators (NEAUCE) Conference: Rooted in Faith. May 6-8, 2014. Centerville, MA. Click here for a flyer.
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Click here for more Upcoming Events.
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Upcoming Webinars & Other Online Seminars
● Online Course: UCC History & Polity - January 29, 2014 - April 30, 2014. Sponsor: Center for Progressive Renewal. Contact: Rev. Gregg Carlson 404-805-0934 Gregg@progressiverenewal.org. Click here for more information/registration.
● Livestream: Lenten Lectionary Workshop - Friday, January 31, 2014. 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM, CST. Sponsor: Chicago Theological Seminary. Click here for more information/registration.
● Online Course: UCC History and Theology - February 3 - May 23, 2014. Sponsor: Pacific School of Religion. Instructor: Randi Walker. Contact the instructor for more information - email@example.com.
● Online Course: UCC Identity Series. An Ethos of Extravagant Welcome - February 18-25, 2014. Sponsor: Pacific School of Religion. Click here for more information/registration.
|For Calendar items, please see the online Conference Calendar or the latest biweekly issue of E-Events Newsletter. To submit an event: click here.
The next E-Events Newsletter will be published on Thursday, December 19. [Deadline to submit events: December 19, Noon].
Don't miss these events:
Stewardship Message for December
My soul magnifies the Lord....Luke 1:47
We hear Mary's song each Advent and revel in its beauty and radical proclamation. But I wonder if we skip too quickly past this odd first phrase. What does it mean to "magnify" something? We use a magnifying glass to make something look bigger to us; the magnification of microscopes helps us see small things as they look bigger. But how can we make God look bigger to us; why would we want to when God is already so big?
The way Mary uses the word is slightly different than this. Her soul, she says, proclaimsthe greatness of God. She is so overwhelmed by her growing understanding of what God is about to do that she can't say, or sing, enough about how amazing God is. She proclaims this not only through a magnificent song, but in her body as she nurtures her child and in her steadfast faith which she holds as a witness to God's work in the world. By her actions as well as her words, she proclaims the wonder that is God.
This Advent and Christmas, how is your church magnifying God in your community? What does God ask of you in order to help give birth to the promises of which Mary sang? How is God's greatness manifest in the life of the Spirit being born in your life and faith community? May your spirits rejoice with Mary as you see God at work in you!
Rochelle A. Stackhouse is the Senior Minister of The Church of the Redeemer, United Church of Christ, New Haven Connecticut.
For monthly Stewardship messages from the UCC, click here.
[This resource is a free service and is made possible by your gifts to Our Church's Wider Mission.]
Lectionary Gospel Lesson & Thoughts for the Week
Click here for additional Lectionary for December 24/25, December 29 and January 5.
The Gospel lesson this week is: Matthew 1:18-25,
the story of Jesus' birth.
Here are some thoughts for the week:
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The tenderness of Christmas centers around Mary and the baby, but the world has too little regard for the love of Joseph, who cared so faithfully for Mary and their child.
"When he arose, he took the young child and his mother," and fled with them to Egypt, to remain until the death of Herod, who had ordered that all sons born to Hebrew families should be killed.
These evenings, fathers sit in crowded stores holding babies in their arms or stand patiently looking after small children while their wives shop. Not much is said about fathers at Christmas time, but perhaps Joseph, who took the child and his mother to safety, has a special blessing for fathers who are kind and patient with their wives and children.
--Zula Bennington Greene, Skimming the Cream
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Be sure of this: there is no creature ever made by God
who can set you free or help you;
only God can do it.
Run about as you will,
search high and low the whole world over,
you will never find the help you need anywhere except in God.
If the Lord chooses to use an instrument, man or angel, to achieve this,
but He must do it and no one else.
Seek this help inside yourself, the depths of your soul;
stop running around,
stop searching up and down the countryside;
be still, be calm, stay where you are,
in Egypt, in darkness,
until the angel comes to call you.
Joseph was asleep when the angel called him.
--John Tauler, German mystic, in: Writings on Spiritual Direction
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Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman.
Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast.
Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms.
King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph.
Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.
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