I hope you’re all doing well this Wednesday as we approach what’s either going to be a blizzard or moderate snowfall on Saturday. There are a few announcement for this week:
Annual Meeting 1/30
The Annual Meeting of the church is this Sunday immediately following worship. We will vote on the budget, elect officers and board members, receive reports, and make two minor changes to the bylaws 1) to allow for virtual church meetings and 2) to change the name of the “board of Christian Education” to “board of Faith Formation” in recognition that the board’s name has changed. We are planning on the meeting being both in person and via Zoom. However, if the weather ends up particularly terrible and we need to cancel in person worship, we will still have Annual Meeting via Zoom.
Copies of the budget can be picked up ahead of the Annual Meeting in the Church Office. The full Annual Report isn’t finalized yet, but it will be available for the Annual Meeting and after.
In the winter months we are collecting winter clothing items (hats, gloves, scarf, etc.) We’re also taking new or gently used outerwear. Winter clothing items may be hung on the mitten line in the Social Hall or dropped off in the Church Office.
Sock It to Homelessness
One of the most needed clothing items for people experiencing homelessness is socks. So, we are collecting new and gently used socks of all types and sizes for GWIM to distribute. Socks can be dropped off in the bin next to the Multiplication Table in the sanctuary or in the Church Office.
Silver Lake Registration is Open!
Silver Lake, the CT camp run by our conference of the United Church of Christ, has opened registration! You can learn more and register here: https://www.silverlakect.org/
Last Saturday, I was trying to figure out the best place to put a tripod with a camera in the sanctuary so we could have the budget info meeting and Annual Meeting work for both Zoom and in person. At one point, I tried having the tripod on the pulpit, and that wasn’t the best spot for the meeting. However, I did end up getting a lovely picture of the late afternoon light coming in the sanctuary that I wouldn’t have ever gotten if I hadn’t been trying to figure out a setup for Zoom. I’ve attached the picture.
This got me thinking about some of the silver linings that have come out of these past two difficult years because we’ve had to do some things differently. With needing to rethink our music program for safety, we’ve had people learn or get back into handbells, we’ve had people step out of their comfort zones and sing solos or in small groups, and we’ve heard instrumental music we likely wouldn’t have heard otherwise. While I’m glad we’re back indoors now, I really enjoyed getting opportunity to worship outside, particularly in the spring when all the birds were singing and plants were growing. It was also nice to have the smallest kids near everyone worshiping as they were just over at the playground. We did soup and strawberry shortcake to go, and those things ended up big hits. The other thing that comes to mind is this past tree lighting we decided to offer hot chocolate outdoors for safety reasons instead of indoors, and that ended up much better because we got to see and talk to so many more people than we did when we had the hot chocolate indoors. I’m sure there are more examples. Those were just the ones that immediately came to mind this Wednesday evening.
One of the common threads in scripture is that God shows up, even in difficult times and even in ways we don’t expect. And those silver linings I mentioned are indeed some of those places God has shown up in our small patch of God’s kingdom.
Dear friends in Christ, I hope you are all doing well this week. There are a few things coming up in the life of the church:
Budget Info Meeting 1/23 This Sunday after worship will be the informational meeting about the 2022 church budget. The meeting will be in person and there will be a Zoom option. This is your opportunity to learn about the proposed budget and ask questions. The Zoom link to this meeting was emailed out.
Annual Meeting 1/30 The Annual Meeting of the Middlebury Congregational Church will take place on Sunday 1/30 after worship. This meeting will be in person with a Zoom option. I will email out the Zoom link next week. This meeting will be to receive reports, approve the 2022 budget, elect board members and officers, and we have two minor changes to the bylaws. (Jeanine emailed out the specific changes.) 1) We are amending the bylaws to allow for virtual meetings. 2) The board of Christian Education has been renamed to the Board of Faith Formation to better reflect their mission, purpose, and what they’re already doing, so we need to just change all the instances of “board of Christian Education” to “board of Faith Formation” to reflect this renaming.
Pastoral Update A little over a week ago, I shared the sad news that our brother in Christ, John Spain, had died. In case you hadn’t seen it, I wanted to share his obituary: https://www.munsonloveterefuneralhome.com/obituary/John-Spain
COVID Updates Church Council met last night, and taking into account member feedback, the number of people attending church in person, and that COVID cases seem to be starting to trend downwards, we have decided that the sanctuary windows will be shut if the outside temperature is freezing or below. Council will continue to revisit our COVID precautions monthly. Additionally, the government website to order free at home COVID test kits has launched. If you haven’t already ordered kits, you can order them here: https://www.covidtests.gov/
General Comments As we head towards Annual Meeting, I put together a video reviewing 2021 at MCC in pictures with music from 2021 as well:
As I was looking through the hundreds of pictures and figuring out what music to put in, I was realizing how much we managed to do, even in the middle of a pandemic. We tried new things. We worshiped and had Sunday School and fellowship online, outdoors, indoors, and sometimes combinations of all of those in 2021. I just wanted to say I’m really proud of the church and the ways we’ve managed to weather this storm and celebrate in the midst of it.
Psalm 46 has a verse that goes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change.” The earth has changed a lot during 2020 and 2021, and we have changed in response to all those shifts. And even though the earth should change and we change, our God’s love and presence have and will remain constant, and therefore I have great hope for us as we face the future. Peace, Pastor Katrina
I hope you’re all doing well this chilly week. I’ve got a few announcements:
Sunday 1/23: Budget Info Meeting
As in previous years, we will have an informational meeting about the budget the Sunday prior to Annual Meeting. This year, the budget info meeting will be on 1/23 following worship. This Is a chance to get more detailed information about the budget and ask our Treasurer (Bob G) questions. The meeting will be in person, but we will have a Zoom option for people who would like to join the meeting virtually. I will email out a Zoom link to the budget info meeting next week.
Sunday 1/30: Annual Meeting
Our Annual Meeting to approve the budget and elect board members and officers for 2022 is taking place on Sunday 1/30 after worship. Like the budget meeting, we will offer a Zoom option for those who aren’t able to join us in person. I will email out a Zoom link the week leading up to Annual Meeting.
Silver Lake Registration Opens 1/15
Silver Lake, our UCC conference’s camp, is opening registration for summer camp on 1/15. I’ve attached their flyer, and there’s a discount code on there for registering early. More info about Silver Lake can be found on their website: https://www.silverlakect.org/
Scenes from Christmas Eve 2021
I wanted to share some lovely pictures from Christmas Eve. Sarah K used her photography talents to take some great pictures at our two services. I’ve attached a few. Thank you to Sarah for capturing these special moments!
ShawnaLee K also did a beautiful drawing of the 11pm service that I’ve attached for you all to see as well.
This coming Sunday, the gospel lesson is Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. This is one of the most well known stories from the Bible, and it’s a story that’s had a lot of influence in the Church’s relationship with and understanding of alcohol. I wanted to share some of my favorite fun aspects of that history here that I don’t think will make it into the sermon.
In the 19th century, Congregational churches, and many other protestant churches, became very involved with the Temperance Movement, the movement to ban alcohol, and the story about Jesus turning water into wine became a real theological problem for people in the Temperance Movement: how do you square the good Lord Jesus turning perfectly good water into “demon alcohol”? Now, to be honest, the short answer is you cannot make this story about Jesus into an anti-alcohol story, but that did not stop people from trying very hard. My favorite tortured interpretive attempt involves people insisting Jesus turned water into grape juice, which involves a number of questionable interpretive and translation gymnastics.
Now, just as Jesus turning water into wine caused Temperance crusading protestants cognitive dissonance, so too did the church’s ancient practice of using wine for communion. In the early days of the Temperance movement, there was no way to keep grape juice from fermenting into wine, so some Christians opted to use water rather than wine. Water is used in baptism and Jesus changes water into wine, so it seemed close enough. There are some denominations that still use water for communion, and it comes from this involvement with the Temperance Movement. However, the majority of protestant denominations felt that water was a poor substitute, so people had to live with the cognitive dissonance around alcohol and communion for many years.
But, protestant America was delivered in the late part of the 19th century from their wine based woes by the work of a Methodist dentist named Thomas Welch. Just like at our church, Thomas’s church had members take turns preparing and setting up for communion. During his volunteering with communion, Thomas had a revelation: he tried the new cutting edge pasteurization process on freshly pressed grape juice in the hopes that it would prevent the juice from fermenting into wine. He turned out to be right, and Thomas eventually launched a company, Welch’s Grape Juice, to provide juice for communion to all the churches desiring a substitute for wine. Grape juice was just the solution most of protestant America was waiting for, and many churches, including ours, shifted to offering grape juice instead of wine. Eventually, Welch’s realized there was a market for juice beyond the church setting, and the company is obviously still around today. So, the reason we have grape juice is because of the Temperance Movement and communion.
I hope you’re all doing well and that those of you who commuted this icy morning are safe. I have a few things to highlight for this week:
A Pastoral Concern
For many months we’ve been praying for church members Mickie and her husband Carl as Carl has been on home hospice care. On Christmas, our brother in Christ, Carl, died at home surrounded by his family. There was a private service for Carl this past Monday. Carl’s obituary can be found here: https://www.fordfh.com/obituaries/Carlton-A-Shea?obId=23491595
Please keep Mickie, her children (Robbie, Ernie, and Susan), and the whole family in your prayers. If you’d like to send cards to Mickie or Robbie, their addresses are in the latest church directory, or you can contact the church office. The deacons and I are talking to the family to see if anything else would be helpful for them.
On behalf of the church and the whole people of God, we say to Carl “well done thou good and faithful servant.”
My Christmas Eve sermon had a bit about the WWI Christmas Truce. If you’re interested in learning a little more about that event, the Imperial War Museum has a really nice 12 minute primer video on the truce that I think is particularly good because it’s got audio of veterans telling their stories. You can find that here: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-story-of-the-christmas-truce
Some of you asked for the text of the prayer by Thomas Merton that was in my sermon this past week, and here’s that prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I’ve attached some pictures of the church from the past week or so. On Monday, there was a beautiful sunset, so there’s a picture of that. We’ve also had a number of foggy days, and I put in a couple pictures of how the Christmas tree on the green looks in the fog. And then from this past Sunday, I’ve attached a picture of our decorations for Epiphany.
This coming Sunday the church celebrates the baptism of Jesus. Epiphany, January 6th, is the day the culminates the Christmas season, and Baptism of the Lord marks the start of a stretch of ordinary time in the church calendar before Lent. Some versions of church calendars consider the time between Epiphany and Christmas its own season of Epiphanytide.
Baptism of the Lord Sunday is one of the traditional feast days where baptisms would occur (as you might guess), and it’s also a day the church typically uses for people to reaffirm and remember their own baptisms. One of the traditional rites for remembering baptism is called asperges (which my phone always autocorrects to asparagus.) Essentially, that’s a fancy word for sprinkling people with water. This is usually done with an aspergillum, which those of you from more liturgical backgrounds might be familiar with. It usually looks like a ball on a stick. Or, sometimes a small branch from a tree or shrub is used to sprinkle the water. This Sunday we’re going to reaffirm our baptisms, but I’ve elected not to splash you all with water, at least not this time.
I hope you’re all doing well this week and that everyone’s Christmas was safe. Things are quieter for now at the church, but there are still a few announcements:
Sunday School Updates
As previously planned, throughout the winter and spring, our older children (grades 4th and above) will remain in the worship service on the first Sunday of the month. This allows the children to participate in the rituals of a worship service, in addition to partaking in communion.
Just as with the sanctuary, we will keep the windows in the classrooms open during Sunday School to help with ventilation.
In times when we do not have coffee hour, parents and caretakers should come to the classrooms and/or nursery to pick up their children following the worship service, as we will not all be meeting in the Social Hall.
We are continuing to monitor the rise in COVID cases in the state, and at this point, we are continuing to offer in person worship plus streaming to YouTube. We have put Coffee Hour on pause for the time being, windows will be partially open in the sanctuary for ventilation, and masks will continue to be required for worship. We will also keep the balcony open to allow for people to spread out in the sanctuary. Additionally, all in person church board meetings will require masks and a virtual option will be provided for those who aren’t joining in person.
There are also things we can do as individuals to protect ourselves and others during this surge in cases:
Get vaccinated and get your booster
Upgrade from cloth masks to surgical, KN95, or N95 masks
Have rapid tests on hand in case of exposure or if you start to feel unwell
Videos from Christmas Eve Services
This year the music at the 5pm and 11pm Christmas Eve services was different, so I’ve made videos of the music from each service. (Thank you to John D for streaming both services!)
A special thank you to all our musicians, ushers, deacons, readers, staff, and volunteers who enabled us to have our Christmas Eve services this year. It takes a team effort to put everything together, particularly after not having had indoor Christmas Eve services since 2019, and I’m very grateful for everyone who offered their time and talents this Christmas so our church could offer Christmas Eve worship for our community.
I’ve attached some pictures from Christmas Eve. The outside of the church looked lovely with the new paint and the dusting of snow. Indoors, we added a new light into the mix. If anyone has pictures of Christmas Eve you’d like to share, please send them along to me so we can share them with everyone.
This Sunday we’ll be celebrating Epiphany! Technically, Epiphany is January 6th, but as we’re not having an extra service on a Thursday, we’re transferring the celebration to the nearest Sunday in Christmastide. Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the magi to the nativity and in general people recognizing the birth of the messiah. There’s a question King Solomon asks when he’s dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8: “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” Christmas, culminating in the feast of the Epiphany, is an emphatic “yes” to Solomon’s question; God has indeed come to dwell upon the earth in the person of Jesus. Church Father Ephrem of Syria said of Jesus: “Blessed is he who became small without limit to make us great without limit.”
As we look with some uncertainty to the coming New Year, I thought this prayer by Anglican monk John Charles, speaks well to this moment:
“For all the possibilities ahead in this new year, make us thankful, O Lord. Give us wisdom, courage and discernment in the face of so much chaos, despair and fear. Help us to see how, in our circumstances, we can contribute towards peace, faith and love, and give us the will to translate our desires into actions.”
I hope all of you are doing well as we approach Christmas. I have a few announcements to share:
Christmas Eve Services in Person or Online
5pm: Children’s story, choir, carols, and candlelight
11pm: Communion, carols, candlelight, and music sung by Anna K and Audrey F.
We’ve been following the news of the rise in COVID cases in our state and around the country, and our church leadership has decided to continue offering in person worship. Our Christmas Eve services were planned with some adjustments for COVID risk mitigation already (e.g. we’re singing fewer carols, choir at only one service and doing fewer pieces, and masks for everyone.) Our church staff is fully vaccinated, and all of us have gotten our boosters. If being in person isn’t the right choice for you or your loved ones, we have our services streamed to YouTube: www.youtube.com/c/middleburycongregationalchurch
But, in light of the concerning public health developments we are doing the following:
Coffee Hour is suspended for the time being.
Like this past Sunday, windows will be partially open in the sanctuary during all services to increase ventilation.
We encourage everyone to utilize the available space in the sanctuary to spread out. The balcony will be open for all services.
We are continuing to wear masks for all worship services.
I know I’m feeling weary of the pandemic, and I certainly had hoped that we’d not have another Christmas colored by COVID. But, unlike last Christmas, we do have a widely available, safe, and effective vaccine, and I know the vaccination rate in our church is high. I encourage everyone to be careful, get vaccinated/boosted, and we will make it through this dark winter, just like we made it through the last one. Christmas is all about the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it. We will continue to share any updates we have as we continue to monitor the situation.
I want to thank our Christian Education Coordinator, Valerie B, our volunteers, actors, and musicians for offering a wonderful Christmas Pageant this past Sunday. I’ve attached some photos Valerie took during the pageant.
Thank you to everyone who donated gifts for the Star Tree and for the Christmas Baskets for Middlebury families. Usually, each year there are some items left over that the Mission Board donates, but this year pretty much everything was covered by all of you. Thank you.
I look forward to seeing many of you on Friday and on Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s birth and the miracle that our God came to dwell among us. In preparing the Christmas Eve sermon, I found this quote from St. Augustine, which didn’t end up making it into the sermon, but I think he manages to capture in words some of the mystery and miracle of Christmas:
“God so loved us that for our sakes he, through whom time was made, was made in time; older by eternity than the world itself, he became younger in age than many of his servants in the world; God, who made man, was made man; he was given existence by a mother whom he brought into existence; he was carried in hands which he formed; he was nursed at breasts which he filled; he cried like a baby in the manger in speechless infancy— this Word without which human eloquence is speechless.”
I hope you’re all doing well as we head into the homestretch before Christmas. We’ve got a number of things going on at the church during this season:
Christmas Pageant 12/19 & Pageant Rehearsal 12/18
Our Christmas pageant returns this Sunday during worship! For everyone who has signed up to participate in the pageant (singing, reading, narrating, acting, etc.), there is rehearsal at the church this Saturday at 10 a.m. for singers, actors, and narrators. If you have any pageant-related questions, please get in touch with Valerie B.
December Mission Projects
Star Tree: Star Tree gifts need to be into the church office by Thursday (12/16) at 10am. Many of you have already dropped off your gifts, and I’ve attached a picture of all the gifts so far! Thank you!
Christmas Baskets: Donations for the Christmas baskets for Middlebury families are due by Monday, 12/20. Thank you to everyone who has donated!
Various settings of the United Church of Christ are collecting donations to help bring relief to the communities affected by the recent tornadoes.
The national office of the UCC has issued an appeal for funds, and donations can be made here: https://www.ucc.org/appeal-severe-storms-2021/ (As a heads up, when I last checked, their website was having an issue and not displaying the part of the page to actually donate, but I assume that will be fixed.)
5pm: Choir, Carols, Candlelight, and Children’s Christmas Story
11pm: Carols, Candlelight, Communion
We will be singing a few carols at each service, and there will be special music at both services. Choir is at 5pm, and we’ll have a smaller ensemble at 11pm. Like on Sundays, please remember your mask.
Last week we had our first proper dusting of snow. I’ve attached some pictures I took at night when it was falling and the morning after. You can really see how great the front of the church looks when the snow is there!
As we head into the Christmas Pageant, I thought I’d share some reflections on Christmas Pageants. Each year we have the pageant, I usually hear adults comment on what parts they played when they were children in Christmas pageants. We have a congregation full of former angels, shepherds, Marys, Josephs, farm animals, kings, baby Jesuses, narrators, and innkeepers. During my childhood I was an angel, shepherd, narrator, and innkeeper. (For fun, I’ve attached a photo of me narrating the Christmas pageant circa 2002 and then me at our last pageant in 2019.)
Christmas pageants are fun, but they also fit squarely into the important work the church does of collectively remembering the story of our faith, making those memories our own, and bringing them into the future. The most explicit time we do this work of remembering our story is during communion, when we say “We remember on the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread…” Statements of faith or creeds also do a similar thing. Our special services like Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday do that as well. More broadly, the whole church year is constructed to take us through the story of Jesus life, from awaiting his birth all the way through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and reign.
But, what is unique about the Christmas pageant is that it’s one of the few times where we actually regularly act out the story and get to be the people in the biblical narrative during worship. We don’t just tell or remember the story; we get to be the story and make it our own.
In hearing all of the comments about Christmas pageants past, it made me think about communion and the communion of saints. One of the things going on when we have communion is that we are united with Christ and with all the believers in every time and place. All those people, those known to us and those we’ve never met, are the communion of saints. And while we’re always connected through the love of God to all the saints, communion is a time where heaven and earth are brought together so the saints are particularly close then. And it’s a celebration of all the times the Lord’s Supper has been shared, will be shared, and of the heavenly banquet always going on in God’s kingdom.
Now, I’m not saying the Christmas pageant is a sacrament like communion, but I do think as we watch and remember the story year after year, and remember who we’ve been in the story we’re doing something very similar to what’s going on in communion. It’s a time where the distance between past, present, and future collapse a bit and the communion of saints seems nearer as we remember and tell the story that countless people have told, acted out, and remembered before us and will remember and act out after us. And perhaps we even experience a time where the kingdom in heaven breaks a little bit into this kingdom on earth.
I hope you’re all doing well this snowy evening. There are a number of things coming up in the life of the church as we get closer to Christmas:
Christmas Pageant 12/19
Our annual Christmas Pageant is back next Sunday 12/19 during the worship service! We still have some slots left for people of all ages! We will not be having the traditional choir due to covid safety, but rather having small groups or soloists sing some of our favorite hymns (also available for sign up!). If you’d like to participate, please sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/70A0F48AAAF2FA7FC1-christmas or email Valerie B. for more info.
Pageant Setup Volunteers 12/12
This Sunday after church we will need volunteers to help get our sanctuary set up for the Christmas Pageant. We’ll also need to get some things down from the attic to be ready for Christmas Eve. If you have time after worship on Sunday, please stay after to help us get things ready for our upcoming special services!
Pageant Rehearsal will be Saturday, 12/18 from 10am-12pm
December Mission Projects
Star Tree: All the stars have been chosen, and presents have begun to be dropped off! As a reminder, place the wrapped gift(s) with the star attached to the outside under the tree in the sanctuary (or the office) before December 16th at 10:00 am
Christmas Baskets for Middlebury Families: We are sponsoring three local families and providing them with a Christmas dinner! A sign up sheet is on the bulletin board by the kitchen. Right now, most things have been signed up for, but there are a few more slots, including singing up to buy small gifts for the families. As with other sign-ups, if you can’t sign up in person, let Jeanine know and she will help you! We need to have all donations in by December 20th.
Presentation on Dealing with Holiday Stress
Thank you to Janine SW who gave a helpful presentation on managing the stress of the holiday season last night. We did film it, and I should have the video all edited and up on our YouTube channel some time tonight if you weren’t able to join us in person but wanted to watch it or share with friends.
I want to thank Greg, Kelly, and Kayleigh for heading up our team of volunteers to provide hot chocolate at the town tree lighting this past Saturday. Thank you to all our volunteers from Saturday. This year we moved the hot chocolate outdoors, and we got to see so many more people from town. It was a really lovely evening. I’ve attached some pictures I took during the tree lighting festivities.
During Advent, we wait for the light of Christ to come into the world on Christmas, and this time of year always seems in need of more light with the sun setting so early. The Christmas tree on the green, the candles in the windows, and the lights everyone puts up help light up the darkness as we wait, and they hint at the true light which enlightens everyone, Jesus Christ, who is soon to be coming into the world.