Midweek Update: 2nd Sunday of Christmas/Epiphany

Dear friends in Christ,

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.

COVID Updates

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:

  1. Get vaccinated and get your booster
  2. Upgrade from cloth masks to surgical, KN95, or N95 masks
  3. 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!)

5pm Introit (Choir): https://youtu.be/ORI1-tEwEYM

5pm Anthem (Choir): https://youtu.be/mW2WJbl4zFs

11pm: Introit (Anna & Audrey): https://youtu.be/0aFLohPBb7k

11pm Anthem (Anna & Audrey): https://youtu.be/r9PzoN1ACcI

Thank You!

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.

General Comments

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.”

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year,

Pastor Katrina

Midweek Update: Christmas Eve & 1st Sunday after Christmas

Dear friends in Christ,

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.

COVID Updates:

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.

General Comments

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.”

Peace,

Pastor Katrina

Midweek Update: Advent 4 & Christmas Pageant

Dear friends in Christ,

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!

Tornado Relief

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.)

The Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ has their own local disaster relief ministry, and they are asking for funds as well: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Call-for-Prayer-and-Assistance-for-Kentucky-Natural-Disaster-Response.html?soid=1103630262312&aid=RV-aWk2ZQpU

Christmas Eve Service Schedule

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.

Advent and Christmas Music from Our Church

If you want to get in the spirit of the season, we have recordings of many carols, solos, and choir anthems on our YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLckQ_4M4FSl11KzPq5E68CpWtZW0rFk-i

Dealing with Holiday Stress Presentation

The video of Janine SW’s presentation on managing holiday stress is up on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/w45lxaFTQyc

General Comments

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.

Peace,

Pastor Katrina

Midweek Update: Advent 3

Dear friends in Christ,

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.

General Comments

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.

Peace,

Pastor Katrina

Midweek Update: Advent 2

Dear friends in Christ,

I hope all your Thanksgivings were safe and went well. As we enter fully into the Advent season, we’ve got a number of things going on in the life of the church:

Christmas Pageant: 12/19

Our annual Christmas Pageant is back!  It will be held on Sunday, December 19th during the worship service.  We are looking for volunteers of all ages to participate in various roles and also as readers and singers.  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!).  Rehearsal will be Saturday, 12/18 from 10am-12pm 

If you’d like to participate, please sign up here:  https://www.signupgenius.com/go/70A0F48AAAF2FA7FC1-christmas  or email Valerie B.

Middlebury Tree Lighting: 12/4 @4

This Saturday at 4pm  is the Middlebury Christmas Tree Lighting! Thanks to Greg E. and other volunteers, we’ll be providing hot chocolate to help warm everybody up as we carol around the Green. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you and getting to resume a lovely town tradition once more.

12/7: Presentation on Managing the Stress of the Holidays

Janine SW has graciously offered to give a presentation on dealing with the stress of the holiday season on 12/7@7pm in the church social hall. Here’s the link to the Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/1s3ytwf8l

This is a resource we’re offering for anyone in the area who might find it beneficial, so be sure to spread the word. Thank you Janine!

December Mission Projects

  • Star Tree: Through our Covenant to Care program, we have agreed to provide gifts to 60 children at Christmas in the Wellmore program in Waterbury.  Ages for these children range from newborns to teenagers.  Please pick a star, purchase the requested gift(s) (at a cost of no more than $35 per gift), and 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.  You are more than welcome to choose more than one star!  Stars for family members are grouped together and by color on the list.
    • After church on Sunday, I believe all the stars have been claimed! Thank you to everyone who has signed up for a star!
  • Christmas Baskets: We are sponsoring three local families (the same families we sponsored for Thanksgiving) and providing them with a Christmas dinner! To help make this family’s holiday a little better, sign up to donate something (you are more than welcome to take more than one item) on the sheet on the bulletin board outside the kitchen. 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.

General Comments

I want to thank everyone who helped decorate the sanctuary because it looks lovely. I’ve attached a photo. Additionally, I’ve attached pictures of two of the advent wreath crafts: one with just the materials we’ve provided and one where a little extra pizzazz was added. If any of you want to share how your wreaths have turned out, feel free to send along pictures!

As we continue in Advent, here’s a prayer for the season by Kate McIlhagga:

“Christ our Advent hope,
bare brown trees,
etched dark across a winter sky,
leaves fallen, rustling,
ground hard and cold,
remind us to prepare for your coming;
remind us to prepare for the time
when the soles of your feet will touch the ground,
when you will become one of us
to be at one with us.”

Peace,

Pastor Katrina