Last week, ServeGR.com was featured in Rapid Growth Media. The online publication's Urban Innovation Exchange section featuring the new site "highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts." The article is a great way to learn more about how ServeGR came into being and what we hope it will do for our community! Please share the article link on your social media networks to get the word out!
The lectionary offers us the unusual text Titus 2:11-14 as the sermon focus for Christmas Eve at 8pm and 11pm. It is the declaration that God came to us in Christ to make a difference in our lives, to redeem us, transform us, and make it possible for us to indeed “be good” to “do good”—as much a miracle as Christ’s Advent in Bethlehem! Join us on Christmas Eve, as we sing, celebrate, and retell the Story of Christmas.
Beginning shortly before the 8:00p service, you can find a link to our live stream of that service in our Youtube feed.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
Isaiah really makes clear that God is coming to us as Emmanuel, whether we like it or not. What's not to like? Seems strange to think that we might resist such a gift..., but we do. Come and join us as we seek to rekindle our longing for the God Who is with us.
Rev. Jen A. Porter
Much broader than our grief for those who have died and are not with us during the holidays, at our longest season service we honor our feelings of fear, of anger, of pain, and a whole spectrum of losses. Those feelings do not disappear in this season, sometimes they are even more stark. Everyone is welcome to join, tonight, 7pm in the sanctuary. Communion will be served.
The Volume 2016, #4 issue of Chimes is now available. In this issue:
- Grace and Peace from Chandler Stokes
- Making Sense Out of Time
- Stories of Worship
- WPC Music By the Numbers
- Much more!
Rev. Chandler Stokes
At the heart of our tradition is this simple affirmation: Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. Joy is at the center of who we are to be as people of God. Sometimes it's a little embarrassing to realize that. Where has joy gone? Can we recover it legitimately, honestly, truthfully? Join us as we listen for the Christmas angels who offer good news.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
Because hope is not rooted in the present but in an unseen future, hope is hard. Hope is hard, but it is essential. And amazingly, we do catch glimpses of it in the present. Those who live by hope witness to its reality and power—as do the poets. Mary Oliver’s The Place I Want To Get Back To is, for me, a great present witness to hope. Look it up and join us Sunday as we lift up the witnesses to hope.
On November 13, I gave a sermon on 1 John 3:18-21 and Exodus 3:1-15, asking three things of us as a congregation. One, to get out of our echo chambers by listening to those on the “other side of the aisle,” talking to and trying to understand one another; two, to remain vigilant about racially-charged speech; three, to be in solidarity with those at risk—to “walk each other home.”
Following that sermon, it became clear to me that getting out of our echo chambers is not always easy. The next Sunday, I shared that I wish my sermon had also included, “Please have those conversations in a safe venue, and have those conversations when you are ready. Many are about to go home for the holidays, and that is not always an easy space for those conversations! So, please be gentle with yourselves.”
I also said that we cannot wait on the other two points of that sermon: being vigilant about racially-charged speech and being in solidarity with those at risk. To that end, I announced that the session was sending a letter to the president-elect, asking him to use his authority to disavow the racially-charged rhetoric made during the campaign. The session voted unanimously to send the attached letter.
One might think that such an action would somehow be unusual or violate the separation of church and state. On the contrary, I believe that nearly every Presbyterian session I have ever served has sent some letter to the newly elected president. The focus of these letters has always been on what the president is called to, e.g., “now be the president to the whole nation.”
Our current session, in addition to assuring the president-elect of our prayers, asks him to use his authority to aid us in our work against racism by speaking out against racial attacks. Regarding the separation of church and state, the session’s letter addresses the rhetoric in the campaign, not the persons saying it. The church must always speak out against any form of oppression, but legally cannot endorse persons running for partisan office.
I encourage you to read the letter, which is intended to communicate a concern for justice and safety that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents among us all share.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
When Isaiah promises peace “in the days to come,” we ask, “When is that?” Good question. Paul boldly tells us, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Paul says “the days to come” are now, and he entreats us to wake up to that fact. His whole statement is “Wake up and get dressed”—he says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, … put on the Lord Jesus Christ….” By living Christ’s peace, “the days to come” arrive. That’s the Advent—the arrival we anticipate. Join us as we listen for the call to wake up this Sunday.
Rev. David Baak
Walter Brueggemann gives us this prayer: “We pray for the coming of your kingdom on earth…we are people grown weary of waiting…and we have settled for what we can control." But the challenge of this Luke passage about the crucifixion is for us to take seriously the offer of Christ’s spirit living in us, giving us courage. We are the ones that have a choice between “settling” for things that we can manage for ourselves or we can take a risk and enter the room, so to speak, with “How can I be helpful?…” The reign of Christ describes an option for how we live our lives.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
Jorge Luis Borges tells a story about a young man who finds himself in a poor, violent world. He takes refuge among what he calls “people of the vilest class,” and he gradually adjusts to them and their vileness until one day he’s in the middle of a conversation when he senses in a person speaking a discrepant note—a tone of voice that does not belong. All at once, he perceives some mitigation in the horrendous world that he’s become part of. He then resolves to dedicate his life to finding this person. Our faith is very much like that—a search for the voice that speaks beauty, grace, and exaltation. This is the journey of faith that our young people celebrate this Sunday.
A Letter from Rev. Chandler Stokes
I know that many of you are grieving deeply today: hurt, angry, devastated, anguished, and fearful. You are fearful of the future for people of color, for all women, for immigrants, for the LGBTQ community, for anyone not white, straight, male—which in many cases means you are fearful for yourselves and for your children. You are fearful of the rising temperature of the social rhetoric, as well as political and economic fallout.
I’ve received a number of emails and texts today with titles like: “grieving/shock/horror” and “dark days” and “cavalcade of emotions: ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, angry, helpless, duped…” and “any spiritual advice for this day?” I’m sure that you have been or will be asked that last question too.
A mom asked me this morning, “How do I send my kids out into a world where there is apparently so much support for misogyny, racism, and hate?”
As I think about what to say, I am thinking first of my always loving and enthusiastic friend in California who teaches elementary school. She said that, for the first time, she was not sure she was up for being “on” all day today. She loves teaching. She loves her 23 little students. But her heart is broken, and she’s feeling a burden.
Trying to cheer herself up, she wrote that she would try to remain “hopeful, respectful, and positive.” That is important, but our response must be more.
Remember that we hold to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful. Our response includes putting our arms around our friends and standing ever closer to those for whom we fear. But it must always be more. It must be a profound hope, anchored beyond the horizons we can see.
I remember one year when an election went very badly in my mother’s eyes, and she said, “Well, the church’s job just got harder.” I’m sure that is true in this case.
Our job is harder, but it is not substantially different.
Mom's view was very much like one member who wrote to me this morning: “We at WPC have work to do, don’t we?” But he wrote more:
So this is the forest fire that is going to bring forth new growth. Thanks for your prophetic words in your sermon a few weeks ago. We at WPC have work to do, don’t we? So proud to have my daughter confirmed on Sunday during this turbulent time.
I confess that whatever prophetic insight was in my words on October 30, it was more in their perspective than in their prescience. But he is so right. We have work to do.
That father is rightly proud to have his daughter confirmed this coming Sunday. And she and all the others who will be confirmed, or are among the 23 in my friend’s class, or any of the children of Westminster—formed in faith and hope…
These children are seeds being released in the fire of our turbulent time. They will produce “all kinds of plants and trees growing that no one has seen before. …that no one has seen before… We may have no idea it was possible—and overnight we will have plants that are waist-high.”
One of our colleagues on his way to work at Westminster today affirmed: “Ora et labora.” Pray and work. Yes. Pray and work. I am clear about one thing: Our work surely is harder now, but it is not different.
A Westminster parent said, “I typed out the benediction, printed three copies, and gave it to them for their pockets. I didn't know what else to do.” That’s what to do. That—and see that that law is written on our hearts.
Our work is not different. You have always known what to do:
Go into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold on to all that is good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit that makes all that possible.
Write it on a piece of paper. Put it in your pocket. Write it on your heart.
Last night, Stephen Colbert pointed out statistics on the huge number of Republicans who feared a Democratic victory and the huge number of Democrats who feared a Republican victory. We are afraid of each other.
And one thing I noticed this morning is that I know exactly how people are experiencing the one side of this, but I have little idea how people are experiencing the other. I live too much inside an echo chamber. We live in echo chambers, reinforcing our views in isolation, rather than deepening them in conversation. That is a problem that will take courage to address.
The mainstream church was always a place where people of different political stripes could sit and worship and converse together. That last was important. And maybe it is more important than ever.
Our response must include our staying close to those for whom we fear and being in conversation with those whom we ourselves fear.
We believe in a grace too powerful to name. We trust in a love that we are not required to deserve. We believe in a God of miraculous growth. And we hold fast with a hope not hopeless but unhopeful. God be with you today.
And remember with Reinhold Niebuhr:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing that is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Grace and peace,
Rev. Chandler Stokes
The song-writer Sy Kahn once offered a response to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" It's not all that our faith has to say, but it is an affirmation of an undeniable continuity with the saints: We come today to say good-bye To one who held us close To tell the stories of his life That move us each the most No circle has been broken here No one left stands alone The threads of life so lately broke Are woven through our own. Join us as we celebrate the communion of saints on Sunday.
Rev. Chandler Stokes
Love one another, as I have loved you. This is love as in the story of God’s love for us. This is love along the trajectory of Jesus’ life. This is love in the shape of the cross, cruciform love, love given sacrificially. Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Nothing is closer to stewarding the love of God than to love in that way. This is not fantasy love, but real love in a real world.
Dear Westminster Family,
Through God’s abundant gifts, this has been a remarkable year for stewardship at Westminster. Our pledge participation and contributions are being sustained at record levels even as our MissionMatters capital campaign is achieving success. Your generous, faithful stewardship has flourished as we have responded collectively to the needs of our church and its core missions. For all that, I am very grateful.
Westminster’s pledge process includes long-held traditions and practices that are effective, including providing financial information that is timely, clear and accessible, and remembering to personally thank all who pledge.
Our 2017 appeal for pledges is entitled Becoming Church: Learning Love. In preparation for this appeal, three goals have been set with direction from the Stewardship Committee, Session, staff and others.
Goal #1: Establish and maintain a balanced budget, an annual imperative.
Goal #2: Motivate the congregation in continued support of our programs, staff, facilities and core missions.
Goal #3: Join in a call of church leaders, staff and our congregation toward justice, hospitality and compassion in our living and giving, supporting lifelong pursuit of our Christian identity through a stewardship lens.
A staff wage adjustment is the biggest cost factor motivating the Stewardship Committee to seek a 2.5% increase in pledge giving for 2017. Please prayerfully consider increasing your pledge by 2.5%, which is an increase of $25 per congregation member. If everyone does that, the increase will help us to support our financial obligations and a balanced budget.
Enclosed is your pledge card for 2017. Please join me in making a commitment to Stewardship and Westminster. Take time to personally reflect on the importance of Westminster to you and those you love, and respond with a pledge of financial support for 2017.
On Pledge Commitment Sunday, October 30, in keeping with our practice, your participation is requested in one of the following ways:
- Bring your pledge card, included with this letter, with you to worship. This coming Sunday you may choose to dedicate your pledges at either service. A pledge card will be waiting for you in the pew if you leave yours at home;
- If you are unable to attend worship in person on October 30, please mail your pledge card to the church office in the self addressed envelope enclosed; or
- Simply pledge on-line at www.westminstergr.org/stewpledge.
Thank you for your continuing and faithful generosity. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, October 30.
Elder for Stewardship