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Dancing Like Dennis

  • November 28, 2018

November 25th would have been Dennis Lin’s thirtieth birthday if he had hadn’t died last September from the complications of Prader Willi, a genetic illness Dennis battled all of his life. But that didn’t prevent Dennis’ friends and family from coming together to celebrate him. After all, Dennis had always loved parties and his contagious joy was known for its ability to eclipse almost any obstacle.

Shortly after Dennis’ well-attended memorial service last fall, I was contacted by three people who had been close to Dennis during his time at CCHS: Joe Hehm, a retired earth science teacher who asked Dennis to be his teaching assistant, Thomas Keane, Director of Pathways, the alternative education program Dennis had attended at CCHS and Celeste Hall, a fellow 2010 CCHS graduate and a friend whose entire family had also come to love Dennis. Joe, Tom and Celeste wanted to find a way to honor and remember “one of the brightest lights in our school and our community” who was truly “a friend to all”.

The day after Thanksgiving last year, Joe, Tom, Celeste and I gathered with Dennis’ parents, Officer Scott Camilleri, the resource officer at CCHS, who continued to offer Dennis rides whenever he saw him in town and Pat and Jane Fleming, long-time members of WCUC and Sunday Fellowship who know all too well about life with Prader Willi. Although it took almost a year to determine how best to honor Dennis, it was within this group that the Dennis Lin Fund first began to take shape and eventually inspired an anonymous donor to match all funds raised up to $6000!

The mission of the Dennis Lin Fund is to provide financial support for the continued development of Sunday Fellowship and ministries like it so that more adults with disabilities can enjoy the kind of heart-warming, fun-producing and spiritually inspiring community Dennis enjoyed so much.As of 11/27 the Dennis Lin Fund has raised over $4300 and there is still plenty of time to reach our $6k goal! Donations can be given online here or mailed to West Concord Union Church (memo: Dennis Lin Fund) until December 31st.

Peacetrain

  • October 6, 2018

Sunday Fellowship is back! With our 35th anniversary celebrations behind us and the renovations complete, we’re ready to try some new things. 

Our focus this year is on discipleship and what followers of Jesus actually do to become more like him. Over the next several weeks and months, SF will explore different Christian practices like peace-making, justice-seeking, communion, baptism, sharing our spiritual gifts, sabbath rest and more. 

So far we’ve already introduced a new way of “passing the peace” using white silk scarves. We talked about what Jesus might have meant when he told his disciples before he died: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Check out these videos that helped us come up with the idea of peace scarves and reminded us of the transformational power of practicing peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=22&v=QgbFTBJb3xY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvOllDWTnyY.

Sunday Fellowship’s next gathering will be on October 14 at 4 p.m. Come join us as we begin to explore our spiritual gifts and John Swinton’s view that “within the body of Christ, every body has a place, and every body is recognized as a disciple with a call from Jesus and a vocation that the church needs if it is truly to be the body of Jesus.”

Stillness Speaks at Walden

  • May 16, 2018

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver 
Every morning

the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches— 
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth 
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

TRUTH and HOPE

Come sit with me, here beneath the shade, in the quiet corner of creation, and together we will sort out the worries of the world. We may not have the power to make things right, not with a single word, but we have words enough to speak the truth, and there is a power in truth greater than money can buy. From our bench we will survey the great garden of hope, growing in an abundance that knows no borders, welcoming the children of every land, sheltering the elders who come to talk away the warm afternoon. Come pray with me, in any way you want, until our dreams appear like fireflies, here beneath the shade, telling us it is time to go, time to make our way home until another day.

Steven Charleston

Join us on the beach on Tuesdays @ 9:30am for prayer walking!  Newcomers always welcome.

Bodies of Christ by Melissa Tustin (includes The Body of God by Bekah Anderson)

  • May 7, 2018


Hello everyone! Thank you for this opportunity to share with you. We’re going to begin with some meditation. So maybe put down anything you have in your hands. If you want to you can stand up and shake out arms and legs or stretch your back. Allow your body to find a comfortable position and take a couple of sighing breaths. If it’s comfortable for you, you can close your eyes.

Now, imagine the body of God.

Imagine it with all the genders and races and physical descriptions of the world. God is male and female and both and neither and all. God is black and red and olive and tan. God has hair in long braids, slanted eyes, flat nose, big lips, long beard, curvy body, long arms, short legs. God wears flowing dresses, and blue jeans, and saris, and turbans, and tuxedos, and lots and lots of jewelry. God has tattoos of every animal of the world, and a single heart-shaped stud in their right ear.

And God has every ability, and every disability in the world.

God walks, God limps, God rolls, God crawls. God gets where God needs to be, gets to us, however God can.

God’s mind works with the speed—and sometimes the randomness—of ADHD. God feels pain with the depths of depression, and joy like an episode of mania. God hears the voices of all people and all living things. God has no one way of solving problems. Sometimes God moves from step to step with the most analytic of minds. Sometimes God makes great intuitive leaps that cannot be explained. Sometimes God gets stuck in a loop because the present, whether good or bad, is the time where God lives.

God paints with their feet and reads with their hands. God can dance by swaying and shuffling, and sing by making noises that are not words, but express emotions that words cannot.

God is too busy reaching out to us to be concerned that they cannot see. God is too busy feeling the rhythms of music in their bones to worry about what it sounds like. God is loving, loving with all God’s arrhythmic heart to be anything but grateful for the body they have.

Is it any wonder that we have trouble grasping God, when God’s body does not move the way we expect a body to move? Is it any wonder we have trouble understanding God when God speaks with the slurred words of Cerebral Palsy? Is it any wonder that we cannot comprehend God, who bares the chronic pain of the suffering of the world?

How can we come closer to this being beyond our comprehension, this bodymind that meets none of our expectations?

By freeing ourselves of expectations.

By searching for God in the unique bodyminds of our fellow human beings.

By seeking to understand that which challenges us, and confuses us, and frightens us.

By accepting ourselves, and the bodyminds that make us who we are.

When we pray that all of this may be so; when we pray to love all bodies and minds; when we pray to be both broken and whole at once: we are praying to be more like God. Amen.

******

Hello again, how was that for you? Have you ever tried to picture God’s race or gender? How about imagining God with a disability?

Take a look at the colorful image above. This is La Crucifixion by Picasso (1932). Does it look different from other paintings you’ve seen of Jesus on the cross? His body looks a little different doesn’t it? Picasso is famous for painting human bodies in non-traditional ways. And even though Picasso was not a follower of Jesus, it is his way of depicting Jesus on the cross that illustrates what a young professor of theology already knew, that God is disabled. The professor’s name was Dr. Nancy Eisland and her well-known book, The Disabled God, has Picasso’s painting on the cover.

You see, Dr. Eisland was born with a defect in her hip which caused her backbone to become curved. Her body didn’t look the way people expect human bodies to look and it didn’t move the way people expect human bodies to move. No wonder it meant so much to her to find a painting of Jesus with a body that was as unexpected as hers.

Dr. Eisland went to Bible college and graduated at the top of her class. After seminary, she worked as a minister but she soon grew frustrated with how the Church left people like her out. You see, even though Jesus helped anyone in need and formed communities where everyone felt welcome, the Church has never done a great job welcoming people with disabilities. Dr. Eisland grew up hearing sermons that used physical disabilities to describe spiritual failure. You know the famous words from John 9 and Amazing Grace, “I once was blind, but now I see.” People with disabilities can find story after story in which Jesus’ ministry and salvation itself is expressed by erasing physical or mental impairment—as though people with disabilities couldn’t possibly be acceptable to God as they are. Dr. Eisland’s own parents brought her to be healed by religious leaders who claimed they could cure physical disabilities like Jesus did. Her body remained the same, and that became an important part of her faith. So Dr. Eisland began to teach future church leaders how to serve people of all abilities.

Today, Dr. Eisland’s theology of Jesus as the Disabled God remains one of the most well-known in the field of disability studies. But the work is far from complete. Bekah Anderson is the author of the Body of God meditation I started with today. She came to Sunday Fellowship a few weeks ago and shared her meditation with us. Bekah is legally blind and starting her degree at Union Theological Seminary in the fall. At the very same conference where I met Bekah, the keynote preacher asked people to name what they imagined the kingdom of heaven to be like and someone yelled out, “No disabilities!” Imagine how that must have felt to Bekah and to everyone else in the congregation who identifies as someone with a disability. No wonder people with disabilities still get the sense that they are not welcome in the Church!

I know most people in the pews today would say that God loves everyone regardless of ability. But we have all been raised in a culture that celebrates certain kinds of bodies and minds, and ignores or tries to fix others. This is sometimes called “ableism.” It takes work for us to start doing things in a new way. Even if we begin, we will make a lot of mistakes. But I still believe the Church can learn to recognize all bodies as part of the Body of Christ. After all, the Jesus we follow is the one who was resurrected with unhealed wounds on his hands and side.

Most of you know I have ADHD. Over the years, I’ve had to work hard to learn how to keep every thought inside my active brain from coming out of my mouth. For this reason, I don’t tend to get emotional at church gatherings. But I guess Bekah’s Body of God meditation caught me off guard. When I heard her say “God’s mind works with the speed—and sometimes the randomness—of ADHD,” tears just rolled down my cheeks. Clearly, I had a deep need to see my ADHD as something acceptable and even a part of God’s image. That day Bekah’s words soothed a wound in me I’ve carried for a very long time. But I still have ADHD. I’m not cured but I think I may finally understand why Dr. Eisland and Bekah say that they wouldn’t want their disabilities to be cured in heaven because they are an important part of their identity. I can’t thank Bekah enough for that. Such is the power of a preacher who knows the Disabled God well!

My friends, what if sharing our vulnerabilities and learning to see the Disabled God in every body and mind would enable everyone to more fully trust the good news? What if churches started seeking out the wisdom of people with disabilities who are gifted in this area? I wonder if the Church is finally ready to listen.

How about we end with a fun song that will help us remember that no matter what a body looks like, all of us are created in the image of God. It’s called “Amazing” and it’s by Linnea Good. It’s also a repeat after me song so repeat after me, and do what I do.

I am Amazing.
I am filled with power!
And God loves me!
Like Crazy!

You are Amazing!
You are filled with power!
And God loves you!
Like Crazy!

We are Amazing…
We are filled with power!
And God loves us!
Like Crazy!

God is Amazing!
God is filled with power!
And we love God!
Like Crazy!

That is Amazing!!!!!!

Special Music: A Little Jazz Mass

We experienced a very special worship service on April 22nd as Jim, our Senior Choir, and guest singers and musicians performed A Little Jazz Mass by Bob Chilcott. Take a look below for a few pictures and a video!

Happy 35th Anniversary Sunday Fellowship!

  • February 12, 2018

It was awesome to see so many people at the 35th Anniversary of Sunday Fellowship. There was standing room only in our sanctuary! I counted at least 50 SF members as well as many MMArc staff, past SF leaders, and lots of friends and family members! 

Everyone did a great job helping to lead the service. Here are a few of the comments we’ve received so far:

“Still basking in the glow and spirit of this morning. What a great service! So spirit filled, so fun, so energetic.”
 
“What a great service today! There were so many folks there. A great celebration of the heart of the congregation.”
 
“Everything came out great and Pastor John’s sermon was great.”
 
“Such an amazing service this morning! I like SF songs.”

Many thanks to MMArc residential director, Andrew Forti and all of the MMArc house managers for working with us to facilitate transportation. Special thanks to the MMArc staff who came in early for the 9am shift to make it possible for people to arrive before worship. 

Thank you junior and senior choir members, Jim Barcovic, Susan Davies, Chris Porth, Pete DeRosa, Julie Beyer and Jeff Tustin for working with us to make beautiful music yesterday.

I’d also  like to thank Andrew Southcott and the Hospitality Committee for providing all of the healthy snacks we enjoyed after worship as well as our guest preacher Rev. John Hudson. John told some stories about his experiences with Sunday Fellowship back in the day when he was senior pastor at WCUC. And David Swain took over 300 photos. Here are some of them! Thank you all!

Kindness Rocks at WCUC!

  • October 26, 2017

If you see some brightly colored rocks in the Welcome Garden next to West Concord Union Church, you’ve just discovered WCUC Sunday School’s “Kindness Rocks Project.” This simple yet powerful way of sharing messages of hope originated in the mind and heart of Megan Murphy, a mother of three from the Cape going through a life transition.

Each day she would walk on the beach looking for signs that closing her business and going back to school was the right decision. One day in 2013, she was inspired to decorate five ordinary beach rocks with messages of encouragement and return them to the beach. The next night, knowing nothing about their origin, one of Murphy’s close friends texted her a photograph of a rock she’d found on the beach with the message, “You’ve Got This!” It was just the sign Murphy needed to continue on her path. Just four years later, there are kindness rocks being made all over the world from the Cape to New Zealand!

The WCUC Sunday School decided to adopt this Kindness Rocks Project as a way of resisting hate and spreading hope within our community. Come on by the Welcome Garden and check out the messages our children have created. Feel free to take a rock with you or add one of your own. But you might want to come over soon! Kindness rocks have a way of finding new homes quickly! For more information about the Kindness Rocks Project and how to make your own rocks go to:  http://thekindessrocksproject.com

Celebrating the Life of Dennis Lin

  • October 10, 2017

 

 

On October 8, scores of Dennis Lin’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his life. Dennis grew up locally and graduated from Concord Carlisle High School where he met many of his friends. After high school, Dennis achieved his goal of living independently and resided in West Concord for the past three years.

Dennis died on September 25 after a life-long battle with Prader Willi Syndrome. The love-filled memorial service was hosted by Sunday Fellowship, a ministry for people of all abilities at West Concord Union Church (WCUC), both of which Dennis was an enthusiastic participant. In addition to his many friends at WCUC and Sunday Fellowship, the service was attended by Dennis’s mother, Woahyih Lin, his father, George Chia-En Lin, his brother, Samuel and his aunt, Jenny. Many of Dennis’ former classmates and teachers at Concord-Carlisle High School, gathered with friends he made at local businesses, among Concord’s first responders and on the commuter rail to remember Dennis’ enthusiasm, his love of dancing and his inexhaustible friendliness.

Members of Sunday Fellowship led the congregation in a reading of Psalm 139 affirming that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God regardless of how our bodies move, communicate or think. Samuel read the story of the Good Samaritan, a scripture Dennis referenced in his testimony. George spoke gratefully of several notes he found among Dennis’ papers in which Dennis expressed deep love and faith. As the coordinator of Sunday Fellowship for the past three and a half years, I couldn’t help but think that Dennis would have LOVED the idea of his friends all meeting each other, especially at a Sunday Fellowship gathering. While I and so many others will always wish we could have had more time with Dennis, we are comforted to know that his time was so very full of love and joy. We love you Dennis!

 

No Matter What Happens, Stay Calm and Dance On!

  • March 8, 2017

Last Sunday, Sunday Fellowship was prepared to host a St. Patrick’s Day dance with twenty-five of new friends from the L’Arche Community in Haverhill, MA. We were so excited! The room was decorated. The green punch was ready. We even had a St. Patty’s photo booth supplied with green flashing sunglasses and a sequined bow-tie!

At 4pm, our guests started arriving but our DJ didn’t. This would be a MAJOR party foul in most circles. But it was no biggie for this crowd. In typical Sunday Fellowship style, we didn’t let a little thing like a missing DJ get us down or prevent us from “getting down” with our new friends. We just grabbed a laptop, some speakers and played our own music. The pictures below tell the story: No matter what happens, stay calm and dance on!