This past year, seven young people gathered monthly with Joyce and Hannah to explore Christian beliefs and practices. These students have put in time and effort, and like many of us, they have not yet come up with many definitive answers about their own beliefs. So on Confirmation Sunday they shared some of their values and questions with us today. We’ve taken statements from all of the students and mixed them up together, and I’m grateful that many of the students got together virtually to record it. I invite you to listen to them and to consider what you value, and what you wonder about God, Jesus, Spirit, and Church.
Posted in Children and Youth
by Jessica Torgerson
I met with Hannah earlier this spring to talk about Children’s Sunday and to plan out how, exactly, we were going to do this. To be honest, March and April were a blur of anxiety and stress and uncertainty for me and it was hard to wrap my head around planning a brand new medium for Children’s Sunday. I felt pretty lost at times, without a map, but doing my best to navigate this new normal. So this is my headspace when Hannah suggests adapting pretty much the entire book of Exodus into a drama for Children’s Sunday, but focusing mainly on the Israelites in the wilderness – wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Can you imagine the fear, the uncertainty, the frustration the Israelites must have felt? Well, yeah. Yeah I kind of can, and our children can, and I bet you can too. This pandemic uprooted our lives just about as fast as the Israelites were uprooted when they fled Egypt. In the span of four days in March we went from pretty much business as usual to shut down, shuttered at home. No map. We were all wandering in fear, uncertainty and frustration.
Once freed from slavery, the Israelites were not too happy about their new nomad lifestyle. “When are we gonna be there? There’s nothing to eat! Do you even have a plan?” These were complaints that Moses and Aaron and Miriam had to address with God’s help. I’ve heard those same type of questions in my house recently. When are we going back to school? When can I see my friends? Do we have to wear these masks everywhere? When will this be over and we can go back to normal? Why is there no flour at the grocery store?! It is hard to wander without a map, without many answers. God heard the complaints of hunger from the Israelites and answered with a shower of sweet, flaky starch every morning. God heard the frustration and anger and confusion and gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments – a roadmap of how to live together as a community. And God heard the desperation and fear of the wandering mass and promised to lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, never leaving them.
When we talked about this story in Sunday school, we noticed the similarities between the wandering Israelites and all the uncertainty in our own lives right now. But is God helping us and leading us right now, just as in the Exodus story? We compared God to a lighthouse, leading boats through a storm, providing comfort and safety, like a beacon home to those who may be lost. I asked the children, “What is your lighthouse right now? Who is helping you to find comfort and safety?”
My lighthouse is my teacher sending me school work to do every day because I really like school and I was really sad when I couldn’t go anymore
My lighthouse is doing a Zoom with my friends
I do crafts with my neighborhood and we share the crafts. We all do a different one and we share it on the computer.
I can FaceTime my friends and that makes me happy
We do more movie nights with my family and I like that. It’s fun.
And all the children mentioned some combination of hikes, walks, bike rides, and being out in the sun. Sunshine seems to help everything.
This is a scary and uncertain time for all of us, but particularly so for our children. Schools (and churches) are closed, routines have been upended, nothing fun is open, they are forbidden from being together with friends or even grandparents, and the grown-ups don’t have many answers. They are wandering – sometimes literally – in a very new wilderness. But children are resilient, and they are excellent at looking for that pillar of cloud or fire, for that lighthouse in the distance. I wonder, what is your lighthouse right now? Who or what helps you find comfort and safety and protection as you wander in this wilderness? Do you see God at work around you, leading us through the unknown? I see God through our leaders keeping us safe with new rules and guidelines, through our healthcare workers healing and protecting us, through neighbors who drop off a few cups of flour on our porch, through friends and family who strive to connect in new and creative ways. And through our children, who teach us every day that God’s lighthouse is burning bright, helping to guide us through this stormy wilderness.
Thanks be to God.
Thank you to all the children and families who helped to make this incredible production of our scripture drama for Children’s Sunday! I can imagine more fun productions like this in our future!
Please enjoy the photos highlighting our fabulous year together in Children’s Ministries. It is amazing how much we accomplished and how much fun we had in just over six months!
Reflections from Joyce DeGreeff on May 3, 2020
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Good Morning Dear Friends…what a privilege it is for me to share some thoughts with you on this day when we are celebrating two of the things that are most precious to me in our our church: Our Awesome Youth and our Intentional Commitment to being an Open and Aﬃrming community – one that welcomes and honors diversity and inclusion in all of its forms.
When I ﬁrst moved to Concord with my family in 2002, we did a fair amount of church shopping. Our hearts quickly found a home when we eventually tried out WCUC. In addition to the music, the sermons, and the youth programs, we noticed right away the warmth of this community and the many ways that it was living the ONA statement that it had voted on three years before our arrival. It was in May of 1999, that this church decided to publicly aﬃrm God’s call to love one another without exception and to recognize that welcoming such diversity enriches us all. This aﬃrmation proclaims out loud that we are, everyone one of us, a beloved child of God – no matter what we look like, who we love, how much money we make, how we move, think, or communicate…we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God’s hands – the One who knit us into being and intimately knows and loves us exactly the way we are.
May of 1999…that was 21 years ago – It was before anyone in our current youth group was even born. Many of you were here at that time and I’ve heard that it was both a joyful and challenging process, but you persisted and followed God’s voice to make it happen. And here we are today seeing the fruits of your labor a generation later. I asked some members of the youth group to reﬂect on what it means to them that we are an ONA church. Listen to their voices:
“I think churches that are open and aﬃrming are great because they bring people from diﬀerent communities together as one and make people feel safe and comfortable – like they can express who they are and what they believe without any judgement – which I think is really important. I love WCUC because it’s such a welcoming, wonderful, and accepting community.”
“I think many people have associated Christianity with intolerance. If churches want to be accepting of all people as God intended, they should not put some people above others. My best friend wanted to ﬁnd a religion where she could be herself and explore her spirituality. She immediately ruled out Christianity because she thought we were not welcoming of the LGBTQ community. It means a lot to me that I can bring any of my friends, no exceptions, to youth group and know they will be welcomed and treated as equals.”
“This church is special to me because I know that I can bring every part of me and I will be welcomed, accepted, and celebrated for who I am. I don’t have to hide or pretend to be someone I’m not.”
Our ONA statement clearly sends the message that all are welcome here and that no matter who you are, there’s a place for you – You Belong Here. We want you to “come, live in the light” because we know there is Joy and Freedom to be found when we can be fully who God created us to be.
Our ONA statement also reminds us that we are better together – diversity enriches all of us and we need each other. I like to think of it as “Mirrors and Windows”. We all need to see ourselves reﬂected in those around us and we all grow when we can look out and see something that’s new – something that is not part of our own experience but something that we can learn about and appreciate.
I remember the ﬁrst time a child in our church wore noise cancelling headphones to help her body handle the higher volume sounds in worship. A week later, another child wore them and then another. Mirrors say “you are like me in some way” and we can be ourselves together.
I also love and miss the “windows” that I look through when we’re sitting in our sanctuary on a Sunday morning: I see families who are formed in various ways, I see young and old bodies of all shapes and sizes, I witness the gifts of our SF friends and their caregivers, and I appreciate the multiple ways we express joy – ranging anywhere from silent prayer to loud and heartfelt outbursts when the organ starts playing.
In the early Christian church, when the Corinthians were trying to ﬁgure out how to live in community, Paul told them this:
“Just as a body has many parts, but all of its parts form one body, so it is with the body of Christ” (this is our church community!) “God put (us) together so that (our) parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suﬀers, (we all) suﬀer with it. If one part is honored, we all rejoice with it.”
Let’s keep these words in mind as we read our ONA statement together and remember how blessed we are to be a part of such a warm, welcoming and loving community of faith:
Our Open and Aﬃrming Covenant (May 2, 1999; updated January 2020)
We, the members of the West Concord Union Church, are called to love one another as God loves us, freely and unconditionally. We further believe that diversity enriches our faith community.
Therefore, we welcome persons of any sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, race, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and physical and mental ability into full membership and participation in the body of Christ. We celebrate family in all its diverse forms and honor, support, and bless all loving and committed relationships. As we are one in Christ, we are called to accept and respect one another in the face of our diﬀerences. We agree that continued dialogue is necessary as we each grow in learning and understanding.
We commit ourselves to work diligently to end all oppression and discrimination which aﬄicts God’s people in our society. We seek to explore new ways of aﬃrming our faith in community according to the wisdom of the Gospel. We strive, as individuals, to become more Christlike in our love for one another.
In these times of physical distancing, it helps to look back at pictures and remember all of the fun times we’ve had together. Those days will come again! In the meantime, let’s enjoy the memories and stay connected as best we can. God is with us always.
WCUC families want to show their love and support to the health workers in our congregation who are tirelessly caring for others and keeping us safe during the pandemic. Thank you for your strength and sacrifice!
Celebrating Palm Sunday together as a community with art – how did you shout “Hosanna”?
How many signs of new life have you spotted this past week? Every single day our landscape is changing – sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes dramatically – and our brown, bleak scenery is slowly and surely filling with life and color. The annual miracle of life from dry bones! A true gift for us temperate forest, northern hemisphere dwellers each year before Easter. Enjoy the photos of some folks’ outdoor discoveries this week!
In these times of physical distancing, it’s more important than ever to find social connection and solidarity. Our youth group is Zooming into connection every Saturday at 4pm, for sharing what’s hard and what helps, playing games, and joining together in mindful meditation. Laughing and breathing together has been a remarkable way to bond and to find some calm in these challenging times.
It also helps to have some recent memories of being together in person. The middle schoolers spent over two hours running around at Boda Borg in Malden, solving mental and physical challenges to successfully complete several rooms. And the high schoolers managed to “escape” their 13th floor apartment room with 6 minutes to spare at Puzzlescape in Hudson. Teamwork was key in both of these outings!
We also enjoyed some outside time at our last youth class. This memory of walking the labyrinth together is one that is keeping hope alive that better days are ahead!
At our most recent Zoom Youth Group meeting, we closed with these words from Carrie Newcomer and then closed our eyes and listened to our own breathing, alone and together. With God and with each other, we can do this hard thing!