Posted in Our Stories

When Pigs Fly by Bryan Given

  • July 17, 2019

Good morning everyone. I’m Bryan. Thanks for allowing me to share my testimony today. I’m excited and a little nervous. I grew up here in Concord but I live in Burlington now. I’ve been part of Sunday Fellowship for about three years. I’m also Catholic. So in addition to West Concord Union Church, I often worship at Holy Family in Concord or St. Bridget’s in Maynard. I’ve wanted to share my journey for a while but it’s been hard for me to find the words. The story we just acted out is been helpful because I think I’m a little like Saul, not that I’ve ever tried to put anyone in jail or anything like that. I’m like him in a way because God usually comes to me through voices or in my dreams. And like Saul, I’ve heard God speak in broad daylight before!

There are a lot of stories about people hearing God’s voice or dreaming about God besides the one we shared today but for some reason, people don’t seem to talk about that stuff very much anymore. I guess it can be risky to say you hear voices depending on who you’re with. What do you think would have happened if Saul had been living in a group home like I do? House staff get worried very quickly when someone refuses to eat or drink. Or what if Saul had to tell his children his eyesight was bad? I don’t think he would have been able to travel so much or taken so many risks to spread the Gospel. Saul probably would have been dependent on other people for rides just like most of us are when we get older or when we live in a group home. [PAUSE]

When I was growing up, my grandmother was very important to me. I called her “Nana” and she was my mom’s mother. Nana was so nice to me. She was fun and caring and she liked to cook a lot of good food especially strawberry soup. It’s cold but it’s a really good! We used to go on the rides at Old Orchard Beach together- the Ferris wheel and the log flume. She took me everywhere I wanted to go.

Nana died when I was in high school but she was sick with dementia and Alzheimer’s for a long time before that. She had to live in a nursing home at the end of her life. I wanted to visit her but things got worse and before that she lived with my sister and everything got worse there too. Nana couldn’t remember things and she didn’t recognize me. I tried bringing pictures of me and her from the lake house to help her remember. I would show her the picture and say, “Nana, do you remember me? And she would say, “No.” That was really hard. I prayed hard that Jesus would heal her but it didn’t happen that way.

I was really upset when Nana passed away. Even though I knew she was in a better place, I’ve never stopped missing her. I wish I could have had more time with her. Have you ever felt like that after someone passed away? It has always bothered me that Jesus didn’t stay with Mary and the disciples after he rose from the dead. I used to wonder how Mary and the disciples felt after the first Easter and Jesus went back up to heaven. Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to be with them after he left never seemed like a very good deal. But at least they had fifty days of little visits with Jesus before they had to say “goodbye” to him all over again. For a long time, I wished Nana could somehow come down for a visit with me like Jesus did or that I could go visit her in heaven. But she’s up there and I’m down here.

Then, one Sunday in June, I was praying in the Sacristy where I sometimes hang out before church and the pastor doesn’t mind. I was praying for Nana and thinking about all of the great times we had together and just feeling kind of sad and lonely. That night, I had an amazing dream! Nana and I were driving in her silver car along the coast of Maine. We were listening to Johnny Cash on the radio just like we used to and talking about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to eat and everything. I dreamed we were going to a famous bakery called When Pigs Fly where we always used to go for good bread. The dream was so real it was like my prayers were answered and I got a real Easter visit with her! I had always thought of her whenever I heard Johnny Cash or tasted her strawberry soup. But this time, I could hear Nana’s voice saying, “Hey, what’s good to do around here anyway?”

My dream reminded me Nana and God are always going to be with me, especially when I feel sad and lonely. It’s normal to want more time when someone dies, but love is stronger than death or sin. I think it’s awesome that God used Nana’s voice to remind me of that. It’s taken a while but I think Nana and God are helping me bounce back when I go through a tough time. For example, I was sad when my mom didn’t make it to our housewarming party but I got over it quickly. Listening to jazz in my room and reading my worship book helped me calm down. I think my dream about Nana has somehow helped me trust God in a deeper way. I can trust in Jesus because he’s special to me and I know he’s in heaven. I can feel close him when I’m with other set grandparents because they like him too. Sometimes we read the scriptures like the one Father Silva talked about from John 16, “I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now. When he comes the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you to all the truth.”

Many of you probably know the priest who served at Holy Family for a long time, Father Fleming. He retired from Holy Family in May and now we have two new pastors. But Father Fleming was my parish priest since I was five. He led Nana’s funeral when she died and he came to my house when my mom was wicked sick. It was hard for me to say goodbye to him when he retired but I don’t feel as lonely as I thought I would. I want to end my talk with a great song Father Fleming used to sing called “Give Me Jesus.” He sang it on his last Sunday at Holy Family and it starts like this:

In the morning when I rise,
In the morning when I rise,
In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus.
Give me Je-sus.
You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.

Raise your hand if you know this song? This song always gives me a feeling of safety and home. My mom loves listening it too. So maybe the song reminds me of being at home with her. Or maybe it just reminds me that I never have to say goodbye to Jesus if I don’t want to. He can stay with me wherever I go.

My mom is here today and so are a few other family members and some of my staff. I really appreciate you guys coming to hear me speak today and I want you to know that I’ve started to get that homey feeling more often—like on Father’s Day when my family was all together eating goulash and watching the Red Sox. That tells me God is my home and even though God has come to me in unexpected ways over the years, God has always found a way to speak to me in a way I could hear. So don’t worry if God has or hasn’t spoken to you in a particular way. God can come in bright lights and dramatic transformations or in familiar voices and songs that simply remind us of something we already kind of knew: we are all loved. And as Saul of Tarsus who later became known as the Apostle Paul wrote:

“I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us—nothing in the whole created world—will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If I had written that I would have added: Nope, not even when pigs fly! Amen! Will you please join me in singing “Give Me Jesus?” The words are printed in the bulletin.

Bryan Given

From Longing to Belonging

  • May 30, 2019

(This is the first of two posts I’ll be sharing about my recent professional development trip.)

2019 Summer Institute of Theology and Disability in Holland, MI

Last week, thanks to the support of the Dennis Lin Fund, I had the privilege of attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, an initiative by the Collaborative on Faith and Disability. Now in its tenth year, the Summer Institute is considered one of the premier conferences in the field of disability and faith, drawing religious leaders and scholars from all over the world. I was one of over 150 professionals who spent four days discussing the best ways of ensuring people with disabilities experience a true sense of Belonging whenever we participate in religious practice and community, not just access.

The highlight of the conference for me was the amazing people I met. At the Institute, people with disabilities are not just a topic of discussion, we are also the planners, the presenters, and the attendees. That’s not to say ableism was absent. I saw plenty of instances when ableism reared its head. No doubt there were others I missed due to my unconscious bias. But the level of awareness and the number of accommodations put in place to serve a wide variety of abilities made it clear that the desire for full inclusion was also present.

I could go on and on about the myriad of resources I have returned with but I won’t do that here. Suffice it to say that my suitcase was five pounds heavier than when I left (see photo evidence). I look forward to sharing them with you in the days and months ahead and God-willing some of my new friends will visit us at WCUC.

Living the Questions

  • May 30, 2019

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

With these words in mind, the youth recently ventured into the woods to listen for God’s wisdom in nature and to ponder the questions on our hearts. Witness what WCUC Youth are thinking about these days…

“What does it mean to be a Christian?”

“Why did God create people who are homophobic or racist?”

“What is the difference between God and Jesus?”

“What does God have control over?”

“What happens to us when we die?”

“What is heaven like?”

“Is there only one right religion?”

“Does God love people who don’t believe in him/her?”

“If Jesus is still with us, why doesn’t he preach like he used to?”

“Why do people believe in that which isn’t supported by scientific evidence?”

“Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?”

“Does anyone deserve bad things?”

“When did life begin?”

“How can we help educate Christians who don’t believe in science?”

“How can God be real if his so-called ‘followers’ go against his teachings?”

WCUC Retreat: Women’s Wisdom

  • May 15, 2019

Thirty one women from our congregation traveled to the Craigville Retreat Center on Cape Cod for a weekend of rest, play, worship, prayer, and friendship. Our theme this year was Women’s Wisdom: Inspiring Stories of the Sacred, Secular, and Self. Enlightened by the strength, resiliency, gifts, and courage of women in the Bible, writers, poets, artists and activists, as well as some legendary women from WCUC, we then moved on to consider our own journey’s to wisdom as we shared our stories, our struggles, and our celebrations with one another.

“This weekend has provided space and time for thought about the specific contributions of women, both present and past.”

“I feel like I have been raised up by the wisdom of women of the Bible, secular world, and most importantly the women gathered here.  I am leaving with so much to reflect upon.”

“This weekend has given me peace, gratitude, and faith in the power of other women and myself.”

“I have been raised up this weekend by my sisters, my tribe.  I am renewed by the wisdom, compassion, love and humor of these amazing women of God.”

A Weekend for…

Personal Growth:

“I realized that I felt crippled by my burdens.  This weekend I was reminded of my strength and power and that if I pause and listen to God speaking, I can tap into that and move forward.”

“I am rejuvenated and refreshed by sunshine, moonshine, inspirational women, and retreat from regular life.”

“I proved to myself that I have grown mentally by being able to learn to knit much more easily than it was in high school.”

“I gained insight from the reading “My Journey to Wisdom” that ‘clouds of insecurity’ are natural and sometimes protective.”

“I was given the gift of solace and reflection.”

“I have been encouraged to listen carefully to the Spirit and then step out with boldness and courage.”

“I have been enveloped in a blanket of warmth and caring.”

“I learned it’s ok to not conform to the conventional picture of femininity, so you can enjoy being a woman.”

“I was reminded to focus and be grateful for my strengths, when I only see weakness.”

“This is my new life.  I can be who I am.”

Finding Strength in Community:

“Being a part of this community made me feel stronger and welcome.  I learned from every woman I met.”

“Seeing the ways in which the generations are sensitive to each other has been a high point for me this weekend.  I really appreciated the acceptance of the younger women here with us.”

“I was empowered by a conversation with another woman whom I did not know well.  We discovered we have a common history that is not easy to talk about with many people.”

“The company of women with such a diversity of experiences has given me renewed hope for the power of the ‘Holy’ in our broken world.”

“Sharing stories with others has helped me to appreciate everyone better.”

“Many people have shared their struggles and uncertainties about coming.  I have been inspired by everyone here and this weekend turned out to be a blessing.”

“I felt raised up by a conversation I had in which I shared something that I haven’t before.”

“Enjoying a conversation I had with someone I don’t know well and feeling more comfortable with her now.”

And Feeling the Power of Nature and Laughter:

“I enjoyed walking to the ocean…seeking an expanse beyond indoor enclosures.”

“I loved the beach walk and I laughed a lot with the women.”

“The inspiration of nature and the changing views of the beach:  stormy and windy;  calm and soothing in the sun;  water view at night below the moon and stars.”

“It felt good to integrate nature with our daily lives.”

“An objective measure of trust in a space or group of people is the count of the number of belly laughs a person has had.  The count for me this weekend is near

Spring Clean-Up

  • May 7, 2019

Thanks to everyone who helped clean up the church and parsonage grounds on May 4th!

Singing and Signing Together

By now many have heard (or read) the story about Samantha Gavitz, the two year old girl from Newton whose neighborhood is taking classes in American Sign Language (ASL) because she was born Deaf. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/02/07/farragher/TEREscjAx7jPNA7RP1IQoI/story.html

Like Samantha’s neighbors, I too learned my first words in ASL out of love for a child, my own. But unlike them, ASL took a back seat to mom blogs and potty training books as soon as my son could say, “more” and “all done,” I wish I had stuck with it. Then I might be able to have fluent conversations with my friends at Sunday Fellowship who are Deaf or hearing-impaired. But I’m working on it. I can now sign the entire Lord’s Prayer and I know how to use basic ASL books and apps to get my point across. I’ve been incorporating ASL into some Sunday school lessons and recently got to see a student use her knowledge of ASL to have a conversation with someone from SF.

 

But the best way I’ve found to increase knowledge of ASL aside from formal classes is to “sing and sign” together. Check out the pictures and videos from the last session of Food and Fun when we learned how to sing and sign to two songs music from The Greatest Showman. I wonder how much progress we can make by May 5th, when SF hopes to perform these pieces with the adult, teen, junior choirs for Sunday Fellowship Sunday!

Game Faces On!

  • February 27, 2019

Seventy people of all ages and abilities came together on February 17th for the second installment of “Food and Fun” a fun new experiment Sunday Fellowship is trying this winter. After a delicious lunch of pizza and salad, it was GAME ON with Candyland, Connect 4, Giant Uno, Legos, puzzles and more! Check out the silly and serious game faces below.

And if you missed it, don’t worry, there is one more edition of Food and Fun on March 3rd when we’ll be singing and signing to music from the Greatest Showman.

Food, Fun and Epic Stories from Jericho

  • February 5, 2019

Over 80 people of all ages and abilities came together on February 3rd for Food and Fun, a fun new experiment Sunday Fellowship is trying this winter. This session of Food and Fun featured a taco bar (THANK YOU TEAM TACO!) and an interactive program of stories, songs and crafts with Doria Hughes, a professional teller from Cambridge, MA http://doriastories.com/.

Check out the Wall of Jericho we built and knocked down (cathartic) as well as the tree we covered in decorated leaves for Zacchaeus to climb! Join us for the next session of Food and Fun: Game Day on February 17.