I cannot tell you how the light comes, but that it does. That it will. That it works its way into the deepest dark that enfolds you, though it may seem long ages in coming or arrive in a shape you did not foresee.
by Jan Richardson
Nothing like a snowstorm on the first day of Advent to throw its themes of waiting and mystery into sharp relief! “I cannot tell you how the light comes, but that it does.”
Sunday Fellowship gathered a few hours earlier for SF in the Light, our annual tradition for welcoming Advent. As in years past, the Sanctuary was transformed by a room-sized labyrinth and the many, many candles providing the only light. We removed our shoes and walked in knowing we were on holy ground.
This year, we read A Savior is Born by Patti Rokus which uses rock art to depict the story of Jesus’ birth. Rokus writes in her author’s note about the healing and inspiration she received through telling the story with rocks: “I wondered if each rock over time was shaped for this very moment– to represent Mary or Joseph, an angel or even our savior…Could it be that we’re like that too– designed for significance we could not begin to imagine, and that will inevitably be so, not by our own making, but by a power much greater and much more loving than we ever imagined?” Of course, we were inspired to create as well. Check out the beautiful rock art and the 3D star ornaments we made together.
The 3D star ornaments now hang in Sanctuary on the Gift Tree and will soon accompany gift requests from Minute Man Arc clients who don’t receive much at Christmas time. Gift requests will be available on December 8th. Please take one and keep your star as a reminder of the joy you are bringing to someone else. You can place the gift under the Tree by December 17th. Thank you all!
Good morning everyone. I’m Janice and I’m going to be sharing my testimony today. Thank you for letting me share my story.
My mother and I started coming to this church when I was about twenty-two years old. We had heard West Concord Union Church was starting a group called Sunday Fellowship for adults with disabilities and we came for the very first meeting. I’ve been here ever since! I’m the youngest of four and the spoiledest! But I’m the only Concordian in the family. I was born at Emerson and I‘m also the only one who still lives here. In fact, I live just a few doors away from here in a house that’s part of the “shared living program” at Minute Man Arc. That means my roommate and I live in our own apartment but there’s a caregiver upstairs in case we need anything. I love my apartment because it’s close to my friends and many of my favorite places like church, the library, and Dunkin Donuts. Janice runs on Dunkin! Ha, Ha!
Growing up, I was involved in a lot of activities. I participated in plays through Open Door Theater. I also played tennis and ran track with the Special Olympics. One year, I even went to the International Special Olympics in track and field. The strange thing is that even though I was born and raised in Concord I couldn’t always go to school here. For three years, I was sent to Lincoln schools because there weren’t any programs for me in Concord. Then, they brought me back to Concord for junior high and my first year of high school. But after one year at CCHS they decided I would be happier at Wayland High School.
After high school, I started working and eventually, moved into my own apartment. I had a variety of jobs—some better than others. I worked the longest at Concord Teacakes but it was a very physically demanding job. So I left Teacakes and went to work at Crosby’s Supermarket. Unfortunately, I had to retire from that job too due to a shoulder injury. I don’t have a paying job these days but I keep busy. I’m on the Board for Minute Man Arc and Open Door Theater, I’m a self-advocate for people with disabilities at the Statehouse, I go to Standing Strong with other self-advocates twice a month and I volunteer at Petsmart twice a week. That’s not to mention the time I spend each week helping in the church office! Oh, and I also work in the church nursery on first Sundays. You can see why I need my coffee! Janice runs on Dunkin!
Seriously, though, I know I’m lucky. I’ve always had a full life. If I had been born just a few years earlier, that might not have been true. Special Olympics began when I was five years old and I was twelve by the time schools were required to provide public education for children with disabilities. Even now, more than 75% of people with intellectual disabilities can’t find a job. Did you know it’s legal to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage? I’m happy to say Minute Man doesn’t do that and there’s a bill in Congress to change that law.
Many of you were there in June when I retired from Sunday School. The day I said goodbye was one of the biggest, hardest times in my life because Sunday school was a job I could always count on and I loved it. I started teaching twenty years ago with Patty Lynch. Before I started helping Patty, I had no idea God would ever want me to do something like this. It was a big surprise and a new beginning. But I had a niece who had just been born and I felt like something was telling me to go upstairs. Maybe God was calling me just like God called Samuel.
I’m glad I had the courage to answer God’s call that day and I’m grateful to Patty for welcoming me. It was a big blessing because I didn’t know Patty and she didn’t know me. I never took care of kids before and I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into. I didn’t even know what church school was because there weren’t any Sunday school classes for me at the church I went to as a child. Patty became my “Eli”. She got me started with teaching and she was a big role model for me like Eli was for Samuel. That’s why it was very hard for me to see Patty go when she left six years ago. At the time, I wasn’t sure I could keep teaching but I heard Patty and God saying to me, “Don’t leave.” Once again I answered God’s call and I stayed. I continued to teach with Ruth and Jessica and then with Melissa and with my final teammate, Lisa and all the parents that helped out. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The nursery has changed places three times since I started! The teachers have changed. The kids have changed. Even the ministers have changed. I was the only one who was always there. I hope that was helpful to the kids.
This year, I started to wonder if my call could change too. I had started to feel like God might want me to do more to help with Sunday Fellowship. But I was nervous to tell anyone I was thinking about leaving Sunday School. I didn’t know how they would take it. For months, I struggled with my decision. I tried to compose my thoughts on how I wanted to phrase it and why I felt like this was something I needed to do. Some of my favorite memories at church are being with the kids and all the other teachers and I didn’t want to hurt them. I bet that’s just how Samuel felt when he had to tell Eli what God had said!
Finally, Jessica and I talked and she told me I could still help with Sunday school as a substitute or if there’s a project she needed help with. Telling her was a relief but saying goodbye to Sunday school was still very hard. Patty and I had been texting all week before my last Sunday and then she suddenly stopped answering! I wasn’t sure what was going on! I thought maybe something was wrong! I felt a little like Samuel in the story when he thought Eli was calling him and kept saying to Samuel, “I’m didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” Little did I know she had stopped answering me because she wanted to surprise the heck out of me! When I came into worship on my last day in Sunday School I saw a familiar face in the back. It was Patty! I went right up to her and gave her the biggest hug! It was a wonderful surprise on a day that was kind of sad and a celebration. It became a celebration of two teachers, not just one.
So that’s the story of how I found my calling in Sunday School and how God is helping me realize that calling is changing into something new. I want to say how grateful I am to God for all of the opportunities I’ve had in my life. I am also grateful to Patty and my parents and all the other “Eli’s” God has sent to show me what faithfulness looks like. I guess I never realized that one day I would become an Eli too. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Join us on the beach on Tuesdays @ 9:30am for prayer walking! Newcomers always welcome.