Bidding Prayer

On the first Sunday in July, we will begin practicing a new form of intercessory prayer called “Bidding Prayer.”  In this form of prayer, I will invite the congregation to pray about  something using a pattern that we all understand and can participate in.  

To get us started, we will follow a regular pattern each week, focusing our attention in four categories on our life together:

Prayers for the World
Prayers our our Nation
Prayers for our Church
Prayers for Ourselves

My role will be to offer prayers to introduce each of these categories, concluding with “Hear now our prayers for our world / nation / church/ ourselves. Individuals in the congregation will then offer petitions, and the congregation will respond as one.  

Here is an example of the Bidding Prayer form:

Lord in your mercy....
Hear our Prayer

And here are a few examples of bidding prayers:

For the people of Ukraine, 
Lord in your Mercy…Hear our prayer.  

For the people along the Yellowstone River as they recover from the raging flood.
Lord in your Mercy…Hear our prayer	

For our congregation and our leaders, and for our worship life.
Lord in your Mercy…Hear our prayer.  

For the birth of our 5th Grandchild, Leslie May, born on the
 4th of July, weighing in at a whopping 10 lbs, 
Lord in your mercy…Hear our prayer.

As we practice praying together, we will discover the power of prayer to focus our attention and shape our ways of living in the world, desires for our nation, hopes for our church, and longings for ourselves.  

Yours in Christ

Pr. Craig

Windsor Word, May 2021

Dear Congregation,

Two weeks into reopening our sanctuary for safe worship, we continue to learn and to adjust.  I will continue to send regular updates to you of ongoing changes as we celebrate the grace and love of God and seek to open our hearts to the challenging call of the Holy Spirit.  

Here is a summary of current and ongoing developments in the life of our congregation:

Worship Capacity: Our Medical Advisory Team has increased our capacity limit to 75 worshippers. This number does not include those who serve in worship–Ushers, Greeters, Hosts, Musicians. 

We will need to consider how to improve worship participation in our narthex.  Projection of prayers and songs is too small to be seen, and sound quality improvements are also needed.  These needed improvements are a “good problem” generated by increasing in-person worship attendance.  I pray this problem will increase in the fall, when our families return and guests join us for safe worship with our big-hearted, welcoming congregation.

Worship Time; 9:00 a.m.: Three weeks ahead of schedule, on May 2, we will move to our summer worship time of 9:00 a.m.  We make this change for three reasons:

  • Increased capacity limits allow us to combine services.
  • Combining services is good stewardship of our resources–those who serve in worship as our musicians, greeters, ushers, and hosts.
  • We expect our members to begin to travel to see family and friends from whom they have been long separated, catch up on life event celebrations, and take well-earned vacations. 

Holy Communion on May 2: We will celebrate Holy Communion together in-person for the first time together as pastor and congregation next Sunday, May 2, and the first time as a church since February 2, 2020–455 days!

Video and Audio System: Our new video and audio systems are in the first phase of installation. By the end of this week, both video cameras are scheduled to be installed. Our new digital sound board was on one of those ships blocked by the Evergreen cargo ship stuck in the Suez canal.  We hope it will arrive soon.

Luke 15 Ministry: Our Luke 15 Ministry has been a great success. Twenty-four members have signed up to help us give preferred seating to our guests. To join this ministry, visit

Thank you to all the people who have contributed to re-opening our building for in-person worship, musicians who have done “double-duty,” ushers and greeters and hosts who have taken on new responsibilities, and all of our members who have supported our safe worship ministry by using our on-line sign up process and by masking and social distancing in our building.

God bless all of you, and God bless Windsor UCC.

Pr. Craig

Windsor Word, April 2021

Dear Congregation,

In the past month, I have given my full attention to meeting the target Council set for reopening our sanctuary for in-person worship: April 18th. Thanks to the help of many, I gladly report that we will meet this target, though not as we had expected or planned.

This article summarizes plans and decisions for reopening. This summary served as an outline for my Zoom presentation on Sunday, March 28th. Further details will come as we progress toward reopening and then adjust as we go.  

We all know the approach we are taking won’t please everyone in our congregation, but I believe that working together to create a safe worship environment is how we as people of faith serve God in these challenging times.  

With God’s help, your cooperation, and mutual sacrifices, our congregation will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more united.


Pr Craig


Number of Worshippers: As more of our members are vaccinated, the number of members ready to join us for in-person worship has grown.  Thirty-five (pink) of the 84 members who planned to return to in-person worship after they had been vaccinated have been vaccinated, bringing the total number of members ready to attend in-person worship to 135.

Given our current capacity limit, two worship services are needed.

Capacity Limits: We are unsure how many worshippers can be seated in sanctuary with social distancing. One hundred chairs are set up.  The total number of worshippers in the sanctuary will depend on the size of family units, as three chairs between each family unit is required. Capacity also depends on ushers maximizing seating. 

Additional seating in the Narthex may be needed as capacity limits increase, as determined by our Medical Advisory Team.

Ten percent of capacity will be reserved for our guests.  

Worship Service Times: Worship service times will be 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  Questions about these times tend to rise from expectations that by default we would worship at the pre-pandemic times of 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.  There are several reasons for these worship times: 

  1. Ushers and greeters will need extra time to prepare for worshippers to enter and be seated.  
  2. Extra time is needed between services for ushers and greeters to sanitize frequent-touch, hard-surface areas. 
  3. Extra time is needed for 9:00 a.m. worshippers to visit outside of the building and depart from the parking lot to open spaces for 11:00 a.m. worshippers.

Intermediate Technology and What to Expect:  The new sound and video system has been ordered. The expected installation date is the week of April 18th. We will devote our resources to setting up the new system rather than also setting up an intermediate system. As a result, as we begin in-person worship, we will continue to livestream worship using an iPad. This decision will affect the way we conduct worship in ways we will discover as we go. 

Also, as we launch our new system, there are sure to be glitches and problems to solve we cannot see in advance.  

Online Registration for In-person Worship: Worshippers will sign up for weekly in-person worship using an online system. 

  • Phone and email support will be provided for those for whom technology is a barrier to participation.  
  • The registration system will be open to the congregation for a trial run after Easter.
  • Online registration is required to attend in-person worship. 
  • A process is in place in case of cancellation.
  • A process is in place in case capacity limits are reached, enabling those who are unable to attend because of limits to be first in line to attend in-person worship the next week.  
  • Help and explanation documents will be available before registration begins.
  • There are sure to be adjustments needed as we go.  

Serving in Worship: In-person worship depends upon support of safe worship through active participation of our members. The following roles for serving in worship are needed, totaling 17-20 per service, 25-27 per week: 

  • Online Registration Support: 3 per week. (may not attend)
  • Ushers: 4 per service, 8 per week.
  • Greeters: 2 per service, 4 per week.
  • Tech Team: 3 (estimate) per service,  6 per week.
  • Musicians: 2-3 per service, 4-6 per week.

AV Thank you

Dear Windsor UCC Congregation,

Congratulations and Thank You! In a very short period of time you have contributed the funds necessary for the purchase of a new system for our audio-video ministry. Your rapid response helps us prepare to reopen our sanctuary in a manner that will allow all our church family to worship at the same service either in person or online.

The rapid response provided us the means to order the equipment that should be installed in about one month.  All this before we were able to get word to everyone that may have a desire to contribute to this program. Even though we have sufficient funds for the initial system additional funds could help us make additional improvements in our worship services. Should you wish to join the campaign to improve our worship experience at Windsor additional funds will help the Council to consider things such as an additional speaker to improve the sound in certain areas of the sanctuary, a component to aid the hearing impaired or additional microphones to enhance the broadcast amplification of choir and congregational participation during worship.

Our new audio-video ministry is exciting. Soon those unable to attend our services in person will be able to participate through our livestream broadcasts. Our ministry will truly live beyond the walls of our church building. People looking for a church home may visit us at any time. If you wish to join this campaign, please send your contribution to the church office with “AV” on the memo or contribute online at

Again, thanks for your support of this new worship dimension at Windsor United Church of Christ.

In Christ,
Terry Anderson, Church Moderator
Dwight Miller, Church Treasurer
Hope Schultz, Council Secretary
Pastor Craig Jan-McMahon

Prayer, Lent 2

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC
Lent 2B, 2/28/2019
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-3
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Let us Pray: O Lord our God, hear our prayers, and send us your Spirit, that we might learn how to pray. 

We are here, waiting on you, O Lord, opening our hearts, praying for courage, listening for you in the silence

But in the silence, there is a lot of noise, hurtful voices echoing inside from the past, fears deafening us to your voice, distractions demanding our attention and sending our minds racing, anxieties and worries as familiar as friends we are afraid to let go of. 

And so we wait; and so we listen; and so we pray.

We pray for ourselves in this Lenten season, for courage to examine our hearts to find the noise and distractions that limit our capacity to listen, to feel compassion, to act with love.  

And we pray for the very real suffering that goes on all around us and invades our lives, and so we harden our hearts to protect ourselves, and so we hide behind judgments of others, and so we hide behind our sense of what others need to do to fix their problems.  

And so we lift our hearts to you, confessing our own brokenness, our own mutual need for healing, for pain that we have to locked deep inside our hearts because we believe we can hide it away there as if it will have no effect on us, as if it will have no effect on those we love, and because, somehow, foolishly, we think we need to pretend as if we can bear it alone, as if anyone can bear it alone.  

But then we are here, examining our hearts, promising again, to make good on our covenant with you, to walk with you into challenges and difficulties, denying ourselves, and walking with you by faith ever forward, never stopping, transformed and renewed all along the way.  

For we trust you do not despise our afflictions, nor do you hide your face from us, though we often feel misbegotten, unloved, and abandoned.

For we trust you promise to feed the poor, whose suffering we see multiplied before our eyes, and we pray they will be satisfied, and we ask, dear lord our God, for the honor of contributing to your good provision for the poor, for those who suffer hardships we cannot fathom, but which is known to you.  

Clean our hearts O God, 
And renew a right spirit within us.  

And our great congregation will praise you, with freedom borne of humility, and with strength founded in repentance, our hearts broken open by love.  

Into your hands we commend all those for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Humility is Freedom

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC
Ash Wednesday; 2/17/2021
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
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We turn from the outward Epiphany journey of looking for the light that comes not from within, but from without, to begin the inward journey of Lent, examining our own hearts, sitting with deep questions, confessing that our intentions have not been pure and our desires often lead us astray, invisibly, and without our consent.

Our guide these forty days is the prayer of the 51st Psalm, a prayer I cannot pray for you and you cannot pray for me and we cannot pray for each other,  a prayer we each have to pray for ourselves, for the answer is found within.

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.

I have been called a hypocrite so many times by the people I most love that I wonder sometimes if it is my middle name.  

When I try to explain that their use of the word and idea of hypocrite is misplaced, that in calling me a hypocrite they are themselves hypocrites, their audible eyerolls drown out my noble efforts to disabuse them of their error.  

I have adopted an alternative strategy of saying, “Yes, I am a hypocrite, and I am grateful for your help seeing what is so obvious to you but which I cannot see in myself.”

Yet, I would like to rescue the word Hypocrite, as we find in scripture, from how this word is commonly used.  

People use it to day to name those who say one thing and do another, a person who fails to live up to the ideals she professes. This sense of hypocrisy can be seen in our gospel lesson, people who perform their piety in order to be seen by others, their motivation not coming from within themselves, not expressing their inner journey, but rather looking out for the approval of others. 

In this sense, the modern idea of hypocrisy is consistent with scripture to describe those who say and do things in public that are belied by what they do in private.

But those Jesus condemns in the gospels, those he points to as counter-examples for us are a particular sort of person common but not limited to religious communities, those who elevate themselves by criticizing others, by putting others down.

Religious people are especially good at this, their belief that they have been chosen or have found the truth sometimes causing them to look at others and see them as lesser than, failing to recognize this vision of others expresses their inner souls, for we only love God as much as the person we love the least.  

The idea of hypocrisy in the gospels comes from Greek actors playing a part on stage, who pretended to be something they were not.

The person who practices his piety in the public square is merely pretending, he has not opened his inner heart to God, has not prayed in private, has come to understand his own failings, does not yet see that his sins are as visible to others as theirs are to him: the result, an utter lack of humility. 

Humility is often referred to in scripture and fear of the Lord, an idea rather out of fashion, but fear in this sense is humility borne of self-understanding, awareness of our own blindness and deafness and need of help, a confession that we live in the broken world we have ourselves created.

But humility is freedom.

Freedom from those who elevate themselves above us by criticizing us for trying our best and for often failing, freedom from shame that says we are wrong and unworthy, freedom from the anxiety that comes from trying to be perfect, freedom from following the rules of expectations no human can meet, freedom from the need to pretend for others 

Why then do we pretend? 

Because it is so much easier, I think, so much easier to focus on the sins and failings of others rather than confess our own sins and failings, easier to pretend as if we have the answers and can tell other people what to do than to work with them and fail with them and learn with them, easier to demand that others meet our expectations than to hope together with them.

But the easier way is not the right way, and the easier way is not the way Jesus follows. Lent is not about the easier way anyway. 

To live real and authentic lives demands more of us than playing the parts we have been assigned and putting on the right face to please the crowd; it requires attending to our souls.  

As we embark on our Lenten Journey, I hope we will all see the work of Lent as leading us to freedom, as delivering from our own blindnesses, as an opportunity to practice humility in the world everyday, to do good things secretly, to make sacrifices daily to see how our desires  secretly control us.

And hope we will all pray this Lenten prayer when we rise in the morning, take breaks during the day, and lay down to sleep at night, each and every one of us praying this prayer at least three times a day every day these forty days:

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me.

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me

God bless you and your family,
God bless you on you Lenten Journey
God bless Windsor UCC. Amen

Friends are Sacred, To Befriend is Divine

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC, 2/14/2021
Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 2:1-12 • Psalm 50:1-6 • Mark 9:2-9
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What songs come to mind when I say the following word:  Friend.

Is it: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear….?”

If not a hymn, then maybe Simon and Garfunkel.

“When you’re down and out /When you’re on the street/ When evening falls so hard/ I will comfort you/ I’ll take your part/ Oh, when darkness comes/ And pain is all around/ Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down/ Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down.”

No?  Maybe the theme song from Friends.

“So no one told you life was gonna be this way/ Your job’s a joke, you’re broke/ our love life’s DOA/ It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear/ When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month/ Or even your year, but/ I’ll be there for you/ (When the rain starts to pour)/ I’ll be there for you/ (Like I’ve been there before)/ I’ll be there for you/ (‘Cause you’re there for me too).”

It is no surprise that we sing that Jesus is our friend, for friends are sacred to us us–they are like bridges for us, they are there for us and we are there for them.  

Truth is, we can’t get through life without good friends, and hard times deepen the bonds of friendships and clarify the difference between true friends and mere acquaintances.  

We should not be surprised that like us, Jesus needs friends too, nor that God provides friends for him as God provides friends for us. 

And we would do well to look at Jesus’ ministry through the lens of friendship, for friends are sacred, and to befriend is divine.  

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen

True friends, more than anything else, are our equals. 

We share our lives with our friends, honest as we can be about our private struggles: celebrating together, making time and plans together, mostly agreeing about what is wrong with the world and with other people, learning how to avoid topics that will put too much strain on our friendship.  

I had a friend who used to say, “The problem with the world is that my perspective is unequally distributed in it.” 

Our friends tend to agree with our solutions to the world’s problems, which is a balm for when we feel bruised and lonely.  

Now more than ever, we are defined by our friends, by the people who are in our safety bubbles–friends are sacred because they make us feel safe and help us to see we are not alone in this wide world.  

Our experience in these hard times might help us to see that Jesus is in need of friends too, equals to him, to help him bridge from his ministry before the mountain top to his ministry after it, from establishing his authority and gathering a following to leading them down the mountain to contend with religious authorities and state power – all for the divine purpose of befriending the friendless.  

With the light of truth shining on the mountain top, Jesus is joined by Moses, the great liberator, and Elijah, the great prophet who escapes death.

They mark a turning point in his ministry as he descends the mountaintop and begins his journey to the next mountain he will climb, carrying a cross to liberate and to set us free once and for all, God resurrecting him after death.

The shining brilliant moment on the mountaintop is a moment of clear vision, when the clouds are lifted and the sun shines and we can see the way forward clearly–it is, more than anything, a moment of clear vision.

We see clearly who Jesus is when he is transfigured on the mountaintop, and we also see clearly that to follow Jesus means descending the mountain into the valley below.

He does not stay on the mountaintop, thank the good Lord, because if he did he we would not sing hymns of friendship, for friends do not hold themselves above us, look down from the mountain and tell us how to live our lives, but rather walk into the valleys with us, serving as bridges through hard times, there for us as we are there for them.  

The light shining from the mountain adds a deep challenge to the sacredness of our friendships, for friends can also hold us back and limit us from faithfully following Christ into the world, for as followers of Christ, our highest calling is to befriend the friendless.

There are times, as on the mountaintop, when this requires us to leave some of our friends behind.  

Moses and Elijah appear, and then vanish, as Jesus descends the mountain.  

Peter and James and John are not yet equals, but they follow after him confused and terrified and gain clarity later, when their eyes are opened, when the Spirit fills them with the power of the light revealed to them that day on the mountaintop.

The highpoint of my week is Thursday evening through Saturday morning, when my two little grandsons stay with us.

By Friday night, my wife and I are pretty well exhausted, so we have moved our normal tradition of having popcorn and ice cream for dinner on Sunday night to Friday night, much to the delight of our little fellas.

One of my jobs is to choose some music for us to listen to while we munch on popcorn. For the past few weeks I have been playing Neil Young for them because he sings as badly as I do, and the boys love my caterwauling:

One of these days/ I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter/ To all the good friends I’ve known/ One of these days, one of these days, one of these days/ And it won’t be long (it won’t be long), it won’t be long (it won’t be long)

This is a moment of clarity for me;  I think of my own grandparents who loved me so well, and though they are gone, I think I am writing them a long letter in how I love our boys.

But the song plays in mind, too, when I come into church to work, and think of all the good people who nurtured me in faith, who loved me enough to tell me when my anxieties were getting the better of me, who taught me to love Jesus and helped me find my way to pastoral ministry.

I wish I could write them a long letter, these good friends.

I hope I am writing a long letter to them in how I live my life and how I serve as your pastor.

And in this empty building on this bitterly cold Sunday, I know sacred friendships are holding us together.

Long lovely letters have been written in the lives of our congregation, in friendships over time that sustain us now and will serve as a bridge as we return to celebrate together, to mourn together, to be there for one another… for this is the sacred gift of friendship.

In all of this, one truth is a brilliant light of shining truth that gives us strength and unites us together.   

We are all called to the divine work of befriending the friendless; we follow Christ down the mountain, into the valley below, trusting always that God will provide friends for us when we walk by faith.  

God bless you and your sacred friends;
God bless you in you in your divine befriending;
And may God Bless Windsor UCC.

O Lord our God: We have followed you up to the mountain, and we have prepared ourselves to follow the way of  your son, but what are we to do and how are we to be?  

People look at us and expect us to be miracle workers, they expect us to pretend we ourselves do not struggle and are not ourselves confused, even as we confess our faith in you.  We long to accept we belong to you, we yearn to believe that you have given us enough to meet the demands of this present moment. 

Let us Pray.

With your disciples throughout time, we travel down the mountain into the valley unsure whether we are equal to the sacrifices you call us to make. With your disciples throughout time, we can look back and see how you have been faithful to us.  

You have given us your word and your law to bring order to our lives and to make of us a community, a people, called and chosen, set free to live and to serve.  

You have given us prophets to challenge us and to remind us that we are to bring good news to the downhearted and set the oppressed free. 

But what is your law for us today?  And what is your challenge for us in our time?

Hear us O God, and answer our prayers.  We pray for you word to inspire us, that we might be ruled by the freedom to which you call us, that we might be formed as a community that befriends strangers and aliens, a people faithful in our compassionate sharing and our willingness to be ruled by your grace.  

We pray for openness to challenge, for your light to shine in the shadows of fears threaten to posses us. 

Protect us from those who claim to be our friends but who hold themselves above us on their high mountains and deliver us from the sin of pretending that we are perfect and do not need to change, and give us courage to reflect your love for the friendless people in our world today who ignored, belittled, dismissed, hated, reviled, shamed, and imprisoned.  

As your Son is transfigured on the mountain, transfigure us also, that we may follow him into the valley without fear, that we might willingly sacrifice on the journey of salvation.

And We pray for those we love and those with whom we struggle, trusting that you hear prayers we do not have words to utter.

We remember today especially Monica Hernadez Sigfried, with prayers for her parents Scott and Charna Kelsey and their family; and we pray for members recovering from surgery.

Hold us with tenderness; grant us strength to endure and faith to thrive; give us courage, resilience, and decisiveness; and fill us with your Spirit no matter where we might travel; and reveal your vision to us, that we might see ourselves and others as your own beloved children, in Christ, united as one human family.

Into your hands we commend all those for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dreams and Visions

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC, 1/31/202
B Epiphany +4
Annual Meeting; Reopening Survey Underway
Joel 2: 2, 6-9, 15-16, 19, 25-29; After all of this…
Acts 2:1-18: In the last days it will be..
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The prophet Joel speaks of an invading army and plagues assaulting the people of God, sounding very much like the political and social unrest of our day and the plague of this evolving coronavirus.  The prophet’s answer to the prevailing darkness is for all the people to repent and turn toward God, which they do, and God’s answer to them is timeless and changeless: mercy and compassion and inspiration: 

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men and women shall see visions, and your old men and women shall dream dreams.

 The prophecy and visions and dreams of the people are God’s response to hardship.

On the day of Pentecost, huddled in fear, thinking the powers that crucified their Lord would unleash violence upon them, the disciples gather to pray, and the Holy Spirit rushes in, burning away their fears, uniting them in all of their striking differences, enabling them to understand one another though they come from different places and speak different languages, and in response to the scoffers who say they are merely drunk, Peter rises up to preach, quoting the prophet Joel: 

your children shall prophesy, your young men and women shall see visions, and your old men and women shall dream dreams.

Friends: it is time for prophetic visions and dreams.  

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be pleasing to you O God, our Rock, and our Redeemer.   Amen

In the past few weeks, I have endeavored to talk with you about our common calling, encouraging us to hear God calling us through these challenging times, calling us to open our hearts to the light that comes to us in the darkness, in dark times. 

This week, with our annual meeting scheduled to begin in a few minutes, I have been reflecting on the few months we have had together, though we have spent all of this time apart, plagued by the coronavirus.   

I break with my discipline of following the readings assigned to us by the lectionary to share with you my sense of how God is calling us individually and as a church.

We have two questions to answer with our lives and together as a church:

Who are we?

Where are we going together?

As I have repeatedly said, I cannot answer these questions for you individually nor for us as a church together, and yet we answer these two questions every day of our lives, either intentionally and purposefully, or unintentionally, dragged through time by fears or busyness or politics or obligations we are afraid to break.  

When we suffer hardships or invasions or plagues, says the Prophet, we are called to turn toward God, who is ready and waiting to lead and to guide us, to restore us with new visions of who we are in Christ, and to inspire dreams of our mission in the world.

As individuals, we experience the intentional answering of these questions as a sense of purpose and meaning, empowering us to move away from relationships and habits of despair that destroy the life within us, and toward the life God intends for us. 

As a congregation, we experience the intentional answering of these questions as an ability to make decisions, to thrive in our diversity, to learn and grow through hard times such as the one we are living in, and also through times when the demanding need for change press us to the breaking point.

Again and again I say: faith does not solve our problems, nor make everything easily work for us; faith is neither simple nor straightforward but is a lifelong relationship with God and neighbor, filled with mountains and valleys, hard times when nothing makes sense, and good times when we can see how everything works together for the greater good. 

Somehow, despite all the opposition prophets face and conflict they heighten, and despite the manifold failings of the disciples, still we see difficulties and struggles as a problem to be managed or solved rather than the challenges through which we meet God, in which we learn about ourselves, and because of which we form new, life giving relationships with our neighbors and also with those we have come to see as enemies.  

This is rather a lot to take in, so let me tell you a story.

Wednesday was a glorious snow day.

I got up early and got to work, so I would have time to snowshoe in fresh snow across lake Monona.

By the time I broke free, it was snowing a little; the wind was from the North by Northwest at about 10 mph. It is always windier on the lake. 

I set out to walk across the lake heading to South by Southeast, the wind at my back. 

I try to walk a straight line across the lake, a mile and half to a park on Winnequah Road. 

In the middle of the lake, the wind was howling. I began to notice open patches without snow, and I was afraid despite knowing better; it looked like open water to me.

I had seen someone riding a fat bike right down the middle of the lake a few days earlier.  I had seen ice fishers out there. In fact, there was a guy parasailing on a snowboard out there while I walked, and yet those patches of ice right out in the middle looked like open water to me. 

I imagined headlines: Local pastor falls through the ice, dies walking into open water….must have thought he could walk on water.  

I kept walking in a straight line as possible forcing myself not to avoid the open patches of ice and soon learned the howling wind had spirited away the snow: the open patches were  ice with the snow blown away.  

When my brain got over my fears, I began to see contours in the snow, high, drifting moguls and slick ice valleys. I began walking the easiest path I could find, slaloming my way on an easy path with the wind at my back, enjoying every minute of it.   

It was such a delight I started laughing right out loud.  

It was an Epiphany: that moment of sudden vision, when we see clearly what has been hidden by fears and habits or traditions or relationships that blind us, that moment of joyful freedom when what we now see is so apparent and obvious and easy.  

When I reached the park on Winnequah, my half-way point, I put down the ear flaps on my hat, put on my hood, zipped my coat up to my chin, and then turned North by Northwest into the teeth of the wind.

It had begun to snow in good earnest, and the wind whipped the snow on the lake into   white cloud slurry. I could not see the other side, and had to walk into the cloud slurry, led by my inner sense of direction.

I knew what direction I needed to go, but I could see only a few steps in front of me. 

My glasses fogged over; I couldn’t see a thing.

If there was an easy path, I couldn’t find it. I stumbled through high drifting snow and across treacherous patches of ice.   

The farther I got away from the shore and thus the closer to where I was going, the more unsure I became of my sense of direction.  

Fear got to me again.  

I began to worry about how close I was getting to where the Yahara river comes into the lake; I regretted not bringing my binoculars, thinking I could look out and find a landmark, though I could see only a few feet in front of me with or without binoculars.  

Finally, I remembered the wind was North by Northwest.  I got my bearings by walking against the wind, making sure I kept it pushing against me in the same place so I knew I was heading in the right direction. 

And then I had a second Epiphany.

It is easy to walk with the wind at my back and follow the path the wind makes across the snow, and it is easy to answer God’s call when things fall together and the way forward is clear and the footing is secure and the path is obvious.

But we also follow the wind by walking against it, the Spirit leading us forward into challenge and difficulty, and though following a headwind is hard work indeed, we sometimes are led by the Spirit to faithfully walk against the prevailing winds, finding our bearings, our sense of direction, by keeping steady against the wind.  

The easy way forward is not always the faithful way forward, nor is the absence of difficulty or challenge proof that we are heading in the right direction. 

I believe in the coming months, we will emerge from this plague; our old and our young will return to this sanctuary of God.  We will all do our very best to ensure all of our people are safe, knowing we will return by different paths and on different timelines, some of us with the wind at our backs, others with wind in our faces, but  all of us following the Spirit.    

It is time for us to do as Joel prophecies and Peter preaches, to begin dreaming together, young and old alike, to be united in a common vision of the Spirit, celebrating life and finding meaning in our diverse ways of living in the world, all of us finding our particular places in the world together.

It’s time for prophesy, for us to see our need to repent and turn again toward God, for courageous people to open their hearts to the truth the prophets have always called us to. to care for widows and orphans, to lift up the downhearted, to put the last first and give a seat at the head of the table to the least, to release the captives, to proclaim God’s favor.

It’s time for vision, for us to peer out into the future inspired by our faith that God has something in store for us so we can make decisions and work together, thriving in our differences, united in our faith that God is making a way for us. 

And it is time for us to dream, friends, it is time for us to dream, to dream Spirit-inspired dreams, not bound by the the narrow customs and traditions and comforts call such dreams drunken foolishness, for Spirit-filled dreams open us to the future God promises us, which always utterly transcends what we have known or can imagine to be possible, and exposes us to the sneering ridicule of sober doubters, which is something like walking into the wind.  

May God bless you, your family and your friends
May the Spirit inspire your dreams and grant you clear vision, 
And may God bless Windsor UCC

Windsor Word, February 2021

Last Sunday, January 24th, we hosted a zoom meeting to talk about our Annual Meeting this Sunday, January 31st. The two items on the agenda for our Annual Meeting–Committee nominations and our 2021 Budget–were of less interest than questions about when and how we will return to worship

The question of “when” will be answered by the congregation’s response to the survey we recently sent you (if you did not receive a survey, please contact the office:; 608-846-5731).  This survey helps us answer two important questions.  First, under what conditions will our members return to worship; second, who is willing to help us reopen our building for worship.  Once we have answers to these questions, then our work really begins.

We will need to create a sustainable system to train and schedule our members to serve God by opening our building for worship.  We will also need to create a system for people to sign up to join us in worship in safe numbers, making sure that everyone has a chance to attend once before anyone attends twice, and also reserving spaces for guests to join us.  This process will also serve as contact tracing.

In addition, we will need to plan for how we will continue to reach members and friends online who will return on a longer timeline, and also continue to reach our shut-ins who have enjoyed the advent of online worship.  I am committed to these members and to reaching out to others online. I hope the congregation will resolve to ensure that our return to in person will not come at the expense of those who are unable, for whatever reason, to join us for worship in our building.

One of the most often asked questions is why we are not yet open while other churches are already open. One answer is that we respect science and follow the advice of experts who have warned against gathering and say that singing is dangerous. 

Another answer to the question is that we currently lack capacity and organization to open our building.  It is hard to see from the perspective of this pandemic, but the congregation went through a significant transition in the process of calling me to serve as Pastor.  We are getting our start in a hard time, and we do not yet have processes in place to make decisions, enlist help, and get moving.  In truth, the informal and personal nature of the congregation, one of its greatest strengths and assets, leaves the congregation ill-prepared for the time we are living through.  We now need to build a sustainable structure for today and tomorrow.

I hope we will all put our energy and passion into creating formal structures and organizations that will sustain us as we move forward together.  When we open our doors, we will all be glad to be back in our church home, and I pray we will be ready to welcome the new people who will join us after this hard time.  

God has given us so much, and we are coming through this pandemic with few losses compared to other congregations. I hope you will join me in asking how God is calling us to serve through the ministry of our congregation.
Pr. Craig

In the Belly of Paradox

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon, Windsor UCC;
January 24, 2021; B Epiphany +3
First Sunday after the Inauguration; Sunday before Annual Meeting
Jonah 3:1-5, 10: The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time..
Psalm 62:5-12: On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31: For the present form of this world is passing away.
Mark 1:14-20: And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
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There are many times I wish I had easier things to say… times when I wish my role was only to soothe and comfort and celebrate, but we believe the truth sets us free.

Faith equips us to thrive through challenges we neither invite nor welcome, yet faith in God makes a way for us when we could not make a way by believing in ourselves and having faith in our own power.

Surely living in this pandemic is helping us to understand our faith in new ways; surely social unrest and domestic terrorism present unwelcome challenges to our faith, leading us to ask where is God in all of this, and in all of this how is God calling us to respond in faith?

These challenges are like Jonah’s whale, swallowing us up as we run away from God’s call on our lives only to find ourselves belched upon the seashore of our Ninevahs, answering God’s call despite our efforts to flee it, which, after all, is the story of faith we find again and again in scripture.

So friends, let us discern together what the disturbing and challenging call of God on our lives means for us in this time and this place.

Let us Pray
May the words of my mouth,
And the meditations of our hearts this day, 
Be pleasing to you,
O Lord our God:
Our Rock andOur Redeemer. 

Few writers capture the paradox of God’s call like the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who says “like [Jonah] himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”

In what seems self-contradictory and absurd lies a deeper reality and truth. 

In answering the call of God, Merton says, we discover our true selves, moving away from the false selves that emerge as we protect ourselves from people or social pressures or shame or dis-ease.  

The experience of opening ourselves to the call of God on our lives and moving away from the known into the unknown most often comes as a response to the personal crises we suffer, to traumas we experience alone and together.  

Merton’s understanding of call is hard won; his experience of depression was for him the belly of the whale; the paradox he names an experience common to us all–when we run away from God, or when we find ourselves swallowed up by the darkness, we find ourselves being carried toward God, though we do not know it at the time, and later come tell the story with wonder and gratitude.  

I often find myself struggling against the notion that the call of God is only about pastors, but this understanding of call is not what God intends for communities of believers, for we are all required to answer the call of God on our lives, to employ our gifts and give our time to the glory of God. Whether we are mechanical engineers or county workers or accountants, we are all called by God, and we are all responsible to struggle with the paradox of call.  

It is neither sufficient nor faithful to say “I don’t have time” or “I am too busy” or “I don’t’ want to get involved in church politics,” for the call of God is given to all of us and is not equal to all the other demands, and the paradox is that we have more time and more life and more of everything important and lasting when we ourselves as individuals and as a congregation accept our responsibility to answer the call of God on our lives.

In 1956, Richard Niebuhr wrote a book called “The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry.”

In 1956, Ike was President.

In 1956, the South was segregated.  

Way back then, there were four TV networks and families had only one phone number. 

The Korean War had ended and we were just getting involved in Vietnam.  

In 1956, we had yet to witness the assassinations of a president and a civil rights leader.  There were more. 

Back then Watergate was just a building in Washington, DC.

And in 1956 churches began adding on to their buildings for the post-war boom of children and families coming to church; in fact, our church undertook such a building project around this time. 

In 1956 and for years afterward the church as an institution was flush with resources: women who had not yet entered the workplace gave their time and energy to the church, serving on council and boards was a high honor; there were no traveling youth teams; playing sports on Sundays was unheard of, and businesses were closed on Sundays, so owners and employees could attend worship services.  

In short, the church was the center of American life and culture, and here lies the paradox: the world was changing, and the institutional church was called by God to change with it, through social upheavals, through rise of the civil rights movement, in the liberation of women.  The institutional church, however, most often did not find the call of God in these challenges, but rather saw the changing world as a threat to the institution.

The paradox of the call of God back then and today is that God prepares us for and calls us into these challenges at the very same time voices are raised up saying we should hold fast to what we already know and stand firm with what we already love, though to hold fast and to stand firm on what we have known in the past often prevents us from answering the call of God in our lives today.

Take for example the call of two sets of brothers, [Peter] and Andrew, James and John, who are mending their nets, preparing to go fishing.

There they are on the seashore, doubtless a short walk from home and hearth to the boats they have built or inherited that are the means by which they feed their families to earn a living;  

James and John are in fact working with their father, but Jesus comes along and calls them away from all of this into the unknown. James and John abandon their own father; [Peter], we know, has a mother-in-law and therefore a family of his own, whom he leaves behind when Jesus says, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

We cannot faithfully answer the call of God now or ever without leaving behind people and things we know and love, ways of understanding ourselves and others that have made sense in the past but no longer do, ways we structure our time and organize our lives and our work.

Answering God’s call and moving forward necessarily means leaving behind what we have known and loved and has held meaning for us in the past but have become burdens holding us back and limiting our ability to share the love of God with the least fortunate among us, for whom Christ died.

If I were a psychologist, I would offer a schema to help us see how the trauma and difficulty we are living through may lead us to respond in fear and turn inward and project our anxieties on others by demanding the world and everyone else change to match our longing for a time that is no more, but as a faith leader I have another message of hope to offer.

It is this paradox: within this suffering and within this challenge, inside of whatever hardship each of us may face, God is present calling us forward, nudging us to leave behind past things that hold us back, coaxing us into a future that will transcend what we have known in the past or could imagine for our future.

But this paradox of call is not easy, friends, and I cannot make it easy for us. 

When we say yes to call, when we step forward into the unknown, we discover our truest selves, and then paradoxically we then see the false selves we have put on for others, the ways we have pretended so as to protect false unity, the ways we have held back what we can give because we are worried how others will judge us.

All of these things we are called to leave behind, and when we leave them behind and follow Christ into the world there we find our true selves, who God calls us to be, who by faith we are becoming.  

God calls us away from relationships that force us to sacrifice our true selves; God calls us to leave behind habits that hurt us and those we love; God calls us into new power to love with life-giving integrity, making room for new life to emerge in us and in others;  for this is the structure and paradox of call, the structure and paradox of love, the structure and paradox of faith.  

If there were no paradox, if faith were solely about comfort, then faith would be altogether unnecessary, and we could merely follow the traditions of the past and serve our own comfort and tend to our own families and make time for God when it is convenient and agreeable and easy, 

But as we are more aware now than ever, life is challenging. Loving people when they are struggling and we can’t decide how much to help is really, really hard; and the world is changing in ways that leaves us wondering how we will manage the days ahead.

This is precisely the time when we become ready to answer the call of God on our lives.  

Yes, yes: I know what I am saying is completely paradoxical, it makes no sense except by faith.  

To accept what I am saying means admitting to a level of human vulnerability that terrifies us all, but in these challenging times–in the world, in our homes, at work, in the church–God is calling us to follow, to leave behind what limits and burdens us, and to move forward in faith that God will not merely make a way for us, but we will make us thrive and we will be renewed and through us God will provide hope for us and others, healing for us and others, reconciliation for us and others, because we are all part of this broken and hurting world.

May we all be open the paradox of God’s call on our lives, I pray, 
And may God bless you and your family and friends,
And May God bless Windsor UCC