A Change is Coming


As we all know, the cornovirus disrupted all the plans we have made, including my plans to use this blog to communicate with you as I begin serving as Pastor of Windsor UCC.

Thanks to the support of the congregation and the leadership of our Council and Finance and Stewardship Board, we have installed membership software. Two of our members, Gretchen Lord Anderson and Susan Norby, entered all of our membership information, including our complete newsletter mailing list.

I will now begin sending communications, including Pastoralia posts, to members of Windsor UCC using our new membership software. If you receive our newsletter AND subscribe to this blog, you will receive duplicate emails: one from this blog, one from me through the church membership software.

So…, if you are on the Windsor UCC newsletter mailing list, you may want to unsubscribe from this blog below. If you are not on the newsletter mailing list but want to be, please send me an email. For all my other friends, it is great to have you following Suppose It Matters. I will continue to update this blog with my writing for the church.

Keep yourselves safe.

Pr. Craig

A Beautiful Thing

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC: 9/19/2020
Funeral Homily; Erin Mackay Harvey Blasinski
Isaiah 40:27-31; Psalm 121; Mark 14:3-9
Download PDF

A woman appears, as if out of nowhere.  

Though we remember her and tell her story, she remains nameless, which is fitting in its own way, for the story we tell to remember her fits the lives of others who add beauty to our lives, who are known for doing the best they can, and who like her upset those who think she should pipe down and stay in her place.  

The story, Jesus says, will be told in memory of her for as long as the good news is preached.

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

Before the advent of screw-on caps for jars and bottles, costly perfumes and ointments were put in sealed glass containers, the glass container could be safely broken open but could not be resealed and the aroma could not be contained. 

And to those there that day, it smelled like death and memory, for perfume such as the nameless woman breaks open was used to anoint bodies laying in family tombs, the perfume strong enough to overpower the smell of death, allowing families to visit their beloved as long as the perfume allowed.

The aroma of the perfume emanating the room causes many to remember their own beloved, their own grief; some respond with anger and scold her, they say, for squandering money, and in this way they cover their own grief with self-righteous judgment of her; in this way, they seek to hide their own vulnerability by exposing hers.

‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ 

The smell of the perfume working into their clothes, their hair, their memory, impossible to escape, too strong to avoid, unasked for, uninvited.  

But Jesus praises her.

She has done a beautiful thing to me. …  She has done what she could.

She has done a beautiful thing to me, he says,   She has done what she could, he says

The stories we heard today and the stories we tell in the days ahead, are of stories beautiful things, the ways Erin was extravagant with herself and those she loved, totally engaged in everything she did, appearing as if from out of nowhere, not waiting for later, not holding back, but breaking open what she had to give and looking in her own way to anoint us, to add beauty to our lives.

Jesus praises the woman who breaks open her bottle of perfume to helps us see the extravagant gift of good souls such as Erin, who ceasely do all they can, and refuse to slow down and wait for the a better time later, who erupt onto the scene and disturb polite people who are too upset or too embarrassed or too disturbed by her extravagance to see her beauty as God sees it, as we whose eyes are open by love are able ourselves to see it.  

Erin was an extravagant soul who loved beautiful things, a cat purring, voices united in song, dew on a spider’s web, the foggy mist over wetlands in fall as the weather cools, the silence of a night blanketed by snow, 

And then there were all those ways she did little thoughtful, unexpected things, personal loving things, that those who she loved remember now, and which cling to memory the way perfume clings to clothes, a blessing, an anointing. 

We have also to look at those who scold the woman for her extravagance, who see her beauty as wasted, who are perhaps embarrassed because she upsets their sense of order or what is right, but we might see these people with a degree of compassion, because, after all, the woman reminds them of their own griefs, their own losses, and rather than see her beauty and extravagance as a gift, they feel exposed by it, made vulnerable by it, and so they close their hearts and minds to the good news Jesus preaches and we celebrate when we open our hearts to beautiful souls such as Erin Mackay Harvey Blasinski.

Jesus says: 

She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’

I am sorry our numbers have to be so limited today, because I have been hearing stories of Erin from the members of the church, and I know they are all praying for you gathered here today, Erin’s closest family and friends.  

I am quite sure our choir would have loved to sing for you, and our people would have loved to prepare a meal for you all so we could sit together and share stories of Erin’s beautiful way of doing the best she could.

And I know for sure we are aching to hug and hold one another here today, and that the congregation grieves with you, and longs to be able to express its love for you and Erin. 

There is in the grief of this day, a sense of regret, of what could have been, of what is being missed.

But there is beauty here today, in this moment in time, on this brisk day outside at Erin’s family home, accompanied by the sound of cars at the new stop sign, but also by the sounds of birds and surrounded by the landscape that formed her and shaped her lovely soul.

Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’

This is that wherever, and this is part of God’s world, and we tell stories in memory of Erin, and the body of people who loved her and were loved by her, the church body who cannot join with us physically today, this body of people who loved her and raised her up when she was a little girl and celebrated her and took care of her, this body is anointed beforehand and prepared for this day; 

Like a perfume it pervades, it clings to us, it reminds us ….

It reminds us of the power of love, too strong to avoid, inescapable, unbidden and uninvited, and yet pervading and enduring; we are all vulnerable to it, we all connected by it. 

This is what we remember, and this is how the gospel is preached, as we remember her, as we open our hearts to the power and beauty of love, as we accept that Erin did what she could do, and so did we.

This is the good news friends, and this is the gospel. 

God saw only beauty in Erin’s life, and God welcomes her into eternal beauty with the glorious company of Saints in Light, for she did all that she could do, and so did we.

And as you, Erin’s closest family and friends do what you can do in the coming days, the beauty of God will surround you, will fill you, will help you to remember, and in remembering, honor the gift and blessing of Erin’s extravagant life, and in time beauty will heal your souls, for God dwells in beauty, God’s beauty pervades, and God’s beauty never ends.  

God Bless you Friends. Amen.  

Can’t Wait

I am thankful the congregation worked together to call me to serve as your Pastor.  We were all hoping the pandemic would fade, so we could meet face to face, say our hellos, and start our work together. 

COVID-19 changed all of this.  We are now facing the sober realization that we likely will not meet together as a congregation for some time, and we are also finding that we have to find new ways to make adjustments and find new ways to celebrate and to stay connected.

Our Hospitality Committee has decided we can’t wait to say our hellos any longer.  Hosts are needed to gather a circle of friends to meet with me, so we can finally meet and get to know one another. To serve as a host, please call (H: 608-825-9986, C-608-334-5498) or email (nmfr7@charter.net) Nancy Miller, and we will schedule a time and place to get together.  

We all hope we will be together again soon, but until it is safe for us to gather as a congregation, we are still the church, and it will be good to finally meet you in small groups face-to-face.

Pr. Craig

Windsor UCC Zoom Cafe Tomorrow :-) 7/19

Please drop in to say hello following Windsor UCC Live tomorrow, apx 9:45. This week, I promise my camera will be work .

See you tomorrow!

Windsor UCC Zoom CafeTime: Jul 19, 2020 09:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85465791758

Meeting ID: 854 6579 1758One tap mobile+13126266799,,85465791758# US (Chicago)+19292056099,,85465791758# US (New York)Dial by your location +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 929 205 6099 US (New York) +1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown) +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston) +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)Meeting ID: 854 6579 1758Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kceVzED0YO


Help us stay together while we are apart by signing up to Serve in Worship Online.  We’ll send scriptures and prayers to you by email; you record a video and send it to us.  If you don’t know how to record a video yourself, we’d be glad to help.  

Complete the online form >>>>HERE<<<<   and we will be in touch soon.

Pr. Craig

Hello Windsor UCC :-)

Saying hello and getting started during a pandemic is a challenge, to say the least. While we are getting started, I will use this blog to communicate with you.

Please enter your email address to follow this blog (top right).

Also, now would. be a good time to get Zoom up and running. See menu above for help.

I’ll do my best to keep you updated as we find our way forward. I meet with Council for the first time this Thursday and will soon begin contacted church committees. I am not sure how we will say our hellos, but I sure will find a away.

In the meantime, stay safe.

Pr. Craig


Dear Friends,

With gratitude for our time together, I offer my resignation as your Pastor to accept a call to serve as Pastor of Windsor UCC, just 10 miles north of Madison.  

This decision did not come easily.  When I came to serve as your Interim Pastor in 2014, I intended to stay with you for a brief time, but then it was such a joy to be with you, and we found our footing together and made good progress.  Though I would love to be with you in the coming years as the congregation blossoms and grows, the birth of two grandbabies helps me to see that the time has come for me to make a change.

I came to this decision before this pandemic began and have been encouraged by the response of our congregation in these difficult times.  FCCLive has been a lifeline, and our congregation has shown strength and resilience during this crisis.  Because of your faithfulness, our congregation is sure to thrive in the future. We have found new ways to stay connected and to support one another through this hard time. I am confident we will discover new ways to say our goodbyes, too.  

Our last Sunday together will be May 31st.  Rev. Kathy Lawes, our Illinois Conference Association Minister, will be with us in worship to conduct a service of parting.  

As we prepare to say our goodbyes, we can trust hope and new life will emerge, and the same Spirit who called us together nearly 6 years ago will lead us to new life in the years to come.

Always Yours in Christ,
Pr. Craig Jan-McMahon

In My Kingdom, Are Many Nancys :-)

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.  –John 14:2


I don’t know if you have noticed, but there seem to be a lot Nancys in our church.

There are in fact 19 Nancys in the church.  Supposing the church to be a house of God, we might update John 14:2, “In our Father’s house, there are many Nancys,” each one individually is dwelling place for God, each and all together make the church a place of healing and hope for others.

How many Nancys can you name?  And what is it about women named Nancy, anyway?  Why do we have such a cluster of Nancys in our church?

Nancy was a name given by a generation in a hopeful time, a statement of belief in positivism, hard work, and honesty.

Spiritual Engagement Ministry Board: Nancys Lackey and Keller, Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively.  Building and Finance: Nancy Ulrich.

Currently, Outreach and Mission Ministry Board is Nancy-less, but this is sure to change. Neither are there Nancys currently serving on our Christian Education Ministry Board, but this board has a rich tradition of Christines (Chris, Kristi), a name which may be the next generation’s answer to Nancy.

I can tell you from experience, it is good to have a Nancy or two on your side: ditto Christine.  To get things done requires a commitment to detail and follow through.  Without a good attitude and faith in hard work nothing worthy gets done.  These good souls are not only people in whom God dwells, but who help to make us better dwelling place for others.

What do you think is the most common name in the church for men?

I don’t know for sure, but can you think of two Nancys married to Bills?  How many Williams do we have?

There are 24 Williams. There are 43 Johns.  I could count the number of Barbaras, Jims, Mikes, and Deannas–do you get this beautiful picture?

We don’t think of these individuals as a group; we think of them as individual people, for it is with these people as individuals that we experience the indwelling of God.

Yet if we imagine together as one all the individual Nancys and Chistines, Williams, and Johns, and Jims, and Mikes, and Deannas–then we may see how they collectively become God’s dwelling place, the home Jesus promises.

“In my Father’s House there are many dwelling places.”  Indeed.


8th Sunday after Pentecost; 7/10/2016:
Amos 7:7-17; Ps 82; Colossians 1:1-14;  Luke 10:25-37
Marching (pdf sermon manuscript)

Vacations are a lot of work.

The week before you leave on vacation, you have to work double-hard to get everything ready to go, and yet when you come back it often seems that your work has multiplied like rabbits while you were away.  On a short week like this week, with the 4th of July holiday on Monday, it seems no matter what you do you are hopelessly behind and unable to catch up.

This has been one of those weeks for me only more so…by the time Friday rolled around, I had a list of things to do–laundry, grocery shopping, errands here and there and everywhere….

In all of this busyness, I did not miss the tragic news from Baton Rouge on Tuesday, but I purposely didn’t watch the video of it.  Neither did I miss the tragic news from St. Paul on Thursday, but again I avoided watching the chilling video.  Then on Friday when I started the day and looked at the news and read of the tragedy in Dallas, I found myself looking at the video, heartbroken, and then I looked at the other videos I had been avoiding…

And then I made list of “things-to-do” for the day–sometimes small, everyday tasks are a balm for the soul, but there are times when our souls are troubled for good reason, when to avoid trouble is unfaithful.

I will confess to you that I was troubled about this moment we share today; what you all might be thinking and feeling today, what Good News I can share as a preacher and teacher of the gospel on this day after this tragic week?  What would I be saying if I remained silent and did not speak of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas?

After I finished my grocery shopping, I saw I had a Facebook message from one of my fellow UCC pastors in the Quad Cities.  She told me that there was to be a Black Lives Matters march from the Police Station in Rock Island, across the Centennial Bridge, to the Police Station in Davenport.

I finished my errands, put in my laundry, started my cleaning, and began to think…

Should I go on the Black Lives Matter march?

Should I use the church Facebook page to announce the march and invite you all to join me?  What are my responsibilities, as a pastoral leader, as a father, as a Christian?

And if I didn’t go, would I be like the priest and Levite to walk right past the wounded and suffering soul on the road? Would I be one of those Amos’ plumb line would show to be out of true, my sense of righteousness unaligned with my deliberate and active care for the poor and needy?

I suppose the matter would have been easier to decide if I were black, or if I had black children or grandchildren, or if I had police officers in my family, and yet there is that part of the Good Samaritan story that says that the Samaritan was moved by pity–his passion moves him to act: isn’t pity–compassion–a form of spiritual imagination?

And doesn’t the commandment to love our neighbors require us to extend ourselves to meet our neighbors?

Aren’t we as Christians supposed to be people who are known for our commitment to imagine the pain and suffering and grief of others and who like the Good Samaritan don’t simply pass by?

I have a confession to make: I wasn’t feeling it.  I was exhausted from my busy week and had lots of stuff to do, but then I finished my list of to-dos and had nothing planned for the evening–no excuse really.

An hour or so before the march, I talked about it with a neighbor.

The conversation we had was like conversations we all have, about whether marches are productive of anything, of whether to march is to say the police are the problem,  about whether the problem is broader and deeper, whether it is about poverty and prisons and racism and politics, or about whether we as a society expect police to be social workers and therapists and call on them to intervene rather than building social systems to care for people in crisis: abstractions really, merely abstractions.

Our conversation was not animated by pity or compassion but we found ourselves rehearsing the same talking points we have heard all of our lives….until we started talking about how we were talking, until we realized how privileged we are to talk about these matters in the abstract, about all the choices we have that others do not have and how very easy it is for us to choose to do nothing at all.

When the time came, I decided to join the march.

The leaders of the march talked to us in Rock Island, spoke about the need for the march, the hope of bringing about change so that what happened in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas does not happen in the Quad Cities, and emphasizing that it was to be a peaceful march.

After the talking was done but before the march began, a pastor invited us to pray.  Hats came off, heads were bowed.

We said “Amen” and then set off together to cross the bridge.

At every turn, there were police officers protecting us.  What were they thinking and feeling I wonder?

As marchers passed by them, they greeted the officers, “Thank you for your service; thank you sir; we are grateful for you.” Many of the marchers reached out and shook police officers’ hands as they passed by–I wonder who was the Samaritan in these exchanges, and who was the poor soul suffering in the ditch.

About half way across, Pr. Mason Parks, the pastor of New Journey AME church just down 7th Ave here in Moline, a neighbor church, came along beside me and said “hello.”

I met Pr. Mason a year ago, after the Mother Emmanuel Massacre in South Carolina.  I was glad to see him but felt embarrassed about having failed to maintain our relationship.  I wondered if all of this sadness would be different if people like me took the time and saw the importance of maintaining relationships.  It is pretty hard to love our neighbors if we don’t take the time to get know them.

On the march, leaders were leading chants, and people were following along: hands up! don’t shoot!  What do we want? Justice! When do we want it. Now! What do we want?  Change! When do we want it, Now!

I did not raise my hands; I did not chant.  I felt out of place and uncomfortable, and I found myself feeling it would be dishonest somehow, untrue if I did.

In the crowd I saw two people marching side by side who were wearing shirts that say “Love thy Neighbor,” Thy black neighbor, thy white neighbor, thy Muslim Neighbor, Thy Gay Neighbor, thy straight neighbor.”

They were joining in the chants and hand raising with the leader; I didn’t have a chance to talk with them, but I expect they would say that marching and chanting was honoring the commandment written on their shirts.

Love is not an abstraction; it is an action.

As we crossed the bridge, people driving in the other direction slowed down to look at us.

Many of them whipped out their cell phones to take pictures.  Some of them honked and cheered us on.  Most of them simply passed by.

One fellow on a Harley hollered at us, “All Lives Matter” and then revved his engine loudly to drown out our chants.

When we got into Davenport, a few young men were laughing and hooting at us: Kill the Police they said, and laughed.

A little later a father riding bikes with his daughter yelled, “you’re wasting your time marching; why don’t you do something about it?”  His daughter, riding behind him, was laughing–what else could she do?

To end the march, we gathered in a parking lot in Davenport for speeches: I looked around and saw people of all kinds, rich and poor, black and white, young and old.

I saw many black parents holding hands with their little children, and I wondered what those parents must be feeling; white parents brought their children, too, and I wondered if I would have done the same.

Police officers stood off at a distance watching over us, expressionless.

The speakers encouraged us to stay involved, to pay attention, to vote and hold leaders accountable; they praised police officers who serve with honor and called for justice for those who violate their oath to protect and serve.  Many people were crying.  Some were holding up signs. Others were shouting amen.

The final speaker asked us to look around at our neighbors, to notice how different we were from one another, and to remember that we are in this together, that by working together as neighbors, we can bring about lasting and real change.

The event concluded with prayer; all of us joining hands together as one. As we prayed, police officers looked on.

I have been at pains to say often and repeatedly that God loves us not because of what we do but because of who we are.  I have said often and repeatedly that God’s grace is given to us as a gift which can neither be earned nor can it be lost.  But as the prophet Amos reminds us, God’s judgement is given to us as well.  This judgement, says Amos, is a plumb line measuring whether our worship of God is in true with our care of the poor and needy, whether our actions are in true with our prayers.

And Jesus teaches that to love God means to be moved by pity and compassion to take action on behalf of those whose pain and suffering has been ignored and overlooked and distorted and silenced.

As people of faith, as followers of Christ, as a congregation who listens to the words of prophets of old asking how we might square our prayers with our actions, we must look for hope not by accepting the abstractions and arguments that dismiss and excuse us from action, but we must exercise spiritual imagination.  We must allow ourselves to be moved by pity and compassion, by the suffering of others.  We must open ourselves to the judgment of God, which is now and will always be merciful and forgiving, but which now and always demands that we ask how we ourselves have been untrue so that the we ourselves can choose how to love kindness, to do justice, and to walk humbly with our God.

May our every prayer be an action that brings healing, hope, and reconciliations to a broken and hurting world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Ashes to Ashes

Karen Gullickson lives with her sister, Ruthie, in a little house behind Gullickson’s Grocery Store, which has been closed for decades. If you were to ask Karen when the family store closed, she would tell you the date along with a complete history of the store and town, Keyeser, Wisconsin.

Spring Prairie Lutheran Church is across the street from Karen’s house. The church was founded by Norwegian Lutherans, who were dairy farmers and tobacco growers back when tobacco was a government subsidized cash crop like corn and soybeans are today.

If you were to open Karen’s front door and walk across the street in a straight line, you would find yourself in the parking space marked by a sign, “Reserved for Pastor.” This was my parking spot–Spring Prairie Lutheran Church was my first congregation.

I went to Spring Prairie Lutheran Church knowing nothing about Lutheranism, to serve as an Interim Pastor following a Pastor who had hurt the congregation in ways that are all too familiar to church goers. The pastor who preceded him, Pr. Rolf Olsen, had served Spring Prairie faithfully for 38 years, so the congregation soon recovered from the shenanigans of the Pastor I succeeded. The resilience of the congregation grew from the deep roots of relationships of a community cultivated over time by working together, by cooperating and sharing farm machinery, by helping one another chop and spear tobacco, by celebrating the end of growing seasons, and by going to church.

The story of these relationships is told in the cemetery, which surrounds Spring Prairie Lutheran Church, and Karen has long tended this cemetery and curated its stories. She has maps for every plot and knows the story of every family member buried there, stories which grow from the Keyeser soil of Norwegian Lutheran relationships.

Funeral services at Spring Prairie Lutheran Church conclude with a congregational procession to the graveside, bells tolling, led by the Pastor, robes flowing in the prairie breeze.

Karen taught me about funeral processions at Spring Prairie. The very first funeral I officiated over was for Esther Gilbertson, the matriarch of Gilbertson’s Grocery Store, which is across the street from Gullickson’s Grocery store. Karen would gladly tell you the complicated story of these two grocery stores.

I asked Karen to walk me through how Pr. Rolf led the the funeral procession and conducted the committal service at the graveside. She told me that Pr. Rolf, while saying “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” made the sign of the cross on the casket with soil from the graveside.

I began to understand beauty of soil at Spring Prairie. The Norwegians moved to Keyeser because it looked like home and because of the soil–fertile, black loam left by glaciers plowing across Wisconsin eons ago, soil that was fed for millennia by prairie grasses. The sign of the cross inscribed with that rich soil traced not only generations of relationships: it connected souls to ages and eons of time that created it.

For the year that I served at Spring Prairie Lutheran Church, I carried a small container of that soil in my robe pocket, and began to follow the 38 year custom established by Pr. Rolf Olsen–“ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

When my year at serving at Spring Prairie Lutheran Church ended, Karen gave me a gift: a tin box with a bag of that beautiful soil. The tin now sits in my study in a cabinet that once belonged to John Deere.

Each time I prepare to officiate a funeral, I open the tin to fill a small container with Spring Prairie soil. The last time I opened the tin was to celebrate the life of Belinda Johnson, and I found that the soil Karen gave me is nearly exhausted.

It is time now for me to find some soil along the Mississippi River to refill the tin.

I am thankful for Karen Gullickson and the good people of Spring Prairie Lutheran Church; it was a profound honor to serve as Pastor in Keyeser, Wisconsin, and as I begin serving as Pastor and Teacher of First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois, I can only hope to be as faithful as was Pr. Rolf Olsen. I  believe this faithfulness is about finding the soil of this place.

It is a profound and humbling honor to be officially called by this congregation. We do not know how many years we will be given to walk upon this earth, nor how long we will be given to serve God together, but we can be sure of the soil. In a church that remembers John Deere and the plow he created to prepare the earth for planting, we now look forward to planting seeds and growing together.

At the graveside in the years ahead, as I trace the sign of the cross with the soil of this place, I will remember Karen Gullickson and Spring Prairie Lutheran Church, and I will pray that we will faithfully tend and care for the soil we have been given by God to grow something beautiful and lasting at First Congregational UCC Moline.