Letter to Mother Emanuel, on Behalf of First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois

Dear Mother Emanuel,

First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois, has been praying for you. We are prayerfully asking what we can do, as a white church, as our brothers and sisters in Christ attending historic black churches find themselves again as targets of racial terrorism. We have been asking the Spirit to lead us as we seek to make good on a prayer we say each time we celebrate Holy Communion together: “May our every prayer be an action that brings healing, hope, and reconciliation to a broken and hurting world.” We know our $3,000 check is only a beginning, but we send it to you along with our broken hearts, prayers of lament, and openness to how God in Christ calls us to respond as people of faith.

Our faith has been renewed as we witness your response to this tragedy. We affirm the words recently said by Rev. Nelson Rivers: “You cannot be the thing you hate. You cannot become the evil you seek to eradicate. Forgiveness is not the same as ignoring the facts. We want justice.” We are talking with our children about racism, and asking ourselves how through our passivity we have contributed to a culture that has ignored the burdens borne by our brothers and sisters in African American Churches. We are praying for pastors and congregations who seek to answer the call we share together of seeking justice for all of God’s children.

We are also sending cards made by our children in our VBS program, which we offered during the week of the Charleston Massacre. We are committed to raising children who will take up the standard of love and justice and who will, like David, sling stones to slay the lumbering giant of racism.

We will not forget you nor the churches we know you represent. In Christ, we are joined with you in this struggle, and pray that the Spirit will reveal how we can work together in the Quad Cities to be united with you in Charleston.

In Christ,

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Senior Pastor
First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois

On the Word “Massacre”

I use the word massacre intentionally: The Charleston Massacre.  In fact, the word is accurately used for the murder of 10 or more people.  Literally and accurately, I use the word inappropriately.  However, I view the murder as more than the number of a beating hearts that were ceased that day.  And as a person of faith, as I watch Mother Emanuel respond, I believe more than ever in the the power of resurrection, which raises us up not only when we reach the end of our lives, but also when the power of death visits us as it did in Charleston.

Of Marshmallows and Temptation

LENT 1B, 2/22/2015:  GENESIS 9:8-17  MARK 1:9-15

What is your wilderness and what is your marshmallow?  How do we give up and give in? How do we distract ourselves?  And how do we nibble a little bit?

Discipleship of Immediacy

EPIPHANY 3B, 1/25/2015:  JONAH 3:1-5, 10  MARK 1:14-20

The Gospel of Mark folds the long process of answering call into the word immediately.  How long, after all, have Peter and Andrew been talking about how things ought to be when Jesus calls them and they immediately leave everything behind?  It appears James and John have been preparing–there are workers ready to take their place in the boat their father.  Also folded into Mark’s immediately is something we don’t talk much about when we talk about answering call–to follow Christ means to leave much behind; it involves loss; it involves grief.  And the more we have to leave behind–the older we are, the more possessions we have, the more grief we experience as we answer call.  And yet, we believe what we have been told and what we have experience–to answer all is to discover our true selves and find meaning and purpose in our lives.

Call Story

EPIPHANY 2B, 1/18/2015: 1 SAMUEL 3:1-20   JOHN 1:43-51

This was a special Sunday for us.  Moderator Wes Lewellyn announced that the church has called me to serve as Designated Pastor, a three-year call to serve as Senior Pastor of First Congregational UCC Moline with the option to talk together about whether we are called for a longer term.  It seemed fitting that I share my own call story with the congregation.

Time to Shine

On the first Sunday of the year, I said that 2014 had been a difficult year but that 2015 would be better.  I was merely saying what I have been hearing and seeing since November. As we celebrated Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, we seemed to gather ourselves toward the future.  There is a growing sense that 2015 will be a better year.

After the service, Allyn McCune shook my hand and said that difficult times for the congregation were not limited to 2014. “We have had many polishing years,” he said: “We are a well-polished congregation.”

To say merely that next year will be better fails to capture the truth Allyn helps us to see.  There is a feeling in the congregation not only of relief but also of readiness.

2015 is time to shine!

It is time to shine up the church.  Our lovely building could use a bit of polishing. Very much like we clean up our homes so that they sparkle when special guests visit, we need to look at how our building reflects our desire to welcome guests with warmth and hospitality.

It is time to shine out of the church.  Our members are hungry for local mission experiences that dignify the lives of others.  Mission is our purpose: it unites us together, renews our faith, and inspires our worship.

It is time to shine on as a church.  We often equate stewardship with an end-of-the year pledge drive, but stewardship is a spiritual discipline that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.  Stewardship is the practice of grateful living, saying thank-you, celebrating successes, and diversifying giving.

I look forward to the year to come, trusting that God has polished us to shine in 2015.

Pr. Craig

Unlikely Inspiration

How many Congregationalists does it take to change  lightbulb? One-hundred and nine:

Seven on the Lightbulb Task Force Sub-committee, who report to the twelve on the Lightbulb Task Force, appointed by the fifteen on the Trustee Board. Their recommendation is reviewed by the Finance Executive Committee of five, who place it on the agenda of the eighteen-member Finance Committee. If they approve, they bring a motion to the twenty-seven Member church Board, who appoint another twelve-member review committee. If they recommend that the Church Board proceed, a resolution is brought to the Congregational Business Meeting. They appoint another eight-member review committee. If their report to the next Congregational Business Meeting supports the changing of a lightbulb, and the Congregation votes in favor, the responsibility to carry out the lightbulb change is passed on to the Trustee Board, who in turn appoint a seven-member committee to find the best price in new lightbulbs. Their recommendation of which hardware is the best buy must then be reviewed by the twenty-three-member Ethics Committee to make certain that this hardware store has no connection to Disneyland. They report back to the Trustee Board who then commissions the Trustee in charge of the Janitor to ask him to make the change.

Truth be told, though meetings can be tedious and exhausting, I have been surprised by the energy, commitment, and good humor in our meetings.  The Constitution Committee has been meeting weekly, there is a team thinking through how to support the church though the changes coming next year, and a team developing innovative technology and communications strategies.  Throughout the week, volunteers come in to help with mailings and thank you notes, and groups meet to talk about books and read the bible together and pray together and to knit warm, fuzzy, comforting prayer shawls.

All of this passion, work and commitment gives me confidence that 2015 is going to be a good year for the church.  Though I am surprised to hear myself say it, I am inspired by the meetings I attend.  We are moving forward constructively, not in reaction to a difficult year in 2014, but in response to the hopeful future to which we are called as the people of God.