United Church of Strafford, Vermont

William Sloane Coffin New Event Idea

Dear Church Family,
Some younger and newer people in Strafford are not aware of the connection the church and town have to Bill Coffin, and may not be not aware of who he was and what he did and said.
I would like to institute an annual celebration of his life and work and words to keep his legacy here alive.  I hope it could be an opportunity to reflect on how we are doing as a congregation and as a wider church at fulfilling the prophetic role he modeled and called the church to embody.
If you are interested in helping organize this event or participating in any way, please email me at unitedchurchofstrafford@gmail.com.  I have spoken of this idea with some who knew Bill well and have been encouraged by their enthusiasm.  Below are some possible components of the event.  These would take place over the course of a Friday through Sunday, possibly as soon as this fall:
1. Showing the documentary with discussion afterward, maybe inviting someone involved with the film or with Bill’s work to participate in the discussion;
2. A piano/violin performance in remembrance of those Bill gave;
3. A youth “speak-chorus” of Bill’s words;
4. A William Sloane Coffin Church Leadership Conversation, a day or part of a day for clergy and other church leaders to talk strategically about how to engage with issues that the church needs to address in the world, partly to encourage leaders to speak out and become active themselves and partly to think about what our congregations can do.  This could be local, regional or eventually national in scope.
5. A keynote by a leading prophetic pastor, either local, regional or national in stature.
6. A worship service in Bill’s spirit, similar to what we do on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday.
Thank you for sharing your interest or ideas about this!
Grace and peace,
Pastor Tom Kinder

Upcoming Service Notes for July 22, 2018

This is the second in a two part series responding to a question a Strafford neighbor has asked about evil.  Jesus said that “evil things come from within,” so last week we focused on evil and the struggle against evil in the human heart.  This week we will pick up there and move outward to consider how we can respond as individuals and as a church to the evil we find around us.

The worldwide lectionary for this Sunday happens to include a passage from the prophet Jeremiah about evil shepherds who lead the people astray and neglect their needs and destroy them and their habitat.  In response, God says, “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.”  (Jeremiah 23:1-6)

We will read the 23rd Psalm King James Version and also hear how Jesus had compassion for the people of his day because they were like sheep without a good shepherd. (Mark 6:30-34)

We are the body of Christ, Paul says.  We are the followers Jesus calls to do his work and even greater works than his.  We are the good shepherds God is raising up for our time and place to confront the evil that is attacking the human flock and the earth and to do all we can to establish the green pastures and still waters and paths of righteousness of God’s realm of compassion, justice and peace.

The urgency of this time in history demands that we decide how we will respond.  We will consider where the scriptures and our spiritual tradition are leading us, and how we can discern our specific role.

We will sing hymns and songs of other urgent times that can give us hope and inspiration for our own.  The congregation will sing three Freedom Songs and the choir will sing three, and they will be from three different continents–an Argentinian folk song, four South African freedom songs and a song from the American Civil Rights movement.  (“The Song of Hope,” “Siyahamba,” “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight,” “Thuma Mina,” “Freedom Is Coming” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”)

Annemieke McLane will direct the choir and play piano pieces by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninov.

Here is a video that shows how many church elders are rising up to be shepherds and calling on us to do the same.

You can read the powerful statement that 23 national church leaders have made at http://reclaimingjesus.org/.

Sermon from July 15, 2018

Do Not Fret—It Leads Only to Evil
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 15, 2018   Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 37; I Corinthians 1:25-28; Mark 6:14-29

Recently a Strafford neighbor emailed me a question: “When does mental illness, such as narcissism and all its horrible attributes become evil?  To take children away from their parents and lock them up in wire cages is, by my definition, evil. And I know what I am talking about since years ago I met evil, true evil.  It had a smiling face always while doing its depraved and disgusting deeds behind that facade.  And it was true evil because it was well aware of what it was doing and that it was wrong.  So when does mental illness excuse evil?”

Her questions lead to others.  How do we think about and respond to evil?  How do we endure times that seem dominated by forces of evil?  How can we make a difference when we are small and the evil massive?

The wisdom of our scriptural tradition finds evil in the world from the beginning, but Sam Arthur Meier, a professor of Hebrew Studies at Ohio State University, writes, “Evil is not an intrinsic feature of the physical world, for everywhere in the Hebrew Bible creation is seen as good and submissive to the will of God.”

“There is, however, one place where evil exasperates God: the human heart, that is a man or woman’s intellectual, emotional and spiritual center.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered from systemic evil in the Soviet Gulag slave labor camps.  He wrote, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties—but right through every human heart—and then through all human hearts…. And even with hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.  And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an unuprooted small corner of evil.” (The Gulag Archipelago Vol 2 pp 615f)

This insight has practical implications.  It affirms the Taoist saying,

No peace in the world without peace in the nation,
No peace in the nation without peace in the town,
No peace in the town without peace in the home,
No peace in the home without peace in the heart.

Our heart, our intellectual, emotional and spiritual center, is where the struggle with evil needs to begin.  The struggle in our heart is the essential prerequisite to any hope for success against outer forces that perpetrate evil, as I will discuss more next Sunday. Read More

Maggie Hooker Story and Mary Oliver Poem

Today I want to share a story about two magical synchronistic events, a spiritual revolution and a poem by Mary Oliver.

The first part of this story begins  October  2017. I am a regular reader of the Strafford list serve and found myself looking forward to the writings of Tom Kinder and his reflections on our community and its connection to spirituality

On Monday October 30, he wrote:

“We can feel hope and joy at this, if we love Strafford for its traditional rural agricultural ways and for the beauty of its working land.  We can be grateful that a new generation is working hard to make the Strafford of the future, a place where we still have the land and the people and the knowhow to feed ourselves, as our world becomes more worrisome.  We can give thanks that we have a strong culture of taking care of one another in times of need.
We can show our gratitude by participating.  …

Please extend your compassion and lovingkindness to those around you who are struggling in this hard time.”

That morning I reached out to Christa , I copied and pasted Tom’s message. “Hi there, This was posted in today’s list serve. I like what he said and how he said it. Not this Sunday but one soon, I’d like to check out his service. “

That very morning, Christa copied and pasted that same passage with the same message. We moved independently of one another, yet that meaningful coincidence was the beginning, an unfolding of a relationship with a larger community, an awareness that I was ready for more, and I think that we, as a family, were ready for more.

And here we’ve stayed, building our network of strength through connection and purposeful, thoughtful engagement

Fast forward to the second synchronistic events

Friday June 8, I was listening to the morning news on the way to work about the children of refugees that were separated from their families at the border and were then being confined in NY State, 2,000 miles away from their parents. I was horrified and overwhelmed with emotions. In tears, I sent Christa a text , “we have to do something”.

June 9, the very next day, Christa received an email asking if she knew anyone that would be interested in adopting a local child in need.

Prior to this exchange, to these events, Christa and I had talked about fostering or adopting. I was the hold out, afraid that I wouldn’t like myself if I took in another child. I worried that I would be resentful of time and attention and that I had not enough love to share.

On that morning in June, however, something shifted, and cracked to let the light it (as Gretchen Hannon would say)

I had , I think, a spiritual awaking. A revolution that love, my love, was not a finite resource – that I had the ability to care for and nourish others, that it was not something that I needed to hoard and dole out in measured amounts as a diminishing resource.

This child was not from Honduras, she was not a refugee caught up in the maelstrom of our presidential politics, but she was a child separated from her family

C was in need of  love, care, nourishment, laughter and safety.

We had that to offer;  we have that in spades.

And that concern that I wouldn’t be enough, or there wouldn’t be enough has been refuted.

I see our family growing in new ways, the joy of watching Emmett interact as a big brother, a care taker , sometimes as an instigator has been such a gift.

We three are now four, and we while don’t know the timeline or what comes next, we (are working to) accept it as part of the process, part of our wild and precious adventure.

Our family, this community,  has and is developing “a strong culture of taking care of one another in times of need”.

Maggie then read The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.  You can see the text by clicking here, and you can hear Mary Oliver read it below.

Upcoming Service Notes for July 15, 2018

Recently a Strafford neighbor emailed me a question: “When does mental illness, such as narcissism and all its horrible attributes become evil?  When does mental illness excuse evil?”  The questioner suggested that true evil may require that perpetrators know they are doing wrong.  If someone (the questioner had a public office holder in mind) with mental illness does something horrific believing that there is nothing wrong with it, can we call it true evil?

This Sunday the lectionary gospel passage is Mark 6:14-29, the story of King Herod executing John the Baptist.  It offers the opportunity to reflect on evil and mental illness, especially in rulers and leaders and government actions, but also in our individual lives.

The Bible is full of writings by people who were struggling through evil times or responding to evil actions.  It offers a wide variety of portrayals and ways of thinking about and reacting to evil.  We also have many recent voices of wisdom born of suffering through terrible oppression and genocide.

The amazingly good news is that while fear, rage, grief and paralyzing despair are natural stages of our response to evil, the spiritual teachings all show a path to positivity and empowerment and transformation.  Perhaps the most important thing we can say to any question about evil is to keep moving on that path to a response that can overcome evil’s effects and change the world for the better. Read More

Sermon from July 8, 2018

I Have Made You a Sentinel: Give Them Warning
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 8, 2018   Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 120 & 123; Ezekiel 33:1-11; Mark 6:1-16

Last week we heard the Apostle Paul say, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy, for…those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

Ezekiel would add another word to the prophecy agenda besides upbuilding, encouraging and consoling.  God spoke to Ezekiel saying, “You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.”  According to Ezekiel, one of our highest moral callings is to speak and act prophetically when we see our nation doing wrong and trouble coming.

God says through Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”  Warning and saving need to be added to the prophet’s role along with upbuilding, encouraging and consoling. Read More

Future Directions Statements and Dots, July 2018

Below are photographs of the Future Directions Statements with their final tally of dots on the Parish Hall Wall.  (The online responses were given dots as well.)  Underneath the photographs you can find the text of all 22 Statements.

Green dots meant that people agreed that the statements reflected the spirit of the congregation as they understood it, red dots meant that the statements did not.  Blue dots said that this area of our church life was important or a high priority, whereas yellow dots said that it was not.

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Future Directions Study Group
Summary Statements of Appreciations and Dreams
from the Questionnaire and Small Groups, Fall 2017

Welcoming and Inclusive:

We appreciate this being a church whose doors, hearts and minds are always open, a sanctuary that feels safe and welcoming, accepting of us as we are with room for doubt, for different religious backgrounds and for different views.

We dream that we will be known as a welcoming and accepting place to which anyone in our community who needs spiritual, personal or material support will turn. We dream of accepting differences and imperfections, embracing other cultures and traditions, and maintaining freedom to choose what we think and believe as individuals while living up to the name United Church.


Mission and Social Action:

We appreciate that our congregation reaches out within the community and world to help those in need and to effect positive social change.  We appreciate the church’s central presence in Strafford and the role it strives to play as an agent of Christ-like love, with townspeople knowing they can count on the church to be here for them.  We appreciate this congregation as a sanctuary in the midst of a complex world where we can come to be renewed so we can go out and serve again.

We dream that our congregation will have vital involvement in everyday life in the community, visible and central to people’s lives.  We dream of being a force, not just a presence, trying to make a difference in the world, responding to social wrongs, threats and destructive forces, connecting religion to social issues and social issues to religion including issues of peace, justice and the environment.  We want to put our love and faith into practice and our contemplation into action.  We hope to have more hands-on opportunities to work side by side with people in need.

  Read More