United Church of Strafford, Vermont

Upcoming Service Notes for November 11, 2018, Restorative Justice Sunday

This Sunday’s service will celebrate one of the most hopeful and life-giving developments in recent history, the growth of the practice of restorative justice.  Jonathan Tuthill of the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center will join us in a worship service led by members of the Mission Committee: Bill and Dot Burden, Kim Welsh, Maggie Hooker (leading the Children’s Time), Cameron Speth and Chair, Danette Harris.

We will hear how miracles are happening around us, and how we can participate in their making.

We will read from Psalm 130, Proverbs 17:9, Isaiah 42:6-7 and John 8:2-11.  We will sing “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” “This Is a Day of New Beginnings” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”  The choir will sing “Hava na Shira” and “Shalom Chaverim” and “How Could Anyone” arranged by the Amidons (see below).  Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by François Couperin and Erik Satie.

Here is the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus both singing and signing the beautiful anthem that our choir will sing this Sunday, “How Could Anyone.”



Sermon from November 4, 2018, Advent Preparation Sunday

Ransom the Captives from Lonely Exile
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
November 4, 2018
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost,
Advent Preparation Sunday
Philippians 2:3-8; Mark 13:24-37
and selected verses from Isaiah 60, Mark 1 & 13 and Luke 1

The hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
expresses the essence of Advent.
I am taking the elegant, well-focused
and most relevant Pilgrim Hymnal version
as my text. Its first verse says,
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Emmanuel means God with us—
“God with us” is what we pray will come,
the universal force of love and life and light.
But what does it mean to ask for God to be with us
when God is always within and around us?
The prophet Isaiah first used the name Immanuel
to refer at times to all the children of Israel,
but early Christians saw God with us
in the man Jesus, his teachings, his life,
his undying presence, his way.
If Emmanuel means Jesus, it must also mean
what Paul calls the body of Christ
living in the world. It means the church—us.
We are the Emmanuel we are praying
will come and ransom captive Israel.

Ransom means that there is a cost to be paid,
a sacrifice to be made.
What is the ransom required to free captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here,
meaning a society that is captive to an empire
that cuts it off from its true homeland?
What ransom can free our society today
from its condition of separation, of disconnection?

Last month I sent out a link to a film
about the Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photograph.
Those three astronauts were the first to go
deep enough into space to see earth
as a tiny ball afloat in a vast universe.
The nearest Earth-like planet we have discovered
would take many thousands of years to reach
in the fastest spacecraft yet built.
We are so alone in space, and yet
those astronauts saw that what makes us lonely
is not how far we are from other habitable planets,
but how far we are from each other,
how far we are from oneness with all people,
all the earth and God. Our separation
threatens our existence here,
and we have nowhere else to go. Read More

Letter to the Members of the Tree of Life Synagogue

November 2, 2018

Dear Rabbi Myers and Tree of Life Family:

I write to you on behalf of my congregation, the United Church of Strafford, a small, but mighty fellowship located in Strafford, Vermont.

This past Sunday we held all of you in our prayers, hearts, and minds, as we will for many days and years to come.  We are embracing you with healing energy in the wake of an event fueled by darkness—an abhorrent moment in time. The suffering this tragedy has caused you, your congregation, and the greater Pittsburgh community is one that will take years to overcome as individuals, as a congregation, and as a faith. We write to say, “Don’t give up,” we are right behind you, holding you up during this difficult time and we support and love you from afar as you and your congregation take on the very hard healing work yet to come.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, in the Fox Chapel area, my introduction to Judaism happened during my early teen years at Tree of Life.  It was in Tree of Life that I first heard a cantor, laid eyes on the Torah, heard Hebrew, and realized there was something special, beautiful, and mystical beyond my Catholic upbringing. The traditions, words, and prayers were different, of course, and yet I found them soothing and familiar. The realization that we all share a common intention—to love, to be loved, and to have a common, sacred place of worship came full circle for me as a young adult sitting in your sanctuary. I remember that realization fully now, in this moment, and I hold onto it tightly.  Over the course of the next few years, I spent many services in Tree of Life as my friends celebrated their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs.  Through the years as my friendships grew and deepened, I have shared many high holidays, smaller holidays and lit candles at Shabbat. I have always been welcomed and loved by my friends and the Jewish community.

It is our hope, that the love the Jewish community extends to its guests, neighbors, and friends, comes back to you now, in your greatest moment of need, a millionfold. That you feel the reverberations of goodness, kindness, and light filling you from near and far and that you never give up hope that love wins, every time.

Yours in sisterhood & brotherhood,
Shannon Varley & The Deacons of the United Church of Strafford

Strafford, Vermont
230 Justin Morrill Memorial Highway
Strafford, VT 05072

Upcoming Service Notes for November 4, 2018

This will be Advent Preparation Sunday, a day we take to reflect on the coming season of Advent to form intentions about the experience we want to have.  Intentionality is more important this year than ever because the spiritual benefits Advent offers are exactly what we need in a rapidly deteriorating and increasingly challenging world.  We need what it offers for both our personal and communal well being.

What are the benefits?  Hope.  Peace.  Joy.  Love.  Light. The birth of Christ into our hearts and into the world, this time, we pray, in a way that the world will heed and make his laws of love the measure of all our human laws and ways, putting an end to a way of life that has proven unsustainable and providing a solution to poverty, to racism, to the refugee crisis, to oppressive, world-destroying greed, to mass extinction and to the erosion of freedom and democracy.

Advent comes in the northern hemisphere at the darkest time of the year, a time conducive to both contemplation and compassion.  Contemplation connects us to our innermost truth and to the comfort, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, and compassion leads us to hear the cries of all who are suffering on the earth and the earth itself.

We have to be intentional about our spiritual life during December or we will be swept away in the overwhelming materialistic, surface flow of the holiday season and miss the benefits we need.  We have to decide now to block out time for increased spiritual practice and acts of compassion.

Advent Preparation Sunday reminds us every year of the beauty and richness of the season, but this year we will go farther–we will be observing it more as a fifth Sunday of Advent because we need its hope, peace, joy, love and light so much right now.

We will be reading a sampling of Advent scriptures and singing a sampling of Advent carols.  The central focus of the service will be on the quintessential Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

We will be blessed to have Laila Reimanis playing flute and Annemieke McLane on the piano performing the first movement of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat.

Sermon from October 28, 2018, Reformation, All Saints, Vision Sunday

Coming Home with Shouts of Joy    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 28, 2018   Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost,
Reformation and All Saints Day and Vision Sunday
Psalm 126; Luke 10:25-42

Psalm 126 begins by remembering evil times.  Temples had been attacked and innocent, loving people killed in worship.  Violence had been incited by autocratic demagogues against people because of their race or religion or because they dared publish the truth.  Refugees fleeing danger found borders shut against them leaving them nowhere to go.  The rich got richer and poor got poorer and the land was ravaged by greed.

And yet those times did not stay evil.  There was a reformation, a reconciliation to the ways of God.  People who had gone out weeping came home with shouts of joy.

The Psalmist remembers past reformations because now times are evil again, and the first and most important thing we need in hard times is hope. Read More

Future Directions Vision Approved October 28, 2018!

Below you will see the two versions of the Future Directions Vision that were passed unanimously and joyously at a warned Congregational Meeting held after worship on October 28th.  This is our vision for the foreseeable future in the United Church of Strafford.  These are working documents that can be adjusted over time, and we can already foresee new elements we may want to add in the future.  For now every committee and board, the Church Council and the Pastor will be working to fulfill this vision.

We received many comments and incorporated all that strengthened the Vision documents while keeping them accurate as translations of the 22 Appreciation and Dream Statements that the congregation reviewed and largely approved.  (You can click here to see those Appreciation and Dream statements.)

This has been a careful year-long process.  The Future Directions Study Group thanks everyone who has given so generously of their time, thoughts and feelings to bring us to this place.

Thank you! Read More

Oxfam Hunger Banquet and Children’s Religious Exploration

Our next session of Religious Exploration will begin during worship on Sunday November 4th.  All children are invited to come on the 4th and 11th to prepare to host a Hunger Banquet for the congregation that will take place in the Parish Hall immediately following worship on Sunday, November 18th, the Sunday we celebrate Thanksgiving in worship.  Please speak with Danette Harris or Joey Hawkins if you have any questions, suggestions or offers to help!  Thank you!  We have not had a Hunger Banquet for many years, but they have been extremely popular, and powerful, in the past.  This would be a good time to invite other children and families to participate.

If you are unable to make it to the banquet, you are still welcome to make a donation to Oxfam. Please make out your check to the UCS Mission Committee with Oxfam on the note line. Checks may be sent to Danette Harris at PO Box 143 South Strafford. Thank you!