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Published by: revkent1193 on May 06, 2012
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Annual Florida Conference Minister’s Address
Community Church of Vero BeachMay 5, 2012
“This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why
we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see somebrother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and donothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
My dear children, let'snot just talk about love; let's practice real love.
This is the only way we'll know we're living truly,
living in God's reality.” 1 John 3:16
It’s tempting to sit down right now and let the words of Scripture speak for themselves! And
while it surel
y is tempting, I’m going to resist that temptation and spend a little time with you on this
beautiful Saturday morning here in Vero Beach to offer a few reflections regarding the church, theConference and the future.At a recent meeting in Chicago where a group of leaders across the United Church of Christ weregathered I was struck by an analysis of where we are in the church right now articulated by the Rev.David Ruhe, Senior Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, Iowa. He said that theUnited Church of Christ at this moment in history is at a time of grieving, perceiving and believing. Iwould like to offer my own analysis around those three verbs that provide a framework for where we findourselves in these days.
 I was raised in the church. I was baptized, confirmed and ordained at the First Congregational
Church in Stamford, Connecticut. This was a “downtown church” a marvelous stone structure with
equally impressive stained glass windows. With the exception of my family the church was the center of my world. The church was a vibrant congregation led by pastors who made a deep and lasting impressionon the congregation and on my own life. There was a nursery complete with cradle roll, the SundaySchool classrooms were adorned with chalk boards and those nifty felt boards to help illustrate the storiesfrom the Bible that we were learning about. In third grade we had a memorization exam which includedBible verses and people and places in the Bible. Going to church was a way of life. The stores in ourtown were closed on Sunday. Sabbath was a big deal when I was growing up. The Confirmation classwas led by Dr. Russell McGowan the senior minister and it last for 12 weeks of 1 and ½ hour lectures thathe gave in hi
s three piece suit. He was an imposing authority figure and while we didn’t think he was
he sure was up there with the angels and archangels. When we were confirmed we all received theSacrament of Communion for the first time and we all lined up for the photo with our Confirmation classwith the boys trying to make sure that our clip on ties were in the right position for the picture.
Youth group was a big deal. We had a Junior Pilgrim Fellowship and a Senior PilgrimFellowship. There were close to 100 young people in each group. We had youth group advisors whoworked with the elected officers of each group to plan the worship services held in the Chapel and theweekly programs. We also had Friday night dances always ending those dances with the song
“MacArthur Park” – 
it was a very long slow dance song…. We engaged in acts of service and mission,
went to NYC for plays and to worship at other churches.I was as connected to a church as anyone could be. I was mentored into ministry by SundaySchool Teachers and other laypeople as well as by the clergy who served the church. I preached my firstsermon at 13
demonstrating the amazing tolerance of this congregation! During college I returned tothe church to lead a summer outdoor ministries program of the church taking youth on biking, hiking andcanoeing adventures all over the Northeast. When I entered seminary the church was supportive of my journey both with prayers and with financial resources. I spent an intern year at the church between my
second and third year of seminary during a time of significant transition in the church’s life.
 At seminary I was trained for a church where people came to church out of obligation. Familieswere expected to attend church and to stick with the church of their grandparents and parents. The churchwas often at the center of the public square and viewed as an important part of the culture
providing a
“conscience” if you will to the issues of the day. People would find their way into our churches and
had programs of “assimilation”. Success was measured by church attendance, the number of pledge units – 
church was meant to be a well functioning institution. My church administration course taught me allabout these matters.My first call was as an Associate. Guess what my primary responsibility was? You got it
youthministry. What else does a 26 year old newly ordained minister do? I had a great experience in this firstcall and learned a lot about the church in that time period. I was then called to be a solo pastor of acongregation where I served for 13 years.Over those 16 years I began to be more and more aware that the church that I had been raised in,the church that I had been trained in seminary to lead was changing
and changing dramatically. Theculture around us was changing and the church was continuing to operate out of a model that had served it
well during the preceding decades. I began to hear the yearnings among people for the good old days. “If 
only these young people woul
d be committed to the church like we were”; “Why don’t people volunteer 
for Boards and Committees any longer
what is wrong with their priorities”; “We need to return to theway things used to be” became familiar refrains. I didn’t know it then but I kno
w it now. These peoplewere grieving. The church that these folks knew and loved - the church of their grandparents and parents
was gone and they lamented the comfort that familiarity provided and their sense of loss was deep andwas real.So what did I do? I began a ministry in the Conference setting. Right at the time that peoplewere wondering if there was any purpose to denominational structures at a time of declining resources Ianswered a call to this form of ministry. I wanted to work to find a way to strengthen the local churchand to help equip leaders in their ministries. Giving to the wider church was beginning to be on thedecline but there was less attention paid to that reality than was necessary. This model of Conference lifeincluded t
he idea that the Conference was the “expert” and provided the answers and the resources to the
local churches. It was the hub and spoke model
a kind of help desk for churches. The conference wasthe center and the churches were the outlying spokes. That model worked well for decades
but thechanging realities of our world have awakened those of us in Conference ministry to recognize
it nolonger works with any great effectiveness.So as Ruhe points out
we are grieving. We are grieving over the loss of the church we onceknew, of the structures that we once created and loved, of the impact that the changes in our world haveon us. Some among us think that we can somehow recapture the good old days. Some among us think that if only we could find the magic solution all will be well. Some among us think that it is time to moveon and to embrace the emerging realities of this point in history.Yes, we grieve and lament that things are not the same. Yes these changing times present us withsome harsh realities
including the reality that the structure we have put into place here in the FloridaConference is no longer financially viable and that those who have served us well and done everythingasked of them and more are facing job loss and its attendant pain and questions. Yet we are not peoplewho grieve without hope. We are a people who when facing despair and uncertainty know that God doesnot abandon us. A few short weeks ago we walked through Holy Week 
the week filled with despair andbetrayal and crucifixion. As people of deep and abiding faith we must remember that the grief and deathwe now face is not the LAST WORD. We are a people who know the power of the Resurrection. We area people who even when walking through the valleys of 
the shadow of death that God’s power, God’shope and God’s Spirit will sustain us. Yes, we are grieving. Yes, the church as we once knew it no
longer exists. The Psalmist says,
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.Perceiving
It is through our grieving that we begin to understand that God is in fact doing a new thing. Thesignificant changes that are taking place in our world, in our culture and in the church require us to beattentive in ways we have never been before. We need to have a sense of urgency that is mindful of ourneed to change in order to introduce others to the love of God in Jesus Christ. This is personal to me. I

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