Ankeny UCC June Newsletter

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Dear Church-
In the midst of national division, even watching the news can create a feeling of isolation within us. We wonder whether we are alone in our thoughts and beliefs. We wonder whether we are safe going out of doors (we are! It’s just that every crime is reported 20 times!), we wonder whether anyone can understand what we are going through, and afraid to speak for fear of being shown to be weak or broken.

This spring, we read through the Gospel of Luke and some of Paul’s letters to the Galatians. Throughout those stories, we saw messages of connection and community. Jesus certainly new the great global game Israel suffered under, with a king appointed by a foreign power and people subject to military rule. But in the midst of it all, Jesus and then Paul reached out to people who were different, and invited them in for meals. They recognized that power does not come from above. Power comes from the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that joins us whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus not to talk only about the weather, but to talk about our hopes and fears, to talk about what we are seeking, and how we might accomplish our goals together.

As part of the work of the Welcoming Task Force and AMOS, our council spent a large part of May’s meeting talking about the importance of one on one lunches, coffees, walks, and talks that take more than a few minutes and trend not toward talking about other people and other news, but about our own pains and joys, hopes and fears. This is the best way to build our relationships together, so we can welcome more fully, explore more deeply, care more intensely, and serve more joyfully.
Blessings,

Nathan

Ankeny UCC March 2017 Newsletter

Our monthly newsletter and calendar available here!

March 1, 2017
Dear Church-
Welcome to Lent! This period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) commemorates Jesus’s time in the wilderness dealing with the weight of understanding who he was and where he was going. Who was he? God’s Son, but fully human and equally the son of Mary and Joesph? A healer? A scholar? A carpenter? A Fisherman? Where did he fit in in the world of ancient Jerusalem? He was a Jew among Jews, but he also had a different understanding of where the world was going. So he was an outsider even as he was an insider.

Throughout Lent, we’ll explore this theme in Jesus’s life. Our scriptures for worship in this Lent contain some of the most famous insider-outsider dynamics of the New Testament: The Good Samaritan, The Lost Sheep, Zaccheus, and even the city of Jerusalem. We’ll complement that with our Wednesday night studies!

This year, we’ll kick off our Lenten potlucks at 6pm on Wednesdays, with the program to start at 6:30. We’ll have speakers March 15, March 22, and March 29, with in-depth studies and activities around Bible stories on March 8 and April 5. March 15, Beth Yale will share some of her work from her, Martha, and Teddy’s fall in Germany. March 22, we’re talking with Dhoal Larjin, a US citizen, ISU grad, and Ankeny resident, who has twice been made a refugee from conflicts in South Sudan. And March 29, we’ll host John and Karen Campbell Nelson, missionaries in Indonesia with UCC/DOC Global Ministries.

Along with our adult programming, Sarah has been working on youth CE opportunities and projects, so bring your whole family as we explore Insiders and Outsiders in the Bible and our world today.

Come, explore with us.
Nathan

Ankeny UCC February Newsletter

Hot off the presses: 2-17 Ank UCC NL

Dear Church-
A recurring theme in the New Testament is a gathering of disciples to figure out where they should go. Whether it is in Jesus’s call to the first disciples, the determination of the 12 apostles, the great commissioning of missionaries, or the gathering in an upper room to figure out what Jesus’s death meant, the gospels and Acts are full of planning sessions. And this is a model for us as a church. How do we listen to one another’s stories and then understand the story our church is to tell together?

Our Church Council gathered for retreat on January 24 to ask “Where Are We Going?” As we explored our faith together, and what it meant to us to be a Welcoming Church Family, Exploring Progressive Christian Theology, Caring Within and Serving Beyond, we set goals for each of these areas in our church life, from the important question of ensuring consistent greeting and welcome every week to examining once again whether we should adopt a church inclusivity statement and add our names to the list of Open and Affirming churches in the UCC to increasing participation in studies and helping people identify the ministries of the church they’d most like to live in their lives. On February 19, we’ll have an opportunity in worship to talk and explore more about what that looks like for each one of us. I hope you’ll join us as we find new ways of being the church together.

Come, explore with us.
Nathan

Ankeny UCC is Feeling Compassion

Dear Church-

This week’s scripture lesson continues the theme in Luke that we have been seeing of Jesus’s compassion in ministry. He announced to his synagogue that he was fulfilling Isaiah’s call to declare freedom to the oppressed and relief to the poor; when some fishermen were discouraged after a day with no catch, he brought them fish. When he saw suffering in front of him on the sabbath, he healed anyway. And this week, Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s servant. Jesus could easily have seen this Roman as an enemy, and turned him away in retaliation for the harms Rome was doing in Israel, but he showed compassion. And, then, to finish, Jesus sees a widow who is defenseless in the patriarchy of the time, with no husband and no sons, and performs a miracle resurrection!

In these acts, we are reminded that we are called by Christ not to have stone hearts as Pharoah did, but to have compassion for others-to suffer with them-even when we are afraid or aggrieved. It is why Christians across the country are deeply involved in refugee resettlement (as Ankeny UCC was, back in the 70s), and see the pain that people suffer in countries beset by war who, after years of waiting and processing, hope to come to the United States for a new life, and in the name of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets welcome them with love and compassion.

Grace and Peace,
Nathan

Ankeny UCC Is Preparing for a Day On

Dear Church-

In Luke’s Gospel, we see the constant theme of Jesus reaching out to the dispossessed, the poor, and the unlikely; in his account of Jesus’s birth, Luke shows us shepherds rather than kings as the witnesses. In Jesus’s revelation to John the Baptist, Luke gives us the context of a sermon urging people to not use their power to enrich themselves, but to share with others.

This week’s scripture tells of Jesus’s return to his home synagogue in Nazareth. There, he tells his church family that he has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to lift up the brokenhearted and liberate the oppressed, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (which we read in December). But the tone quickly turns when he shares the long prophetic tradition of proclaiming this liberation to outsiders, people not in the audience. In response, the congregation promptly runs him out of town.

It has usually been the case that it is easier to hear a message for our own liberation that that of others. In the United States, we have seen this with the see-saws we have had over slavery, civil rights for freed slaves, Irish and Italian immigration, Jim Crow, Asian immigration, Japanese internment, Civil Rights and women’s liberation, and now again voting rights, the legacy of state-authorized discrimination, and religious freedom.

It is a national tradition to recognize that we work best when we work together, drawing in people from different backgrounds to common purpose, and one place that has manifested itself is in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. In honor of this preacher, who was killed for proclaiming liberty to the oppressed, people come together every year to serve in their communities. My family will once again be at Community Youth Concepts at 1446 MLK Parkway in Des Moines, where they have morning service projects for people of all ages from 9:30-11:30am. I invite anyone who has a day off to join us for the day on, or to find other opportunities to go out, connect, and work to build the future that Jesus promised.

Grace and Peace,
Nathan

Ankeny UCC is Looking at God’s Promises

Greetings in Christ-

$1890!

That’s how much we grossed on the Hog Roast this year. Expenses will bring that down somewhat, but still, great job! That money will go to supporting Doctors Without Borders around the world (Vicki tells me Nicholas is being sent to Nigeria, where there are a lot of nutrition and food issues due to Boko Haram) and supplemental food throughout Iowa. Great job inviting the community in, celebrating together, and baking pies.

We started off our Bible story in worship Sunday with creation, and the ways that Adam and Eve’s shame and fear caused them to separated themselves from God, and God’s loving kindness to them even when their actions forced them to understand the complicated world. We’re skipping over some important things in the Bible, like what happens to Adam and Eve’s kids, and then the great flood that changed everything and gave humanity a fresh start with Noah and his menagerie (also the giants. We missed the giants). But that recreation brings us to the ancestral founders of our faiths, what we call the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham and Sarah (or, at this point in our story, Abram and Sarai). Abram is called by God to drop his belongings, leave his father’s house, and follow God. He and Sarai do that, relying on God’s blessings and promises. And they grow rich, but old, and start to wonder whether their journeys and lines will end with them. In this week’s passages, we’re told of the specific promise of God, in an incredible way, but also warned that sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of struggle for a promise to be fulfilled. Have you ever experienced that kind of a struggle?

Blessings,
Nathan

Here we are again

Well, here we are again. 33 months ago, I came to you, leaving my family behind in Cullowhee, and now I am here with you still as they go off to Berlin for four months. Then, we tried to get to know one another in the rush towards Christmas. Now, we are in the midst of asking, how can each of us share the ministry of this church in the world around us? For me, it will be a time of reflection and a time of action, as I embark on a spiritual practice of reading through the Bible and commit myself to meeting regularly with people outside our church family, serving with IMPACT and checking in on the Ankeny Service Center, joining delegations to AMOS gatherings, and supporting our members in our shared attempts to model “serving beyond,” and rethinking how we do church, as we all understand the need to make fundamental changes but struggle to hear God’s voice calling us into what will be new. Will you join me on this journey? Will you commit to imagining, in this fall, what might be, and talking with our whole church family about how we are to welcome the next person coming in the door? I’d love to meet with everyone over the next four months and share a cup of coffee, a meal, or just a conversation about where we are going.

We can start at the Hog Roast. As you meet new people and old people, let’s ask them where Ankeny needs service. What are people afraid to talk about? Ashamed? Denying? How can we grapple with those things, inviting God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s feeding fire?

Blessings,
Nathan

Telling Our Stories (again)

The reviews are in of our experiment in sharing the “story of me” with one other person in worship!

“Not as bad as I expected”

“This was really good”

“I learned a lot about what was behind the image that I had of my person”

“I’m not coming to church for the next two weeks”

As part of our sermon series “Telling Our Stories,” we are looking at how different prophets inspired God’s people to action in different places and different times. They frequently started with their own biographies, then moved on to what bound the congregation together. In Exodus, God provides the model, reminding the people who God was, what God did for God’s people, and then what that meant they should do in the future. Sharing of ourselves, and thinking about who we are and want to be is the foundation for understanding where God is calling us to go. This week, we’ll share with another person who the “us” is we think of when we think of Ankeny UCC.

AAAAAANDDDDD, we’ll have a litany of blessing for backpacks and lesson plans! It’s back to school week in Ankeny, and we’re going to celebrate in worship and with hot dogs, sloppy joes, and any sides or desserts you want to bring! Bring your backpacks, your lesson plans, your signs of school. And as we do bring backpacks, let’s not forget the supplemental food backpacks that go home with kids on the weekends as we look forward to our 3rd annual Hog Roast September 9!

Blessings,
Nathan