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

VBS!

We’ve been having a great time at Vacation Bible School. Last night, we learned about the fulfilment of God’s promises, whether to Sarah and Abraham or to Pinocchio! Tonight, we’re thinking about what happens when the lion lays down with the lamb.
We’ve had some great big helpers all week, including Elle and Joey Street, Annette Hong, Joan Moore, Misty DeReus, Kayleen Conter, Ellie Fulton, Tami Fulton, Jen Street, Peter Hong, Jenn Howieson, Beth Yale, and our kitchen gang, Clarice Beckwith, Laura Beckwith, Laura Rinehart, Peggy Colton, Rich Pleva, and Judy Hines. Thanks, too, to all the people who brought food (and to Peter and Annette, for handling the cooking on Monday). It’s been busy, it’s been chaotic, but it’s been fun and rewarding.

If you want to learn a little bit about what we did, join us in worship on Sunday morning, when all our participants will be invited to join us in worship to sing a song and share a lesson!

Sunday School starts September 11, just after the 3rd Annual Ankeny UCC Hog Roast on September 9!

Blessings,
Nathan

Ankeny UCC is Excelling in Love

Greetings in the name of Jesus!

I am, at this moment, somewhere between Des Moines and Detroit. But neither rain nor sleet, nor fraternal conferences, will keep us from our weekly updates.

And we’ve got some updates. Just look to your right at the hymn list for this week. Songs about creation. Songs about Jesus. Songs of Thanksgiving. A Charles Wesley song about love.
And then we’ve got scripture about God’s promises to us. Looking at this list, I know I’ve left you in good hands. Because it is a time to remind ourselves of our solid ground. Of the love that is the foundation of the new realm we are building together on this earth. Of the vision of working together, clothed in God’s love, to bring justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, shining God’s light in the darkness, and dispelling shadows rather than feeding them.

And that building starts with one block, and continues with another. Know any kids who might want some company, a family meal, some songs and games and, oh yeah, some stories about God’s people around the earth? We’re once again joining with our partners at St. Anne’s and Ankeny Christian for Vacation Bible School, August 7-11: https://www.ankenyucc.org/vbs .

PS: Kayleen and I had the pleasure of handing over some of our bounty to a family that came to the church wondering if they could harvest from our garden (of course we said YES!), before I dropped off 25-30 pounds of additional food to DMARC yesterday. Let’s keep it going!

Ankeny UCC is singing Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs

Welcome to the last week of Worship 101! We’ve gone through our openings, our offerings, our scriptures, and now we turn to our songs. Why is it that we have a hymnal. Why do we sing hymns? Why do we choose the hymns that we do? Come and find out this Sunday. As part of our celebration, too, we’re looking to make a big poster for DMARC this Sunday, so bring pictures and drawings of food, and get ready to decorate!

And let’s not forget that Vacation Bible School is coming right up! We are very excited about our 1 God Many Games VBS this year, using the Olympics as a way to learn about God’s people all over the world! August 7-11, age 4 through Grade 5, and, as always, free. We encourage you to pre-register at https://www.ankenyucc.org/vbs . And invite your friends!

I’ll be off next Wednesday-Sunday in Bowling Green for Sigma Chi’s annual Balfour Leadership Training Workshop, so I’d appreciate your prayers for both me and for the 1800 or so other people who will be with me as part of their journey and as the fraternity struggles with its historical and current role in promoting sexism, hazing, and racism. We’re at a turning point where we must live into our ideals as an institution believing that people with different talents, temperments, and convictions sharing a common belief in an ideal can live into those ideals, rather than leaving them at the party’s door, and change is hard.

Blessings,
Nathan

July Newsletter

Our July 2016 Ankeny UCC Newsletter, starting with this letter from Pastor Nathan:

Dearest Theophilus-
While we are in the usual summer program slowdown, a number of people have decided to make this a summer of study and exploration. Our Council has been working on setting measurable goals that challenge us to go out and do things. We’re midway through our Monday book group’s read of Beyond Resistance: the Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern Age (a big fancy way of saying: the world of church is going to be nearly unrecognizable in 20 years, so we need to make sure our focus is on how we serve people in our community, growing in fath through connections with people if we are to thrive in the new world), and Nancy Pingel, Doug Fulton, Annette Hong, and I are taking an online class from the Center for Progressive Renewal called Church Renewal 1.0, where we’re examining in-depth what other churches in similar settings and situations have done to reorient themselves to be relevant in the lives of their communities. And our #UnexpectedQuestions group addressing what we do with the faith questions of the children in our lives is meeting monthly at Firetrucker.

As we’ve read through the books, it’s become clear that it’s unlikely we will thrive by remaining the same. And that’s scary. It’s scary to think about losing treasured elements of worship, or letting go of ministries, or going out to talk with and serve people outside the church as part of the church. It’s scary to make choices we know may result in people deciding not to come, or deciding not to stay. And that’s good. It’s good to be a little scared. One line that really stuck out from our Church Renewal Class is that courage is fear that has said its prayers. Faith in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, faith in the infinite possibilities of God, faith in the gift of Jesus Christ can give us the strength to meet our fears, knowing that doing nothing creates loss, too. One look at our budgets and average weekly attendance for the past four years tells us that the way we have lived into our mission has not fully matched up with the spiritual needs of our community.

We’ve spent money with consultants to study us, and they’ve given recommendations. We’ve done self-study to understand who we think we are. And now is our time to act. Now is the time for courage. Now is the time to tell our story out loud and in public. Our sermon series for August will be on Public Narrative—the story of Me, the story of Us, and the story of Now. How do we tell our stories and live into our final acts?
Blessings,
Nathan

Acknowledging Truths

A belief that is unspoken is incomplete, and a belief that is well spoken becomes a power for life and action. –Roger L. Shinn, Confessing Our Faith

The end of June is upon us! And it’s…cooling down? Martha, Teddy, and I are at home this week while Beth is giving a talk in New York, and so my thoughts turned to acknowledging uncomfortable truths (like the truth that they’ll all be in Berlin this fall without me–just bought the tickets).

Confession is a word that means, at its heart, acknowledgement. In the church, we use it to acknowledge two truths: first, that we sometimes fail to be our best selves, and end up neglecting God, our neighbors, and ourselves. And second, to acknowledge that we believe things. Some of you grew up in churches where creeds or statements of faith were recited every week. We don’t do that every week, acknowledging the truth that we believe different things. But that is a confession, too. Our worship is a place for acknowledging truths. This week, we’ll talk in the sermon about why we would want to do that, and how.

Our Church Renewal 1.0 class team has thoughts about that, too. In response to our understanding of the truth that Ankeny UCC must change to thrive in this place, we’re going on worship field trips to see how different places worship.

This weekend, we’re going to two different ends of the spectrum. We’ll see how Holy Trinity Lutheran Church does their version of a minimalist Saturday even service at 5:30 Saturday. On Sunday, we’ll journey down to the Mickle Center in Des Moines to worship with Downtown Disciples, a new Disciples of Christ church doing progressive urban ministry and worshiping around tables at 5:00pm on Sunday. Want to join us? Talk to me, Nancy Pingel, or Annette Hong.

Blessings,
Nathan