About This Sunday’s Worship Service and Other Updates

Members and Friends,

Worship is the most fundamental reason we exist as a church. It’s what separates us from any other nonprofit service organization (who we still work closely with), and what draws our attention out of ourselves and toward the Divine. Worship this Sunday will be online only, both on our usual Facebook livestream, and through Zoom as well. Why two options? We don’t want to stop streaming through Facebook for those who find it convenient, but Zoom will provide us with ways to record in better quality, additional, interactive, features, and will not require participants to have a Facebook account.

This past Tuesday evening, the Church Council, which met via conference call, decided to postpone our in-person worship services for at least the next two Sundays, since we would have more than the CDC’s recommended 10 or fewer attendees, and to continue to avoid putting any of our members at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Council also voted to have our Moderator, John Shore, create a Health & Safety Task Force, comprised of health care providers, who will work to keep church members and leaders informed of developments as our situation continues to unfold, as well as suggest practices that will help us keep our congregation safe. This task force is chaired by Jeannie Hobson.

You can join the Worship Service through Zoom here: https://zoom.us/j/364596493

Have any questions about how to use zoom, or want to see a video about how to load it onto your computer?  Try this quick video tutorial.

Other Church Updates:
Our Director of Facilities, Technology, and Communication, Kim Williams, will be working from home while Fresno’s “Stay-in-Place” directive is in effect. The church’s phone number has been forwarded to a mobile phone, so Kim is still answering calls made to the church. Please refrain from coming to the Church Office for any “non-essential” or non-urgent reasons.

The Pantry Committee has put together some bags of food for those experiencing food insecurity at this time, which will be brought out to anyone who requests one, or delivered to those who should refrain from going out.

If you are willing to deliver food to your neighbors, please email me to indicate your interest.

Randy Oftedal, in consultation with Pastor Raygan and Jeannie Hobson, has decided to cancel this month’s Free Food Friday, so as to not put any of our volunteers or guests in situations of increased risk.

If you need pastoral care, food, other supplies or other forms of support, please email me.

Please remember, friends, that even while activities, events, and programs at the church are being adapted, postponed, and canceled, being the Church is never canceled. Take care of one another, call and check in on one another and your neighbors, pick up supplies for those who should not leave home, and rather than be discouraged or give in to fear, be a blessing to others through these uncertain times.

Pastor Raygan

PS: Color your prayers and ease your anxiety: coloring pages for kids and the young at heart.(We’re looking for our colored pencils right now!)

Prayer One | Prayer Two | Prayer Three

Updates About this Weekend

Beloved Big Red Family,
With very heavy hearts, Council leadership and I have decided to cancel and reschedule this weekend’s special events, and to make significant modifications to our worship services. We will not be holding our Pot ‘O Gold Pantry Fundraiser Friday evening, and my Installation will be postponed and rescheduled once we know we can do so safely. Worship on Sunday morning will be moved to the Fellowship Hall, and adapted to limit physical contact. Our Wednesday evening Lenten Soup Suppers and Learning Circle will be cancelled until further notice. Please, if you feel sick with any symptoms, or are in an especially high-risk group, please stay home and let me know. I would like to check in on you. 
These decisions were not made lightly, and with much awareness of our shared anticipation for these events, and with shared grief for our volunteers who have poured so much time, effort, and resources into these events. To do our part to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, we are following the directives issued by Gov. Newsom, in conversation with our NCNC Conference leadership, and after speaking directly with Fresno County Public Health officials to confirm the importance of following these protocols locally. You can find their specific guidelines and recommendations for limiting the spread here
Like many challenges of today—climate change, mass extinction, racism, environmental destruction, resource inequity—the Coronavirus threat is both personal and collective. On the one hand, we fear for ourselves and our families. We want to insulate, isolate, protect. On the other hand, solutions to challenges like this one come in community. 
  • The Whidbey Island Institute 
Church, our task is to care for each other both individually and collectively. I know that we can follow the directions of social distancing while not spiritually distancing from each other. It is in this spirit, and out of concern for our members, community, and loved ones in higher-risk groups and with compromised immune systems, that we decided to support the larger Fresno community in being proactive and to avoid putting people at risk. 
In this moment of increased concern and anxiety, let’s use this as an opportunity to actually strengthen the fabric of our community. Could this occasion actually build up our spiritual life together? Even if not in person, we are still connected through the Body of Christ, and we still need our community and collective resources. Please call and check in on your elderly neighbors and those whom you know having underlying conditions, or who have self-quarantined. If you’ve self-quarantined, please let people close to you know, so that we can support each other. Let us all remember the community we have here and the covenant that we share. Let this moment be a time to build up the Body of Christ.
With Love, 
Pastor Raygan 

From the Pastoral Search Committee: Rev. Raygan Baker to Deliver Call Service April 15, 2018

Dear Member of First Congregational Church of Fresno, UCC,                                       

The Pastoral Search Committee, following UCC protocol, has selected and is excited to have you become acquainted with Rev. Raygan Baker. The Church Council has approved Rev. Raygan to visit the Big Red Campus and we are all hopeful that he will accept the challenge to lead this great church both spiritually and administratively through the coming years.

Although the Search Committee members spent more than 14 months culling Rev. Raygan from a large number of applicants anxious to come to our church, we have only this short letter and Rev. Baker’s “call sermon”, to be given on Sunday, April 15th, to encourage you to vote for his favorable acceptance.

Rev. Raygan is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Christian Theology, as well as Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina where he earned a Master of Divinity. He was graduated Magna Cum Laude from both universities and earned an Outstanding Leadership Award from Seattle Pacific and was named a distinguished service scholar at Duke Divinity School for his work in and beyond the classroom. While in seminary, Raygan served the church in many settings, from outdoor ministries in Yellowstone National Park, to a recent church plant focused on reaching people who are typically excluded from churches, to the 1000+ member United Church of Chapel Hill, where he worked in multiple roles and ministries, and where he was ordained.

Pastor Baker is currently serving as a superlatively qualified Designated Minister of Children, Youth, and Young Adults at Bethel United Church of Christ in Evansville, Indiana, where he has helped develop a comprehensive faith formation sequence, and has brought a revitalizing energy to each area of responsibility while also connecting these distinct ministries to the heart and mission of the whole church. At this same church, Rev. Baker also embraced the role of Acting Senior Minister for a four-month period during a transition in leadership. In this position, he fostered a culture of excitement, curiosity, and anticipation for worship among his congregation through his actions and meaningful weekly sermons. Additionally, he received four new members and nurtured the church through pastoral care, baptismal and funeral services. In this role, he also provided stability as Head of Staff, and led the congregation into a successful $500,000 renovation project.

One of many ways that the Fresno community seems like an ideal fit for Rev. Baker, is that farming is second nature to him. He was raised in the apple growing area of central Washington State, and as a youth worked many hours in his family’s orchard.

It’s critically important that each member of our Church joins the Pastoral Search Committee in support of Rev. Baker at his “Call Service” on April 15, 2018 at 10 o’clock at the Big Red Church. At that time, all members will have the opportunity, and are encouraged, to cast their vote to welcome Rev. Baker to our pulpit and community.



Lew Wagman, Chairman of the Search Committee

“Stewardship is Hard” — Millennials

From Kim Williams, Director of Facilities, Technology, & Communication

Every week my husband and I find ourselves in the middle of that familiar scramble from the pews. Pastor Ara will be seven and a half minutes into his sermon when we realize neither of us pulled out cash to throw into the offering plate. We’re millennials, (or, Xennials, to be micro-generationally accurate) so it’s not like we’ve ordered checkbooks in years. It’s a weekly struggle to figure out how we’re going to do the whole “treasure” part of the “Time, Talent, Treasure” trilogy.

Leaked footage of what the plate looks like after I’ve emptied the contents of my purse into it.

And a note to the ushers: if you find random dollars wadded up still attached to a receipt or an accidental fortune cookie fortune, or like, $0.59 in pennies and nickels in the plates, that probably was us. Sorry.

It’s not that we’re broke (even though we are) or lazy (“exhausted” is more accurate)— the reality is that giving isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to our generation because modes of giving haven’t kept up with our needs.

We both have two jobs, we’re full time students, we have four kids — our weekends look an awful lot like “Have you cleaned your room yet?” and “Honey, I think we’re out of toilet paper/laundry detergent/the good dark chocolate we hide on the top shelf again!” We may leave church on Sunday with good intentions to set reminders on our phones to grab cash for the plate for next Sunday, but let’s be real — the second those sugared up wiggly worms hit their car seats after coffee hour, we’re back into negotiating peace agreements between siblings and saying “no” for the 80th time to stopping at McDonalds on the way home.

What I’m about to share is going to alleviate the stress of that ATM run — and the burden of guilt at another Sunday morning of only having a gum wrapper and a Peppa Pig figurine in my purse. The Big Red Church is opening up electronic avenues of giving.

This is what it looks like to use the app. I can choose which fund I want my (outlandishly exaggerated) donation to go to, or I can give it as offering.

That’s right. Instead of sheepishly cramming $2.67 into an unmarked envelope and hoping that no one knows it was us as the usher passes the plate, I’m going to be able to just pull out my phone, open the Givelify app, and press a few buttons. It’s the ability to give what we’re able to give, rather than what I’m forced to give out of the crumb-and-toy filled bottom of my bag.

Even better, with a Givelify account, I can track my giving so I’ll know if I’ve been slacking on my stewardship pledge. I can give the second my paycheck hits my account with recurring payments, so that the dilemma of “Amazon or stewardship” won’t even come into play.

I’m thankful that the church is moving toward creative methods of giving, it’s a sign of confidence that the changing needs of the modern congregation are being heard. Setting aside tithes is hard enough, finding ways to move that money from our accounts to where it can be well-used should be easier. And I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. The only challenge now will be to pry the phone out of our two year old’s hands!

Learn more about First Congregation Church of Fresno’s leap into giving technology at the Learning Circle on July 16th immediately following worship. Lunch will be provided—of course it is suggested you give Givlify a spin with a donation to support future luncheons. 

Flying the Flag: A Vision of Social Justice at Big Red

From Pastor Ara Guekguezian

It has been over one year that we at the Big Red Church began the process of considering who we are and where we need to be as a faithful congregation. It has been over six months that we’ve known that great change is coming and we needed to be a part of it. There are  the normal changes that time brings: retirement, new interim pastor, loss and change of support staff. Then there are the changes brought by new deeper, broader vision. As I was listening on the Day of Discovery, it seemed clear to me that the Social Justice Vision group would take off immediately. It is July and it is still in the organizing stage.

What happened? Nothing and a lot! We continue to fly the flag, both literally at the Pride Parade (change there, too: longer flag next June), and figuratively. Dozens of us at the Big Red Church are involved in groups and activities that are engaged in extending justice to more people in this valley and the world, just not via a new vision group. And that is more than ok. Active members of Big Red organize and lead two of the five Indivisible groups in our area, one nested at the Church; various groups working for a more just society for LGBTQ+ people are peopled with our folk; sanctuary issues of every type engage many of us; any City Council or County Commission meeting I attend is attended by my people.  The Interfaith Council—I don’t attend regularly—is regularly and faithfully attended by my sister who lets me know what we should be doing as a congregation to fulfill this part of our vision to make peace and establish justice; and there is much we do here on site that gives comfort, aid and encouragement for those who suffer because of social injustice.

All the stuff we are doing is because we have a long abiding commitment to working toward a more just society. Our efforts are broad in that we extend ourselves not only to progress but to minister to those harmed by social institutions in the meantime. One great area to illustrate: Hunger in the valley that produces food for the world, but not enough to those who live within its bounds—we engage our legislators locally and in Congress to better, we are active participants in the CROP walk, we support the Community Food Bank, Poverello House, and we have established a Pantry that offers fresh and non-perishables, and other household needs.

So, while we get our Social Justice Vision group going, the faithful work continues.

May God bless us with continue strength and vision to fulfill God’s will for our life together and for this world.


Pastor Ara

A Sacred Pursuits Series on Forgiveness

Starting June 7, a three-part series on Forgiveness will be offered by Jane L. Kuhn LMFT during our Sacred Pursuits time. Explore forgiveness, learn tools to help the process, and heal yourself and your relationships. 

Join us at 6:00 on June 7, 14, and 21 in the Heritage Room.

From Jane Kuhn:

Forgiveness Workshop: A psycho-educational/experiential process model

Each year thousands of individuals and couples seek professional help from marriage and family therapists, social workers, spiritual counselors, and other mental health professionals to address issues of concern in their relationship with themselves and others. Forgiveness is a concept frequently used in interpersonal and intrapersonal healing. Forgiveness can be a difficult and complex process involving deep emotional work. Most people, who find it painful to do forgiveness process work alone, are willing to attend a workshop that will educate them, give them specific tools, and involve them in a direct hands-on experience of forgiveness.

This workshop can be presented to individuals and couples to help them learn why forgiveness is an important component to be considered in healing their relationships. Research supports the efficacy of the use of forgiveness interventions in therapeutic settings. Various stage models have been developed and utilized by mental health practitioners. This workshop provides a synthesis of these models and includes a guided visualization technique. The benefits of a physically and psychologically healthier individual and couple relationship may follow with the use of these interventions.

This powerful workshop can be life altering, educating people about what forgiveness is and then giving them tools and a direct experience to help heal at deeper levels. Forgiveness is a step toward peace and reconciliation in our personal lives, our relationships, our community, and our world.

This two-phase workshop, presented in a 3-hour timeframe, targets individuals or married couples who are interested in learning how to heal their relationships, develop a deeper intimacy, and gain specific tools to use in the forgiveness process. The first phase psycho-educational portion of the workshop covers the different aspects and definitions of forgiveness, erroneous myths about forgiveness, and the obstacles and benefits of forgiveness. A step-by-step forgiveness process is described, examples given for each step, and time allowed for questions and answers.  Relevant handouts will be available.  

The second phase of the workshop consists of guided forgiveness imagery.  Individuals and couples will choose personal forgiveness issues to work on incorporating their own spiritual beliefs as desired. During the forgiveness visualization the individuals and couples will be guided through the process by imagery of releasing and transforming emotions of hurt, bitterness, judgment, betrayal, anger, and self-blame. After each of the 3-guided visualizations, time will be given to journal thoughts and feelings. An opportunity for breakout groups and/or voluntary group sharing will be available as well as time for questions. An increase in perceptions of interpersonal and self-forgiveness may follow as well as a sense of hope, peace and gratitude.

Update on our New Neighbors

The Big Red Church, through the Sanctuary Vision Group, has adopted one of the 26 Syrian refugee families here in Fresno. Taiseer and Maisa moved into their new house near Palm and Olive a couple of weeks ago. They have 6 children, aged 18 months to 16 years, from youngest to oldest: Salwa, Muhammad (the only boy), Sana, Sondos, Salsabeel, and Sidra. They come from the large Syrian city of Homos, where Taiseer worked in a factory. 

By “adopting” this family, we agreed to come alongside them, befriend them and help them integrate into our community. That will include visiting, sharing meals, playing with the children, and helping them with some of their material needs.

How can you get involved with and help our family?

  • Be as ESL teacher! Learning English is the top priority.  Sally Vogl is already working with mother Maisa, but since the family is large, they need additional ESL tutors.  
    • No need to be a certified teacher.  Check out this link to get training and help in this way.
    • Contact FIRM (Fresno Interdenominational  Refugee Ministries) if you can volunteer in this way, and tell them you are from Big Red and are volunteering for Taiseer and Maisa’s family. They have materials you can use. 559-487-1500
  • Meet and interact with them.  Because their English is limited, and because we do not want to totally overwhelm them, the best way to make initial contact is with one of the Sanctuary Vision Group members who already know them.   You can read books to the children, bring your children over to play, play ball in the yard, go for a walk, bring over a meal to share (but remember that they do not eat pork). Remember to be sensitive to the fact that they are just beginning to learn English.
    • Cultural awareness: as we meet with and interact with our new neighbors, please be aware and considerate. Check out this page with some tips.
    • Please remember: remove your shoes before entering their home, and men should not shake hands with or hug adult females.
    • Contact one of the vision group members to set up a meeting:
    • Once you meet the family, if they give you their cell phone number, use the WhatsApp app to text them, as that is the easiest way for them to handle texting with translations. You can use that to contact them directly and set up visits.
  • Watch for and join in activities with them.  We went to the zoo with the family this past weekend, and will hold other activities for us to enjoy with them. If you have ideas of things that might be fun, email us.
  • Donate to the “Syrian Refugee Fund” to help us purchase items they need:
    • Download the “Givelify” app on your smart phone or tablet. Search for “First Congregational Church” in Fresno, and save as a “favorite”.  When you click on the church and want to donate, you will have the option of which fund you want to donate to. There is an envelope for “Syrian Refugee Fund”.  Click on that, fill in the amount, your credit card and personal info, and complete the donation.  
    • You can also give a check to the church with “Syrian refugee fund” in the memo line.

Broadway On Van Ness 2016

Broadway on Van Ness

Sunday, March 13, the next edition of the Fresno Grand Opera Chorus’ Broadway on Van Ness will be presented in collaboration with our church. Tickets are available online at http://fresnograndopera.org/tickets (service fee involved); or ordered through their box office at 559.442.5699. Tickets also can be ordered at church during coffee hour. All gross tickets sales will be evenly split between FGO and First Congregational Church’s general fund. A pre-concert reception and silent auction, as well as post-concert dessert come as part of the ticket purchase. All proceeds from the Silent Auction go straight into our general fund- one of the primary fund-raisers to support our 2016 budget.

4:00 pm – Pre-concert reception and Silent Auction
5:00 pm – Broadway on Van Ness performance
6:15 pm – Post-concert dessert and close of Silent Auction

This year we are also asking First Congregational members and friends to help identify sponsors in underwriting this event. The “Broadways on Van Ness” planning team led by Ben Ewell have prepared forms which are available in the church office, or can be sent electronically from the church office, for use with potential sponsors. They encourage our members and friends to help in this vital aspect of
supporting this significant cultural and fund-raising event.