Blog and Church News

Slowing Down Global Warming: Introduction

Bible Verses, Practical, and Personal Change

By Rosalie Brown

We’ve all seen some benefits to our surrounds as a result of the ‘shelter in place’ requirements we have been living under. There has been less traffic, more blue skies, the sounds of birds, wild animals coming out of hiding and over all a more peaceful lifestyle. It’s been a pleasure to see families out walking together, having more time for each other, and just slowing down in general.

Of course the pandemic has also meant loss of income for many people, no school for adults and children, and not many activities beyond home. With places opening back up, people will be earning all or part of their original income. Meanwhile but the risks of the virus have gone up. There have been more cases at the hospitals, more people have died.

It is important to remember that our rushed and material way of life has ushered in this pandemic. Therefore, for a healthier way of life we shouldn’t be raging back to the maddening pace of the ‘past’. This is a good time to continue some of the changes we have followed. This will slow down Global Warming. It will better enable our kids and grandkids to have a decent life. ‘Live simply, so that others may simply live.’

The Age of Coronavirus

Written by Dale Buchanan

I recently attended my first meeting via Zoom. I mention this because until very recently I had never heard of Zoom and when I heard about it I dismissed it as something I would never do. I have been a lifelong avoider of meetings of any sort. I certainly was not going to ZOOM. But then along came our present pandemic and I found my self sitting ill at ease in front of a lap-top. 

It is certainly true that the only constant is change. I attended this meeting more than a little skeptical. I came away encouraged and hopeful. As the Food Pantry Group checked in it became obvious that it was a changed world and that new methods and new systems were going to be required as we serve food to the less fortunate in our community.

This post is designed to announce that  Free Food Friday is tentatively scheduled to happen on Saturday, August 22nd. Thus the first change.

Other changes are inevitable as we go forward. Hand in hand with the Saturday distribution is a recognition that the food pantry is a mission of the church and there is a need for volunteers.

More information will be available soon. In the meantime remember that Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” and pray about donating an hour or so once a month.

Our Family Finances: Thank You—Now Some Nitty-Gritties

Written by Peter Wall, CFO

This has been a year of challenging surprises. One of them is that all of our services are now online, through Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube. You have probably witnessed our struggle to get up to speed with video streaming technology. And our limited equipment has not made it easy. If enacting a beautiful celebration in person can be taxing, just imagine having to coax it through a patchwork of devices that were not made to do this kind of thing.

So we should all be thankful that the chairman this year of our Ministry of Resources, Wade Hobson, has done the hard work of researching which equipment would hit that sweet spot of being most helpful to our needs, while getting the biggest bang for our buck. And the Council in June approved an unbudgeted expenditure of about $10,500, which is the estimated amount to purchase and install a two-camera system with a switcher/scaler.

I know what you are asking: Can we afford it? The short answer is yes, with your help.

Here is the longer answer. As I write this in June, we know our financial status through the end of May. (The numbers at the end of June will become available in July, and I hope to provide a better mid-year report in my next column.) Through the end of May, we did very well. Pledged giving was at 99.44% of budget, identifiable giving was at about 110% of budget, and giving overall was about 99.2% of budget. To put it simply, giving was right on target. (And that does not count several thousand dollars in additional donations to feed the hungry.) Keep it up!

Other forms of income have dropped significantly, however. Building use income is way down because fewer outside groups are paying to use the facility. And we were not able to hold the Jazz on Van Ness fundraiser in May. But our expenditures were lower during the same period by almost exactly the same amount. That means our expenses have not exceeded our income. In fact, through the end of May, our income was about 107% of our expenses for that period, which puts us about $8,600 ahead. But that is still a pretty slim margin with half the year still left (and surely more surprises in store). We need to keep up our practice of giving.

We also need your help with that video project. If you are able, and you wish to contribute, you can increase your usual giving, or you can specify “Video Project” on the memo line of your check or use the “Video Project” category in Givelify.

On that point, I need explain something that is often misunderstood in our congregation. When we develop the budget for the year, and we include a line for “pledged” giving, that line only includes the ordinary giving that you have pledged. You are always welcome to give more, and we know there are many circumstances when you might need to give less. But when you give to a specified project—for example, Coffee Hour, flowers, the pantry, or a fundraiser—then when you get your giving statement at the end of the year, you will see that specified giving does not get counted toward the fulfillment of your pledge. Why is that? 

Let me explain by analogy. If you are an employee, you probably get a regular paycheck. Now imagine one morning your car breaks down unexpectedly, so you are late getting to work. When you finally arrive, weighted with stress, you explain the situation to your boss, and lament that it will cost $1,000 to get your car fixed! Not to worry, the boss tells you—I will pay to fix your car. Greatly relieved, with this financial weight lifted, you get back to work. But then your next paycheck comes, and it is $1,000 less than usual. What is this? You study the pay stub and see that the boss deducted the amount paid to the mechanic! Suddenly, the weight of that stress returns. How will you pay rent? How will you buy food? The boss did not really pay for anything. The boss just took away your decision how to spend your paycheck.

How does this relate to giving at church? The givers are the boss, the church is the employee, the paycheck is the pledge, and the money to the mechanic for an unexpected expense is giving to a particular project. Do you see the problem? If you are only able to give the amount that you pledged, then you should be faithful to your pledge, because we are counting on your gift. (And thank you for your generosity!) Redirecting your pledge to a particular project can make things difficult for the church, financially. Give more to the project only if you are able.

It would be great if our general giving from pledges were enough that we would never need to ask for additional donations or hold fundraisers. And personally, I think that ought to be our goal. (As I wrote a couple months ago, “I like to imagine a crazy, radical world that runs on generosity, instead of on scarcity.”) But we are not there yet.

If you are able to give extra to help with the video project, please do. Thank you for your generosity!

Our Family Finances: The Ages Ahead of Us

Written by Peter Wall, CFO

Ecclesiastes might be my favorite book of the Bible. I love the way it pierces earnest pieties and forces the reader back to the messiness of life on earth. It is the kind of thing that I can imagine Jesus reading, and pondering inwardly, and kneading into his cryptic parables. The book opens with a poem that includes these lines:

What has been is what will be,

And what has been done is what will be done;

There is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

“See, this is new”?

It has already been,

In the ages before us.

This time of pandemic might feel unprecedented. But there is precedent. The people who came before us walked this path before we were born. Over the past few weeks, historian Ethan J. Kytle, who is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Fresno, has been writing about the pandemic a century ago, in 1918 and 1919, and how the City of Fresno responded. (You can find his dispatches at https://tropicsofmeta.com/category/dispatches-from-fresno/.) A lot of it sounds eerily familiar, including widespread closures, people wearing masks, and business owners clamoring to reopen.

The First Congregational Church of Fresno was founded in 1883, which means our congregation was around in those days, and I wondered how we handled the influenza pandemic. Fortunately, we have a chronicle of our first hundred years, written down in a book. When Mary and I first joined the church, we borrowed a copy of that book from Ruth Gadebusch. We read it together. And before we gave it back to Ruth, I digitized it to keep as a reference. 

What was happening with our congregation a century ago, when the influenza pandemic swept through Fresno? The pastor of the First Congregational Church of Fresno then was Thomas T. Giffen. But he was out of town when the influenza pandemic arrived, having taken “a year’s leave of absence to work with soldiers in San Diego under the direction of the Young Men’s Christian Association.” While he was gone, “[m]uch of the business of the church was handled by the moderator, E.J. Crawford, who for several years was one of the most prominent laymen in the church.” And “Mr. Crawford had to call upon the congregation to keep up their subscriptions so that the budget would stay balanced even though the Health Department did not allow the church to hold services because of the influenza epidemic.” If you have read my columns in the past couple months, you might be wondering whether one of us is a time-traveler.

Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us.

Do you know what else has already been, and will be again? A hundred years ago, the influenza pandemic closed the doors of our church. And back then they didn’t have Zoom or Facebook or YouTube or Givelify to keep them connected. But the moderator Mr. Crawford called on the congregation “to keep up their subscriptions so that the budget would stay balanced.” They must have heard that call because—spoiler alert—the congregation did not fold and we are still here today, a century later.

We are doing it again. Would you believe that, through the end of April, our pledged giving for this year has actually been better than the expectations we budgeted, by about $2,100? In fact, our giving overall through the end of April was $4,225 more than the expectations we budgeted. We are keeping our covenant in giving, and we will continue. We are a strong and generous people, giving faithfully to sustain our open and affirming community, even in the midst of challenges—just as our predecessors did a century ago. They were faithful to their times, and to us, and we are faithful to our times, and those who come after.

We have our problems. Plenty of them. But we are going to come out of this pandemic stronger than we were before. It has taken a little while to get our bearings, and to open our eyes and ears and minds to the possibilities of serving in this terrible age. There is still a lot of work to do. There are relationships to maintain, and people to feed, and faces to cover, and plans to make. I am trying to figure out what I can do.

How will they tell our story a hundred years from now? Well, whatever they encounter, and however they overcome it, I hope they, too, will be able to say, “It has already been, in the ages before us.”

From Pastor Raygan

I had a friend in college who wasn’t from the United States, so as a part of new student orientation, the school held an information session on basic American norms and etiquette for him and all of the international students. They covered the basics about American culture like how it may be more individualistic, private, and informal than their home countries, but what I found interesting and funny was that the staff felt the need to interpret a few common American sayings and formalities for the international students. They said things like, when an American says, “Make yourself at home,” it is just an invitation to sit down and relax, and not an invitation to look through personal things or help yourself to anything in the refrigerator. Or how “Let’s do lunch sometime” is someone just being nice and polite, and the person may not actually ever make plans to go eat with you. Or, my favorite, that when an American asks “How are you doing?” you are only supposed to answer by saying “good,” regardless of how you are actually doing. This is a greeting, not an actual question. On one hand, it was funny to imagine the  miscommunications that taking these conventions literally could lead to, but what really stuck with me was how often we might say things that we don’t really mean, and without even realizing it. 

I think about this whenever I encourage people to “please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” I’ve tried many different ways to reword it, but it always feels like another convention, just another nice thing you’re supposed to say, whether or not you even mean it. 

When we face uncertainty, a lot of us (including myself) feel better if there’s something we can “do” about it. I think this is why toilet paper and other household essentials flew off grocery store shelves at the beginning of this pandemic. It wasn’t reasonable, but it gave people something to do to prepare for the unknown. Or, for others of us, we want to jump in and help someone, somewhere, with anything, so that we might be useful and helpful. Of course it’s good to do what we can and help where we can, but there’s a part of hospitality that too easily gets overlooked; receiving it. Our distance and isolation have helped us to see even more deeply than usual how we are not and cannot be completely self-sufficient, regardless of how ideal we are told it would be. 

As this pandemic and our safety precautions stretch on, so will the challenges we face and the areas of help that each of us need. We each need to “do our part,” but we owe each other (and ourselves) the gift of asking for what we need. If we are only willing to give, to help, to do, it doesn’t help create community and relationship— we just maintain the status of the “giver” over the “receiver,” the one who is able enough to give over the one who “needs,” the have over the have-not. When we keep those distinctions between ourselves, we not only make ourselves look like the “saviors” of those who “need us,” but we undercut the truth that we all need each other; that we are all interconnected. 

It is hard to ask for help, it is hard to accept help in a culture that makes it look like weakness, but in reality it takes a lot of strength and the courage to acknowledge our vulnerability. In this time when we feel each other’s distance more profoundly, don’t let the fear and stigma of asking for what you need drive us even further apart. Let’s take care of each other, and graciously let ourselves be taken care of. 

Pastor Raygan

Our Family Finances: Why Do We Give Money to Our Church?

Written by Peter Wall, CFO

We pay stores in exchange for goods. We pay utilities in exchange for service. We pay rent or a mortgage in exchange for shelter. Some people pay employees in exchange for labor. But why do we give money to our church?

Folks have sometimes said to me that we should encourage each other to give based on the value that we receive—or what the church “is worth to us.” But there is no way that can be right. Because often, maybe even usually, the people for whom the church is worth the most are the people who have the least to give. Sometimes there is a similar problem at the other end of the spectrum. (See Mark 12:38–44.)

Our church is not a transaction. We have transactions to conduct (people and bills to pay), because we have to operate within a transactional world. But we ourselves, as a congregation, are not a transaction. Do not reduce yourself or others to that. This is why we “give” to our church, instead of “pay” to our church. A payment is owed, but a gift is given.

So why do we give money to our church? Yes, as I wrote last month, there are bills to pay. And, as I wrote the month before, in world where everything is measured in money, money is what we need to carve out the space to “draw the circle wide.” But if we are just giving in order to accomplish those things, then our giving is only another transaction, and not a gift of our generosity.

Maybe you remember this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44.) Usually I have heard this parable interpreted either as meaning that the kingdom of heaven must be extremely valuable, or that the kingdom of heaven is hidden for only a select few to experience. But neither of those interpretations makes any sense to me. Consider the next two parables: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” (Matthew 13:45–47.) When I read all three of those parables together, I cannot say that the kingdom of heaven has extreme price-value, because in the parable of the pearl, the kingdom of heaven is compared to the merchant, not the pearl—and that merchant, on ordinary terms of business, is plainly a fool, because he sold everything not for the pearl of greatest value, or all intrinsic value, but only “one pearl of great value.” (But only to that merchant, presumably, and not to the one who sold it. Did the seller previously do the same thing to acquire that pearl?) And it cannot be that the kingdom of heaven is hidden or restricted, because it is also like a net that catches fish of every kind—whose catch is later (in verse 48) sorted by less inclusive others. The kingdom of heaven cannot be explained in transactional terms. It confounds the business sense of the people who find it. And includes more than they are willing to accept.

Now go back and read the last paragraph again, except every time you see “the kingdom of heaven,” read “our church.”

So why do we give to our church? Let me suggest that it is not because “the church” needs our money—it is because we need to give. And when we give to our church because we need to give, then we are acting out a radical inversion of our transactional world. And it is in that act of giving (not by the money given), that we are becoming the kingdom of heaven together.

Sure, there are still bills to pay. There will always be bills to pay. So far this year, despite everything that has happened, we are paying the bills. We are still ahead of our budget—although it will be a challenge to keep that up. Giving as a whole is on target, but pledged giving has slipped. Are you on track to meet or exceed your pledge?

Nobody is getting rich off our church. And I am not getting paid to write this, or to do anything else for our church. But I like to imagine a crazy, radical world that runs on generosity, instead of on scarcity. The church is where we can light that fire. As I often say (and it seems especially appropriate these days), don’t prepare for the “end of the world” by stashing a bunch of stuff—prepare by building a team. Well, here we are. Let’s build.

Getting to Know Andrew Fennacy

By Dale Buchanan

Hello! My name is Andrew. I was born here in Fresno in 1990 which makes me 29 –almost 30—years old. Although you may not recognize me, I have a rather long history and connection to the Big Red Church. My Great-great-grandfather, Norman B. Henderson, was the pastor at FCCF from 1929-1941. My paternal grandparents were married at Big Red and my mother is an active member in the church today. With my credentials established, I will proceed with my story.

I am the child of separation and the product of blended families. While I could wish that I might have had more choices about things, all-in-all, I can’t complain. My folks separated when I was four years old, consequently my memories of family revolve around what is today called “the blended family.”  Both of my parents remarried and I found myself living weekdays with my mother, sister, and later her new husband and weekends with my dad’s new family. The dynamics of joint custody and blended family are, to say the least, different with two homes, four parents, and any number of children. In my case there were five children in my blended family—me and my sister Erin, a step-sister Aleisha, and step-brothers Nick and Ryan. 

Grandparents, parents, and siblings, along with multiple pets which include two large Maine Coon cats, several dogs, many fish, two lizards, and a snake comprise the cast of character around which my story must be told. Also necessary for an appreciation of this autobiography is an understanding that this complex cast of characters and family dwellings make the memories less than clear about when and where. My hope is that the mini-stories which follow will flow together and illustrate the positive aspects of life in a blended family.

At the Twain Avenue house with my father’s family, I was never lonely. We built forts in a vacant lot and rode our bikes to Baird Middle School and Fig Garden Village. Great adventures for a shy little boy!

When I was in middle school, mom was into celebrity culture, and we shared People magazine and celebrity stories. When I was about 13 and my sister Erin was 15, the three of us packed up for a vacation in Hollywood. Our goal was to find celebrity homes. Mother was the driver and since it was pre-cell phones with GPS, Erin had a big fold-out map and served as the navigator. I was in the backseat finding the whole process funny.

Because I lived with my dad on weekends, I went with his family to Northwest Church regularly until I was around 16 or 17 years old. Dad was and still is a guitar player in Northwest’s music program. During my high school years, I was active in Awana at Northwest. Awana is a ministry to give children ages 2 to 18 an opportunity to know, love, and serve Jesus. I worked with the third and fourth grade boys in Awana every Wednesday for four years. 

My work with Awanas was a rewarding experience for me and probably laid the ground work for my job in the City of Fresno’s after school programs for four years and for the work I have done the last three years for Fresno Unified School District at Ewing Elementary School as a nursery school paraprofessional.

While I did not grow up in the Big Red Church, I went with mom to Christmas eve services. It was mom who told me that Big Red was looking for nursery assistants. That led me to an interview with Patsy Finster and my current Sunday job and for a brief time serving as Youth and Volunteer Coordinator.

My grandparents have played a significant role in my life and my story. There are two sets of them and they all four have had a stabilizing influence on me. My maternal grandparents are Kirk and Janeen. We are very close and I see them once a week. Grandma is everything you could expect from a grandma—soft, loving, and caring. Grandpa is also loving and caring but tends to be stern, strict, and decisive. Grandma is a good cook. She calls Grandpa and me her guinea pigs because she tries out her new recipes on us. She loves people, parties, and family events. She is best known for her Super Bowl parties!  

My paternal grandparents are Jack and Brenda—the ones who were married at Big Red Church. Although they live close by now, I see them mostly on holidays. They are both loving and sweet. When I was a child, they owned a motel In Cayucos. It was fun to go there for a visit, stay in their motel, and spend time on the beach. Building sand castles and breaking waves was a child’s paradise.

Other childhood memories are: taking naps in the living room with other children in the lady’s house where I was in daycare and sitting on the carpet at home when I was in first grade watching Nicolodean cartoons and Seinfeld. I was raised on Seinfeld!  Star Wars came out when I was in the third grade and I became a Star Wars nerd collecting Star Wars toys and action figures. 

Now my passion is photography. Nature and architecture are my specialties. I like to take photos on the coast and recently took photos in Sacramento at the Court House Park. I enjoy the hunt for a photo. It is a perfect hobby for me because I am fine by myself. I’m still a shy kid at heart!

Getting to Know Russell Weaver

Written by Dale Buchanan

Born in Modesto, California, Russell grew up in Clovis where he lives today with his wife Ann and two daughters, Clara and Caroline. Let me be clear from the outset that Russell’s story is a love story. A summary of the notes that Gayle handed me to use in putting together this column would be just one word:  LOVE.

My first prompt to Russell as we sat in Gayle’s front room was, “Tell me about the women in your life.”  That was more or less the only prompt he needed. Ann, Clara, and Caroline are the heart and soul of this 36-year-old special education teacher and pole-vaulting coach’s story. 

Along the way, Russell inadvertently shared much about himself thus inspiring this sketch of our “From the Pews” person. “Ann grew up in Rocky Mountain, Virginia. I grew up in Clovis, California. There is no way our paths would ever cross. The odds of our meeting were nil and the chances of any kind of relationship were beyond astronomical. And yet, in the summer of 1998 the miracle beyond probability happened. I traveled to a National Youth Conference in Colorado sponsored by the Church of the Brethren. The conference attracted 4,000 youth from all over the United States. Now, I admit that when we both arrived on that college campus in Colorado the odds of our meeting increased significantly. She was 15 and a sophomore and I was 14 and a freshman. Still not very good odds. 😊 

While a group of us were exploring the campus, we met a group of Virginia girls. As we talked, I noticed this quiet girl. She was cute. Actually, she was very cute. I had beat the odds—a boy from California had met a girl from Virginia. We ran into each other the next day. She remembered my name, but I had forgotten hers. She told me her name and we walked in the rain. Magic happened. We were together every free moment the rest of the week, and I was devastated when she went home to Virginia. I wrote a letter that almost beat her home. ‘Peach, I love you!’  That settled it. She was my girl and I was her guy. 

Next began my effort to get her to California for a visit. Of course, no self-respecting Southern woman was going to send her daughter all the way to California on the assurances of a 14-year-old boy. Then another miracle—her mother knew a Brethren family in Modesto who knew my family. The deal was sealed. On the day after Christmas 1998, I met Ann at the airport. I said then and I still say, ‘Wow, this is great.’  Those wonderful ten days were like a fairy tale come true. Hand-in-hand we went to Kings Canyon, Shaver Lake, Disneyland, Morro Bay, and San Francisco (with my parents as chaperones, of course!)

I could not wait until summer vacation and a cross-country flight to see Ann again and meet her family. On that late-night drive from the airport, I was awestruck at my first sight of fireflies. Things just kept getting better. My first sight of the huge, beautiful farm house she called home left me speechless. Her mom and grandma made me feel at home and the extended family embraced me with hugs. Ann took me everywhere. The honesty and genuineness that I saw in Ann on that visit continues to impress me. 

I went home more in love than ever and sure that it would never change. However, I got that inevitable call that she was going off to college and we broke up. We always kept in touch, and it seemed the tie was never broken. 

Again, fate intervened at the National Youth Conference that I went to in my freshman year in college. Ann wasn’t there, but I overheard some girls talking about Virginia and one of them just happened to be Ann’s best friend. All those feelings came back. I called Ann from a pay phone and left a message. A full year later she called, ‘I’m graduating from college early and coming to California with a couple friends for Spring break.’  I drove my 1995 white jeep ranger with no top to San Diego and found her on the beach. When I saw her, I knew where my head and heart were, and we fell in love again. Together again, we drove to Morro Bay to meet my folks on what I consider the best 6-hour drive of my life. Too soon she had to fly home. We drove to San Francisco. At the boarding gate we kissed and embraced. She whispered, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you too.’

The story of my proposal to Ann on her grandma’s front porch and our wedding is best told by Peach. We had challenges as a young married couple, but Ann’s love saw us through every difficulty we faced. While training as a pole vaulter for the 2008 Bejing Olympics, I had to drop out because of a serious injury. What next?  My dream job to be a park ranger was realized when I was offered a part-time job in Kings Canyon. My four-year career in the National Park Service was glorious, but it was only part time and we were expecting a baby. What next? While coaching pole-vaulting and working as a teacher’s aide, I got a Master’s degree in special education and am now in my fifth year of teaching at Clovis North High School. 

Clara and Caroline are the other two loves of my life!  Clara is 6 years old and Caroline is 4. Clara was born in Kings Canyon when I was park ranger there. I didn’t think I could love a second child as much, but then Caroline showed up two years later, I found I could. They are everything to me!  I am an adventurer and my two girls are my adventure buddies. I take them everywhere! They were born with my adventure gene and thankfully with their mother’s good looks and brains. The truth is that like their mother, they have me wrapped around their little fingers!

Our Family Finances: Going the (Social) Distance Together

By Peter Wall, CFO

Sometime around Friday the 13th of March, ordinary life changed for many of us. Schools were closed, office workers were told to stay home and work remotely, phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” entered our vocabulary, events were cancelled (including some of our own at the Big Red Church), important plans were changed, and people flooded into stores to stock up on supplies. Welcome to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as our Pastor rightly reminded us, “our task is to care for each other both individually and collectively.” Despite our social distancing, we “are still connected through the Body of Christ, and we still need our community and collective resources.” And “our most urgent task while taking precautions to protect the health of our community is to remain connected to and supportive of each other when we are not able to be together in-person.”

These are big challenges.

Yes, social media, email, text messages, and telephones give us more methods than ever before in history to communicate at a distance. But just as often, in my experience, those rapid and stimulating channels of information suck up so much of our attention that it takes extra effort to remember the people we are not hearing from. Yes, virtual community is real community. But it is attenuated—stretched thin. We are still embodied creatures, and, in the end, we still need the thick physicality of our places and our practices. When these cloistered days are over, we will come out and gather again.

In the meantime, there is work to do. Our Pastor and staff are still working. Those Grape Leaf emails and Grape Vine mailings do not write and publish themselves. We still own a large and aging property that needs maintenance and care, and watching over. Bills are still coming. And we need to figure out the ways that we can continue to serve each other and our community.

So for at least three reasons, we all need to make a conscious and devotional effort to keep up our giving. First, we still have bills to pay; and, depending on how long current circumstances last, we might also need to look into some technology upgrades and purchases to improve our ability to facilitate remote connection.  Second, when the pandemic has ended, we will need to redouble our efforts to serve a wounded world, and that means we need to be ready with our resources—like hiring the education director that we budgeted for, and addressing not just the symptoms but also the causes of food insecurity in our community. Third, giving is an important way that, through the sacrifice of money we would otherwise spend individually, we bind ourselves together as a community of faith and reliance.

And, as a brief update, you should know that our pledged giving was short of the budgeted amount for January and February by about five percent. So we need the reminder anyway to make good on our pledges. 

We have a tool that makes it easy to give while we are apart. On our website, at bigredchurch.org/giving, you can use the Givelify button to contribute. If you have never used it before, now is the perfect time to give it a try. You can even share that link on social media, if you are so inclined.

There are a couple common questions about Givelify. First, how do you say “Givelify”? It rhymes with “magnify”—as in, Givelify is a tool to magnify our giving. Second, what does it cost? We pay a per-transaction fee of 2.9 percent of the donation, plus 30 cents. So, for example, if you give $100 through Givelify, then the fee we pay would be $3.20, and the other $96.80 would go to the church account. You should not hold back from giving because of the fee. We would rather pay a fee of $3.20 to receive a gift of $96.80 than receive no gift at all, just to avoid paying a fee. But if you really prefer, you can still mail a check. And keep in mind that even when you write a check, there are costs, which for us come mostly in the form of donated labor to receive the check, and process it, and deliver it to the bank. There really is no totally cost-less way to receive donations.

I know money is an uncomfortable subject. And talking about giving, especially now, when many people are feeling uncertain about their own jobs and paychecks, can feel like just another callous way of practicing institutional self-maintenance, instead of being what we might prefer to imagine the church ought to be. But the church is not some utopian, structureless abstraction that happens magically, and without any struggle or pain. In fact the church is embodied and messy, and sometimes ill, just like each of us, and it requires space and resources (including money) in its struggle to build a transformative place in the world. 

It will probably be a while before we celebrate communion together again. But in the meantime, maybe think about how strange and messy and illuminating it is that something so basic as eating and drinking together—what in other contexts might casually be called “fueling up” together—should be a sacrament that constitutes the church. I think that suggests a different way to think about, or even experience, the meaning and power and value of something so basic as giving.

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.

Love,
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