Church News

Slowing Down Global Warming: Support the building of wind turbines.

Bible Verses, Practical, and Personal Change

By Rosalie Brown

For if God leads us into wind and rain, It is for us to be cleaned and refreshed.
–Mount Shasta, Northern California
                Frank Saxton


There are 314,000 (probably more, my statistics go up to 2017) which supplies nearly 4% of global electricity. In the 1920’s and 30’s, farms across the mid-western U.S. were dotted with wind turbines as a dominant energy source, ‘simple’ windmills, which we still see in the countryside, but are no longer used for the intended purpose. So as the US went from family farms to agribusiness, these smaller sources of energy were lost.     One of the drawbacks to the new very large turbines is that birds get slaughtered.  Another is that they change the view of the natural landscape  (I’d rather see them than not) Hopefully technology can find some way of protecting the birds.

Is there some way to bring back a smaller scale wind turbine, even in the suburban environment? Could they be included for new home construction, on vacant lots, PUD’s  and apartment complexes?

Family farms had been the most efficient way to produce food, vegetable and animal. By nature small farms wouldn’t be growing a monoculture, and because of that, would not require as many pesticides. And with fewer crop dusters, we’d have cleaner air.

As the countdown to bigger climate changes looms in our future, we need to be asking more questions of our elected officials.

Source: ‘Drawdown’ edited by Paul Hawken copyright 2017.

DOING CHURCH IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS

Written by Dale Buchanan

The BIG RED FOOD PANTRY is back in business. Someone has suggested that the only constant is change and this bit of wisdom has assumed the status of a truism.

As the name suggests the primary mission of the, “Big Red Food Pantry,” has been and is, to deliver free food into the hands of the disadvantaged of our community. The CORONAVIRUS struck our community, state and our nation like a biblical plague,leaving us in disarray but like a truism it is forcing us to see change as the great constant. After months of quiet we met on June 18,2020 and a great spirit of change was moving amongst us. We assembled virtually via Zoom. COVID 19 had forced us to do some things differently. We tentatively agreed to change FREE FOOD FRIDAY, to FREE FOOD SATURDAY. Before the week was over it was obvious that Saturday would bring more volunteers. This ministry is labor intensive and this forced change will relieve the pressure on our senior volunteers. 

We met again on July 23 and other structural changes  happened to make the pantry work even more evenly distributed. The need to “Social Distance,” led us to instigate a ,” Drive-thru food distribution. This led to a partnership with Central California Food Bank  where they supply free boxes of assorted shelf-stable foods. The partnership with Food Bank sent our leadership to, “TEENS THAT CARE,” these teenagers have volunteered to load the food boxes into the automobiles.

The first Free Food Saturday will be a Drive thru Food  Distribution  And will happen  Saturday August 22, 2020, 9 am -12 noon.

This is not a call for money. It is an appeal for volunteers young and old. Just a bit of your time can open doors of service. For more information and to sign up call Mike Gostanian 930-6165 or Randy Oftedal 348-3365 .

Discernment

This is an exciting time in the life of our church, and for the whole United Church of Christ of which we are a part. One of our own, Chris Williams, has become a Member in Discernment (MID)! Now, you may find yourself asking, “What is a Member in Discernment?,” but I think an even more pressing question we should be asking is, “What is Discernment?” 

One of the key pieces of our identity and tradition in the United Church of Christ, and the historic Congregationalist Churches from which we come, is our conviction and embrace of the Priesthood of All Believers. Whenever someone joins our church through Baptism or by remembering and affirming their baptism, we remember and affirm that every one of us gathered together in the church is called to ministry. We are all called to live faithfully, resist evil and oppression, and to work towards a just world for all of Creation. We all have our own pieces of this work that go with us into every part of our lives, and which also come together in the ministry of the church. We all have our own functions as members of the body of Christ and we are all called to minister to others, but some are called to ordained positions, in which we serve specific functions of the church. Some of these functions include supporting and nourishing the community by leading worship and administering the Sacraments, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, leadership and administration within church community, and leading the church to be a prophetic witness among the larger community. 

In the UCC, when someone begins to sense that they are called to this work, and wish to pursue it further, they enter a process with the support of the local church and its conference (for us, the Northern California Nevada Conference of the UCC), and become a Member in Discernment. This can be just a little misleading, because they are never alone in this time and work of discernment. In fact, discernment is communal in its very nature, and is impossible to practice as an individual in isolation. 

Discernment is an important, yet often overlooked spiritual practice and discipline. When we neglect it, which is all too often, we neglect an essential question: What is God doing in this present moment? We have the library of sacred stories held in our Bible where we see some of the ways God has moved among our forebears in faith. We also have the traditions handed down through the history of the church to develop and train our capacity for opening ourselves to God’s presence. Sometimes we get distracted and turn these stories and traditions into their own ends and goals, and try to capture something we think we have lost. But what we think we have lost is actually waiting for us in the present moment. These histories, stories, teachings, and traditions are not ends in themselves, but rather are gifts from those who came before, from those who witnessed God’s presence and redemptive action in their own times, given to us so that we might take their wisdom and knowledge and join for ourselves into the presence and action of God in our present moment. 

Discernment is only possible in community. It is never an individual act, conviction, or revelation. We are community-dependent created by a God who is the very nature of connection and community, so it only makes sense that we most clearly discern the ongoing creative and wholeness-making work of God when we do so as a community. Discernment requires a lot of us. It requires individuals and the groups they discern with to have imaginations shaped by the stories of Scripture and trained by tradition, to be prayerfully attentive to the present moment, to be intimately aware of and willing to suspend their personal wills, desires, motives, and certainty of what is and is not possible, and to be open, patiently listening and watching for the movement of God, where-and- who-ever it may come from. 

A new Member in Discernment in our church is an exciting time, not just for the individual, but for the whole church that is a part of the journey. This is especially true for us, as Chris Williams has become our second member in the MID process. Our own Kim Williams (yes, relation) is also a MID. This is an exciting time, not just for their own emerging ministries and understandings of their callings, and our pride in claiming them as our own, but also because they are providing us with opportunities to practice the discipline of discernment for every other occasion, decision, challenge, and invitation to meet God in the present moment that we encounter. 

To get to this point, Chris had many discussions with his family and with me, he presented a narrative of his spiritual journey and understanding of calling to ordained ministry to our Church Council, who voted to recommend him to the conference Committee on Ministry, who, after receiving a lot of information and meeting with Chris themselves, voted enthusiastically to grant him the status of Member in Discernment. Next, he will be forming a Local Church Discernment Committee with a few members of our church to support and journey closely with him through this work of discernment, beginning seminary classes at the Pacific School of Religion at Berkeley, and further exploring opportunities in the church to begin getting a clearer sense of his gifts, interests, passions, and areas for growth and development for ministry. Please join me in congratulating Chris, in praying for him and his journey of discernment, and in keeping our eyes open for where God is moving, speaking, restoring, and creating next. 

Pastor Raygan

Our Family Finances: Mid-Year Report

By Peter Wall, CFO

The first six months of 2020 (maybe even seven, by the time you read this) are done and gone. That means I have enough information to give you a mid-year financial report for our church.

So where do we stand? 

Let me start with a broad recap of the budget that you the congregation approved at our annual meeting on January 26, 2020, way back in pre-pandemic times. First, there was a theme for the budget, which was “investing in the children.” Based on that theme we budgeted to hire a paid director of Christian Education, and to pay for classroom assistants. Second, we budgeted to set aside $7,000 in anticipation of the sabbatical that is written into the call of our Pastor. Those were the significant “new” things in the budget. Overall, we budgeted income of $353,026 (including $186,500 in pledged giving, $31,000 in identifiable giving, and $11,950 in loose offerings and other giving; $63,700 from facility use fees; $27,575 in endowment transfers; and $14,100 from fundraisers), and expenditures of $352,796 (which is a difference of $230, allocated as “Reserves”).

Starting from the approved budget as a baseline, there is bad news and there is good news. 

The bad news you probably already know: this year has not gone the way any of us expected. Because of the pandemic, we were not able to hold our major fundraiser, Jazz on Van Ness, and facility use fees are way down (but Head Start and Amazing Grace Ministries are both continuing to pay as agreed, and as budgeted). Because of those two things, income for the first half of the year (January through June) was $23,121 less than we budgeted. 

The bad news continues on the expenditure side. Because our in-person activities have ceased, it has been a struggle to figure out how best to serve the children. We still do not have a paid director of Christian Education, and we have not needed to pay classroom assistants. As well, most of our Ministries have not been spending at the rates they expected. Overall, expenditures for the first half of the year were $29,105 less than we budgeted.

Before moving on to the good news, however, I want to pause and acknowledge the seriousness of the bad news, particularly on the expenditure side, and particularly given the budget theme of “investing in the children.” We should all be concerned about the kids right now. Their opportunities for healthy social engagement are significantly reduced, and we as a church have struggled to find ways to overcome that problem. All of the children, all of the people who work with children, and Candice Blair, the chair of our Ministry of Christian Education, and Tracy Bright, who is chairing the search committee for the paid director of Christian Education, need our prayerful support in this difficult time.

But here is some good news: giving remains strong! During the first half of the year, pledged giving, totaling $97,111, was 100.63% of what we budgeted and identifiable giving, totaling $15,547, was 100.29% of what we budgeted for that period. Despite all of the bad news, that strong giving means that, for the first half of the year, we were $12,523 to the positive (in other words, that much more came in than went out). And those numbers do not include more than $15,000 that was given or raised to feed the hungry, both through the pantry and with home-cooked meals. We also don’t yet have the final numbers for Creativity on Virtual Van Ness, the fundraiser intended to help replace Jazz on Van Ness—but I can say preliminarily that you will be impressed.

Finally, there are a couple more things to report. First, to help ensure that the congregation’s wise decision to set aside money for the pastoral sabbatical will be honored in future years, we now have a separate account at the bank for that money, and we are transferring $583.33 into that account every month. The balance at the end of June was $3,500, which was right on track with budget. Second, because the money coming in and going out to feed the hungry has been significant, and to provide greater transparency, we also have a separate account at the bank for the pantry fund. The balance at the end of June was $16,712. In addition to those balances, our general cash balance at the end of June, which basically is our operating funds, was $17,760, and that good position has been holding steady. We have not yet made any unbudgeted transfers from endowments.

That good news is not a reason to stop or slow your giving. The second half of the year could still hold expensive surprises. As well, we are still in the process of purchasing new video equipment to improve the quality of our online services, and we are still working to hire a paid director of Christian Education. We could still get to the end of the year and find that expenses were far greater than expected. And, as I have said before, we need to be well-positioned to spring back into a wounded world. 

We have lots of challenges, and our own practice of generosity helps to lay a strong foundation for meeting them. In mid-July, giving progress statements were mailed to everyone who both pledged and had given during the first half of the year, together with a letter from the chair of the Stewardship and Sustainable Growth Committee. Please review those things carefully and consider how you can best continue to support the work of our church.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at [email protected]

Hard Questions Happy Hour

Church Family, 

We need to talk. 

Is it just me, or does it seem like the line between reality and satire is getting blurrier? The other day I came across a social media post that said something to the effect of, “Future historians will have to specify which month of 2020 they specialize in.” While this was probably meant as a joke, I think the humor in it comes from the possibility that it may very well be true one day. So many significant yet unpredictable things seem to be happening in out world at the same time, that it is difficult to discern how we as individuals and as the church are being called to respond. 

One of the questions that has been rolling around my mind for the past few months has been, “What does it mean for us to be the church when we are not able to be at the church?” Or, related, yet slightly different, “What does it mean to be this church in this place in this moment?” This moment may feel chaotic for us, but that doesn’t have to deter our working ministry. 

On the first Sunday in June, our text in worship was the seven day creation story in Genesis 1. Our God creates and has always created out of chaos (the literal meaning of the word usually translated “void”). God creates, by God’s own initiative, but God also gives us authority and responsibility to care for, be fruitful with, and multiply God’s creative work. What might God be creating in this moment, and how is God calling us to participate in it? As a global pandemic has disrupted almost every area of our lives, and as tensions rise over what life amid a pandemic should look like, what new and renewing ways of life are becoming possible? As conversations about race and white privilege become more common, open, and cautiously optimistic in the wake of new and centuries-old grief, what do wholeness, healing, harmonious living, and shalom look like? If things that were once unimaginable are now our reality, or what once would have been considered an exceptionally big news day is now just an average Tuesday, what good things might be worth doing and trying, that were once thought unimaginable? 

These are hard questions that have no easy answers. However, I think one of the most important things we can be doing right now is wrestling with the hard questions that come up from the world around us, and discerning what they mean for us and how we as the church are called to respond. 

These are not just big, difficult questions, I believe they are also especially exciting questions that have the potential to lead to wonder-filled conversations. I also think that we can have a lot of fun along the way. To that end, let’s get together for Hard Questions Happy Hour, Wednesdays in July from 5-6pm on Zoom. Bring your own beverage (with or without alcohol), questions, and imaginations. Everyone is welcome, and whoever shows up are the right people for the conversation. If you don’t have the right equipment for Zoom video meetings, you can also call in by phone. 

Zoom Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83224125795 

Meeting ID: 832 2412 5795

One tap mobile

+16699009128,,83224125795# 

Dial from any phone:

        +1 669 900 9128 (will need Meeting ID: 832 2412 5795)

See you there, 

Raygan 

Slowing Down Global Warming: Air Conditioning

Bible Verses, Practical, and Personal Change

By Rosalie Brown

Walk, gentle in my world.
Let it flow through your becoming.
Lift up your soul,
And sing in a strong voice.

        With Indian Paintbrush near Tamarak Ridge, CA             
        By Frank Saxton

AC is the single largest cause of global warming. (The hotter it gets the hotter it is going to get)

Change #1:   Raise your thermostat a few more degrees.                   

  • Augment or increase the use of fans.
  • Turn the AC off for a short time in the morning while you open your doors and windows and let the cool air in.
  • For new construction, consider one of the modern ‘coolers’. It’s comfortable and you’ll save on your electric bill.

Change #2:   Keep thinking all the time about ways to save the planet. Share your ideas.

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.”