Dear Zion Family,
Over the last few months there has been a fair
amount of conflict, of feelings of unease and worry.
Most of this been a direct result of my
announcement in June of my intention to transition from Erik to
I did not make the decision to announce my
plans in the best way, doing so without giving Council the respect of
communicating my intentions with them first. Making that announcement so
closely after the announcement of Missy’s departure caused a great deal of
additional unnecessary shock and pain. For that I am sorry, and fully admit my
failings and fault.
While I did not think that my announcement and
decision would be without controversy, it had been my belief that our covenant
to be an Open and Affirming congregation would be the base upon which, we as a
congregation could unite in our questions and worries, and together find a way
forward. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. That is a reality that
grieves me greatly.
My love and concern for this fellowship of
faith is deep and great. Over the last few weeks it has become clear to me that
my continued presence as the pastor of Zion is not a presence that promotes healing,
it instead creates further division. Division has never been, and will never be
my desire. I wish it were possible for all of the people of Zion to find a way
to move forward and find healing under my pastoral leadership; unfortunately,
that is not the reality we are living with. During the Council meeting on
October 3, I offered my resignation. It was accepted. My last Sunday will be
I fully recognize that my departure is not one
of happiness and joy. In fact, there is a great deal of sorrow, grief and even
anger being felt. By me, and by the congregation. Yet, you cannot allow those emotions
to become barriers from coming together as a congregation and finding a path
My hope and prayer is that the entire
congregation will enter into a time of reflection, prayer and decision making.
Who is Zion? Who does Zion want to be? What are the hopes and dreams of Zion's membership
that will guide and carry it into the future? What has been learned from the
experiences of the last few months? Who is God calling you to be? What is the
voice God has given you that needs to be heard?
When I accepted the call to Zion four years
ago, I did so with a great deal of hope and many dreams of our future together.
I prayed that Zion would become a very special place in the Ohio Valley. A
place where the love of God was declared and felt by all, where our welcome was
truly extravagant. A church where an inclusive and progressive Christian faith
would be our claim and our pride. I hope and pray, that you will fulfill those
hopes and dreams.
With the Greatest of Hope.
Rev. E. E. Breddin
Motivation is a slippery concept. There was a
time when the motivation to come to church was based solely on the expectation
of one's parents, or the fear of hell, or the cute youth group member you wanted
to meet. These days our motivations to participate in the life of the church
are as varied as our personalities. For many of us, church is a lifeline; it is
a place to connect with a spiritual source of being, and a human source of
support. If it were not for this church family, there would likely be fewer meaningful
attachments and activities in your life.
We all live busy lives, there is no way around
that. It's not easy to make time in our week for church between work, and
family, and sports, and sleep. Yet, when we do find ways to make space, often
we find that we have not lost the time for something else, and instead gained
something more powerful and meaningful than a football game, a concert, a few
extra hours of sleep.
As we enter into the Fall season, there will
be opportunities to be part of this faith community and to reach out to others
in the communities in which we live and work. Maybe you haven't been motivated yet
to join us on a Wednesday evening for Caffeinated Conversations at Leonardo's Coffee
shop, but we'd love to see you! Maybe this is the year when you will feel the
pull to leave your pew and join the choir. Perhaps you will be motivated to
volunteer your gifts and play an instrument for our worship. Have you
volunteered to help with Vets in the Ville? Maybe you will be motivated to
serve on Church Council.
Motivation isn't just about getting off your
butt and doing something; it's also about listening to the prodding of the Holy
Spirit. What is God asking of you? What is God prodding you to do? Maybe it's to
join something that is already in existence; maybe it's to bring something new
If you are seeking to discern what motivates
you to be part of this faith community, if you are struggling to see what God
is calling you to do, or you have been awoken in the night by that still, small,
insistent voice of God, I invite you to give me a call, I would love to explore
together where the Holy Spirit may be leading you.
With the Greatest of Hope!
Every year, summer comes around with its
cookouts, lemonade, vacations, high electric bills, and lower numbers in
church. It's a given you can pretty much plan on, the number of people coming
to church on Sundays in the summer is lower than pretty much any other time in
the year. Lower numbers means it can be harder to find the volunteers and
attendees at meetings and events (people aren't there to hear the announcements).
It also means that the amount of giving also goes down.
In the last few weeks I've spent some time
looking at the giving here at Zion, and I want to share with you what I've
found out. I think it's interesting and also challenging.
(All of these numbers are based on 2017)
Annually the members of Zion contribute
$17,945 in the offering plate. That averages out to $345 per week. Our average
attendance in 2017 was 27.91 so that means each person put $12.36 in the plate per
week. Now, our attendance numbers include infants and children so that's not
really accurate; and, there are individuals who contribute to the church, but
are not able to join us for worship on Sunday.
Of the 49 households that are members at Zion,
23 actually contributed. Not even 50%! That's shocking! In Jefferson County the
median household income is $42,327. If our 23 giving households contributed a
tithe at that level the annual giving would be $97,352.10 (MUCH larger than our
current giving of $17,945). Now, I fully realize that there are a large number
of folks who don't make the median household income, and are on a fixed income.
Did you know the average Social Security disbursement is $14,760 per person? If
our 23 households (not all of whom are retired) gave a tithe at that level our
annual income would be $33, 948 – almost twice our current income.
These numbers were surprising, so I dug a
little deeper with our Treasurer, Jeff Knauff's help. Of our
23 giving households only 3 contributed at
least a tithe at the Social Security disbursement level
($1476), and 6 contributed annually at half
that ($738). Of those 9 households, only 3 are not of retirement age, which
means 6 are.
I share with you these numbers for several
reasons: First, looking purely at the numbers it appears that few of us are
following through on the Biblical call to give ten percent of what we make to
God. I'm sure all of us can do better. I fully realize that many of us are
living paycheck to paycheck and we give financially as we are able; there are
other ways to contribute. So, secondly, when was the last time you volunteered
to prepare or serve a meal? When was the last time you called the church to ask
if you could help out planting flowers, or cleaning the nursery? When was the
last time you served as a lay reader, a greeter, an usher?
So I challenge you: Are you giving what you
can? Either in acts of service or money? What would it look like if you did?
Can you imagine what the church could do to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ
if all of us gave what we could? (Whether it's Summer, Fall, Winter, or
With the Greatest of Hope!
In just a few short weeks summer will well and
truly be upon us. Already in the last few weeks, as the temperature has been
going up and the days have been getting longer many of us are beginning to get
itchy for the months to come. We are getting our summer toys out of the garage,
we are making sure our bikes are in good shape, that the lawn mower is running
smoothly. We might be looking at our summer calendars, trying to see if there
is a time that will work best to get away for a day or two, perhaps a week or
so. Summer is a great time for many of us to relax, for many of us to “get away
from it all.”
Getting away from the chaos of our lives,
getting ‘unplugged’ is something that we all hunger for. We like to have those
moments when we can sit on the front porch and just watch the world go by as we
sip on our lemonade. Many of us long for those mornings when we can just lie in
bed while someone else takes care of the kids, or the dog, or the laundry. Moms
(and dads) can all relate to the phrase, “Calgon, take me away!” For some
people getting away from it all can truly be as simple as locking the bathroom
door and slipping into a bubble bath. For others, there needs to be greater
As Christians, though, we are not called to
“get away” from the world. We are called to be in the world, just not of it. As
Christians we are to be about the work of God in the world. It might not be
easy, but you can engage the world without being a part of it. An astronaut can
go into space, live in space, but not be a part of space. An astronaut puts on
a spacesuit, and can work in space, do the things that need to be done. The
spacesuit gives the astronaut the ability to be in space, but not of space.
As Christians, we are called to put on Christ;
that is our spacesuit. Because of Jesus we are protected from the atmosphere of
the world around us, we can safely breathe in the Spirit. But just because we
have a spacesuit, just because we have been found by Jesus, does not mean we
can just safely hang out in our little space station of faith and watch the
world go by. No, we have been given our spacesuit, our Armor of God that we
might go out into the world. Putting on Christ is not just about allowing
ourselves to live, but equipping us to live out; to live out our faith, to live
out our calling.
We have been set apart, we have been chosen
for a reason, for a mission, for a calling. We have come to know the truth that
God is love, that God’s love for us is beyond our understanding. We have been
set apart so that we might bring the good news of that love to the world. We
have been set apart, so that we might in our own awkward stumbling ways seek to
follow in the footsteps of Jesus, seeking to live our lives in a reflection of
how he lived. We have been set apart from the ways of the world so we can fight
against the ways of the world; so we can fight against the many ‘isms’ that we
encounter in our daily lives. We have been set apart so that we may have life,
live that life to its fullest, and help others to live their lives to their
We cannot do that by escaping from the world,
we can only do that when we enter into the world. Put on your spacesuit, put on
the Armor of God, claim your identity, claim your calling, and live!
With the Greatest of Hope!
In just a few short weeks we will be
celebrating Easter. We will make the
journey of Holy Week from Palms to an Upper Room to a Cross, and then to an
Empty Tomb. So often when we leave the
church on Friday we do not reflect on the time between that dark night and the
bright morning of Easter. Yet, perhaps
God is calling us to pause and reflect in this in-between time.
We know about Good Friday and the cross, about
sorrow and death. All humankind knows
about suffering, brutality, and injustice, about tragic endings, about death,
all of which are part of the human condition, in our private lives and in the
life of the world. We Christians also
know about Easter Sunday and the promise, the hint of resurrection for the rest
of us, because Jesus is risen from the dead.
However, our lives are not all about Good
Friday or all about Easter Sunday. We
experience suffering and abandonment, exile and loss, and we face death, our
own and the deaths of those we love. We
know ourselves as sinners, and our lives as broken.
And we also taste forgiveness, we taste hope,
and we taste new life, we catch sight of it here and there, get word of it,
listen and wait and hope...we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall
return, and yet we know ourselves also as destined for glory...pain and hope,
dying and rising again...all humanity waiting, waiting, waiting...and we
understand a little more why faith is best described as trust. We live most of
our lives in that in-between, Holy Saturday-feeling time, the longest day as it
is often referred to.
On that longest day we come face to face with
the reality of our powerlessness. We couldn't stop Friday from happening, and
there is nothing we can do to make Sunday come any quicker. We must face that
emptiness (even if we choose to ignore it with plans for Easter dinners and
Easter egg hunts.)
In the emptiness of waiting, we begin to learn
something that the gods of this world cannot bear, the knowledge that they do
not want us to know: at the very point of our failure and betrayals, when we
taste our own impotence and limit, if we are not afraid to live in the absence,
we discover God.
The in-between time is God's time. It is the
time when we learn to trust Jesus' sacrifice of love which death can neither
conquer or understand. In this in-between time we begin to see that it is God
who has made death not an instrument to terrorize us into submission, but to
call us more intimately to God's side. In the darkness of Holy Saturday we
discover the power of our waiting. We come to the end of our way and the
beginning of God's way. It is only Christ who can carry us over into Easter
So let us journey, focused not on the end
point, but on the journey itself. Allowing God to become present to us in an
ever-new and ever-more intimate and personal way; and on that bright Easter
morning our cries of “Alleluia! He is Risen!” will rise with even greater
passion and joy.
With the Greatest of Hope!
We find ourselves in December and in the
middle of the season of Advent. In Advent we wait for the coming of Jesus and
the expectation that Christ will be reborn in our hearts. As we wait with
expectation, we celebrate Peace, Joy, Hope and Love. This is a special time in
the church year as we celebrate the new beginning of Christ.
As I ponder new beginnings, I'm reminded of
the new beginnings Melissa and I had as new parents. Yes, there was
indescribable joy and happiness, but also many sleepless nights and restless
days. New beginnings can be like that, often bringing stress, agitation,
financial burdens, and additional tasks to name a few. Advent, a time for renewed
hearts can easily become about expectations of gifts, decorations, baking,
visiting Santa, etc. But it also can bring about generosity, family gatherings
and compassion in those that are not regularly practicing those things.
I also want to acknowledge that the season of
Advent and eventually Christmas is also a depressing time for some. There are
many circumstances that lead to this time of hope, peace, joy, and love to be
considered instead as despair, turmoil, sadness and loneliness. There are many
people who are grieving the absence of people in their lives that would
otherwise be present. There are many people going through financial struggles
that a Christmas meal, let alone any sort of gift make this season a season of
I want you all to know that I am with you in
this journey, wherever you find yourself in this season of Advent. I am here
with you in your joys and celebrations, I am here in your lowest of moments,
and I am with you to remind you that waiting the rebirth of Christ in our
hearts is why we break out the candles, the banners, the Christmas trees and
our generosity to those who need it.
And I always am going to remind you that we
remember Christ’s new beginning and celebrate our continued journey together.
And in the spirit of the season, we must share the Good News with all who will
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my
family to yours!
With the Greatest of Hope!
We have entered into the holiday season.
Halloween is past, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and the stores are full
of the reds and greens of Christmas. This is the time of year when we tend to
think about what has happened in the past year, what has happened in previous
holiday seasons. As the holiday reminds us, it is a time for thanks giving.
We just celebrated and remembered the 500th
Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With so much emphasis on Martin
Luther over the last month, my mind has found itself wandering to my time in
the Lutheran Church in my youth and young adult years. When I was confirmed, at
Central Lutheran Church, one of the requirements was to have Luther's Small
Catechism memorized. I don't have it memorized at this point, but its words
still influence me greatly.
In his discussion of the Lord's Prayer, Luther
speaks about the good things that God gives us in our “daily bread”. In this
season of giving thanks, that list could also be a list of what we are to give
thanks for. Luther lists food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field,
cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and
faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline,
honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
There are things he listed that speak to me,
and others that seem less pertinent. Do I really have the discipline or health
that I want? Do I always consider my children, spouse, friends or neighbors to
be “good” much less pious (whatever I might imagine that means)? Some days,
maybe especially in the political environment of division and infighting, it might
seem like hard to give thanks for government systems. Yet we are called not
only to give thanks for them, but also on behalf of them.
Giving thanks for someone, whether we
personally find them to be a blessing or burden, forces us into a position of
humility, and requires us to remember that those people, too, are children of
God, made in the image of God. The people sitting in the halls of government,
and the people gathered around your Thanksgiving table. Even if they make us
crazy. Even if they don’t think like we do. Even if they won’t pass the gravy
quickly enough. They are, each and every one of them, someone for whom Christ
lived and died. For whom Christ was raised. The good news of Jesus the Christ
is for each and every one of them.
Thanks be to God!
Fall seems like it is finally coming. After
the last few weeks of unseasonably warm weather I was wondering if we were
going to skip the whole Fall thing and jump straight into Winter. Hopefully we
will be able to enjoy a few weeks of open windows, no heating or
air-conditioning, and the glorious colors of fall painted across hills and
Fall is a great time to remember things. We
celebrate Homecoming at the schools we attended. We gather with friends around
warm fires. We celebrate holidays with family – Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
Fall is for me one of the happiest seasons.
This year at the end of the month we are
remembering another special event: the 500th anniversary of the Protestant
Reformation. This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95
complaints about the church to the castle church doors in Wittenburg. It had
never been his intention to create a new church, simply to reform what he saw
as failings in the existing church. Yet, his critique ended up creating a new
branch of the Christian faith, a branch of which we are a part.
We are a church of the Reformation, a church
that came to be out of a desire to look deeply at our practices and change
those that were leading us farther away from God, those that placed an
unnecessary burden on people, those that allowed those in positions of
leadership and power to misuse those in less powerful positions. As such, not
only should we be a church that was formed through reformation, we should be a
church that is always in the state of reformation. Reformed, yet always
What are some of the ways you feel we need
reforming? Is it the form of our worship services? Is it the way we do church?
Is it our buildings? Is it how we interact with those of other faith
traditions? Is it our inclusion of folks different than us? Is it our awareness
of how minority groups should be part of our faith communities? Is it the way
we treat children and youth, the way we do Sunday School? Maybe it's the size
and way our bulletin is put together.
If you were to write your own list of
grievances or areas of growth in the church (both locally at Zion, and within
the wider Christian community), what are the things you would put on your list?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
With the Greatest of Hope!
Like many of you, my thoughts and prayers over
the last few weeks have been with the millions and millions of those affected
by the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and throughout the Caribbean. There was a
time in our not too distant past when we may have been largely unaware of
events that distant from us; and may have never learned of the damage and loss
on many small and remote islands. Now, we watch the storms in real-time as
reporters and correspondents brave the winds and torrential rain to give us up
to the minute reports.
The images we have all seen have been a
horrific reminder of the power of nature. Regardless of what we know about
science, how powerful our phones are, the presence of the internet giving us
all the knowledge of the world, nature will always find ways to remind us that
it is more powerful than we. We are to care for it, always aware of its ability
to provide but also be aware of its power to destroy.
In the wake of the catastrophic damage from
both Harvey and Irma, many of us are giving to various charities that are
providing for those affected. Each of us have our charity of choice, a group we
have supported often in the past and will continue to support in years to come.
Many of those groups are a result of people of faith coming together to be of
service to those in need.
Did you know that the United Church of Christ
has a ministry of response for those affected by disasters (both in this
country and around the world)? UCC Disaster Ministries is a program of the
United Church of Christ that responds to natural and human caused disasters all
over world and is well positioned to respond in most events. Through our
volunteers, congregations, Conferences and partnerships UCC Disaster Ministries
seeks to serve the most vulnerable populations that require spiritual,
physical, financial and psychological support.
In times of domestic disaster, UCC Disaster
Ministries office provides a platform and facilitation for much of this work
while collaborating with and through UCC Conferences and a network of
Internationally, UCC Disaster Ministries maintains direct relationships and
partnerships with organizations and faith communities able to appropriately and
effectively respond to emergency and long-term needs.
To find out more about UCC Disaster
Ministries, and to donate go to: http://www.ucc.org/disaster. You can also
contact Zachary Wolgemuth the Executive for UCC Disaster Ministries by phone at
With the Greatest of Hope!
Last weekend, we participated in Mission
Rejoice at the Urban Mission here in Steubenville. We had a relaxed worship
service, then provided a wonderful meal to those present – many of whom would
not have eaten if not for the kindness of others. In conversation with Pastor
Hubbard that evening she shared how few churches are actually volunteering
anymore. My heart broke. Isn't that what the church is supposed to be about,
helping others? What was perhaps more disappointing to me though, was how she
treated it like a normal thing – churches not participating in Mission Rejoice;
it was like our local churches couldn't be expected to do that.
It struck me that our culture has learned to
expect little from the Church, and perhaps we are reaping the results of
expecting the least. (When I say the Church, I'm speaking of all mainline
Protestantism, not just Zion UCC.) Many would say we have seen a rise in apathy
about religion, a decline in church attendance, a loss of solid leadership at
the local and national levels. And with an economy still recovering, there is
less money in churches. We look around our world and wonder about the future of
the Church. And we lower our expectations. We expect few people in church. We
expect decreased giving. We expect declining membership. And unfortunately,
this lack of expectation can lead to two things: acceptance without resistance,
and the inability to see when things are actually improving.
Sometimes I hear people speaking about Zion
like it is a church in decline. My response is both surprise and frustration.
Where is the decline? Our attendance in worship has been rising over the last
few years. We are adding new members regularly. We see new faces and visitors
more often than in the past. The community is talking about us in positive
ways. We are seeing children and young people. We are reaching out in service
to others. There is a new energy, love, humor, and extravagant welcome
developing. Decline? Where? Maybe we need to set our expectations higher.
Is there an area at Zion where you have low
expectations? Is there some aspect of life at Zion about which you find
yourself expecting little? Sometimes low expectations are a sign of a place
where energy, effort and time need to be placed.
Share with me your low expectations. I'd love
to tackle them with you.
With the Greatest of Hope!