While you are reading this, I am with my Mom on a small cruise ship with less than 90 passengers, meandering inland waterways from New York to Montreal. On August 17 my Mom celebrated 90 years of life. She has declared that instead of ONE birthday party – she would celebrate the entire year. Mom has extended an invitation to family and friends and anyone else who would like to celebrate that she is available all year to do that.
Mom has been living with me for a year now. During this year we have traveled back and forth between our home in Medina and the parsonage in Wintersville every week. I watch my Mom and wonder at her joy and her spirit. When I spoke with her about bringing my work at Steubenville to a close this past May – she suggested that I hold off until the end of the year. I thought the drive and the intense lifestyle of being a wanderer was too much for her. She is full of surprises. Now as we enter the fall season, I don’t think she ever wants to stop making this trip. She has come to love and look forward to being with so many of the Zion Church Family.
When we visit the scriptures there are folks who are advanced in years who are also full of surprises. Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage at the ages of 80 and 83 (Ex 7:7). Joshua was given the charge of leading the conquest of Canaan during the last thirty years of his life and he lived until he was 110 (Josh 24:29). Caleb was also very much involved in the conquest and he was in his eighties (Josh 14:6-11). Daniel served God from the days of his youth for over 70 years (Dan 1:21). He was well over eighty when he served as one of three governors over the kingdom of Babylon Dan 6:1-3). He was thrown into the Lions’ den and received visions. Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were both advanced in years. Zacharias was serving in the temple and Elizabeth gave birth to John!
What I realize as I ponder the characters in the scripture stories and watch my Mom live her life in its fullness, is that it isn’t about the people and their stamina, it is about our God and our Call to fullness of life and abundance.
So often we can get caught in the fear and the “woe is me” mentality. Truth is – it simply is not about us. It is all about way more than us. We are so tunnel visioned and have the hardest time seeing outside the boxes that we have self-inflicted that sometimes it takes a real shake to get us to wake up to the possibilities and the personal power that each of us have within our hearts and souls to make a difference.
I am sailing right now, and my Mom is sailing with me. I am so blessed to be sharing these precious years, months, days, moments of her life with her. That is part of the abundance that I have become aware of.
Sometimes the most precious of gifts comes in a disguised wrapper. Every now and then someone says to me,” It must be really hard taking care of your Mom,driving back and forth, caring for two congregations, and on and on….
Yes sometimes I am not sure how I will get through one more day – but that’s only when I let the “woe is me” attitude triumph.
Truth is I am so blessed every moment of every day and when I wake myself up to that reality and see the Divine Presence in everything and everywhere- then I can see with Divine eyes the reality of what it means to be me.
Why have I shared this? Because every one of us has the same potential to either wake up to the Divine Presence in your own life – or to let the “woe is me” attitude take over. Which will you do? How are you blessed? What do you need to do to become aware of the rich blessings and once you do – how will you handle the magnificence that you call your life?
The Rev. Dr. Carol Vaccariello
Tonight,as I ponder what to share in this Pastor’s Pen, I am so aware of the fullnessin my heart and being.
Have you ever wondered at the total awesomeness of what it means to be alive?
Have you ever thought about the billions of cells that are your body?
Have you ever wondered how each cell was fashioned and what about the intricate workings of each cell?
At the beginning of the summer I had the privilege of being in the presence of NASA astronauts who brought the wonder and awe of the Universe alive and present in new and mysterious ways.
When I ponder the unique intricate design of the cells of my body and the huge, vast, stupendous Cosmos in which God allows us and invites us to live – I am filled with awe, gratitude and wonder.
And what about relationships?
There are so many relationships that each of us enjoys.
There are all of you. Many of you have known each other and each other’s families for years. How fortunate you are to have those rich and deep relationships. How blessed you have been through the care that you have experienced from each other over the years.
There is our relationship with the cells of our bodies. Each and every one is part of what it means to be the unique person that each of us is. We can’t see or experience the workings of even one of our cells yet without each one of them we could not exist as the persons that we are.
There is our relationship with the Stars and the Heavens. The Psalmist reminds us of the work of God’s hands.
And there is our relationship with God the Father/Mother and God the Son/Brother and God the Holy Spirit/Comforter.
Now that’s a whole lot of relationship to ponder. We really can’t just say that we have a relationship with God. Not when we know that God manifests to us in such a variety of ways, in different circumstances, through people, animals and all of creation. It is like our relationship with God is the complex experience of many and varied experiences of God.
The Scriptures have a great variety of names and references to God. In our next newsletter we will explore some of the names of God and the variety of names that help us to know God through the attributes, the ways that God has manifest God’s presence through time.
Till then,ponder, simply ponder. Pay attention to the fullness of your own heart and the relationships that surround and uphold you in love.
See you in Church,
Reverend Doctor Carol Vaccariello
Dear Church Family,
As most of you already know, because we talked about this during a worship service about a month ago, we received an inquiry about the availability of our church property at the parsonage location in Wintersville. This inquiry came from a Wintersville church that is growing and looking for a prime location to build a new church to house their membership.
Receiving this call sent a quiver through all of us about the question: “If God wants a church on that property then who will make that happen? Do we sell our property or do we build the church?” It is an important question for us to “wrestle” with at this time in our faith journey.
All of us are keenly aware that our beautiful church in Steubenville is sorely empty most of the time and the numbers on Sunday are less than we would like to see. We have questioned if it is the location that hinders us from adding new members? When we observe other churches growing who have relocated - then we have even deeper questions.
Our Church Council is taking this into prayer and asking that we all do the same. This decision after all is not solely ours to make – it is ours to act upon if the Spirit of God is calling us to do a new thing at Zion.
Tomorrow I will be exploring some ideas with local ministries about other outreach opportunities for our church and the future use of our beautiful building.
We have begun to explore what it would mean to decide to build in collaboration with United Church Homes at our Wintersville property. This exploration is about creating something for seniors at the same time building a new worship center.
As you can see, these are big questions that we are exploring. Your prayers and your thoughts are very valuable. When you are thinking about these matters, I invite you to do so in the midst of a prayerful heart. After all, this isn’t so much about what we want and what makes us comfortable, as it is about what God wants and what we are called to do at this time and in these places.
This is a lot to ponder, I know. I feel the weight and the JOY of the adventure of partnering with the Holy Spirit in new and exciting and challenging ways.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t believe that any one of us has the answers as yet. We are in a time of prayer and exploration.
There will be ample opportunities for all of us to gather to share our thoughts and air our feelings. One of the ways that Council is reaching out to embrace members of the congregation is by having “Sunday After” Meetings on the Sunday after the Council meeting has been held. There will be a brief report to the congregation of the status of the exploration process and there will be time for prayer, questions and discussion.
Know that we are vibrant and needed in the family of God and God is still speaking!
Just today I received a phone call from a person seeking a church that is willing to wrestle with the questions instead of having pat answers. We are that church. A reminder that this is our Mission Statement:
Zion United Church of Christ is a diverse community of faith, wrestling with the radical message of Jesus Christ to seek ways to care for our world.
Join me as we wrestle together,
Reverend Doctor Carol Vaccariello
Most often I create the Pastor's Pen from my own creative heart. When I received this reflection from the UCC Still Speaking Ministry Team, I stopped to think about it as I hope you will. It is important to take the time to complete the last sentence as only YOU CAN.
Blessings and Fullness of Life....
Moses at a Dead Run, a Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell
Excerpt from Deuteronomy 34:1-7
"Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land…Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died…."
An old story imagines what happened after Moses died. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are sitting in the afterlife, when they look up and see Moses in the distance. He's headed their way at a dead run, his long white beard flowing behind him, his robes hiked up, and his skinny old man legs flashing. He skids to a stop in front of them, and as soon as he catches his breath, he blurts out, "I have seen it! I have seen the Promised Land! The oath that the Holy One swore to you? He has fulfilled it!" Their faces light up and they begin to praise God.
It's such a great image: Moses like a little kid running up to his parents, bursting with news, and the Patriarchs, having lived, and labored, and waited long for God's promise, hearing that it has finally been fulfilled.
Here's an even better story: Moses has taken his place next to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They look up, and there, sprinting toward them in the distance, bursting with news about God's faithful action on earth is…you. And you run up to them,and you catch your breath, and you open your mouth, and say…
Well, I'll let you decide what you'll say.
Faithful God, help me to keep my eyes open for the fulfillment of the promises you made to the ancestors. Let me never miss a single one of your blessings, and give me the grace to never stop telling people about them. Amen.
We continue to live the mystery of Jesus Christ Risen and Alive among us.
Joan Chittister, theologian and spiritual teacher, sent this message and I found it thought provoking for myself about the presence of our Risen Jesus with each of us and in our community. Here is her message. I hope that you find it as thought provoking as I did.
An easter Prayer from Joan Chittister
To say "I believe in Jesus Christ . . . who rose from the dead," is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again.Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before—in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.
To say, "I believe in Jesus Christ . . . who rose from the dead," is to say something about myself at the same time. It says that I myself am ready to be transformed. Once the Christ-life rises in me, I rise to new life as well."Christ is risen, we are risen," we sing at Easter. But it has a great deal more to do with life than with death. If I know that Jesus has been transformed, then I am transformed myself, and as a result, everything around me.
Until we find ourselves with new hearts, more penetrating insights, fewer compulsions, less need for the transient, greater awareness of the spiritual pulse of life, resurrection has not really happened for us. Jesus has risen but we have not. Resurrection is change at the root of the soul. It marks a whole new way of being in life.
Jesus,help me to understand that in every life, something good fails, something great ends, something righteous is taken unjustly away, something looms like an abandonment by God. Give me the wisdom to know that You rose from the dead as assign to us that every one of these “little deaths” is life become new all over again. Be with me in living Your Resurrection over and over again.
We are journeying through the Spiritual Season of Lent. It is a time of preparation for Holy Week and the last events of the life of Jesus. The ultimate triumphal ending which is really the beginning is Jesus’ raising from the dead, conquering, overcoming all.
There are words used at this time of year that can sound foreign to us. One of those words with ancient meaning is “Paschal”. The Paschal Mystery refers to the death,resurrection and ascension of our Lord into glory. The Paschal Mystery is the central mystery ofthe Christian Faith, celebrated at the Easter Triduum – the THREE days: HolyThursday evening, Good Friday and Holy Saturday culminating in the Resurrectionon Easter Sunday.
One of the ancient traditions of the early church was that of the lighting of the New Fire to remember that Jesus is the Light of the world, illuminating the path that takes each of us to the home that Jesus has told us is already prepared for us.
The earliest writing about this tradition is recorded by historian Jerome who lived from 347-420 AD. This means that the practice of rememberingJesus’ Resurrection with the Paschal (Easter) Candle, is a very old traditionfor Christians, beginning in the 3 Century.
This year Zion will be celebrating this ancient tradition on Easter Morning at the beginning of ourEaster Sunday Worship Service.
All who would like to witness the lighting of the New Fire will gather in the Narthex of the church where the fire will be lit and the Paschal Candle prepared through recallingthe Scriptures. The Candle will then belit from the New Fire remembering the triumph of Jesus and his presence alwayswith us till the end of time.
The Candle will then be brought forward in a Procession and set in a special candle stand in a place of prominence where the Light of Christ will reign in this symbolic reminder until Ascension Day which is 40 days after Easter and 10 days before Pentecost. The Paschal Candle will then be removed as we begin the time of Pentecost. Throughout the year the Paschal Candle will be lit for special services of Light, like Baptisms and Funerals.
All that I have mentioned here reminds us that we are part of a rich and ancient tradition that continues to enrich and fill our hearts while deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ, who Lights up our lives and calls us each by name.
Come and be a witness to our Christian heritage as we light the NEW FIRE of CHRIST and remember whose you are.
Fullness of life…..
The Rev. Dr. CarolVaccariello
Zion UCC, Pastor
Blessings and Opportunities at Zion abound.....
This Sunday is the last Sunday before Lentbegins. It is Transfiguration Sunday, apowerful remembrance of the transformative power of the Christ energy in all ofcreation -including you and me.
On this Sunday we declare our personal commitmentto the Open and Affirming statement that we as a people proclaim.
The Lenten Season is upon us and is filled withspiritual opportunity...
Ash Wednesday, February 13th, provides a time of community and gatheringwhen we share our meager meal and a time of prayer. We recall God’s blessing for us in the takingof Ashes - a reminder that this life is a temporary state of being; that we arecalled to live in a profound way as Jesus has shown us to live and given usexample of sacrificial loving. This isthe beginning of our journey of living into the Open and Affirming Declarationthat we profess as the family of God. Itis not to be taken lightly. It is ourprofession of understanding and unconditional love for all of God’s creation.
Opportunity Knocks: Church Vitality Expert at Zion UCC
What a tremendous opportunity to live the LentenSeason, remembering all that Jesus has and does mean to us.
Taking action, speaking up, making a difference asfollowers United and Uniting in theChurch of Christ,
where we know that God is STILL SPEAKING! ...andthat we should NEVER put a Period where God has put a COMA!!!
Take a breath... That's the coma... That's thewhisper of the Divine, It is up to us to make the sacred and sought afterPresence known.
Everyone, member and friend of the church, isinvited and encouraged to be a part of Zion's future story.
Pastor Jim Oates, Church Vitality expert, will behere to guide us in moving Zion UCC into the future.
Please come and enjoy a lite dinner at 6:00followed by our workshop with Pastor Jim.
We will be considering the Vision and Mission ofour church at this time in Steubenville.
We will discuss church organization models to helpus be effective, productive and comfortable with our current activemembership.
We will look at what it takes to be a Vital andInviting Church Presence.,, a place where the compassionate love of JesusChrist is all.
To accomplish all of this is a big order. We willbegin with dinner at 6:00 on Friday evening. Saturday morning we will resumewith Coffee Hour at 9:30. We will endwith prayer at 11:55.
Please call the Church Office to let us know if youintend to participate in ALL or PART of the workshop. You can attend Fridayonly, Saturday only or both! You areencouraged to be there for the entire process, however, you are welcome forwhatever times work for you.
This is YOUR CHURCH. Make a difference in her future. God has called each of us to this verymoment.
Blessings All and Fullness of Life as we listen tothe still speaking God in our midst.
With love and gratitude for each and every one ofyou,
During the past year Council has worked diligently in its futuring efforts. Some of us attended the Church Vitality Roadshow ledby Jim Oates who is the Ohio Conference Church development/CongregationalRenewal Coach at Ohio Conference UCC. The purpose of the event was to help us think about what we need to do to have a vital ministry here at Zion UCC. When we got to know Jim we found that he is a very personable and encouraging Pastor who has had years of experience and expertise working church vitality. We have extended an invitation to Reverend Oates to visit Zion later this month so that we might join in a mentoring relationship. We are looking forward to him getting to know us and the uniqueness of our situation so that together we might develop ways to not only keep Zion’s presence in Steubenville but to also create a ministry with impact in the community.
You have a very important role to play in this endeavor. All of you are needed. You are essential. I am asking that each one of us take this very seriously and that you make a commitment to remember Zion UCC and her future in your daily prayer time. Ask the Holy Spirit to kindle wisdom and courage in each of the leaders of this church so that we can embrace with open minds and hearts the teaching and new ways of thinking that Jim will offer to us.
As we move together into the futurewith the guidance of the Holy Spirit.....
Have you ever thought about why you are a member of Zion UCC? There are lots of choices, from not attending any place of worship to attending any one of the huge selection all around you.
I have wondered - why in the world am I driving passed hundreds of churches to come and be a part of Zion UCC? The only response that lights up for me is that God has called and sent me to be a part of this church family - no other - in the way that I am part of this church family. So what about you?
I invite you to think about what has brought YOU to be an important part of this church family - or for those who have been here for a lifetime or more - what KEEPS you here through thick and thin?
It is at this ADVENT time of year when our church constitution requires that we invite those who are being sent by God to assume leadership or continue leadership to step forward and acknowledge God’s urgings in your own heart. This is not a call about worthiness or about whether or not you think you can "do the job." It is really about what God wants to do through you. So here is the real question - Will you pay attention and step forward to claim God’s call for you?
If you want an opportunity to discern, to think through the possibility that you are in fact being asked to share with YOUR CHURCH, Zion UCC, in the unique way that only you can do - come and let’s talk. I want to help you to live into all that God is calling you to be. Life is such a wonderful adventure saturated in the love of Christ. Come, let’s talk and explore the gifts God is growing in you. Zion UCC needs compassionate and caring people to continue leading our church. Church Council is the steering group that offers guidance and recommendations to the congregation about the vision and mission of our church. All of us are needed to make Zion the Heaven on Earth that our name suggests. Micah 4:2-4
Dear Church Family,
Whenever we enter the month of November we begin to think about entering a season of Harvest and Thankfulness.
I am thankful to be a part of the Zion Church Family. You are a beautiful community and I have been blessed by getting to know each of you. I look forward to a year filled with thankful moments as we continue to deepen our relationship with each other and with Beloved.
During the month of November I will be immersed in a time of quiet, prayer and spiritual writing.
On November 11th I fly to Zurich and then take a train to Chur in the Swiss Alps. There I will be met by friends who have a Retreat Chalet in Avers, Switzerland. One of the Bishops there and I will be making a one week retreat together. It will be a time of monastic prayer and fasting, of study and learning. There will be times for worship and times for deep silence. After this week I will retrace my steps to Zurich and fly to Barcelona where I will embark on a transatlantic voyage to Miami. This will be two weeks with no interruptions and lots of opportunity for quiet and solitude. I have opted out of the food package so that I might continue my retreat format of fasting which helps me to pray and meditate deeply. Please pray that the seas are calm as we voyage to Miami. On December 1st I will fly into Pittsburgh and return to Wintersville that evening.
I am looking forward to beginning our Advent Season together with a special visit and message from the Malone University Players.
As you know, I suspended the Open and Affirming study. This was done so that we can find a better time to get the information to more of us. I will be revising our plans and bringing the essence of the information into our worship time so that we can learn and pray about all of the aspects of this important study. This is necessary since we as a church family will be discerning and preparing our statement of commitment to provide a safe place for all of God’s children at Zion.
While I am away, be well, take care of each other and please pray for me.
Fullness of life.....