Recent Posts

Pastor's Pen October
Pastor's Pen September
July Pastor's Pen
May Pastor's Pen
March 2018 Pastor's Pen


All Is Welcome
Disaster Relief
open and affirming
powered by

Pastor's Pen


March Pastor's Pen

It's the end of the world as we know it. It's a funny little saying that we sometimes hear, but it's a feeling I'm sure the disciples felt in the darkness of Jesus crucifixion and death.
Looking around, it may seem as if the world is rapidly spinning toward destruction. Our population is exploding, our oceans and environment are suffering, our food resources are dwindling, our politicians are fighting, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, students are getting lazier, taxes are growing higher, war is getting pricier, fear is looming larger, and Christian voices of resurrection and new life seem to be going silent....
Why? Why are we so silent? It's likely because of many reasons. But, focusing on issues that don't matter or on our own wants and needs, are tendencies that have grown and grown, transforming what was once vibrant and radical into meaningless drivel. Chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, ham, and a couple of verses of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” now satisfy and fulfill the Easter obligations for many people.
But, Jesus did not rise from the dead and ascend into heaven just so we’d have a reason to take a few days off and eat peeps once a year. The resurrection is one of God’s ways of letting us know that there’s always a better way, a greater way to care, a more satisfying way of loving and living life. It’s not an easy way out, and it’s not to be trivialized.
Jesus empowers all of us with the incredible gifts of forgiveness and creativity. So pray, study, worship, vote, give, volunteer, love, debate, engage, thank, and live . . . into the new creation that you are in Christ, through the power and promise of the resurrection.
With the Greatest of Hope!


August 2015 Pastor's Pen

During the next few Sundays we will be reading from the Sixth Chapter of the Gospel of John. This is a long passage explaining that Jesus is the “Bread of Life”. This is a sometimes difficult time for us pastors, because we are asked to preach multiple sermons on the same subject, there is only so much that can be said. Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said is that bread (food in general) is essential to life. Therefore, when we call Jesus the “Bread of Life” we are saying that he is in some way essential.
The other thing about bread is that it is basic, it is physical, bread is down to earth. It is not just “spiritual”. Jesus has come to us in the flesh, as a real human being that walked the earth and ate bread himself. He has connected himself to you and me and all of creation in this way.
When something is essential to life, God seems to make a lot of it. For instance, we need air and water, so God has created more than enough for everyone. We also need food. (Yes, Jesus said we do not live by bread alone, but we also don’t live long without it.) In the same way, God has provided more than enough food for everyone. We need to think about this. None of us would deny allowing another person to breathe or have a drink of water. Can we let someone go without food when God has provided it in abundance?

On Saturday August 1, a group of volunteers from Zion UCC encountered people who often go without food when we provided a worship service and a meal at the Urban Mission in downtown Steubenville. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, there are nearly 12,000 people in Jefferson County that are food insecure, meaning that they don’t always know where they will find their next meal. That's 1 in 5 people! This is not just adults, there are a large number of children that go to bed  hungry every night, and wake the next morning unsure if they will eat that day.
I hope you can see that we are not talking about a problem that is far away. This is not a problem caused by famine, or poor distribution, or corrupt governments. It is caused by poverty and the cycle of poverty that hunger creates. Think about the children: poor nutrition causes poor mental development, causes lack of energy and poor performance at school, which causes poverty level employment. Then the cycle begins again. We are a people that shares Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. We break that bread together at worship. It is essential. It is real. And sharing our bread, our food with the hungry is not something separate or different. It is part of that communion with Christ, with creation, with all of God’s children.
With the Greatest of Hope!

July 2015 Pastor's Pen

Greetings people of Zion! I trust you are enjoying our summer months, even though we would all like them to be a bit drier.
With the landmark ruling of the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage announced last month, we enter into the celebration and joy that many within the LGBT community have sought and fought for their whole lives. We must honor the sacrifices and pain of those who have exposed their private lives to public scrutiny and criticism. We must also be aware of and sensitive to the pain and turmoil this will cause for many who have a different understanding of this issue. We must all be prepared to meet anger with love and hatred with understanding. Please find time in your day to give thanks to God for the opportunities this decision presents as well as the wisdom and courage we will need to embrace those who find this decision troubling. We will still need to work for the acceptance and belonging that all of us would claim as God’s children.
Let us remember the words in our Open and Affirming statement: At Zion, “We extend God's Extravagant Welcome to persons of every gender, age, race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, social and economic status, faith background, political and theological beliefs, marital standing and family structure.” At Zion, we are a diverse community of people, young and old, progressive and conservative. We have found a home here because we have learned that we do not all need to agree on everything in order to sit with one another in the pew, lifting our voices and our prayers to God.
In the coming weeks and months, it is likely that Zion will be asked to host weddings for gay and lesbian couples. It is my hope and prayer that you will join me in welcoming those couples, and celebrating with me the love they wish to declare in our historic and beautiful church. I am not asking you to change your mind on issues that you may find troubling, what I am asking is that you remember that Jesus' challenge to us is to seek not to judge one another, to find ways of including people rather than excluding them, and to love others as we ourselves would want to be loved.
If you would like to speak with me about this issue, or any other, please contact me. I want to hear from you. I desire to know and understand your thoughts and positions on this issue, as well as many others. I will be more effective in my service for you if I know you better.
With the Greatest of Hope!

May 2015 Pastor's Pen

In the daily “Still Speaking” UCC devotional that posted the day after Easter, Pastor Emily Heath reminded us of something vitally important. “If you go in any kind of store (the day after Easter), you will see that Easter is over. The plastic eggs will be half-price, and the Easter candy will be on clearance, never to be seen again until next February. There's just one problem with that: no matter what the stores are saying, Easter isn't over. While Easter may have been the day of the empty tomb, the 50 days after are just as much a time of new beginnings. We have until Pentecost, May 24, to celebrate Easter. And beyond that, we celebrate the new life that Easter brings.”
As Christians we celebrate the re-creation and renewal of all things at Easter, it's about the transformation of the entire universe, not only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or the opening of heaven's doors to us. When we say “I believe in the Resurrection” we mean a bodily resurrection where heaven comes to earth and earth is transformed. And everything we do now to participate in God’s transformation and renewal of the world will be blessed and magnified at the time of the Resurrection. What we celebrated on Easter morning is the foundation for a renewed way of life in and for the world both today and in the future.
What can we do? Here are some ideas for wrapping up this season of resurrection and renewal. Offer forgiveness to someone with whom you have a long-standing grudge. Let yourself feel forgiveness for an action that you now regret, and for which you feel remorse. Tread a little more lightly on the earth, use less, and be more mindful of the impact of your consumption patterns. Share a joyful moment with a friend, show appreciation for your spouse, let a co-worker know how much you value their contribution. Offer a prayer for peace, get involved in political action for change, or just pick up some trash along the roadside. Tell one of our young people that you’ve noticed their involvement in church and that you are proud of them. Or send a note to someone whose presence in church you’ve been missing. If you have been among the missing, realize that you are missed.
You will be doing your part in God’s transformation and renewal of the world. And you don’t need to stop at Pentecost…God plans to keep this project going as long as necessary!
With the Greatest of Hope!

April 2015 Pastor's Pen

As our family settles into life here in Ohio, I find that I am keeping my eyes open much more so than I have in the past. I know that much of that has to do with being in new surroundings, new neighborhoods, new stores, new streets. I want to be sure I don't miss anything. In a few years, I'm sure I won't be looking around quite as intensely as I am now. My awareness of seeing things more intensely now, makes me wonder what things I missed seeing in the past because I wasn't looking for them.
We have to develop the eyes to see certain things. Moses saw a burning bush and turned aside, and was rewarded with a conversation with God Almighty. But I doubt that the sight of that bush was all that spectacular, and maybe most people would have walked right on by…not even curious. Moses always had an eye for the sacred and was tuned in to the God channel. That’s what made him a good messenger.
Unless you have eyes to see, unless you are looking for something, it's easy to miss what might be right in front of you. My guess is, if you don’t know anything about God, if you’re not on the lookout for God, God would also be easy to miss. In the Easter story, Mary Magdalene comes to the cemetery garden early in the morning. She meets someone who she initially supposes to be the gardener. But then the gardener calls her by name. As one who knew the power of Jesus’ love, had felt his special friendship, Mary recognizes the risen Jesus. I imagine that others might have passed on by this “gardener” and never known  that the Risen One, the Son of God, was right there in front of them.
You have to know what you are looking for if you want to find it. Mary was the first witness to the resurrection because she had the eyes to see. Her words ring through the ages, “I have seen the Lord.” We should  never let our familiarity with Easter jade us to the surprise of those words. And we should never stop looking for the Lord in new and surprising places (like a cemetery.) God always has something new to show us, which is the power of the resurrection. Tune into the God channel, keep your eyes peeled, and be on the lookout. Easter is breaking out all over, with new life everywhere.
Let’s walk with our Easter eyes wide open, and bear witness to the ways in which we see God. Embrace the new life of Easter. Be a messenger and tell the Easter story to someone who has not seen the Lord. You will open up to them a whole new world of new life and possibilities. Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!

March 2015 Pastor's Pen

A few years ago, it became popular in many churches for people to wear wristbands with the letters 'WWJD' upon them. The letters stood for “What Would Jesus Do?”, and were supposed to serve as a reminder to think about our actions and words before speaking or doing. What would Jesus do in the situation if he was in our position?
Lent is a time in the church year when we are called to pause and reflect on our lives. A time to pause and think about the things we have done, and still do. Lent is when we also think about what Jesus did for us on the cross, and the things he did amongst us as he walked the earth.
Last fall, the author Mick Mooney wrote a short piece as a comment on the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Once upon a time, a mother made her son a wristband. On it was written: WWJD? This, of course stood for: "What Would Jesus Do?" She instructed her son to look at the wristband before making decisions on how to live his Christian life.
A week later she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with 'sinners' -- even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!
Worse still, he had walked into their church the previous Sunday and tore down the book store, overturned the tables and threw the cash register through the window, he then made a whip and chased the pastor out of the building, declaring he was turning God's house into a den of thieves.

Most shocking was what happened when his mother went to picket the local abortion clinic. To her embarrassment, her son was also there, but he was standing with the women who just had an abortion, and yelled at the protesters: "You, who are without sin, throw the first stone!"
The mother was very distressed, but fortunately she found a solution to this terrible problem. She made another wristband, this time it read: WWAPD? This, she explained to her son, stood for: "What Would A Pharisee Do?" She took the old WWJD? wristband and burned it.
Since her son has been wearing the new wristband, looking at it to help him make his decisions, he has become a dedicated tither, a public prayer warrior, an active condemner of 'sinners,' a passionate defender of the Old Covenant law, and has a great reputation as a godly young man amongst other religious people.
Needless to say, the mother is very happy now. She only wishes Jesus would take notice and follow her son's good example.
During this season of Lent, may we think about who we follow as Messiah and Savior. May we truly think about his words and actions. Can we be honest enough with ourselves to admit that there are times when our answer to the question of “What would Jesus do?” is actually a better answer to the question, “What would you like Jesus to do?”
The journey of Lent is a journey of discovery and self-discovery; a time when we come to see God in new and deeper ways. May the God we discover be not of our own creating, but the Creator of the universe.
With the Greatest of Hope!

February 2015 Pastor's Pen

Only 25 more shopping days until Lent! Now that's something you probably have never heard.  You also never hear, “the commercialization of Lent is just ruining the true meaning of the season for me” or “I am so tired of people taking the 'Christ' out of Lent!”  Or maybe, “I can't wait until Lent – it's my favorite time of the year.”  Church members never ask the pastor could they please sing the traditional songs during the season of Lent, neither do they schedule a “hanging of the greens (the purple?)” in preparation for Lent.
Let's face it, Lent just doesn't get the attention Advent or Easter gets.  And yes, I agree that repentance, fasting, and prayer are not quite the same as caroling, gift giving, drinking eggnog, new Easter dresses, and Easter egg hunts.  But really, as Christians, Lent should be central to our faith journey.  Perhaps it should be as central as Christmas.  Think about it.  Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, Lent points to the resurrection of Christ.  In the big theological scheme of things, which is more important?  I have to say, my vote is with Lent.
So why don't we give Lent a bigger billing in the life of the church? Maybe it gets neglected because the mall doesn't pay much attention to it (not a lot of money to be made on repentance) or maybe because Lent isn't warm and fuzzy (no Lenten version of Santa) or maybe the fact that it's never been a box office hit (Bing Crosby crooning about Lent is hard to imagine).  But I think Lent, if we give it some time and attention, could fulfill certain spiritual needs for us and could direct us on our journey of faith.
One spiritual gift that Lent gives us is hope.  The word Lent is derived from the Old English lencten, which means “lengthen.”  It refers to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the northern hemisphere as spring approaches.  It is in this period of transition from late winter to early spring that the season of Lent falls.  What is more hopeful than the coming of spring?  The first sign of the end of winter that always gives me a touch of optimism is the lengthening of daylight.  By Ash Wednesday it is clear that we have made it through the short dark days and once again we can go for walks in the evening as the sun sets.  The beginning of longer days is the beginning of hopefulness.
Another spiritual gift that Lent gives us is renewed energy.  There is a momentum to Lent.  Every week of Lent is just a little bit warmer and nicer than the week before.  It is a season that starts in what is truly winter and ends in the rush of spring.  This connection to “seasons” mirrors the events of Holy Week.  The dark and dreadful time of the arrest and crucifixion are ended with the glory and beauty of Easter morning.  From darkness to light. We may begin in the dreary clutches of February, but we end in the splendor of April.
May we recover the deep and powerful meaning of Lent this year at Zion.  Perhaps we can make this Lent one we will never forget – it may even rival Advent!
With the Greatest of Hope,

Pastor Erik

January 2015 Pastor's Pen

As you read this, I am halfway through my first month as your called, settled pastor at Zion United Church of Christ.
I have been beginning to get acclimated to the church and the community. I want to thank all those who have reached out to me and to my family in the last few weeks and in the months leading up to my coming to the Ohio Valley. Your loving and warm welcome has been a great blessing to me and to my entire family.
In the weeks ahead I plan on reaching out to the members of Zion, getting to know you, hearing your stories and dreams.
I have heard that there have been many different ways pastors have lead Zion in the past, so I just want to share a bit about how I operate.
First, my door is always open. If you have a comment, concern, a worry, a complaint, please come to me. I want to hear if you think something needs to be addressed. There are few things I dislike more than hearsay or rumors. Come to me in person, write a letter and sign it. That way I can personally talk with you, and personally address your concerns.
I am a person that likes to laugh, smile, talk, and have a good time. I want our church and our worship services to reflect the joy we have come to know as followers of the Christ. I take my faith seriously, and I take worship seriously as well; but I try to do it with a twinkle in my eye and skip in my step.
We are all entering together into a time of newness and renewal at Zion, I hope you will share the happenings here at the church with your friends and family, with former members and members whose faces we have not seen in a while. A church grows based on the people who are there reaching out to those who are not.
We are now in the season of Epiphany, the time of the church year when we think about the encounters we have had with the Holy. I hope and pray that in the coming days and weeks we will all be able to reflect on the encounters that have renewed and strengthened our faith, and that we will all have new encounters that will open our eyes to the wonder and love of God.
With the Greatest of Hope!

Pastor Erik

June 2015 Pastor's Pen

A Time To Grow
It is time to grow. It is time to grow things: corn, beans, vegetables, flowers. It is time to grow your church. A place to start is with your own spiritual growth. During the next several months we will be listening to the teachings of Jesus. Well, at least we will be reading the teachings of Jesus in our weekly readings at worship in church. Whether or not we are listening is another matter. The things that he has to teach contribute to our spiritual growth. There is nothing like them.
This is Christian “yoga”. That’s right, when Jesus says: “My yoke is easy…” He means his yoga. It is the same word. His “yoke” is the spiritual discipline that he asks of you. I suspect that Jesus made some ox yokes as a carpenter. They are made so that they fit nicely on the shoulders of an ox so it can pull a load with the greatest ease and the least discomfort. You get an idea what he is saying.
To take Christ’s yoke upon you, his yoga, is to make a commitment. Commitments are yokes that make things easier to do. It is our commitments that carry us through when our feelings are ambivalent. This is why it is better, I think, to act out of commitment and obligation, rather than out of one’s feelings at the moment.

This is why you should simply commit yourself to regular worship so you can be exposed to the teaching of Jesus. If you get wishy-washy about it, you are likely to not follow through.  

Speaking of growth, God is really not a good gardener. God does not carefully and scientifically plant seeds like our farmers do. God scatters seeds everywhere. It doesn’t matter what kind of soil there is. It can be rocky, weedy, exhausted, or good (whatever that is). It doesn’t seem to matter to God. God keeps skipping along sowing the seeds of love wherever God feels like it. God does the same with the sun and rain that makes things grow. God seems to have an unshakable commitment to every human being. We should follow God's lead and be completely wild and far reaching in sharing God’s love.
When you buy a package of seeds at the store, it often comes with a picture of the plant on the package. Of course, the seeds don’t look anything like the plant, but somewhere inside them is a code that soil and sun and showers unlock, causing a plant to grow and bear fruit or flowers or maybe both. For us, Christ is the picture on the packet. We are the seeds. We pray that we might grow, as Saint Paul says: “into the fullness of the stature of Christ.”
With the Greatest of Hope!

Painting Pictures June 2014