I recently drove to North Carolina to sit
with an old friend during the end times of her life. Connie was an active
member of Zoar United Church of Christ where I served as pastor many years ago
and I became close friends with her and her entire family. Not too long ago she
moved south to live near her daughter and son as she battled cancer.
We are all aware of the difficulties of
watching a friend or family member struggle at the end of their life. We want
to help in some fashion but the time comes when it seems there is little we can
do except be present. However, I believe, there is always something that helps
– prayer! Honest and heart-felt prayer brings a sense of peace and calmness,
especially when we are in a situation we cannot control. Jesus often went off
by himself to pray to gather strength to deal with the next situation in his
Prayer isn't magic. We can pray for
healing or a miracle – and that is okay – but ultimately life is in God’s
hands. Prayer isn't so much about changing a situation as it is about gaining
the strength to handle it. Prayer is a faith event. We will not always like or
understand the results of our prayers, especially when dealing with illness,
but we need to remember that those who are part of God’s family, will always be
a part of God’s family – in this life or some future life. In faith we offer
prayers to God and then we trust.
One of the positive experiences I had
after sitting with my old friend was what happened after I returned. I went on
Facebook and asked for prayers. For those of you who do not understand what I
am talking about, Facebook is like writing a letter. Only it is done
electronically and is received instantaneously, not several days later. A
Facebook message goes to everyone who is a Facebook friend.
After I asked for prayers, within a few
hours 25 people from all over the country offered their prayer support and many
others even made comments of concern. These were close friends, acquaintances,
school friends, church friends and family members. It was like a church prayer
circle where people are called on the phone to pray, except it is faster and
touches more lives.
As we rejoice in the resurrection of our
Lord Jesus we also need to rejoice in the fact that when we want to communicate
our hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations with the Lord, he is always just a
prayer away. May the days of your life
be filled with peace and joy and may you always find time for prayer.
Easter season has begun, or as the season is more technically known, Lent is
here. So many thoughts come to mind for me as this special time of the year
begins. First off, spring is near and for most of us that will be a positive
and refreshing change of pace. Before you know it flowers will be bursting
forth, the grass will turn green, and the birds will be chirping their joy.
Secondly, Daylight savings time has arrived and that can be a psychological
boost as we get more sunshine and less darkness.
Every special celebration during the year
is also a time of memories. I have vivid memories of dyeing eggs with my mother
and sister as Easter approached. Remember the old methods? My mom boiled eggs
on the stove top and put vinegar and dye tablets in cups. Then I would put a hard-boiled
egg on one of those metal egg holders and dip the egg into my favorite color. I
always tried to be creative and dip the egg into several colors, which, of
course, resulted in a dark brown egg. I did the same thing year after year
hoping the results would be different, but they never were. I also have fond
memories of an Easter basket filled with candy.
What are your Easter memories?
Ultimately, however, Easter is all about
Jesus. With the Lord as our focus, Easter becomes a Holy day. When our focus is
on candy, and bunnies, and all of the secular activities, Easter becomes just
another holiday. For the next several weeks we need to turn our attention more
closely to the teachings of Jesus. This is a good time to ask ourselves
questions about our level of faith. Am I closer to the Lord now then I was last
Easter? Are my problems weighing me down and am I willing to let Jesus take
greater control in my life? When I feel a moment of joy as a result of a faith
experience, do I have the courage to share my feelings with someone else?
is the season of Good News. God sent a son named Jesus into the world to give
us a light in the darkness. Although Jesus was crucified by people who didn’t
understand him, death and sin were vanquished and the love of God triumphed.
Jesus was resurrected and as a result we can be forgiven and our lives can be
renewed and we have received the promise of eternal life.
Jesus is alive, yesterday, today and
tomorrow! Rejoice and be glad! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
you like change? That is a difficult question to answer and the best answer is
probably “yes” and “no.” Most of us probably can’t wait for winter to end and
spring to begin. That would be a positive change. On the other hand, as we age,
we can be troubled by the rapid pace in which our world changes. It is very
difficult to keep up with all of the modern electronic gizmos. But change
happens whether we like it or not, so the key is learning how to adjust.
Way back in 1964 a young musician named
Bob Dylan wrote a song he titled, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” I
doubt that he could imagine all the changes that would occur over the next 50
years. I've lived through it and sometimes I cannot comprehend everything that
has happened – for better or worse. Some change is necessary, but difficult.
Jesus told a parable that taught you cannot put new wine in old wine skins. It
just doesn't work. Sometimes old methods don’t work with new ideas. That’s
reality. We must try and learn to embrace new ways that are positive and allow
old ways that have seen their day to fade away. That must happen in the work
place, in our personal lives, and even within the church.
A couple of years ago Elaine and I opened
our home to a son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. It was hard on them
to leave their home in Colorado, but the job situation forced them to leave. I
must admit there were many days during the last two years when I wanted a
little privacy, but that was secondary to helping a family in need. Now the
kids have found teaching jobs in Florida and will be leaving in mid-February.
It was hard to adjust to the changes of four new people in our home but it will
be even more difficult to adjust to an empty house. Change can be that way – a
time of hardship and at the same time, great joy!
This church is facing changes. Can we
continue to stay where we are? What alternatives are possible? Are we being
good stewards spending money on a building much too big for us? Would we be
faithful to our heritage to leave? The questions are difficult and the answers
will not always be satisfying. Nevertheless, change can be dealt with when the
Lord is in the lead. When we allow Jesus to be our source of strength we are
empowered. We read in 2 Corinthians: “This means
that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is
gone; a new life has begun!” Don’t fear change – embrace it –
and give God control of it!
least favorite month of the year is January. I do not like the cold or the snow
or the darkness. The ironic thing is that my birthday is in January. What was
my mom thinking? The best thing about the month is that it only lasts 31 days.
In God’s creation – things change. Winter eventually turns to spring and new
life bursts forth.
it isn’t just nature that is renewed – so are we. All of us go through
difficult periods of time. All of us face uncertainty. All of us have periods
of loneliness and sadness. Nevertheless, if God is our focus we will overcome
the negatives of life and be refreshed and transformed. The positive changes
may not happen as quickly as we would like, but during the process, God will
give us peace and hope.
of the nice things for me about January of 2014 is that I get to meet new
people at Zion UCC and that lifts my spirits. I am fascinated with people. I
admit I am terrible with names so I ask for your forgiveness in advance when I
forget your name. On the other hand, if you tell me a story about who you are I
will not forget. I’m good with stories and I am looking forward to hearing the
stories about your life.
let me use the rest of this article to tell you a little about myself. You
already know Elaine and between us we have five children. Three children live
in Carrollton, one in Boston and one in Seattle. I am a smart-aleck and have a
hard time with authority, other than God. I grew up in Olmsted Falls, southwest
of Cleveland, and didn’t attend church much until I was a junior in high
school. By the time I was a senior I realized God was calling me into ministry.
This year will mark the 45 year since I first started serving in a
sense of humor is a little strange - perhaps quirky is a better word. Besides
being a pastor, some of my jobs over the years include working in: a box
factory, a department story, a dime store, and an electrical supply store. I
have worked for the Department of Human Services, as a sports writer and
photographer, and as the curator of a museum.
is a blessing to have the opportunity to serve you and I am looking forward to
discovering where God is leading us. If we trust and obey then the journey will
be filled with joy.
We use that phrase a lot and have even created a word where the two words becomeone: ‘Thanksgiving’ and we call it a holiday. Then we shop for all of our favorite foods and most of the time we eat what our parents and grandparents ate and we call it a tradition. We even say things like, “ It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey!” or whatever your family’s favorite food is. We place the holiday in an historical frame and we recall Pilgrims and Indians sharing a great feast together.
Thanksgiving is the great harvest feast - when we are encouraged to remember that EVERYTHING - EVERYTHING is a total gift from God. The food we prepare comes forth from Earth, Sky and Waters.
Thanksgiving is a time to recommit ourselves to the preservation of the phenomenal resources that we have been given to sustain our life on planet Earth. If we who live here and depend on Earth, Sky and Sea for our sustenance continue to destroy and live as if we are separate from these powerful sustaining resources – the day is coming, sooner than we think that Thanksgiving will be a memory of what we once had and wasted, destroyed andlong for.
So on this Thanksgiving Day – take amoment to pray this prayer with your loved ones – for that which we need to cherishand care for above all else: EARTH, SKY, SEA.
O Great Spirit,
Earth, Sun, Sky and Sea
You are inside and all around me.
Creator God, fill each of us with a longing for all that you have made to sustain our human existence.
Bring us the wisdom and the courage to make the changes in our lives that will allow our planet home to thrive and continue to sustain those who come after us.
Jesus you modeled deep love and caring for creation.
You went to the mountains to meet your Ancestors.
You floated on the Sea and caught fish and cooked them to open the eyes of your apostles.
You calmed the storms to teach us the power of your protective love.
You showed us how much your Father and ours loved the lilies of the field and the birds of the air
….and how much your Father loved us in sending you to guide us on our journey of life.
Thanks for Giving us this opportunity that we call life.
Thanks for Giving us all that we need and all that we can share to fill the needs of others.
Thanks and Thanks again,
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.