From The Pastor’s Pen

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : February 5, 2018 7:00 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

From the Pastor’s Pen
Years ago, in the city of Muenster, Germany, a strange love story unfolded. A female black swan who was given the name Petra, became so attached to a paddleboat shaped like a great white swan, that she refused to leave its side. If you look closely at this picture, you can spot Petra floating contentedly alongside her “beau.” Even when winter arrived, she would not abandon her companion for a warmer location. Ultimately, the swan boat was temporarily relocated to the Muenster zoo, to coax Petra into joining it there for the winter. After a failed attempt at an “arranged” relationship with a live bird, zookeepers resigned themselves to reuniting Petra with her beloved paddleboat swan.

The season of Lent is a time for purposeful reflection on the non-life giving relationships in our lives. What objects or experiences are we giving our hearts to that can never give us what our spirits are thirsting for? Augustine of Hippo once said of the human need for relationship to God, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.” We are no more designed to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul apart from a relationship with God than Petra was created to be mated with a paddleboat. God is the source and the destination of our lives. Jesus is the one who is the way to that destination. Lent is the time set apart by the church for letting go of attachments that interfere with our spiritual progress so that we can embrace the life that truly is life.

Here is the schedule of worship services for Lent:
Ash Wednesday – February 14, 7 PM
Palm Sunday – March 25
Maundy Thursday Service of Tenebrae and Communion – March 29, 7 PM
Good Friday Walk to the Cross self-paced meditative experience (in the sanctuary) and Labyrinth Walk (in Covenant Hall) from noon to 6 PM – March 30
Easter Sunrise Service on Academy Hill – 6:30 AM
Easter Worship in the Sanctuary – 9:30 AM

Comments are closed

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : January 1, 2018 9:24 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

From the Pastor’s Pen
Some holidays have special traditions attached to them. Easter has eggs, Christmas has trees and Thanksgiving has turkeys. Epiphany isn’t usually considered one of those holidays. But there is an old Epiphany tradition that can be celebrated by families. It’s called “Chalking the Door.”
In Deuteronomy 6:9 God tells the people of Israel: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house… You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Chalking the door with the inscription 20 + C + M + B + 17 is a tangible way to honor God in our lives. The first and last numbers refer to the current year. The letters C M B come from the traditional names for the three kings (or wise men, or magi): Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. On Epiphany (January 6th, twelve days after Christmas) gather family members, friends, neighbors or whomever. Then just add chalk. Write the inscription above or beside the door, or on a chalkboard that can be hung by the door.
As the inscription is chalked, all may say together: “The three Wise Men, [C] Caspar, [M] Melchior, [B] and Balthazar followed the star to Bethlehem and the child Jesus [20] two thousand, [17] and seventeen years ago. May Christ bless our home, and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.”
After that, one or more of the following prayers maybe said:
May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.
God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten One to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen.
Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen.

May Epiphany be the start of a blessed 2018 for your household!
Pastor Ray

Comments are closed

From the Pastor’s Pen

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : December 1, 2017 8:42 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

On the first Sunday in December, we begin our celebration of Advent. On the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we will rejoice in the great gift that is ours in Jesus Christ. To help us celebrate, we will be lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. The candles signify that Jesus is the Light of the World. The evergreens remind us that He is life and brings life to us. All these are arranged in a circle because life in Christ has no end. Each Sunday we will light an additional candle. Then on Christmas Eve, we will light all the candles, including the center one, the Christ candle. As we do, we will rejoice that Christ has come to us. He is Immanuel…God with us.
Advent music is comprised of songs full of theological depths, generally sung in a minor key, which are purposely composed to call us to reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Meanwhile, the secular songs of the season are holly, jolly Christmas carols that motivate shoppers but do not lend themselves to a deeper understanding of our Lord’s birth.
But, I figure that if a flesh and blood child born 2000 years ago can reveal the fullness of God’s glory, and if two millennia of churches filled with imperfect people can reflect God’s hope, love, joy and peace, then who’s to say that Frosty the Snowman or Silver Bells can’t teach us something about the true meaning of Christmas?

Which led to the sermon series I’ll be preaching during Advent, which is titled, Finding the Sacred in the Secular: What Christmas Songs That Have Nothing to do With Jesus Can Tell Us About the Lord’s Birth.

This is the Advent schedule of worship with sermon titles:
1st Sunday of Advent (Dec. 3) “Santa Claus is Coming to Town: John the Baptist Prepares People for the Messiah’s Arrival”
2nd Sunday of Advent (Dec. 10): “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Other Unlikely Heroes of Christmas Eve”
3rd Sunday of Advent (Dec. 17): Crèche Service
Longest Night Service at 7 pm
4th Sunday of Advent (Dec. 24): “Home for the Holidays: Joseph and Mary Journey to Bethlehem.”
Christmas Eve Services of Lessons and Carols at 7 and 11 PM

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a blessed Advent!
Pastor Ray

Comments are closed

From the Pastor’s Pen

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : November 1, 2017 7:52 pm : From The Pastor's Pen
From the Pastor’s Pen
The Hand
Thanksgiving Day was near. The first grade teacher gave her class a fun assignment
to draw a picture of something for which they were thankful. Most of the class might be considered economically disadvantaged, but still many would celebrate the holiday with turkey and other traditional goodies of the season. These, the teacher thought, would be the subjects of most of her student’s art. And they were. But Douglas made a different kind of picture. Douglas was a different kind of boy. He was the teacher’s true child of misery, frail and unhappy. As other children played at recess, Douglas was likely to stand close by her side. One could only guess at the pain Douglas felt behind those sad eyes. Yes, his picture was different. When asked to draw a picture of something for which he was thankful, he drew a hand. Nothing else. Just an empty hand.
His abstract image captured the imagination of his peers. Whose hand could it be? One child guessed it was the hand of a farmer, because farmers raise turkeys. Another suggested a police officer, because the police protect and care for people. Still others guessed it was the hand of God, for God feeds us. And so the discussion went — until the teacher almost forgot the young artist himself.
When the children had gone on to other assignments, she paused at Douglas’ desk, bent down, and asked him whose hand it was. The little boy looked away and murmured, “It’s yours, teacher.”
She recalled the times she had taken his hand and walked with him here or there, as she had the other students. How often had she said, “Take my hand, Douglas, we’ll go outside.” Or, “Let me show you how to hold your pencil.” Or, “Let’s do this together.” Douglas was most thankful for his teacher’s hand.
Brushing aside a tear, she went on with her work.
The story speaks of more than thankfulness. It says something about teachers teaching and parents parenting and friends showing friendship, and how much it means to the Douglases of the world. They might not always say thanks. But they’ll remember the hand that reaches out.
By Steve Goodier
Pastor Ray
Comments are closed


First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : May 1, 2017 1:52 pm : From The Pastor's Pen
From the Pastor’s Pen
Pentecost (which will fall on June 4 this year) reminds us that the grace of God is made known, not only in
what God does for us, but also in what God does through us. At the first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit
was poured out on the disciples, empowering a group of ordinary men and women to do extraordinary acts
of ministry. So enlivened were those followers of Jesus, that onlookers scoffed and attributed their energy to
the imbibing of spirits instead of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; accusing them of being drunk on wine! We
can fall into the same habit of failing to recognize the Spirit of God at work around us and within us. We too,
can dismiss the sacred in our lives as something unremarkable.
During my last vacation, the diaconate planned a laity Sunday around the theme of Sharing Sacred Places
and Times in Our Lives. Several people related their own experiences of reading between the lines of life to
notice the Spirit at work, in what others might consider mundane events and moments. Perhaps their
sharing sparked some similar memories for you.
With the unanimous approval of the Church Council, I recently submitted a grant proposal to the Lilly
Foundation that would provide funding for a three month sabbatical during the Summer of 2018. The theme
of the sabbatical would be “Seeking, Finding and Sharing God in Our Everyday Lives as a Re-Creational
It promises to be a time for pastor and congregation to be enriched in our awareness of God’s
movement within our daily experiences. If the proposal is approved, I will have more to say later about some
sabbatical activities designed to help us all deepen our recognition of the Spirit’s presence at work among
God has given us Good News to share, ministries to embrace and service to do in Christ’s name. That is our
Christian vocation, and it is a challenging vocation. But, we have not been asked to do anything that is
impossible. God has given us gifts, resources and wisdom to fulfill the mission that lays before us. Some of
these gifts involve abilities to do wondrous things. Others do not seem so spectacular. But all of them are
important because all of them involve doing God’s will and making God’s love known.
Which is what the Church is here for.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Ray
Comments are closed

From the Pastor’s Pen

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : April 3, 2017 3:33 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

Jesus had a knack for never being where you would expect to find him. It was an unnerving habit he seemed to have developed even before he was born. I mean, what could be more unexpected than a child who was conceived in the womb of a virgin.

Soon after Jesus was born, a paranoid King Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem to get rid of him, because that’s where the ancient scriptures predicted the Messiah would be born. But Jesus and his parents were already long gone for Egypt by the time his would-be assassins rode into town looking for him.
When he was an adolescent, his mom and dad lost track of him while they were travelling from Jerusalem to Nazareth. After a few frantic days of searching they found him back in the Jerusalem Temple, astounding the adults and rabbis with his wisdom and knowledge.

As an adult, he always seemed to be found on the wrong side of the tracks, where he hung out sinners that no self-respecting rabbi would go near. Or with the lepers, the blind, the lame, and even the demon possessed. In other words, among the people who were considered to be forsaken by God. Occasionally, he kept company with Gentiles, those who were not members of God’s Covenant people. This insistence Jesus had for hanging out in places and with people where he supposedly didn’t belong made him a lot of enemies along the way. Finally, his enemies crucified him, a death sentence that the Romans used effectively to punish the worst criminals of all, and a form of public execution so horrific and humiliating that it was designed to deter other potential lawbreakers. Which meant a Cross was the last place anyone ever expected to look for the savior of humanity. And as hung there dying, who was at his side? Not any of the disciples who had insisted that they would give their lives for his, but two convicted thieves. Unlikely companions again. After they took his dead body down, they laid him in a tomb, and rolled a huge stone in front of the entrance. “There,” they told themselves, “that should hold him.”

There were a lot of things on Mary Magdalene’s mind when she went back to the tomb a few days later, but not finding Jesus there probably wasn’t one of them. Some things never change, though. The tomb was empty. And Jesus, who had been thoroughly dead, was soon making unexpected appearances to his disciples, in the land of the living. First, to Mary herself in the garden where he had been buried. Later that night, he appeared to the other disciples who were hiding out in the room where they had recently shared what they thought was their last meal with their Lord. Shortly after, Jesus showed up unexpectedly again on a beach, cooking breakfast for them.

A lot of time has passed since then, and you think that we would have learned by now. Learned that Jesus turns up where we least expect him to be. But I wonder if we don’t still do too much looking for Jesus in the wrong places. We could be missing him in the losses, disappointments and pains that we THINK we are going through alone. Maybe we’re overlooking his presence among the poor and marginalized people that he calls us to serve. Perhaps we are failing to see him standing beside the enemy he is urging us to forgive, or in the places within us where we are mercilessly critical and unforgiving to ourselves.

May this Easter bless you with the eyes to see the risen Jesus in the places where you would least expect him to be, and in the times when you need him most.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Ray

Comments are closed

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : February 1, 2017 8:09 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

Isn’t it about time we put that saying to rest? Because words do hurt. And underestimating the destructive power of words has a price. The language we use translates into concrete realities with all the attendant consequences. Bullying in schools creates despair that swallows young lives. Homophobic insults give rise to L.G.B.T. harassment. Racial slurs, sexist remarks, anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim comments become manifested in realities of discrimination and exclusion. Jesus never downplayed the gravity of hateful words. In the Sermon on the Mount, he equated the act of insulting a brother or sister with murdering them in one’s heart (Matthew 5:21-22.) Language that dehumanizes those who look, love, worship or think differently than us can also tempt some people to act out their emotions with violence. But words can also have a healing and reconciling power, too. Words that bring forth peace and justice. May we be careful that our mouths be filled only with the Godly speech that helps to build a better world for all. “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I leave you with this prayer, written by Joanna Harader:
God of justice and compassion,
God of Republicans and Democrats and Independents,
God of the poor and the 1% and the middle class,
in the heat of this election year
we pray for our nation, our churches, and ourselves.
In the midst of meanness and deception,
may our words be kind and true.
In the midst of loud speeches and harsh accusations,
may we listen well and try to understand.
May those who follow Jesus do the work of Jesus–
breaking down the dividing walls
speaking the truth in love
meeting together in the face of disagreements.
Holy, loving God, have mercy on your children. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Ray

Comments are closed

Every day is Christmas

First Congregational Church Westminster, MA : January 5, 2017 8:32 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

I used to know this guy who, whenever you asked him how it was going, would come back with the same response – “Every day is Christmas.” I still don’t know exactly what he meant by that. But, what I do know is that I wish every Christmas could be on a Sunday, like it was this year. It seemed like knowing many of us would be gathered to worship – not only on Christmas Eve, but also on Christmas morning – transformed the whole Advent Season. And, in many ways, it was a different Advent. Visits from Mary, Joseph, a Shepherd, and the Inn Keeper on separate Sundays helped transform those characters from
quasi-mythological figures into flesh and blood people caught up in a grand miracle, whose hopes and fears we could relate to in ways that made “Emmanuel: God With Us” come alive as perhaps never before.
Most years, our celebration of Christmas as a community of faith concludes on Christmas Eve. We light candles, sing Silent Night, then blow the candles out and go our separate ways. But, 2016 gifted us with a Sunday Christmas and the rare opportunity to celebrate the Savior’s birth in the light of day. If you were there that morning, you received a simple tea light that had been blessed during the service to take with you as you left. You were invited to bring the tea light to wherever you were going for your Christmas celebration and light it as a symbolic way of sharing the true light – and true Spirit – of Christmas, throughout your day and with whomever you gathered. After all, isn’t that what we are called to do? Not just on December 25th, but every day? To let the Light of Christ be born in us so that it enlightens our world? And if we do that, every day truly can be Christmas.
*If you go to the church Facebook page you will find a post with an image of a burning tea light and an invitation to share how and where you used your tea light on Christmas Day. Just enter your response as a comment to the post. I look forward to hearing from you about your experience.

Comments are closed

Have a great summer!!

First Congregational Church Of Westminster, MA : June 3, 2016 1:54 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

Don’t forget there’s Worship for all ages
every Sunday at 9:30 in the summer.
Remember to mark your calendar that
Church School will begin on
Sunday, September 11 at 9:30.
There will be a staff orientation and dinner on
Thursday evening, September 8.

Comments are closed

From the Pastor’s Pen

First Congregational Church Of Westminster, MA : June 3, 2016 1:48 pm : From The Pastor's Pen

lexi - Copy

We’ve all heard that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
So when our dog Lexi first came to us from her foster home in
Tennessee, Sue and I signed her up for obedience training right
away. The trainer quickly impressed upon us the importance of several training principles, including repetition and consistency.
But just as important is context. If you train your dog in the same environment all the time it will think that the rules only apply
there and nowhere else. So it is critical to do training exercises in a variety of locations and situations. The same principle applies to
being part of a church. Our Christian identity is shaped by what we
do together as a church: worship, prayer, study and service. But do
we take what we learn in church into other contexts? Or do we fall
into believing that following Jesus’ teaching and example only
applies to what we do “in church”?

The New Testament Letter of James warns: “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror, for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” Being part of a church reminds us that we are to imitate Jesus by loving and serving others. But it is when we are physically apart from the church that we put what we have learned into action. Summer is the season where church attendance and activity typically decline, as many people are vacationing and travelling this time of year. But being “doers of the word” is not something from which we take a vacation.

That includes continuing to support the work of the church during the summer months by keeping the ministry of the church in your prayers and by remembering to maintain your financial support for the work of the church. Opportunities to live by the Spirit are waiting for us wherever we go. May you enjoy a safe and relaxing Summer. And may you learn to practice the same old tricks of following Jesus, in new contexts.

Grace and Peace

Comments are closed