A Pastoral Word – May 3, 2021

This Week’s Prayer

We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end war;
for we know that You have made the world in a way that people must find their own path to peace within themselves and with their neighbors.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
for You have already given us the resources with which to feed the entire world, if we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out prejudice;
for You have already given us eyes with which to see the good in all people, if we would only use them rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair;
for You have already given us the power to clear away slums and to give hope, if we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease;
for You have already given us great minds with which to search out cures and healing, if we would only use them constructively.

Therefore, we pray to You instead, O God, for strength, determination, and will power,
to do instead of just pray,
to become instead of merely to wish.

~ by Jack Riemer

A Pastoral Word

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed about 675,000 people in the United States. COVID-19 has killed about 575,000 people in the United States. Yes, we are approaching the number of influenza deaths, but keep in mind that there are over three times as many people living in the United States now than there were a century ago.

Each one of the 575,000 deaths in the USA is a tragedy. Each one in that total represents not only the individuals who died; each one represents families who are grieving and communities who have lost members. So, it seems a little callus to say, “We’re doing well, compared to the 1918 pandemic.” And still, we are.

There are lots of reasons that the death tolls in the USA are not higher. We know more about viruses now than we did 100 years ago. The viruses themselves are different. Medical interventions are much more effective than they were 100 years ago. And, thanks be to God, we now have vaccines that are proven effective in reducing the severity of infections should they occur and seem to be preventing infection in the first place.

I got the Pfizer vaccine. I didn’t pick it. It’s the one that was available, so I took it. The Pfizer vaccine requires two injections, and I got my second one last Wednesday. As I was sitting at the table, about to get poked, I asked the nurses working there if they were feeling victorious. I was. I actually started tearing up in that moment, both because I was grateful to get vaccinated against this deadly disease and because I felt like I am part of a community effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.

I really didn’t do much. I got vaccinated. Still, I felt victorious. And I continue to feel victorious.

If you’ve been vaccinated, thank you. If you haven’t been vaccinated and you’re eligible to do so, please, get vaccinated! If you have hesitancies about getting vaccinated and want to talk about it, reach out to me.

None of our children (under 16) are eligible – yet – and there are a handful of people how have medical conditions that makes any of the vaccines too risky. They need those of us who can be vaccinated to do so. When those of us who can get vaccinated do it, everybody wins. Together, we are victorious.

Working for a positive peace,
Pastor Jeff


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May’s Community Submissions

It Takes A Thief Sometimes
© Cynthia Sojourner, April 2, 2021

No amount of therapy, love,
And corrective theology
Can stop Good Friday, “My God, My God,
Why have you abandoned me?”
Existential crisis. Not when raised
On Substitutionary Atonement
In an abusive home, oppressive society,
Of victim blaming, left, right, and center.
From the Lent worship dish
Of substitute beach glass,
I choose a long flat black pearl,
Full of iridescent colors.
It’s irregular, ragged and bumpy,
As my life has been.
Among last words Jesus spoke today,
Were ones telling one or more disciples,
And his, maybe every, mom,
You are family, here on out.
Am I? Which one? With whom?
The flat black pearl is not the stone
Rolled across the entrance
Of the cave, his grave, I first perceived.
Not a scroll holding his last words.
The pearl is not inscribed,
“Enter into paradise with me, today,”
Like he told a thief crucified by his side.
Not inscribed, “Forgive them
For they don’t know what they are doing,”
Which he said about the soldiers,
Stripping, mocking, nailing him to a cross to die.

Not inscribed with end-all brokenness,
“I thirst,” and pain.
End-all wholeness, “I give my spirit to God.”
“It is finished,” the end.
Black pearl is more like resurrected Jesus,
Saying, “Peace be with you,”
Every Easter Sunday.
While having breakfast by the sea.
Or on the road to Emmaus
In the breaking of the bread.
More like Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,”
When we are afraid, all alone, unwanted, lost.
Afraid, we’re unforgivable, failures.
More like Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,”
You are precious, loved as is,
As God created you to be. Keep choosing life.
More like Jesus saying, “Peace be with you,”
Keep stealing away until there is enough
For you, for all, to live, to be well, whole.
To find belonging with one another, God.
Keep offering paradise to anyone with less
To eat, less reach, less understanding,
Less breath to breathe.
Black pearl is more like Jesus saying, sharing,
Every first, in-between, last, everlasting word,
There is to convince us all,
we’re all very good creation, likeness,
of God’s eyes, heart, and hands.

Photos by Priscilla Taylor

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Let’s Go Camping

The Northern California Nevada Conference has announced that camps will be held this summer at Camp Tamarack. Many of our families have missed the opportunity to attend the summer camps offered through our conference. This year, Camp Tamarack will be implementing COVID-19 precautions and regulations based on CDC, American Camp Association, and Fresno County Department of Health guidelines.

¨ Early Bird Registration: $250/camper for registration before May 1. 

¨ Niles Discovery Church will contribute $200 per camper toward the camp fees. 

The registration links are posted on the conference website. Click here for more information. Please let Cathy West-Jancoski know if you need additional information or if you will be registering for camp. 

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Restorative Justice for Indigenous Peoples

The 2020 Annual Gathering of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ (NCNC-UCC) adopted a resolution titled “Taking Action towards Making Amends for a Colonizing Past,” a call for education and “acknowledgement of our inherited history, an opportunity to pray for repair and the righting of relationships, and for taking courageous and humble action for land protection and justice.”

This undertaking first involves studying the history of our ancestor’s treatment of the indigenous peoples who lived in the area from Big Sur to the San Francisco Bay Area. For those of us who did not grow up in California, it means starting from the beginning – discarding everything we learned in school studying “Indians” from other states. Life along this coastal area was unique.

The Ministry of Social Concerns Team invites you to join us in our study. As we learn more, we will plan towards Niles Discovery Church accepting the call to take proactive steps to healing the wrongs of the past – legacies of colonialism and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. We would like to:

· Seek ways to work with Indigenous-led organizations seeking to recover lands/land use to local indigenous communities.

· Learn about the Indigenous communities on whose unceded territory we reside using

· both study of written materials and talking with the ancestors of the original residents.

· Create relationships of restorative justice with the ancestors of these Indigenous peoples.

Please contact Judy Zlatnik (510-509-8165 or jzlatnik@yahoo.com) if you are interested in working with the Ministry of Social Concerns Team in studying and planning, or if you would like more information. The team is very excited about the possibilities that this NCNC-UCC resolution has opened for us.

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May’s Fellowship News

Weekly Bible Study
Monday Morning Bible study continues to Zoom from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Monday morning this month. The scripture studied is typically the scripture for the coming Sunday’s worship service. Everyone is welcome. Register at bit.ly/mmbsreg.

Ministry Teams Invite New Participants
The Teams will hold their first meetings of the new program year on Monday, May 3, at 7:30. If you have wondered what a Ministry Team does and/or how you can be involved, you’re invited to attend this (or any) meeting. This meeting will be on Zoom; go to bit.ly/MinTeamMtgs to register.

The Poet In You?
Move My Spirit Poetry meets on Wednesdays, 12:00-2:00 p.m. via Zoom. Anyone is welcome to join us in the writing, reading, appreciating, and/or gentle editing of our poetry. We choose weekly inspirational optional themes, but whatever moves the spirit to write is valued. We do a 10-minute free write on a chosen theme and share those poems too. No experience is required. Contact Cindy Sojourner, Veronica Riggs, or Joy Hurst for more information or to join.

Announcement and Newsletter Submissions
Please send announcements and articles as you write them to Mikele at admin@nilesdiscoverychurch.org. She will post them on our News Blog as she receives them and will submit them for publication in the following issue of The Bell (if appropriate in terms of timing). The deadline for submissions for the June 2021 edition of The Bell is 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12. In addition to typical newsletter news, we hope to fill each issue of The Bell with reflections, photographs, poems, and so forth by members and friends of the congregation.

Daytime Fellowship Group
The Daytime Fellowship meets on the third Monday of the month (which is May 17, this month) following the Bible Study. Bring your lunch to this monthly Zoom gathering. We share the same meeting link as the Monday Morning Bible Study, so join by registering for the Bible Study at bit.ly/mmbsreg.

“Pray Their Names” Returns
We are planning to host the Pray Their Names art exhibit again, for one month beginning in mid-May. If you missed experiencing this moving work of art, now’s your chance. If you’d like to help with the installation, contact Moderator John Smith, and watch the “This Week” email for more information.

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Call to the Annual Meeting

Notice is hereby given that the 2021 Annual Meeting of Niles Discovery Church will be held on Sunday, May 2, 2021, on Zoom immediately following the worship service (at approximately 11:00 a.m.). The attendance of members of the congregation is urgently and prayerfully requested. The meeting will take place in the same Zoom “meeting” as our worship services. Members who are not yet registered for Zoom worship should do so at bit.ly/reg4worship.

At the meeting, the congregation will receive the Annual Report, approve minutes of Congregational Meetings held in the past year, elect officers and Cabinet members, and any other business that may legally come before the congregation. If you cannot access the Annual Report online at bit.ly/ndcar2021, please contact Mikele Kearney in the church office (510-797-0895; admin@nilesdiscoverychurch.org) and she will mail you a copy.

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Safe Church Policies Amended

The Ministry of Christian Education Team is beginning to plan for how Sunday School will happen as we return to meeting inside the Niles Discovery Church building. We will follow the recommended safety guidelines in effect when we return. We are currently following up on Cleared Worker requirements that have expired over the last year.

In addition, to safeguard the health of both adults and children as much as possible, we would like all the cleared workers with children/youth and other vulnerable persons to have been vaccinated against COVID-19. This necessitates an amendment to the Safe Church Policies which was approved by the Cabinet on April 19, 2021. The amendment is as follows:

All ministers working with children and youth and/or other vulnerable persons will have completed a course of vaccine against COVID-19. A copy of both sides of the vaccination card will be kept in a locked file in the church office along with other required confidential forms.

If you are currently a Cleared Worker, you can send a copy of both sides of your vaccination record at this time to Pastor Jeff, or hand it to him as soon as we can return to the building. Thank you.

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A Pastoral Word – April 26, 2021

This Week’s Prayer

A Blessing from Nadia Bolz-Weber

May you find yourself surprised by your very own heart.
May you sense it hurting for people you don’t even like very much.
May you feel it loving something entirely unlikely.
And when your heart is full, may you not miss it all by wondering when it will break again,
May you welcome it home when it has gone off and given pieces of itself to that which can never love it back.
May it reintroduce itself to you.
And may you discover it is healing from the things you used to think would destroy it.

A Pastoral Word

If it happened more than two days ago, it must have happened on Blursday.

My sense of time and my memory of what happened is hardly stellar these days. And it has nothing to do with entering my sixth decade of life. It’s that the past 14 months have required so much adjustment and readjustment that I’ve lost track of what’s happened. My focus is on what’s happening now and what’s coming up.

This means that I can tell you about the things I need to get done this week. And I can tell you about the questions that are rattling around in my brain as I start planning for hybrid worship – worship with some of us in the sanctuary and some of us on Zoom. (There are lots and lots of things to think about: medical safety, technology, inclusion, accessibility, empathy.) But I can’t tell you about what happened last November, or March, even, without really thinking hard.

I bring this up because I spent the past hour or so reading the 2021 Annual Report in preparation for this Sunday’s Annual Meeting. As I read it, I kept thinking, “Wow! That’s right. We did that during this past year,” and, “Wow! We did a lot during the past year,” and, “Wow! This congregation is amazing in their commitment and adaptability!”

I encourage you to take a trip down memory lane. I think it will give you hope. Download and read the Annual Report here (if you haven’t done so already). Come to worship – we’ll be receiving three new members. And stick around after worship this Sunday for the Annual Meeting. (If you’re not registered for worship, please get registered at bit.ly/reg4worship.)

Working for a positive peace,
Pastor Jeff


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UCC Conference pushes itself to respond to racism

At the annual meeting last year, the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ (the UCC Conference that Niles Discovery Church is a part of) adopted four resolutions that call on the Conference, its congregations, and its clergy to become more active in their antiracism work.

One resolution calls for clergy to undergo continuing education about racism and how to work to over come it. Another resolution calls on local congregations to engage on intentional education about racism and antiracism work. A third resolution expands the Conference’s commitment to antiracism in the camping program. And the fourth resolution calls on the Conference, local churches, and individual members to take proactive steps toward healing from the legacies of colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

The Ministry of Social Concerns is looking into how our church might implement the fourth of these resolutions. If you would like to help, please contact them at msc@nilesdiscoverychurch.org.

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May’s Special Offering: SAVE-ing the Abused

“We believe that every person has the right to live in peace.” – SAVE Mission Statement

Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) is a local organization that provides shelter, support, and educational opportunities for individuals and families so they may end the cycle of abuse, heal, and have the freedom to reach their full potential. The program includes a shelter/transitional housing program and an Empowerment Center offering crisis support, referrals, and assistance with food, clothing and, even, restraining orders. SAVE has also created education programs for police officers and medical personnel specifically addressing the needs of domestic violence victims and provides Teen Dating Violence Awareness presentations to schools.

We will be collecting for SAVE the entire month of May. In addition, you can choose to prepare a SAVE Ditty Bag. These bags are filled with things like shampoo and conditioner, soap, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. However, when an abused person comes into the local safe house, possibly carrying nothing, they are given one of these bags. These small items will help begin the journey to safety and wellness. Instructions and bags are available during the puzzle exchange on Fridays, 3:00 p.m. You can come to the patio entrance at the church to receive materials and to return completed bags which will then be delivered to the shelter.  

As with all our special offerings, you are welcome to give at any time (always make checks payable to Niles Discovery Church) or online: go to our church webpage and click the “donate” button at the top of the page. Niles Discovery Church receives a different special offering each month. With such varied opportunities for giving, you may want to decide which are most important to you. You can see the schedule of offerings at bit.ly/2021SpecialOffering.

Last month, you donated $728 for the future leaders of the church, which will be split between the Pacific School of Religion and Disciples Seminary Foundation. We are training the future, thanks to your generosity!

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