March Special Offering: Investing in Futures

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:9

This month’s special offering is split evenly between United Church of Christ’s One Great Hour of Sharing and Disciples of Christ’s Week of Compassion. We have the opportunity to build something miraculous, to plant seeds of new life. Where God’s people have suffered loss, we are invited to invest in the future. When we give to Week of Compassion and One Great Hour of Sharing, our gift travels to places where disaster or poverty has caused great suffering. Through our generosity, we empower communities to grow new kinds of crops in a changing climate; we support youth education and vocational training; we rebuild homes and churches and help provide needed supplies after disasters; and we empower women with skills to support their family and neighbors. In these and so many other places, we are the co-workers in the kindom of God. Building, planting, watering … and trusting that God gives growth to all good gifts shared in faith.

Niles Discovery Church receives a special offering every month. With so many varied opportunities to give, you may need to choose which ones are most meaningful to you. Thanks to your generosity, our February special offering for Blankets+ raised $635.

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A Pastoral Word – February 22, 2021

This Week’s Prayer

A prayer for the day when you receive your COVID-19 vaccine

I have been praying for this day and now it is here!
With great excitement, a touch of trepidation,
And with deep gratitude
I give thanks.
To all the scientists who toiled day and night
So that I might receive this tiny vaccination
That will protect me and all souls around this world.
With the pandemic still raging
I am blessed to do my part to defeat it.
Let this be the beginning of a new day,
A new time of hope, of joy, of freedom
And most of all, of health.
I thank You, God, for blessing me with life,
For sustaining my life,
And for enabling me to reach this awe-filled moment. Amen

~ Rabbi Naomi Levy

A Pastoral Word

Congratulations to those of you who have already had you COVID-19 vaccines. I’m sorry I didn’t share this week’s prayer in time for you to use it then. I hope you are offering your own prayers of thanksgiving.

To those of us who are not yet vaccinated, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated when your opportunity arises. While there is much we don’t know about the disease or even about all the ways the vaccines are effective, we do know that they are very effective at reducing the severity of disease and at reducing the number of people who will die from the disease. So, unless your doctor tells you not to get the vaccine, I hope that when you have the opportunity to do so, you will get it. It is the strongest tool we have as a society to bring this disease under control.

And we need to bring this disease under control. You see, today is the day we in the USA crossed a sad milestone. As of today, there have been over half a million reported COVID-19 deaths in the USA. That represents about 20% of the reported COVID-19 deaths worldwide. According to National Public Radio, COVID-19 “was the leading cause of death in the country in January, ahead of heart disease, cancer and other ailments.” We went from zero deaths each day in the USA from COVID-19 a year ago to an average of 2,000 deaths each day (with a peak average of 3,000 per day in January).

Over 500,000 people dead from this one disease in less than a year.

500,000 people dead. Each one of them laughed and cried. Each one had stories to tell. Each one left behind family and friends.

500,000.

The number is mind boggling. I’ve heard several explanations to try to help people get their minds wrapped around it. It’s more than the combined battlefield deaths of US military in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. It’s enough to fill Arlington National Cemetery (which is a square mile).

The Washington Post explained that the typical intercity bus is about 40 feet long and holds 51 people. Spacing buses apart by a mere 6 feet, a caravan of buses holding 500,000 people would stretch from the San Jose, up 880, across the San Raphael bridge, all the way up 101 to Santa Rosa. Almost 95 miles long.

Please join me in praying tonight for the families of those who have died, for the healthcare workers who have treated the critically ill and dying, and for all the people who have worked so hard to develop safe, effective vaccines.

Working for a positive peace,
Pastor Jeff

Smile

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The Condor and The Eagle

Second Saturday Documentary Series

Award-winning documentary showcases a truly inclusive movement led by the most impacted.

As part of our Second Saturday Documentary Series, The Condor and The Eagle will be shown via Zoom Saturday, March 13, 1:30 p.m. with a discussion immediately following. To register for the series please visit bit.ly/SSDSZoom.

Midst of the burning of the Amazon, the mega-fires in Australia, and the global climate strikes, this award-winning film documents the ongoing collective climate awakening and the imperative of urgent change. It shares the stories of four well-known Native environmental spokespeople who are at the forefront of a perspective shift in the identity of their people, from forgotten voices to powerful and influential leaders. They have struggled with feelings of isolation their entire lives and are now discovering the power of their shared voices to bring change to the entire world. Facing this overwhelming current political climate, a great many people are looking for answers that are adapted to today’s urgency. As world climate scientists predict unprecedented global catastrophe, “The Condor and The Eagle” features Indigenous leaders deploying unparalleled global response.

Filmed in the verdant jungles of the Amazon (Ecuador and Peru), the brightly colored cultures of the Pan American First Nations communities (Vancouver, Alberta) and the United States Indian tribes (Oklahoma), viewers glimpse extraordinary beauty in the places, faces and regalia of traditional people. Never-before-seen images expose the global rise of land and water protectors across the Americas. The Indigenous heartfelt pursuit for self- discovery, self- reclamation, and a way of life, is chronicled as they build alliances around the world (in Peru, Ecuador, Paris, Vancouver, Alberta, Washington, New York, etc.) because to them a crime against Mother Earth is a crime against humanity.

The Condor and The Eagle follows the protagonists as they develop a resistance strategy that matches the level of their opponents – taking their effort to South America, Europe and beyond. Their task is to make local battles an International concern and finally expose criminal corporations responsible for serious crimes. The film promotes an intercultural dialogue by showing how non-Indigenous and Indigenous people can come together.

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Get Involved in the Wider Church

Niles Discovery Church belongs to two denominations: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. These names are typically abbreviated DOC and UCC. Each denomination is divided into geographic areas called “Regions” (in the DOC) and “Conferences” (in the UCC). Niles Discovery Church is in the Christian Church of Northern California-Nevada Region (as part of the DOC) and the Northern California Nevada Conference (as part of the UCC).

Our Region and our Conference each hold an Annual Gathering. The general settings of the denominations each hold a nationwide gathering every two years, on odd numbered years. These gatherings are called General Assembly (DOC) and General Synod (UCC). Official delegates are sent to all of these gatherings, and non-delegates are welcome, too.

Because of the pandemic, the DOC’s General Assembly has been cancelled this year. The pandemic has pushed the UCC’s General Synod and the Annual Gatherings of the Region and Conference online.

While business does transpire at all of these meetings, many people attend for the worship, the workshops, and the fellowship. Rather than have a big, multiple-day Annual Gathering, both the CCNCN and the NCNC are spreading their Annual Gatherings out over several days throughout the year. The UCC’s General Synod will be held online, July 11-18. Check www.generalsynod.org/ often for updates.

The best way to stay informed about the CCNCN’s Annual Gathering plans is to sign up for the Region’s weekly email at conta.cc/SlhyQL. Likewise, to stay informed about the NCNC’s Annual Gathering plans, sign up for the Conference’s weekly email at bit.ly/QFhbEz. The NCNC has a Special Conference Meeting on Saturday, March 13, at 10:00 a.m.

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Cabinet adopts Strategic Taskforce to Assess Returning Team’s recommendation

Our Cabinet met on February 15, 2021, and approved START’s recommendation that we continue to hold services virtually for the second quarter of 2021 (Apr-May-Jun) and limit the use of our church property for that period of time. START will continue to assess the Covid-19 situation on a monthly basis.

Hopefully everyone is staying safe and healthy. Wearing a mask and keeping our distance from one another continues to be our best defense against the Coronavirus/Covid-19. Based on what we know about vaccines for other diseases, experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get the virus.

While some are getting vaccinated, it is not nearly the numbers that are needed for community immunity. It is estimated that up to 85 to 90% of the population will need to be vaccinated and there will not be quantities of vaccine available to do that until around July 2021, according to reliable resources.

There has been some request to use our Church property for various activities. With few exceptions we are turning down these requests. We need to protect staff and clergy that have to use the property.

Our congregation is very fortunate in that we have Pastors and Leaders that are innovative in their approach to “keeping our community together”. We are blessed with creative thought and practices that help us worship God.

I want to thank everyone for their understanding and patience as we continue to navigate this pandemic. I know we all look forward to the time that we can gather together in person.

I am always available to discuss our Church and how we are moving forward. You can contact me at jsmith1152@aol.com or 510-207-9057.

Peace,
John R Smith
Moderator, Niles Discovery Church

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Town Hall Meeting Called for March 14, Following Worship

START Recommendation and Creation Care Covenant to be Discussed

Two actions taken by the Cabinet in February will be discussed at a Town Hall Meeting following worship on Sunday, March 14. The first action was the affirmation of the START recommendation to continue holding all church gatherings on Zoom through the second quarter of 2021. This, of course, includes worship services. You can read more about this decision here.

The second action was the adoption of a “Creation Care Covenant of Commitment,” drafted by the Green Team (see below). From time to time, by vote of the Cabinet or the congregation as a whole, our church adopts covenants that clarify where we stand as people of faith on important issues of the day. The congregation adopted a Just Peace Covenant in 2019, and both predecessor congregations of Niles Discovery Church adopted Open and Affirming covenants years ago. (These Open and Affirming commitments live on, written into the bylaws of Niles Discovery Church.)

Creation Care Covenant of Commitment

As children of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we recognize the sacred gift of creation. We affirm our connection to God, each other, and the world around us. We respect all of God’s creation and pray for the healing of the Earth.

We commit ourselves as individuals and as a congregation to the intertwined responsibilities of caring for creation and seeking social justice for oppressed, marginalized, and underrepresented people.

With an urgent sense of purpose, we pledge to study the science of social disparities, climate change, and then redress in achievable ways, our contribution to human suffering and global inequalities.

Furthermore, as humanity confronts the current and future crisis of damage to our climate, we vow that we will continue to study the climate crisis and engage others in climate solutions. In doing so, we expand our efforts to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change we have inflicted on our Earth. We will promote ways that sustain life, advocate for eco-justice policies, and will work towards having these efforts be reflected in all the dimensions of our congregation’s life. We delight in God’s creation and invite others to do the same.

Pastor Jeff calls the climate crisis, “the most important moral issue of our day.” The Green Team recognizes that the climate crisis is not a singular issue but, in fact, intersects with the justice issues of poverty, racism, indigenous rights, and many other social issues. It is in this context that the Green Team drafted the Creation Care Covenant of Commitment. The care the Green Team took in writing this covenant was evident in the fact that the Cabinet did not recommend any word changes before adopting it.

The adoption of the covenant was an important step for Niles Discovery Church to be recognized by both denominations for its creation care commitment. The Green Team, on behalf of the church, is applying for recognition by the Disciples of Christ as a “Certified Green Chalice Congregation,” and for recognition by the United Church of Christ as a “Creation Justice Church.”

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Holy Week to be Marked with Special Services

The holiest week of the church year begins with a festive parade, moves through betrayal and death, and concludes with triumph. Four worship services that will move from pageantry to simplicity to celebration. All of these services will be held on Zoom.

The Lent worship services will conclude on Palm Sunday, March 28. In addition to having all the elements of our Lenten worship services, this service will include a remembrance of Jesus entry into Jerusalem when he was greeted by people waving palm branches and laying cloaks on the road.

On Maundy Thursday, April 1, we will have a simple service at 7:30 p.m., celebrating communion and spending time in prayer. Please bring communion elements to worship. This service will likely last less than half an hour.

The Good Friday service, at 7:30 p.m. on April 2, will focus on the seven last words of Christ, statements made by Jesus as recorded in the four gospels. This service will include the extinguishing of candles and an invitation to reflect on each of Jesus’ statements. No preparation is necessary, though you may want to have a journal or write in or coloring supplies to draw with as we meditate on each word. You may also want to have seven candles to extinguish as seven candles are extinguished in the sanctuary. If you need electric candles, contact Pastor Jeff before Palm Sunday. This service will last a full hour.

We will celebrate God’s triumph over death during our Easter service, April 4. There will not be a sunrise service this year.

If you are registered for our weekly Sunday morning worship services, you are registered for these services. If you need to register for worship, please do so at bit.ly/reg4worship.

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Budget Adopted and Bylaws Amended with Little Discussion

Both agenda items passed with amendments and very little discussion at the Annual Financial Meeting held on Sunday, January 31, 2021.

After presenting the proposed amendment to the bylaws on behalf of the Cabinet, Treasurer Barbara King moved to modify the proposed amendment to address concerns raised that as originally proposed, the amendment failed to provide enough direction to the Cabinet. Both the modification and then the amendment (as modified) passed in near unanimous votes.

Barbara King also reported on 2020 finances and then presented the proposed 2021 budget. She immediately offered some amendments to the proposal to more accurately reflect anticipated expenses. These amendments were quickly adopted, and, after no discussion, the amended budget was adopted.

“Perhaps it was having the opportunity to talk things through and to ask questions a couple weeks earlier that made so little discussion needed at the Meeting,” Pastor Jeff Spencer said. “It probably was also the high degree of trust our congregation has in our lay leadership.”

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A Pastoral Word – February 15, 2021

This Week’s Prayer

“Meditation at the Beginning of Lent”

And so, we are wandering
in the desert. Following your
lead. Allowing the temptations
as you did – though perhaps

without your inner strength
and great resolve. I suck
on a handful of gravel
wishing it were bread

swallowing back my own
slightly metallic saliva.
Where is the water to rinse
my mouth clean – the water

to wash my soul new? Down
to the bone – that is what
the desert is for. The only place
the heart can be broken into

always pounding for other things.
I cleave to your hand – your
foot – the hem of your robe
praying for some redemption.

~ Christine Rodgers, from Embracing the Sacred Journey

A Pastoral Word

When I was growing up in my congregational church, we didn’t really “do” Lent. We never had an Ash Wednesday service, and we didn’t add or change our spiritual practices during the seven weeks leading up to Easter, such as giving up something or reading from a special devotional. We did mark the events of Holy Week with a special service on Maundy Thursday, but we didn’t do anything for Good Friday or have an Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. We made a big deal of Easter Sunday, of course, but I think most folks in my congregation saw many of these other traditional practices of Lent to be something only our Catholic siblings did.

Although the liturgical season of Lent and its associated worship services weren’t practiced universally in the Catholic church until the 6th century, the spiritual disciplines associated with the season are rooted in the practices of the earliest Christians, and they are disciplines that would have been practiced by Jesus in his Jewish context: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These spiritual disciplines are always encouraged in the lives of Christians, but they are especially encouraged during the holy season of Lent, as a way to draw closer to God and prepare the spirit for Easter.

A tweet from last year, as the Shelter In Place orders started.

The practice of “giving up something for Lent” is related to the practice of fasting. One reason Christians fast in Lent is that it imitates the 40 days of fasting and prayer that Jesus experienced in his time in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. In addition to, or instead of, a food fast, some Christians also fast from a luxury or distraction that keeps us from focusing on our relationship with the Divine. Over the years I’ve tried different variations of the traditional Lenten fast. One year I tried giving up negative self-talk (this was super hard); another year I gave up mindless Internet scrolling, and instead committed to using the time for making art (also pretty hard on a daily basis). Some years, I’ve undertaken no fasting at all. When I asked Pastor Jeff and Maggie about fasting for Lent at our staff meeting this morning, Pastor Jeff said he was giving up self-denial for Lent, and Maggie said that she was going to give up constantly second-guessing herself … but she’s not sure about that.

Kidding aside, I do really believe that, when done mindfully, fasting—in whatever form—can be a powerful discipline to help us make room in our hearts for God. This year, I’ve determined that fasting would be helpful for my spiritual life, although I haven’t quite decided what my fast will entail yet. Because I have, during this time of anxiety and fear, been turning more than usual to sweets and comfort food (I know I’m not alone here!), fasting from these would be helpful, both physically and spiritually. But I also have done a lot of doomscrolling over the last few months, and refraining from that would also be beneficial. Whatever I decide, come Wednesday, I hope to have landed on a Lenten practice that will help me cultivate my relationship with the Holy, rather than my relationship with Chocolate or YouTube (This may mean I’ll be in a chocolate coma from eating on Tuesday all the delicious See’s chocolate my secret valentine so generously gave me).

Are you, too, taking on a spiritual discipline for Lent? Whatever you choose to do, or not do, I hope that this time of preparation before Easter will help you grow closer to God.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Brenda

P.S. Lent begins this week with our Ash Wednesday service at 7:30. You will need the supplies we distributed for this service, as well as a few other items, listed on the sheet that accompanied the supplies. We’ll be using some of these supplies during worship throughout the season of Lent. If you didn’t request supplies, you may still do so (you just won’t have them for this week’s service). Go to bit.ly/ashwednesdaysupplies and fill out the form. You can read more about the Ash Wednesday service here. And you can read more about our Lent worship series here.

Smile

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A Pastoral Word – February 8, 2021

This Week’s Prayer

God of all hope we call on you today.
We pray for those who are living in fear:
Fear of illness, fear for loved ones, fear of other’s reactions to them.
May your Spirit give us calmness and peace.

We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty:
For those who are providing leadership,
For those who are holding the community in prayer,
For those who are reaching out in kindness,
For those who are feeling isolated.
May your Spirit receive our praise.

Holy God, we remember that you have promised that
Nothing will separate us from your love,
The love we have known in Christ Jesus.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts, and minds to you.

Amen

[Inspired by a prayer from The Methodist Church in the United Kingdom.]

A Pastoral Word

How are you doing?

I ask because I’d really like to know how you’re doing. And I ask because it gives me an opening to tell you how I’m doing – which is, “It depends on what I’m thinking about.”

There are some things that I’m feeling really good about, even proud about. Worship is one of these. I think Pastor Brenda, our seminary student Maggie Guekguezian, and I are bringing creativity to our worship. We are paying attention to how we can make worship a sensory-rich experience. The planning and leading of worship has been feeding my soul and keeping my relationship with God solid.

There are some things that I’m feeling deeply thankful about. One that’s on my mind right now is the innovation that the Ministry of Hospitality and Fellowship Team has been bringing to activities they are leading. The MHF Team is used to getting people in the same room to share food as the primary method of expressing hospitality and deepening fellowship within the church. The pandemic hasn’t allowed that, so they keep creating ways to connect us that we’ve never done before.

There are some things that I’m feeling “meh” about – the necessary and least exciting parts of ministry to me: keeping the internet working, keeping up with pandemic-related personnel requirements, and all kinds of other administrative work. It would be impossible to do these things without the continued support of Mikele and Cecilia and many, many leaders in our congregation, so I’m feeling gratitude along with the “meh.” Still, my honest feeling about this is “meh.”

And then there are some things that I’m feeling bad about. Chief among these is the feeling that I’ve been failing to provide the pastoral care that some of you have needed. Some of this is because I don’t know that you are in need of pastoral care. Some of this is because the paradigm of providing pastoral care has required a major shift and I’m still not comfortable with it. Some of this is because everything else simply takes longer than it used to and pastoral care keeps getting squeezed out.

That’s how I’m doing. Let me get back to my opening question: How are you doing?

If you would like to talk, you can easily set aside the time with me by going to calendly.com/revjss and setting up an appointment. This app will only let you schedule a phone call (or Zoom call) with me when I’m available, and it’s really easy to use. So, please use it. Pastor Brenda uses this app, too; you can schedule an appointment with her at calendly.com/pastorbrenda.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Working for a positive peace,
Pastor Jeff

P.S. If you haven’t already done so, please sign up by this Wednesday to receive worship supplies for Lent. Go to bit.ly/ashwednesdaysupplies and fill out the form, and you’ll receive beach glass and other supplies in time for Ash Wednesday. We will use these supplies in worship all through Lent. You can read more about the Ash Wednesday service here. And you can read more about the Lent worship series here. And please sign up for supplies by February 10. (Why not do it right now?)

Smile

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