Moderated Musings – Homeless Shelter Project

Jim Thomas

The City of Fremont has received a grant to set up a small homeless shelter using temporary modular buildings. They are considering the possibility of using the unimproved portion of our property (AKA Squirrel Hill) as a possible site for this project. This section of our property would be graded and paved to allow the modular units to be placed there. The area will be fenced in and a new street light installed as well. There would be 10 to 13 mini-units, some of which would house City of Fremont staff. What is expected of Niles Discovery Church is to allow the city to use that property for five years, after which time we would regain that property.

During the Cabinet Meeting held on Monday, January 21, we discussed the impact this proposed project would have on our church. A significant list of questions was brainstormed that will be sent to the City of Fremont Human Services Department to be addressed. You can view the Cabinet’s list of concerns at:

We also would like to get your feedback. What are your concerns about this proposal? Please email your thoughts to me at There will also be a Town Hall Meeting on Sunday, March 10, after worship, to share what we have learned in the meantime and to gather additional ideas, questions, and comments.

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Jeff’s Jottings – February 2019

Pastor Jeff

What should be the requirements for membership and what should our expectations of members be?

That’s the question that’s been on my mind for a while now, and especially as we have moved into our sermon series on membership. Right now, our requirements are: a desire to join the church, having been baptized, and a willingness to reaffirm that baptism. Our expectations of members are, if I do say so, a pretty low bar: to worship with and/or contribute monetarily to the church at least once a year. Should they stay that way?

Because our current requirements include baptism, Pastor Brenda and I thought it would be worthwhile to begin our series with an historic look at baptism – generally and within our denominations. On a drive recently, as I was thinking about this sermon series, I thought about all the things we left out of those first two sermons on baptism. For instance, we didn’t talk about sacraments and their role in the church. We didn’t talk about covenant. We barely scratched the surface on community.

Then I reminded myself that the sermons in this series will total only two to two-and-a-half hours. That’s barely a couple class sessions, and I know from experience that one could study the sacraments for a semester and still feel like there is more to cover and discover. I sure hope you are spending time thinking about this subject in the time between the sermons, that you’re praying about this with an ear listening for what the Holy Spirit may be saying to you.

Next up, will be a sermon working on answering the question, What does it mean to be a church? (This sermon will have been preached by the time you read this, though I’m still working on its content). Then we’ll move to two sermons about what it means to join a church (one from Pastor Brenda and one from me). And then we’ll look at liturgy. Based on our (hopefully deeper) understandings of baptism and membership, what are the appropriate things for us to say and ask as part of a baptism liturgy and as part of a uniting-in-membership liturgy?

All of these sermons are being posted on the church’s website sermon page ( – hopefully both the manuscript and a video (if technology continues to work for us). I also post a manuscript of my sermons on my blog ( If you missed one, I hope you will catch up.

My suspicion is that the last two sermons really won’t be completed until the Town Hall Meetings that will follow worship on those two Sundays, February 17 and 24. I really wish I could tell you want to expect at the Town Hall Meetings, but because they will flow out of the sermons, and those sermons haven’t been written yet, I don’t know what to expect.

Nonetheless, I trust that our mutual discernment, our mutual listening to each other, to the inner, still, small voice, and to the Holy Spirit, will lead us into whatever the appropriate future should be for our congregation.

That’s one of the many things I love about this church: we are willing to listen. We trust one another and we trust ourselves and we trust God. And that makes all the difference.

Pastor Jeff

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Town Hall Meetings planned to conclude sermon series on church membership

As this edition of The Bell goes to press, our pastors are in the midst of a seven-part sermon series on church membership. “This series grew out of a question about our bylaws,” Pastor Jeff explained a month ago. “The bylaws say that uniting with the church as a member is a reaffirmation of baptism. Some have questioned whether or not that is still an appropriate understanding and requirement of membership in our congregation at this time in our world’s history.”

“We hope this series will help our congregation move toward a consensus on this overarching question: What should be the requirements for membership and what should be our expectations of members?” Pastor Jeff said.

The final two sermons will look at the liturgies we use and could use for baptism and for receiving new members. Those worship services will be followed by Town Hall Meetings to engage the congregation in discussions about those liturgies and their theological implications. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the Town Hall Meetings, and Pastor Jeff said he is hoping that childcare will be available.

Read more about the series and the Town Hall Meeting in this month’s “Jeff’s Jottings.”

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Local group marks World Interfaith Harmony Day with “Conversations and Concert of Love”

The Tri-City Interfaith Council (TCIC) will host the Tri-Cities’ fifth annual World Interfaith Harmony Day Celebration on Saturday, February 2, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Niles Discovery Church. The event is free and open to everyone.

In 2010 the United Nations General Council established World Interfaith Harmony Week “to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith.”

“TCIC has sponsored events to create harmony, understanding, appreciation, and respect of all people from all faiths and no faiths for over 30 years,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer, current president of TCIC and senior pastor of Niles Discovery Church. “This Harmony Day Celebration pulls together people from over 15 faith traditions and no faith to share powerful ways we’re each bringing love, peace, and justice into the world.”

“If you are curious about any faith tradition, or if you’re longing for more harmony, please attend and enjoy the Celebration,” he added.

This is the first year that a “Concert of Love” has been added to conclude the Harmony Celebration. Songs from the Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions will be taught to those who are interested by Jagmeet Kaur, Rosie Kasem, Rabbi Tsvi-Bar David with Rashid Patch, and Ofer dal Lal during the middle of the afternoon’s activities. At the same time, those who would rather talk than sing will be involved in interfaith “Conversations of Love.”

An interfaith discussion group from the 2018 Interfaith Harmony Day celebration

The “Concert of Love” that concludes the day’s Celebration will include highlights from the “Conversations of Love.” TCIC member Shamsa Rafay, who is Muslim, says, “I am always moved during the sharing at these events, because some people will say that they’ve never felt so loved by people from other faiths before.”

People will gather for the popular small group conversations – the “Conversations of Love” – either randomly or because they share an interest, such as visual arts, books, poetry, film, public speaking about faith, or delivering food to people.

TCIC chair of the planning committee, Cindy Sojourner said, “Our hope is the shared-interest groups will extend the harmony by continuing to meet in the future.”

“I’m excited that at least 5 artists from the Faith Trio Interfaith Art Exhibit in Oakland and Moina Shaiq, who does Meet a Muslim conversations, are joining us,” Sojourner added.

The Celebration begins with a half-hour of sharing refreshments and visiting information tables from over 10 faith traditions, including Judaism, Islam, Religious Science, Unitarian Universalist, Sikh, Moorish Science, Buddhist, Interfaith, and Christian. Then, after a greeting, people will move into their small groups for learning songs and having conversations for 20 minutes. They will have an opportunity to gather for a second round of small group singing or conversation. Then everyone will gather for the “Concert of Love.”

This World Interfaith Harmony Celebration is sponsored by TCIC, the Alameda County Human Relations Commission, the Fremont Human Relations Commission, and the Union City Human Relations Commission. All people are welcome to attend all or any portion of the Celebration. Children will need to stay with their guardians. For more information about the Tri-City Interfaith Council, visit

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Nursery coverage expands

The Ministry of Christian Education Team is now staffing the Nursery with two cleared workers* each Sunday morning, starting around 9:50 a.m. and continuing through the end of the worship service. This allows the parents of our youngest children to fully participate in this valuable time of worship, fellowship, and prayer.  Parents can bring their little ones to the nursery prior to the worship service and pick them up after the service. 

This means that we have three options for the parents of a nursery-aged child: you are welcome to keep them in the sanctuary throughout the worship service, keep them until Sunday Schools starts (after the “Time with the Children”), or bring them to the nursery before the worship service commences. 

*Cleared Workers have passed a thorough background check and have been cleared to work with vulnerable persons.

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Partners organizing “The March for Fossil Fuel Freedom”

The March for Fossil Fuel Freedom, to be held on March 16-18, 2019, is being organized by a coalition of faith communities, non-profit grassroots groups, and 350 Silicon Valley, to shine a spotlight on Wells Fargo’s role in financing the fossil fuel industry.

This 32-mile “pilgrimage” march from Palo Alto to San Francisco will draw attention to how Wells Fargo’s investment policies (including the funding of private prisons) have devastated our climate and our communities. At the same time, it will hold up the promise and possibility of reinvesting instead in climate solutions and of transitioning to a better, more just world.

Niles Discovery Church has been invited to participate in the planning and in the march itself.

Oily Wells

So far, organizers plan to make 12 “stagecoach stops” that include teach-ins, music, and theater (featuring an out-sized “Oily Wells” character). Marches will disseminate a re-branded logo as they visit some bank branches along the way. The culmination of the march will be a rally at Wells Fargo’s headquarters, with some marchers planning a non-violent civil disobedience ‘sit in.’

Ralph King, one of the march organizers, noted that only the marchers who “receive prior direct action training and support” will be allowed to participate in the acts of civil disobedience. He also said that people will be “welcome to march for as far and as long as they like – ‘day-trippers’ will be welcome.”

“Our goal is to attract hundreds of marchers,” King said, “so we are reaching out to a number of climate justice, social justice, and faith groups around the Bay Area, including 350 Bay Area, Idle No More, the Sunflower Alliance, and the Sierra Club, among others.” He noted that Niles Discovery Church was one group they specifically want to include. “We would be honored to march with you!” he said.

The next organizational meeting will be on Sunday, January 6, 3:00-5:00 p.m., at First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis St., Palo Alto, 94303. There will be a call-in option for those who can’t attend in person.

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Leave Peace Not Chaos – end of life planning series

News coverage of a well-known celebrity dying without a will points out the resulting difficulties. A family’s crisis over critical medical decisions dominates a news cycle. This news may inspire action, but we find both contemplating our own death and initiating a family discussion difficult. Who do we want to act for us if we become incapacitated? Could our financial affairs be resolved with ease? What are our wishes for our final days? Do we need to reevaluate our established plans and documents?

The Ministry of Social Concerns (MSC) Team believes that talking about these and other questions will move us toward new understandings and a sense of peace; therefore, they are sponsoring a series of conversations to spark thought and action on end of life planning.

Four conversations are scheduled for the fourth Sunday of January through April. A light lunch will be served at noon in the fellowship hall with the presentations and discussion from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. The topics for each session are listed below:

  • January 27 – Wills and Trusts, other useful documents
  • February 24 – Advanced Directives
  • March 24 – Hospice
  • April 28 – California End of Life Legislation

For more information, contact Judy Zlatnik or other MSC members. Invite interested friends and family to attend, too.

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