August Special Offering: Backpacks & School Supplies for Kids

In 2018 the UCC Conference used the following Mission statement: “United in God’s spirit and inspired by God’s grace, we can love all, welcome all, and seek justice for all: for the children, for our neighbors and for creation.”

It’s time to put God’s Love to work by sharing: Please help us give students a fresh start and instead of starting school with a worn out backpack or none at all, help us provide new backpacks and supplies. The Ministry for Christian Education will be collecting backpacks and school supplies to donate to the Fremont Family Resource Center, which serves the Tri-City area. Please bring backpacks and school supplies to the church no later than August 11th. Cash donations towards school supplies will be received as our special offering on August 11th. 

Open your hearts and share the greatest give of all – Love. YOU can make a difference in a child’s life!

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July Special Offering: Pastor’s Discretionary Fund

The July Special Offering will go to replenish the Pastors’ Discretionary Fund. This money is used by our Pastors to help families in emergencies. During the past year, our Pastors have been able to help church families keep phones connected, prescriptions filled, and lights on thanks to your generosity.

This offering will be officially received on Sunday, July 14. As with all our special offerings, you are welcome to give at any time (always make checks payable to Niles Discovery Church). You can also give online: go to our church webpage at and click the “donate” button at the top of the page.

Niles Discovery Church receives a special offering each month. With that many possibilities for special giving, you may need to choose which ones are most important to you. You can see the schedule of special offerings at

Thanks to your generosity, our June Special Offering for the evangelism and church renewal ministries of our two denominations: the UCC’s “Strengthen the Church” offering and the DOC’s “Pentecost” offering, raise a total of $1,046.

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All About M.E.

Jim Thomas

By Jim Thomas

In my readings on evangelism, I read something that said, “the best way to get someone to come to church is to invite them.” I know of several people who come to our church who were initially invited by a friend already attending. So, from a purely anecdotal perspective, that seems to work. However, I have invited five people to come to church and four of them came once. My track record is in shambles. “Is there a better way?” I thought to myself. That led me to think about what it was that got me to this church.

When looking for a church, my wife and I first attended churches attended by people we knew. However, in each case, we felt something missing, that is until we came to this church. It felt right, for the first time, so we kept coming and quickly joined the church. It is the community that was missing in our lives. This community is awesome, and that alone should be enough to build up our church. Yet, the five people we invited aren’t return worshipers. I suspect it is because they aren’t ready to commit to the spiritual practice and ritual we do in worship.

Perhaps I got it backwards. Instead of inviting friends to worship, perhaps a better approach is to invite them to a church activity. There are many things happening in this church, so inviting someone to help with the mobile hygiene van, for example, will connect them directly to our church community, and no one would have to stand on ceremony. Once connected, they may find themselves more receptive to joining the church. Now, when I talk about the awesome things my church does, when someone appears to be interested, I ask if they would like to participate.

That’s all about M.E. How about we make this all about you?

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Annual Meeting Completes Business in Record Time

In what may have been the fasted Annual Meeting on record, the congregation approved the minutes of the three congregational meetings of the past year and elected new leaders on Sunday, June 9. The meeting was held immediately after the worship service in the sanctuary and the presence of a quorum was quickly and easily established. A lack of a quorum on May 5 postponed the Annual Meeting to June 9.

The Cabinet Membership for the coming year is: Mark McConville, Moderator; John Smith, Vice Moderator; Barbara P. King, Treasurer; Cathy West, Clerk; Val Parker, Chair of the Ministry of Spiritual Life Team; Beth Armstrong, Chair of the Ministry of Christian Education Team; Mark Twist, Chair of the Ministry of Property Team; Jim Thomas, Chair of the Ministry of Evangelism Team; Judy Zlatnik, Chair of the Ministry of Social Concerns Team; and Amy Gunnarson, Chair of the Ministry of Hospitality and Fellowship Team. Also elected were: Ken Rasler, Auditor; and Sybil Smith, Susie Claxton, Sandy Thomas to the Nominating Committee.

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The Happiness Report

Last March, just in time for International Day of Happiness (March 20), the United Nations released the 2019 World Happiness Report, which is an annual survey that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on happiness and the community, investigating how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on what drives that evolution, such as technology, social norms, conflicts and government policies (you can access the report here:

In glancing at the report’s findings, it doesn’t really surprise me to learn that the top five happiest countries are Nordic (Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands, in that order), or that the United States has been slipping in happiness in the last three years. This year, we are number 19, while last year we were 18; in 2017, we were 14. In fact, we have declined in our happiness level every year since the report began in 2012. This is despite the fact that prosperity in the US is on the rise, and violent crime is in decline—two factors that logic says should help increase national happiness.

Lots of people have speculated about the causes of our declining happiness. Some researchers pin the blame on declines in social capital and social support. Others believe it’s due to the changes in how we spend our leisure time, noting the rise in use of digital media and the decline of face-to-face interactions. The report’s co-author, economist Jeffrey Sachs, suggests that it’s the prevalence of addictions in American society — including gambling, social media use, video gaming, shopping, consuming unhealthy foods, exercising, and engaging in extreme sports or risky sexual behaviors —that might be fueling our decreasing happiness.

The societal reasons for our declining national happiness may seem overwhelming obstacles, but there are certainly things we as individuals can do to increase our own happiness, the happiness of our families, and, in turn, the happiness and well-being of our communities. The Gallup folks who conducted the happiness surveys didn’t contact me for my opinion, but I would have told them that, generally, I’m a happy person, despite the ups and downs that life offers. This hasn’t always been the case, however. I don’t think I’m a person with a naturally high happiness set-point; rather, I’ve found that there are deliberate actions I can take on a regular basis to increase my overall happiness and well-being. In no particular order, I share them here with you:

  1. Get outside. I notice that my happiness and well-being increase in direct proportion to the time I spend outside in nature. The Japanese even have a word for the practice of going outside for health benefits: shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.”
  2. Pray. One of my goals for my sabbatical was to develop a regular prayer practice, which I did. I notice that I am not as centered or grounded on the days that I allow my practice to slip.
  3. Practice Gratitude. I have a practice of nightly journaling, and the way I conclude my entry for the day is to name the things I’m especially grateful for. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.
  4. Do Something for Others. I’m blessed that my vocation puts me in a place to serve others, both those that I know and those I don’t. There’s lots of research out there showing that giving of ourselves boosts our own happiness, while making our communities better places to live.
  5. Pet the Cat. This is another research-driven activity; studies show that pet owners experience greater health and happiness than those without pets. I love having a cat, and I think she likes me back.
  6. Limit Screen Time. There’s some research that suggests that adults spend up to 11 hours a day interacting with media, and that the more screen time teens have, the less happy they are. It’s really easy for me to zone out in front of YouTube in the evening, but I’m happier if I don’t.
  7. Ditch Social Media. I took a social media sabbatical along with my church sabbatical last fall. After I got over the mindless impulse to constantly check Facebook, I found that I really didn’t miss it. Once I returned from sabbatical, I found that I didn’t feel the need to check in every day. Although I do miss connecting with my far-away friends, I think I’m happier for not being constantly engaged online.
  8. Develop Community. My happiness increased immeasurably in my thirties when I reconnected with my faith and joined a church, and I can’t imagine not being part of a faith community. Being connected to a group that is working toward the greater good deepens my faith and sustains my hope.
  9. Cultivate Casual Friendships. Casual friendships are the folks you connect with regularly but don’t have a close relationship with—the barista at the coffee shop, the folks in your exercise class, the people at the dog park, the parents in the school drop-off line. You see them every week, but don’t know them well. A recent study shows that cultivating these relationships—learning names, saying hello, sharing brief conversations—increases happiness and a sense of belonging in the community—and it makes the world a kinder, friendlier place.
  10. Make Stuff. I don’t feel right unless I’m making something with my hands—whether it’s a project on the knitting needles, a felted art piece, or a great new recipe. One of my goals this year is to make more time for making more art.

What makes you happier? If you try one of these ideas, or have another one to share, let me know! I hope that by sharing these practices and cultivating our happiness here in our community, we can start reversing the trend of our nation’s declining happiness.


Pastor Brenda

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June Documentary Shows Courage Has More Than One Face

As a male Seal Team member, Kristin Beck gave twenty years of her life “fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As a transgender woman, she discovered she didn’t leave that fight behind her on the battlefield. Her struggle to claim these rights for herself is the subject of Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story, a documentary that will be shown at the Niles Discovery Church on June 8 at 1:30 pm. The free screening will be followed by a discussion led by Robyn Kuslits, herself an eight-year veteran in the U.S. Navy and a transgender woman.

Directed by Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog, Lady Valor covers Beck’s training and life as a warrior as well as her later trials putting together a female civilian identity. Aware from an early age of the feminine persona she felt she had to hide from everyone, Beck’s decision to become a Navy Seal almost seems an overcompensation, the ultimate rough and tough male identity. Trying to embrace the role wholeheartedly, Beck developed a reputation for utter fearlessness that she later acknowledges was due to being so unhappy she did not sometimes care if she lived or died. After retiring from the service, she made one more attempt to “fit in” by getting married and fathering two sons. While her wife was “wonderful” and Beck deeply loved her boys, traditional family life was not a sustainable choice.

What happened to Beck’s life after she made the decision to begin living as a woman is the suspenseful, sad, inspiring story that makes Lady Valor so thought provoking. The misunderstandings, bigotry, and estrangement from some in her world are offset by the support and fellowship of others. The film was made in the early stages of her transition and the emotions of Beck and her friends and family are sometimes raw. Beck herself emerges as more matter-of-fact than stoic about her journey, without self-pity and with tenacious hope. “I want some happiness for myself,” she says, and pretty much everyone who sees Lady Valor will be rooting for her.

The Second Saturday Documentary Series is co-sponsored by Niles Discovery Church and the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Learn more about the series at This screening is additionally co-sponsored by Compassionate Fremont and the Fremont LGBTQ Task Force.

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June Special Offering

Help Create A Just World By Investing In New Ministries

The June Special Offering is for the evangelism and church renewal ministries of our two denominations. The offerings we receive will be split between the UCC’s “Strengthen the Church” offering and the DOC’s “Pentecost” offering. You can learn more about these offerings by visiting and

This offering will be officially received this Sunday, June 9. As with all our special offerings, you are welcome to give at any time (always make checks payable to Niles Discovery Church). You can also give online: go to our and click the “donate” button at the top of the page.

Niles Discovery Church receives a special offering each month. With that many possibilities for special giving, you may need to choose which ones are most important to you. You can see the schedule of special offerings at

Thanks to your generosity, our May Special Offering for Church World Service’s Blankets+ program, raised $920.

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