A Time For Every Season

Shabbat Shalom! May the peace of God dwell within you.

In Genesis, we are told that immediately after God created the universe and every living thing within it, including human beings, God rested … and commanded that it be so for all creation.

In the book of Leviticus, God’s people were instructed to allow their fields to rest fallow for one year after six years of production. This sabbath rest gave the land time to recover as well as the humans who were tending the land.

Sabbatical comes from the word Sabbath – which means “to rest” or to “cease from working,” and from the very beginning was God’s idea.

This summer, I will be taking a much-needed sabbatical! I have postponed it twice in the last several years – first because we were working on putting together AHCC’s clergy team, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So, it is time! And with that, I want to be clear about what sabbatical is as well as what it isn’t.

What it is…

What it isn’t…

An extended and intentional leave/break/timeout An extended vacation or sick leave
A time for me and my family to reconnect A time to catch up on “chores”
A time to reflect (guilt-free) upon the past and present A time to respond to the daily deluge of emails and messages
A time to renew focus and vision for the future A time to pursue other ministry opportunities or an academic degree
A time to get off the treadmill and slow down
with the goal of recharging body, mind, and spirit
A miracle cure
Preventative maintenance – an investment A failing on the part of a pastor.  I am not weak nor am I doing this because I just can’t “hack” it.

In the upcoming weeks we will be sharing more with you about the specifics of my sabbatical, and you will be hearing from Jordan and Tracy regarding the scheming, dreaming, and planning they are doing to get ready for a Spirit-led summer, which will be full of joy and justice and will be a wonderful season for our community of faith to engage one another as we emerge from pandemic life.

Always,
Erica

A Prayer for Ukraine

As we move into March and celebrate women, and their contributions to history, I have been thinking about the millions of women, who right now, are courageously fighting for survival in Ukraine.

  • The grandmother who made the difficult to decision to take up arms in defense of her young grandchildren;
  • The teacher who has begun holding classes for children huddled in makeshift bomb shelters in the parking garage of an apartment building;
  • The student fleeing the bombing of her university

Women – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters … we see you, we hear you, we are praying for you.

In just 2 weeks, Jews the world over will celebrate to Festival of Purim … a festival that commemorates the defeat of an attempted genocide of the Jews of the Persian Empire in the fifth century BCE.

After a virtuous Jewish woman named Esther married King Ahasuerus of Persia, she and her Uncle Mordechai interrupted a plot by the king’s right-hand-man, Haman, who planed “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.”

At the eleventh hour, Esther revealed to the king that she was Jewish, meaning Haman’s plan would result in her death. And the king instead sentenced his friend to be executed at the very gallows he’d prepared for the Jews.

The most well-known lines from this Old Testament story are words Esther’s uncle shared with her:

If you remain silent at this time, liberation and rescue will arise for the Jews from another place, but surely you will perish. Who knows maybe, just maybe you have come into this place of power, for just such a time as this? 

Beloveds, it does not escape me that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish.

That he had family members who were killed in the Holocaust.

And that he is now fighting not only for his own life, but for the lives and future of all Ukrainians, and for the soul of democracy.

President Zelenskyy … we see you, we hear you, we are praying for you.

Prayer for Ukraine:

Good and Gracious God, we ask you to hold the people of Ukraine deep in your heart.
Protect them, we pray …
from violence,
from political gamesmanship,
from being used and abused.

Give, we pray …
the nations of the world the courage & the wisdom
to stand up for justice and the courage too,
to dare to care generously.

Lord, in your mercy, take from us all the tendencies in us that seek to lord it over others. Take from us those traits that see us pursuing our own needs and wants before those of others.

Teach us how to live in love, and dignity, and respect – following your example.

In your name and for your sake, Amen.

Lent Gone Wild

During Lent, Christians remember Jesus’ experience of being tempted in the desert for 40 days. That wilderness time was critical, as Jesus recognized more about who he was and discovered his authentic self.

This Lent, we invite you to consider the “wild” not as being a physical location, but instead consider “wild” as being untamed, authentic, and the truest versions of ourselves. What does it look like to live our most authentic and untamed lives? What is it that God is calling us to do, and who is God calling us to be? How can we discover this individually and as a community of faith?

Wild things do not settle for what is, but instead courageously reclaim what is truth.

Wild things follow an organic and not-always-predictable path.

Wild things do not apologize for who they are and are not overly accommodating at their own expense.

Wild things do not settle or blindly comply, even if it means letting go of what is familiar or safe.

Wild things dare to imagine the future, even in the face of death and loss of the familiar.

To embrace the “wild,” we must ask ourselves hard questions like, “Why am I not satisfied or happy with this?” and “Is there more than this?” and “What is real and true?”

You are invited to join this wild journey as we discover who we were made to be.

Feeling God’s Guidance

Hello AHCC Family. It is a wonderful time to be vice moderator of Asylum Hill Congregational Church. We have a dynamic diaconate, an engaged executive committee, a wise and compassionate moderator, a committed staff, and spirit-filled clergy with brilliant minds. I watch in awe as the work of God and our church gets done. I feel God’s presence and guidance. I am confident the Holy Spirit is in our midst, that we are doing right and righteous work, and that, while challenges lay ahead, we are being blessed. Most of all, I feel like the energy that is coming from AHCC is resonating more and more beyond our walls and will attract loving people that will add to the momentum.

I had a recent experience on a task force that encouraged this enthusiasm. Often when you are asked to serve on a task force, your first thought is not necessarily enthusiasm. It seems we always ask people who are already very busy to do more. Have you heard this sarcastic saying? “The reward for good work is more work.” Well, let me share my blessing. It was a tough one. The task force members shared very personal and emotional experiences, hoping the other task force members could sympathize, empathize, or better understand alternative perspectives and points of view. We also tried using logic and facts to make our case. We could not reach consensus. It was tough. We struggled to agree on the way forward. However, in the process of respectful discussion, listening, and discernment, we found so many foundational things upon which we agree. These include that we want to work against racism. We want to find ways to support justice in our communities. We want to do the work to be good neighbors and stakeholders in the Asylum Hill neighborhood.

We take on challenging issues and decisions when we try to discern God’s will, and how we can best support a mission we can never truly understand. I simply pray and have faith that God will find a way to use us – the imperfect tools that we are. I believe that when we engage, as we did on the task force, with humility, respect, good will, and positive intent, we make ourselves available for God to guide us. As the words of one of my favorite gospel songs that our choir blesses us with periodically, relays, we must let God “order our steps.”

Perhaps AHCC will serve as an example of what the world needs today – civil discourse, good will, and love for our community.

Please keep praying for AHCC, our leadership, and for me.

God bless you.

Winter Faith

Winter is a season marked by long nights and cold temperatures; the landscape is stark, barren, and seemingly dead. And truth be told, I have heard many refer to the last two years as a never-ending winter.

But did you know that ecologically speaking winter is the most active season of all? It may not look like it, because we cannot see the tremendous growth and transformation which is taking place. But it’s happening, just beyond our earthly understanding and our human perception.

It is said that faith is believing what we cannot see and trusting what we may not fully understand. For me, faith is like moving through the season of winter: believing that the Holy is at work even if I don’t have eyes to see it, ears to hear it, or the patience to be still.

The God of many names, who speaks every language, reminds us to be grateful for the innumerable ways God show up in the world and in our lives, remembering the words of the author of Ecclesiastes: “for everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven…” As we move through the season of winter, let’s pause to feel God’s presence in all the seasons of our own lives, as God pours out upon each one of us the strength to be grounded in justice, and mercy, and humility, and above all, love.

Blessing:

May the words you speak
May the words you hear and understand
Be holy

May your actions
May the actions of others
Be sacred

May your humanity be honored
May you honor the humanity of others
And may each one of you go forth bearing light, grace, compassion, and love out into a world so in need.

Blessings and peace be upon you all! Amen.

Connect Four

In an effort to stay connected as a church community IN SPITE of this most recent COVID surge, we are commiting to connecting with every church member during the 4 weeks of February. We’re calling it Connect Four.

The purpose of these connections: calls, emails, texts, maybe even a zoom gathering or two, is to simply reach out, connect, and check in. We hope these connections will be fun, meaningful, and maybe even lead to some new connections.

How will it happen?

We have assembled a great group of folks who have committed to making these connections happen, and over the 4 weeks of February they will be reaching out – calling, emailing, and/or texting. But please know and trust – no one wants ANYTHING from you, except to connect human being to human being!

Good Mid-Year Financial News!

December 31 marked the end of the calendar year and the midpoint in AHCC’s fiscal year which runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. This is the time in the year that the Administration & Finance Committee* takes a close look at not only a forecast of this year’s 12-month financial results but also how we are positioned to strengthen the church’s finances in our 3-year plan.

In line with other churches’ experience, AHCC’s contributions have trended downward consistently for the last 5 years due to external trends (e.g., demographics) as well as significant disruptions (e.g., the pandemic). As the largest component of our income, members’ and friends’ contributions are critical to our ability to sustain the missions and activities of the church. We are happy to report that this year’s forecast projects contributions to be slightly higher than our original budget and slightly higher than last year’s contributions.

It would be premature to declare this good news to be a significant turn in the tide of income decline. However, we are encouraged, we will continue to monitor closely, and we are actively collaborating with leaders across the committees of AHCC to take the steps necessary to return to income growth and sustainable financial health.

Our church community’s aspirations – to return to and exceed pre-pandemic activity levels as soon as possible and to undertake the exciting initiatives envisioned in our Strategic Roadmap – require that we address this challenge.  The charts below depict how our missions and activities will be supported this year.

We are delighted to share this first sign of good news with everyone! I welcome your observations and questions. Please contact me directly or email me at info@ahcc.org.

Claudia Lindsey
Administration & Finance Committee Chair

*This year’s Administration & Finance Committee members are Jim Bannister, Jim Carter, Jeremy Claflin, Africka Hinds, Claudia Lindsey, Tom Pringle, and Erica Thompson

See the charts here

Interval House Offers Safe Haven

Mission Statement:

Interval House is dedicated to ending domestic violence and providing services that will prevent and break the cycle of family and intimate partner abuse. They strive to reach all persons at risk and bring about social change. They are committed to empowering clients and providing a nurturing environment for victims to heal and reclaim their lives as survivors.

Program Description:

Interval House offers emergency safe housing, as well as intervention services and support for battered women and their children from Asylum Hill and the Greater Hartford area. “Victim to Survivor” provides those needing emergency shelter access to its 21-bed and 4-crib Safe House. Residents receive food, clothing and 24/7 advocate support, including information and referrals, safety planning, and domestic violence counseling. Residents receive ongoing advocacy as they develop income, employment, health, and housing goals, as well as assistance with legal advocacy, support groups, transportation, and childcare plans. Community clients (those not residing at the Safe House) are assisted just the same, and may receive crisis counseling, legal advocacy, referrals, and financial/housing assistance as they work to establish independence from abusers.

Watch this video featuring Interval House Mary Jane Foster, President and CEO of Interval House.

Rev. Tracy Mehr-Muska Accepted to Program at Princeton Theological Seminary

Iron Sharpening Iron, an executive leadership program for women clergy at Princeton Theological Seminary, equips women to embrace and build upon the capacities, agency and savvy they possess to negotiate challenging leadership contexts with a confidence born of competence. Rev. Mehr-Muska has been accepted into this program and will start in May 2022. “I applied to this executive leadership program with the hope that it will provide me with inspiration, wisdom, and practical strategies that will be of benefit to the clergy team, staff, and layleaders as we lead the church from this time of pandemic to its next exciting chapter of connection, inclusion, belonging, flourishing, impact, and joy,” said Tracy. Drawing on best practices from leaders in church, business, public service and beyond, the program’s interdisciplinary approach serves the fundamental goal of promoting capable women to thrive in God’s calling in a way that has theological integrity and a sophisticated philosophy and practice.

Each year, Iron Sharpening Iron selects women to participate in the 2-year program, at the end of which they will receive an Executive Certificate in Leadership. Intentionally gathering women at different places in their call — Associate Pastors, Solo Pastors, Senior Pastors and Heads of Staff — Iron Sharpening Iron is a commitment that leads to a credential that will open doors for longterm leadership goals. Rev. Mehr-Muska will continue in her role as Minister of Mid/later Life while participating in this program. Congratulations, Tracy!

A Note of Thanks for Those Who Work With Children and Youth

Beloved Educators, School Staff, and Daycare Workers,

This is not how it was supposed to be. We can only imagine that when you  dreamed about how your days spent with our children might look … caring for them, teaching them, empowering them … this is not what it looked like. But YOU are exactly where you are supposed to be. For you love our children so deeply that you are finding that creative spark deep within yourself. You are tired, yet you find ways to show compassion; you are confused, yet you find ways to calm their hearts and minds; you don’t know what the future holds, yet you help our little ones discover who they were called to be in this world. And so we thank you with our whole hearts.

As you continue to navigate this time, please know that we are holding you in prayer and are here for you. We know that some days are harder than others. We see you. We see how hard you are working and that when things change or plans fall through, you are the ones holding it together for our children. Thank you for being the hands and feet of God in our world, and for making things more beautiful for the little ones in your care. Your kindness, compassion, and patience will help ensure that they grow up knowing that during this time, they were protected and loved. What an incredible gift you are sharing with us all.

Our prayers are with you, and we are showering you in love and support. We are here if you need to talk, to cry, to pray, or just need someone to listen. Thank you for caring for our children. While there are no words to adequately express how much we appreciate you, we offer this prayer for you to pray when you may not be able to find the words on your own. You are never alone.

God of creative love, we pray that you would be with us as we care for the children in our communities. Strengthen our hearts so that we might be present for them when they need us. Guide our hands and feet so that we might do what is best for them. And grant us grace in the moments when we don’t quite know the next step. We know that you are with us, and as long as we show them love, they will be OK. Be with us in these days and hold us in your safety. Amen.  

Pastors Jordan Rebholz, Erica Thompson, and Tracy Mehr-Muska, Tobey Aubert, Director of Children and Youth Programs

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