What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. (Mark 1:27 NRSV)
I have always thought of the gospel of Mark as the Cliff Notes of the gospels. Once you enter in you are whisked into a narrative that is fast, terse, and direct. There is no room to sit and ponder the birth of Jesus, the journey of the Magi, or a long cosmic history of Word and creation. We are dropped into the action: the first 8 verses give us the image of John the Baptist, followed by the baptism of Jesus (3 verses), followed by a brief stint in the desert coping with temptation (only 2 verses!), and then we land on verses 14 and 15 and can take a breath. We learn of the death of John the Baptist (with no explanation), and then Jesus makes a pronouncement and is off and running in his ministry.
I love reading Mark because it forces me to focus on the skeleton of the gospel in tight, hard-hitting narration. In the first chapter I notice key aspects of the Jesus story. First, his origin connects with John the Baptist. Jesus goes to a place in the wilderness and is baptized by a wild man who is absolutely focused on one thing: repentance. God speaks and is pleased. Both foreshadow Jesus’ ministry since the first time we hear him speak, his words are about repentance and the kingdom of God. Both will be central to his message. We also learn that temptation is a lived experience.
Further, we learn Jesus calls people to follow him in his ministry. And then we have two dramatic stories. The first involves teaching in the Synagogue where Jesus cleanses a man with a demon. The second story relates healings at Peter’s house. Then Jesus moves out to preach in Galilee, heals more people, and the chapter ends.
What can we learn about Jesus from the testimony of one terse chapter? He is focused on repentance and the Kingdom of God. He demonstrates personal authority. He is learned. He teaches and preaches. Healing is central to his work. In fact, his teaching in the synagogue is intimately connected with the healing of the possessed man. This new teaching brings new life. It is both authoritative and healing. The man with the demon is made whole. After his cleansing, we learn that Peter’s mother-in-law is also healed alongside nameless others who come to the house. Clearly, we learn a great deal about Jesus.
What might the first chapter of Mark reveal to us about our own ministry? Do we take Jesus’ priorities as our own? The 45 verses of Chapter 1 lay down a blueprint for ministry that is simple yet life-changing: Jesus calls to repentance and proclaims the Kingdom, invites others to follow the message, teaches in the faith, facilitates healing, and then preaches again.
What do these priorities look like in our own lives? Do we call others to repentance and proclaim God’s Kingdom? Do we teach the faith or do we teach to impress? Are we willing to lean into what might be needed to facilitate healing, or do we shy away from messy interpersonal work? Do we invite others to join in the gospel or do we invite others to commiserate and complain? Does our preaching permit the Spirit, moving in outward expanding circles, to bring the gift of new life to others?
I have come to believe that Mark’s first chapter, short as it is, provides plenty of material for our own reflection on ministry – and our own growth.
Rev. Dr. Carolyne Call
Penn Central Conference.
January 31 - Shiloh UCC, Danville - Rev. Dr. Marisa Laviola preaching
Prayers for Penn Central Conference
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)
This week, we pray for each other as we continue to live into God's calling...
Dover UCC, Dover
Salem UCC, Dover
Mount Olivet UCC, East Berlin
Zwingli UCC, East Berlin
Last fall, Indiana-Kentucky Conference created a series of videos that churches can use as a virtual Children's Sunday School option. The curriculum was written by a gifted group in the Conference, and they graciously allowed us to use it. The curriculum theme is, "God Loves Our Feelings." There are 12 weeks of videos, and each video focuses on a different feeling that our children of all ages have probably felt during these pandemics.
Penn Central Conference has added a special section on our website for COVID-19 resources, including the times and links for Zoom meetings. Keep checking https://pccucc.org/covid-19-resources/ regularly for updates.
The DataHub is now open through March 3rd for Yearbook reporting! Please learn more on the process here. If you need assistance, please contact Paul.
Make sure you also complete the supplemental survey! Link here.
Coffee with Conference Staff:
Thursday, February 4, 2021 - 10:00AM
Grab your morning brew and join us. You’ll hear some brief updates from the Conference. Then several of your clergy colleagues will share what they will be doing for Ash Wednesday. Creativity and sensitivity abound in some of the ideas and plans taking shape. Please bring your ideas to share as well, and join the discussion. We look forward to seeing you! Zoom link here.
Virtual Choir for Lent & Easter
Are you sad you missed the lovely Advent Virtual Choir? Are you a Choir member missing singing, but just didn't have the time in the fall? Good news! Julie Holm is again organizing virtual music between now and Easter. Be part of a group of musicians from all around the Conference singing 3-5 pieces. Resulting videos will be made available to all churches for use as they will in Lent and Easter. The emphasis will be on public domain (think classical) and freely available music, and will be SATB hymns and anthems for Lent and Easter. These are single anthems, so you can do 1 or you can do all of them! To be part of this project, contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first anthem from the Penn Central Conference Virtual Choir, Lift Every Voice and Sing, will be available February 4 on the Conference's YouTube Channel. If you want a downloadable file, contact Julie Holm at email@example.com and she will send a link. The second anthem, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, will be available February 16, just in time for Ash Wednesday, or for use during your Lenten services. Singers are still welcome!
Weekly Book Reviews
January's reviews by Rev. Dave Downer
As a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, provides an authoritative and insightful book on the natural world in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Most meaningful for me was the blending of scientific facts with spiritual perspectives to present amazing accounts of how wisdom can be found through simple observation of the created world around us. This is not a book you’ll want to pick up and read through in a few days, or maybe even a few weeks. To fully appreciate it must be read and savored slowly. I read this during the summer of 2020 when communing with nature was about the only “communing” taking place, and I think it made me appreciate the book all that much more. I found myself on longer walks, taking my time to observe and explore the forests and fields near my home. There were parts of the book that angered me, particularly when I read about the waste and destruction of natural habitats that will never again exist. It also gave me great satisfaction when a native American, Rep. Deb Haaland, was recently nominated to lead the Department of Interior. I look forward to her leadership and the changes she will make.
Saturday, February 20, 2021
9 AM – Noon, US Eastern Standard Time (EST)
1500 – 1800, Central European Time (MEZ)
Conference via Zoom
Featuring Cameron Trimble of Convergence
(Formerly the Center for Progressive Renewal)
“Where Do We Go From Here?
German and American Church After the Time of Pandemic.”
Join Penn Central Conference and Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia pastors as we learn and share what we have learned and what we take forward from the experience of Church during the Covid-19 crisis. What are the gifts of this time? What are the things in our churches that will need healing? How do we move forward to incorporate all of this newness?
Cameron Trimble, director of Convergence will join us in exploring these topics and sharing with one another our experiences over the last year. We will worship, dialogue and learn with our international counterparts in this mini-convocation.
Join us for the fellowship, the worship, the opportunity to learn how churches have been affected in both Central Pennsylvania in the US and Berlin-Brandenburg in Germany
"The gift of a Community of Practice lies in the safe space and deep engagement it provides. I know that I have a group of people with whom to be my authentic self, where I can receive wisdom and compassion and do the same for the other group members. We laugh and we cry, we celebrate and console. Communities of Practice can draw us out of the isolation in which ministers often place ourselves." –PCC Clergy Participant
“I was unsure of what to expect when I joined the group, but something told me this was a commitment I felt called to make. Over a year in now and oh, how thankful I am. Nora prayed over the groups as she was putting people together and I believe those prayers were heard. Our group, we are here for one another, we trust in each other, we pray for one another, we genuinely enjoy one another. We may be physically in different spaces, however spiritually and emotionally we are connected. It’s like having pastor’s recess when we get together. I give thanks to God for this group on a regular basis.” –Another PCC Clergy Participant
As you can see, Clergy Communities of Practice have been invaluable for participants over this past year. These are covenanted groups that meet monthly for worship, check-in and learning topics. More information available on the attached flyer or contact Noraif interested in participation.
Spring 2021 Ministerial Education Forums – Third Tuesdays
Due to the constraints of Zoom interactions, MEFs will have registration limits. If a registration is full, email Paul to be added to a waiting list. Please let us know if you need to cancel so your spot can be given to someone on the waiting list.
February 16: Rev. Dr. Marisa Laviola – Pastoring Parishioners: A Mental and Relational Health Perspective
Pastors know the dear ones in our congregations who are beloved yet bristly; loveable and frustrating at the same; and sometimes just a perennial thorn in our sides. We may struggle how to be in relationship with these dear ones, while not allowing their bristle to push us or others away. This two-hour workshop will present a compassionate framing for how to understand these folks and how to relate most effectively with them in effective pastoral ways.
March 16: Stephanie Rader-Titzel - Mission Central and Connecting to Local Mission Possibilities
“Mission Central is about ‘Connecting God’s Resources with Human Need.’ This is accomplished by following three areas of focus…Mission Outreach, Mission Education and Disaster Response.” Mission Central – located in Harrisburg - partners with over 180 different organizations and they provide resources to groups who are doing humanitarian work locally, across the country and around the world. Stephanie will talk with us about connecting with Mission Central as well as how to tap into mission opportunities and organizations in our various counties.
February 2, 10:00 – 11:15 AM: Nourishing Your Inner Sanctuary with Allie Kochert
Are you feeling overwhelmed and stressed? Sensing your burnout and weary for all that encompasses ministering to others in Covid times? Know you need spiritual self-care, but have trouble fitting it in? Join us as we center in on our spiritual self-care together. Practice mindful listening and learn ways to keep your resiliency up during these trying times. Allie Kochert, MA, LPC, CSD is a spiritual director and therapist who specializes in serving clergy, women in ministry, and helpers and healers. Learn more at www.rootgrowthrive.com.
General Synod 33 will take place Sunday July 11, 2021 – Sunday July 18, 2021. Pre-Synod events will occur on July 7-10, 2021. Learn more here
From our Partners & Friends:
Parish Resource Center is partnering with CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health for a FREE Parenting Webinar Series: Mindfulness, Brain Development, and Behavior - January 14, 7- 8:30pm; Simplicity Parenting - February 11, 7-8:30pm; Unplugged - March 11, 7-8:30pm; Family Communication - April 15, 7-8:30pm. For more information and to register for these workshops, https://parishresourcecenter.org/events/
Parish Resource Center offers basic, stand-alone Technology Webinars: Intro to PowerPoint – January 14, 7-8:30pm; Zoom for Presenters – February 8, 7-8:30pm; Intro to Word – March 1, 7-8:30pm; Intro to Excel – April 28, 7-8:30pm; Intro to Publisher – May 13, 7-8pm. For more information and to register for these workshops, https://parishresourcecenter.org/events/
A Gift Acceptance Policy is an essential but often overlooked section of endowment governance. Matthew Wagner, Vice President of Institutional Relationships, has prepared this article that lays out practices and strategies in creating a Gift Acceptance Policy. Click here to read and download the article.
THE ALLAN S. MECK & ROBERT V. MOSS AWARDS FOR FAITHFULNESS IN MINISTRY
The Alumni Council of Lancaster Theological Seminary awards these special honors annually to graduates of any denomination.The Meck Award honors the memory of Allan S. Meck, Class of 1911, president of the Seminary from 1947-57. It is presented for distinguished service in the practice of pastoral ministry.TheMoss Awardis named for Robert V. Moss, Jr., Class of 1945, president of the Seminary from 1957-69. Itis presented for distinguished service in the practice of specialized ministry (e.g., chaplain, administrator, educator, judicatory staff, etc.). Learn how to nominate someone here!
The Brush Valley Fusion of Faith, a small, ecumenical (ELCA/UCC), rural congregation in Central Pennsylvania, seeks a temporary, part time pastor to fill in for 15 weeks while our pastor goes on Sabbatical. Current anticipated timeframe is between mid-July or early August and mid-November, 2021. Worship leadership and supply preaching required, plus 4-5 hours per week to be negotiated, which may include worship preparation, leading Bible Study and adult education, or other pastoral tasks. Visitation of a small number of shut ins, either in person or via phone, also requested. $300 per week, plus mileage. This will probably require you to be in person on Sunday morning only in the area of Rebersburg, Pennsylvania, as we hope to move back to in person worship by then, but may also a simultaneous phone conference option. No housing. Prefer someone who can be designated for this term by the UCC or who is ordained to Word and Sacrament in the ELCA.This may include ecumenical partners of both denominations. Seminarians encouraged to apply, and mentoring can be arranged for a seminarian who serves. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (814) 349-5515 for more information.
Mission Central has a part time Business Administrative Assistant position open. This position functions primarily as the Bookkeeper and Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director but lends clerical and collaborative support to the Development Director. As such, the employee assists in implementing administrative strategies and objectives. Learn more here.