The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14a)
Years ago at my ordination exam I was questioned about my perspectives on the cross and resurrection and how important they were to my own experience of faith. I don’t remember my exact answer. But I do remember that it was short – because I went on to say that for me, the incarnation of Jesus had just as much impact on my faith and I felt it wasn’t discussed often enough. The power behind the idea that God came to dwell within human flesh is staggering. The idea that the Creator of the Universe (and my own Creator) somehow joined with our humanity was transformative for me.
The Christmas story is a beautiful one and it is responsible for some of the best music, writing and art in the world. The story has elements that please all audiences. The image is captivating: a seemingly mess-free birth occurs in a stable with soft-eyed donkeys looking on, there are angels outfitted in gold and glitter, and shepherds on hillsides with sheep look up at a star that burns brightly. There is hope and promise and glory. After the visit with three men in gorgeous robes, the family flees away from Herod. And our liturgical year moves on.
As a child I loved the story. As an adult I revere the message – and I spend a great deal of time thinking about what it means for God to dwell in an actual person. The power of the miracle has to do with the inherent messiness of human flesh. If God chose to “make a tabernacle” within a human, then that means our lives – our very bodies - can be holy and good and beautiful. As a woman raised in middle-class American culture I learned through advertising and the media that my physical self was certainly not beautiful. Not according to what “they” depicted. For many, the experience of trauma to our bodies reinforces this – beauty and goodness of the physical self are buried under shame and self-loathing. And we easily slide from “not beautiful enough” to “not good enough” and back again. Those messages, over so many years, wear deep grooves into how we think about ourselves. I know this because when I ask clergy what voices they hear in their heads, the most common one says, “I am not good enough.”
The incarnation burns away our meager cultural notions of what is beautiful and good and demonstrates that the Creator favors our living selves – our whole selves – for a dwelling place. Mary carried the Word-made-flesh in her own imperfect, young, vulnerable body. The physical body is indeed good enough - to house our savior and to house the Spirit of the Lord. The body we often reject is loved and made holy in our faith. This is the miracle of Christmas to me: Mary carries God-with-us in her womb and makes a sanctuary of her body. Redemption is not only for our hearts and minds – it is also for our physical selves. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Carrie Call
Penn Central Conference
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
–Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)
December 25 - January 1 - Office closed
January 10 - Emmanuel UCC, Hanover - Rev. Dr. Carrie Call preaching
January 17 - St. John's UCC, Boalsburg - Rev. Carrie Call preaching
Attention treasurers! The deadline for remittance to be counted for 2020 is January 13, 2021. As long as your remittance is postmarked by January 13 AND is marked as 2020 remittance, it will be included on your 2020 giving statement, OCWM and 5 for 5 certificates.
If you have any questions, please reach out to Paul.
Coffee with Your Conference Staff
First Thursday of the Month, 10:00 AM
Join us to hear some updates from the Conference and hear reflections on a particular topic for the day from your clergy colleagues in the PCC. (If you are not able to attend, please see the question that follows the description below.)
January 7: What Christmas taught us about Church
We have emerged from the end of 2020 including our recent celebrations of Christmas. How did you “do” Christmas in your community and what did the experience reveal? How has our worship and approach to major holy days changed? What good insights and practices will we take forward into 2021? Five of your PCC colleagues will share their answers to these questions and invite your responses and reflections. Zoom link here.
Question for all our clergy serving churches: The staff would like to record some sermons that could be used by our clergy on an as-needed basis during the months to come. We could also provide liturgy materials that would complement the sermon. Is this a resource that might be helpful to you? If so, would you prefer lectionary-based messages or themed messages? (Suggestions for themes are also welcome.)
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...
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 Scandal and the Star” is a rich little volume that seeks to “free the birth of Jesus from sentimental and seasonal stereotypes.” (The Scandal and the Star pg. 7) It treats the story of the birth of Christ with respect and care. Yet, separates the story from much of the “tradition” that keeps the Story from coming through.
In 12 short chapters, McClelland takes the reader through each action in the larger story, addressing Scripture and tradition, each with respect, but clearly separating them, for the sole purpose of allowing the work of God to clearly shine.
From Chapter 1: “Poor manners are sometimes greeted with the sarcastic taunt, “Were you born in a barn?” Well, Jesus was! And therein lies the tale of this book. Make no mistake. The birth of Jesus was an embarrassment to early Christians and when freed from its season sentimentality, creates for the modern believers a real crisis of faith. Open the New Testament and the scandal hits you squarely between the eyes.” (Ibid pg. 11)
Each segment of the story is addressed, the angel visitations, the virgin birth, the wise men, the shepherds, all the familiar, yet according the McClelland misunderstood, aspects of the foundational story of our faith.
It is important to note that while McClelland rejects much of the sentimentality of the story, he does not reject the story. Jesus is real. The act of God in the world is real. His purpose is to take those actions and make them pop. Make them real in all their pain and poverty, in the crassness and squalor and in the base reality of how the Savior of the world came to birth.
There is much to ponder and wrestle with in his interpretation of the story. But there have been few books that have stayed with me over the years, and given a deeper and fuller expression to the work of God in our world.
Penn Central Conference's own Rev. Dave Stewart (New Hope (Fissel's) UCC, Glen Rock) has contributed to the anthology The Death Project: An Anthology for These Times. In this collection of stories, poems, memoirs, and information, 36 writers from across the US, Australia, Turkey, Britain, Bosnia and Herzegovina share their experiences of death, dying, grief, and recovery. The writers are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Bah'ais, atheists, and New Age. They are different races and from different immigrant communities. Some write of family loss including suicide, others of war or devastating illness, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. Others share rituals that help them recover.
Rev. Jes Kast (Faith UCC, State College) is featured on the cover of the January/February 2021 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. See more here.
Rev. Christina Fidanza (Freysville Emmanuel UCC, York) wrote an Advent devotional for the Open and Affirming Coalition's Picture Advent. Read it here.
New Communities of Practice Forming Now
"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.
January 19: Rev. Dr. Carrie Call – Psychology for Ministry: Moral Development
How do we come to know what’s right and wrong? How do ideas about morality form and what affects them? This gathering will be the first entry into considering how psychological reality connects to and undergirds our work in ministry. Moral development covers how we come to make moral decisions and what affects our motivations. This will be a time for learning new concepts as well as engaging in self-reflection and discussion. The material will clarify aspects of ministry and help us to understand ourselves and each other better.
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.
Lectionary Discussion Group continues in the new year! Join other clergy on Tuesdays at 1:00PM to discuss the lectionary passages and enjoy. NEW Zoom link here.
Sunday, January 24, 3:00 PM - Ecclesiastical Council for Sue Schmidt held via Zoom - Dover UCC, Dover
From UCC national setting
The United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches have joined forces to offer faith- based organizing training to the wider church and beyond.
During this Advent season of viral pandemics, racial injustice, economic uncertainty, physical isolation, and socio-political strife, how does one prepare for what is to come? Advent is the season Christians are called to prepare for the coming of Jesus in the world and, with Jesus, the in-breaking of justice.
What distinguishes faith -based organizing from other trainings is our reason why. These trainings are built on a foundation of discipleship.
What will the world look like when justice comes? And how do we prepare for its arrival?
We have gathered four nationally recognized organizers and trainers, each paired with a theological reflector, to help us interrogate both these questions and the sacred text that undergirds our discipleship in this area.
Over the course of four sessions participants will gain tools for: basic organizing & embodiment; direct action & risk assessment; communication & accompaniment; trauma care and healing space. Each sessions also includes space for interaction, questions, and downloadable resources. Learn more here.
These webinars are designed to help you enhance your local church ministries. Most are free to attend. Check out the calendar here.
No webinars this week.
General Synod "Rooted in Love: Special Edition"
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
Pennsylvania Academy of Ministry at LTS
Nondegree classes are ideal for:
Lay Ministers already pastoring churches
Pastoral Leaders in part-time or bi-vocational ministries
Individuals in discernment
Laity serving Christian denominations and independent churches
Theology II: “Leadership and Community,” Jan 9–Feb 18, 2021. The Rev. Holly MillerShank offers a six-week online class through the Pennsylvania Academy of Ministry at Lancaster Theological Seminary. The class provides an introduction to Christian theology, focusing on the human condition, Christian hope, the church, ministry, and mission. Students may take this class without having taken Theology I. This 2.5 CEU class starts Saturday, Jan 9, followed by five weeks of asynchronous online instruction. Cost $325. Apply online athttps://lancasterseminary.edu/academics/PAM.
Do you - or someone you know - need to complete the UCC History & Polity requirement for authorization? Are you interested in learning more about the UCC?
Now's the time to sign up for the seven-week 2021 online course UCC History & Polity.
The Zoom classes will meet live from 2-5pm on Fridays from Feb. 12 through March 26. Just $100! Questions? Contact Dr. Carrie Call, at email@example.com.