By: Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig
September 1, 2019
Dear Friends and Members of First Church,
This sunny cool morning I am thinking about the challenging issues of our time, and what it means to me to be a part of this First Church Community, in the United Church of Christ. Not just any community, but our community. Especially when times are tough, I look to my faith for direction, guidance, and discernment – for moral compass and a way forward!
Our headlines are full of justice issues screaming for attention and you no doubt have some you care very much about. If you are like me, you may feel overwhelmed by trying to sort out how we can work together as a greater community to work for change we believe is right, or maybe to fight things from being changed because we feel like they were on a just path before now: Immigration, Climate Change, Reproductive Justice, Gun violence, health care, poverty, homelessness, the opioid crisis . . . How can so many needs be cared for, one person at a time?
Well, we belong to one of the most active denominations of Christianity with an extensive history of justice work in our country. We gather at local (Association), regional (Southern New England Conference UCC – new!) and national level UCC regularly to discern together on issues of conscience and vote to put out Resolutions of Witness. We are clear that these statements speak to but not for all member churches – but we also agree to listen to and engage deeply with these Resolutions in our local areas. Here are some of the issues we are speaking to currently: https://www.macucc.org/changingourworld. So we are not alone working on these things – we are part of a greater web of justice action. Thank Goodness!
Now locally as an individual church, you may know that we voted this year to become a member of Pioneer Valley Project (https://www.pioneervalleyproject.org/) a local organization that brings together faith based and secular justice groups to work together with the strength of numbers and address real change on issues of shared values that the members identify each year. You may know that our church participated in our first Issues Assembly at PVP in June, and some of our Social Justice Team members are participating in particular issue work right now. We’ll hear more from them this fall as our action steps emerge on local issues. If you want to be active with other First Church members through PVP, just let us know! (Pastors Pam and Marisa, Mary Friedman, Marieke Burt, Beverly Sager, Anne Landry)
As you think about guiding principles of our faith, let me connect you more with many of the key values we have as Christians who worship in the United Church of Christ. There is so much to be proud of about the progressive governance and faith precepts we proclaim! Here are some: (Taken from the website: https://www.ucc.org/about-us_what-we-believe )
We believe in the triune God: Creator, resurrected Christ, the sole Head of the church, and the Holy Spirit, who guides and brings about the creative and redemptive work of God in the world.
We believe that each person is unique and valuable. It is the will of God that every person belong to a family of faith where they have a strong sense of being valued and loved.
We believe that each person is on a spiritual journey and that each of us is at a different stage of that journey.
We believe that the persistent search for God produces an authentic relationship with God, engendering love, strengthening faith, dissolving guilt, and giving life purpose and direction.
We believe that all of the baptized ‘belong body and soul to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ No matter who – no matter what – no matter where we are on life’s journey – notwithstanding race, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, class or creed – we all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith. All persons baptized – past, present and future – are connected to each other and to God through the sacrament of baptism. We baptize during worship when the community is present because baptism includes the community’s promise of ‘love, support and care’ for the baptized – and we promise that we won’t take it back – no matter where your journey leads you.
We believe that all people of faith are invited to join Christ at Christ’s table for the sacrament of Communion. Just as many grains of wheat are gathered to make one loaf of bread and many grapes are gathered to make one cup of wine, we, the many people of God, are made one in the body of Christ, the church. The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine reminds us of the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are all called. In the breaking of bread, we remember and celebrate Christ’s presence among us along with a ‘cloud of witnesses’ – our ancestors, family and friends who have gone before us. It is a great mystery; we claim it by faith.
We believe the UCC is called to be a united and uniting church. “That they may all be one.” (John 17:21) “In essentials–unity, in nonessentials–diversity, in all things–charity,” These UCC mottos survive because they touch core values deep within us. The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy. Even so, love and unity in the midst of our diversity are our greatest assets.
We believe that God calls us to be servants in the service of others and to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. ‘To believe is to care; to care is to do.’
We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic church. As in the tradition of the prophets and apostles, God calls the church to speak truth to power, liberate the oppressed, care for the poor and comfort the afflicted.
We believe in the power of peace, and work for nonviolent solutions to local, national, and international problems.
We are a people of possibility. In the UCC, members, congregations and structures have the breathing room to explore and to hear … for after all, God is still speaking, …
And this is just a taste of who we are as part of the United Church of Christ! But what an amazing testament to a Christian faith of extravagant welcome – in which we don’t proclaim to be so SURE about God, except about God’s love. In this faith, there is the space for us to be unique and diverse, to disagree and change our minds, to be at different places on a journey of life and still be together, encouraging and inspiring, praying and worshipping, helping and caring. Throughout the stages of our lives, from youngest to oldest, this message of inclusive love and challenge to live a bold life of gospel justice calls to us in new ways – and together, we help each other to listen and to answer.
Wishing you peace and grace,