A Letter To The 2020 Confirmation Class

Our long-awaited Confirmation Sunday FINALLY happened this morning!  It took some careful planning, but we showed up, wore our masks and CELEBRATED our eight confirmands who worked hard this year and waited patiently for their moment.

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And what a moment it was. <3

Here is my annual letter to the confirmation class!  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
October 18, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

A Letter to the 2019-2020 Confirmation Class

Dear Faith, Sara, Nick, Becky, Bethany, Liv, Jacob and Camryn.

I am so sorry.  This was not how this was supposed to end.

I was putting the gathering music together yesterday and remembered that we took a photo of you all at the end of our first confirmation class last fall.  I went looking for that photo to include it in the music; when I found it, I started to cry.  It was the eight of you, all huddled together for a photo – inside – big smiles – no masks. This photo was taken on October 20, 2019 – almost one year ago today; today, when we are finally able to gather for your confirmation – outside – distanced – and with masks.

So much has changed this year.

And I am sorry.  I am sorry that we did not have a clear understanding of what we were going to do back in March, I am sorry that it took me so long to figure out how we were going to gather for your confirmation, I am sorry that we had to have our last couple of classes on Zoom and I am sorry that the world is just turned upside down right now and that you guys are caught in the middle of our – the adults that surround you – very limited knowledge about how to handle life in a pandemic.

You might have figured this out already, but we do not really know what we are doing.

But here we are – we moved mountains and masked up and spread six feet apart so that we can finally bear witness to the moment where you affirm your baptismal vows and officially join the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

So here’s the deal:  I know the world is kind of a mess right now.  But please do not lose faith.

Please do not lose faith in the people that are trying to bring us to the other side of this pandemic or the people who are trying to safely help us resume some semblance of normal life in the meantime.  Please do not lose faith in your church that is stumbling its way through covid-life through trial and error – sometimes having great success and sometimes having the live feed of worship interrupted because the pastor forgot to put her phone on do not disturb and she got a phone call during her sermon.

Most importantly – please do not lose faith in God.  Please do not lose faith in our creating, redeeming and sustaining God.  Our God who is here with us, walking with us on this crazy journey.  Our God who is weeping alongside us as we lose things and opportunities and milestones and people to this virus.  Our God who wants us to care for one another and work together as the Body of Christ to slow the spread.  Our God who wants us – who needs us now more than ever – to boldly and courageously proclaim the Gospel so that world can have hope.

Faith, Sara, Nick, Becky, Bethany, Liv, Jacob and Camryn – be part of that hope.

Stick around and help us figure out how to do church right now.  I know it is bizarre and a lot of the things that you love to do, as a group, are not on the list of approved activities right now.  But the work we are doing is so important and so necessary and we need you.  We need you to help us do church; to figure out how to be safe right now, but also still be meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.  We need you to be part of our church – our village – as we offer hope, comfort and healing to those in need.  We need to hear your voices because they matter and because they are valued and because we, as a church, are stronger because of them.

Please do not go anywhere.  Have faith that we will get to the other side of this, that we will learn a lot along the way and that we will emerge stronger on the other side.

And you know what?  I said at the beginning of this letter that this was not how this was supposed to end.  But confirmation really is not the end – it is actually the beginning.  So, as strange as it seems, today is the first day of a new chapter of your journey of faith – one you likely will never forget!

So even though it was not the moment I envisioned back in September – enjoy this moment.  Enjoy the handmade masks.  Enjoy the beautiful fresh air.  Enjoy being livestreamed to everyone watching at home (I know a lot of people pull worship up on their TVs, so you’re on TV!).  Know that everyone in the church has been praying for you and is so happy to be part of this with you.

Faith, Sara, Nick, Becky, Bethany, Liv, Jacob and Camryn – you are so loved.  And we are all so proud of you.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

This is it for our summer sermon series on hospitality!  This week is Rally Day and the beginning of a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which will bring us through Thanksgiving.

It was fun to look at hospitality this summer – I actually had a lot of great feedback from people who gave me tangible ideas and suggestions of ways that we, as a church, can improve.  I hope this is one of those sermon series that we keep talking about, long after it’s over.

The question we answered in this final week was, how can we create a space where people feel welcome?

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 1, 2019

1 Kings 6
Acts 2:37-47

How Can We Create A Space Where People Feel Welcome?

I have to be honest, I thought about cutting some down some of this scripture from 1 Kings and only reading part of it this morning (a decision many of you may have wish I made!), but every time I re-read the passage in its entirety, I got caught up in this beautifully vivid description  of King Solomon building the temple – of Solomon leaving no details unturned as he constructed this place where the Israelites would worship God – and I could not bear to cut any of it out.

You see, I was raised to believe that the details matter.  All of them.

I am the daughter of a director; a director who would spend hours creating lighting designs that not only looked cool on stage, but that also complemented the scenery, music and choreography and were timed perfectly to create a dramatic affect.

I understood from a young age that you do not have to do things like sell light-up wands to kids in the audience to wave around when the beast transforms or when Cinderella goes for a ride in her magical carriage, but that it sure looks amazing when you do.  Or that bubble machines and confetti canons might make a mess, but they are totally worth it anyway.  Or that bringing an actual pony on stage is risky, but it is always a risk worth taking because who doesn’t want to be remembered as the theater group who brought an actually pony on stage?

I came to realize quickly that the atmosphere we created in the lobby, the first thing people saw when they walked in – music, headshots, photo displays, a wide array of snacks and cold drinks, people welcoming patrons with smiles on their faces – created an excitement and energy that everyone carried into the theater.

Because the thing is – when it all came together and the lights went down and the curtain went up, magic was created as we told some of the greatest theatrical stories.

And it mattered.

So you can understand why I obsess over things like soap and coffee and nametags here at church.  Because I want to create an excitement and energy that people bring into the sanctuary with them for worship.  I want to create an experience that people will remember.

Here at this church, we have the privilege of telling one of the greatest stories that has ever been told – the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining work in this world.  And so when people come to church and hear us tell this story, I want to create magic.

Our first scripture reading comes from the first Book of Kings, which can be found in the Old Testament.  There are two books of Kings; first and second Kings were originally a singular literary work.  They give a continuous account of Israel’s history from the death of King David and the ascension of King Solomon to the release of King Jehoiachi, who was being held in prison in Babylon.  This spans the time of approximately 400 years.

The content found in these books reflects the theological concerns of the laws found in the book of Deuteronomy – namely that the Lord is Israel’s only God and that all of God’s covenantal laws must be followed, including the requirement that God may only be legitimately worshiped in one place.

You can see why this temple that Solomon is building is so important.  It is not just a structure; it is a place of worship – the place of worship, the place the Israelites believe is the only place worthy of worshipping their one God, who will dwell there.

And so while this might not be about soap or coffee or nametags, there are 38 verses describing every single detail of this temple that Solomon is carefully building.  Solomon believes that this is important; that the building, the furnishings and the artwork are coming together to create an experience where the Israelites can hear the story of God’s creating work.

Our second scripture reading comes from Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the formation of the early Christian Church; it begins with Jesus’ ascension and goes from there.  The cool part about looking at the book of Acts alongside this passage from 1 Kings is that Acts tells the story of the church before it becomes the church that we know today.  It starts in people’s homes, with the apostles sharing the message of Christ’s resurrection from city to city.

Acts reminds us that we do not necessarily need a church building to worship God; but this particular scripture shows the, sort of, natural tendency for human beings to eventually find themselves in intentional spaces of worship.  The apostles are breaking bread together at home, but also spending “much time together in the temple.”[1]

The thing is, we do not need a physical church building to worship God.  But the building represents something, right?  It represents our faith, our hope, our desire to create love in this world. It represents our community, the cloud of witnesses that came before us whose lessons we are carrying with us and whose legacy we now uphold.  And I think history teaches us that space matters, that when we have a designated and carefully designed space to worship God we do so with intention and reverence and enthusiasm.  The details of our space not only matter, but they help us tell a beautiful story of the love we have for our God, of the pride we have for our community and of our desire to welcome others into our space.

I am not suggesting that we build a temple that is 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high with recessed windows and three stories.  But I am saying that our space matters.  Because I want people to walk through our doors and not only hear the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love, but I want them to experience magic while they do so.

Earlier this week, I went on our Facebook group and posed the question that is the topic of this week’s sermon:  How can we create a space where people feel welcome? The responses were wonderful and thought-provoking and gave me so much pride for our church in the village and the spirit of hospitality that we are trying to foster here.  They ranged from talking about what we are already doing (physical access, nametags, delicious food) to simple ways that we can improve (hearing devices connected to our sound system, making fans available in the summer).  They talked about what happens when we leave our physical space and then extend our reach out beyond our walls (the Hillside Takeover, the Memorial Day Parade). Multiple people talked about the ways we extend our ministry beyond our membership (the bazaar, the bike blessing, your grace in giving me the time to preside over funerals for nonmembers).

What I love about these responses is that they are not specific to one area of our church and community – they span the gamut – which means that every single person in our church can participate in our ministry of hospitality; that no matter who you are or how long you have been attending RCC or how much time you have available or what you are interested in, you can help create a space of bold and extravagant welcome.

So how do we do this?

I said in my Facebook post that I hoped this sermon would start the biggest brainstorm session we have ever had – and I am going to start!  I have five suggestions.

#1.  Nametags, nametags, nametags!  I preached a whole sermon on this so I am not going to bore you again, but Rally Day is NEXT week, which means we might have some new faces in our pews.  If you have not been wearing your nametag this summer, dust it off and put it on next Sunday (and if you lost it, I will make you a new one).

#2. I want everyone to try to put yourself in an “outsiders” position and think about what our worship experience looks life. Coming to church and being in worship makes sense to all of us, because we are used to it, but is it easy for someone coming for the first time?

Is our signage clear and thorough?  Is there always a place for a newcomer to park? Do we make people feel welcome when they first walk in?  Are our worship bulletins easy to follow?  Do we approach first-time guests after worship and invite them into fellowship? Do we use language that new guests will be able to understand or do we use insiders language?

The thing about all of these questions is that if we are falling short there are simple and immediate solutions.  We can buy new signs, create designated parking and reformat the bulletin.  We can change our language.

We need to make it easy:  Easy to find out what time church is, easy to get here, easy to participate in worship and easy to get involved.  If you have a tangible suggestion about how we can make something more welcoming, please share it with me!  I will ask that you please try to share it with me using a kind and constructive tone, but remember that I am the worst offender of getting caught up in what we are doing because I am so deeply embedded into it.

#3. Let’s all look at our space – our physical space.  Is bright, fresh, clean and functional?  Does it give you a sense of calm and comfort?  If the answer to any one of those questions is, “not really,” then take the initiative, come up with a solution, talk to the Executive Board, maybe put together a group of people and make it happen.

Some of the church school classrooms got a fresh coat of paint this summer because two or three people took the initiative, came up with a solution and made it happen.  And they look fabulous!  There are so many little projects around our building – inside and outside – that might seem daunting for one person, but we are not one person, we are a village – the body of Christ.

#4. If you see someone that looks like they might be new, say, “Hello!”  Introduce yourself.  People always tell me that they are worried they might go up to someone they think is new and accidentally introduce themselves to someone who has been attending for months or even years.  But honestly – who cares?  If you do not know someone’s name, they are new to you.  If someone has a confused look on their face, ask them if they need help. When we have New Member Sunday, make it a point to talk to the new members in the weeks that follow; get to know them and find ways to integrate them into our community.

#5. Remember that it is the little things that make a difference.  If you know it is going to be hot, maybe offer to bring bottles of cold water and have them available for people in worship (who else was totally psyched when Bonnie Meagher was making root beer floats the Sunday the heat index was over 100°?). If it is going to rain, show up to church early with an umbrella and walk people in.  If it is going to be cold, offer to start people’s cars during Fellowship.  If you have not seen someone in awhile, contact the office for their phone number or address and give them a call or send them a note to let them know you are thinking about them.

Friends, this is it for our mini sermon series on hospitality.  I have to say that I am thrilled with the response that I have gotten to this already. From donations of nice-smelling soap to offers to help fix our front steps, people are carefully discerning ways that they can give back to this community that they love so much and to help to create a more hospitable space for others to be welcomed into.

So let us, like the first apostles that laid the foundation for the Christian church we love so much today, praise God and have the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day, may God use us to welcome others so that God can add to the number of those being saved.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Acts 2:46, NRSV

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To Call The Church Into Being

Hi Friends!

We were off the Year of Mark this week for Pentecost.  There was no denying the Holy Spirit was present on Sunday when you walked into church!  We had a big fabric installation and a cake with sparkler candles and everyone wore red.

Sunday was also Children’s Day at RCC, so it was a really short sermon before the older kids did their “memorable moments” skit, where they each talked about their most memorable moment at the church this year.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

To Call The Church Into Being

I was texting back and forth with Abbie St. Martin this week about my ability (or lack thereof) to make a Pentecost cake and she said, “You could just make any old cake and set it on fire.”  She then immediately followed it up with the text, in parentheses, “That’s Pentecost, right?”

As a pastor, I have never been more proud.

This morning is Pentecost and it is the tradition of the Church to use the color red to symbolize the fire and the might movement of the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully not long after my conversation with Abbie, Jen Healy texted me and said she and Matt would be happy to make an actual Pentecost cake, one that we would nothave to set on fire.

Pentecost is the day when we commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the apostles and the earliest followers of Christ and called the Church into being.  This morning, before we move to this year’s Church School skit, I thought I would talk about what it means to call the Church into being today.

Last Sunday was New Member Sunday.  With joy in our hearts, we officially welcomed 11 new people into our church family.  Leading up to last Sunday, one of the new members asked me, “What is it that you expect of us, now?”  I have thought about that question all week.  Of course, with congregational polity, it is a fascinating and not-easily-answerable one.  Because I guess, technically we don’t expect anything; but when people join the church they areaccepting our invitation to help us call the Church into being today.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Today is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, but it is also a celebration of what the Holy Spirit has done in our midst, a celebration of what we do when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and our lives and a celebration of the Church that the Holy Spirit has called into being today.

And what a Church is it.

Perhaps we do not expect anything “official” of our members, but when we call the Church into being, we are doing something powerful and bold and life-changing.

To call the Church into being means creating a safe space where we can learn and grow in our faith.

To call the Church into being means singing together and praying together and sharing the peace of Christ with one another.

To call the Church into being means gathering around a table and breaking bread together, remembering Jesus every single time we pass around a tray of bread, grape juice, turkey, pasta or lemonade.

To call the Church into being means hearing prayer requests offered up by those in our church family and earnestly pray for them; sharing in both their joys and their sorrows.

To call the Church into being means asking hard questions and not being afraid of what happens if someone has a different answer than you do.

To call the Church into being means making meals for people when they are sick, recovering from surgery or bringing a new baby home.

To call the Church into being means rescuing the first row of worshipers from a falling speaker.

To call the Church into being means sometimes entering a peaceful space and sometimes being surrounded by chaos.

To call the Church into being means celebrating all generations – young and old.

To call the Church into being means knowing that you are not alone.

Today we celebrate the Church that was, that is and that will be in the future.  We celebrate God who created us, Christ who redeems us and the Holy Spirit that sustains us always.

Today, with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we make a commitment to continue to call the Church into being.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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