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An Unending Symphony- Farewell from Pastor Ruth

Wow!  What great weekends we had on the 8th, 9th and 16th with the Climate March, Pride Parade, and Pride Sunday.  But why am I surprised?  Skyline Community Church not only talks the talk about justice issues but also walks the walk, often literally!  My not being free to take part in the Pride Parade reminds me once again that it is impossible – for humans, anyway! – to be in more than one place at a time.
 
I’m sure you have all had the feeling that there is so much work to be done to help heal God’s world.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, and sometimes it feels like you’ll never finish.  I received some good advice today (Thank you, Nancy M.!),  Instead of being overwhelmed by all the injustice, prejudice,  and poverty that calls for a response, we should think like members of an orchestra.  Just pick up YOUR instrument and start playing!  When we each do that, when we each do what we can, our combined efforts can create some beautiful music.
 
However, we are playing an unending symphony.  Life is an unfinished business.  I am very aware of the unfinished business that I leave with you at the end of this month.  For instance, a conversation that began in response to the defacing  of our Black Lives Matter sign must continue.  Hopefully, those of you who have been reading the book “White Fragility” will share with each other what you have gleaned from your reading.  And hopefully you will be joined by others who wish to work together, looking inward as well as outward to strengthen your effectiveness in righting the wrong of prejudice wherever its ugliness appears.
 
As I get ready to pass the baton back to Pastor Laurie on Sept 26, I want to thank you all for your kindness, your passion, and your faith.  I have no doubt that the path you are taking as a congregation is leading toward the vision which God inspires in you: a world that more fully experiences the love that God has for all God has created.

 

Skyline UCC is Supporting the Rise for Climate, Justice and Jobs March Sept 8

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

We will meet at Skyline Church, 12540 Skyline Blvd. at 9:30am and car-pool to Bart. 

The Climate, Justice and Jobs March is our voice for action before the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco, Sept.12 to 14th, led by Governor Jerry Brown.

We are marching with other East Bay UCC groups, starting at 11am in the Embarcadero Plaza to the Civic Center in San Francisco. Please wear bright yellow, red or orange. Signs will be provided that say, “Climate: the Moral Issue of Our Time”   Bring water and food, dress for cool to warm weather. No signs are allowed that have wooden sticks.

Why Is Global Warming An Issue Of Faith?

People of faith realize that global warming and climate change are issues of environmental justice. For humans, those who are poor or unable to adjust will lose their homes to rising seas and be unable to grow food for their families.

For plants and animals, global warming means that many will not adjust in time and will become extinct, thus reducing the diversity and beauty of God’s natural creation, as well as causing permanent damage to the ecology of the earth.

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am not sure that Dr.King was speaking about climate change, but the words from the great moral leader of our time are so relevant to our situation.   If we are people who strive to follow the words and actions of Jesus we must act now to turn this around.  How can we possibly justify not taking action?  What would we say to future generations that could possibly justify our inaction?   There are no good answers to that question.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.  The Paris Climate Agreement hoped to restrict warming to two degrees.  The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are 1 in 20. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.”  Long-term disaster is now the best -case scenario.  [1]

The scientific predictions are that as ice melts on Antarctica and Greenland, sea levels will rise as much as four feet, thus displacing millions of persons who live and work and grow food near the coasts. Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh will lose most of their land mass, islands in the Pacific will disappear, and coastal marshes such as The Everglades in South Florida will be under sea water.  The number of refugees will multiply rapidly.

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Our Earth home is a finite and fragile planet like no other.   Are we doing our best to be stewards of our Earth or are we the destroyers of our home? We are both.  We need to be leaders in this struggle, as caring loving people of faith, and be truly stewards.

Catherine Kessler, Skyline Church Green Team Chair.           

           From the UCC Website, here is a list of practices for individual action:

  • Calculate the carbon footprint of your family and your congregation to determine a baseline for energy savings.
  • Home: turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer, insulate, get only the appliances you need and make them energy efficient, buy a smaller home or rent a smaller apartment, shade your windows, dry your clothes on the line.
  • Transportation: ride a bike or walk more and drive less, purchase fuel-efficient and smaller vehicles, commute by public transportation, limit flying.
  • Food: grow a garden for vegetables and herbs, support your local farmers through a CSA, limit packaging and waste, start a compost pile.  Eat less meat (it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat)
  • Yard: plant native perennials rather than grass to limit mowing, buy an electric mower if you need to cut grass, recycle leaves and yard waste, plant trees for shade and heat reduction, start a worm farm, compost for soil enrichment.
  • Education: explore websites and community resources for more ways to save energy and cut your carbon footprint, join our congregational “Green Team” to plan for action.
  • Advocacy: write or call your elected officials at every level to inform them that global warming is an issue of faith and justice and that public policy decisions to address global warming are essential.

Links and Resources

[1] NYTimes Magazine,Losing Earth:The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change, by Nathaniel Rich,August 1,2018.

Grant Awarded for Nueva Esperanza Preschool

Nueva Esperanza Preschool works to prepare immigrant and refugee children from the indigenous Guatemalan Mam culture, ages 3-5, to enter U.S. schools at the Kindergarten/First Grade level with at least average levels of expected knowledge that will enable them to receive and benefit from the curriculum in kindergarten.  The school was awarded one of sixteen grants for $1000 each, sponsored by the UCC Humanitarian & Development Ministries (One Great Hour of Sharing) and the UCC Keep Families Together Campaign.  

Mirtha Ninayahuar:Thank you very much for awarding the grant for our Nueva Esperanza Sunday Preschool. It’s such a blessing to receive the grant. Here (at left) are some of our preschool students with their Easter bags that Skyline Church assembled for them.  With the grant, the preschool volunteers will work with the children on the English language, early literacy concepts, early math concepts, and names of colors and shapes. Funds are used for healthful snacks, writing/coloring paper, toothbrush kits, books and book bags, and backpacks with school supplies for graduating children.  The funds will also purchase learning toys such as playdough and puzzles, and project materials such as folders. Also as volunteers are always needed, we are considering a small stipend for church teens to help during the 2 hour class.”

Founding of the preschool: In 2015 the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity Rev. Deborah Lee, Skyline Co-chair of Justice & Witness Mirtha Ninayahuar, First Congregational Church of Berkley (FCCB) member Dr. Victoria Purcell- Gates, and Iglesia de Dios Pastor Adolfo Gomez started the preschool with a grant from the Rainin Foundation.

Volunteers come from the three establishing entities and the secular community. Currently the preschool has $947 available from FCCB Justice & Service Ministry grant. Volunteers sometimes donate snacks and class materials. Currently we have 5 volunteers who come at least twice/month and about 5 who come less regularly.

Rev. Dr. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, Team Leader,UCC Humanitarian & Development Ministries:
 “Thank you so much for submitting the application for a UCC Keep Families Together grant.  We are pleased to award this and are grateful that the wider church can have at least a small role in your vital ministries with the Nueva Esperanza Sunday Preschool.   It sounds like you are engaged in ways that help children know they are loved and welcomed and that also provide leadership opportunities for your church teens. Thank you again for your important work.”

Rise for Climate March – Sept 8

Saturday, September 8, 9:15am – 2pm

The United Church of Christ Council for Climate Justice and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Green Chalice ministry are co-sponsoring the Rise for Climate marches taking place across the country on or near September 8th. The largest march is being planned for San Francisco ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit. The schedule for this march includes an interfaith worship service at 9 am before marchers line up by constituency at 10 am near Embarcadero Plaza.

To join the UCC-DOC contingent and receive helpful updates on the march and the worship service, sign-up at www.ucc.org/rise_for_climate

We will carpool to Bart, the march starts at the Embarcadero Plaza.

Contact Catherine Kessler or Pastor Ruth via office@skylineucc.org.

Beautiful Children at Nueva Esperanza helped by Angel Volunteers

Many times I’ve shared with you what the volunteer teachers teach the students at the Nueva Esperanza Preschool on Sunday afternoons. I’d like to share what I’ve learned from teaching at the preschool at the Guatemalan Mam Church, Iglesia de Dios.

First and foremost, the children are some of the best behaved children I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching. Only once did I have to tell one of the boys to get off the table which he did promptly. I’m not sure if my tone of voice scared him, but his behavior surprised me probably as much as my response surprised him. We both recovered and forged ahead to the next activity.

I’ve learned that the children are very caring and notice when a new child needs a welcoming buddy, especially when there isn’t a teacher available to give all the personal attention needed. For example, new children may arrive to preschool looking like they don’t want to be there. Typically, I’ll ask the parent to stay until the child feels comfortable or a teacher will encourage the new student to pick an activity at the different tables. It’s so sweet to see when an experienced student goes and takes the newbie by the hand and speaks to him/her in Mam, kindly making the new child feel at ease. I often wished I knew what was being said in Mam, a language that to me is very difficult to learn. Could it be that the older child is telling the new child to “suck it up, it’ll be fine” or “stay and you’ll have fun”? Maybe next time I’ll ask what was said.

It’s not hard to see where the caring and welcoming spirit comes from. The Guatemalan Mam people at the church have always made me feel welcome. Every Sunday when I arrive, the adults greet me with a handshake and a “Buenas tardes, hermana“ (Good afternoon, sister) and the adults and little ones whom I’ve grown close to over the last 3 years give me a hug.

A really big lesson I’ve learned in regards to running the preschool is not too worry so much because God, through many angels, has provided what the preschool needs. When the co-director, a Ph.D. in Literacy Education, moved to Colorado and volunteers were on the decline, I worried. But the preschool and I were blessed that she masterfully laid out how the preschool should function.

As far as the declining number of volunteers, I realize many people can’t sustain volunteering on Sundays as this is typically a day to spend with family and friends. I’ve been putting the word out about needing volunteers, but sometimes a volunteer seems to just appear unexpectedly. As in the story of the latest angel that appeared at a senior center, sitting next to me ready to watch a movie. We knew each other from work. She had recently retired and asked what I was doing. As soon as I described the preschool, she said she wanted to volunteer and she has been coming each Sunday. What a blessing!

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity staff found another angel who is willing to commit to volunteering twice per month starting in September and perhaps step in if I can’t be there. Yet another angel is one of my best friends,Yvonne H., a gifted arts and crafts queen and animal lover. She organized a special lesson to celebrate the last day of preschool and graduation day. Her handsome pet, a hairless guinea pig, thrilled us all along with a beautiful photo display showing him in action at his comfortable pet condo. My friend provided folders with pictures of guinea pigs for coloring. The kids asked if they could keep the folders and they were so happy to know they could. My friend has agreed to come back to give more lessons.

                        Children coloring in their guinea pig coloring folders.

Another angel, Catherine K., provided a portable baby playpen that she found during the cleaning of the Church’s downstairs room. She asked me if the Guatemalan preschool church could use it and that very day I took it to the church and was surprised that it was just what we needed. You see, the ladies of the church prepare food in a corner of the preschool room to sell for church fundraisers. This one lady who was preparing food also had a toddler who she let loose in the preschool area which was not a good idea as there are so many small toys to choke on. The playpen is just what was needed. The mother gladly agreed to use it for her toddler where she could be safe while mom cooked.

I look forward to learning more among the angels, the big ones and little ones, when preschool resumes in September. One of the lessons that I have to learn over and over is not to worry and to have faith that everything will work out with the preschool. Thank you Skyline Church family for supporting the preschool, especially Nancy T., a consistent volunteer, and thank you volunteers from other churches and the secular community. All your love and support is a divine gift.

Mirtha Ninayahuar

Nurturing Gratitude

-by David Guerra

Last spring, I attended a day-long retreat for caregivers at Mission San Jose. It was filled with workshops and information as well as fun activities designed to give the 100 or so caregivers a break. One of the workshops really stood out to me. It was about gratitude.

I initially thought: Gratitude? I’m dealing with a really bad situation and you expect me to be grateful?

Studies, they explained, showed that when people looked for things to be grateful for, their overall well-being improved.

Skeptical, I decided to try it. I took a small daily diary that’d been sitting unused in my nightstand drawer. I opened to the first page. I thought about the events of the day and penned, “I am grateful for my singing voice, that I could share ‘My Sweet Embraceable You’ in a tender moment with Claude while caring for him.”

I thought about it. Wow, it did feel good to express how it made me feel. Maybe there’s something to this gratitude thing.

So I wrote another the next day. And the next… until it became a daily practice with one huge caveat: Positive things only, no complaints allowed. Even if the day has been horrible, I need to find one positive thing I’m glad for.

And you know what? I’ve noticed a difference in my attitude. As I go through the day, I am more aware of the bliss in little moments: The scent of a rose. The fleeting smile on Claude’s face.  A bird’s song, a loving hug, a day of peace as family, good news from the doctor, the glow of sunlight through the trees, the soft downy fluff of a turkey chick in my hand, kindness from a stranger, laugher and recognizing love in its many forms.  

All these things are gifts! Moments of peace and joy and wonder, tiny treats that nurture the soul. So many in a course of a day, too many to catalog! I cherish each one of them because they show me that there is, indeed, much to be grateful for. 

 

Statements and Questions of Faith

by Tom Manley

Hello friends,

At a recent Spiritual Life meeting, a bunch of us sat around a coffee table in Colette and Colin’s living room to discuss our Statement of Faith. The conversation was riveting.

I urge you all to go and read the UCC’s Statement of Faith (copied below) as well as Skyline’s. They’re fairly similar and very interesting. As a member of a UCC church, or a member of our community, I think that it is important to understand not just what the denomination does, but why. The Statement of Faith explains the why.

One fascinating thing that came up in our conversation was that different parts of the UCC’s Statement caused different people to pause… some parts caused me to pause. Since then, I’ve spent a fair bit of time contemplating my own faith. One of the things that I value most about the UCC, in general, and Skyline in particular, is that we truly welcome anyone, as Pastor Laurie regularly reminds us, “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.” Even, or perhaps especially, if you are questioning your faith.

All of us are on spiritual journeys and the wonderful thing about the Skyline Community is that we’ve chosen to walk our paths together. We offer support, we ask for guidance, we come together to listen to, and listen for, God’s calling. We come together as disciples on the road.

We are not all at the same place on our journeys and our paths are not all the same. What we share in common is that we are curious and compelled: curious to explore the example and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and compelled to do so together.  The important part isn’t reaching some anticipated final destination and it isn’t answering the questions.

What is important is to take the journey and to ask the questions. Our Statement of Faith raised questions for all of us in that meeting. What questions does it raise for you?

In the coming year, the Spiritual Life Service Team will host events and create spaces where we can explore those questions together, where we can examine our journeys, ask our questions, and listen together for God’s still-speaking voice. I hope you will join us. Our next event is Sat, Aug 18, 1:00 – 4:00 PM for a film and discussion

Peace and love,

Tom.

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith—adapted by Robert V. Moss

http://www.ucc.org/beliefs_statement-of-faith

We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:

God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.

God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.

God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.

God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.

Amen.

World Refugee Day: Do more than Post to Facebook

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Wednesday, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, a day to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war. According to the UN, today more than 68 million people around the world are refugees or internally displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. That is equivalent to the population of the world’s 20th largest country.

There’s been so much news about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separating children from their parents and raiding homes, schools, and businesses. 

The UCC is urging all of it’s congregations to take action now, by contacting our representatives and providing funds to keep families together. Please read on and please sign on! 

I recently read a story of Taina Smalls, an African-American woman confronting ICE agents on a Greyhound bus near Las Vegas. Agents boarded the bus and demanded to see people’s identification papers. The Hispanic woman beside her was horrified until this woman stood up and shouted at the ICE agents, “This isn’t Nazi Germany, and you don’t have to show these gestapo agents anything. They don’t have a search warrant, and we are more than 100 miles from the border, so they have no authority here.”  

Her words were more choice than that, but the agents backed down and said, “Obviously, with that mouth you are an American.”  Then they got off the bus. An informed patriot resisted what this country has become and is becoming. She’s an ordinary citizen who performed and extraordinary service. She is a woman and a person of color, and I have no doubt she has encountered oppression because of both these things. Despite her salty language, however, she clearly was the most moral and American person on the bus that day. She stood up to injustice, named it, and encouraged others to resist it.

What would you have done? Do you have the courage to resist injustice with more than a Facebook post or a tweet? Are you willing to confront the malignant bigotry that starts with the White House and removes the thin veil over the anger and hatred of our neighbors and kin? Failing to do more than we are makes us collaborators, just like those who, in apathy, stood and watched as their Jewish neighbors were dragged away by the Gestapo. 

Do we believe those collaborators somehow were worse people than we are? Do we think that our apathy toward the treatment of immigrants seeking asylum is somehow more justified than that which enabled the Nazis? I’m sorry, but we are no different if we remain silent or scream about it only to our “friends” and followers online. We must do more. We must call our representatives relentlessly until they fear for their jobs and understand what it means to be a REAL American

Blessings and thanks, Pastor Laurie 

The UCC, Skyline, and Social Justice

Last Sunday, Teresa Jenkins lifted up her passion for the UCC and our historic and ongoing prophetic witness for justice. 

As I mentioned, last Friday in Oakland there was a rally seeking to challenge the purposeful separation of families at the US border. Here’s a UCC article about how people across the country have been speaking up, and what we can do.  In addition, I’d like to share with you an article from Mirtha. 

From Mirtha:

Last Sunday, Pastor Laurie shared a story about PJ, a young man from Cambodia seeking asylum in the US who is awaiting deportation.  We are seeking a pardon from the Governor. If you’d like to learn more, please go to bringpjhomenow.
 
Other ideas about accompanying immigrants: 
1.  Letter writing to people in detention. Past detained person gave testimony of how alone and isolated they felt in detention facility and how much it meant to receive letters.  
 
2. Also sponsoring someone who needs a sponsor before release is allowed. Some people take a person into their home with the support of the accompaniment teams.

Here’s a link to a publication entitled UCC in the News. It highlights weekly themes about our denomination. 

 

The Way of Grace

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Ann Lamott says, “Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there. “

I like to say, far less poetically, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If at first you do succeed, try not to look so surprised.” Grace is the gift of God empowering us to become more, do more, discover more, help more, give more, heal more than we are capable of under on our own power, wisdom, or strength. Maybe it is just that I’ve gotten older, but almost daily I have this moment when I realize that I know something I don’t remember learning or have a wisdom that is beyond my own capacity. Perhaps it is a glimpse of God’s grace as I begin to trust more and more a light that I have not known. 

Once upon a time, I understood God could explain eternity, and would teach the entire Bible with confidence. With the passing of time, however, I’ve discovered how appallingly ignorant, illiterate, and incompetent I am. Making peace with those limits is excruciatingly difficult, but failing to do so is spiritually terminal.

The great theologian Jurgen Moltmann said: Our disappointments, our loneliness and our defeats do not separate us from Christ; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in [Christ’s] death cry and await with [Christ] the resurrection. This is what faith really is: believing, not with the head or the lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life. It means seeking community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing Christ’s own history.

Trusting something, no, Someone, other than ourselves is the Way of Grace. Perhaps it the way to Life itself.