Autumn Wednesdays at Falcon Heights Church

Join us Wednesday evenings Oct. 26 through Dec. 7 for “Autumn Wednesdays at Falcon Heights Church.”

  • 6 p.m. – Hot supper for all, with main dish provided by the Intergenerational/Adult Ministry Team. Bring salad or dessert to share if you want, or just come and eat.
  • 6:30-7:20 p.m. – “Conversations on Race with Gary Kwong,” starting Oct. 26 and running for four weeks. First session: Where did the concept of “race” come from? Gary is part of our Minnesota Conference Anti-Racism Team. He is a former 3M chemist who does extensive community organizing work in local Hmong, Somali and African American communities. He is a member of New Brighton United Church of Christ.
  • 6:30-7:20 p.m. – Christmas pageant rehearsals for children and adults.
  • 7:30 p.m. – Choir rehearsal in the sanctuary. We start by rehearsing Handel choruses for presentation Dec. 4.

October discussions on Islam

In response to a number of requests from our congregation to learn more about Islamic beliefs and practices, we are starting a five-part series during First Hour, led by Conee Biggs, called “The Jesus Fatwa.” How might we move beyond stereotypes and fear when it comes to our Muslim neighbors here in the Twin Cities and around the world?

In Islam, a “fatwa” is a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority. In a DVD recording called “The Jesus Fatwa,” seventeen Islamic and Christian scholars offer reliable information about what Muslims believe, how they live out their faith, and how we all can be about building relationships across the lines of faith. Come and join us at 9:30 a.m. Sunday mornings.

Another look at “faith”

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis – I had an interesting discussion with the parents of our confirmation students the other night. Midway now through working with our five 7th-9th graders, I wanted to better understand their parents’ hopes and expectations, given that they were each requiring their child to attend. What struck me in our conversation was not a stated desire for their youth to believe certain Christian doctrine. Nor were they particularly concerned about their 12-, 13-, 14-year olds assuming responsibilities of adult membership in the church at this age. What the parents wanted for their kids was for them to be able to identify and talk about the questions that the kids have this point in their young lives. Questions of meaning and purpose and how does one come to one’s own conclusions about God and this complex and confusing world. Questions about their emerging identity as a young person, and how their own intellect and conscience might come to judge religious belief and practice. Questions about the ideas their parents and schools and church have taught them. The parents wanted their kids to be able to identify “the enduring questions” that will be with them through life, as one mom put it. To attain some tools for exploring these questions that will be part of their life-long spiritual journeys.

These parents’ concerns resonated with me, and reflect a growing practice within the wider United Church of Christ: helping our youth explore the difference between confirming and conforming (see “Confirm Not Reform” curriculum from Logos Productions). Part of developing one’s own sense of personal identity is to take a hard look at ways we have been urged/forced to conform. How might young people identify and deconstruct some of these beliefs? As a middle-school student, I myself proclaimed that I was an “atheist.”  But I don’t remember anyone actually asking me: “Anne, what idea or image of God do you not believe in? What might be some other ways to think about God and why you are here on earth? And what difference might this make in the way you see the world, make moral choices?” At the time, no one asked me these questions.

For several centuries now, the practice of confirmation in the Protestant church has been about a young person’s education in the proper doctrine or beliefs of the church, so the youth could adequately understand and “confirm” the faith professed by his or her parents at baptism. During infant baptism, we ask the parents if they themselves believe and trust in God, in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and if they will raise the child within the nurture of the Christian church. Confirmation class was the time to learn about and then publicly testify to these beliefs. Little attention was paid to the fact that developmentally, young people need to learn to reflect critically on beliefs, faith and values given to them by parents, church and society.

All of this is rather curious, when I look at the Biblical record of how Jesus of Nazareth actually interacted with people. He never seemed big on doctrine or beliefs. He had this knack for going up to people and saying, “Follow me,” and they would. He certainly didn’t check out their “faith status” first. But in his conversations with his closest followers, those called his disciples, he speaks specifically about their faith. What did he mean by this word, “faith?”

From our brief Luke passage today, we hear Jesus’ disciples make what sounds like a reasonable request:  “Lord, can you increase our faith?!” Jesus has just been talking privately with them about the extraordinary demands of following him. In conversation right before this, Jesus insists they were to continually forgive one another: be mutually accountable, lovingly rebuke where necessary, apologize and make amends. “Do this seven times a day, if you have to.” Apparently, living fully in God’s Kingdom was more complicated than they had imagined. “If someone repents, you must forgive,” Jesus pushes them. To which they understandably respond: “Good grief, we are going to need more of something to do this. Jesus, can you give us more faith!”

Jesus responds in an odd manner: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” There is something in the sharpness of Jesus’ answer, the bizarre exaggeration of his images about small seeds and huge deeply rooted bushes, that leaves me wondering if the disciples, and maybe I, have missed the point somewhere. Is this about more faith? Is quantity the issue here? Or might Jesus be using common images in a cryptic and indirect manner so he can unsettle our assumptions about faith? The disciples appear to assume that faith does come in different quantities: If I have the right amount, I can face the challenges of following you, Jesus. I can valiantly change the world!

So what is “faith” here? Are we talking about faith like a super power, so I can then somehow manipulate an even bigger super power? I wonder if Jesus turns to irrelevant references like tiny mustard seeds and huge mulberry bushes and tossing foliage into the sea because…the disciples are asking an irrelevant question. It may not be about an amount of faith. I sense that Jesus may have been telling them they had all the faith they needed.

Maybe the disciples’ question should have been, “Jesus, we need some help here understanding how following you works, about how to be and act faithful. Jesus, we need some help in learning how to trust God, to trust in God’s steady presence and unfolding plan even when things look bad.” They may already have this thing they think they need. A connection with this transforming God, which they need to learn to trust. This may be at the core of what gets us confused: We hear the word “faith” and think it is about “belief” – an idea or concept we have to get our brain to accept. Yet the word “faith” in Biblical times carried deeper connotations of trust, as in “to have confidence in.” The disciples may have lost track of what they already had. I hear this echoed in the Apostle Paul’s letter, written years later, as he reaches out from his prison cell to a young co-worker Timothy: “You do not have a spirit of cowardice or fear,” he writes in this mentoring letter 2 Timothy. You have, he says, “a source of power and love and self-discipline.” You have it. Lean into it, engage it, Paul urges his leader-in-training. Guard this “good treasure entrusted to you….this treasure of faith that comes down from your mother and your grandmother and lives in you,” he counsels Timothy. Paul speaks of a legacy of trusting, of acting with confidence in God’s presence and strength. How might we have faith to do the hard stuff in life?

Perhaps when a congregation such as ours is faced with overwhelming challenges like addressing racial inequities, we might question: “How do we have the faith to do this? How do we ‘guard the good treasure entrusted’ in us from generations past here at Falcon Heights Church UCC and throughout our denomination? How do we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us?” Because clearly, one of the ongoing legacies of this church has been an abiding concern for those who live in poverty and for racial inequity, a deep passion for those who don’t have enough proper food, school, jobs or heath care. This kind of caring and outreach have been part of Falcon Heights Church’s identity since its formation in the late 1940s. This is about a level of faithfulness, of trust that we are called by God to do these things and that our actions make a difference. We allow the inherent fruitfulness of God’s creative justice and power to affect how we perceive and respond to life.

In these days of increased racial tension and deeper awareness about some of the problems in how we keep our communities safe, we are challenged to have trust in God’s creative justice and power to make changes in our community. I saw that kind of faith-trust in action as we hosted the panel discussion on new directions for community policing here in this packed sanctuary this last Thursday. Members of our Executive Board served as greeters, welcoming the diverse group of attendees. A number of you listened, learned and stayed around to talk with different people in the overflow crowd. Tough questions were asked, and were respectfully responded to by the panel, which included the president of the St. Paul NAACP chapter and a retired St. Paul police sergeant. Important data about racial inequities in policing were shared by one of our former members of the Minnesota House of Representatives and the local legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. We were urged to continue to ask questions about police training and policing policies and to trust that our concerns would be addressed. We were reminded to support our police in the tremendously hard job that they do on our behalf. We were challenged to step out in greater trust, in greater faith, trusting in one another and our ability to work for changes in our community and to heal these injustices.

Jesus seemed to think the disciples’ problem wasn’t about an amount of faith; it was about the ways they were with one another, and with God. He was concerned about their level of trust and patience, honesty and forgiveness. Each Sunday we worship together we renew our commitment to faithful action beyond our walls. We do this as by nurturing these relationships among us. We are here, “rekindling our faith,” our ability to trust in God’s good future together. Thanks be to God. Amen.



Speakers on Block Nurse program Oct. 7

The Women’s Fellowship of Falcon Heights Church invites all to come hear guest speakers Jody and Leann from the Como Park/Falcon Heights Living-at-Home Block Nurse Program. The mission of this program is to organize community volunteers, professionals and family members to provide care for their neighborhood seniors in ways that support choice, dignity, and independence. Join us Friday, Oct. 7, at 10 a.m. for this informative program.

Celebrate Joel & Karen Johnson’s 50 years as music staff

Falcon Heights Church, United Church of Christ, will recognize Music Director Joel Johnson and Organist Karen Johnson Oct. 16 for 50 years of service as the church’s music staff. A luncheon will follow a 10:30 a.m. worship service highlighting the importance of music in the life of the congregation. Former choir members and current and former colleagues are invited to RSVP to Sue Nelson, 651-645-8200, for the luncheon.

The married couple started work at Falcon Heights Church in 1966 and have maintained a strong and vibrant choral program over the years, encompassing both traditional and contemporary worship music. Each December, they present a musical offering featuring a major classical work performed by the choir and a professional orchestra. About 275 people attend each year, and choir members build skills that benefit the congregation all year, Joel says.

The Johnsons are retired public school music educators who taught for 30 years in the Roseville Schools, Karen as an elementary music teacher and accompanist for high school musicians, and Joel as high school choir director. He was named the Minnesota state high school choir director of the year in 1993.

Both were part of the New Hampshire Music Festival for 50 years, Joel as conductor of its 120-voice Symphonic Chorus and Karen as librarian, pianist, organist and harpsichordist. For the past 18 years, Joel has conducted and Karen has accompanied the Roseville String Ensemble’s annual Community Carol Sing-along, which attracts about 400 people each year.

Read more of Joel’s thoughts on this landmark year: 50 Years of Great Music

Calling all singers for Dec. 4 Handel presentation

Sing along with the Chancel Choir and professional orchestra in a special presentation of great Handel choruses (Hallelujah and more) at the Dec. 4 Sunday morning worship service.

This experience will give you an opportunity to:

  • Sing master choral works by great composers
  • Perform with a professional orchestra
  • Improve your singing voice and reach new heights of excellence
  • Have a meaningful, spiritual, musical experience at church
  • Work side-by-side with a great group of people
  • Feel really good about what you have done

This is a short-term commitment open to anyone who wants to sing. You need not be an accomplished singer; we’ll pair you with someone who knows the ropes. There are seven short rehearsals beginning Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. The music will be rehearsed at the beginning of choir rehearsal to accommodate Handel-only singers. Rehearsals are:

  • Wednesdays (7:30 p.m.) Oct. 12 and 26 and Nov. 2, 9, 16
  • Sunday, Nov. 20, at 9:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 p.m. (final rehearsal with orchestra)
  • Choral presentation in worship is Sunday, Dec. 4, at 10:30 a.m.

Those interested in participating should speak with any Chancel Choir member or contact Joel or Karen Johnson at 651-426-4505 or

Winter wear donations needed

Bring new or gently used winter coats, jackets and boots to church. We will take these to the Department of Indian Work clothing room at Interfaith Action to be distributed to people in need. Other gently used winter clothing can be donated as well. Place your donation in the shopping cart near the coat rack.

Resources for talking with kids about poverty, homelessness and more

During our 9:30 a.m. faith study hour Sunday, Oct. 2, adults will learn more about resources to help in talking with kids about poverty, race, homelessness and our faith. Parents and other adults are welcome to join us in this important conversation.

Seeing the seeds of hope

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — It’s been difficult to digest the news this week: from knifings in nearby St. Cloud, shootings and community outrage in Tulsa and Charlotte, to department store killings near Seattle. It’s hard to tear my attention away from this progression to even contemplate the increased bombing of the city of Aleppo in Syria. Where is God in all this? Where am I, where are we as a congregation in yet another string of distressing world events? Is life some kind of ongoing battle that we will win or lose, as we worry about and brace ourselves against adversaries, enemies, all around us? Is the seeming precariousness of life a matter of luck or chance? How much control do we imagine we have over the fragility, the vulnerability of life, in the midst of a week like this?

Part of why I keep reading the Bible is that it challenges my ingrained way of thinking about the world. It shakes me off of my surface perceptions, pushing me to question and move deeper into life’s meaning and purpose. Yes, the Bible can be a confusing, sometimes violent, often obscure and even annoying book. In our tradition, we endeavor to read it in its historical context, using the best tools of modern scholarship to figure out what the various authors had in mind in their context, and how this might speak to us today. We say the various writings are “inspired” but are not the literal word of God. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Biblical scholar, suggests it is a mistake to assume the Bible is full of rules and regulations to be obeyed and creeds to be believed. Not so, says Wright. Nor is it a compendium of abstract and timeless truth, or a collection of witnesses to events. So, what’s left? Narrative, Wright answers. Stories of interactons between God and people. Narrative about God holding people accountable through compassionate judgment, then showing mercy to and remaking the world. Narrative where the first two acts are written, says Wright: the unfolding emergence of the Jewish tradition and the ministry of Jesus and the early church which grows out and expands that tradition. We, as the present-day followers of Jesus, are the actors in this unfolding story: now told to imagine, create and play out the third act of this drama ourselves.

The ancient narratives provides hints about where God is and what our next steps are, in the middle of all our current muddles and mess as humanity. Where might this passage from the prophet Jeremiah, from the 6th century BCE, take us? For context, the northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the invading brutality of the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah, home of Jerusalem and location of the Jeremiah story, is still intact but now besieged. The puppet king Zedikiah has ignored the impending invasion and frantically tries to align with Egypt. Jewish people, rich and poor, have crowded in desperation to the fortified city walls of Jerusalem; food is running out and the enemy is at the gates. If you have skills, a craft, or money, you will be lucky to be dragged off to Babylon; otherwise a citywide slaughter awaits you. The prophet’s role is to continually challenge the ruling king to follow God’s teachings of mercy, justice and compassion to all under his rule. But Zedekiah has finally jailed Jeremiah in exasperation, unwilling to tolerate the prophet’s incessant railing against Zedekiah’s corrupt governmental practices. Zedekiah is sick of hearing that there are logical consequences to disobeying God’s insistence on just and merciful governing.

Now imprisoned under palace guard, Jeremiah receives a word from God. In the chaos, a desperate relative of his needs to unload some property. Perhaps the relative is hoping to get his family out of Jerusalem and head south to Egypt before the impending doom. Lo and behold, his cousin Hanamel arrives, pleading, “buy my field at Anathoth; you’re my relative and have first right of refusal here.” But everyone is trying to leave, the Babylonians of Assyria are at the city gates; this land is basically worthless! God appears to be directing an unexpected, symbolic act to communicate with the people in crisis.

Jeremiah carefully proceeds with the seemingly unwise purchase, signs the deed, obtains the witnesses, weighs the money on the scale. With high drama, he has his personal scribe, Baruch, witness everything, and place the sealed deeds of purchase “in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.” In the midst of the chaos, God directs Jeremiah to look forward. Jeremiah’s act reminds the people that God promises, in the middle of the uncertainty and pending dislocation, that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Houses, fields, vineyards…the stuff of fruitful existence. When everything is disintegrating around them, God plants seeds of future hope that makes life possible, stable and fruitful in their culture. Against all odds, there is the promise that they will once again dwell in the land of their ancestors.

I’ve been noticing the shortening of days this last week. Although few trees have started to turn and drop, the early morning and evening darkness casts a gloom. Autumn often brings me such ambivalence: it can be visually dramatic and beautiful, but I find myself bracing against the loss of greenness, the imbending bareness and cold of winter. As I thought about this paradox, I came upon some writings of the educator and author Parker Palmer. He described how we often focus on the surface appearance of autumn. We tend to think it is all about letting go, about loss, even about the demise of warmth and fruitfulness. “Summer’s abundance decays towards winter’s death.” But he also described how plants are also quietly doing something that we don’t often notice: the spreading of seeds. As plants die off, they drop a wild abundance of seeds that will become the new life in spring. Palmer cautions that we can often get fixed on the surface appearance of loss and decline among us, and miss the seeds of new life that are being planted.

Where do we see seeds of hope that might give us confidence in the future? Some expressions of Christianity focus a lot on one’s imagined future in heaven. It is a common misperception that today’s text from the Gospel of Luke is a cautionary tale about our future in the afterlife. Some have assumed these passages spell out that if we are rich and greedy and ignore the poor, we will go to some place of punishment. And if we are poor, we will go to some kind of heaven, into the bosom of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. I don’t think this was Jesus’ point in telling this story. For Jesus, our confidence, our hope, in God’s good future lies in strengthening our resolve to participate in the good in this life. How might we bring hope to someone in need, someone who crosses our paths while we are living? Jesus asks his listeners and he proceeds to tell today’s parable.

Every day the rich man had a chance to be that hope to the poor man reduced to begging at his gate. But the man with the resources lived in a culture that conditioned him to ignore Lazarus sitting at his front door, because Lazarus would be considered ritually “unclean” with his open skin lesions and his constant contact with ritually “unclean” dogs. So often we talk sadly about “the poor” or the “disadvantaged.” We generalize about these people, making hopeless-sounding assumptions about their motivation or morals. We generalize about a lot of people, actually: “those teenagers,” “the elderly,” “those Muslims,” “that bad neighborhood,” “the druggies,” “those management people at work.” The rich man in the teaching parable never sees Lazarus for who he is. Focusing on the surface, we often express a futility of helping various groups. We lose track of the individuals, each with a separate personhood and unique need. And we lose track of our call to carry the hope of God’s good future to others.

I celebrate of the ways our church continues to bring our collective confidence and hope to the table. The confirmation class discusses the roots of homelessness in our Twin Cities, then encounters individual faces, specific families with kids, as we prepared and served a meal at House of Charity in Minneapolis yesterday. Jesus taught that we don’t develop a sense of compassion for those in need without actually “seeing” them. The generality of “homelessness” takes on human specifics; seeds of possibilities are planted in the minds of our youth. Another group in the church explores the implications of white priviledge as we read Jennifer Harvey’s “Dear White Christians” together. Parents share experiences of talking with their kids about racial inequity. Small seeds of deepened understanding scattered through our congregation. We welcome a panel discussion on community policing this Thursday, imagining a Falcon Heights slowly transforming into a safer, more just and respectful environment for all. We scatter these seeds of hope in the midst of frustration and grief over the national news. We become a seeds of hope for people who feel valueless and hopeless. This is us writing and acting in the next “act” of God healing the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.






Church members to be surveyed for pastoral search

Your collaborative work with the Pastoral Search Committee this summer has yielded a lot of great information about who we are as a congregation and what traits in a pastor can best support our vision as “Seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love.” Thanks to everyone who contributed to this work!

Now we need church members’ help with another task of great importance to the pastoral search. The PSC has put together a survey that will add to the information needed for our church profile. Even though a church survey was taken just a few years ago and some of the information might be repeated in this new survey, its focus is different and many of the questions have a different theme.

Today the PSC is launching an online version of the survey at We estimate it should take about 30 minutes to complete. Each adult and youth in your household is requested to complete a separate survey. Surveys should be completed by the end of September.

Sunday, Sept. 25, has been designated as Survey Sunday. There will be computers and iPads in the Gathering Room available to use before and after worship if you haven’t yet completed your survey by then. We will also have paper copies available on the back table in the Gathering Room beginning this Sunday, if you prefer that format.

Our church profile is a major piece of the “road construction” in our pastoral search – sort of like the ongoing phases of the bridge construction work on Highway 36 at Lexington. The profile is THE document prospective candidates will receive as their introduction to Falcon Heights Church, and this survey will help us get it done so we can move ahead to the next phase of the search. Thank you for your help!

Carol Holm
Co-chair, Pastoral Search Committee