Talking with kids about social justice and race

Two sessions during our First Hour faith education hour this month will focus on helping parents and other adults talk with kids about issues of social justice and race.

  • On Sunday, Sept. 18, Kyle and Rachelle Roeckman will lead a discussion on “How to Talk with Kids about Social Justice.”
  • On Sunday, Sept. 25, we will discuss “How to Talk with Kids about Race.”

Join us at 9:30 a.m. for these important discussions about age-appropriate conversations.

September book discussion: “Dear White Christians”

We’ve lamented the death of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. We’ve prayed for black men killed by police, for police officers killed while protecting protesters, for the families of all involved. We exhibited peace cranes at our church, and some of us have gone to public gatherings to listen and discuss what happened.

Now what? As Christians who are predominantly white, how do we take the next step toward racial justice? Dear White ChristiansOne place to start is “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation,” a book by Drake University religion professor Jennifer Harvey.

Harvey believes strongly that the ideal of racial reconciliation is the wrong focus—in fact, she thinks it’s “a primary reason we remain so un-reconciled across racial lines.” Harvey advocates instead for a “reparations paradigm,” one of repentance and repair toward communities of color.

Join us for four Thursday evenings in September to discuss these challenging ideas. We’ll meet from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, 15 and 22. (You don’t have to finish the book to participate.) You can purchase the book online here or here.

If you plan to attend, please email Linda Owen at or call her at 651-357-5792 to sign up.

On the “road” with the Pastoral Search Committee

Next time you enter the church, look up toward the ceiling and you’ll see something new. Pastoral Search Committee members Pat Bohman and Mike Bradbury have designed a “road” representing the committee’s work and timeline. The road is currently “under construction” with just the roadway itself completed at this time, but watch as it develops to show the steps we’ve taken in our journey to call a new pastor. With your help, we’ve accomplished a lot already!

Our third Guided Conversation Sunday, Aug. 21, was about what our future pastor could expect from us in support of the mutual ministry with the congregation. We talked about the signs of health we see in our church, what we’re individually doing to live out our vision of being “seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love,” and gave examples of how we’re doing in our covenant with each other: “We will SPEAK the truth in love, CELEBRATE each other’s gifts and perspectives, CHOOSE the good of the whole church over our individual preferences and comforts.”

Your collective voices said our future pastor can expect us to provide:

  • Positive support for time off for study, vacations and sabbaticals.
  • Positive support of mutual ministry in our pastoral care.
  • Direct communication about concerns, hopes and ideas.
  • Active lay leaders and positive volunteers sharing God’s work of the church.
  • Accountability for all members to speak the truth with love.
  • Eagerness to hear a challenging message and learn about God.
  • Willingness to be examples of God’s love within and without the church.

Thank you to all of the participants in the three summer conversation Sundays. Despite the fact that it was summertime and many members vacation and travel during these months, there was always a good turnout and participants were actively engaged in each conversation. Because of this commitment and openness of opinions, the Pastoral Search Committee can present a clearer picture of who “we” are to pastoral candidates.

Prepare and serve a meal at House of Charity Sept. 24

Our next date to prepare and serve a meal at House of Charity in Minneapolis is Saturday, Sept. 24. We’ll meet in the church parking lot at 8:30 a.m. to carpool and return around noon. We will need between five and eight people to help prepare food and serve it to residents and homeless people. Call or text Nancy Ellias (651-983-1157) or Tracy Faville (651-483-0260 or with questions or to sign up.

Third Guided Conversation looks at pastor’s expectations of us

A third Guided Conversation Sunday is scheduled for Aug. 21, and the Pastoral Search Committee looks forward to hearing from all of you. This time our focus will shift. Previous guided conversations have focused on what we expect of our new pastor. Because our congregation and our new pastor will be in a covenantal relationship that experiences and practices mutual ministry, the pastor will have some expectations of us as well. What can the new pastor expect from his/her congregation at FHCUCC?

These questions will prompt our conversations on Aug. 21:

1. The way a church treats its pastor is a sign of the health of the congregation. What signs of health do you see in the way we care for and support our pastor?

2. Our vision statement created from your work with the Discovery Team declares, “We are seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love.” What are YOU called to do to be a seeker and servant growing in God’s transforming love?

3. Faithful pastors and healthy congregations expect each other to anticipate conflict and to speak directly. Our covenant created from your work with the Discovery Team says, “We will SPEAK the truth in love, CELEBRATE each other’s gifts and perspectives, CHOOSE the good of the whole church over our individual preferences and comforts.” Give examples of how you are doing this?

If you are not able to be in church that Sunday, we invite you to email any of the committee members with your thoughts and responses to these questions. You can read a longer update from the committee here:  PSC update 8-11-16

Blessing of School Tools Aug. 14

Donations to our annual School Tools campaign will be blessed during worship on Sunday, Aug. 14. This is the final Sunday to bring donations of new school supplies to help low-income children in our community thrive in their education. Here’s a shopping list of needed items:

High-priority items:  

3-ring binders
Facial tissue

Other supplies needed:  

Spiral notebooks
Composition notebooks
School boxes
Pencil sharpeners
Colored pencils
Glue sticks & bottles
Loose-leaf paper
USB flash drives

God’s good pleasure

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — As we hear this text from Luke (Luke 12:22-32), I wonder how in the world humans can actually stop worrying. Perhaps you remember Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” from the late 1980s. I found a music video online featuring McFerrin and Robin Williams, dancing around in funny costumes, both hilarious and poignant. The lyrics still sounded wonderfully encouraging and naïve: “Every life will have some trouble, if you worry you’ll make it double….don’t worry, be happy.” And I still find the song compelling…and darn near impossible to actually do. Simply not to worry and be happy. Was Jesus asking something ridiculous of his disciples? “Therefore, I tell you,” Jesus said to his disciples, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” Food and clothes…okay…got that. But is it okay then to worry all the other stuff? Such as, people in my congregation, and the future of this church, racial tension, the spread of ISIS and vitriol in politics, and Zika…and don’t get me started on my two adult children in their early thirties….? What do you mean, “Don’t worry!”

In terms of our evolution as humans, worry seems to have a particular helpful function: If you hear a growl behind those trees, be worried! It may be a tiger sneaking up on you. Worried about making it through a long cold winter? A good incentive to storing up supplies and stockpiling that food. But for most of us, given our privilege of income, housing security, possibly the color of our skin, access to a paying job, most of us don’t have to worry about food and clothing too much. But we still wake up in the middle of the night, anxious and overwhelmed. What do you find that your worry about the most? Your health? Is about people you love? Someone you hate? Will my money run out before I do? Is it about a secret you have hidden? Our worries tell us a lot about who we are and our assumptions about the world. Our brain assumes if it is worrying, at least it is getting something done!

But it never really helps to simply tell someone, or ourselves, “Stop worrying.” I suspect Jesus knew this. Notice how he tells people to consider, to look carefully, at the wild lilies of the field, of which there are about 250 species in the Middle East. Closely examine the birds of the air, like this raven here. Is this just about giving our brain something else to do? Why did he pick something living, not an inanimate object, for us to consider? He didn’t say, consider this rock. Nor, consider this person. No…take a close, careful look at flowers and birds. In other places, Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, about silence, about acknowledging their own powerlessness and affirming God’s power. But here, he says to look at flowers and birds. How did he know that contemplating the forces of nature shifts things in our brain?
A recent study by researchers at Stanford University seems to have proven Jesus’ observation. In this study, subjects took a 90-minute walk out in a forested or grassy setting, and others walked through busy city streets. One would expect that this might affect heart rate and general feeling of well-being, from the quiet alone. But researchers noticed something profound also happened in people’s brains when they walked in a natural setting: “Neural activity in a part of the prefrontal cortex decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.” This is the part of the brain region most active during rumination, or repetitive thought focusing on negative emotions. This worry activity apparently decreases when we are out walking in nature. (

In studies that have been replicated around the world, it appears that time spent in nature, considering the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, actually changes the activity in a region of our brain where we ruminate on ideas that bring up negative emotions—and makes us measurably calmer, happier and even more alert and smarter. Perhaps it is in nature, out in the wild, that we begin to get a sense of what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of “God’s good pleasure.” It may be something else we are absorbing out in the wild, be it our own backyard, a city park, quiet time on a lake or up in the Boundary Waters. Jesus put it this way: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The Kingdom of God: the ancient Hebrew phrase describing the rule of God on earth, characterized by compassion, justice and peace. Humans living out a life of mercy and loving community,

There are other studies that have found that people act more cooperatively, not just in their self-interest, after simply viewing nature videos. A study just out in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, by psychologist John M. Zelenski and several other colleagues from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, tests the idea that there’s a link between actually experiencing the natural world and behaving in a sustainable way. “We hypothesized that participants exposed to nature will make more cooperative, and thus sustainable, choices,” they wrote. And for those participants viewing nature videos, instead of photos of buildings, this was indeed what they found to be true.

“It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Jesus said to his closest followers. Jesus was picking up on the prophets’ call for a return to God’s reign, style of ruling, with equity for all. Jesus was not just talking about some interior moral kingdom in our hearts; and this is were we get distracted in our life together as Christians. Paradoxically, he taught that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” an animating force already inside of us. But he also described a world around us in which fairness and justice for everyone must rule. And this world would come about not with violence, like overthrowing Rome’s military might. Its power would come through nonviolence and mutual compassion.

Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” may give us a flavor of what Jesus was getting at:


When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Our poets, and now modern science, agree: We are made more calm, relaxed and cooperative by our time spent considering the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. By our time spent simply carefully observing, enjoying, the natural world. By absorbing this incredible reality of a web of connection between us and all that is, growing, dying, being reborn, all around us. Perhaps we are actually better able to imagine, welcome, embrace God’s reign among us as we spend time “considering” nature around us, the greenness, the fluffy clouds against blue sky, the sun sparkling on a lake, plump fruit and ripe vegetables. God’s good pleasure: All gifts of deep summer in Minnesota that, when carefully considered, actually heal our brains and calm our worry; God’s good pleasure—gifts that are now, for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

New teaching positions open for children’s faith formation

Applications are now being received for two part-time teaching positions in our children’s faith formation program. Our Executive Board recently approved the job descriptions developed by the Children’s Ministry Team for teachers in our Explorers and Seekers groups (K-5th grade and 5th through 8th grade classes) during First Hour on Sunday mornings. Each position is for three hours per week. Staff positions are open to church members as well as those in the wider community. Job descriptions are available in the church office and posted on one of our lobby bulletin boards. Please spread the word. Contact Carol Meeter for more information,

Gathering of the Waters Sept. 18

As we gather again as a congregation in the fall, we will use the gift of water to symbolize the summer journeys that have refreshed us. Are there special water places that give you rest, adventure, rejuvenation? Save some water (best kept in the freezer until September!) and bring it with you to worship Sept. 18. We will symbolically “gather the waters” into a common bowl during worship and celebrate the names of rivers, lakes, oceans and backyard hoses from far and near!

Open and Affirming educational forum Aug. 7

Our Open and Affirming working group is planning several educational forums to help us move into a more intentional welcome of the LGBT community. The first will be Sunday, Aug. 7, following worship, from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. in the Gathering Room.

Pastor Anne Swallow Gillis, Dave Hill and Rachel Flaherty will lead a session on “What does the Bible say about LGBT?” What about those Bible verses that seem so anti-gay? Come and equip yourself for those challenging conversations with family or co-workers. Find out what the Bible really has to say about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.