The last 4 Sundays we have engaged the scriptures from the opening chapters of Acts, and learned how the early church was pushed forward into new avenues. It got me wondering over the last many weeks about the kinds of ways churches are moving forward, staying put, or falling backward. The Gospel was never intended to sit still and be content with where it landed. The Gospel moves, advances and pursues. Do churches follow that lead, or do churches stay put for fear of the unknown places the Gospel is going? I suspect that’s something to think about.
The Church moves through seasons like anything else does. Some are imposed on the congregation, like deaths or leadership transitions. Some are intentional like the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent. We just celebrated Pentecost, the recognition of the Holy Spirit's indwelling in the believers in Jerusalem. And now we enter what we call "Ordinary Time", now through November. But really, there's not much ordinary about these days. We've moved from post-Easter & Resurrection to the start of the church; there is a lot to think about in our spiritual lives!
In worship, we're emphasizing Jesus' passion becoming the Church's mission, & tying together the themes of Easter and Pentecost. New life and new priorities guide us toward ways of living that model the life of Jesus. Pentecost should change our view toward a more open and inclusive expression of God's love. The Holy Spirit was placed upon all that were gathered. People from all over the world were present to receive power and spiritual gifts. They weren't the same after; why would we be the same?
Change is a necessary and important aspect of the life of faith. It's true for God's people and it's true for Christ's Church. We change seasons, and we change our approach to ministry - but we do not change the goal of making disciples of all nations. And I believe we can do better. I believe that God is moving Hillside into a place of greater impact on people's lives. We're already seeing it begin to emerge, and we need to nurture it. No pastor can do that alone, and no congregation should leave discipleship solely up to the pastor. That's why classes and groups are critical for congregational life.
I am excited to be organizing some new classes that will start throughout the fall. If you'd like to help lead or organize a group or class, pitch me your idea and let's get moving! Be Excellent To Each Other,
Rev. Andy Beck
With Summer fast approaching we are moving into a season that traditionally at Hillside has been a slower pace of reduced activity. I really don’t know why churches typically do this, other than to give in to the notion that people travel more during the summer and thus, the church should back off from activities etc., because not enough people are around. In some ways, summertime should be a time of increased activity, to take advantage of schools being out and good weather for being involved.
Maybe that looks different in the summer that it would at other times, but just because summer is vacation season doesn’t mean that the church should take a vacation from our priorities either. While things like the choir break is a much-deserved vacation, I am excited for the opportunities for special music in the next few months. And with new Children’s and Youth Directors coming on staff this summer, we can expect a vibrant and active summer schedule through into August and the start of School. There is much to be thankful for and excited about as we continue seeking ways to Feed People in Mind, Body, Spirit and Community.
So let’s not give in to the pressure that Summer means taking a break from our focus of reaching and teaching people about God’s love, or from our gathering together for worship and faithful religious practice. Let summer be a time to refocus and rededicate your involvement in the ministries of the church.
Here are a few updates for the next several weeks:
Rev. Andrew Beck
Memorial Day is the holiday in the federal calendar set aside for honoring and remembering military service members who died while serving. It’s often confused with Veteran’s day or Armed Forces Day, but those have their own specific focuses. And unfortunately, it's even more associated with mattress and appliance discount sales.
Memorial Day also isn’t the day we remember anyone who has died. In practice, we do that anytime. In the Christian life, we typically remember those who have died on the commemoration of All Saint’s Day, November 1st.
Since All Saint’s Day 2016, Hillside has directly been involved in celebrating the lives of at least twelve people, with nine of those actually being funerals officiated by our pastoral staff at the church or the graveside. That’s twelve funerals in seven months, and almost as many (13) as there were from All Saint’s 2015 to All Saint’s 2016.
Funerals have a way of providing markers for the passage of time. We remember days and locations of funerals. We say things like “It’s been 5 years since…” And we recognize anniversaries of deaths and burials with flowers and wreaths and other memorializing practices. This can all accumulate in our hearts and minds, and become somewhat of a heavy burden in the life of a congregation. We can look in our pews and see where a beloved disciple once sat, and prayed, and worshiped.
But we are not a people fashioned to dwell in the pit or the “darkest valley”. Through Christ, we are a people of resurrection promise and new life. In funerals, we grieve the death of a loved one, and we celebrate their new life in God’s company. So even though by the numbers we’ve seen our fair share recently, of funerals and bereavement meals, we do so remembering that God’s love redeemed the world not only in the long shadow of the cross, but more openly in the empty garden tomb.
What’s equally important is what happens before the funeral, that is, participation in the Body of Christ; God’s Church. It is here, in present company with the saints of today, that our faith in God is nurtured, our lives supported, and our relationships bolstered. I encourage you into this community and family of God, because if there’s one thing I hear at funerals, it that people are so grateful for the connections they and their loved ones have with the congregation, and the life-changing ministry in which we all share.
Be Excellent To Each Other! <>< Rev. Andy Beck
This last weekend was a whirlwind of activities, families and events as I witnessed my spouse receive her Master's of Science in Education degree from the University of Kansas. From the big moments of Convocation in Allen Field house & walking from the Campanile to Memorial Stadium to a gathered celebration with friends and family, and lots of little moments captured on camera, it was a good weekend of joy and sharing.
It reminded me that even though we think we're established and settled, we're truly transient people, moving from one phase of life into the next. With continued learning and education or training, people are improved in thought and action for better lives in the world. But these kind of changes don't only impact the one receiving it. The surrounding family or circle of friends also benefits from the one's growth, through their continued relationship, conversation and friendships.
I wonder if that's also true in the life of faith. Do we experience mutual encouragement and support from a like-minded friend in church? Do we shape and mold one another toward living like Jesus did, with an eye for the oppressed and a heart for righteousness? I wonder, if we take a wider view of God's movement in our lives, we'd find a broader experience beyond the intentional life of faith. A modern parable might go something like this:
The presence of God is like a child that picks a dandelion seed puff, and blows it into the wind.
The wind carries the seeds all round; no one knows where they'll take root and sprout up next.
God's movement isn't limited to our practice of the Christian faith. The ever-widening presence of God is like the continual growth and nurturing of our minds: it's limitless.
I look forward to seeing you on Sundays for worship and learning, as we continue to expand the ways we encounter the Holy One, together.
-Rev. Andy Beck
Our annual migratory friends have returned this spring, just in time for Easter! We hope the baptistery is warm enough for them!
I actually like this sign of spring. The geese nest nearby and their presence is a reminder of the renewal that is coming to the earth this time of year. And that renewal reminds me of the promise of resurrection and new life that Easter brings.
"New life" can sometimes be a buzz phrase among Christians. Usually we mean it to suggest the way of life that was modeled by Jesus of Nazareth that Christians assume upon their belief and baptism. Easter is a perfect time to dedicate for the first time, or rededicate again your life to Jesus, his way of ministry and the gospel of Good News.
If if you want to learn more, please let's talk!
Prayers for the journey,
-Rev. Andy Beck
Over the last few weeks we've seen a big transformation in our gym. What were once decades-old flooring and goals are now replaced with modern sports flooring and equipment. The open, exposed beam ceiling will soon hold new energy efficient LED fixtures.
Many thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers who made this happen. This project is part of our ongoing effort to make Hillside a space open and available to the community, as churches once were. Other projects are in the works, stay tuned for more updates!
As we come close to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we're preparing our hearts and minds to once again recount the passion narrative of Christ's last week. We call it the passion narrative because it's the story of God's passion in loving the world, and recalls us to remember God's promise to save the world. We call it Holy Week because it enlivens in us the spirit and focus of our religious center - the death and resurrection of Jesus. And for Disciples of Christ congregations, the holy act of communion is specifically highlighted on Maundy Thursday.
Join us this Sunday as we welcome Jesus at the city gates, with palms and praise. And return again to the temple courts, the upper room and the garden tomb. We dip our bread in the cup, witness the arrest, deny knowing Jesus out of fear, and we weep at his cross. Join us also, as we rejoice in God's promise and faithfulness on Easter; for our salvation is secure in the empty tomb.
Be faithful, dear church, in God's good promise. And be excellent to each other!
[This column originally appeared in the March 23rd, 2017 edition of the "Hillside Happenings" email newsletter.]
A PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE
by Rev. Andy Beck
I usually deeply appreciate Lent. Note I didn’t say I “enjoy” Lent. I do not think it’s something we can or should try to enjoy – Lent is at its simplest, a challenge. While some may say they enjoy the challenge of a new sport or adventure, Lent is neither of those. In some regard, Lent is a real challenge, that is, it rouses in us the question of our very existence.
Yes, Easter is approaching in the coming weeks, and even though there’s always a spirit of energy and excitement surrounding Easter, we’re not there yet. We’re still in the heart of Lent, and that means we’re still discovering ways to recognize God’s mercy in our lives, and seeking forgiveness from the God who saves. I trust that Lent is bringing special meaning to your religious practice this season, that your connection to the holy is discovering growing edges, and that God’s faithfulness to never leave you or forsake you is nurturing a deeper trust in God’s love in your life. We’re not to Easter morning yet, we still have nearly a month to go.
That said, and as a matter of clergy confessional, this year I’m ready for Easter. I’m ready for resurrection. I’m ready for the promise of new and abundant life. We’ve suffered loss together recently – a lot, and in many different forms. Loss is hard, it reminds us of our mortality. Loss is hard, it reminds us that we don’t always get our way. That’s why I’m ready for Easter, because even pastors need to be reminded of God’s promise of new life, redemption and salvation. I hope you lean on the promises of God as well, as we seek to...
Be Excellent To Each Other! <>< Andy
The Advent season is one of these times in the church that is nestled snugly between to major cultural holidays. Thanksgiving, with its American heritage identity and romanticism, and the cultural phenomenon of the retail event we often call "Christmas" surround and sometimes envelop Advent. I've even seen "advent" calendars made out of Lego bricks, or mini whiskey bottles! It seems that consumer culture has moved its eyes to Advent, turning it from the season of anticipation of Jesus' birth - spanning 4 Sundays, each with a specific and intentional theme - toward a simple (and meaningless) countdown to Christmas.
But Advent is much more than that. It is about purposeful anticipation and longing. It is about reflection on the themes of Peace, Hope, Joy and Love - and how the newborn Messiah will fulfill those expectations. So this Advent season, as you anticipate the arrival of Emmanuel - God with us - be mindful of those themes and how they are born anew in your life. Where do you see God's Peace? How have you witnessed Advent Hope? Where is Joy abounding in the world? What Love is known to you and through you?
I trust this season will be more than a countdown for you; and I expect that the advent of Jesus will fill your life with renewed zeal and excitement for the Lord.
-Rev. Andy Beck