Unknowns, Temptations & a Parakeet

By Rev. Rosemary Welch

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…

Matthew 4:1

My parents weren’t at all into dogs or cats in the house.  Thus “Perky” was my first pet, a parakeet given to me on my 10th birthday. Though it’s life was only a couple of years, no gift was ever such a surprise nor had made me happier.

Then, some many many decades later, after I’d graduated college, gotten married, had children who had gotten married, had grandchildren, and graduated Wesley Seminary, another parakeet was introduced into my life.  I was newly ordained and moving to my first appointment in southern Virginia.  It was a place as foreign as I ever could have imagined.  It was “wilderness” of a sort, for me.  

My Mom was with me at my ordination and for that move.  Prior to leaving Reston for the brand new parsonage that had just been completed, my Mom made me an offer.  She wanted to buy me a parakeet to take to Charlotte Court House.  She said something like, “it’d be good to have some company out there in the country.”  I’d not even thought of such a need.  But as we tend to do, even in our later years, we listen to our Moms.   They often (always?) seem to see beyond “the immediate” and even a little into the future better that we can.  And I deeply sensed that when she made the offer. 

So the day before I moved, with my car already stuffed from window to window, I went with my Mom to PetSmart.  There we found a very small (thus newly hatched?) and beautiful white parakeet. I named her “Sophie”, short for Sophia meaning “God’s wisdom”.  Sophie moved with me from Reston to Charlotte Court House, VA.  It was a three-point charge, meaning  it was 3 churches (one had ~80 in worship, another ~30 and the other ~12)  to which was appointed one pastor. Every Sunday I preached at two churches: the largest one every Sunday, and one of the smaller ones every other Sunday.  I was greeted every time I came “home” with a few shrill notes from Sophie.  And Sophie loved the view from the kitchen window of that newly built parsonage.

Sophie moved with me next to Fredericksburg where she resided with me in the oldest Methodist parsonage in Virginia.  While thee, she sang to the clattering of dishes in the kitchen.  It was during this appointment that my Mom died in Texas, but Sophie sang on.  Then we both went  to Richmond where she lived on a counter near a window.. From there she could see and fuss at the neighbor’s cat when it came near our back steps. Then we moved to Charlottesville where she lived near a front window and sang with birds in a nearby tree..  And then I retired back to Reston, bringing with me loads of books … and Sophie.  She sang every mile of the journey , any time she heard music or someone singing, and any time there were guests. And then she sang all the way back to Reston..  She was with me for 16+ years.  Quite a lifespan for a parakeet!  Quite a journey I had with a small white creature who sang to and with me her whole life long. And quite an intuitive gift to be given, “God’s wisdom.”

Though no wilderness we experience could ever be like the wilderness Jesus was led into, I believe we go through such times and often find them to be full of more unknowns and temptations than we ever could have imagined.  But there are also people who probably have been there before us.  And they offer wisdom that we somehow know we can trust.  And some of those persons can be found in our families, our friends, our church, and in strangers.  Sometimes it’s someone older than we are.  But sometimes it’s not.  

I’ve learned to keep my eyes open so I might recognize that accompanying wisdom most especially in the sometimes quite dark unknowns.   

Glitter + Ash

BY REV. MARCUS L. LEATHERS

What non-traditional item gives sparks when it accompanies the tradition of Ash Wednesday? Glitter and Ash! Why are we using glitter ashes on Ash Wednesday and using Glitter + Ash as our Lent theme?

Glitter is like love. It’s irresistible and irrepressible. Ash is a statement that death and suffering are real. Glitter is a sign of our hope, which does not despair. Glitter signals our promise to repent, to show up, to witness, to work. Glitter never gives up—neither do we. Glitter + Ash exquisitely captures the relationship between death and new life. We do not live in fear of ash—of death —we place it on our foreheads for the world to see. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God specifically calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst. God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another. I would add that metaphorically, the spark of glitter is a reminder of the brief but intense light representing the glimpse of the kingdom that discipleship provides. For you and I, our witness declares that such a glimpse is magnificently enough. It is enough to inspire our devotion. It is enough to spark our volition as Christians. I hope that it is enough to convince you to get involved so that in service to God and UCP, this Lent season will be transformative for you.

Unexpected Hygge

By Heidi Kharbanda

Calming instrumental music wafts through the room.  Soft light glows from the Christmas tree.  A plush blanket envelops me, providing both warmth and comfort.  Next to me, a cloth basket overflows with cards – each card a reminder of the love and care of God shown through family and friends.

Finding peace during Advent used to be a struggle to balance the busyness of preparing—for holiday gatherings, gift-giving and home-decorating—and finding time to be still and remember the true meaning behind the celebration.  This year finding peace is a very different journey for me.

Joy and peace can seem elusive when facing cancer.  Each day is a struggle, a constant battle with anxiety and fear.  Surgery, pain and unknown future procedures await.

Yet almost daily the mail carrier and my email providers deliver notes of encouragement or those filled with holiday cheer.  Joy sneaks in through carols and Christmas tunes on the radio.  Unexpected gifts bring distraction and delight as I unwrap and enjoy them.  One Advent calendar reminds me of the story of Christ’s birth; another challenges me with a fun task for each day.

Peace can be found through deep, slow breaths or when stretching while doing yoga. Joy comes with the comradery and fun music during an exercise class.

Back at home, the ornaments weighing down the Christmas tree branches in our living room provide reminders of family, friends, travels and special moments, evoking smiles and the warmth of hygge.  A tiny knitted mitten from a friend helps me recall the warm hands and hearts reaching out to offer support.

Even as my family and I traverse the world of oncology during Advent, moments filled with that deep peace and abundant joy sustain our spirits.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace. -Romans 15:13

Music at Advent

By Rev. Melinda Reed

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 

Isaiah 11:1

I was raised in the Ango-Catholic ( Episcopal high church) tradition, where there were smells, and bells, and great whoo-ha. The music and liturgy was choreographed seamlessly. Mary, the mother of Jesus, always had a prominent position in the liturgy. As a result, I have always thought of the liturgical year in terms of music.

Music has always been a significant part of my life, and a great source of comfort and joy.  I have always experienced music as a deep and never ending spring, and source of personal and spiritual grounding.

Music heard so deeply,

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music.

T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets

As we come to the third Sunday in Advent, or Rose Sunday – Mary’s Sunday, as I was brought up to call it; the hymn that evokes much meaning, and comfort for me is “Es ist ein Rose entsprungen” a Christmas carol and Marian hymn of German origin. We have come to know this commonly translated hymn as “ Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”.  To me, this hymn transcends time and place, calling us back to Isaiah with his prophecy of the birth of Jesus, through the root of Jesse. Mary is the symbol of the rose who has come to give birth to the Christ child.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

In hearing this beloved hymn, I am filled with wonderful memories of my family origin, especially those who have gone before me, my religious and faith formation which has been a great source of strength and comfort, my family today, and my faith community which are a source of strength, love, deep rooting, spiritual refreshment and joy.

One of my favorite choral composers is John Rutter. Hear Rutter’s Cambridge Singers recordings of “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” on YouTube. I hope you enjoy the music.

Christmas Reflections

By Cheryl D. Fields

Where have you seen God’s grace this season?    

As Christmas draws near, I’m always prompted to take stock of my blessings. Dwight and I have incredible friends, both in our personal and our work lives. We have an amazing church family that is a constant source of joy, inspiration and fun. Our children are healthy, strong, smart and kind. And the unflagging love Dwight and I have for each other runs deep. This has been a tough year for our family-owned business. But I know this season of drought will eventually pass. Personal struggle not only makes me more aware of God’s grace, it inspires me to extend grace to others. 

How do you find peace and calm in chaos? 

Every morning — no matter the weather — my dog, Max, and I take a long walk. We might trek to the Potomac river, or to the local pond, or sometimes just through the woods around our house. Max is the impetus for these daily excursions, but they are often the highlight of my day.

I’ve always loved nature walking. When I lived in California, I would often work through my issues by retreating to the beach or the mountains. I still miss the roar of the ocean and the rich fragrance of eucalyptus trees on a hilltop. But when I moved to the D.C. area, I was thrilled to discover the abundance of wonderful hiking trails, bike paths, waterways, and wildlife here. How can I stare into the eyes of a doe nursing her fawn, hear the song of geese flying overhead, or watch squirrels and chipmunks scamper underfoot without feeling God’s peaceful presence? My daily hikes with Max are a ritual prayer and meditation. They remind me I’m part of God’s phenomenal creation, too, and help me to put life’s chaos into perspective.

How has God’s hope shone on you and others this Christmas season?

This Christmas season, I see God’s hope in the children around me. It’s in my own children’s achievements and the way they care for their friends. It’s in the four babies that have been born to our UCP friends over the past few months: Lucien Venteau-Koch, Maji Cudjoe, Sophia Block, and Conrad Wilson. It’s in the way UCP’s children relate to one another and to the adults who care for them. More broadly, I see it in the way young people around the globe are pushing their elders to take better care of our planet; God’s planet. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus implores us to “become like little children … .”  

Children love openly, they express joy freely, they are awed by nature, they are resilient, they believe in things they can’t see, they love to solve problems, and they cherish their friends and family.

Like baby Jesus, we’re all born with these virtues. To me, every new birth offers confirmation that God hasn’t given up on us yet. So, how can I not have hope?   

A Christmas Morning

By Rev. Dr. Marcus Leathers

As time was drawing closer to Christmas Day, my daughter had been utilizing her time in a craft workshop to create something for her brother. At that time, it was prior to our son’s second birthday. I don’t recall having any knowledge of what the craft was that had given our daughter so much excitement.

In its simplicity, our daughter’s craft for her brother was significantly thoughtful and spiritually touching. The craft was special because of the diligence it required of her small hands and big imagination.  The craft she made for her brother was his first Christmas ornament to be hung our Christmas tree. Our daughter’s thoughtfulness shown towards her brother was a lovely small angel that she gently placed into his hands (once in our son’s hands and attempting to get this angel so hopefully given hung securely on the Christmas tree, mom and I had to prevent this fragile gift from becoming crushed and banged against anything that a toddler might perceived as something that would make a joyful noise). Once this angel was in place on the tree, we appreciated our hopeful anticipation. Crafted for her brother from construction paper, gold and purple pipe cleaners for wings and trimmings, we had anticipation we could look forward to using this special ornament as Christmas for as many as it could endure.

As a family in America, especially on the morning of that Christmas, we were aware of our fortunate circumstances as well as the less fortunate circumstances of others. From our lives and our resources, we had shared with others, yet guilt still resided with me—from what I had received, I wanted to do more and give more. Inside our home, there were modest gifts underneath the Christmas tree. Christmas carols and songs of the season could be heard all over our house. Underneath the Fraser Fir, there were toys, games, and some clothing. Our son was of such age that there was always a possibility that in the first hours of Christmas morning he might be more enamored with the fancy boxes and bows than the toy inside the box waiting to be unwrapped.    

As I watched our children sharing such a precious time on Christmas morning, my heart was filled by an experience that was unfamiliar and exhilarating at the same time. Unlike the gifts underneath the Christmas tree, the experience I felt deeply within couldn’t be wrapped neatly with fancy paper and include a bow. It was precious but not like an expensive jewel. I couldn’t hold on to it, adore it and then place it somewhere safe without the risk of it becoming broken, lost or even worst stolen from me. It was right in front me, growing brilliantly and with great expectation—family and all of the hopes and prayers that one casts upon those loved deeply.

God gives the image of family as nothing less than sacred, holy. The compassion and comfort of Jesus Christ teaches us that the ways to exist as family are broad and bold, just like God’s mercy and justice. As a Christian and the many ways that I have experienced the joy and fellowship of family (traditional definitions of family, family through church fellowships, family as community networks and civic organizations, etc.)

I have been inspired by an understanding that one of the many aspects of hope is that hope is one’s lived experience of expectation and trust in God’s glorious power.

God has the power to surprise earth with heaven through ways that are both unfamiliar and exhilarating. I have grown to become less fearful of hope’s fragility and more confident in hope’s divine design and fortitude. If this were not the case then what I have experienced wouldn’t have been hope but perhaps, some frustrated nod toward fortuity (chance).

In the bible, I don’t recall God’s prophets or even Jesus stating that hope had to be protected but rather hope must be proclaimed. Hope was and remains the “tidings of great joy” from the angels. Hope was and remains the messengers’ song to unsuspecting shepherds keeping watch in the field. Hope was and remains Jesus’ birth within a world which said, “there isn’t any room.” Hope was and remains as the devoted witness of holy communities’ commitments to all aspects of justice and mercy, even in the face of the mockeries of these principles within the some of the highest offices of earthly systems and institutions. Hope was and remains as the faithful promise that God who knows us and whom we know through Jesus Christ who comes into the lives of God’s people in ways both unfamiliar and exhilarating.

Let there be light

By Craig Palmer

And a child is born. Unto us a light is given in hour one of a new day Nov. 13 and Conrad Wilson, all of 7 pounds and promise, illumines at once the lives of mother, father, brother, grandparents, extended family, church and community. A light has come into the world and we experience God’s grace with life anew. Advent instructs us with new beginnings even as our lives advance and we contemplate the span of life. Therein lives hope and where hope resides faith may flourish. Life is an expression of God’s hope for us. New life refreshes our hopes and dreams.

Advent—The birth of Christ; advent—the coming or arrival, especially of something awaited or momentous.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

Isaiah (9:6)

Staying Calm

By Jerry Hebenstreit

Advent is a time of preparation. Amid all the chatter and noise about Christmas gifts and  shopping deals and holiday cheer,  Advent reminds us to take some time to ready ourselves for the coming of Christ once again. Even though we’ve gone through Advent many times before, it’s always a new story. We just aren’t in the same place we were years ago, or even last year. We experience Advent differently each time, and we can grow in closeness to God.

   I shot this image in October at Weston Priory, a Benedictine monastic community in southern Vermont.  It’s an image of the time just at sunrise at Peace Pond, on the Priory grounds. It captures what was happening at a specific moment. But it also speaks to me of potential. The sky is lit, but indistinct; details on the ground are only slowly becoming clear; the pond is still and calm; the scene is becoming something else. All of creation is waiting for what comes next. This is a moment between the dark stillness for night and the bright activity of day. The future is being offered to me, and to all of us, in that instant. Advent is like that, too.

Advent is a gift to us. We can get caught in the chaos or we can check out from time to time and savor the great treasure that God gave us and continues to give.

   Advent is a gift to us. We can get caught in the chaos or we can check out from time to time and savor the great treasure that God gave us and continues to give—God Incarnate. The photo may be an extreme example of a calm place, but it helps me remember to look for others in my daily life, to count my blessings and realize just how much I am loved. I don’t have to travel to Vermont to feel that calm place; I just need to remind myself such calm exists and that, having found it once, I can summon it at will. I can look ahead. I can prepare.

Holy Hygge

By Rev. Elisabeth Williams

Advent—as they say in Godly Play—helps us get ready to enter the mystery of Christmas. But as we all know, there is so much busy-ness and activity during December that it’s hard to make time to stop and watch; to ready our hearts for the gift that God gives us at Christmas. And so this Advent, we are embracing the theme of “Hygge.”  “Hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish word that actually has no literal translation in English but can be loosely understood as “cozy.” 

But, it’s not just cozy—it’s so much more. Hygge is the art of building a sanctuary and a haven, connecting and spending time with your loved ones, slowing down to celebrate the little moments in every day, and creating feelings of warmth and happiness.

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up next to the fireplace in cozy socks, or sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table.

Meik Wiking, the little book of hygge

Holy Hygge invites us to think of this time as more than waiting, but as a time when we wrap ourselves in the comfort of Jesus who surrounds us with his love, who has been in love with us since before the foundation of the world, and who is “constantly coming in for a bear hug of welcome into his eternal hygge.”

How can you hygge this season?

  1. Connect with Nature: Take the time to get outside and enjoy your natural surroundings, even if it’s just a short walk. It will lift your spirits, boost your well-being, and draw you closer to God the Creator. Advent and Christmas are also the perfect time to bring nature indoors. Not only by put-ting up a Christmas tree, but by decorating your home with foliage, greenery, bare branches, berries, holly, pine cones, and wreaths.
  2. Connect with Friends & Family: Although you can certainly have a hygge time alone, it is much more pleasurable to hygge with loved ones. So this Advent, focus on connection with your friends and family. Snuggle up with your four-pawed friends.
  3. Slow Down, Be Present and Focus on the Moment: Switch off your devices Get mindful and just be. Don’t forget to schedule time in your calendar for hygge moments where you can relax and recharge. Don’t let Advent pass you by in a blur. Whether your favorite thing is relaxing with a book, snuggling up with a Christmas film, baking cookies, or making Christmas crafts, make time to do it, and be sure to savor it.
  4. Practice Gratitude: Being grateful for what you have will make you happier, and Christmas time is the perfect time to enjoy, and be grateful for, all the good things in your life. Our loved ones. The roof over our head, and the food in our cupboards. Focus on what you have been given and savor each and every moment of it. It will bring you joy.
  5. Be Kind to Yourself and Others: Christmas is all about peace and good-will to all. That includes you. You need to take care of yourself – self-care and well-being are central tenants of hygge. Give yourself time to do what you need to do to recharge. But as believers, we live our lives not isolated, but in com-munity. This call to live our lives out in community is a call to pull others into our lives, to open our doors just as we are, and let friends just do life with us. Thinking of others and doing something good for those who are less fortunate than you is something that will fill your heart with joy and warmth.

So our wish for you this Advent season, even in the midst of the darkness and the cold, is that you would experience Holy Hygge. That with each moment sitting by a fireside or beside a friend’s hospital bed, you would feel the warmth of God inside you. That with each flicker of candlelight or glimpse of lights on your Christmas tree, you would let your eyes simply rest on the Light of the World as He comes again into this world and our lives. And that this Advent will truly be a season where you find yourself wrapped in the silent peace of God.

Welcome

Welcome to the blog of United Christian Parish! We are a protestant church united as four denominations:

  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Presbyterian (USA)
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Methodist

We believe that a multi-denominational approach is a real-world example of how people from diverse backgrounds and experiences can come together to build and grow something bigger and stronger than the sum of its parts. 

Our blog will share the message of God’s grace in everyday life. It will feature inspiring stories, reflections from our Pastors, interviews with our members, devotionals and will answer some difficult faith questions. We hope that you will use the blog to engage and be inspired to walk humbly with God.

We welcome readers from all faith backgrounds and will post content that is relatable to you no matter where you are on your faith journey.

Post content will be the voices of the people of United Christian Parish. If you are interested in writing, let us know!