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Ever-widening circles

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Our ancestors in the faith here at Memorial UCC over the past century sang a new song and now we are adding verses with what we do.

Today’s texts – Psalm 98 and Luke 6: 20-31

Pastor Phil
Pastor Phil

The hymn that we sang at the beginning of the service, the reading from Psalm 98, is a hymn filled with joy – “Sing a new song unto the Lord!”

It’s what our ancestors in the faith here at Memorial UCC did over the past century. They sang a new song and now we are adding verses with what we do.

So today, I’d like to look at the past, look at the present and look to our future.

One hundred years ago this month, a group of Swiss folks who had migrated to Madison from New Glarus and other places in Green County to our south decided they wanted a church community of their own.

Many of them had grown up at Swiss Church in New Glarus, founded in 1840, the first German Reformed Church in Wisconsin.

It’s worth noting that our present-day United Church of Christ is a merger of several Christian traditions, including the Congregational, the Evangelical and the Reformed.

fullsizeoutput_5c41When those Green County Swiss came to Madison, there was no church in the Reformed tradition, so they attended St. Paul’s German Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of South Webster and East Washington, where the state’s GEF-1 building now stands.

St. Paul’s had its roots going back to about 1845, built from with lumber from the oak trees on the Capital Square. It was the first German Presbyterian Church in our area, started by the Presbyterians to help ethnic groups transition slowly into the mainstream of the denomination and the nation.

As the Reformed Swiss joined with the German Presbyterians, they formed a community of about 75 members by 1916. But the Swiss were unhappy.

Gary Johnson’s great, great grandmother, Amalie Kindschi, was one of those who had been attending. Her husband had died and she moved to Madison to live with her two daughters. She described herself as “very unhappy” with the German Presbyterian Church and longed for another Reformed Church.

She was not alone. In early 1916, the pastor of Swiss Church – Rev. G. D. Elliker – asked Rev. Josias Friedli, head of the Board of Home Missions for the Reformed Church in Wisconsin, to see about establishing a mission church in Madison for the Reformed folks.

They thought maybe they could do that in cooperation with the Presbyterians. They learned that the Presbyterian leaders viewed this as an intrusion into their field, so Friedli began to meet with the Reformed folks in the home of Salomea Noll to discuss their next steps.

Version 2In November, 1916, Friedli began gathering some of the Reformed folks for Sunday worship at the Grand Army of the Republic building on the corner of what is now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Doty Street, where the state Justice Department building stands. The GAR was an organization of Civil War veterans.

Friedli taught at Mission House Seminary in the Sheboygan area – the predecessor of what is now Lakeland University. He came back to Madison periodically from Sheboygan over that winter to lead worship. Other Reformed ministers in the area pitched in to help.

Their meeting place in the GAR Hall was hardly fancy. They had to go up rickety stairs to the second floor. Gary’s mom channeled the thoughts of her grandmother this way: “It was a very plain building with little to offer in the way of creature comforts and adornments. But it was the place for us to begin – and right from the start, we did have faith that it would work out all right.”

One hundred years later, I think we can say that their faith and God’s grace carried them and us through.

The congregation would be formally organized by 64 members on June 10, 1917, and that is the focus of our centennial celebration over the next eight months. But it was not easy to start from scratch.

Nor was it easy for those left behind at St. Paul’s German Presbyterian Church. With the departure of the Memorial crew, by 1919, St. Paul’s had only 9 members on its rolls. The congregation closed and the building was demolished in 1923. Life has its ebbs and flows.

In the coming months, you’ll here more about how we got from people climbing rickety stairs in 1916 to the place where we are today. There will be history tidbits in the weekly email, a variety of ways we will explore our past.

Michael Bryant will produce a video of what brought us to this point. Adam Dachman is composing a piece for choir and orchestra called “One Hundred Years” reminding us that “love is what binds our stories.” There may be other original compositions.

In our midst in our present, we have people filled with talent and generosity and love. As you will hear over the coming months, Memorial has a rich history of reaching out to meet the needs of the world to spirit of sacrifice to sustain the life of the congregation to a spirit of risk-taking to keep moving forward as the city and the world changes around us. This is all part of our DNA.

Here’s where we are 100 years after people started climbing those rickety stairs. We have about 200 people who are members of this congregation, another 30 or so who are regulars around here. About 130 people join us for worship each Sunday and about 25 of those are children who add energy to the present and hope for the future. We continue to reach out with generosity to the community around us. And we look out for each other in so many ways.

This is stewardship season – the time when the leaders of the church ask you to think about what you can pledge financially for the year ahead. It’s probably easier to get revved up to give to ease hunger or to shelter a homeless person than it is to pledge to a church budget.

fullsizeoutput_390But I’d ask you to keep in mind the image our Stewardship Committee used in their letter to you this year. We are able to do so much at Memorial because we have a strong foundation. I’m not talking about the concrete under our feet. I’m talking about the foundation that allows us to keep reaching out in ever-widening circles. I’m talking about the foundation that you support with your pledges and offerings throughout the year.

You know the drill. It takes people and stuff to keep a congregation functioning. Members and friends here have consistently given what we need to do the work we hope to do. The leaders hope that each year, you will give a little more to help us not just sustain, but strengthen the foundation for all the good things we do.

So that’s the present.

Remember, I said at the beginning that I was going to talk about the past, the present and the future. The future is an idea that has grown out of our discussions about how to mark the 100th year of the existence of Memorial. We wanted to do something more than just have a party.

The Council, Trustees, Outreach folks, me as your pastor have kicked around a number of ideas and we are excited about the one we have settled on. We think it will allow Memorial to have a significant impact on the lives of many people not only in the coming year but into the future. What we will need for this idea is first your ideas, then your preferences and finally – your donations.

We are calling this the Memorial UCC Centennial Outreach Fund. It is a one-time thing. We won’t be asking you for money for this beyond next June.

Here are the basics of how this will work. These basics will be posted on our website and linked from next week’s email.

Memorial will seek to raise $10,000 in the first five months of 2017. We would give that money to one or two local organizations to reach out in new ways to people in our community who need assistance – maybe splitting the $10,000 between two, maybe giving all of it to one.

Starting today and through Nov. 27, we are asking you to suggest non-profit organizations that we might approach with requests to be considered for our grant. Our Centennial Outreach Fund task force would use these suggestions to send out requests for proposals to organizations around December 1, with replies due back by Jan.13. Our task force would then select finalists to be presented to the congregation for a vote in January by electronic or paper ballot. We’ll announce the decision at the congregation’s annual meeting at the end of Jamuary.

The request for proposal will ask organizations to tell us about an idea they have for helping others that they have not been able to implement yet, with a focus on helping individuals in need rather than operational expenses. We will also ask how they would look at replenishing the Memorial UCC Centennial Fund into the future. This will be up to them, not to us, but we will evaluate the proposals in part based on how they plan to do that.

createripplesI know $10,000 might seem like a stretch. But we only get to turn 100 once. This is a way we can continue our mission of reaching out in ever-widening circles.

In recent years, we have raised significant money for The Road Home’s housing project, for the new Domestic Abuse Intervention Services shelter and for our UCC camps – and we have hit our goal on that one, so we will not be asking for more for the camp capital campaign next year (although you can always add more if the camps are your passion).

For now, I’d invite you to send me the names of non-profit organizations we might ask to apply for this.

Those of you who were paying attention to the scripture readings today may think I have gone kind of far afield with this bit of history and this challenge for the future. Sure, I made a quick connection of singing a new song to our ancestors starting over – something several generations of folks here have done.

Actually, I think the reading we heard from Luke has a lot to do with who we have been and who we are becoming. It’s Luke’s version of some of Jesus’ most challenging sayings during what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount.

sermonontheplainIn Luke, it’s the Sermon on the Plain – Jesus is on level ground. And the message is a little edgier. Although Jesus does not put this in terms of winners and losers, that implication is there – and it runs counter to the ideology of his time and of ours.

The poor, the hungry, they who mourn, those who are rejected – they are the winners in God’s realm because has a tender heart for them.

The rich, those with an abundance of possessions, those who revel in laughter and praise – you’ve already had your good times. “How terrible for you,” Jesus says. You are not joining with God in looking out for those in need.

And then Jesus really asks us to stretch – to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us. Keep that in mind this week as we go through the final week of the election season. And remember – this sounds so familiar – treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

I would make no claim that the people of Memorial have always lived out those words over the last 100 years – but I think we have tried. They kept the church alive by holding dinners, hauling the baskets of supplies on horsedrawn streetcars and begging merchants and friends for donations of food to serve. Yet they also helped support four of their group who in the 1920s became missionaries in Japan.

They built the foundation for us.
Interesting word, “foundation.”

At the end of the Sermon on the Plain, Luke has Jesus talking about two men – one building a house with a foundation on rock, the other building a house on the ground with no foundation. The second house did not do so well.

We in this season, we can strengthen the foundation built by our ancestors in faith and use our strong foundation to help change the world around us. It’s a great legacy we have.

There’s a hymn that seems appropriate today. It’s called “How Can I Repay.” I’ll sing the refrain through once and then if you could join in on the refrain each time after, that would be great. The words of the refrain are in the bulletin.