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A Day of New Beginnings: A Shared Reflection

Rachelle LaMaster, Rev. Karin Case & Rev. Daniel Smith
Sun, Jun 22

Text: Romans 1:7-11, Psalm 118 & Mark 6:30-34

Dan: The three of us would like to try something a little different today, a shared reflection in honor of Karin’s first Sunday with us. We’ve asked our co-chair of the Board of Deacons, Rachelle LaMaster to join us. Each time a new minister is called to a church and to a pastoral team, there are new opportunities for spiritual and communal growth for us all. Having Karin join us today is no exception. Whether you’ve met her already when she was here five years ago as an interim, or if this is your first time seeing her, we want to take a few minutes to introduce or even reintroduce ourselves, right here in worship and with scriptures we just heard as a guide.

First, a quick note on those texts that Nicole and Karin just read. We heard a greeting from Paul to his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome. Did you hear the tender-hearted language Paul uses – calling them God’s beloved, calling them saints, wishing them grace and peace, thanking God for their witness, and sharing his desire to know them better and to share with them in a spirit of mutual encouragement and mutual strengthening of faith. As we share in greeting one another today, let’s bear in mind and heart the loving and grateful tone of Paul’s greeting. And Psalm 118– a wonderful song of praise! Give thanks to God for God is good! Amen to that on this day of new beginning and celebration of a new partnership! And with a line about God’s inviting us to step into a “broad place.” God’s love is spacious like that, and as we enter into summer, as we put another time of “staff transition” behind us, yes, it feels to me like God is very much putting us in broad place, with new vistas and new ideas to explore and imagine and discern together where the Spirit is calling First Church to go next. And finally a passage from Mark which highlights Jesus’ teaching of compassion. One of the things that impressed the search committee most was Karin’s deep compassion.

On this day of greeting and introductions and joyful celebrations of a new ministry partnership, we have tried to imagine some questions you all might have for Karin (like what have you been up to lately?) and questions that she might have for us which Rachelle will address (like how are we different than we were when you were here last). We want to open up what we trust will be an ongoing conversation between all of us in the days and months ahead. In fact, we hope take time during the reception for more conversation with Karin so please bring your questions. Enough from me for now. But before I turn it to Karin, let me say this, thanks be to God that Karin is here! We have been waiting for this day -- I have been waiting for this day -- for a long time. We are so glad, and so hopeful and so grateful that you are here! Welcome, Karin Case!

Karin: It is wonderful to be here—to finally arrive and begin this new ministry with you! I’m thrilled to see both familiar faces and new faces. Excited to rekindle old friendships and forge new ones. Eager to discern together where the Spirit may lead us!

Let me start with the question of what I’ve been up to in the very recent past. Ten days ago I was in Nepal in the back of a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, on rocky road, looking straight down at the riverbed below, as the driver navigated hairpin turns. A harrowing road, a narrow place! I’m not sure driving is supposed to be an adrenaline sport!

I went to Nepal on a pilgrimage to the Mustang region—where Tibetan Buddhism flourishes—to honor a true heart connection I have developed through the practice of Tibetan Buddhist meditation over the last six years. Meditation has transformed my life, and (perhaps surprisingly) Buddhist practice has not only connected me with other people and places in far-away places (like Nepal), but also deepened my love for Jesus.

I return again and again to the compassionate heart of Jesus that Mark names in this morning’s gospel reading. The calm center in the midst of life’s chaos. Jesus sees so clearly what is needed—love, nourishment, companionship, teaching. This heart of compassion is at the center of my faith.

It seemed fitting when Dan suggested Psalm 118 for this morning. The Psalmist writes, “God has set me in a broad place.” Feel what that’s like. A broad place. (The antithesis of my experience on that 4-wheel-drive road.) A place with sure footing, a firm foundation. A non-anxious place. A place where you can breathe deeply, gain perspective, and set your course.

I thank God for setting my feet in a broad place. It is a blessing for me to return to this church I have loved, to this congregation—so full of spirit and commitment and faith; to all of you—so willing to take risks for the sake of love and justice. This open-hearted and broad place.

I was here as an Interim Minister in 2009-10, to assist in the time of transition, after Mary Luti left, and as Dan was stepping into the role of Senior Minister. Here are some memories from that time. Singing in Margaret Jewett Hall; processing through the dark church with Epiphany candles; gathering under the dome, around the baptismal font; GBIO-style house meetings; sacred conversations on race; a summer performance by Palestinian youth from Gaza; a women’s retreat at Craigville; the start of the Spirituality and Mental Health Ministry and the Care Team Ministry; baptisms, ecclesiastical councils, ordinations; compositions by Patricia Van Ness; special music Sundays, and the lovely, ordinary textures of worship, study, and shared meals.

Since then I have served as an Interim Senior Minister in two large congregations—First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury, and Wellesley Hills Congregational Church. Interim work has been good: I enjoyed the focus on organizational dynamics and the variety of challenges that arose in each context. But I didn’t love the constant transition, the numerous goodbyes and the lack of opportunity to foster lasting relationships.

My spirit yearns for something more. Something deep and stable. A broad place from which to build relationships, to delve into spiritual practices, to be in community—for the long run.

I have dreamt of the opportunity to “go deep” in such a place as this! I see generations of children and youth, cherished elders, gifted seminarians, visiting scholars. Possibly serving as the UCC Chaplain to Harvard College, I hope to reinvigorate the connection between the church and the college. I dream of expanding Havruta to study with friends from other traditions. I dream of an urban interfaith leadership institute. From such a broad place as this, many things are possible.

Many people have asked how I will keep my work at FCC to ¾ time. I see a unique opportunity to use my ¼ time to develop and teach meditation practices—something I have been yearning to do. I have spoken with Dan and other leaders about a model where I will work (full time) for six weeks and then take two weeks “away” to focus on other dimensions of my work. That’s the model we’ll start with and see how it goes!

I am excited to hear from you where you have been in the last few years, how the church has grown and changed, and where you would like to go in the next stage of your journey!
Rachelle, I know you have some thoughts to share.

Rachelle: I am delighted to share a reflection this morning, with Dan and Karin, as we take our first steps on this road together. I’ll admit, it is a bit daunting to have my voice represent such a diverse community of faith. So, I will speak simply from my own experience, yet I imagine that this may resemble others’ stories.

Dan has already mentioned that some of us have known you before, and some have not.  I know some can even recall sermons you preached years ago. I, however, may represent a third category, for honestly, I vaguely remember your interim time. Oh I was here, sitting right over there, but I was raising a young family and was a little distracted. I still have those children (and you’ll barely recognize them), but that season then, has passed for me, for you, and for us.

In those years, you’ve missed witnessing a burgeoning group of young family and watching how we have learned: to break bread together; to care for each other’s fingers and toes as trikes race around Sage Hall; and to listen and support one another through Havruta. I think some of us may wonder, what we may, as parents, learn from you, a parent? What may our children discover with you, a mother, a teacher, an observer?

Those examples provide just a small window into what has been a full time of congregational life here. In the coming weeks and months, I know that others will share their stories with you.

Speaking of stories, has anyone told you how good we are getting at telling stories around here? We all are learning how to ask questions and to listen to the stories that are shared. These questions and stories are deepening relationships, across generations and faith traditions. These are questions and stories that are deepening our individual and collective desire to follow Jesus. These are stories that leave us wanting to learn more. And so I wonder, what we will hear in your collection of stories? What questions may you have that will whet our individual and collective faith?

While some things have changed, others have not. We have retained our core beliefs and shameless faith in a loving, still speaking God. The God who calls us to social justice, in ways that are becoming more organic to our faith; that same God who calls us together as a community of believers to worship and celebrate as we are now; that same God who has sustained us and nurtured our resiliency through years of change; and that same God who has brought us to each other, again, and set us in this broad place.

As we think about beginning anew, I resonate with the phrase “meeting you again for the first time.” I already feel the familiarity of your voice; the comfort of your spirit; the passion for Jesus’ heart. Yet I, and we all, eagerly embrace the opportunity to experience many seasons with you as we grow together in God’s love, compassion, and grace. Amen.

Dan: Thanks, Rachelle, and thanks, Karin. From a staff perspective as well, we are excited to get to know Karin again but for the first time, this time as a full colleague without the limits of time or role that came with your being an interim.  We are excited to engage your creativity and compassion and care as we share the ministry God has graced us all with. 

And the timing of your arrival could not be better. This past spring, we considered God’s Invitation to Us – a summons not so much to add on yet more things and new programs but to go deeper in our relationships with God and with one another and with the broader community we are called to serve. Out of this invitation, and come fall, First Church will enter into a season of discernment, asking God what more specifically this work of 'going deeper' looks like for us. We will be exploring more what are our individual and communal gifts, and where are we being called to say “yes” and to say “no” in our life together.   We are thrilled to share this work with you, to step into this new, broad place together, to follow in Christ’s teachings of compassion and justice, giving God thanks and praise with every stride.  But first, the quiet pace and broad place of summer in Cambridge, some time for you to arrive and get settled in!

We look forward to a formal Installation Service for Karin’s ministry on September 14th.  For now, we’d like to invite the whole congregation to join in a Litany of Welcome and Blessing.  I invite our Moderator, Gaylen Morgan, to join us up here and help us lead this…

Gaylen:  Today we begin a new chapter of our faith journey here at First Church as we welcome Karin to be our new Minister.  We discerned the Spirit’s call for her to share in our ministry serving as a full partner with Dan and in collaboration with our entire staff. We open our hearts now to the new thing that God is doing here and to the blessings that will flow out of this new relationship.

Karin: Today I begin a new chapter of my faith journey.
I promise to bring my whole heart, mind and soul to this ministry.
I promise to open my heart to the Spirit’s
leading and guiding as together we discern next steps.

Gaylen: First Church, let us join our hearts together in a spirit of welcome and celebration:

C: We welcome you as our new minister! 
We promise to receive your gifts with gladness,
to give the time you need to get settled into this position,

to treat this relationship as new (even if we already know you!)
and honor your three-quarter time commitment and Sabbath rest.

All: May God strengthen our community 
and relationships
with power and new insight.

May God grant us grateful hearts,
a sense of humor,
 openness to learning new things,
and the ever reconciling peace of Christ.

May God open our hearts to receive
the gifts of this new partnership.

May God bless this new beginning
with all wisdom, courage, peace and joy! Amen.

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