Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Village’s Day of Confirmation by Kurt Young (with an assist by Cheri Holdridge)

Forgive us loyal readers.  We are posting a little later than normal.  Today was a little bit special for us.  So, we want to tell you two stories today. Later today or tomorrow we will post our wonderful guest preacher’s message from today.  But in the meantime we, the Village Blogging Team want to tell you a little story.  It’s the story of the Village so far. 
          Why do we want to tell you this story today?  Well, today is our Confirmation Day as a church.  For those of you who are new to the Christian walk, in many Protestant denominations, not all, children are baptized near birth.  Their parents claim them into their faith.  But later, when they are close to be grown, they are offered the opportunity to claim their place as a full member of the faith family.  That is confirmation and today was our day of confirmation as a congregation.  

Today, Pastor Cheri, on behalf of the Village Church family, claimed our place as a fully formed and chartered church.  Not just of one denomination but of two.  We are now a union church of the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. 

But for you to understand our walk, we want to share with you how we got here.  It’s been an incredible walk, some even in our family haven’t heard the whole tale, but today is a good day to bring the “younger members” of the family up to speed on the story of the family.

Several decades ago, as her husband I’m going to keep myself out of trouble but not being specific, Cheri Holdridge graduated from Candler Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta.  Wanting to do ministry in the city, she choose to accept an invitation to join the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.  For those who don’t know Methodist geography and structure, pastors are all members of an annual conference, a geographic area, led by a bishop.  West Ohio is the Western 2/3 of the state of Ohio.  For a young pastor who wants to serve in a city, it’s great because there are several large to middle sized cities including Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo.  

          Cheri was sent to first serve as associate pastor of a suburban Cincinnati United Methodist Church at Forrest Chapel UMC, in Forrest Park, Ohio.  In the Methodist Church pastors are appointed by the bishop and sent where the denomination needs them.  So, she was next sent to Christ Church UMC in Findlay.  As always, she was looking for ways to serve those who were on the margins.  While there, with a team and $500 she started a Saturday night, contemporary worship service, the Back Door Coffee House, whose house band, the Third Floor Band does the incredible Blues Christmas Show we have hosted several times.  

          While there, Cheri was recruited to the West Ohio Conference’s New Church Start Pastor’s Academy by a great friend of the Village George Howard.  George Howard now works for the global arm of the denomination, but then he did development, helping revitalize older churches and start new ones.  At first, believe it or not, Cheri resisted.  I’m not going to be a church planter she said, “I don’t want to work that hard”.  Well, George convinced her to do it anyway as she was doing what is known as a turn around, or revitalization, then and the principles were surely similar. 
          In 1999, Cheri and I started our family with Rebecca and it was decided that having Kurt drive 30 minutes north from Bowling Green to his job in Toledo, and Cheri driving 20 minutes south from Bowling Green to Christ Church UMC was probably not a good idea.  But the West Ohio Conference had a plan, they wanted Cheri working on another turn around, Central UMC in Toledo.  

          Central UMC is the oldest Reconciling Ministries Congregation (a group of Methodist Churches who believe in the full inclusion of all, including the LGBTQ community) in Ohio and one of first 5-10 in the nation.  It needed a fresh start.  So, Cheri was moved there at the end of her maternity leave.  She ended up serving as it’s longest serving pastor and helped revitalize it. 

          Now, in the meantime, Cheri had served on a number of national organizations including the Church Within a Church Movement.  There she reconnected with friends, including Paul Nixon, who has served as her coach during the process of creating The Village. 

          Let me now let her tell the story some.  This comes from what she read at our service today, so for a bit, here’s Cheri’s voice:
In 2006 I began prayer walking in the city and dreaming of a new church, a progressive church that would be a home for people that had felt excluded from many more established churches.

A vision for a church called The Village began to emerge – a church where people care for one another. It takes a Village to raise a child and this new church would raise a new generation of Jesus’ followers. We are an inclusive church with a commitment to the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church and the Open and Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Christ. LGBT people find a home here. As do persons in recovery and persons dealing with mental health challenges.
The values of our new church would be as simple as ABC: authentic relationships, a balance of prayer and action, and compassion for people living on the margins.
We got our start with weekly worship in October of 2009 in the historic Colony restaurant at the corner of Monroe and Central, with the support of two denominations: the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. There we had our first baptisms, we started the first transgender support group in NW Ohio. We had a rally against bullying; and we hosted Thanksgiving Dinners, to name a few of our ministries.
In the Spring of 2012 we moved here to the Maumee Indoor Theatre. Here we have thrived, hosting Blues Christmas on several occasions. We produced the show “Next to Normal” about a woman with mental health challenges in order to raise awareness about those living with mental illness. And we rehabbed a home belonging to two of our members. We had our first confirmation class and today we charter as a congregation of the United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.
We are a church known for authenticity, inclusion and courage. We have come a long way in five years and our future is bright. With God’s help, our best years are ahead of us.
That’s Cheri’s version of the tale, with Kurt’s editorial comments in the parentheticals. 

          Today, we take our first steps as an adult church.  We boldly begin our journey, having been blessed with the support and prayers of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.  Two churches who have fought for justice for centuries.  Whether it was John and Charles Wesley who started the Methodist Church, as an off shoot of the Episcopal Church in England due in part to exclusion of the poor. To the early Congregational Church members who helped win freedom for the slaves who were held on the Amistad.  To the United Methodist Women who have fought for inclusion and peace through the last century.  To the churches of the Open and Affirming and Reconciling Ministries Network who work today to ensure the fully inclusion of the LGBT community in our congregations. 

          So, here we are, having made our choice and ready to take our first steps as a grown up church.  What’s next?  Well on September 13th, we’ll be moving our worship time a little later to allow us to bring in some great music.  Our relatively new Prayer Group will continue to meet on Wednesday evenings and is going strong.  Theology on Tap is still going strong, but switching to meeting the 2nd Thursday of the Month at 6:30 at Shawn’s Irish Tavern, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd for some fun and discussion.  And that’s just what you would have gotten from reading the program this weekend, the weekend we need to do our confirmation and having served about 60 gallons of ice cold water and about 20 pounds of candy at Toledo Pride this weekend.  So, you don’t even see anything about our teams going out to feed the hungry, etc. 

          Come join us some time. We’re changing the world at the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in Maumee.  And as we say in worship every Sunday:

We are the Village Church.  When we gather in community we remember that God is with us.  We know that we are imperfect people who make mistakes.  We give thanks that God loves us anyway.  In this community we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness.  When we leave this gathering, we go out to share God’s healing love with a broken world.   We are Jesus’ instruments of hope in our world. We are followers of Jesus and we can change the world!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Friend Like Me by Rosie Best (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

I don’t know about you, but I have 912 friends… or that’s what Facebook knows! Some of my friends are sitting here in front of me, some live in different countries, some are friends I’m “following” (which sounds a little ‘stalker-ish’) and one is a person who lives in my house with me… though I think she’s a bit more than a ‘friend’… maybe a “special friend!”

Friend… I used to work with someone who called everyone “friend,” and it took a while for me to figure out that it was her way of dealing with the fact that she couldn’t remember anyone’s name!
              Friend…So, Facebook aside, what are the attributes you look for in a friend? Compassion, loyalty, honesty, be there through thick and thin, open mind, intelligence.

I think I might like the following qualities in a friend…

Play the clip from Aladdin where the genie sings, “You ain’t never had a friend like me”

There is something to be said for a friend who can grant you three wishes and pull things out of hats.  But I want to tell you that in Jesus we have a much better friend than even the genie (though it has to be said that role was perfect for the comic stylings of Robin Williams.)

So, many of you know that I love things theatre and I was able to see the show “Beautiful” in NYC a couple of weeks ago. The show is the story of Carole King’s life. “You’ve got a friend” is a song that she wrote for her friends when she was going to leave NYC to go and live in California. The song, which we will hear soon, expresses that “You’ve got a friend” and gives examples when that friend might be needed: when you’re down and troubled, when you need some love and care . . . they are indeed comforting words, words that I think speak to true and meaningful friendship. Comforting words are so important in a time of need.

It’s comforting to know that God is a friend to us who knows all about us. The first six verses of Psalm 139 assure us that we are ‘searched’, ‘known’, and ‘hemmed in’, we are not cast adrift in the world, with no boundaries or anchor points. I think if I was a mother, the thing that I would think of as safe and secure is tucking my children safe and secure in bed. 

Verses 7-12 of the psalm let us know that we cannot hide from God. “Where can I go to get away from you?” The answer – nowhere.  Again, an assurance, that we are safely IN God.  I have to tell you, as someone who has ‘settled on the far side of the ocean’ I find it incredibly comforting to know that there is no place that I can move where God will not be able to be with me.

The third section of this psalm that we read today is a maker’s mark… no, not the whisky!  The sign that we are not just some mistake, we have been designed and made by God.  God knows us, and takes care of us because God made us. And, as the saying goes, “God don’t make junk!”

So, it’s all good right? We have been assured of these truths so we don’t need to worry any more… oh, that it were so easy. You see, the struggle is real! We don’t just need to know that our friend is there for us once a month… or week… sometimes the struggle is so present that in each moment we need to be assured that we can get to the next moment. Knowing that God has hemmed us in is a great reminder, but sometimes that consistent presence and care is communicated to us through a phone call of a friend, or a postcard, two kids jumping in a truck and driving a long way, a text, a song, a rainbow in the sky.  Messages not from a genie, but from a God who knows us because that God knit us together, made us ‘fearfully and wonderfully’. God declares us to be treasures. God doesn’t abandon us when we are less than perfect, because God had no illusion that we were perfect in the first place!  That’s my problem.  I get disappointed in myself because I think practice makes perfect.

I have to take a little pause here. There is a lot of rhetoric flying around in the air at the moment about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Recently some folks who have set themselves up as examples of what it means to be a believer have then woken up with the proverbial egg on their face. These bold claims followed by humiliation are almost becoming predictable. It’s why I don’t want to be known as a ‘model’ believer because I am very aware of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. I hope this makes sense.  I’m trying not to get too bogged down in specific examples of failure, because I think it would almost be like doing the same thing, suggesting that I am somehow morally superior to these people because I haven’t done whatever the current ‘stupid thing is’. I am just a fallible, broken human being, not better because I’m speaking today, not more perfect because I might have been a believer longer; just loved and known by an incredible friend, and secure that I am a member of a community of friends who also know they are known and loved.

Loved by a God who knows that we are works in progress, still very much loved, and placed in a community to support one another.

So let’s look at the third song about friendship, the one that we sang before the bible reading for the day - “What a friend we have in Jesus!” Surely the person who wrote this was making some big claims from a place of triumph? Well, in fact, not, as I found out when I was preparing for today.

For someone like me who grew up in the Methodist church, this song is so well known. Joseph M. Scriven, an Irish poet, was born in Dublin in 1819. He was someone who was very familiar with sorrow and sadness.  At age 25 he was to be married to his fiancé, but the night before the wedding she drowned. Tragedy. Then because of strained family relations, he moved to Canada, and it was while he was living in Canada, he heard that his mother had fallen very ill. He wrote a poem to encourage her, and later that poem was set to music.

Later, Scriven fell in love again, only his second fiancé died of pneumonia shortly before their wedding. When Scriven himself died, it was unclear as to whether he drowned by accident, or as a result of suicide.  He was 66. Is it any wonder he was depressed? What a tragic series of events for one man to experience. Yet as a legacy, he left a poem reminding us that we can, at any time, take our troubles to God in prayer.  It doesn’t have the genie’s three time limit. We have access to God at all times.

Sometimes we are so frail and wounded that we need to be reminded, lifted up, carried even, because the weight of the circumstances we are living through feel like they are so heavy that they will crush us. The death of a parent, the loss of a friendship, a job that seemed so perfect but fell through, a diagnosis of something.  Some of these troubles are being experienced by people in our congregation right now.  These are times when we need to know not how many friends we have, but how many friend have our backs.

I believe that if we do not have hope, we are lost. How comforting it is to know that we have an incredible friend in Jesus, who doesn’t judge us because we are down and troubled, but is there to listen to our cries of pain; and we are connected to a group of people who are concerned and who care for us when the situations we are in seem to be about to get the better of us.

Thank God for the Village Church!  Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Supper for Five Thousand by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

It’s been a hard week this week in Toledo.  According to the Toledo Blade website:  “Seven people were shot since [last] Sunday in incidents across Toledo, continuing an uptick in violent crime that includes five killings in less than a week. “Those five deaths — Sarah Beacher, 31;  Johnny Jones, 14; Klib Papa and Devin Melman, both 19; and Robin Ellis, 55 — occurred from four separate incidents. Three victims were shot, one was stabbed, and one was killed with a large weapon, possibly a hatchet.

“Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson announced late Tuesday the city will organize a town hall meeting to discuss the violence. Police Chief George Kral will host the event from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the University of Toledo’s Health and Human Services Building. “We want to discuss with the community ways to address this issue,” the mayor said. “It’s really about communities saying we want to take control and protect our children.”  (Source: Read more at

I know that many of you, like me, were overwhelmed as we got reports of these incidents in our city. Some of us get text alerts on our phones and as one after another came through we became more and more disheartened. Especially when we read that the suspect in one case was 16 years old. Children killing children. 

In times like these we need Jesus. We need the compassion of Jesus. We need a shepherd. I know it’s a metaphor from the Bible that may not have much meaning to city dwellers, but let’s give it a try. A shepherd cares for the needs of sheep. He protects the sheep; makes sure they have grass for grazing and water to drink. The shepherd protects the sheep from predators. The shepherd looks for the lost sheep and brings them back into the flock, never losing a sheep. We are never lost when we have a shepherd.

In our scripture for today, Mark 6:30-44 from The Message Bible for those following from afar, it says Jesus’ heart broke for the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Truth be told Jesus and his disciple were ready for a break. Are you ever ready for a break?  

The disciples had just returned from a mission. They had been out preaching and evangelizing and they had returned to tell Jesus all they had done. Things had gone well on their journey and they were filled with Good News but they were tired.

Jesus, likewise, was grieving because his cousin and dear friend John the Baptist had just been killed by King Herod. They were all ready for a break. Jesus had said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” The scripture says: “They got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.”

Let’s unpack this story a little bit. Because it shows two of our core values here at The Village. First of all we value balance. We value the balance. We value Sabbath rest. We value taking time to rest. The disciples had been working hard; it was time for them to rest. Jesus was grieving over the death of his friend. He needed a break from the crowds so he wanted to get away. They were doing the right thing by getting in the boat and going to a remote place. 

This is something we all need to pay attention to. It is okay to rest. It is okay to STOP. It is important to recharge. Jesus would pray during his times of rest and prayer is an important part of renewal. We need to connect with God in our times with renewal, God is the source of our strength and our joy. Spending time in nature is a great way to recharge because we are connecting with God’s beautiful creation. It’s hard not to connect to God when we are enjoying God’s beautiful creation. 

So Jesus and the disciples were trying to get some balance and to recharge, but the crowds followed them. They came running from the surrounding villages because they had heard about Jesus and they wanted to hear from him. They wanted to see him and hear him preach. Maybe they wanted to be healed. They just wanted to be in his presence. They knew there was something unique about Jesus and they did not want to miss their once in a lifetime chance to meet him. 

So Jesus had a choice. He could send the crowd home so he could rest. Or he could teach. Jesus had compassion for the crowd. That’s another one of our values here at the Village, compassion.  He said they looked like sheep without a shepherd. Scripture says his heart broke for them. And so he taught them. He taught them all day long. He probably told them some of our favorite sayings. “I am the light of the world.” Maybe he told them the story of the Prodigal son or the story of the shepherd who had 100 sheep but one was missing so he went looking for the one that was missing, because that is how much God loves us. God will come looking for us if we are missing. 

Jesus preached until it was supper time and then his disciples got anxious because they did not know how they could possibly feed all those people. They said to Jesus, “It’s time to send them home.” But Jesus said, “No, you need to feed them.” Because you see, that was the compassionate thing to do. Compassion is another one of our values here at the Village because it’s Jesus’ values. 

The disciples were beside themselves because they did not have the resources to feed a crowd of 5000 people. The conversation went something like this. 

Jesus said: “You do it. Fix supper for them.”

They replied, “Are you serious? You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?”

38 But he was quite serious. “How many loaves of bread do you have? Take an inventory.”

That didn’t take long. “Five,” they said, “plus two fish.”

39-44 Jesus got them all to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred—they looked like a patchwork quilt of wildflowers spread out on the green grass! He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples, and the disciples in turn gave it to the people. He did the same with the fish. They all ate their fill. The disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. More than five thousand were at the supper.

The supper was a miracle of compassion. You see, Jesus gives us what we need. Jesus is a shepherd. A shepherd gives sheep what the sheep need. Even though he was tired that day and Jesus may have needed rest, his need for balance was superseded by the people’s need for compassion. Sometimes one value outweighs another value. 

Our city needs peace right now. We have had too much violence. We need to pray for peace and pray for an end to the violence. We need to pray for the meeting that will happen tomorrow night. We need to pray for our city leaders, for the police, and for the children. 

What do you need? Because, you see, Jesus wants to give you what you need. Just like Jesus gave those hungry people a meal with food that was over flowing, Jesus wants to give us what we need. What do you need? I want you to think about it right now. (Pause and really think about that for a moment).

Jesus wants to give you what you need. Jesus has compassion for you. Jesus does not want you to be searching or hurting or to be without anything you need. Ask and you shall receive. So, today, let’s ask. 

Let’s be bold and ask Jesus for what we need. And then let’s watch as Jesus works to give us what we need. Will you pray with me? Jesus we have many needs in this world.  Sometimes it takes longer than we want for our needs to be met. But we boldly ask for them now.  This is what we need.  Jesus feed us like you fed those hungry people.  Fill us, give us abundant life. Amen.