Category Archives: Mountain Meditations

How are we growing in our discipleship?

How are we growing in our discipleship through our stewardship of the blessings God has given us? As part of our Spring Stewardship Sunday on June 19th, Donna Dutton, chair of the Niccolls Church Finance Committee, shared with the following report:

            Last year in June, our congregation received a report from the Financial Task Force. Over the preceding three years, the Finance Committee and Session had noted a decline of income to our ministries. The Session appointed a Financial Task Force to examine our financial situation and make recommendations concerning how to address any long-term issues.

            The Task Force identified several factors to the decline of income including: a slightly delayed reaction to the recession and the loss of high-end donors who died or moved out of the community.

            The Task Force presented its findings to the Session and the congregation with three possible future scenarios. The Session voted on and the congregation endorsed the third future scenario in which we challenged one another to annual increase in giving of 5% over the next five years.

            Today we are eager to share how our financial picture has changed one year into this five-year challenge.

            First, we have a very healthy balance sheet. Our generous stewardship over the winter months allowed us to fulfill all of the commitments to our ministry and mission without dipping into the reserved funds for income shortfalls. We call these reserved funds our “Snowy Day Funds” which would cover three months of ministry expenses should our expenses exceed our income during the challenging winter months of January, February, and March.

            Second, the loan through the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program for replacing the entire roof was paid in full this year.

            Third, our budget for this fiscal year. Your generous stewardship… your response to the challenge of a 5% increase in giving has yielded faithful results.

            As May 31st, the congregation has given so generously that over the fiscal year we’ve been blessed with healthy and positive income flows – when we projected to have budget deficit of $17,000 at this point in the fiscal year. We are so thankful for allowing the Lord to work through us as we share our blessings to fulfill the congregation’s mission.

            Let’s not coast. Let’s continue to be generous. Even sacrificially generous.

            You’ll notice in the Financial Snapshot (found later in this newsletter), that income for our ministries dipped in May.

            We have several ministry commitments to fulfill before the end of the fiscal year including over $10,000 for our mission tithe. We ask you to prayerfully increase your pledge on Stewardship Sunday later this year so that we may stay on target to reach our five-year goal.

            The Session and the Finance Committee are committed a shared ministry with the entire congregation. Niccolls Church is not a spiritual theater or service provider supported by an audience of appreciative consumers. Our mission of “reaching out in faith and love” belongs to us all. Giving through our stewardship is one form of participating in our shared ministry.

The Second Naïveté

Those next to me might have heard the shift from first to second.

The day had been full – so very full. We awoke in Bethlehem. We lunched in Jericho. We renewed our baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. We passed through the checkpoint separating Palestine from Israel. By dinnertime, we were high on a hill in Nazareth looking over the Galilean countryside. Such are the days while journeying with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program on the Mosaic of Peace conference.

After dinner in Nazareth, we gathered for a discussion with Violet Khoury. Violet seems to be one of those people Jesus had in mind when he walked the streets of Nazareth and the hills of Galilee teaching “you are the salt of the earth.” With energy and eloquence, Violet spoke to us from her experience as a Palestinian Christian that gave us no hint she was quickly approaching her ninth decade.

In that region of northern Israel, Violet was born during the 1920’s into a family with a legacy that boggles my 21st century American mindset. “Our family,” Violet shared, “has nurtured 14 consecutive generations of priests.”

Fourteen generations! I was astounded. That’s the number of generations between Abraham and David.

“I share this with you,” she continued, “because when I meet with American Christians they want to know how many years I have been a Christian. So many assume that since I’m a Palestinian, I was born a Muslim and converted to Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. I sometimes wonder what was the name of my ancestor who played with Jesus on these streets of Nazareth.”

It was then that those next to me might have heard the shift from the first to the second naïveté.

Second naïveté is a helpful paradigm for me proposed by the French philosopher and theologian, Paul Ricoeur. Naïveté, according to Ricoeur, is not a shortcoming. In fact, naïveté is a fundamental human experience in which we acknowledge that we’ll never know it all. We will never know exactly what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes.

We’ll always live with an element of naïveté since we’ll never know the full story. Yet through the joy of lifelong learning, we move from the first to the second naïveté and then from the second to the third naïveté as we acquire more and more of the story.

Earlier in the journey, we met with the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb who is pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Christmas Lutheran Church is a mission partner of the PC (USA) and our mission co-worker, the Rev. Kate Taber, serves on staff at the church.

Bethlehem is so close to Jerusalem, yet it is a world away. Vehicles quickly cover the 6 miles between the city of our Lord’s birth and his resurrection. Yet since Bethlehem lies in Palestine, the number of American pilgrims who visit that city is dramatically less than those who visit holy sites in Jerusalem and Galilee since these are entirely under the control of Israel.

For those who cross through the checkpoint and enter Bethlehem, their destination is often only the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square. The Church of the Nativity is a truly spectacular collection of sacred stones that date from the 4th century. Yet to get back on the bus and return to Jerusalem without meeting the “living stones,” the Palestinian Christians, is to miss another opportunity to shift from the first to the second naïveté.

The short walk from the Church of the Nativity up the hill to Christmas Lutheran Church is a feast for the senses. Delicious smells and all manner of merchandise spill out from the restaurants, and shops line the old stone street.

While at Christmas Lutheran Church, we met with Mitri who stands on the shoulders of Violet’s generation.   Before he left to address the German Parliament in Berlin and then travel onto Atlanta where he participated in a conference sponsored by the Carter Center, Mitri took time to meet with us. Mitri encouraged us to remember, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem under occupation and was crushed by the power of empire. “We share that in common with Jesus, and that reality puts things in a new light for us. God is part of the story. I experience in our Palestinian people a resilience not seen other places. The people are never defeated. They don’t give up. I’m amazed despite the long history of oppression we still deeply desire justice and peace.”

The two churches are only a little over 1,100 steps away from one another, yet a world away.

With stories of Violet and Mitri, I began to understand more of the very, very challenging reality of living as a Christian in Israel and Palestine. The journey reinforced my experience that travel is a spiritual act that transforms us.

Our hearts grow two or three sizes by meeting people like Violet and Mitri.

Our hands, extended in greeting, become outstretched arms that embrace those whose Christian heritage reaches back in time to the disciples of Jesus.

Our minds shift from the first to the second naïveté and beyond.

Vision. Clarity. Connection. Grace. Celebration!

Vision. Clarity. Connection.

An experienced pastor once shared that a successful capital campaign required these three elements. When we embarked on the capital campaign for a new Mission Boutique facility last year, I prayed that the Lord would bless us with one more element – grace, amazing grace!

Dedicated to helping our neighbors in need, the vision of our capital campaign was to:

  • greatly enlarge the square footage available for sorting, displaying and storing donated items,
  • provide a safe, healthy, and dedicated space accessible to all, and
  • provide easy, one-level drop-off for donated items and pickup of items designated for our outreach partners.

The vision gained clarity through months of discernment, prayer and faithful conversations. Early in the summer of 2015, we began reaching out and making connections with everyone touched by the ministry of the Mission Boutique, our Niccolls Church family, and our mission partners.

In and through this entire process we were blessed with one more element of successful campaigns – grace, God’s amazing grace! You may find yourself smiling with me as you recall what fun we enjoyed at events such as the Tag Sale, Miles for Mission, Pie in the Park, Chicken Barbeque/Silent Auction, and much more!

By God’s grace the financial commitments came rolling in – such generous donations both small and large from individuals, families, and foundations. Our most up-to-date records show that with $212,305 in contributions we have exceeded our fundraising goal!

By God’s grace, construction began immediately after groundbreaking last September and seemed to always be ahead of schedule. Though this entire campaign has been financially debt-free, we owe a debt of gratitude to Dave, Luke and Kirk Langworthy who guided a large team of community volunteers. And to Dave in particular, who was the most dedicated volunteer of all.

Vision. Clarity. Connection. Grace.

Now we add one more element to a successful campaign, celebration!

Save the date of Thursday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. for a ribbon cutting and Grand Opening Celebration of the new Mission Boutique facility.

When the community passes through the main door for the new facility off the parking lot, all will have a choice to turn left or right. Turn to the left and experience the love of God as you enter the church. Turn to the right and experience the love of neighbor as you enter the Mission Boutique. Pass by the beautiful glass door into the new shop that proclaims “Niccolls Church Mission Boutique: Sharing God’s Gifts with Everyone”

We are moving into a new season of ministry. My prayer is that our love of the Lord will deepen through dynamic and passionate worship. And our love of neighbor will also deepen as we become more missional as we live into our Mission Statement: “To live out Christ’s Love by nurturing spiritual growth and fellowship and by reaching out in faith and love.”

With a deep sense of gratitude to our entire Niccolls Church family, I ask us all to give God the glory for this work.

Vision. Clarity. Connection. Grace. Celebration!