Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Eve Service

The Rico Community Church will hold a candlelight service of lessons and carols at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24. The service will include a children's message and communion. This will be an ecumenical celebration of Christmas; all are welcome to attend.

There will be no worship service on Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Form of Government passes

To congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While it is not official until the Office of the General Assembly receives notification from presbyteries that have voted, it appears that, as of June 7, 2011, the proposed new Form of Government (FOG) has been approved by a majority of our 173 presbyteries.

The new FOG will replace the current version within the Book of Order of the church’s Constitution on July 10, 2011, one year after the adjournment of the 219th General Assembly (2010). The print edition of the new Book of Order will be available by late July.

The new Form of Government at its core

A new section, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which contains the vast majority of the first four chapters of the current FOG, will also be added to the beginning of the Book of Order. Within it are these words:

In the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ draws worshiping communities and individual believers into the sovereign activity of the triune God at all times and places. As the Church seeks reform and fresh direction, it looks to Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us and calls us to follow him. (F-1.0401)

The foundational message of the saving love of God through Jesus Christ is timeless. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). And yet, when the Spirit has moved the church to respond to “the sovereign activity of the triune God,” the church has, in turn, worked to reshape itself to do so effectively.

While the new Form of Government will help the PC(USA) to be a faithful and responsive church in the 21st century, it also has a dimension of bringing us back to a truly constitutional document that contains broad governing and theological principles and emphasizes function over structure.

What will change?

Many Presbyterians will see nothing suddenly or dramatically different with a new Form of Government. Worship services will go on as usual, and congregations will continue to teach the faith, serve their communities, reach out to those in need, and work to further God’s realm on earth. However, what will be different is that congregations, presbyteries, and synods will have the opportunity to tailor mission and ministry to fit their own particular contexts and challenges.

The new FOG will also usher in changes in terminology. For example, ministers of the Word and Sacrament will be known as teaching elders, partnering in ministry with ruling elders who serve on the congregation’s council (session).

It is a season of much change in the church, and change is often accompanied by anxiety. Making the transition from the current Form of Government to the new one will take time, patience, and grace. We will all be living gradually into these new dimensions of the church’s governance. We commend to you the resources and guides at http://oga.pcusa.org/formofgovernment for assistance, including the “Frequently Asked Questions” document that accompanies this letter. Further resources will be made available over the course of the summer to help with this transition.

The best resources through this transition, however, will be each other. A new Form of Government puts all of us on the same page, as it were. Through conversation, cooperation, and collaboration, we will discover the most effective ways to move forward into this new and exciting chapter of the life of the church.

In the end, as affirmed in the Confession of 1967, “The church ... orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, finances, and administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves” (9.40). The mission remains the same: to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to work for the reconciliation of the world. With God’s help, may this new Form of Government enable us to be ever more faithful to that mission.

In Christ,

Cindy Bolbach Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)

Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Linda Valentine Executive Director, General Assembly Mission Council

Landon Whitsitt Vice Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chapter 15 again for May 8

We didn't get very far into the questions last week, and I don't think we'll have much overlap between last week and this week, so let's spend another session talking about Jesus' example and how it fits with the American Dream.

And, happy Mothers Day to all the RCC mothers out there who are not able to worship with us this week!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Join Jasmine and Jasper in supporting Alzheimer's research

An e-mail from Jasmine Showers:


In 2010 both my maternal and paternal grandmothers died from Alzheimer’s disease. My brother and I grew up in close contact with our maternal grandmother, whom we called Momonee. She was wonderful; both of our grandmas were warm, comforting, and accepting people. Over the last five years I witnessed Momonee’s mental decline as the disease grew more advanced. I saw her anger and confusion as she struggled to remember moments of her life, and later when she tried to remember how to eat, dress, and talk. The worst parts to watch were the sudden moments of clarity – the times she knew something was very wrong and realized that she had no control over the situation. Author Thomas DeBiaggo was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s and described the experience of the disease as “the closest thing to being eaten alive slowly.”

As the brain is slowly devoured and gradually succumbs, turning the body into an empty vessel, remembering and writing are more than difficult; they are cold receptacles emptied of content. My memories are slowly disappearing from places inhabited for so long. In themselves, my memories do not compare with the great sagas of this century, the births, deaths, tumult, madness, great art and music, and the intense suffering of so many human beings. Our immortality, such as it may be, is not contained in what we dreamed or the secrets we kept; it is how our friends and loved ones remember us. - Losing My Mind, Thomas DeBiaggo, 2003.

My brother and I want to contribute in remembering our grandmothers. After considering Momonee’s lifelong dedication to reading, writing, and learning, we decided it would be appropriate to try and raise a tribute donation for Alzheimer’s research. On May 6, we are both running the Santa Barbara Wine Country ½ Marathon in memory of our grandparents. http://www.runsantaynez.com/

Please consider sponsoring us as we run to raise a tribute donation. We started a blog where family and friends can post pictures or memories. If you feel like you would like to give a little in Helen or Jean’s honor (or to support Alzheimer's research for someone else you know) please follow the “donate” button on the blog. The donations will be compiled in a donation paypal account that Jasper created and then go to Alzheimer’s research through the Alzheimer’s Association:http://www.alz.org/join_the_cause_donate.asp

Link to blog:http://momonee-grandmashowers-tribut.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Our Easter worship will start with children's activities at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 24. We will have a lesson, a piƱata, perhaps some surprises and no doubt some candy!

Our formal worship service will begin at 10:30 and will be filled with joyful proclamation and singing. Visitors are welcome, and of course children, with or without their parents! Bring visiting family members. Bring friends. Bring neighbors. Bring strangers, even! Our calling is to share the Good News of Christ's resurrection with everyone.

Afterward, we'll have fellowship and snacks.

Good Friday

We will observe Good Friday (April 22) with 7 p.m. service at the church. Our worship will be quiet and short, although everyone is welcome to remain in the sanctuary, or visit it throughout the weekend, to pray and meditate on the events of the week.

There will be no Maundy Thursday service because of the spring program at the school. As we all watch the children, keep in mind the new commandment — the mandatum of Maundy Thursday — that we all love one another as Christ loved us, and consider the ways we join with our community as a loving presence.

Chapter 15, on May 1

We will skip class on Easter Sunday, so that we can devote more time to music and children.

The next Sunday, May 1 (wow!), we will return to "What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be A Christian?," talking about Chapter 15, "Jesus' Example: What Brings Fulfillment?" Here are some questions to get us started talking. Feel free to reply with more questions or comments.

•What are some of the reasons we grow disillusioned with the American Dream?

•One reason I have heard is that it is not, at base, a dream of community but a dream of individual achievement and fulfillment. What is our dream for everyone?

•What possessions enslave us? The house, the lawn, the computer or television, the cell phone? What can we do to break free?

•What possessions enable us to do God's work in this world more effectively?

•In our various opinions, what makes work fulfilling or meaningful?

•What do you think about the life prescription of the fictional Dr. Mark Green on ER: "Be generous with your time. Be generous with your love. Be generous with your life. Be generous."? Is generosity the highest standard of stewardship?

•Ours is a result-driven society. Karyn talked about that a couple weeks ago, and suggested that we don't always need to fix something — that goal is often beyond us; we just need to make the right choice each time we have a choice and trust God to put the pieces together. In the last story in this chapter, Gus, the cancer patient in hospice, died with a smile on his face even though he had not saved the life of the little girl who was his fellow patient. What had he accomplished?

•Bottom line: Can we (the book-study class) come up with a brief outline of reoriented values that would better serve God? Could we be happy with those values?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's the Least I Can Believe - the myths

The main myth, I think, is that we check our brains at the church door and just think what we are told to think, without needing to understand why, or perhaps without being able to understand the applications in our own life and ministries.

Last Sunday, a member of our group expressed a frustration with the study book because the author does not come down strongly on one side of a controversial issue, and we discussed ways that members of the PC(USA) have confronted differences of belief on some of those issues.

The Westminster Confession says: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." (20:2)

How, then, are we to form beliefs about controversial matters? How do we discern God's will?

What are some other issues about which we might not hold the same opinions? Have you come from a denomination with a different position than that "officially" held by the PC(USA)? Do you know how that denomination's governing body arrived at that position?

This week, let's finish up talking about the myths (which run through chapter 9 or 10 — I don't have my book in front of me), and then let's talk about the ways the congregational of a community church like ours can be a strong Christian presence in the community without agreeing on topics about which our beliefs may be deep and passionate.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"What's the Least I Can Believe?" — First Class

This Sunday, Feb. 13, we'll open our study of the new book, "What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian: A Guide to What Matters Most." The book study begins at 9:30; musicians will rehearse at 9.

We'll be discussing the Preface and Chapters 1 and 2. Here are a few questions to get us started:

Last week we discussed some of the ideas *we* find hard to believe about Christianity. Among those mentioned were the virgin birth, the resurrection of the body, and the idea that God cares about us personally. What do you think are some of the ideas that non-Christians think we believe that we actually may not?

Chapter 1 disputes the notion that God causes bad things to happen. A corollary is that by creating free will, God *allows* bad things to happen. William Sloane Coffin, who lost his son Alex in a car accident, preached a sermon about this topic. I'll bring copies to the class, but two things he said spring immediately to mind:

The first is from Coffin himself: "My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break."

The other is from Ernest Hemingway's, "A Farewell to Arms": "The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places." Can we believe that the world breaks us and that God heals us and makes us stronger?

The second chapter refutes the idea that good Christians don't doubt. God made us human and doubt is human, but can we think of tools that God has given us to help deal with it?

Feel free to use the comment function to chime in with other questions for discussion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's the Least I Can Believe?

Barb has suggested that we might consider for our next book-study text, “What’s the Least You Can Believe and Still Be A Christian?” by Martin Thielen.

This Sunday, Jan. 30, let’s meet at 9:30 or 9:45 (depending on whether the musicians are rehearsing with a new keyboard!) to talk about whether you’d like me to order copies of the book.

A good discussion starter might be, “What do you have trouble believing?”


Here’s what Barb found on the Internet:

When I first met Danny, he said, "Preacher, you need to know that I'm an atheist. I don't believe the Bible. I don't like organized religion. And I can't stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians."

I liked him right away!

In spite of Danny's avowed atheism and my devout Christian beliefs, we became close friends. Over the next year Danny and I engaged in numerous conversations about faith. During that time Danny softened his stance on atheism. One day he announced with a laugh, "I've decided to upgrade from an atheist to an agnostic." Several months later Danny said, "I've had an epiphany. I realize that I don't reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity." A few weeks after that conversation, Danny said, "Martin, you've just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So I want to know--what's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"

"What's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?" What a great question! Danny's provocative question prompted me to write a new book, using his question as the title. Part one of the book presents 10 things Christians don't need to believe. In short, Christians don't need to believe in closed-minded faith. For example, Christians don't need to believe that:

• God causes cancer, car wrecks and other catastrophes
• Good Christians don't doubt
• True Christians can't believe in evolution
• Woman can't be preachers and must submit to men
• God cares about saving souls but not saving trees
• Bad people will be "left behind" and then fry in hell
• Jews won't make it to heaven
• Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
• God loves straight people but not gay people
• It's OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious

On the other hand, there are things Christians do need to believe, which is the focus of part two of my book. They need to believe in Jesus -- his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life's most profound questions including:
• Who is Jesus?
• What matters most?
• Am I accepted?
• Where is God?
• What brings fulfillment?
• What about suffering?
• Is there hope?
• Is the church still relevant?
• Who is the Holy Spirit?
• What is God's dream for the world?

Like Danny, many people in the 21st century hunger for an open-minded expression of Christian faith. That's especially true for young people. For example, in a recent episode of the popular television show Glee, several high school students explain why they are turned off by religion. From their perspective, the church is down on gays, women and science. When you add to that the arrogant and judgmental attitudes found in many religious-right churches, it's easy to see why people are repelled by religion. If the only faith options are fundamentalism or no religion, many people will opt for no religion. Thankfully, a better alternative exists -- vibrant, open-minded, grace-filled, gender-equal, life-giving, centrist, moderate/mainline faith. Promoting that kind of faith is my greatest passion in ministry. For example, I received the following e-mail a few weeks ago from a woman named Shelly:

...I was raised in a religious-right fundamentalist church. Suffice it to say that my experiences were such that by the time I finished college, I was totally estranged from religion. Twenty years later, I realized that I was neglecting an important part of my life, and I began searching for a church home. I attended a few churches and was so discouraged. I wondered whether it was possible to find a church where my children would not hear hate and intolerance preached. Then one day my family and I visited your congregation, and were filled with joy to find a church that embraces grace instead of judgment. So here we are, a year later, and I actually look forward to Sunday services each week. I feel God's presence in my life for the first time in many years, and I want to thank you for your part in this process...

In a nutshell, that e-mail explains why I wrote What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? I want people like Shelly to know that a viable alternative exists to arrogant, judgmental, closed-minded religion. I also wrote the book for moderate and mainline churches. We in the moderate/mainline tradition have a compelling faith story to tell. However, we need practical resources to better share that story. So I devised a seven-week congregational initiative based on the book that moderate and mainline churches can use to better tell their story.