Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saint Paul's United Church of Christ 401 East Main Street Barrington, Illinois 60010

Hi Bill (Bill Bishop, who will be best man at my wedding),

So wonderful and timely to see you in church today. Thanks for the lift back home, and for listening to my remarkable epiphany.

This is what the Lord has put onto my heart: back to your original idea to stage "events" for membership outreach physically on the grounds of St Paul's, this IS the way to go, if the church council can be sold on the idea of a regularly scheduled, periodic meeting on Sunday afternoons, and the right thing to do is to target other praise band teams in the area, inviting them to put on about 25-30 minute performances, with enough participants to provide about a 3-hour venue (probably open mic is the right way to present it - with the stipulation that each week would be featured performers from various of the local churches) for fellowship, worship, praise, food, coffee, cola, singing, song, and dancing. SOMEBODY has to host the event; it may as well be St Paul's, unless or until someone else steps up to take up the cause (ultimately, a rotating format might be the way to go, if there is enough interest from local churches).

Teen-aged suicide awareness falls quite naturally into this purview (we need to discuss with Paul Tack, who worked many years with my mother at the Jewel Tea Corporation what it is that St. Anne is doing in this regards. To my knowledge, this is the only local church that actively addresses this issue, counseling its children on how to recognize the signs of at-risk-for-suicide youths. To my knowledge this is the only local organization that dares to even whisper the words "teen suicides" in the same breath; the 800-pound gorilla in the living room).

I was so impressed with Jana's acknowledgement of Dark-side Jana today. I had not given her credit for so much self-awareness, although I do believe that if I were to tell her of the five specific instances in which she exposed her evil-spirited bitchy side, and NOT merely to me, she might faint away dead that she had been caught so off guard. But, perhaps, like the recalcitrant child, she recognized that I could be the one to be counted upon for calling her on her bull feathers. I daresay y'all have some boundary issues that make you reluctant to do so, as was discussed at the round table this afternoon.

I'd like you to present the following to Jana and the rest of the leadership crew (star-ship St Paul's UCC, boldly going where no churches have gone before). You'll never get a more sincere, nor more heartfelt, nor better written recommendation than this one (he said, as a statement of fact, which no pride whatsoever; it simply is what it is).

Saint Paul's United Church of Christ
401 East Main Street
Barrington, Illinois 60010

As kind, generous, non-judgmental, loving, and caring a congregation as you'll ever find, is St. Paul's United Chruch of Christ in Barrington, Illinois. Many of Barrington's foremost and prominent community-serving families have their membership roots grounded here, where Pastor Jana Chwalisz is as a fine a composer and deliverer of sermons as has ever walked the planet. Rene Krupper the very gifted and pragmatic director of music, directs as individually talented a group of musicians as ever you will find, and she uses the various ensembles (Praise Team, Senior Choir, Handbell Choir) in a set rotation so that each ensemble has the opportunity to hear the other two ensembles at least two weeks out of every month.

Although a relatively small congregation (89 families signed pledge offerings for calendar year 2011), their leadership has dared to dream big dreams and will almost undoubtedly grow rapidly over the next five years.

Some of the really nice and things about the Sunday services include:

Large print for the Bulletin;

Their Hymnal is very traditional - they don't update it every 10 years or so, as to the Lutherans, sometimes, or so it seems, for the mere sake of updating the hymnal;

They actively embrace, welcome and nourish gay couples;

They actively embrace, welcome, and nourish peoples of color;

They proudly proclaim the names of the relatives of those who attend that serve in the military;

They proudly fly the American flag;

Each week, as part of the regular devotional service, Pastor Jana asks those assembled to tell of prayers which have been answered, or prayers which are needed for friends / family / loved ones, or even groups of poor and marginalized peoples from all over the globe, and upon collecting all the information, then prays for them leading the congregation in prayer, and then ensures that these people / groups are placed in the following week's church bulletin to ensure at least one more week of on-going prayers for them.

The church had 150 children in their summer vacation Bible school (the word is out - St Paul's does GOOD by your kids);

The elected church council has been dealing with issues few churches see in 100 years these past 12 months and has developed and implemented innovative action plans to deal with the realities of an ongoing (since 1854) but relatively stagnant membership population as thoughtfully, insightfully, and imaginatively creative, willing to learn, willing to grow, willing to change, honest and open as any you will EVER encounter. They also recognize these times of trials and tribulations as an incredible opportunity to sit back and take a very close look at just what it means to be a church; just what the church expects from its pastor; just what the pastor has to offer the church; just what the church needs to do to prosper, GROW, and thrive.

This past year they had to deal with some of the most difficult decisions an established church will ever have to come to grips with and dealt with fundamental questions about just what it was that the church wanted, needed, and expected from its pastoral staff, and what was realistic to ask of said staff. Their response was one that ENRON might well have paid $1,00,000 to a management consulting firm to produce.

If you enter a church service a stranger, you will leave with at least three new and very close, caring friends.

The membership is quite familiar with and sympathetic to the human condition, and they are NOT afraid to tell you when you have done something stupid THAT you have done something stupid, but invariably append, "We love you anyway; we simply had to tell you for your own good because CLEARLY nobody else cares enough about you to tell you these simple (and very obvious) truths."

The UCC is very active in its support to countries around the world. St Paul has sent ministers and congregants to the southern reaches of Mexico where Commandante Marcos and the indigenous Indian peoples are engaged in a struggle to reclaim lands from the wealthies of land-owners for the poor peoples of Southern Mexico.

The church is strongly engaged in local ministries and outreaches to the less fortunate citizens of the area. The church has a sister-church and the two churches engage in joint projects to proclaim and affirm the love of God in their lives.

BEST PART of Sunday worship is the fellowship snacks and coffee afterwards, where virtually every one who attended the service can be found in the fellowship hall sitting or standing, coffee cup in hand, chatting with old friends, or the newest faced visitor (even ones with very bad hair cuts; even ones with hair dyed BLUE!).

I was first drawn to enter the church doors and engage due to the Wednesday afternoon Bible Study (proudly proclaiming “Open to All”), which consisted of lunch, prayer, a round table group of bible-investigators, and another 75-90 minutes of discussion by some VERY knowledgeable ministers (when first I attended one of these, the pastor staff consisted of a Senior Pastor, an Assistant Pastor, and an unpaid Associate Pastor - these three were SO gung ho into the Good Book that they would bring volumes of commentaries on the particular book of the bible being studied and point out matters that might easily escape the eye of one new to Bible study.

I have here only scratched the surface of what this precious gem of a congregation brings bright-shining to a stranger who first enters its doors (all of which but one are locked during the worship service, the better to keep the young Sunday School children safe from those whose intentions are not good) in radiant, loving splendor its church members, and even non-members who regularly attend because once you meet these loving people, they become part of you in a way that is unique. St. Paul's is like a magnet; once you come under its orbit, you are there forever.

Come one; Come all; the words "All Are Welcomed in this Place," were never spoken and written more truer to what is practiced and believed by the denizens of this faith community, and you may rest assured, these words are used on the web page of another protestant church in town, but the senior pastor, the staff, and the congregation DO NOT PUT INTO PRACTICE these words: Citing just two examples, the senior pastor prohibted entrance into the church a 47-year member who had been confirmed there; for over one year, a black woman attended the services and spoke with great length with the then senior pastor (no longer at the local, Barrington church, of her saddness that not once did any member invite her into their homes from coffee, or lunch, and this, she really could not understand, because they all seemed to kind and loving in the Narthex (she also commanded that the senior pastor not tell anyone of what she had told him, and, he quite wrongly to my mind, did as she had requested – sometimes it is far more cruel to be kind; sometimes we must make promises and tell lies we have no intention of keeping).

God Bless You, St Paul's United Church of Christ of Barrington, Illinois - you have been better to me and more caring for me than my own family, than my original Barrington Church where I was at one time or another actively involved in 14 different ministries; more accepting and less judgmental of me than most of my so-called "closest" friends; you fear me not nor do you fear to call me on my stupidity (or pride, or vanity) because you LOVE me enough to risk making me angry, were I not aware that you do these things only out of loving concern, and that your loving concern is well placed and based on the experience of many years of trials and tribulations which virtually every human being will encounter at one time of crisis or another in their lives.

May the peace of the Lord God almighty reside within you, and within your households, and within the lives of all the people and creatures you love, these things I ask, heavenly Father, in the name of your Beloved Son, Jesus the carpenter, fisher, teacher, healer, teller of stories, rabbi, teacher, saviour, if it be Thy Will, AMEN.

With LOVE to you, and ALL You LOVE,
Mark Raymond Ganzer