Monday, March 1, 2021

Back to the Future

We are returning to our sanctuary this Sunday.  Or maybe I should say our congregants are.  We've been livestreaming from our sacred space ever since the pandemic began last March, and now, almost a year after we left, we are coming back.

We are taking all manner of precautions.  We're limiting numbers to 25% of our capacity.  We are marking off pews, and will practice social distancing.  This morning two of our deacons cleared out all the hymnals, Bibles, and papers from the pew racks.  We are opening up all the doors (one whole side of the sanctuary is sliding glass doors open to the elements) and all the windows.  We will be sanitizing before and after each service.  Our Parish Nurse will be standing at the entrance, checking everybody in and asking health questions. And perhaps most importantly, masks will be required.  It is a big step.

I hope folks realize things will look different, and be different.  I mean yes, we've shared all these protocols with the congregation--more than once!  But still, things won't be the same as the last time folks were in the pews.  They aren't coming back to the past, they are coming back to the future.  Atr least the near-term future.

I never would have guessed we'd be out of the space for so long when all this began.  And, of course, we aren't out of the woods yet and we will need to keep many of these precautions in place for weeks, perhaps months.  For those still uncomfortable with being indoors, we are continuing to offer an outdoor service (with the same protocols) every Sunday.  And we will also continue livestreaming one of our services.  That, in fact, will be a permanent addition to our Sunday schedule.  Something of a silver-lining in all of this.

But while our members and friends will just be returning this week, God has always been present.  Present with the few worship leaders and technicians who have led online services from the space for the past year, and present with our congregation even though they have been scattered and not gathered.  I suppose that is a considered by some to be a rather trite observation, yet it is a reality that has kept me and so many others afloat this year.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The First Dose and Beyond

So my mother, wife and I all have gotten our first dose of the Covid Vaccine.  Moderna, in all three cases.  But all somewhat by chance.  I just happened to sign in to the Walmart site just before they opened up appointments.  I have no idea they were doing that right at that moment!  So a week ago Friday, I took my mother to a local Walmart and waded through some confusion to get her shot.

A friend of ours has been helping Linda and I secure our vaccines.  She just happened to get notification of a pop-up clinic about an hour from here, and passed along a phone number and e-mail address to contact for an appointment.  I did, and later that day got a return e-mail with yet another phone number and a request that I call back.  I did.  And a very kind gentleman signed us up.  It was all very informal and quite unlike the lottery system set up in other locations.  The vaccine itself was administered at was a a well-organized, drive-thru set up and we were in and out and vaccinated within forty-five minutes.

Don't misunderstand.  please!  I am extremely grateful to have the process underway, especially for my eighty-eight year old mother who has been mostly on lockdown for a year now.  But as they used to say, is this anyway to run a railroad?  There seems to be so little rhyme or reason to how it is all unfolding.  I hope, if nothing else, we will learn some important lessons here about preparedness.  Scientists are clear:  this will not be the last pandemic we face as a nation, as a planet.  We must address the whole infrastructure and create a system that is logical, equitable, easily launched when needed.  

Meanwhile, the experts advise get whatever vaccine you can as soon as you can.  Good advice.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Random Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday may be the least appreciated day on the liturgical calendar.  Certainly among mainline Protestants.  For the most part I don't think it even shows up on most evangelical Protestant calendars.  But this year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, it seems so relevant.  Maybe because in one corner of my office there are currently three containers of ashes--human ashes--waiting to be scattered in our Memorial Grounds when it is once again safe for families to travel.

Most of my Committal and Memorial Services these days focus around ashes and not a body.   That's largely due to this being Florida, and while burials are possible, they aren't always very practical.  That and the fact that my congregation is largely made up of people who come from somewhere else, and if they are to be interred up north ashes are far easier to transport.

Here it's not uncommon for ashes to be divided.  Some scattered here, some buried in a family plot in Illinois or Michigan or Massachusetts.  How reflective of our mobile society!  

Some one near and dear to me once said they wanted to be cremated so that if there really was bodily resurrection God could really show off his/her stuff. 

Granted, the ashes of Ash Wednesday are different.  The come from the previous year's Palm Sunday palms being burned to a fine dust.  Still, I can't help but think of the connections.  And, like all of us I imagine, I hope that out of the ashes of this time of pandemic and economic crisis and societal unrest, we will rise to a new way of living.

(You may wish to join us online at www.sanibelucc.org for our streamed Ash Wednesday Service, February 17 at 7:00 PM)

Monday, February 8, 2021

Better Christians, Better Jews

 Let me share a story with you.  A hopeful story.

My congregation shares its building with a Reform Jewish congregation, Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands.  For years, our congregations have shared a close relationship, but this covid year we have grown even closer.  Our various educational offerings have been offered on Zoom, and we have cross-promoted them, meaning there are often folks from both congregations sharing an educational experience.  Additionally we developed a drive thru food drive program, and once a month we collect groceries for two local food pantries.  Volunteers from both of our congregations staff it.

Last summer one of Bat Yam's educational programs focused around racial justice in our local schools.  The guest speaker was a woman who is the only African-American member of the school board.  She e;loquently described the challenges faced by students of color.  Our  Associate Pastor signed into that presentation, and was inspired to ramp up our efforts in terms of help meeting some of the needs.  As a result some three-hundred-twenty-five gifts cards were distributed to students and staff members in the poorest schools in our county.  Inspired by our Jewish partners, we Christians acted.

A couple of months ago the Bat yam's rabbi was one of those staffing the drive-thru food drive.  He was rather appalled to discover many more members of our congregation were bringing by groceries than from his own.  That Friday at Shabbat Services he reported out his experience, and challenged his congregants to "do better" next time.  They did, increasing their giving twenty times over!  Inspired by their Christian partners, our Jewish friends acted.

In the end, the larger community benefitted from our efforts.  Our Jewish partners made us better Christians, and we made them better Jews.  Ultimately, we are most certainly better when we work together.  A fact we celebrated this past weekend at our annual Pulpit Exchange Weekend!
 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Black History Month: Why Bother?


Today marks the beginning of Black History Month.  There are, of course, those who wonder why we need to have a month dedicated to Black history.  After all, such folks will argue, isn't the goal to see all history as important, regardless of the race of those whose stories are being told?  Which, of course, is true.  But I view Black History Month as an early precursor of Black Lives Matter. Yes, all history matters, but until certain parts of our history are told, it is only reasonable to emphasize those people and stories have been underreported, underrepresented, and sometimes not represented at all.

The proposal for holding Black History Month came out of Kent State University in 1969, and was first observed the following year.  It was first observed nationally in 1976.  Then President Gerald Ford explained the need for it when he said, "In celebrating Black History Month we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Our history.  Until we tell the stories of Black Americans, Native Americans, women in general, and other persons who have often been neglected or forgotten, it is not really our history, even as we can't really say All Lives Matter until we recognize those lives that have often been ignored or worse yet devalued.  Until Black History matters, history itself is incomplete and therefore inaccurate.  We will never have a complete picture of our past, no more than we can have a perfect union as a nation.  But we can work towards a more perfect, a more complete, history, even as we must strive for a more perfect union. 


Monday, January 25, 2021

So Who Am I When I Retire?

This coming Sunday marks the eleventh anniversary of my first Sunday at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. And what a wonderful eleven years it has been.  Even this last year, with all its challenges! It also is the first Sunday in what will be a two-year time of pastoral transition for both of us, me and the congregation.  For yesterday the congregation, at it's Annual Meeting, officially approved of a retirement plan that I had originally proposed to our Church Council Executive Committee.

Retirement!  I am still adjusting to the idea.  I once said I found it easier to imagine dying than retiring.  I'm happy to say I've moved past that morbid thought, but still I am having a hard time imagining it.  I am rather wed to the idea of being an active pastor (it's been forty-three years, after all!)  So the next two years will provide me time to take a good look at my identity.

It will provide the congregation the same opportunity.  Not to look at my identity, but rather theirs.  Who is John Danner beyond being Pastor Danner?  And what is the Sanibel Congregational UCC at this point in its
journey?  Big questions for both of us.  But I suspect we will come to a similar answer.  For Pastor or not, I will remain a follower of Jesus, trying to ascertain what's next on my faith journey.  And the congregation will remain a church, followers of Jesus also discerning the direction they need to go in the future.

Keep us all in your prayers as we move through these transitional times.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Place at the Table


While we are no longer a legally segregated society, we still are largely divided by race and class.  Just look around this sanctuary if you need a concrete example.  As Martin Luther King often noted 11:00 o’clock Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in America.”

One could argue, I suppose, that the lack of racial diversity in my congregation is directly tied to the lack of racial diversity on Sanibel.  And that is, no doubt, true. We can’t unravel the complexities of de facto segregation in a single blog post, but perhaps we can acknowledge the reality that we are still a long way from Dr. King's vision of a world where all have a place, an equal place, at the table.  Where all can share in the abundance.

In the last years of his life, Dr. King paid an increasing amount of attention to the economic ramifications of racism.  And in the last days of his life he was engaged in supporting the garbage workers of Memphis, Tennessee who were out on strike, protesting poor working conditions and low wages. When he traveled there from Atlanta the plane, he was to fly on was guarded overnight to make sure no one would plant a bomb on it.  When he touched down there were verbal threats against his life.  It was nothing new, he he had dealt with such threats for a number of years.  But still be persisted in his efforts to lift up those who were oppressed, those who had no place at the table.

On April 3, 1968, he mounted the pulpit at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination. 

As he wound up his address, his words rang out:   “. . . I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. . . . But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And he allowed me to go up the mountains.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”  (A Testament of Hope, 286)

It was last sermon and it proved to be powerfully prophetic.  King was assassinated the very next day.

King’s dream was a dream of a day when all of God’s children are seated at the table.  A day when all of God’s children share in the abundance of life.  A day when all drink freely of the waters of life.

Yes, we've made some progress, but this past year in particular has reminded us we aren’t there yet.