Monday, June 30, 2014

Bible Lecture-session Two

With us on the Way to Caesarea Philippi

At the table, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And Dr. Cleaves takes us back through the Emmaus Road texts from yesterday's lecture.  And now we review the reading of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, looking for what is written and what we read there, both.

So what if we applied those same two questions to the writings of the Prophets, just beyond the writings of the Law we studied yesterday?

What is written?  Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the 12

But what do we read there?  We turn to Mark 8:27-33, reading the story and discussing it briefly with those around us.  Feel free to do the same!

We saw the comparison of Peter's correct statement and his very incorrect statement in just a few verses, alongside the dual emphasis of 'who do you say that I am' in v. 29 and keeping our minds on divine things in v. 33 as significant in these texts.

Dr. Cleaves praises Marcus Borg and NT Wright as examples of the kinds of Biblical scholarship that can guide us as we work to read correctly.

Jesus asks an appropriate teacher's question, seeking feedback from his students.  They reply with potentially useful ideas; John the Baptist and Elijah and the prophets show some understanding.

Jesus knew his Bible, even as early as age 12 when he was lost in the temple, asking questions and sharing his own answers.  Isn't it likely (it was his custom we are told) that Jesus would continue to do this right up through the start of his ministry at age 30?  Isaiah 61 was his first text for preaching...a prophet not celebrated in his own land.

John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 explains his approach, similar to the prophets of old.  Jesus in Matthew 4:17 explains his approach by taking up the mantle of John the Baptist like Elisha did for Elijah.  He is a continuation of that long line of prophets, comparable to Elijah and Elisha.

Jotham, Samuel, Nathan, others, speak to the weakness of power and bring truth to power, just like John the Baptist did in Luke's teaching.  This costs John his life, and Jesus retreats to the mountain to pray.  When he shares the Sermon on the Mount, he is sharing this same kind of message.  This makes him a new threat in the same vein as John the Baptist.

Jesus asks his questions of the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, a new city built by the son of Herod the Great as a sign of power and authority.  It reflects a great city of power that recognizes Caesar as God and Augustus as the Son of God by including a temple to Augustus and this is the setting for their answers, first about Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament, then Jesus as messiah.  When he describes the suffering that will come, Peter sees it another way, as a promise of power that will overcome that he sees as unacceptable.

And Jesus rebukes Peter.  He says you (and we) are thinking of human mechanisms and institutions, and he (and we) need to remember that the kingdom that Jesus speaks of is one of proper use of power like the prophets described as they critiqued and praised their kings.

Isaiah 61 tells us some important factors in this work: good news, release, sight, freedom and the Lord's favor (favour!) will be abundant.

Also Isaiah 11:3b-5

And Isaiah 32

And Isaiah 53, the suffering servant.

These are the passages that show us how to rule in God's way in God's kingdom, righteousness and justice, good news to the poor and release to the captives.

Peter sees this on Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection, and quotes the prophet Joel, a promise of what is yet to come for the Kingdom, found in Acts 2.

We must read the prophets in this way, to see and know what we are being called to do, in taking up the mantle now, to speak truth to power, to truly bring good news to the poor and fulfill that prophetic voice, keeping our minds on divine things, knowing that the Lord, our God is with us wherever we go.

We closed our session in prayer, grateful for this wonderful and generous teacher, and new thoughts to take with us, wherever we go!

Around the Congregational Kitchen Table

The Editor's Round Table breakfast was this morning and we celebrated the quality publication that puts Congregationalism into the hands of our members.  We have been blessed for the last five years to have Larry Sommers serving as our editor.  While Larry has done many wonderful things with The Congregationalist, perhaps one of the most far-reaching is to help us think of the magazine as the our kitchen table - that place where we can sit together and talk about anything with a sense of our covenant of love and care for one another.  We may not agree on everything, but we can agree to talk with civility and grace.  That feeling of gathering around our Congregational kitchen table is extremely attractive, but it is also something that we hold dear.

Thanks, Larry, for giving us not just an image to enjoy, but also a table around which to gather over a cup of coffee (or tea) and talk.

Would somebody pass the creamer?

NACCC general meeting - mid-morning notes

Executive Committee Report - Becci Dawson Cox
- the EC has been functioning as a Board of Directors
- our votes were unanimous on every decisions (and we're still Congregationalists!)
- we had a number of conference calls, and achieved consensus
- we feel we've been blessed by the Holy Spirit this year
- we worked to intentionally transform into a new Board of Directors (when ratified)
- we recognize that in the new structure, the Board of Directors, the Leadership Council, and the Board of Governors will have different responsibilities (previously all under the old EC structure)
- we are working to make sure that each of these Boards will work together as a team, not as individual structures
- we recommend (in response to a request from NACCC staff) to a one-executive model for the National Association
- the Board of Directors have elected to fill a position for a Director of Development and Communications
- we hired an interim executive secretary (under the old model, 2 years ago)
- a strategic staffing sub-committee came back with the recommendation of a single executive, to be augmented with various support personnel

from Art Ritter - an examination of motion 2013 EC 016, where some working was changed

Ratification of actions
- this is a list of all the combined actions taken by the Executive Committee and Board of Directors (pages 1 & 2 of a given report) - all were adopted

Strategic Staffing subcommittee to present report
- Jim DeLine explained the process whereby the subcommittee reached their decision to recommend a single executive position
- their job was not to just appoint, but to communicate with the body
- they looked for input, and heard from lots of people (which increased their time)
- then they went to work: what's being done? what's best done by which people?
- their recommendation is Congregational, not top-heavy, fiscally responsible
- they will hear responses during a Town Hall meeting later today

Introduction of Resolution(s) by the Executive Committee
- these will be voted on in a later meeting

Motion from the floor, regarding 2013 EC 031, that the Misconduct Handbook be accepted, but returned to the committee for strengthening and to specifically state that misconduct is incompatible with Christian teaching. Motion passed.

Centerpieces from Local Churches

Here are just a few of the table centerpieces prepared for us by our host churches.


naccc general meeting - Monday morning business

Business session #2:

Vote on Articles and Bylaws
-an amendment which allows the incoming vice moderator to *not* have to serve for six years was adopted
-an amendment that the youth delegate only serve one year (the same term as everyone else) was adopted
-an amendment (to sect. 4 para 1a) about the proposed mediation committee: members of that subcommittee will only make recommendations to their representative committees was adopted
** reminder ** we are still waiting for the IRS to officially recognize our non-profit status; what we're voting for recognizes that we're still stuck; as soon as the IRS gives us our approval, the proposed changes will be implemented the first quarter afterwards
passed unanimously!

- - editorial comment: it's pretty neat to see that a bunch of ministers and congregants trip a bit over formal language used in formal business meetings; we are God's people, trying our best to use unfamiliar language infrequently, just to make sure that our decisions can be clearly examined in the future

Nominating Committee
- because we're still "in process", we have to elect a slate of officers for the 'old structure' and also we have to elect a slate of officers for the 'new structure'

Nominations and Appointments Subcommittee - Rev. Bill Trump
- Bill Trump handled the 'old structure' slate, and the slate was passed
- Claudia Kneifel handled the 'new structure' slate, and the slate was passed
- our lawyers informed us that the nominating committee must have certain positions ratified by the body (again, a by-product of the transitional nature), and those nominations were passed

Nomination and Election for Nominating Committee
- three names were nominated from the floor, and all accepted and were voted in

Another Day at the NACCC 2014

The business meeting has started. It is threatening to be stormy today in Omaha and several places in Nebraska have had flooding and severe storms. However, we are gathered and present! So far, we are discussing the Articles and By-Laws of the Association. #NACCC14

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Missionary presentations

Bread of Life - Florida

Pan American Institute - Mexico

Hosanna Industries - Pennsylvania

Morgan Scott ministry - Tennessee

Bible Lecture-Session One

When things go wrong, it is good to talk...and they needed to talk.

Sometimes the theory isn't enough!
     Dr. Cleaves takes us to the Emmaus Road to encounter the two disciples...
     They need to realize that Jesus was with them, even on the road.  Like Joshua 1:6, our theme verse.

Using a verse from Joshua, a book that includes sections used by some to justify genocide, causes some questions about how we read the Old Testament.

A key understanding of how we read the Old Testament comes from the Emmaus story; the disciples KNEW their scriptures and knew that Jesus was the messiah in the same manner that Joshua was.  However, the story had ended with his death, an unthinkable possibility.

When Jesus meets them, he tells them they have read it wrong, then explains it to them.  In detail.  Interpreting all the texts about himself, a story we do not hear, but that we might be able to reconstruct.

What he told them that day would form how they would read the scriptures from that day forward.  So we can look at Acts and the other New Testament to see the 'genius of Jesus himself' that he shared on the road to Emmaus.

What was the strategy of Jesus as he interpreted the scriptures?

We look at Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Dr. Cleaves invites us to discuss:  what does this story say to us today?

My conversation ties together two thoughts:  that we are called to go and do likewise by Jesus, like the one who showed mercy, and the thought that there are two people who show mercy-the Samaritan and the innkeeper.  What can they teach us about love?  About mercy?

In talking about a trip the Holy Land, Dr Cleaves talks about visiting Peter's house in Capernaum and the synagogue across the street.  Synagogue in Greek translates as congregational in Latin, wherever people gather!  "Wherever two or three..." connects us across faith traditions!

In the synagogue, one teaches and all ask questions...the way to read and study scripture in the Jewish approach.  In the questioning, the truth of scripture emerges.

So let's look at the text again...

Verse 25, a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. (this would be normal to ask questions, not a threat)

A respectful question...what must I do to inherit eternal life?  How do I get eternal life from someone who has gone before?  How do I inherit from those before the full life here and now not bounded by death?

Jesus sends him back to the law...two questions! (normal!)

What is written?  And what do YOU read there?  The words and the interpretation are important, the understanding is key.

The expert in the law answers with the two Old  Testament texts that hold the whole of the law.

Jesus says you are correct so LIVE!  (not eternal life only but life right now)

Then another question...followed by the story.  Some will be uncomfortable as they hear it, but not all.  Those who seek the literal word and the details therein will struggle with what Jesus has to say.

The figures who reflect the temple culture walk past the man who has been beaten.

Only the Samaritan, who does not have the exact same law to work from, or the same history or connection to the temple, stops to offer help, to be a neighbor, to bring mercy.  His way of reading the law is different from the priest or the Levite.

So Jesus's question is about which one of the three read the law, and got it right!  And he affirms the Samaritan and says we should do likewise.

This can tell us about how Jesus read the find the truth within it.

Test this:
Jesus and lepers
Jesus and the bleeding woman
Jesus and the woman caught in adultery
Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus chooses to move away from the literal words of the law to find the truth within, the measure of love and mercy.  And Jesus promises to be with us, on the road and in our strategy to read the Bible.

How do we read the Bible?

Jesus asked:  what is written in the Law?  AND what do you read there?
The answer was Love God and Love your Neighbour, so remember the story Jesus told and don't limit who your neighbor is.  (British spelling!)

We closed in prayer, asking that we may walk as Jesus walked and read the Bible as Jesus read the Bible, seeking to love God and to love our neighbor, whoever they may be.  Amen!

Bible Lecture 1 - Dr. Richard Cleaves

Richard Cleaves is Minister of Highbury Congregational Church, Cheltenham, UK, and teaches Biblical studies for the Congregational Federation’s Institute of Practical Theology in partnership with the University of Winchester. He and his wife, Felicity, grew up together in Clarendon Park Congregational Church, Leicester, at the time when the NACCC and also the Congregational Federation in the UK came into being. They were both present at the inaugural meetings of the International Congregational Fellowship. 

Richard studied Theology at Jesus College, Oxford and then went on to do a PhD with the University of Wales in Bangor on the history of the interpretation of the Bible, studying under one of the foremost historians of Congregationalism, R. Tudur Jones.

Bible lectures:
If the promise in Joshua 1:9 is to mean the world to us, we need to think carefully about the way we read  the Bible. In his Bible studies, Richard is going to start on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and open up a way  of reading the Old Testament in the company of Jesus. It is as the Lord our God is with us wherever we go in  reading the Bible that we shall discover He is with us wherever we go!
 1) With us on the way to Jericho – reading the Law – Luke 10:25-37
 2) With us on the way to Caesarea Philippi – reading the Prophets – Mark 8:27-9:1
 3) With us on the way to the end of the age – reading the Writings – Matthew 5:1-12 and 43-48
Dr. Cleaves will also incorporate one of his workshops into the Tuesday evening closing worship service.

Lecture 1:
Sometimes the theory isn't enough.

The Road to Emmaus - Were not our hearts burning within us while he wa talking to us on the road while he was opening the Scriptures to us?

-feels this story goes to the heart of a major problem in faith within Christians in the 21st Century.

In a world of fundamentalisms, how we read the Bible is a key for us to move forward.

Joshua 6:21 - Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys.
-Not really a children's story

How do we read the Old Testament?

A Strategy for Reading the Bible:
Beginning with Moses, and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.

Luke 10:25-37 - the Parable of the Good Samaritan
-Ask questions - verse 26 - what is written, what do you read

How do we read the Bible?
-Remember the questions Jesus asked of the expert in the Law.
     -What is written in the Law?
     -What do you read there?
-Remember the response Jesus accepted
    -Love God
    -Love your neighbor
-Remember the story Jesus told and don't limit who your neighbor is.

A blog connection!

This blog reflects Dr. Cleaves thoughts as he tours with us!  Take a look to see his insights on our shared way together! the light of God!

The song Siyahamba brings us into our Bible lecture for this afternoon.  We march, dance, sing, pray in the light of God, and I hope and pray we keep it that way throughout our sessions! will give you some information about Rev. Dr. Richard Cleaves, about halfway down the page.  He comes highly recommended through our International Congregational Fellowship where he was the Bible lecturer last summer.

This blog should be filled with notes and thoughts...enjoy!

A Curious Table - a sermon from Rev. Tom Van Tassell


A Curious Table - sermon by Rev. Tom Van Tassell. Audio Here

"the unofficial seating chart - you know who sits where in your local church"

the different people in the family of God come from different places and contexts, but we gather together because we are God's people - it is He who draws us.

What does Communion mean to you?

- a restart, a boost

- a remembrance that we are together

- a reminder of what has been given to me by Jesus

- it makes me feel whole again

- I am a child of Christ, no matter what

Four things that are going on at the Table:

1 - Remembering: we remember the story of Jesus, and give thanks

we can remember that Jesus saw our need to be reminded

God meets us and shapes us in worship

remembering in contrast to dismembering! putting back together

re-membering, re-attaching branch to The Vine; strengthens our relationship

2 - Forgiving; re-strengthening of relationships between church congregations

re-starting: we confess, we repent, we commit, we are straightened

3 - Binding together; Communion reminds us that the Body of Christ extends far beyond the Table around which the local body meets

we are reconciled with one another; we forgive others as Christ forgives us

4 - Looking into the future; Communion is like Thanksgiving at the kids table - when we share in the Lord's Supper, we are brought into the "Big Table" with God

there are times when words are not enough; that's when we engage in ritual

the preacher is more sacramental than he was as a young man, because of

the practice of communion with others, that used various traditions, styles, etc.

God is with us at the Table

This kind of work requires a Meal!




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Congregational Lecture Notes

-from Peggy Bendroth

Begin by imaging we're in a time machine...
- June 1865: 1/2 million people dead; thousands freed from slavery, but what will happen to them? Tensions between North and South are still very high. THIS is when our Congregational ancestors decided to call a national meeting.

A group philosophically opposed to large gatherings were trying to gather together...

Meeting in the Old South Meeting House in Boston, Mass. It's hot, smelly, and lots of visitors were interrupting. There are NO copies available, so the reports had to be READ OUT LOUD. It took DAYS.

500 delegates gathered to hear the report... the challenge to expand their particular gospel to the West.

2 Goals - a declaration of faith, and a document of Congregational polity

Background: not everyone had a good understanding of what Congregationalism meant -
Majority of Congregationalists didn't really understand how their own polity worked!
by the early 1800's, when Congregationalists spread out West, things got complicated...

The "elevator speech" - "what's a Congregationalist?" was needed!

What do LIVING men now believe and teach? was the cry
For example - the Declaration of Faith was too short; 8 seminarians were added to the committee, and 2 days later their document set off a firestorm!
 - it was defensive
 - it said Calvinism was the core doctrine of Congregationalism everywhere
    = problem; we don't want a declaration that is based on ancient beliefs, but beliefs from 1865
    = Calvinism was the standard of "a respectable man"

The document of Congregational Polity was VERY long
 - author was Leonard Bacon, not known for time management skills (read it ALL OUT LOUD)
 - based on the Cambridge Platform
 - referred to a committee, where it languished for 7 years; was then published... and ignored.

How do we remain faithful to our tradition?
- It's HARD to be a Congregationalist. It's difficult, it's messy, it's counter-cultural, and it's even more necessary today because it is an authentic method of interaction in today's society.

Check Out Our New Logo!


Here's the old one.



And now the new one!




This small one is my favorite.


Afternoon Reports

From Committee Chairs -

* Growth - Mark Jurewicz
~devotional literature editors - Lenten and Advent Devotional literature written by our own members
~brochures - ways to enhance worship, planting churches, analyze church's growth, technology
~youth - task team members needed; Sunday school material / VBS
~stewardship services - gathering materials about giving, will planning, planned giving - help needed

* Mission & Outreach - Laura Hamby
~thanks for generosity - in spite of economic situation, more giving this year than years past
~ways to be involved in missions - task teams; learn more from the Missionary Society; QR codes available that take you directly to mission info; make care packages during Annual Meeting
~last and best thing - we have great missions, with lots of variety; our missionaries aren't just people doing a work, they're our friends!

* Vitality - Barbara Erlendson
~Barbara introduces the concept of vitality using musical terms
~help churches refresh and renew themselves with various ministries
~help ministers refresh themselves through the Minister's Convocation
~our goal - to be there for whatever our churches need

* The Congregationalist Magazine
~Larry Sommers, editor, will be retiring next year
~magazine is doing well, but more revenue is needed (magazine is as $ efficient as possible)
~confident that a careful search process for a great editor will happen
~significant improvements - 40 pages (from 32); larger type, looser layouts; redesigned subscription request sheet (the "tip-on") - even clearer to explain that the magazine is not free to produce
~magazine is asking for design suggestions from attendees at the Annual Meeting
~3 possible redesigns for the magazine - stop by and let them know what you think about the format

* Congregational Foundation - Carolyn Sundquist
~the purpose of the CF is to raise money to support the programs of the NACCC
~2013 results: over $500,000 was contributed through 11 different funds
~value of the investments as of 31 March 2014: $3.4 million
~2 funds that directly support local churches: the John Richard fund, for artistic expression; and the Providence Fund, which helps small churches attend the Annual Meeting (5 churches sent this year)
~Fund Development Corporation gave a comprehensive report on the NACCC & Foundation that helped us see our strengths and weaknesses in fund-raising
~As a result of the report, they will fill the Director of Development and Communications position, paid for out of Foundation funds

Strategic Staffing Proposal

One of the issues that comes before the delegates this year is a new staffing proposal that better aligns the staff with the strategic new(ish) structure of the association.  Over the course of many months (eight, if you count from the short list), a group of folks who are part of your association, worked the Executive Committee and Leadership Council to review three possible staffing structures for the NACCC office. After a great deal of discussion and review, the choice was to move forward with recommending a one-executive model.  The strategic staffing team then went to work, crafting what we felt was a workable model.  And then, the beauty of the Congregational Way went to work and through state / regional association visits and conference calls and a number of Town Hall conference calls with Year Round Delegates, we shared our ideas and received amazing feedback and input.  Taking those thoughts back to the work table, we eventually created a proposal to put before the delegates.

You can find the information about our work and the proposal on the NA website at  Please check it out and if you have questions, find one of the Strategic Staffing Team members and ask / discuss.  We'll be glad to answer your questions.  Team members are:  Jim DeLine, John Miller, Art Ritter, Laura Hamby, and Dawn Carlson.

from Dr. Betsy Mauro's report -

Always a highlight of the business meeting, Dr. Betsy Mauro's report is usually cleverly themed. This year, it was a riff on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Here she is, reenacting one of the scenes from the film. All levity aside, all of our NACCC staff do an amazing job, and we're blessed to have them.

New Website, By-Law and Article changes

Fortunately, the NACCC has seen the value of developing a user-friendly website, which is in development according to Rev. Dr. Betsey Mauro. A website isn't everything, but in 2014, it is a whole lot.

To that end, I give easy links to the pdfs of the Article and By-Law changes here:


Our newest churches say "hi"

Just some of the faces from our newest member churches!

(this links to a 2 second video of our new friends)

New NACCC Churches 2014

New Churches brought into the NACCC - voted in unanimously:

Christ First Community of Faith
60 High Lane
North Haven, Connecticut 06473

Allison Congregational Church
502 N. Main Street
Allison, Iowa  50602

Oakham Congregational Church
4 Coldbrook Road Unit #12
Oakham, Massachusetts  01068

Paramus Congregational Christian Church
163 Reid Way
Paramus, New Jersey  07652

Gomer Congregational Church
7350 Gomer Road
Gomer, Ohio  45809

More on Joshua Meditations

A statue of Atlas, built for strength, struggles to hold the weight of the world. That's ONE way to live.
A shrine to Jesus as a boy, holding the world in His hands.

We can carry the weight of the world in our own strength, or we can allow The Lord to take our lives into His hands.

We have a choice: do we want to allow His Spirit to be in us, giving us strength, and helping us learn?

We can learn from Joshua - be strong and courageous, we can let God replace our desire to rule our own life, and let God direct us.

Are we ready to let go?

Meditation on Joshua

From the Rev. Tonna Parsons -

"Joshua listens; 'be strong and courageous'...

...we listen, very closely, to be reminded that God is with us."

Our Artist in Residence

Jennifer Mally created the art featured all over this year's meeting, from the registration form, to the attendee folders, to the very cool tote bags everyone received. Check out her work at


Notice anything unusual? Unlike every other year, these bags have no identifiers. No year. No location. That's intentional. The artist and the host committee hope you'll take them home and "recycle" them. Find someone else who needs it and share the love!


Iowa-Nebraska Association share banners.

The Midwest churches of the NACCC share worship banners - the procession was inspiring. We're reminded that we are not alone, that the Holy Spirit walks among us, binding us together, and making us ONE in Christ.

Opening Session for the NACCC 2014 Meeting

(photo by Chris Meirose)

Business meetings are now beginning. Moderator Neil Hunt is opening things up. This is our 60th Annual Meeting of the NACCC. 

The Congregational Choir

The 60th Annual Meeting & Conference of the National Assoc. of Congregational Christian Churches is about to get underway.  Before the gavel offically gathers us together, there is singing.  Some of these folks can really sing.  Others of us can't carry a tune.  Thankfully, nobody minds about those of us who can't.

Join us as we live blog the NACCC 14 adventure!

Omaha Worships!

NACCC Omaha worships!

Kicking things off from Omaha!

The leadership of the NACCC has been in meetings the last couple of days, but now the real fun begins.  We're currently sitting in with the First Time Attenders doing some organizational introductions (BOG/EC, Leadership Council, Staff etc).

Our hotel is across the street from where the College World Series concluded on Wednesday evening.  Across the street another direction is the Arena/Convention Center where the title fight for the lightweight division of boxing between Terence Crawford and Yuriorkis Gamboa will be held tonight.  Crawford and his team are staying in our host hotel.

Official start of the conference is 1:30pm today, but lots already going on!