Tuesday, September 8, 2015

First Congregational Church Welcomes Freedom School

During the months of June and July, FCC welcomed Freedom School into our building each Monday-Friday. Freedom School is a program of the Children’s Defense Fund that seeks to build strong, literate, and empowered children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and world today. 71 students participated in the program this summer.

Each day started with Harambee, a gathering time of singing, dancing and stories. The program provided an exciting Integrated Reading Curriculum including carefully chosen developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant books. The children participated in field trips and other activities in the community. They also took part in a Social Action Day in which they focused on ending poverty. They learned about the far-reaching affects of poverty  such  as  increased violence in neighborhoods and the quality of food available in neighborhoods. The program ended with a special programming in which the students presented what they had learned during Freedom School to family, friends and community members.

Freedom School is one way that First Congregational Church seeks to embody difference faithfully as students gather in our space to make a difference in how diversity, poverty and other social justice issues are learned about and carried on both now and in the future.

Special Thanks--August/September Congregationalist

This summer, the First Congregational Scholarship Committee was excited to provide scholarships to the following college students: Kevin Noble, Abigail Labreque, Emma Kukuk, Mina Kukuk and Meghan Schulz.

I am so grateful for the existence of the FCCBC scholarship. My senior year of college is quickly approaching which means that the writing of my senior thesis on German theologian Rudolf Otto is also swiftly approaching. As I gear up to write my thesis, there are many, many books awaiting to be purchased, as well as deconstructed by my multi-colored highlighters and sticky notes.
Thank you so much to the scholarship committee for selecting me as a recipient, to all that made and continue to make this scholarship possible and to FCCBC as a whole for the continued support.
Ever since I was a baby in the nursery, I have been blessed with this community whose generosity knows no end.
Much love and appreciation,
Abbey Labrecque

First Congregational was also able to provide scholarships for students attending Camp Talahi this summer.

Dear Congregational Church,
Thank you for helping to fund my Camp Talahi experience! I had a great time and made tons of friends! I really appreciate your help. I am forever grateful and hope that I can go again next year!
Kaitlyn Lawhead.

Thanks from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Math Camp

Thanks to everyone for all the supplies and monetary donations for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Math Camp!

The following was received from Inila Wakan by Sandy Wehling:

Dear Sandy,
The boxes have arrived! Thanks so much for your expression of love and kindness towards the Coyote Spring Math Camp for Girls. We are truly blessed by your generosity and we’re looking forward to seeing the many smiling faces at math camp this year. We have lost three young people to suicide in the last two weeks and it’s so heart wrenching to have so many children plagued by this epidemic. Your gifts of love will paly a pivitol role in lending a hand as we are joined by God in the taks to save lives of children here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Thanks again for your outreach dear Friends in Christ but mostly I want to thank you for hearing God’s call to reach out to us as it is an answer to the prayer of many children. God’s blessing upon you and all supporting our beautiful Lakota Wakanyeja.
In Jesus’ holy name, Thank you!

We would also like to give special thanks to Sandy Wehling for heading up this effort and for her heart for social justice not only in our community, but at Pine Ridge.

Malice in the Palace: Choir Camp 2015

During the first week of August, First Congregational Church hosted Children’s Choir Camp in partnership with First Presbyterian Church of Battle Creek. This year’s theme was Malice in the Palace and focused on the story of Esther from the Bible. 28 children from 12 different churches took part in the camp and the final performance that followed.

Each morning, students heard devotionals on the book of Esther. They learned about feeling empowered to make a difference and about how love can overcome fear. The following Sunday morning, the students performed three songs from their performance during the 10am worship service. Both parents and students were so appreciative of the hard work of Lucy Lower, Associate Music Director, on the camp program.

Music ministries such as Choir Camp continue to be vital parts of our goal of providing a “spiritual playground” where community members can take part in learning and growing in creative expression as worship. 

Spread the Good News About Garden of Dreams

Spread the Good News About Garden of Dreams
by Andria Ryberg

As we approach the first year anniversary of opening our doors on September 2, we are so thankful for all of the support that the church has given us.  We have been able to serve over 100 students this past year.  Our student body and staff members come from diverse socio-economic and racial backgrounds.  We have established ourselves as a high-quality center with a loving environment.  And, we have new babies lined up to enter our school 6 months from now!  It's been a successful year, and we could not have done it without you.

We host two classrooms of a FREE, state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds, called the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP).  We still have 8 slots left for that program, which starts in mid-September.  Can you please help us spread the word about those spots?  This is a highly educational, joyful, full-day Pre-K program that helps prepare children for Kindergarten.  We want to make sure that as many people as possible find out about this program and participate.  Again, it's a FREE program and a family of four can make up to $70,000 a year and still qualify.  

Please help us spread the news about this FREE program by doing one/all of the following:
1.  Email your network of friends - you never know who might be looking for preschool, even if you feel like you don't know anyone with a four-year-old.
2.  Share information with co-workers, clubs, etc, either via email or in person.  We have promotional materials available near the front desk at church if you want to take some to a gathering.
3.  Share information about Garden of Dreams on Facebook.

Sample Email to Co-Workers, Friends, Network
Our church hosts Garden of Dreams Community Preschool and Child Care.  Part of the school's mission is to serve a diverse student body, and as such, we have two FREE Pre-K classes for four-year-olds.  These classes are part of the state's Great Start Readiness Program and families making up to $70,000 a year for a family of four qualify (or more, if you have more children.)  Please share this opportunity with any families you know looking for a great preschool program for their four-year-old!  The phone number at Garden of Dreams is 269-788-0081.  You can check out the website at www.gardenofdreamspreschool.org and the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gardenofdreamspreschool.  

Build Strong Families--Aug/Sep Congregationalist 2015

Build Strong Families
By Jaimie Fales-Brown

In the previous Congregationalist, I shared five ways that the Church can help build strong families. This month, I would like to highlight how the Church can build parental resilience by helping families exercise flexibility and develop inner strength.

My son, Isaac is three. You can only imagine the number of things that don’t go the way I plan each day. I often find that when I am trying to get things to go a particular way, that’s when I get the greatest resistance from my son. This resistance can be a huge source of stress for any parent.

Sometimes, this stress is what causes me to lose it and snap at Isaac. Almost every time I snap, I feel ashamed of losing it just because he’s doing what comes naturally to him—being a three year old!

One of my greatest sources of encouragement as a parent is grandparents. I’m not just talking about my parents’ parents. I’m talking about all of the older adults in my life who know all about this stress. No matter the differences in opinion about child rearing or the age gap between us, grandparents get the stress of parenting.

The difference is, they are on the other side of this stress. They help remind me of the joys of parenting even if I can’t remember them (mostly due to sleep deprivation.) They also remind me that I can do it. That I have what is needed within me to parent and love well. They remind me to stop and find sources of resilience in G-d through self-care and looking at things through a difference perspective.

This spring, the church offered the Wisdom Heart Parenting Retreats. During the retreat, we focused on a phrase to help us gain perspective and accept circumstances when they don’t go our way: “It is what it is. In light of what it is, who do I want to be and what do I want to do?”

The Church is full of grandparents who can help remind us of who we want to be as parents and how we want to parent—especially when parenting doesn’t go as planned! Parents can’t change the fact that three year olds don’t like getting dressed or don’t understand the words, “Hurry up! We’re late!” But through the support and encouragement of grandparents who have “been there and done that,” we learn to accept what we can’t change and parent with intention and grace.

Pastor Tom Ryberg August/September Congregationalist

As you probably know, I have been out for some weeks this summer, spending some fabulous family time with my newborn son, Luke. At the time of writing this, Luke is 15 weeks old. He's doing well, and Ellie is relishing her new role as big sister. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, my church family, but also my collective employers, for the space to be away, and for valuing family leave enough to offer it in your call agreements with pastors.

Unfortunately, paid family leave is not a given in America. The legal standard is six weeks of unpaid maternity leave, which doesn't always help new moms make ends meet, and doesn't offer anything to dads. By contrast, here at FCCBC the call agreements we offer our pastors include six weeks of paid family leave, regardless of gender. What a tremendous difference!

As a result of this policy, I have been able to spend significant time with my son during some of his most formative, rapidly-growing weeks. He is at an age where nearly every day brings something new that he couldn't do yesterday. Being able to be present while he learns and grows, I have gotten to know him deeply already -- and he clearly knows who his daddy is as well! I have relished this time with him, and I return to my pastoral work with a sense of deep peace, gladness, and gratitude for the time I have been given with Luke.

So, my church, thank you for being a community of faith that values families. From the preschool, to the Joyful Path children's program, to the family leave you have written into your pastoral call agreements, it is clear that we value children and strive for their well-being however we are able to best impact them. To the extent that my own family has been blessed by this generous commitment this summer, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Pastor Tom Ott August/September Congregationalist

We are a different church today than we were eight years ago when I first came to Battle Creek.  Some familiar faces are no longer present when we gather.  Beloved members and staff have died, moved away, become infirmed or have left our faith community.  Other new faces have come into our church life, some at our 10:00 service and lots at our Koinonia celebration (which only began meeting in 2011). 

For the last six years, we have been guided by the recommendations of Paul Nixon, the church consultant and author of the book, “I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church.” Nixon met with us, studied our demographics, financial trends, membership data and helped us identify the most urgent priorities for our life together. 

His consultation helped us recognize that as a downtown church with an aging membership, we had a limited window of opportunity to reach out to expand our congregation by attracting younger and more diverse people.  His recommendations included:

· Hire an outstanding associate to help us reach the young adults who are not currently in our congregation.
· Reduce the debt burden by at least half
· Market our Open and Affirming status to intentionally create a more diverse church
· Grow the number of small groups until at least half of the worship attendance is engaged in small groups.
· Think families with kids in all things
· Pay close attention to worship growth.

The good news is that we’ve made significant progress on each of these priorities.  That is why we are a different church today then we were when I first came.  And because of the progress we have made and the growth that we have experienced, we have lots of new questions and issues to faithfully discern today.
That is why our church council has decided to engage the entire congregation in a ninety day discernment process called, “ReVision.”  The purpose of the ReVision process to clarify our understanding of the desired future that God is calling us to embody in our life together.  Through a series of six small group conversations, we will work at discerning God’s vision, mission and core values for our faith community.

We will begin the ReVision process in September of this year by inviting everyone to share a daily prayer discipline.  In our worship life we will focus on the sacred texts and songs that speak to the purpose and mission of the church.  And during September, October and November, we will invite everyone to join a small group that will share six guided conversations to help us listen closely to God’s claim on our lives.

At the heart of the ReVision process is the assumption that vision is discerned in community.  It comes to us from God but requires us to listen intently as God speaks through every voice to articulate God’s desired future for First Congregational Church of Battle Creek.

Having greater clarity about our shared vision, mission and core values will help us navigate all of the perplexing challenges and choices we will face as we move forward together in faith.  I look forward to engaging in this community wide discernment process with you throughout the months ahead.