First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Rev. Toby Jones, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Weekly Newsletter- June 11, 2020

First Congregational U.C.C. Charlevoix –

Weekly Newsletter June 11, 2020


Welcome to our weekly newsletter!

With the changes in our life because of the COVID 19 virus, we need to develop new ways to communicate to replace what used to happen naturally when we gathered together. So, we are giving a weekly newsletter by email a try! We will post this to our web page and email it out to all of our members. Please be patient as we figure this new thing! If you have suggestions for improvement or notes you’d like added, let us know!   

Pastor Greg Briggs and Leah Dice.

Be moved by the spirit, not blown around by it

By Interim Pastor Greg Briggs

Anyone else feeling blown around by the continuing news of the pandemics of COVID-19, racism, police brutality, economic injustice, and more? Also, many of our personal relationships are tested by our and other people’s responses to these events. It seems like every moment, there’s something else that calling for our attention – making it impossible to gain any kind of stability.

Thankfully, our faith, when embodied, gives us the anchor we need to not be swept away. As Paul reminded us:

“God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”  Ephesians 4:13b-16 CEB

Paul encourages us to grow a grounded faith that is aware and informed of the issues of the day. He also suggests that we should not look at everything that’s going on as many individual events, but part of a larger whole. Or, to borrow from the musical Hamilton, “scratch that, this isn’t a moment, it’s the movement…” Instead of jumping from moment to moment, feeling continually distracted and off balance, instead we are invited to be centered into the body of Christ, and see each thing we respond to as one more way in which we are called to love our neighbor.

How to be moved by the spirit, not blown around by it.

In confronting the racism that is part of our country’s heritage, we white people are having to re-examine so much we have previously had the privilege to not think about. There are many events that have been hidden, denied, or re-written, and many injustices to no longer turn a blind eye.  But to attempt this without also seeing this as a spiritual endeavor only makes it harder. These things may be new (or newly revealed) to us, but not to God. The stories and parables of Jesus have answered many of these questions already.

So, we are called in this time to renew our spiritual and learning practices, as we are also learning more about our world. The church’s weekly Bible study on Tuesday mornings is a great place to start.  So is the UCC’s Daily Devotions:

One spiritual practice I’ve started recently is re-reading and making copies of various Bible stories and verses that remind me of specific teachings that I struggle to remember or need to be reminded of to keep my spirits up:

Grounded and focused on what Jesus calls us to do:

the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37),

the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32),

the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14)

the judgement of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46), just to name a few.

Be humble and not shamed when I find I need to grow and learn in faith:

“for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” Proverbs 24:16

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

And when I find myself getting frustrated with other’s hatred, intolerance, or willful ignorance:

We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12

This verse comes just before the one I started this letter with. Racism, lack of empathy, violence, self-centerdness, all these (and more) are spiritual struggles. When I’m grounded in my soul, then I find the demands of the world easier to bear, and I’m not blown around, but rather moved to the places that need my attention and focus. I find it easier to hear about the ways we as a country and myself as a person have discriminated against people, when I know that Jesus still loves me and has always been calling me to overcome and better love my neighbors of all kinds.

UCC Church Wide Event: Juneteenth 2020

This Sunday, our worship service will be centered on the African American Christian experience, and honor the celebration of Juneteenth. After our regular zoom check in and prayer time, we will have a discussion of the sermon, “the cross and the lynching tree” by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, and ways the church can continue to be involved in the liberation of African Americans.

Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) — The oldest known African-American celebration. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, received word of their emancipation two months after the Civil War had ended, and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863. One year later, despite threats and acts of violence and oppression, the first June Nineteenth celebration, later compacted into Juneteenth, happened as a church-centered community gathering. These early celebrations combined cook outs and banquets, prayer services, acts of celebration, and a focus on education and self improvement.. In later years, as the celebrations were banned from public space, private spaces were purchased for the annual celebrations.

UCC Juneteenth 2020 . . . And Still We Rise Join the United Church of Christ Commemorate Juneteenth 2020 Live Webinar Event Friday, June 19, 2020 12 pm – 1:30 PM EST

Register Here

Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery in the U.S. June 19, 1865, and the recognition of African-American history and heritage. Join the United Church of Christ for moments of remembrance, education, celebration, and calls to action

In this moment we are witnessing public lynchings and state sanctioned violence against black bodies. Together we must stop the murders of African descendant people! Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are the latest victims of state sanctioned militarism, and white racists invoking the “Stand Your Ground” law in order to justify lethal gun violence against African Americans.

“We Are Not Ok” 
These are more than words. “We are not okay” is a deeply felt response to the ongoing racism and injustices impacting communities of African descent. There is an urgency to dismantle systems and institutions perpetuating and supporting racists and racism.  

You Are Invited
The United Church of Christ invites you to register and join the live webinar, Juneteenth 2020: And Still We Rise, Friday, June 19, 2020 12 noon until 1:30 pm EST

Become part of the movement to protect black lives, and create long-term sustainable movements towards liberation, equity, and healing, and calls to action for repair and reparations.

  • We are called to stand in solidarity with protesters, grieving parents, and young people across multiple cultures and ethnicities nationally and globally
  • There must be a radical shift to re-imagine and reinterpret the Bible from the lived experiences of people of color, especially women of color.
  • Be the Gospel and use our bodies and voices to defend human and civil rights

None of us are free until all of us are free from racism.

Join the Movement
June 19, 2020 will kick off a 4-year campaign within the United Church of Christ racial justice ministries.
Register and join the live webinar, And Still We Rise: Juneteenth 2020 event.
For more information contact Rev. Dr. Velda Love,

June 19, 2020 at 12pm – 1:30pm

MICHIGAN CONFERENCE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST P.O. Box 1006 | East Lansing, MI 48826-1006 | 517.332.3511 |

June 5, 2020

Dear Friends,

Our nation continues to experience the pain and suffering that comes from both the Covid-19 pandemic and the long-standing pandemic of racism and injustice. These are difficult times and can feel even harder when we do not have the opportunity to gather together to pray, share, and listen to one another in person.

In the midst of all this, I wanted to continue to update you about resources that may be helpful for local churches as we contemplate re-engaging with activities and “in-person” worship services in our buildings.

Guidance for starting “In-Person” Worship Services

You have probably seen a number of resources and recommendations coming from a variety of people and organizations. We have not sent out these kinds of resources in the Michigan Conference yet. Let me briefly explain why that is the case and what we hope to do in the very near future.

Recommendations from the Michigan Conference, UCC

We have two major commitments when it comes to recommending steps or guidelines for local churches to return to “in-person” activities and worship services: (1) Does the information come from health and scientific authorities with a process to update recommendations as new facts or insights are gained? (2) Is the information specific to Michigan and our local settings?

Because this is not our area of expertise, the virus is so contagious, and the effect on our communities can be so devastating, it is essential that the information we use and the steps we take to ensure the health of our people are based on the best information we can provide.

To that end…

Next Steps Governor’s “Re-Opening” Workgroups

I have been asked to serve on the Governor’s Re-Opening Workgroup, specifically focusing on faith communities and community events. This work is now in the hands of a small “writing group” and we hope that the information will be available within the next couple weeks. I have encouraged the group to create guidelines that are (1) based on the Governor’s “Michigan Safe Start Plan”  (2) Reviewed and supported by the science and public health community, and (3) updated as new information and facts are learned. When this resource is completed, we will make sure it is widely distributed across our Conference. Although the information may be clearer at that point, I do not expect it will be easier. Maintaining an obsessive consistency in cleaning, disinfecting, social distancing, and all the other steps in the guidelines are essential and it will be easy to grow lax.

More Resources

We will continue to look for resources that can be helpful to our Conference and encourage you to check our website (COVID-19 Resources): HERE

Final Reflections

Friends let me be honest, although resources are going to be available, and there will be possibilities of experiencing some kind of activities and/or worship services at our church buildings, I do not expect our churches will return to anything close to “pre-pandemic normal” until a vaccine is created and distributed. I know this may seem shocking but it is important for us to come to terms with this very real possibility.

I expect this will create some tensions in local churches because there will be a few people pushing for churches to move faster and get back to “what we did before.” While I understand the impulse of those sisters and brothers, I also want to share a caution with them. A growing sense of discomfort and impatience does not equate to God’s voice. Some of the greatest saints in our communities are the very people most vulnerable to Covid-19 and it is part of our value of “Extravagant Welcome” that all people feel safe and comfortable in our faith communities. The decision to return to “in-person” services should be taken up in prayer, guided by the best science, and discerned by the entire congregation.

Friends this is a time for patience and understanding. We could very well experience an up-tick in the number of cases of Covid-19 at any point, and if that happens, we will likely see another period of quarantine. I encourage all of us to give an extra measure of grace to one another and to commit to seeing how and where God is moving in the midst of all this change. Maybe “When?” is not the best question for us. Maybe “What?” and “How?” are the questions that can help us live faithfully in these times.

I so appreciate the hearts of our people. We are a restless crew. That’s ok. May we always be sensitive enough to be stirred by God’s Spirit, even if it unsettles us and puts us on a new path.

Thank you for your faithfulness and patience during this time. We will work very hard to get you the best information we can.

Peace be with you.

Rev. Phil Hart Transitional Conference Minister



Because of science. That’s why I need to show more caution going to church than I do in going to Wal-Mart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social media has many benefits, but one place social media struggles (or more accurately, we struggle on social media) is with discernment. It’s a common occurrence for people to post a simple statement contrasting two things with the intent of showing how foolish someone is or evil a political opponent is or useless government is. While people can be foolish, enemies can be evil, and the government can be useless, in most cases, the pithy statement on social media is simply wrong rather than revelatory. (For more on conspiracy theories and Christians, read this editorial by Ed Stetzer.)

Church and Wal-Mart

One current example is the question “Why can I go to Wal-Mart and not a church?” As COVID-19 spread around the U.S. during early 2020, governments made differing recommendations on how to best stop the spread. One directive was a suspension of in-person worship services in most churches across the country. Even with shelter-in-place orders, citizens were still allowed to grocery shop which meant while churches were closed, Wal-Mart was open.

For some, this is an attack on religious liberty. While the government directing the church not to meet is a dicey issue because of the U.S. Constitution, it was a wise move in this case and was not an attack on religious liberty. This is why nearly every church complied. Meeting in-person would have threatened the lives of others, specifically the most vulnerable among us

What’s the difference between church and Wal-Mart? Two things. Obviously we need food. We can go for nine weeks worshiping online, but we can’t go nine weeks without food. People have to buy groceries. But the bigger issue is not food, but science.

Grocery shopping is different than corporate worship. When we shop, we go up and down aisles, moving around people, and then making our way out of the store. However, when we go to church, we sit in a confined space for an hour. When it comes to a respiratory illness, the latter is riskier than the former. Consider this article from a professor of infectious disease and biology.

In the article, the author shows how different activities contain different risks. And she reveals why attending church for the past few months was not wise even as we made our way to Wal-Mart. (Hint: it’s primarily about the duration of time with little air filtration and a good number of people breathing, singing, and possibly sneezing around us as compared to us simply passing by people at the grocery store.)

Continue reading here:

The voice of the LORD destroys the cedar trees; the LORD shatters cedars on Mount Lebanon. God makes Mount Lebanon skip like a calf and Mount Hermon jump like a wild ox. The voice of the LORD makes deer give birth before their time. – Psalm 29:5-6 & 9a (CEV)

These are tumultuous days. State violence against people and communities of color dominates the news, overwhelming the updates about a global pandemic, which in turn overshadowed the analyses of an election year, which in turn bumped the reports on climate change and mass shootings, which in turn crowded out the news of children detained and imprisoned at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The raging tumult may feel like a disruption to our lives – and it is – but it is also a constant in our lives, more predictable than we might prefer to acknowledge.

It’s the tumult itself that needs holy, human, hard disruption.

Disruption like a voice shattering cedar trees.

Disruption like a cardboard sign defying rubber bullets.

Disruption like the mountain of racism being compelled to skip and dance in retreat from the advancing storm of peace.

Disruption like a fawn born early while frost is still on the ground, like a crocus blooming in winter, like a window of indifference breaking in pieces, like a spirit of joy undermining hatred.

Such disruption does not occur without destruction. After all, evil has been nurturing its roots and consuming strange fruits ever since the serpent first suggested that humanity should be its own god. Those roots don’t need our delicate landscaping. They need to be dug up and cut down, disrupted and shattered.

The voice of the LORD is a force that upends our systemic tumult. By God’s voice we are continually disrupted – and invited to do the same.

Thundering God, I cannot fathom dancing mountains or fawns in winter, yet I am not surprised by racism or war or pollution. Disrupt my expectations, and I will worship your name.

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