Perhaps you feel like you’ve been hearing the word “forgiveness” a lot lately at St. James. The Revitalization Team includes “practice forgiveness” as one of the points in our congregational covenant, which will be shared as a first draft at our Nov. 11 Congregational Meeting. This working document includes feedback from nearly 50 of our congregation’s leaders, so it’s clear that many of you feel like forgiveness is a significant part of the life of faith. We also talk about forgiveness every time we pass the Peace of Christ during worship. Peter Steinke talks about forgiveness as something that “gives power to the future.” This doesn’t mean just any future, but one that is full of hope and healing. In forgiving another, Steinke suggests we must work through these ten steps in a gradual process:
I have been wronged by you
I have the right and reason to end any connection between us
I have the right and reason to demand from you a payment or an apology
My sense of dignity and my values require nothing less
Nonetheless I refuse to let the wrong consume me in resentment;
And I refuse to let the wrong come between us.
I give no assurance that I’ll be able to forget the wrong that you’ve done;
I demand no condition. Whether or not you accept my forgiveness or ask for it has nothing to do with my offer;
I want to be at peace with myself and be glad in your presence.
I want to open the door to tomorrow.
As we are nearly all engaged at all times in some process of forgiveness, I offer these steps as one way to consider the great challenge and reward of our faith.
What does it mean to be a “member” of the United Church of Christ? Our membership traditions are quite different from most other Christian denominations. In the UCC, the local church is independent from the denomination. Each member chooses to be a part of that church, and the membership requirements are set by the individual church. But “independent” doesn’t mean we’re not accountable to one another. The many UCC congregations in a particular region join together for mutual support because we know we can accomplish more as partners, and because God calls us to unity through Jesus Christ. In our region, the gathering of the local congregations is called the Ursinus Association, and in turn, Ursinus covenants with six other Associations to form the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference.
Conferences supply a wide variety of resources: youth activities; camps; guidance for church growth or transition (like the Revitalization program we’re participating in); spiritual support for pastors; and resources for congregations who need to find a new pastor. By covenanting together, we’re able to nurture everyone’s faith and mission; and we are held accountable to our Christian brothers and sisters across very different circumstances. As in the New Testament, the churches who have more share with those who have less. St. James experienced this when our property was damaged by a tornado, and other UCC churches supported our recovery.
This year, we are being asked to consider some critical changes in our Conference. “We” means you! Every one of us is part of the UCC in our area, and we make decisions democratically, not by hierarchy. At our Fall Meeting on Nov. 10, we will be asked to consider some major recommendations, including the sale of the Church House in Collegeville, the sale of Mensch Mill, and some changes to our bylaws. These issues will be discussed at our Fall Association Meeting on October 28, as well as at three regional conversations hosted by the Conference. Everyone from St. James is invited to attend any of the conversational meetings or the Fall Association Meeting, and we are still looking for two official delegates each to attend the Association and Conference meetings. This is an opportunity for us to speak up about what we believe is important for the future of our Conference’s ministries. For many of us, the particular concern will be the decision about selling Mensch Mill. Now is the time to get involved if you want to ensure that Mensch Mill will still be available for your children and grandchildren! Please speak with me if you have questions or if you would like to be involved in the discussion or as an official voting delegate to any of these events.
The namesake of our church can lead to some confusion, especially for Christians who are less familiar with the litany of thousands of saints who are honored in our traditions. Traditionally, “Saint” James refers primarily to James the Apostle, called by Jesus. He was one of the sons of Zebedee, the brother of John the Apostle. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder” by Mark, which might mean they had fiery tempers! James is one of only three Apostles who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. He is the only Apostle whose death is recorded in the Bible (executed by sword at Herod’s order). This is “our” St. James, whose symbol is the scallop shell, and who is venerated for travels and legends to numerous to recount here. In most languages other than English, his name is a variation of Jacob, rather than James.
But there is also another James! This is James, the writer of the letter that is recorded in the New Testament. About this James, we know even less. He seems to have been an important leader in the early church, and may even have been a Jewish priest during Jesus’ lifetime. A few references call him “the brother of Jesus,” though theologians have argued for centuries about what this means. In the letter (or epistle) traditionally attributed to him, James is concerned that the Christian life of faith cannot be complete without a thorough understanding of the “Law,” meaning the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Perhaps his study of the law was the reason for his nickname, “James the Just,” or perhaps his style of leadership earned him this title of respect. In any case, our 9am Bible Study for the month of September will be a great opportunity to uncover some of the mystery of this “other” James, as we also discuss and learn from the wisdom of his writings.