There are a couple of ways to look at it….

From the outside, Plymouth Church appears to be a very wealthy church.  It has beautiful buildings occupying valuable land.  It has a robust endowment.  It has generous congregation.  In all of these areas and more, Plymouth is indeed a wealthy church.

But if you look at it another way, Plymouth possesses nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  Plymouth does not own anything – it does not own its building, its land, and its endowment.  Plymouth is the steward of these material goods, entrusted to Plymouth over the years by dedicated members and generous donors.  They do not belong to Plymouth.  They belong to God.  Plymouth is entrusted with the stewardship and wise use of these blessings.  Plymouth, as a Congregational Church, elects its representative leadership, and asks that leadership to set priorities for how to manage the gifts in Plymouth’s custody. That is why, every year, Plymouth makes and votes on a budget.  The budget is the clear indicator of how Plymouth is choosing to use the resources with which it has been entrusted.  The budget is created by the leadership and voted on by the congregation.  We are in this together.

Plymouth Church operates in good faith, attempting to employ these resources where they can do the most good in forwarding the Kingdom of God.  Some resources go directly to help those most vulnerable and in need – victims of human trafficking, casualties of natural disasters, children in need of education and food.  Other resources go to help those in spiritual need, and for this reason, Plymouth engages a top-notch staff, maintains a welcoming building, empowers a confident choir, all of which support the work of the community that gathers around Plymouth.

Every story is complicated, and this one is no exception.  Some donors have made very generous gifts to Plymouth that carried restrictions in how they may be used, and the income from those gifts can only be spent on specific things.  To act with integrity, the leadership must deploy those resources in accordance with the wishes of the donor.  Plymouth might wish to use those funds in other ways, but it must keep faith with the donors

The gifts that bless Plymouth the most are the one that have no restrictions. Given from the heart, they allow the leadership and the congregation to set the priories of the church and use its resources advancing those priorities.  And those priorities, in Brooklyn Heights and beyond, will advance the Kingdom of God.

The Stewardship Ministry invites you to prayerfully consider what you are able to give to support the work of Plymouth Church in the upcoming year.  Plymouth’s year begins in July, and we know that seems like a lifetime away, but it is important for you to go on record now. Please take a few minutes to make your commitment this week – before Anniversary Sunday.  Help us celebrate our 170th Anniversary but contemplating what we can accomplish before our 171st Anniversary.

Please be generous in your support of the work of Plymouth Church.  Click Here to Make Your Commitment.

In Christian Fellowship,

Jacque Jones

Stewardship Chair

Free is Better Than Half Price

A couple of years ago, I purchased a membership to a local arts organization.  It was a modest membership but it bought me some small graces.  I get advance notice of events and I can purchase movie tickets for half-price.  I suppose I know that a few dollars of my membership goes to support the work of that organization, but that was not my motive in joining.  I joined for the benefits I receive.

The Kingdom of God runs on a different operating principal.  As Christians, we believe that the grace of God is freely given – it can never be bought and it can never be sold.  To loosely quote Philip Yancy – there is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do that will make God love us less.  Isn’t that amazing?  Doesn’t that take your breath away?

But that extravagant grace comes with an invitation.  God has invited us to continue Christ’s work on earth and that is what Plymouth Church exists to do.  How can we not gratefully support the work of the church as an act of our God-given free will?  We can never match the extravagance of God, and we shouldn’t try, but we can give generously from our personal resources to support the faithful work of this community of Christians.

The Plymouth Stewardship Ministry is inviting you to go on record with your commitment for 2016-2017, and to do this prior to May 1. You can go online to make your commitment or use a commitment card available at the Stewardship table in Fellowship Hour. Alternatively, you can speak to a member of the Stewardship Ministry or staff who will be happy to assist you.

Please be generous in your support of the work of Plymouth Church.  Click Here to Make Your Commitment.

Reflections on “On Common Ground” Women’s Retreat

What makes us unique? What do we share?

These were the two questions Jane Huber set before 45 women on Saturday, January 30th during the Annual Women’s Retreat. This year, the theme was “On Common Ground.” Had super storm Jonas not come through, it would have been the weekend after the Church’s Anti-Human Trafficking event however, instead it almost divinely preceded the current challenge to our congregation.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling with my experience of the retreat, to no fault of Jane or any participant, but I think because I came in with too much of an ego mindset. I was identifying more with what I’d get out of it, rather than being open to what would happen. I was also therefore identifying with whether or not other people would enjoy it. That anxiety got translated into, “what did I get from it? What did others? And where would it lead me/them?”

Throughout the weekend, I found myself wondering: did I learn more about how to find Common Ground? If so, what did I learn? If not, does that mean I didn’t get the benefit of Jane’s amazingly well thought-out program?

In the first part of the morning, Jane had us look at a passage from Acts 17:22-31 in which Paul is able to get the attention of the Athenians and explain the concept of his God versus theirs. She asked us to look at where we saw Paul establishing common ground and who, or what, is Paul’s God. The passage ends with him using the words of the Athenians’ own poets to explain his concept of his (and our) God saying, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring.’” In other words, God is in each of us, not in a shrine.

In Tom’s sermon the next day, just before the anti-trafficking event, he explained: “the core of our faith is to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. It’s not that we are to think poorly of ourselves, but that we are to think of others, and want for them the best out of life, just as we seek that for ourselves. In other words, true prophecy is characterized by being propelled as much for the love of others, as by the love of self.”

Taken together, this is a powerful new notion of God that I now have as a result of this retreat. I have already been learning that if God is in each of us, then knowing my uniqueness is a way of knowing God. But what I got from Jane on Saturday was that if knowing my uniqueness allows me to know what you and I share, then it is a compassionate way of learning how to love you and want for you, as I love and want for myself. And if I can get myself there, then I have expanded my visceral knowing of God. I imagine this is what it feels like as a parent, that your identity increases in each child. As your identify increases, so too does your connection.

As I find more common ground with others, can my connection to God increase?

What Good is History?

Abolitionist
[ab-uh-lish-uh-nist]
noun
1. (especially prior to the Civil War) a person who advocated or supported the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

I’m a member of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. After “church shopping” I joined Plymouth because of its stand on social justice issues. Plymouth is proud of its history. Founded in 1854, the congregation called as its first minister Henry Ward Beecher. They gave the famed abolitionist, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a platform – literally – to speak on.

In those turbulent years leading up to the Civil War and through the Emancipation Proclamation Plymouth would be packed on Sundays with close to 3,000 people, come to hear Beecher preach against slavery. Famous anti-slavery advocates spoke at Plymouth, including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. Plymouth held deep philosophical connections with the Underground Railroad — the secretive network of people who helped slaves escape to the North and Canada. Documentary evidence lends support to the belief that Plymouth was also a site of active participation, known as Brooklyn’s “Grand Central Depot.” Plymouth brought Abraham Lincoln to New York for his famous speech at Cooper Union, that launched Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Here, in Brooklyn Heights, is a place where people gathered who changed history, affecting the lives of millions.

But what benefit is this history?

Fours years ago Plymouth hosted a discussion on human trafficking. I went, hardly knowing what the term meant. Two years ago we revisited the topic. In partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society we sponsored a round-table discussion moderated by now attorney general, Loretta Lynch. The more I educated myself on human trafficking – on modern day slavery – the more I unearthed facts, metrics, and numbers: There are more slaves in the world today than at the time of the Civil War. Slavery does not happen only overseas, but in the United States. Not just the United States, but all fifty states. In New York. In New York City. In Brooklyn. In my backyard.

The famous historian Marc Bloch, a Jew who joined the French resistance and was killed in Paris by the Gestapo, wrote that the purpose of history is to draw lines of connection from the present to the past, to better understand the impact of our actions, today. Historian George Santayana famously wrote “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So how accurate is the definition of abolitionist (above)? Is being an abolitionist, working to abolish slavery, a thing of the past? No. Too much work needs to be done. The New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition launched a campaign in 2013, New York’s New Abolitionists, to raise awareness around human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It’s a brilliant campaign, drawing lines of connection from abolitionists past to abolitionists working hard to end slavery today: doctors, lawyers, survivors, people from every walk of life. What I’ve learned is that we can all be new abolitionists. Let us not be condemned to repeat history, but to effect change, today.

I invite you to come to Plymouth this Sunday: listen to Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, meet and speak with folks from Restore, ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) and Sanctuary for Families. See and hear the testimony of trafficking survivors given by the activist teen theater group Girl Be Heard. If you already know the story of human trafficking in New York City, come to learn what you can do to to end trafficking. And if you already volunteer, come to meet us, other like-minded folks. Join the crowd. Be an abolitionist. A new abolitionist. Because We Are the New Abolitionists. No one else. Us.

Beth Fleisher, chair
We Are the New Abolitionists
The Anti-trafficking Ministry of
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn

AHTevent_Plymouth_NEW DATE

 

A Month of Anniversaries

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the martyrdom of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered by the Nazis for opposing the Reich. One week later, 70 years ago this week, was the final liberation of Nazi death camps in Europe, universally known as Yom HaShoah. And this is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This is also the one year anniversary of the Boko Haram kidnapping of hundreds of girls. The cry of “Bring Back Our Girls” seems almost faded even as 219 of the girls remain missing. Continued hate crimes, wars and senseless destruction of lives are stark reminders that the issues of those days sadly remain with us.

This famous statement and provocative poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) began circulating soon after he was released in 1945 from Dachau after his 8 year confinement in concentration camps.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated another anniversary. An anniversary celebrated each year with shouts of Alleluia. An anniversary celebrated every Sunday. Easter brings with it the message of hope and resurrection. Rev. Lenhart recently wrote Easter brings the message of “love and forgiveness, new life and new starts.”

Our challenge and call is to put arms and legs on our faith. To give a voice to the message of hope. To stand up and speak up for and with those who desperately are in need of justice and peace. Our everyday faith sends us into the neighborhood and the world to make whatever difference we are able. We live out our faith together, everyday! What difference will you make, will we make, today?

Live Out Holy Week “In the Moment”

The problem with our observance of Holy Week is that we see it through the lens of Easter. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is risen – we know that good overcame evil and that the story has a “happy ending.”

Is there a way for us to disconnect from that knowledge? To put that sure and certain knowledge away for a few days, and try to live out Holy Week “in the moment” as the followers of Jesus did, with all its joy and horror?

Jesus had told his followers that he would suffer and die, and he would be raised. They didn’t hear him. They didn’t get it. And who can fault them? We probably wouldn’t either. So when they saw him flogged, when they saw him carrying his cross, when they saw him die, it was an ending – a horrific, crushing conclusion – and not a beginning. It was a time of personal loss, gut-wrenching despair, and hopelessness for what could have been.

In his book, The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill discusses at length the Biblical account of what we sometimes refer to as the sacrifice of Isaac. His analysis is riveting, built around a raw translation of the scripture. In his conclusion he says, “At the outset of this harrowing episode, the narrator, knowing that poor human readers could never bear the suspense, tells us that this will be a ‘test,’ so we know that Yitzhak will not actually be sacrificed, however difficult it is to keep that in mind during the ensuing action. It is a test for us as well. Can we open ourselves to the God who cannot be understood..? … Avraham passes the test. His faith – his belief in God – is stronger than his fear. But he now knows he is dealing with the Unthinkable, beyond all expectation.”

Can we close our minds to Easter for a few hours, even though we know the ending? Even though we know that the sacrifice of Yitzhak was a ‘test,’ Cahill continues, “… the narrator’s skill is great, leaving the reader speechless at the impending horror.” The gospel writers’ skill is no less evocative.

Its a Cause, not a Career…

Serving as a volunteer at our Underground Thrift Store isn’t a career – it’s a CAUSE.
Here are some inspiriting reasons why our current volunteers got involved…. And why you could too.

CAROLINE KOSTER: “ I enjoy being an Underground Thrift “shop girl”…I love seeing people’s faces when they find a great bargain, and how it brightens even more when you remind them what a good cause they are shopping for. It’s fun to work in the shop and represent the Church to the neighborhood in a direct and different way. And, when you have an office job, it’s a good reminder of what hard work it is to work in a store or any retail position…it makes me more sympathetic when I do my own shopping now. And, I love that the Thrift store truly represents an example of Plymouth putting its money and its energy where its mouth is by fighting a real world problem with a real world solution. I think Reverend Beecher and his congregation would be proud of us and I am so thrilled that we can continue to fight for social justice like so many brave Plymouth pilgrims did before us…”

LAUREN CHAPIN: “As a new member at Plymouth three years ago, I was looking for a way to connect with the congregation. Friendly faces at coffee hour were nice but I knew that I needed something more personal. When considering all the options to volunteer at Plymouth, getting involved with music or study groups and with my background in fashion design and costumes, helping at the thrift store was a clear fit. I made good friends the first year of sorting clothes on Fridays and those friendships grew over the years. The few hours a week always flew by and it was with real satisfaction that I knew I was, in the smallest way, helping move Plymouth’s legacy of fighting against slavery, forward into this century also supporting the church itself. For anyone considering it, please do volunteer. It’s easy to get up to speed on the sales floor and our work together is always done with a light heart.”

LEE SCOTT: “I like spending an afternoon with another Plymouth member, sometimes one I don’t know too well, chatting, meeting customers, helping them find what they want, and whether or not they buy, having a chance to tell them how the Underground Thrift benefits our anti-human trafficking program. You also get to see a lot of really cute kids, babies, and sometimes even a dog or two, not to mention sometimes finding your mathematical abilities in question! Fortunately, two heads are better than one, and it always works out in the end!”

JACQUE JONES: “I enjoy greeting the customers who are regulars, those who come in just about every week. I like being able to say that a portion of the proceeds goes to an anti-human trafficking organization – and watching customer’s interest “perk up” when I say that. Clearly it touches a chord with many customers. I enjoy spending quality time with one member of Plymouth Church. So often we gather in groups and it is hard to have an in-depth conversation. During the down time at the Thrift, you can get to know your co-volunteer pretty well. I enjoy having the time to shop for myself. I almost always find something I cannot live without. “

Inspired to work with these amazing Thrift Store volunteers yet?! Get involved today with our Sunday afternoon sales team or our Friday morning sorting crew. It’s super easy, just CLICK HERE!

In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the kingdom God envisions everyone is free.
People formed in God’s own image live with dignity.
All are safe and all have voices,
all have hope and all have choices.
When we pray “your kingdom come” this is the world we see.

Darkened corners harbor victims hidden from our sight,
fragile people held as objects – lives devoid of light;
robbed of freedom, robbed of voices,
robbed of hope and robbed of choices,
trust betrayed and lives exploited, in this human blight.

Holy Spirit, guide your church to action and rebirth;
help us work for those forgotten – show their lives have worth.
We have freedom, we have voices,
we have hope and we have choices.
We are called to work for justice as your hands on earth.

Scripture: Luke 4:18
Topic: Human Trafficking

Copyright © 2013, 2014, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Click here to view the Human Trafficking Awareness 2014 Panel and Concert program

Acts of God

The other day I was reading through an insurance document and was again struck by the “Acts of God” clause. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods – all of which render the agreement useless. These are acts of God? Really? We permit the world out there to refer to God as one who wreaks havoc and brings ruin. In fact, many scientists would argue these natural disasters are increasing because of the world’s awful stewardship of a magnificent creation which is an act of God. The rainbow which followed the great flood was an act of God serving as a reminder of God’s promise to us, God’s covenant with every living creature.

We pray for acts of God all the time. For healing, strength, patience, answers. We pray in thanksgiving as we do this week especially for the wonderful act of God named Dorris Cain. We pray for an act of God to bring understanding, peace and justice in these especially unsettled times at home and throughout the world. These acts of God bring hope and comfort, not destruction.

During Advent we prepare to celebrate the most amazing act of God, the birth of our Savior – the Prince of Peace. Emanuel means God is with us. It is that Emanuel who grows up for an even more awesome act. His trip to the cross is followed by the most ultimate act of God. It is in that act of God’s grace that we find ourselves nestled in God’s arms forever. So, you see, contracts have it all wrong. Acts of God don’t ruin. It is the acts of God which lift us up, give us hope, comfort us, and will stay with us for all time.

May your Advent be blessed as your heart is prepared to welcome this ultimate act, Christ the King!

 

 

Hope Tomorrow is Better – A Post Shelter Reflection

Late in the evening after some church meeting or work when I get on the subway, I often look around and inspect my fellow passengers. Where are they coming from? What goes through their minds as they stare into the middle distance tiredly? They’re all people in the middle of struggling with living life as hard as life can be.

The guests at our homeless shelter are similar in their way. They live in a constant state of anxiety and will hardly remember us or any real detail about Plymouth, except vaguely. I have no idea what being homeless is like but from the behavior of the men, you can discern a little: they guard their things, ask permission for nearly every act, retire to the bunks immediately after dinner. Their days are one long, I hope this isn’t too awful and Just let me get through this and Today was bad, hope tomorrow is better. They have their own business and we are merely caretakers of them. CAMBA, the professionals, knows what it’s doing and most of them will get back on their feet soon.

Every so often I’ll wonder why the world simply doesn’t call a halt to everything and solve every problem it has. What is more important than securing safety and comfort for suffering humans, or than providing care for the ill, needy, or lonely? Why do we hold elections, Super Bowls, and 4ths of July when these problems exist?  What will the world lose if we take time to pause and bolster the weakest among us?  Nothing, that’s what. I think of Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The world is too much with us.” There is such a thing as a National Day of Service but it is sadly underpromoted, and it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. It should be, International Stop Day.

However, slogans will not solve homelessness nor the shocking poverty that is easy to see here in this city if you’ll only look. Life is complex and social problems require wise adults and effort, neither of which are as glamorous as slogans. Human evil won’t be solved until we enter the next world; until then Jesus has granted us forgiveness for our sinful, wicked natures.

 

1 2