Sabbatical Update - July 10

I am so thankful for a church family that values a pastoral sabbatical. During these weeks, David and I are spending some time away at Chautauqua Institution. Since we are about half way through our time away, I wanted to share a little with you about what we have been doing.

Several of you have asked about what Chautauqua is. Chautauqua Institution is an educational center and ecumenical community beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 people are in residence each week. We are here for three of this summer's nine weeks. The Institution was founded in 1874 and each day includes academic subjects, lectures, music, and worship among many other offerings. There are individual denomination houses and I have been to the Disciples House and David has been to the Baptist House.

Our days have been filled with long walks by the lake, daily worship, lectures, concerts, and rest. During the first two weeks, we have seen a play - The Christians, and opera - The Barber of Seville, a movie accompanied by the symphony - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and enjoyed Diana Ross in concert. We have heard the symphony multiple times, have celebrated July 4 in grand fashion, and have heard daily Interfaith Lectures in the Hall of Philosophy.

Each week has a special theme and all the programming for the week is centered around that subject. Last week's theme was Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions. Each event sought to answer questions like: What conditions must exist for communities to engage one another, and who needs to be at the table? What’s possible when there isn’t a shared sense of community? Do differences need to be bridged in order for solutions to be found and sustained?

This week is sponsored by National Geographic and is amazing. The afternoon Interfaith Lectures focus on What Archaeology Tells Us About Biblical Times.

I am so grateful for this time away to rest and rejuvenate. Thank you so very much.

June 19

This will be my last Midweek article for a while. Early next Wednesday morning, David and I will be leaving town as the first days of my sabbatical begin. I will be away for four weeks, and I am so very grateful for this time to rest and regroup. Many of you have asked, "what exactly is a sabbatical?" I'd like to take some time this week to explain it to you.

Many people hear the word sabbatical and often think of the academic world, where it is common for a professor to take a full year of sabbatical time after seven years of teaching, dedicated to research, travel, and writing.

The word sabbatical comes from the word sabbath, the Biblical day of rest, found in the creation story of Genesis 1. "And on the seventh day, God rested." In Leviticus 23, this idea is expanded from one day a week, to a full year of sabbatical, where not only were the people commanded to rest, but also not to plow their fields or work in their vineyards. A year for the land to lie fallow and rest.

Why am I taking a sabbatical? In simple terms, to rest, renew, learn, and grow. This summer marks the end of five years of ministry at Union. There are four specific things about myself and about pastoral ministry that I've learned over these past five years.

I have learned that my calling requires spiritual vitality. I have found that it is extremely hard for me to have the needed time each week to devote to prayer and study. A sabbatical will provide that type of focused time.

I have learned that the nature of pastoral work requires a great deal of emotional work - caring for a congregation that you love - work that never takes a break.

I have learned that David and I need some time together, as our callings have kept us apart for the majority of these five years.

I have learned that it is healthy for the church for me to step away. As I was told recently, "you like to be in charge," I have come to realize even more, that it is vitally important to empower members of the congregation to lead in ministry. A sabbatical provides intentional time for that.

Author Ruth Haley Barton says, "we are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself." She shares the story of a friend who told her, "Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water become clear." I, too, see myself in that river water and am eagerly anticipating the time and space to become clear.

This Sunday I will be preaching from 1 Kings 19, the story of Elijah, It is a beautiful story of Sabbath Rest, where Elijah finds God, not in the noise and busyness, but in a still, small voice. May we all allow ourselves the quiet to hear that same voice of God.

-Pastor Jane

June 12

This Sunday is Father’s Day – a day we give thanks for the men who have been instrumental in our lives. What makes a person a good man, a good father? There are hundreds of books that try to answer this question, none better than the Bible itself. This Sunday, I will be preaching from 1 King 2:1-4. These verses contain King David’s last words to his son Solomon - instructions on how he should live as a man after the death of his father. What do you think David told his son? And, is David’s advice equally good for men today? I hope you will join us on Sunday as we explore these questions.

-Pastor Jane

May 29

This Sunday we welcome our Regional Minister, Rev. Denise Bell, to Union. It was five years ago that Denise came and preached my Installation Service and that many of you met her for the first time. Her dynamic voice and love for the church is evident every time I am with her. I know you will welcome her and hear her words with great enthusiasm.
Denise is here because this is the Sunday that 18 of our church members will be in Puerto Rico. At the very same time you are in worship at Union, the mission team will be worshiping in the Canovanos community, with the congregation of Bautista Villas de Loiza church and their pastor Elsa Rivera. I know that you will continue in prayer for us as we travel and for this church family, where our ministry will be based. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you on Pentecost Sunday, June 9, when we return.

- Pastor Jane 

May 22

This Sunday during worship, we will continue our walk through Acts, looking at a story from Acts 16:9-15. These verses tell of a unique calling that Paul received, summoning him to Macedonia to share the gospel with the people there. Paul, speaking in verse 10 says, “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.”

“God has called us to preach the gospel to them” - this verse speaks to the very heart of why, in just 10 days, the Mission Team will be leaving for Puerto Rico. We are going, not for fun, not to see a new part of the world, but to share the Good News, the gospel, with the people there. God has called us!

Will you join us during worship on Sunday as there will be a special time of commissioning? There will be a focused time of prayer – that God will open doors to share the gospel, that we will all stay healthy, and that people’s hearts will be open? Thank you, Union Christian Church, for your prayers and blessings, and for this amazing opportunity.

-Pastor Jane

May 15

This week marks the end of the school year for Oconee County schools. For many of us, summer vacation seems a dream of years ago – when we were children. But there is something to be said for a change of life rhythm that the beginning of summer offers. This beautiful poem by Ted Loder offers a glimpse into how this season might unfold for us. A season that he reflects on in Let Me Live Gracefully.
Thank you, Lord,
for this season
       of sun and slow motion,
              of games and porch sitting,
                     of picnics and light green fireflies
                            on heavy purple evenings;
and praise for slight breezes.
It’s good, God,
as the first long days of your creation.
Let this season be for me
       a time of gathering together the pieces
              into which my busyness has broken me.
O God, enable me now
       to grow wise through reflection,
              peaceful through the song of the cricket,
                     recreated through the laughter of play.
Most of all, Lord,
let me live easily and grace-fully for a spell,
       so that I may see other souls deeply,
              share in a silence unhurried,
                     listen to the sound of sunlight and shadows,
                            explore barefoot the land of forgotten dreams and shy hopes,
                                   and find the right words to tell another who I am.

- Pastor Jane 

May 8

The Puerto Rico Mission Team is working hard to prepare for our upcoming trip. We are in the final few weeks before departure and as we approach our time of leaving, we ask for your prayers. In the recent monthly May newsletter, I shared a prayer need with you and would like to repeat it this week in the Midweek. We have eighteen missionaries going on this trip and I would like to ask if you would volunteer to be a prayer partner for one of them. By doing this, you would “join” us on this trip as co-missionaries with us. 
It would work like this: you would receive the name of a person that you would covenant to pray for. Part of the prayer piece would include writing them a short note for each of the days they are away (7). On the Sunday morning prior to leaving there will be a time of commissioning the missionaries during worship. You would come and stand with them as an additional means of support. If you are interested in joining us as missionaries and being a part of this important piece of the mission trip, please let me know. You can select a specific person, or you can be assigned a person.
I hope you will join us in prayer. I look forward to hearing from you.

- Pastor Jane 

May 2

For the past several months you have been supporting the Puerto Rico Mission Team as we’ve endeavored to raise the money needed for a trip of this sort. You have donated items and money. You have procured auction items and purchased auction items. You have given “over and above” so very generously, and we all thank you. Now we come to the last four weeks before we leave, and we will spend this time planning for our mission. Once a week for each of the next four weeks, the team will meet – putting together VBS programming and supplies, learning how to do prayer walks and building community relations. We will talk about our construction opportunities. We will learn how to write our own faith story and how to share it.

While in Puerto Rico, we will be serving in the Canovanas community, with the Bautista Villas de Loiza church and Pastor Elsa Rivera. We ask for your prayers for this church and community and their openness to hearing the good news of Jesus.

Now we come back to you for help one more time. We have eighteen missionaries going on this trip and I would like to ask if you would volunteer to be a prayer partner for one of them. By doing this, you would “join” us on this trip as co-missionaries with us.

It would work like this: you would receive a person that you would covenant to pray for. Part of the prayer piece would include writing them a short note for each of the days they are away (7). On the Sunday morning prior to leaving there will be a time of commissioning the missionaries during worship. You would come and stand with them as an additional means of support. If you are interested in joining us as missionaries and being a part of this important piece of the mission trip, please let me know. You can select a specific person, or you can be assigned a person. Those going on the trip are:

Cami Allen
Joyce Beckwith
Julian Beckwith
Jackie Byrd
Jim Butler
Patti Clark
Dewey Collins
Hannah Collins
Kelly Hansford
Nancy Belle Hansford
Jenna Hood
Kathy Hood
Jane Hull
Rose Mary Martin
Annette Saul
Larry Saul
Dustin Wall
Gary Wall

Thank you, Union family, for you love and prayer support.

May 1

This Sunday will be a special day! We will honor our two high school graduates – Turner Pascoe and Anna Ambartsumian. They will be sharing with us during worship and you will want to be here to support them. I know you join me in offering thanks to them for the years they have spent with us at Union. Their contributions to worship and the choir have been wonderful!

Our sermon on Sunday tells the story of Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road. Following our theme of Surprise! you would think that his experience is the Surprise! for the week. And, that is true, but there is another person in the story who also experiences his own Surprise! I encourage you to read Acts 9:1-20 to prepare and let’s talk about how God can Surprise! each of us.

- Pastor Jane

April 24

What a wonderful Holy Week and Easter - filled with both fun and spiritually meaningful events. I am so grateful for the many, many people who worked so hard to make them all possible! The Maundy Thursday Labyrinth was walked by over 40 people who shared how profound the experience was for them. On Easter Sunday, between the Sunrise Service and our 11:00 service, over 150 people worshiped the Risen Lord. It was a beautiful Easter, and now we move on. But, to what?

Did you know that the church season of Easter lasts 50 days? From Easter Sunday until Pentecost, this season is actually longer than the 40 days of Lent. Over these next 50 days, we will be talking about what it means to be “Easter People” as we look at surprising acts of God occurring in the Early Church. Our text for these six weeks will be the Book of Acts. As we explore the journey of surprises in these texts, we will be encouraged to welcome an unpredictable God and to expect the unexpected.

This Sunday we meet Peter again (our friend from our Wednesday Lenten Bible Study time), as he once again has a significant turnaround. The text is Acts 5:27-32. I hope to see you on Sunday as we look for God’s bountiful surprises!

- Pastor Jane

April 17

We are in the midst of Holy Week – a week that causes us to run the gamut of emotions – from deep, dark sadness, to extraordinary joy.

Tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, from 10-2 and 4-7:30, our church Labyrinth will be available in the Fellowship Hall. As a part of the traditional, quiet walk of a Labyrinth experience, you will also be able to walk the Stations of the Cross, enabling you to move with Jesus on his way to the cross. Ann Weems speaks of these days in her poem No Dances.

There are no dances for dark days.
There is no music to bellow the pain.
The best we can do is to remain
still and silent
and try to remember the face of God…
and how to kneel
and how to pray.

And then on Sunday, we will find ourselves filled with the joy of the resurrection. “He is not here. He is risen.” Outside, at 7:00 am, we will greet the sunrise as we remember the women who found the tomb empty that first Easter morning. Following an Easter breakfast, we will return to Easter worship at 11:00.

I hope you can be a part of all these offerings, this Holy Weekend.

Again, from Ann Weems, Easter

Just when I thought
there would be no more light
in the Jerusalem sky,
the Bright and Morning Star
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

- Pastor Jane

April 10

There are so many exciting things going on at Union these days. Preparations for our upcoming mission trip are in high gear as we have already had one very successful fundraiser, and are anticipating another one this Saturday at a church-wide yard sale. The building is alive with voices - those bringing items for sale and others pricing those very same items. We have had our usual Soup and Bible study sessions these past few Lenten Wednesdays. Our annual Easter Egg hunt is coming the day before Easter, Saturday, April 20, at 4:00. There are so many good things happening!

And now, we are about to enter Holy Week and our call is to move away from the busyness, to slow down, and be present for what God would have for us. There are several ways to do this. (1) If you have been reading through The List, Holy Week is the final week of reading, as we end with the glorious promise of Revelation 21 and 22 on Easter Sunday. My prayer is that you will continue to hear God’s voice speaking to you through the readings. (2) Perhaps you have moved through the season of Lent using the paper chain, filled with activities and readings for each day. My prayer is that this tool has guided you toward a more intentional Lenten season. (3) Finally, on Maundy Thursday, April 18, we will offer a new way to hear God’s voice, through an opportunity to walk a Prayer Labyrinth set up in our Fellowship Hall. You can read more about it in our April newsletter, Here you will find an extended explanation of what to expect. God has often spoken to me in new and sometimes unfamiliar settings. My prayer is that you will experience God’s voice in a new way on Maundy Thursday as you walk the Labyrinth.

- Pastor Jane

April 3

For the last several weeks we have been walking alongside Jesus, using the gospel of Luke to guide us, as he moves toward Jerusalem. This coming Sunday is the fifth week of Lent, the last before Holy Week begins. This week we will turn instead to the gospel of John, where we will find the story of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany.

We are on the brink of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. The town of Bethany, home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is just outside the city, on the eastern side of Mount of Olives. As John tells the story, just before the jubilant “hosannas” of Palm Sunday are about to ring out, Mary will lavish Jesus with precious perfume, effectively anointing his body, as Jesus puts it, “for the day of my burial.”

I hope you will take the time to read John 12:1-8 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11 before Sunday, as we explore this important story in the life of Jesus.

- Pastor Jane

April 1

For my article this month, I would like to share with you a new experience that will be offered on Maundy Thursday, April 18. Over the past five years at Union, we have shared Maundy Thursday together in several different ways – a more traditional Tenebrae Service of darkness and a Living Last Supper presentation. What exactly is Maundy Thursday? Maundy Thursday is sometimes known as Holy Thursday and is the night when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and shared the Last Supper with them. It is a solemn day; a day to remember the great sacrifice that is to come.

This year you will have the opportunity to walk a labyrinth on Maundy Thursday. For many, this is a word you have never heard, or if you’ve heard of it, you are not sure what it is. Here is a “dictionary” definition: A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness and is designed for spiritual development and inner growth. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.


To the left, you can see what one looks like. The Union Labyrinth will be laid out on the floor of the Fellowship Hall and will be available for you to walk anytime from 10-2 and from 4-7:30 on Thursday, April 18. With these expanded hours, we hope that many will take the opportunity to use it. I would like to encourage you to invite your friends, co-workers, and neighbors to join you in this new experience.

A labyrinth walk is a slow walk, something that is difficult in our fast-paced world. Our labyrinth will be guided by the Stations of the Cross. From early Christianity, when pilgrims came to Jerusalem, they visited sites where Jesus was known to have been. Eventually, following in the footsteps of the Lord, along the way of the cross, these 14 “stations” became a part of the pilgrimage visit and were incorporated in many church buildings. As you walk the labyrinth, you will have the opportunity to stop at each of the 14 “sites” to read the accompanying scripture and pray, remembering that part of Jesus’ journey. The 14th station marks Jesus being placed in the tomb.

As you reach the center of the labyrinth, picture it as a place to stop and leave your burdens. As you walk slowly out of the labyrinth, the mental image is re-entry to the world you left behind, held with the knowledge of the great sacrifice of Jesus for you. The Stations and the Labyrinth are offered together, this Maundy Thursday, as a pilgrimage, and an opportunity to experience the passion of Christ on a personal level in an ancient, yet new way.*

*The Stations of the Cross version we will use was developed by The Church of the Nativity, Indianapolis, 2004. It is used with permission.

March 27

Midweek Update
March 27, 2019

Called by God and led by the Holy Spirit, Union Christian Church is a caring community that learns and shares the stories of faith, serves within and beyond our walls, and welcomes all to gather at Christ’s Table.

Join Union for our Lenten Sermon Series

March 31
God Moves…
Down the Road
Luke 15:11-32

April 7
God Moves Us…
To Empty Ourselves
John 12:1-6

April 14—Palm Sunday
God Moves…
To the Cross
Luke 23:1-49

April 21 - Easter Sunday
God Moves...
Out of the Tomb
Luke 24:1-12

This Sunday – the fourth Sunday of Lent – we will continue walking with Jesus as he moves closer and closer to Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned each week, as Jesus walks, he talks and teaches, and this week is no different. We will find ourselves in Luke 15. This chapter contains three different parables about being lost. With an introduction in verses 1-3, Jesus quickly moves to share the story of the lost sheep in verses 4-7, the story of the lost coin in verses 8-10, and finally, the story of the lost son in verses 11-32. We will focus on the last parable, the one most known as the story of the Prodigal Son. But what if our focus has been wrong all these years? What if this parable is not about the lost younger son, or the lost older son, but instead, about the gracious father?

I hope to see you in worship on Sunday, and….a little homework. Read all of Luke 15 this week and we will talk about it.

- Pastor Jane

March 20

Thank you – seems to be not nearly enough for all you have done for me during the decline and death of my mother last week. You have prayed, sent cards, flowers, texts, phone calls, and the list could go on and on. You have supported me the many times I have choked up in the pulpit, holding me up with your prayers. The picture to the right shows the beautiful spray you sent to mama’s funeral. We placed it in the front of the sanctuary for the service. The gardenia from this past Sunday was especially poignant, given that was her favorite flower.

Jane's Flower.jpg

Thank you – seems to be not nearly enough for all those who made this past Sunday’s Silent Auction such a success. I was away during much of the preparations and you all just stepped right in and made it work. We are still counting money but are quickly approaching $6000. Thank you for helping publicize, obtaining donations, decorating, setting up, cooking, and bidding. It was a fun night and couldn’t have happened without everyone pitching in.

Thank you – for understanding about cancelling our first Lenten Soup and Bible study session last Wednesday. We will begin our shortened study tonight, beginning at 5:45 with a soup supper. Then we will move into a new study by Adam Hamilton about Simon Peter. We will learn from scripture and from video that tells the story of the places Peter lived and ministered. I hope you can join us!

You know, I am not unique in these experiences that have shaped my life these past few weeks. Every person at Union has been a recipient of the love and ministry of this church family at one time or another! Thanks be to God!!

- Pastor Jane

March 13

This Sunday will be a full and exciting day at Union. We begin the day with Bible study and worship, where our focus will be on an unusual passage of scripture. In Luke 13:31-35, Jesus speaks using images that are confusing at best, addressing obstacles that have made their way into his life and ministry. His thoughts can speak to us when we find ourselves blocked by our own obstacles. I hope to see you as we explore this passage together.

On Sunday night, the Puerto Rico Mission Team will host a Spaghetti Supper and Live Auction to help raise money for their upcoming mission trip in June. Look carefully at your March newsletter to see some of the items that will be offered. This auction is only as good as those who are in attendance, so please invite your friends and neighbors to join us.

It is going to be a good day – filled with Bible study, worship, and fellowship. I hope to share it with you.

- Pastor Jane

March 6

My heart is overwhelmed this morning as I remember your kind words and prayers at the end of the service on Sunday. You truly blessed me, and I have taken your words with me as I’ve come to North Carolina. Even during these hard days, you remain in my prayers.

This Sunday, we leave our study of The List, and begin our move toward the cross during this season of Lent. During these six weeks we will focus our time in the book of Luke, learning from Jesus, as he teaches his disciples. We will begin in Luke 4 this week, as we take a new look at the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

Remember to set your clocks ahead and join us for Bible study and worship this Sunday!

February 27

This Sunday, we come to the final sermon from The List series. Of the eight passages you selected, two had the topic of Love as the primary focus. This week will be second of the two. I am not surprised that a church family as full of love as Union would focus their requests this way! You demonstrate it every day in the way you live and the way you minister to each other and to our community. This week: 1 John 4:7-21.

In just one week, we will mark the beginning of the season of Lent with our traditional Ash Wednesday service at 6:30 pm. During the service we will spend time remembering, confessing our sins and will be blessed with the assurance of God’s pardon for each of us. The simple service will offer communion and the imposition of ashes as a reminder that we were created from dust. We move from Ash Wednesday into the next 40 days, the season of Lent. How do we mark those days? Some people use them to “fast” from social media, or certain behaviors. We often hear of people “giving up” chocolate or soft drinks. This year I want to encourage you to move beyond…

Let these days be days, when instead of “giving up,” you add simple practices that can draw you closer to God. This Sunday, you will find a large basket filled with purple and white paper chains – much like the kind you might have made as a child. These chains are available for you to use during the 40 days of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Each day, as you remove a link, you will find a simple act to help you intentionally focus on God and what God might be saying to you during this Lenten season.

I pray that your days will be filled with quiet listening, time for reading the scripture, and time for prayer as we listen intently and intentionally for God’s voice.

-Pastor Jane