CCC Blog

Something to Think About

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Our theme in worship this past Sunday was “encouragement.”  Before worship, we asked everyone – at each service – to complete the sentence “I was encouraged in my faith when…”  We then read some of the at the beginning and the end of that service’s sermon. Here is a collection of some the responses submitted from all three services.  May something in the way others have been encouraged in their faith be an encouragement to you in yours.

I was encouraged in my faith when:

  • I found open-heart surgery was necessary and I realized I could at least give God one hour a week after all he’d done for me.
  • I found this church after being away from a church for many years.
  • I was in the hospital.
  • My grandmother told me so many times how important it is to have God in your life.
  • My husband passed away and I was comforted in my grief.
  • The campers at Camp Walter Scott were so positive, helpful and kind to each other.
  • I remember the prayers my father taught me.
  • I lost a dear friend and was made aware that all would be okay and God was in control.
  • I volunteer at Good Samaritan Inn.
  • My wife passed away and my faith got me through.
  • I had cancer.
  • God led me through an extremely difficult situation at work where my job was on the line.
  • Even on the worst day, I could smile because I knew Jesus was with me.
  • I hear hymns of praise.
  • I pray for a concern and God provides a solution.
  • I receive a hug from someone.
  • I started listening to God.
  • Other prayed for me during radiation.
  • The signs around me show me God is with me no matter what I am going through.  
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Re-Cap from Deep Roots, Wild Branches Conversation

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On Monday, August 28, over 30 people attended the “Deep Roots, Wild Branches” conversation in the Great Hall.  Everyone who participated in one of the reading groups during the summer was invited to attend, as was anyone in the church who wanted to learn more about the book.  The basic premise was that the “church of tomorrow” will not look like the “church of yesterday.”  Churches that thrive in the future will be ones who can “blend their ecology” to bring together “deep roots” and “wild branches.”  Deep Roots represent the tradition and all the inherited practices of the church as we know it– designed to meet the needs of the churched and re-churched and attracting people to the brick-and-mortar building.  Wild Branches represent the fresh expressions of ministry that will define the church of tomorrow – taking place outside the building, reaching the not-yet-churched, without emphasizing the need to “attract” them to the brick-and-mortar church building.  Here is a summary of the conversation from 8/28.  Three (3) questions were asked (responses given below each one).


Where/ How do we see ourselves (at Central) described in the book:

  • Though we are regularly gain visitors and new members, attendance (overall) has declined in the last several decades.
  • Contemporary worship is a “Wild Branch” for us within our congregation.  Traditional worship is a “Deep Root.” 
  • An increased focus on technology (e.g. livestream, social media) is also a “Wild Branch” for us.
  • We still measure success on the basis of budgets and attendance.
  • We are still and “attractional” church (we focus on drawing people to our brick-and-mortar building for things like worship, programs and social outreach).


In what ways do we see the book stretching us to grow:

  • The Tuesday morning Journeymen’s Bible Study could meet “off site”
  • We have people already involved in communities outside church. These could be the bases of fresh expressions of ministry that never end up “attracting” people to our building. 
  • We could do more things like the Neighborhood Picnic (from July 2023).
  • We could emphasize mission outside the building more.
  • We could connect with Millikin Heights more.


What questions do we have for the book that are still left unanswered that we would like to have answered as we move forward:

  • We are friendly and accepting (our congregational spiritual gift). How might this be built upon to create Wild Branch ministry?
  • What is the relationship between Deep Roots and Wild Branches from a support and communication standpoint? What does it look like when “Deep Roots” are supporting Wild Branches?  And what does communication look like between the “Deep Roots” and the “Wild Branches?”


Where do we go from here?  This information will be shared with the council and then any future work we do in the “Wild Branches” area of ministry will come from the council and be advertised more widely throughout the congregation.  Any work we do in this area will certainly create new opportunities for individuals to serve in ministry and we want to make sure these are well advertised and encouraged.  Thank you for the effort and support you have given to this book study.  


Blessings – Michael


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Questions and Answers

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Thomas Merton has been read widely by spiritual seekers across the world for over 60 years.  He was born in France, raised in the United States, and became a Catholic priest before entering a Cistercian monastery in Kentucky in 1941.   Before he died an untimely death in 1968, he was a prolific writer on the spiritual life.


Merton believed the spiritual life is, essentially, seeking the answers to four basic questions.  We all ask them – whether or not we are aware that we are doing so: 1) Who am I?; 2) Who is God?; 3) Why am I here?; and 4) What am I to do with my life?  The last two are more directly related, though the answer to any one of the four will directly affect – and be affected by – how we answer the other three. 


But it is these last ones - #s 3 and 4 – that can occupy so much of our attention.  We want to do the right thing.  We want to make choices that are pleasing to God.  We want to live our lives in a way that fulfills our calling as a person of God.  But how do we know we are doing that?  In late Spring of this year, we spent five weeks on a sermon series about being “stuck.”  Sometimes it feels that way with the big questions in life.  We ask “What am I to do in this situation,” but we feel stuck because the answer isn’t forthcoming.  To this, Merton gave this wisdom:


Don’t search for answers which could be given to you now.  Rather, live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, even without noticing it, live your way into the answer.


When I read this recently in some of his writings on contemplation, it struck me how this was another way – albeit it very poetic – of saying “God’s time isn’t our time.”  We might hear – in these words – the value of being patient.  Yet his words are about even more than that.  It is okay not having all the answers we wish we had right now.  What is important is that we never stop asking the question in the first place.  For example, if, every day, I ask the question, “God, what will you have me do with my life,” I may never get, on any single day, the answer to that question as clear as a clap of thunder ringing from the sky.  Over time, however, clarity will emerge, but only if I continue to ask the question day after day.  The worst thing to do is to stop asking the question at all.  For then I will not have a chance of receiving whatever it is God is revealing to me that might lead me toward the very answer I seek.


The skeptic among us might say, “Sure, it’s easy for Merton to say things like ‘Just slow down and let God act on God’s time,’ or ‘Just be patient and answers will emerge.’  He was a monk after all.  He didn’t live in the ‘real world’ where there are real-time pressures, demands and deadlines.”  While such thoughts could be merited, I’m reminded of something a Jesuit priest told me on a retreat I took several years ago.  Monks, he said, have taken it upon themselves to pray for us and to pray for the world.  This is their gift to us.  Free from the very pressures and demands and deadlines among which we live, they can devote themselves to this prayerful life.  In thinking of Merton’s words today, we might take that a step further.  The gift that monks like Merton give to the world is to call us above the constraints within which we live our lives and to remind us what matters most as God’s people.  So that... when we return to the hectic nature of that life we momentarily transcended, we bring more of what matters most with us.  And that which we have brought, influences more of how we live within it.  Something to ponder this week.  


Blessings – Michael

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Preaching and Worship in 2023

In early October, I will be taking a few days of private study to plan worship themes for the entire 2023 year!  Currently, we plan worship themes about 2-3 months in advance, but I’ve always wanted to be more advanced and organized in planning the overall shape of worship.  So I’m very much looking forward to this opportunity to get away and think of little else but this.  The context is a workshop that is being led by two pastors in our region.  I will be one of a dozen participants.  From what I gather, each of us will plan for the upcoming year in a way that is unique to our own ministry situation and thus different from everyone else’s. 


As I prepare for this event – and this planning – I want to invite you to be part of it along with me.  Below, you will see several questions.  When I attend the workshop a month from now, I will be prepared to incorporate answers to these questions in my preaching and worship planning for 2023.  So, I would truly love to have as many of you as possible answer these questions and send me your responses ( ).  Write as much or as little as you would like.  I cannot promise I will preach exactly what you wish to hear in 2023, but I can promise I will read everything you share with me and consider it a worthy gift.  Should you share anything personal, I will protect your confidentiality or will consult you first before mentioning anything specific. 


What is it about our congregation that you appreciate most?


What do you think our congregation (and Decatur community) is most anxious about?


What big life events will you be observing in 2023 (e.g. milestones, significant changes, anniversaries)? 


If I, Michael, were to preach on a topic in 2023 that would inspire you to invite a friend to worship, what would it be? 


What is one (1) question you wish you could ask God right now?


What is one (1) book of the bible you would like to know more about ?


What is one part of your life you are struggling with?


Blessings – Michael

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