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July 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

I have in mind a few thank you notes we may never receive. But I’m sure the sentiment is sincere and enthusiastic. Here are just a few:

 

I’d like to thank you for the quality Vacation Bible School program you offered for my two children last week. The volunteers were enthusiastic and caring, and the program was well planned and  executed. My kids especially loved the puppet performances! Programs like this are a big part of why we love living in this community.

 

We just got back on our boat and will be sailing out of Baltimore  Harbor tomorrow morning, headed eventually for home in the          Netherlands. Upon our arrival last night, we went out for a bite to eat and asked our server, “Where should we go to get the full experience of July 4th in America?” “Catonsville” was the quick and certain response. After finding your concert listed online in the day’s programs, we caught a city bus and arrived at the church just in time. Thank you so much for such an inspirational   program. The parade and fireworks were just fine, but starting our day with such glorious music was the best!

 

Now that the harvest has begun, our family would like to thank you again for providing us with the opportunity to grow our own vegetables in the Catonsville Community Garden located just behind your church building. We’ve loved having the kids play in the ball field while we water and weed. Now they get to pick the fruits of our efforts and learn that food comes from someplace other than the grocery store!

 

We are all basking in the afterglow of the final performance last night of “Into the Woods”, this year’s STAR Drama Camp Musical. We don’t often take the time to say it, but we are so grateful that our children have a safe place to go where their creativity can be nurtured and their self-esteem enhanced. Thank you!

 

I don’t know how I’d make it through the summer without your playground.

 

We heard about the AA group last week while we shopped at the Farmer’s Market.

 

It’s so nice to have a school within walking distance.

 

So much of our ministry is cast into our community and world like the sower’s seeds. We may never hear from those who feel God’s grace through what we offer. But we can be assured that those seeds are taking root and that the love we share within this building is making a difference beyond our walls.

 

Shalom,

 

Rick

 

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July 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

With Warmth


You would have wanted to be a fly on the wall last week during Vacation Bible School. Over the past year I have seen many remarkable displays of community here at Christian Temple but nothing quite compares to the faithful dedication of our VBS volunteers. When I break it down, at least the number doesn't seem all that substantial, but three hours a day for five consecutive days ends up making a huge impact on everyone involved-the kids, volunteers, parents and the church at large. The months of planning really paid off when considering the smile on one child's face as he reminds the adults that his favorite part of VBS is packing gift bags and writing notes to the guests of the Lazarus Caucus a faith-based, non-profit organization created to assist the homeless and formerly homeless, or when you can barely hear yourself think over the sheer decibel volume of kids screaming with excitement when they see the bluish green liquid gurgling and spilling over top the freshly mixed science experiment, or experiencing the level of engagement with the days biblical story, the puppet theater or the electric energy of morning worship with song and movement; I could go on but I would rather you be that fly on the wall or better yet take some time out and volunteer next year. I saw the kiddos come alive in new ways and was reminded of the love for our living God. As we continue to pour our love and support into our children, lets honor VBS for the incredible display of community and the ministry it provides to Catonsville area.  I know I am changed by this experience in ways that I haven't fully processed and I thank the staff and volunteers for their compassionate and patient service to Christian Temple. 

 

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May 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

June 12th, 2017 will mark the one year anniversary of the mass shooting that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This date will be but one of so many heartbreaking days for the families of those who died that night, many of whom were part of the LGBTQ community. They died in the prime of their lives. They died at the hand of someone who wasn’t well and who was filled with anger. And they died in one of the few places where they felt safe.

One resurrection that emerged from the cross of this tragedy was the increased awareness of the risks of being gay in this country. We like to think that we have evolved beyond our prejudice against people who are LGBTQ. But we fool ourselves. For many reasons, people who are “other” in the area of sexuality and gender   identification are so often not safe. And, sadly, one of the most dangerous places for this    community has been the church.

Shortly after last year’s Orlando shootings  members of the Christian Temple community began to look at ourselves. We began asking questions about our own welcome, and how hard we work to be sure ALL people know that this is a safe place.

Our findings? We’ve done a pretty good job of being a faith community where all really are  welcome. But we haven’t done as well at getting that word out. We like to think that once people arrive here, they are warmly embraced. But, with a church name like Christian Temple that can be confusing, and at a time when people want to know whether they’ll be welcome       before they walk in the door, we still have some work to do.

So, beginning last September, and continuing with a series of meeting of the elders, board and congregation, we are now prepared to present a “Statement of Welcome” to the congregation for formal approval. The statement specifically     includes mention of LGBTQ people, and it uses the language ‘open and affirming’, an important shorthand way for people to know who we are and who we try to be. The statement has been developed over the past year. We hope to spend a few more weeks both reviewing it and talking about how we can live up to its claims. And then, we plan to invite the congregation to consider approving the statement as part of our service of worship on June 11th.

I’m not sure how much comfort our approval will give to all those grieving families on the eve of the one year anniversary of the day their lives fell apart. But our Statement of Welcome, if adopted and implemented with spirit and creativity, will help the world know that there is at least one more safe place in the world for all who might consider entering.

Shalom,

Rick

 

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April 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Who’s the most important person at Christian Temple?  Hmmm…

 

After my epic failure to light the candles at the beginning of worship last Sunday, I’m tempted to say it’s the acolyte.

 

Or it could be the person who arrives at church early enough to park up on the top lot, but chooses the lower lot instead just for the exercise and to leave the space open.

 

Or, it could be the reader. Where would we be without the living word of God to anchor our worship?

 

A good case could be made that the most important person at Christian Temple is the first person we see when we enter the building. The warmth in his or her eyes sets the tone for the whole morning.

 

I’ve always thought that one of the most important persons at Christian Temple is the one who stretches loving arms out to a child who may or may not be happy, about being left in our nursery, but who just might grow up to love the church.

 

You know, now that I think of it, who could be more important than the one who senses that something is wrong with the woman sitting next to her in the pew and without any words lightly touches her on the shoulder as the prelude begins.

 

I know that some might say that the minister or the director of music and liturgy or the congregational resident are the most important. I’m not so sure, though. After all, we get paid to come.

 

No, as important as all these people are to Christian Temple, I don’t believe that any we’ve listed are the most important.

 

To me, the most important person at Christian Temple on any given Sunday is the person who wakes up not sure about coming to church, the person who has to will herself to turn into the parking lot, the person who climbs the steps and wishes he can turn around when he gets a glimpse of all those people standing around inside, the person who  is warmed by the handshake at the door, pleased at the smiles  in the Gathering, inspired by the music in the sanctuary, nervous about messing up communion, happy to make a quick exit without having to share too much information, and eager to text a friend after it’s all over,

 

“Went to church today. Can U believe it? It wasn’t bad. U should come with me next week.”

 

Yep. That’s the person we can’t do without.

 

Shalom,

 

Rick

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March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


Every now and then, when it’s time to write “My Two Cents” I get stuck. Can’t think of a thing worth writing about. Writer’s block? Sometimes it feels like writer’s tackle. It’s a discouraging thing that tempts one to let the column go until next time. But, then, there was Richard to think about.

 

We first met Richard Kieffer maybe fifteen years ago when his feisty neighbor and longtime Christian Temple member, Ethel Hall, invited him to worship. Ethel and Richard both lived at the Benet House, an old city school restored and repurposed to be an apartment building for seniors. They were both chauffeured to worship each week by various congregation members, mostly the Helmes. Then, after Ethel died, Richard kept coming.

 

Richard was many things. He was mostly an artist. His apartment was a crowded gallery that told the story of his life and faith in Jesus through oils, pastels, watercolors, and chalk. For a while, our official Christian Temple note cards featured a pen and ink drawing of the old church building. Richard did the artwork. Agnes Childers carefully bundled the cards and the envelopes in tens. We’d sell them and use the proceeds for Richard’s tithe to the church.

 

But Richard was more than just an artist. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia as a young adult during the dark days of how such illnesses were treated. He told terrible stories of his isolation and the experimental therapies he endured. But he became the Big Man on Campus at Shepard-Pratt Hospital after they straightened out his medication. Eventually he was cleared to live independently. Next thing you know he had moved into the Benet House and next door to Ethel.

 

Richard was an artist who lived with a very difficult diagnosis. But he was more than that, too. He was a friend who LOVED Christian Temple. He loved to attend worship and his voice could always be heard above the crowd repeating the Lord’s Prayer. During the days of his long beard he treasured the Sunday before Christmas when he gave out candy canes as Santa Claus to reticent kids who weren’t quite sure what to make of him. And Richard LOVED getting mail from his church.

 

On one of our first home visits (“It’s Richard visiting Richard!)” after he gave me the grand tour of the Kieffer Gallery he showed me where he kept his church mail. Every note, card, plea for money, and program flyer he’d ever received was carefully stored. His favorites and most recent were out on display. And, in a special place Richard would show me every time, there they were- “My Two Cents” columns by the dozens, highlighted, underlined and carefully stored in zip-lock bags. From then on, whenever I got writer’s block I’d think of those bags.

 

Richard died on December 27th 2016. After a long, painful illness his death was mercifully peaceful. He was alone when he died, but since I believe that heaven is our life story, remembered, I wanted to be sure to share a small part of his with you.

 

I love you, too, Richard. Happy trails!

 

Richard                                                                                                                                      

 

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