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From the Pastor’s Desk

Where have the last 10 months gone? Thanksgiving (and Deer Hunting Season) are at the end of this month. Then it’s off to the Holiday Season, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. These all bring beloved traditions, gathering with friends and family, and celebrations.

Except, these past few years. Some were canceled, and others were limited the number of attendees and activities due to health concerns as the result of the pandemic. Others might have changed because friends or family are divided politically to the point that they cannot be in the same room. Of course, there are the changes that are part of life: people grow older, children turn into teens then adults who get married and have their own children, people move away for work or retirement, and more. It’s just as true today as when Greek Philosopher Heraclitus thousands of years ago said, “change is the only constant in life.”

Yet there are still reasons to be grateful as Thanksgiving approaches. Your celebrations may be bigger or smaller, quieter or louder, than years past. Yet within all changes, especially the negative ones, there are gifts of God’s grace. They may not be easy to see at times. But they are still there. For God promises us wherever we are, God’s love and presence is there. And that will not change.

So, what will you be grateful for this Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. The St. John's Consistory will be deciding at their November meeting when/if a Thanksgiving Service might be held. Please watch the webpage and the bulletin for details.

From the Pastor’s Desk

If March comes in like a lion, what did fall come in like this year – an elephant? Two days after an 85-degree day, we were treated to a twenty-degree drop in the temperature. As I write this the forecast is for a possible frost tonight or tomorrow tonight. Autumns arrival means that things are picking up at the church. But after a CoVID-19 forced slowdown for two years, as well as pastoral transition, what does “picking up” mean?

Well for one, Sunday School has resumed. It was joyful to see the number of kids attending this month. The first Confirmation Exploration Class will be held Wednesday October 5, at 3:30 p.m. Faye Connors, Ruth Ehmcke, and Luann Schmidtknecht are facilitating a group who are brainstorming ways to bring more music into the life of the church. Their efforts have led to the revival of the church choir which Betsy Miller-Ruben has graciously agreed to lead. People are returning to worship after weekends spent enjoying God’s works of Creation boating, camping, or in summer cabins.

My question to you is: what else needs to be “picked up” this fall in the life of the congregation? Not cleaned up (though help with those tasks around the church would be appreciated.) What are the activities that were part of the congregation’s life prior to CoVID that you hope you’ll do again? I hope to have a book or Bible Study as we go through Advent and am open to suggestions for that or for others that you would like me to lead. Are there other opportunities for worship, study, prayer, or fun that you did together as a church family that you’d like people to “pick up” this fall? Please let me know. That also includes two other areas that you might need some help in picking up: spirits and relationships.It seems everywhere I look there are articles on the damage done to people’s spirits, as well as their relationships, the necessary lockdowns and social distance has caused.Add in the stress as this congregation went through pastoral transitions during the same time, and I would not be surprised if some of you have found it harder to muster enthusiasm, even interest, in things that were important to you pre-CoVID.

Including church. People throughout the country are experiencing a feeling of distance in relationships both inside and outside the church. They don’t know how to navigate reconnecting, stressful situations, and/or where close relationships have been strained in this (almost) post- CoVID world. Even in their relationship with God.

If you find yourself feeling that way, that’s okay. Know that God’s relationship with you is a constant throughout this and any time. You may not feel that in a moment (or more) and may find yourself struggling to make that connection. That struggle is okay. It’s part of faith. I’ve been through it myself. Part of being a member (official or not) of a church is for us to be with you in that time, holding you in love, and making room for whatever you may question, struggle with, or just not be sure what you believe. Especially if you aren’t “feeling it” now. If you feel that all you have for God (and the church) right now is hurt, anger, doubt, or questions, that’s okay. We are here for you. We don’t do this perfectly. But we do our best to follow the lead Jesus of offering grace, connection, and welcome. And most importantly holding you in love no matter where you may be physically, spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.

Whether you need to pick-up the church again because it’s been a busy summer, you got out of the habit during CoVID, or because your spirit is hurting, we will be here. Join us on a Sunday, a study or potluck, or a phone call to another member or to me. If you aren’t quite there yet, that’s okay. Reach out when you can, in the way you can, to whom you can. I’m available in person, by phone, email, or text, even if we haven’t had the chance to meet yet. Especially to those of you who would love to come join us, but because of other factors can’t make it to the church. What do we need to “pickup” again to flourish in life as God intends all of God’s beloved to do? Let’s take time this fall to discern together what the is next step for both the church and for you that God is urging us to take.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

I write this the Monday after two consecutive Sundays where we worshiped elsewhere. First, at Eagle Valley Church, then with Hope UCC for their annual Sunday Social. These wonderful services were followed by lunches filled with good food and fun. I loved seeing you engaged in conversations, catching up with each other, sharing stories and laughter.

They reminded me the importance of these gatherings for a church. The first Christians didn’t worship for an hour and then go back home. They worshiped around a meal, filled with food that nurtured their connections, built relationships, and shared joy together. Jesus didn’t just teach and heal. Jesus ate with people, time spent beyond worship or teaching.

Getting together had to stop during the pandemic. As necessary as it was, it resulted in many feeling a sense of isolation and disconnect not only within congregations, but our society.

Which is why I feel it is important to have a Coffee Hour each Sunday after the service. I understand why this has been difficult to get restarted. But I also feel it’s vital to the life of this congregation. You need time to see people you might not otherwise run into, or only say “Hello” to that past week. What type of food or drink isn’t as important as those conversations. Some filled with laughter, some offering support during rough times, and all providing the opportunity to share our lives with each other.

So all this is my long way of asking you to please consider volunteering to host Coffee Hour

one Sunday. Store bought cookies and juice are fine if that’s the extent of your culinary skills or available time. (The hardest part for me of hosting such times is making the plastic box and label to look just like the Hy-Vee Bakery’s.) There is a signup sheet on the table where the bulletins are each Sunday.

I would love to be able to not need to announce at the end of the service that we have coffee hour that week, because we are back to having it each week. But I can only do that with your help with this vital ministry.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

Change in dates for Confirmation Exploration Orientation and Start Dates.
Confirmation Orientation has been moved to Wednesday, September 28 at 6:30pm. Confirmation Classes will start on Wednesday, October 5 from 3:30pm to 5:00pm. The complete schedule of class dates will be handed out at Orientation. If you or your child unable to attend Orientation night, please contact Pastor Deb at the office or at pastorstjohnsuccfc@gmail.com.

Pastor Deb will be on vacation from September 4 through the September 18, 2022.
If you have a pastoral emergency during that time, please contact Church President Dale Schmidtknecht and he will connect you with the appropriate person.

From the Pastor’s Desk

It’s hard to believe that the dog days of August are here already. Which means fall is coming shortly and activity picks up as September roles around. So here are just a few things that I have coming up as we look ahead.

Sunday, August 21 is the annual Sunday Service at Eagle Valley Church, followed by a lunch provided by the Friends of Eagle Valley Church. There will NOT be worship held at St. Johns or Hope on that Sunday.

Sunday, August 28 Hope UCC has invited St. Johns to join them at their annual Social and service at 10:30am.

Confirmation Exploration Orientation for Confirmation Exploration Classes will be Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at 6:30 pm at Hope Church. This is for both students and parents.

Confirmation Exploration Classes will start on Wednesday, September 28 at 4:00pm at St. Johns. Classes will last until 5:30pm.

Creation Preaching Series - Over four Sundays starting September 18, I will be doing a series of sermons using a four-week cycle of suggested readings and reflect on what God’s desires are for our relationship with our environment as individuals and as a church.

Sunday, October 30 will be Confirmation Sunday for those students for whom the Summer Intensive of Confirmation Exploration Classes is their second year and choose to be confirmed. This isn’t everything of course. Check this newsletter, the bulletin, and online for other happenings at the church.

And as always, I am open to suggestions (maybe a blessing of the animals on or near October 4?) If there are traditions that I am missing, please let me know. If I am not doing them most likely it’s because I don’t know about them. What else might we be doing together? Let’s see where the Spirit leads us next.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

P.S. Have you had a chance to explore our updated website? While still a work in progress the new design makes it easier to find information and do things (did you know you can give online?) Thank you to John Stettler and Cindy Ziegler for the time they have put in working with Corey Scholl as he redesigns and manage our website.

From the Pastor’s Desk

As I write this, we are in the middle of a second contentious week in our nation. (Or perhaps I should say even more contentious.) Emotions are running high over recent Supreme Court decisions, and the ongoing Congressional hearings. Protest and celebrations are filling public spaces, as well as social media and the airwaves. It doesn’t look like this will end soon. It is only another factor in the very divisive state that this country has been experiencing over the past few years. It is contributing to the ending of friendships and even some family relationships as has many of the issues of the last few years. As a result many are feeling hurt, attacked, betrayed, or enraged.* So, what does this have to do with the church? First, on these and all issues, I hope our faith informs our decisions and opinions both personally and how we believe it applies to others, and especially how we act in living that out.

However, even when it does, that doesn’t mean we will always come to the same conclusions or decisions. And it is here that I think our faith has three words that if lived out would help heal the divisiveness if not the actual differences. They would enable more discussions instead of diatribes lobbed at each other that get us nowhere. The three words are: beloved, grace, and humility. First, beloved. You are a beloved child of God who desires only good and abundance for you. So is your neighbor across the street. As is that pundit on the news (take your pick from any of these listed in alphabetical order: CNN, FOX, MNSBC, Newsmax, etc.) that makes your blood pressure raise 100 points whenever you hear their voice, as well as the shouting angry voice in the crowd they are discussing. If we keep that in the forefront of our minds and spirits, it takes the edge of animosity off our thoughts and interactions.

Second, grace. God offers us all the grace that we are imperfect, will be wrong at times, and yet are still beloved. Grace from us recognizes that we don’t know anyone else fully or why they believe or feel a certain way. Grace remembers all the times we have been coming from either good motives or fear, certain that the things we thought were right so must be continued, or wrong so must be stopped.

So, if we have been, we can accept that others may be coming from similar places even if we are certain that they are wrong in what they do or say. Finally, humility. The humility to admit that we aren’t always right. The humility to know that we are not God. While hopefully we are striving to live our lives in ways that God desires for all of God’s family, we are still not God. So, no matter if “our side” is on the “winning” or “losing” side of an issue or decision, we remember that God is still at work bringing about good and grace for all God’s beloved children, no matter who they are, what they believe, which side that they are on. Ours or other’s actions and words are not always beloved by God. They may even grieve God, or break God’s heart. But that doesn’t change that we are still seen as beloved by God, who desires good and grace to all. I know when I can see that, if even only for moment before going back to it being hidden behind my own hurt, anger, or fears, well, then I am loving God and neighbor. And then my thoughts, my decisions, my actions at least for that moment, especially when it comes to those affecting others, will be one be informed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, as Jesus’ was every day of his earthly life. It is said that during the Civil War that one of President Lincoln’s advisors said that he was glad that God was on the Union’s side. The response attributed to Lincoln includes the humility and grace that we need so desperately right now. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” We don’t need to wonder if God is for us or against us, for we are always God’s beloved, who God is for. But so is the person on “the opposite side.” If we strive to discern what is God’s side (hint: it probably is one of that is based on love and justice that sees all as worthy even in our differences) then even when we fall short, we are headed in the right direction. May God bless us, and keep us, until then.

If you are feeling any or all of these and need to talk, please let me know. We can set up a time for you to come in, share what you need, and we can look together at where God is present for you and for others in the midst this. No matter what, we are never alone.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Spring has finally sprung here filling the bluffs and riverbanks with a multitude of nature’s colors. Now I am not much of an “outdoors person”- my idea of camping is Howard Johnson’s motels, and I will leave the hiking to someone else. I DO like to be outdoors so look forward to drives with my husband exploring the landscape, going bird-looking, and finding some walking trails to spend time among the trees and other fauna, perhaps with my camera. I also hope to find a place along the Mississippi River where I can just sit and be as we move into the summer months.

The wonders and varieties of nature never ceases to amaze me. There seems to me a never- ending diversity within states, and nations, as well as over the seasons, all brought together in a mosaic of God’s creation. And of course, people are part of that. I hope this summer you find ways to appreciate the wonders of all of God’s creation - whether through boating or hiking or spending time with family and friends. Some of that may take you away from joining us here on Sunday’s. You can catch the worship service on YouTube where it is posted in the afternoon.

Remember: you are part of the colorful mosaic of this congregation that God’s Spirit continues to bring together. And those of you who will be here most Sunday’s, so are you. Over the summer we’ll continue times of Fellowship after the service giving us more opportunities to reconnect after two years of being apart through Covid. And of course, there will be times other than Sunday’s to not only serve God, but be together in love and fun (preparing for the Rhubarbfest anyone?) Opportunities to support each other and this congregation’s ministry. Chances for the wonders and varieties of the people of this congregation to be brought together again, so each can be amazed and appreciate what God is still creating and building here.

No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been on a particular Sunday or Sunday’s, you are always welcome here. See you then!

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

May signals the blooming of new life and possibilities, even as the weather stubbornly refuses to completely let go of winter. Our Holy Week and Easter services reminded us of the joy and new life still waiting to blossom and grow in unexpected ways even from the darkest of days and painful experiences. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to preside at a sunrise service out at the Eagle Valley Church, complete with the baptism of Sullivan “Sully” Klaben, (son of Joy and John). What better way to celebrate the Risen One than to offer this visible sign of invisible grace of God to an infant, surrounded by family and friends, and the joyous music of Easter.

There are lots of things happening this month at the church, and details are included elsewhere in this newsletter. Here are just a few I want to highlight: First, grab your sweet tooth and your wallet for the Cake Auction to be held after worship on May 1, 2022. I’ve been told that the bakers of this church create confections each year that garner multiple bids and often barely make it home before being consumed. So come prepared to bid and bid often to support the Sunday School of the church.

Second, on Sunday, May 15, at 3:00pm here, St. John’s UCC, Hope UCC, and the Northwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC will hold the Service of Installation for me as Pastor of both Hope and St. John’s, followed by a reception. It celebrates my call here, yes. It also celebrates the shared ministry that St. John’s and Hope has embarked upon, the first task of which was the search committee working together to call a pastor. So it is also a celebration of the time, dedication, and prayerful consideration of the search committee as the members took into consideration not only the needs of the churches they attended, but of their new partners in ministry. Clergy from the Northwest Association will be attending, but covenant with each other in ways that strengthen their ties within the Body of Christ. Associate Minister of the Northwest Conference Rev. Rob MacDougall will join us, providing the sermon for the afternoon, celebrating the ongoing ministries of these two churches.

We will celebrate the faithfulness of both churches that kept you going these past few years through the pandemic, as well as of the saints who came before, and the unimagined possibilities God holds for this shared ministry and each congregation. I hope you will join us on this special day for both congregations and the wider church. Finally, I have tentatively scheduled Graduation/Baccalaureate Sunday for Sunday, May 22, 2022. If you or a loved one is graduating this spring from High School, Technical School, College or other higher education program, please let me know. We would like to honor your accomplishments as well as celebrate your future during this service. So even as spring weather seems to be dragging its heels in coming, opportunities for celebration, joy, and fellowship continue to bloom here at 303 S. Hill Street.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Some of my favorite services to prepare are the ones in Holy Week Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship. They offer me a chance to reflect on the impact they can and do have on myself and the church.

Maundy Thursday tells of the preemptive grace of God. Jesus shares one last meal with his disciples who will soon betray and abandon him to the Romans, and he holds the first Communion as a sign and reminder that he still loves and forgives them. He transforms what could have been memories of shame and guilt into a celebration of God’s love for all and of the wider Body of Christ that begins to form after resurrection.

Good Friday tells of how the world thinks power should work (crucifixion and death, with some on top over the rest), how it works under God’s reign (vulnerability to others, refusing to meet violence with violence). Good Friday reminds me to ask not about where I would have been at Jesus crucifixion, but where I am today in the deaths by violence that still take place in the world. These prepare me for the joy of Easter, when God refused to let death in any form have the final word or abandon us by brining new life where there had only been pain, betrayal, and loss. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services are often the lowest attendance of the year. Some people avoid them because they see them as “sad” (and they can be) and have attended ones in the past that seem intent on shaming or scaring people into repentance and following Jesus. While there are those who can’t attend due to schedules or distance, many decided that they were too hard or dark to sit through.

If you don’t attend because of one of the above reasons (or another that I don’t know of) please consider joining our Maundy Thursday service on April 17 at 6:00 p.m. here at St. Johns, and join with Hope UCC in Cochrane on Good Friday at 6:00pm Maundy Thursday we will share in Communion, as we retell this part of the story of our faith.

Good Friday I will be offering a dramatic monologue as Mary Magdalene as the sermon, imagining how she felt as day faded into night that Friday. Yes, they will both be more solemn than our usual Sunday services. But the point is not to shame us. They remind us that even in our darkest moments there is God’s love and grace are there, ready to bring new life out of death in all its forms in surprising and wondrous ways beyond what we can imagine. I hope you will join me.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, March 2; that day St. John’s and Hope will come together for an Ash Wednesday service at 6:00pm at St. Johns. We will distribute ashes for all who choose to receive them on your forehead or the back of their hand.

Lent is a time of reflection and repentance. The “three pillars” or practices that traditionally connected to Lent are prayer, fasting, and giving. For some this may seem quaint. Others find this too hard, bringing up shame, or hurt, or the feeling that one is unworthy. And so, unless giving up chocolate or smoking in any attempt to improve health, for a good portion of the population Lent means merely another seven weeks to Easter.

I’ve come to understand Lent as a sort of spiritual spring housecleaning. These three pillars are some of the tools we use as we go about it. These seven weeks can become a time of reconciling or growing deeper in relationship with God, with our families, and with our communities. In a phrase used in Twelve Step programs Lent is an opportunity to “clear our side of the street.” We are encouraged to let go of what keeps us from being the people we want to be, and more importantly, the people God created us to be.

For repentance isn’t that we need to feel shame, or perpetual sorrowful for our actions; it is about turning around and going a different way. Repentance means looking honestly at what we wish we did or did not do, taking accountability, then asking God to show us a better way. Organization specialist Kon Mari became popular suggesting to declutter we take each object in the home and ask, “Does this still give me joy?” If it did, keep it, repairing if needed. If not, either donate it or recycle/discard it. Lent invites us to do undergo a similar process with ourselves, our values, habits, choices, and relationships under the gaze of the Good News. We take the time to ask “Does ‘this’ (habit, action, value, judgement, inaction, etc.) bring God joy? is it part of living the abundant, joyful life God intends for us and with each other?”

As a follower of Jesus, what in your life isn’t bringing joy for you and for others? (Not happiness, but joy.) Sometimes what isn’t sparking joy is a situation that we cannot change, but is there a way to find moments of joy and grace within it? Join me over the next seven weeks asking that question. Remember, out of the worst day, God has, can, and will always bring resurrection. So check under the couch cushions in your life to see what’s there, find those cobwebs in the back rooms of your life that only you see, and then ask God’s Spirit of love, grace, and new life to blow through. Who knows what may happen? Let’s find out.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

Thank you for your warm welcome to Fountain City and St. Johns Church. I look forward to getting to know you better over the next few months. If you want to reach me there are several options.

I am holding office hours on Tuesdays. Feel free to stop by and poke your head into the office to say hi. My cellphone number is 239.994.2528. You can also reach me at pastorstjohnsuccfc@gmail.com. You can catch me before or after a worship service to set up another time we can connect to talk further. I would also appreciate a note to remind me later (even a just a sticky left on my desk with your name, number and a word or two about what we talked about). Sundays have a lot of moving parts, and this way I won’t be wondering later who it was and what it was I asked to do.

I look forward to what God has in store for us as I settle into Fountain City together.

God’s grace and peace.
Pastor Deb Kunkel

From the Pastor’s Desk

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In 1957 St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church became St. John’s United Church of Christ as a result of a merger. The denominations of the Congregational Christian Church, along with Evangelical and Reformed Church joined to form United Church of Christ. UCC is a distinct and diverse community of Christians that came together as one church. They joined faith and actions and currently are over 5,000 churches with nearly one million members across the U.S. The UCC serves God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world. The UCC is a church of “firsts,” a church of extravagant welcome, and a church where “…they may all be one”.
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