Monday, August 28, 2017

Finally, Farewell


Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.


 --2 Corinthians 13:11, NRSV


Yesterday was a day of great rejoicing.  There were smiles, handshakes and hugs, and a few tears.  My heart overflows this morning.  I rejoice that the Spirit brought me here to be a Conference Minister. 

Through my In-Care years, in that extended time of preparing for ordained ministry, I was always appreciative of the ministry of my Associate Conference Minister, the Rev. Bill Schwab.  I looked up to Bill, and he taught me to appreciate the work of the wider Church.  I will soon become Bill's pastor at St. Peter's U.C.C., a church where Bill served with distinction after leaving Conference ministry.  Life comes full circle in this new call.


I remain convinced that the Conference is an important setting of the United Church of Christ.  It is the hub of connectivity.  It represents a living relationship with the Risen Christ   It is the gathering place for hearts and minds, a space to confer with one another about things that matter:  What is God calling us to be and do today?   Who are our neighbors?  What is essential now?  The Conference cares for congregations and clergy.  It moves us to mission with a larger vision than our local contexts.  It helps us to speak faithfully in the public square.  As I leave, I hope seeds have been sown to ensure the vitality of the Conference in the times yet to come.  The New Hampshire Conference matters.  The United Church of Christ matters.  Your support matters now more than ever.  


Thank you for your gifts--the words, notes, cards and symbols of appreciation.  My heart overflows with gratitude today!  I shall always be grateful for your support.  I will not forget.  Thank you! 

Finally, farewell.   God is with you as you journey in faith into the future.  

Peace & Power to you!

The Rev. Gary M. Schulte



A copy of my homily from the farewell worship is posted below.





A Homily for the End

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Hebrews 12:1-3

12:1            Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

12:2            looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

12:3            Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

~ New Revised Standard Version


Running the Race That Is Set Before Us
             Today, we are at end of the covenant.  God’s call is moving us all to new ministries.  We are here to celebrate the call that brought us together, and we are here to release one another from the vows that have undergirded our relationship.   It is time to say good-bye: “God be with you!       

             But before we do that, there is one last word for us.  It is fitting to return to the text from Hebrews, Chapter 12, to let it frame what has been a significant ministry for me—and I sense for many of you.  Some of you were at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ on November 5, 2006, when a covenant was created, promises were spoken, and I became your Conference Minister.  I remember.  It was All Saints Sunday.  My mentor and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Robert Baur preached from Hebrews 12 and taught us about the saints of the Evangelical Synod of North America—Joseph Reiger, Louis Nolau, and Sammy Press—whose legacy continues to have a shaping influence in the United Church of Christ. 

             In my sojourn with you, I have seen other saints and cherish their memories.  As I go, I cherish the saints who have shared life and ministry with me:  Lucy Alexander, Doug Hedstrom, Don Derse, Ray Burton, LouAnn and Ed Brueggemann, Doris and John Saturley, Gordon Sherman, Paul Shenk, David Slater (and Drama Dearie), and so many, many others.  I have come to cherish the stories of the saints of the Congregational Christian Churches.  They have run with perseverance the race that was set before them.  They have inspired our spirits and moved us to be faithful to the Gospel even when such faithfulness comes at a great cost.  They have taught us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” who endured the shame and suffering of the cross, assured that joy was “set before” him.  The finish line of Christ’s service was not death, but life; not sorrow, but joy; not suffering, but salvation in the fullest sense of the word.  

             If we are to be the church of Jesus Christ in this new day, we must also keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We must see our lives reflected in his and his in ours.  We must “resist the powers of evil” and share in Christ’s sufferings.  We must, in the words of Marian Wright Edelman, stand up when we would rather sit down.  We must speak up when others tell us to shut up.   Being the church is not for the timid or faint of heart.  And, I see the church in you!  You are God’s holy sanctuary city.  You are salt and light.  You are God’s great hope for the world.

             Yes, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.   Living saints are all around us today—right here, right now in this sanctuary.  You have challenged me to be a faithful and courageous disciple of Jesus.  You have helped me to learn how to be a Conference Minister.  You have taken an introverted pastor from rural Missouri had encouraged him to find his voice and be a prophet in places of power—in the pulpits of your churches, in the streets of your cities and towns, in the State House in Concord, and in the Church House in Cleveland.  We have run a mighty long marathon together.

             I am leaving, but the race is not yet over for any of us.  In this moment, I want to encourage you—beloved saints in the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ and my dear colleagues in Conference Ministry—to keep running the race that is before you.  As I leave this call, there is still a race to be run.  Do not reminisce about the leg of the race that we have already run—its victories and its disappointments, looking back down the track and second guessing what might have been.  Nor can we rest prematurely, relying on what others have done in the 216 years that the New Hampshire Conference has been gathered—the race always remains before us—out there in front of us—where Jesus is. 

             There is still a race to be run out there where torches and crosses still burn . . . out there where walls are built to segregate and separate humanity . . . out there where religion is used as wedge to divide God’s children.  There is a race still to be run when children are hungry, when the addicted die by the thousands, when kindred are despised because they seem so strange and different.  There is a race to be run when white privilege remains invisible and white supremacy destroys the fabric of our society and leads our children to embrace hate and violence.  There is a race to be run when immigrant neighbors and asylum seekers, like Terry Rombot, are detained and deported.  There is a race to be run as God’s beautiful creation is destroyed by our greed and consumption of the Earth’s resources. 

             There is a race to be run when our churches imagine themselves to be so diminished that they cannot love God or their neighbors.  I am convinced that no church is too small or too poor or too old to matter and to make a difference in God’s world.  Our mission is not maintenance and institutional survival but faithfully following Jesus down paths of loving service—from the cross to the joy.  We are Christ’s ambassadors of hope, justice, and peace. 

             So, do not grow weary in running this race, breathe in the fresh, sweet breath of the Spirit of the Living God.  The breath of resurrection is within you.   Breathe it in, and then breathe it out into a broken and dying world.  Breathe it out into those whose hearts are filled with fear.  Breathe it out upon those whose hubris is sinful and whose egos threaten to destroy the world.  Do not grow weary when the hills and mountains loom large on the path before you.  One step, another step, yet another . . . and the race will be won.  Do not lose heart.  Do not lose heart, for you do not run this race alone.  You do not run this race in vain.  Your faithful Savior is with you.  The saints of the church—seen and unseen—a great cloud of witnesses surrounds you, inspires you, and cheers you on. 

             Know that I will always be grateful for God’s call that carried me to your Conference and for the privilege of having been your Conference Minister.  Know that I now join that cloud of witnesses—united in ministry with you somewhere out there in the hills of Missouri.  Know that in a sanctuary in a river town called Washington—a silent prayer will ascend for your endurance, your perseverance, and your faithfulness.  So, let us run with perseverance the race that is before us.  Farewell, my dear friends.  May God be with you.

gAmenh






Monday, July 31, 2017

When Did We See You?

The Parable of the Great Judgment ( Mt. 25:31-46) has shaped my faith and ethics from my earliest days.  I realize the story is about the nations who are gathered.  The verbs are plural, rather than singular.  This is a parable for a group, for a society, for a community.  It calls people to see and serve Christ in "the least of these."  It might be addressed to a country whose policies do not extend care to those who are sick, suffering, and dying.  It could also apply to a church or a denomination that has defined "spiritual" so narrowly and personally that it does not engage in social and political arenas.

A clergy colleague once took the edge off these words by saying that Jesus was really concerned here with "brothers and sisters" in our church.   He claimed that Jesus was not teaching us to see and serve those who were outside our circle, those in the world around us.  That pastor had it all neatly exegeted in a way that resolved much of the tension in the text.  Perhaps it is easier just to focus on the faith community that is right before us.  Well?  I think Jesus had a larger understanding of kindred, and he wanted us to see him in the stranger, the foreigner, the outsider--those who are invisible and vulnerable in the world.  Can you see the Christ in that other one?  Can you serve the Christ in that person, that human being, that beloved child of God?

As a child, I was taught to fear and exclude those who were different economically, racially, or sexually.  The message came in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  But then I met Jesus in church, and he challenged me by focusing my faith on the "least of these."  His parable shapes my service.  So, here's what I've learned:  Jesus will not be co-opted to shore up our prejudices.  Jesus always challenges those who think they have it all put together.  Smug spirituality that ignores the poor and needy leads to his condemnation.

In recent days, we have heard an explicit threat to the human rights of the LGBTQ community.  These people are my kindred.  They are worthy of respect and care as God's beloved ones.  As a disciple of Jesus, I see and stand with my kindred and my neighbors.  I am called to testify to God's love with loving words and deeds.  I will seek to serve the Christ in those who are despised and rejected by others.

Such care may be costly.  It may take us to people and places that we had never intended to go.  It may challenge us to stand up when we'd rather just sit down.  It may move us to speak up when we would rather be silent.  But then, we may also remember our Faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, and hear his call to follow and to rekindle our love and courage.  He knows well how it is to serve at the edge.  He risked becoming despised and rejected because he loved God and loved his neighbors.  He humbled himself, not  building a secure fortress to isolate and protect himself.  And, in the end, there was resurrection, glorious life, and great joy.

Righteous One, give me eyes to see my kindred wherever they are and whoever they are.  Make me a loving and engaging servant of Jesus.  Grant me his compassionate and courageous spirit.  Teach me to trust and to serve with all those who cry out for justice, mercy, and love.   Amen.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"The Burden of Eternal Incompletion"

From the cross in John 19:30, Jesus speaks a final word, "Tetelestai."  In the passive voice, the verb signals perfection:  "It has been completed, . . . accomplished, . . . fulfilled, . . . finished."  This passive verb also suggests to me that such completion rests not with Jesus himself but with that One who acts through and beyond his words and deeds.  The word reveals a deep and abiding trust.  Jesus dies, surrenders his spirit, in the assurance that he is one with the Father and that his relationship is made complete.  He has accomplished what he was sent to do.  It is finished.

The news of the ending of my ministry in the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ has now been widely shared.   I am receiving expressions of appreciation in emails, cards, and spoken words.  Yesterday, following worship at the Conway Village Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, there was a special gift, cards from the Moderator and Diaconate, and a cake.  Coffee hour became a farewell celebration.  I am deeply grateful for the people whose lives have been affirmed and supported by this ministry.  I am also grateful for those who have challenged me to grow and become a more faithful servant of the Gospel.  I appreciate the voices that have spoken the truth to me in love.  Endings are not easy.  They are complicated and messy.  The memory of one's ministry is not controlled by the one who is leaving.   I look to Jesus on the cross, not as a model for my own ending, but rather as my Savior who is able, finally, to bring it all to completion in the sweep of God's eternity.

I have been reflecting recently on a phrase that comes from the Rev. Lillian Daniel in an essay that she wrote about being an associate pastor.  It is in the book, This Odd and Wondrous Calling, that she authored with the Rev. Martin Copenhaver.  The phrase is this: "The burden of eternal incompletion."   I know that burden well!  It is a heavy one because it says that this ending will not be perfect.  No matter how much I might want it to be otherwise, I cannot control it.  Something will, of necessity, be left undone.  Relationships will change and end.  This ending will have some rough edges, good-byes left unspoken, and projects left in pieces.  It will never be complete, but I will move on in the assurance that the burden is not mine alone to carry.  The goodbye belongs to us all.  It is part of the reality that comes with our mortality. 

I trust in Jesus, my faithful Savior, to shoulder this burden and release me from its weight.  I trust that others will come who will sort out what is really important and what must be discarded.  The time that remains is short.  What is most important now is saying goodbye in order to prepare to say hello in a new ministry with joy and wonder.  And, in the end, it will all be well because this is not about me or us, but about the God who has claimed and named us all as beloved ones.  In the end, it's all about grace, mercy, and love.  In the end, as is true of every ending, there is the blessed hope of a resurrection; there is gratitude; and there is great joy. 

Eternal God, I give you thanks for your Church and for this ministry that I have shared with your people in the New Hampshire Conference, United Church of Christ.  Your call was clear when I began.  Your call is clear as I end.  I entrust this ending and the future into your hands.  Amen.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Generosity Begins with Fifteen Cents

I remember with thanksgiving the lessons I have learned about generosity.  As a small child, who was drawn to the church by the sounds of happy children playing at Vacation Bible School, I looked forward to Sunday mornings.  On those mornings, without fail, my mom would give me a nickel for the Sunday School  offering and a dime for the worship service offering.  Generosity began with small and simple gifts, totaling fifteen cents.  When I was confirmed at the age of eleven, I received my own offering envelopes--a symbol of discipleship and a visible reminder that I had gifts to offer the church.

My ability to give has increased over many years.  What began with fifteen cents became twenty-five cents.  When I got a part-time job, I increased my giving to a dollar.  I remember moving through levels of giving, from a dollar, to ten, and then to twenty . . . and more.  It felt good to give.  It was good to participate and do what, I believe, God expected from me as a member of Christ's church.

Fundraising is done from the perspective and need of the receiver.  It is a corporate concept.  Generosity begins in the heart of the individual disciple and is rooted in gratitude.  I give because I am thankful to God for the gift of the community that seeks to faithfully live out the love of Christ.  I give because giving was modeled for me by my parents, who made sure that I had my fifteen cents in a coin purse before I went to Sunday School.

I have encountered many generous disciples through my ministry.  The woman who brought a tithe of an inheritance that she had received.  The parishioner who gave his gifts while still alive to be able to see and enjoy the effects of his generosity.  The child who saved up pennies to send someone else to church camp.  I have been privileged and exceedingly blessed by the witness of the saints who responded to the blessings of God by living generous lives.

Last night at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, a vote was taken to change how we support the Church--in particular the Church in our National Setting.  The old pattern of giving that had covenantal partners sharing with one another from the Local Church to the Conference to National Setting is passing away.  It is no longer the norm.  That vote, I believe, moved us from generosity to fundraising, from disciples to donors, from an offering to a donation.  I understand why our denomination needed to do this, but I grieve what it signals.  The Church becomes another non-profit in search of funding for its missional purposes and its very survival.  We reach around the covenant to contact those whose pockets appear to be deep, ignoring the child with a purse that holds but fifteen cents.

I will continue on, giving because God has loved me through the waters of baptism and has included me in a community of compassion and care that extends far beyond the walls of my local church.  I love the United Church of Christ and will do all that I can to support it in every way.  I still believe that generous gifts, consecrated collections, still can and do change the world.  The denomination will be supported and be faithful if we live with grateful hearts, trusting the generosity of God who makes all blessings flow.

O Generous God, whose grace and mercy we behold in the outstretched arms of Jesus on Good Friday's cross.   We see how you love all and call us to serve all with glad and generous hearts.  Receive my gift, multiply it and merge it with those of others, and use them all to magnify your hope for justice in the world.  Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

You Can Do This Hard Thing




I often imagine the upper room where Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples for one last time.  It was there in the midst of the supper that he announced that one of his closest friends would soon betray him.  The ultimate betrayal was at hand. This was the eve of an ending.   It was there in the upper room, amid the ancient ritual, that he instituted the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  It was the farewell worship.  And the service ended with a hymn:  "And when they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."  (Matthew 26:30, NRSV).  If your eyes blur or you rush too fast through the text, you might miss it. 

And when they had sung a hymn, . . . .  I have often wondered:  So, what was that hymn?  What were the lyrics that they sang and shared as the end came?  Would the song echo in Jesus' soul as he faced the cross?  Would it inspire him to be faithful rather than fearful?  Would it sustain him as death drew near?

Well, I think I may have finally heard the song.  It's not in my hymnal, but it is in the music of Carrie Newcomer, who sings "You Can Do This Hard Thing."  I share that song in this post, because I need courage to be faithful to my calling.  All disciples need courage today to follow where Jesus sends them.  We need courage to be the Church when there is so much anger and conflict among us, around us, and within us.  We need courage to do the hard thing--to face into our own endings, to carry our own cross in hope of life--glorious, new, and abundant life.  We need courage to embrace the future and to discover that joy dwells there within us..

My prayers are with friends in nursing homes, those enduring treatments in hope of healing, those retiring from a lifetime of ministry, and those leaving home for the first time or the last time.  I think of the little children who face an uncertain future around the world and right here at home.  I imagine those seated on the front pews at funerals--on the mourner's bench.  I pray that they will all have a song, a hymn that reminds them to be hopeful and alive.

So, I share this song with you, my friends.  May it touch your hearts and transform your fears as you face into the trials and transitions of your own life.  Let us sing and serve with courage and hope and joy.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, be with you now . . . and always.





Monday, June 19, 2017

The View from the Madison Porch



Over the weekend, the Board of Directors of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ met at Horton Center, our Conference's summer camp.  As I sat on the Madison Porch early on Saturday morning, fog obscured the view.  Then suddenly, I caught this glimpse of Mount Madison.  The fog descended and the light broke through--albeit briefly.  Just seconds after this picture was taken, the mountain was again shrouded in grayness.  It was there, but gone from my sight.

Somehow, this picture has become a metaphor for my life in these days.  I catch glimpses of God's grace, but there is much that I can only know by faith.  I trust that God is there even when tragedy and trouble block the view.  I trust that God is there when I cannot see the future with clarity.  I trust that God will never leave me nor forsake me. 

In the afternoon, at our closing worship on the Madison Porch, I shared the words of Psalm 121:  "I lift my eyes to the hills.   From whence does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."  God, who creates forests and fog and mountains . . . and you and me, is our keeper.  God is our helper when we feel helpless.  God is our hope when we feel hopeless.

And, I made a move from the hills of Psalm 121 to Matthew 28:16-20--to a mountain in Galilee--where disciples were directed to go by the Risen Lord.  On that mountain in Galilee, they met him and worshipped him.  Some saw him clearly; others experienced him through the fog of doubt.  And in the end, after commissioning them, he promised them his presence:  "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

As is our custom when the Board meets, we concluded with Holy Communion, proclaiming the Lord's death and resurrection.  We beheld him in broken bread and a cup of wine.  We felt his presence and were empowered for the journey ahead of us.  By then the sun was shining and the day was hot.  Mount Madison was clearly visible.  No fog anywhere, just a few floating clouds in the sky.

So, my friends, I take great consolation and courage in the assurance that the Risen One is with us always.  We are not left to our own resources.  We have a helper and a keeper.  Our lives are secure even when the future is uncertain and the view is obscured by the fog of fear and doubt.  May Jesus be near you today and in all the days yet to come.  May Jesus give you strength when you leave the table and move into the troubles of the world.  He is with you always . . . to the end . . . and beyond.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Let Us Be the Church

I recently read "Pentecost's Costly Gift" in the current issue of Journal for Preachers.  The article's author, Thomas W. Currie of Austin Theological Seminary, offers a deeper understanding of the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2. 

In the United Church of Christ, we have come to place the accent on the universality of the gospel--how the Spirit's coming breaks through the barriers of language and nationality.  Currie writes, "When interpreted in this way, Pentecost becomes merely a reaffirmation of our own commitment to tolerance and perhaps even an expression of a kind of limitless Christianity that believes in little more than its own open-mindedness."  

He claims that Acts 2, when taken in its entirety, offers an understanding of what a Pentecostal church that is shaped by the Spirit of the Risen Christ might look like today:

1)  It is not about being a utopian community.  "The church's life is not self-formed or an infinitely plastic thing but a received gift that brings with it a certain disposition, a posture of dependence, a sense of its own strangeness, even holiness.  This sense has a shape and a name.  It is called discipleship."  We are in the church not as privileged members but as followers of the crucified Christ.  We are Christ's disciples.

2)  Unity is the chief characteristic of this church.  "To bear witness to the Pentecostal nature of the church is, amidst all our brokenness, to confess that oneness that is ours in Christ and to pray that his Spirit would trouble our hearts and make us deeply ashamed of and uncomfortable with our disunity."

3)  This church is aware that it has limits.  The church is enlivened by the gift of the Spirit of its Risen Lord.  It is not self-made.  We are the Body of Christ in this time and in this space.  We are finite and limited.  "The gift is not in some vague spirituality that is only too happy to define itself, bur rather it is the concrete form of Christ's body in the world.  This gift limits our efforts to construct our own identity, . . . .  We receive our identity through the waters the Spirit bathes us in Christ."

4)  The church is together because of the Spirit of Christ shapes us to witness to those powers and principalities that claim to be in charge.  It is in the act of eating together that the church is formed.  Acts 2 speaks more about eating than doing.  The church's true identity and purpose is not in the idolatrous pursuit of a cause. "It is the life together that is formed and sustained by this eucharistic sustenance that gives shape to the church and enables it to challenge the culture at its roots."

5)  The church is not a capitalistic enterprise.  This church makes a conscious decision to reject consumerism.  It lives a holy life that makes it distinct and able to challenge the values of the culture.  "The idolatry of success, the blessings of prosperity, whether economic or political, the righteousness blindness toward the wretched of the earth, all of these are efforts to create a church without limits, to fashion something much more in our own image, a 'successful' church."

6)  The church is a place of joyThe church rejoices in the gospel.  It celebrates that resurrection is its reality.  "Joy is the gift of the Spirit that knows Easter is true.  Joy is the echoing response of those who have heard this word and eaten this bread and who refuse to look back.  Joy is the soil in which hope grows."

As I think of the local churches where my faith has been formed and where I have served as Pastor and Teacher, I have seen glimpses of what Currie calls the Pentecostal church   May we receive the church as God's gift.  May we be united at the font and the table.  May we live with values that are grounded in the gospel rather than the culture around us.  And, above all, may we be God's people in a place of great joy. 

Yes, let us "Be the Church!"