Spiritual Belonging


The past two weeks my biorhythms have experienced two dramatic high points.  The sighting of the eagle and its meaning making for me was in itself awesome.  Then on top of that, the discovery of the Worshiping Oak, the first place anyone worshiped as a Christian in Haverhill only yards away from where I will be living.    These two experiences, one random and the other a quest, are exciting affirmations that lead me  to believe God’s got a plan and a purpose and is calling you and I to form a  new reemerging Christian community.

This past week I preached at Belleville Congregational Church in Newburyport.  The text was from the book of Acts chapter 17.  Where Paul preaches a sermon in the street, in front of a alter to the “Unknown God” in Athens. You see the Athenians where spiritual seekers and they were highly fearful and superstitious.  So this altar was a “ just in case we missed a God” alter.  They were so afraid that if they missed one god that god would take vengeance on them.   Paul declares, “I know this God!” and  people flocked to listen.  He said, “This is the God, who created all things and was higher than any of the other gods. This God is no stone statue. This God is a living Stone!  This God is Love!  This Love was crucified and rose again!  Paul even quoted two Greek poets. The first Epimenides, a Greek poet from Crete who wrote, “In him we live and move and have our being,”. Then Aratus from Cilician who stated, “We too are God’s children,”.

Like the Athenians we all seek to find the answer to three questions.

  1. “Why is there death?
  2. Is there a God who cares?
  3. What must I do to have a happy life?”

Paul understood and he had compassion and a desire to lift them up and out of fear and superstition which these questions invoke, and move them away from making sacrifices in order to earn God’s favor.  Paul’s invitation was a foreign concept for these folks. He wanted them to envision themselves as “living and moving and having their being” enveloped in God Love and Grace through Jesus Christ.

Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God. He is God and He is human.  We believe that Jesus rose again because LOVE is God and LOVE could not be extinguished.  At that alter Paul revealed the nature of the Unknown God, the Unknown Living Stone. Who seeks to be in a relationship with us, who makes us aware we are Children of God who live and move and have our being.  No longing afraid of death, no longer unaware of God’s love, free to discover a peace that surpassed understanding and a joy that flows from a deep sense of belonging to God and others.

Many of us started life baptized whether Catholic or Protestant. Many of us felt like we did not belong in the churches we were first a part of. Nor did the people make us feel welcome. We left those places but still hungered for God.  So we went elsewhere.   Some of us were able to satisfy some of this spiritual hunger through Yoga or practicing Reiki, and still others Buddhism. Some of us attended any number of Christian based churches and still felt something was missing. Eventually we moved on and now don’t do anything.  I am convinced God’s got a plan and a purpose and has led you and I here to become part of this reemerging Christian community.

I want to invite you to share your faith journey in our comments section and let us know where your quest for spiritual satisfaction has taken you?



The Worshiping Oak

ImageFirst Congregational Church Haverhill has had a continuous, systematic narrative that can be traced back to a tree next to the Merrimack River and a man named John Ward.  I stumbled across this information while researching the University of Massachusetts archives on the early history of Haverhill. The reason why this became important was because I was moving to John Ward Ave and was told he had founded the city of Haverhill.   As I continued to read I discovered not only had he founded the city, he was ordained its first minister.  A replica of his house is only yards away from where I will soon live.  I felt like an archeologist and had discovered something lost and forgotten. That was now taking on new meaning!

I read that on October 24th 1642 John Ward was ordained and upon his ordination he was given 16 acres of land, one cow two, pigs a dozen chickens, six cords of wood that would be cut and stacked at his door, 400 shillings a year, and a portion of the crops grown by the people would be shared with him. In dollars and cents today, 16 acres of prime real estate alone would be in the millions.  When I thought about it I realized I would be l living somewhere on those same 16 acres! Another fact to this story is that there were only five houses for rent in the city of Haverhill when we began making plans and only one person called back. This house sits on those 16 acres and we move in a few weeks! I couldn’t help wondering what God was doing. As fascinating as this is, there was even more.  More than once the narrative mentioned the “Worshiping Oak”.  It was the place where the town’s people had its first worship services. This lasted about two years until the town had grown big enough to build a building.  

I discovered in my research that the Worshiping Oak still exists so I set out to find it.  It really wasn’t hard to find. It is on the site of the Buttonwoods museum and the John Ward house. I went there two days ago.   I felt a deep connection! That feeling when ones awareness is so acute your senses seem to pierce the veil.   There it was.  I walked toward  the great Oak and imagined it as an ancient sentinel present for over 350 years.  I imagined those first settlers gathering there under its branches.  I stood beside the tree and watched the Merrimack meander toward the ocean. Then I stood in front of the tree facing the grassy knoll. I imagined that John Ward had once stood in the very spot I now stood. I wondered what sermons he preached. What vision did he hold for the towns future. Had he prayed about posterity and about legacy?  This was “The” place it all began. This tree shaded the first worshipers and now centuries later looked down on me, a new kind of Pastor about to lead a reemerging Christian Community that can trace its roots back to this very patch of earth!.  In that moment, the Phoenix Rising UCC narrative joined itself with its ancestors.  From this very spot, figuratively resurfacing, a sapling, taking nourishment from the tap root of the Worshiping Oak.   So folks, who will join me at the “Worshiping Oak”[date to be announced] to dedicate and celebrate the history of First Congregational Church and its new child Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ, come and make a memory with us and experience the awe and wonder of the moment? God is still speaking!

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12




In the Midst of New Dimensions

ImageI had lunch with my friend Judy at the Roma Restaurant in Haverhill MA on Monday.  It was a perfect spring day so we decided to sit out on the patio overlooking the Merrimack River. Watching the rivers constant flow towards the ocean,  I spotted a large bird gliding on the updrafts towards us.  Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing?  It was a bald eagle.

The eagle is very symbolic to me.   Not a lot of people know this about me but I spent over 10 years of my life in a wheelchair.  Over those ten years I often sang the words from Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall…run….and not grow weary, they shall…walk and not grow faint…’ “Teach me Lord to wait”.   In the early 1990’s my mother was pushing me in my wheelchair at the mall.  We were strolling by the window of the Hallmark store and there was a display of eagles and the verse from Isaiah.  I told her why I loved this verse because I  wanted to believe I would walk again.

In 1996  I began the journey towards that goal.  It would take me 8 years to walk on my own without aid. That year I had double knee replacement surgery and spent 4 months in the rehab hospital.  One day the doctors came to tell me the news that I had progressed as far as  possible. “NO! That can’t be! I can’t walk yet!” I said.  My primary doctor said, “We are not sure what your prognosis is going to be but we assure you, you will never suffer the pain you suffered before the surgery.”  I was devastated. That was a Friday.

At 5:30 am  that Sunday morning, the radio was softly playing at the nurse’s station. I could hear Bette Midler sing “Wind beneath My Wings” playing. It also happened to be Saint Patrick’s Day. On the wall were posters and on my side table figurines, all of eagles.   One of the posters was an eagle in full flight with one word: Soar! In that very moment something came over me and I knew that I knew I was going to walk.   That Monday the therapist came and I told her what happened and said I need to try. Not with a walker but with crutches, I fully believed God was in this with me.  That afternoon with all eyes on me, I walked! I walked about 60 feet then collapsed.  My journey toward walking coincided with my sense that God had a plan for me in full time ministry.

Sitting there on that patio with Judy discussing all the exciting possibilities of Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ  and seeing that eagle  and remembering my own reemerging ability to walk again, I saw a connection that moved me.    I felt that feeling you feel when you come home from a long journey.

The word soar means to rise!  Another verse of scripture, Roman’s 10:17 says, Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ. !  I am one person who made a choice to sing a scripture song and faith rose up in me.  This made me aware of God’s desire to care and provide for me and ultimately the experience of healing.  The reemerging Christian community of Phoenix Rising UCC will be a place that nurtures this kind of faith where the soul will soar… will rise!    So my friends, do you yearn for a genuine, authentic relationship with God?  Do you long for a place of belonging where faith comes alive to new possibilities?   If your answer is yes, my prayer is that the Lord of all creation will meet you where you are!  Get ready to witness what God has in store for you!


In the Midst of New Dimensions
Words and Music by Julian Rush CCLI #958649.

verse one
In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways.
Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways.

God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar.
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more

verse three

We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young,
Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.

God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar.
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more

Verse four
Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
May your blazing phoenix spirit, resurrect the church again.

God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar.
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more

Following the Path of Jesus is a new way of living


The books in the New Testament were a radically new way of following God than from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament people lived by the law with black and white consequences.  In the New Testament people live by the great commandment: to love God with all your heart… your neighbor as yourself.   When we do this we offer grace, forgiveness and inclusion.  The Old Testament says: If your child disobeys you take them out and publically stone them to death;  or it is an abomination to eat shell fish; or mix two kinds of cloth this was the law. Today we look at these laws in the light of the Good News of Christ.  Thank God! I wouldn’t have survived my adolecent years and I do just love Shrimp!!!  Jesus not only paid the ultimate sacrifice in his death, He paved the way, towards the truth and the life so that we can come into the reality of our belonging and discover what being in relationship with God is truly all about.   The author to second Corinthians 3:6 said it this way, “ The letter of the law kills but the spirit gives life and meaning.” 

Question:  When God looks at us we are not seen as we are but as we shall be. How do you do you understand yourself in the eyes of God?

Love’s Greatest Desire

ImageThis week we walk with Jesus and meet the Samaritan women at the well. (John 4)  Jesus reveals God’s greatest desire is to demonstrate that all people are valuable to God even those deemed as outcast and enemy. His conversations with the women cause her to experience an awakening.  John O’Donohue in his book AnamCara: a Book of Celtic Wisdoms says, “Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”  Love’s greatest desire is to awaken us: to help us confront our true selves: to unveil Grace in order for us to see ourselves through LOVE’s lens. God knows, the deepest desires of the heart is to seek loved and fulfillment.   This is the Good news!  Once blind and now seeing, once lost and now fitting in!  Once tasting, seeing and hearing, who can stop talking about it?