LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE

The words of Matthew 5:16 resonate in the community of Saginaw Michigan as a new 501C3 organization has been established, SAGINAW COLLABORATIVE INC., located in the facilities in Saginaw where the former Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church worshipped since 1867—dissolving the end of 2018.

It has long been a dream of mine to keep the mission of this congregation alive in a distressed neighborhood well beyond the time in God’s plan that can no longer sustain a worshipping congregation in this inner-city location. The Presbytery of Lake Huron shares in this dream in providing a mission-center in this east side Saginaw neighborhood by leasing this property to this newly formed organization.

While I can only watch the development of this organization from our California home, over 2000 miles away, I celebrate the Presbyterian Church maintaining a vital presence in this community east of the Saginaw River. Truly, God’s light will continue to shine for the people in this neighborhood through this new organization.

Over five years ago, in preparation for my retirement, I had a few things to say on this topic in a sermon (September 22, 2013), published in a small book, Personal Favorites, Sermons of Rev. Tom Cundiff, February 24, 2016.   WWW.AMAZON.COM

Discussing the church mission statement: “This is easily a mission statement that encompasses both of the Matthewian texts (Matthew 25: 31-36) and what has become, over the years, the foundation in what we have been able to nurture collaboratively in relationships with our neighbors within the community around the church and he larger metropolitan city of Saginaw.”

“With what God has entrusted our care, I/we have tried to be faithful to this mission. It seems, from my perspective, that the identity of this church in linked intrinsically to this location in this neighborhood. This church has nurtured healthy collaborative style of doing ministry that has made it possible to use this building – this building being one of our greatest assets – to meet the needs of children in this community.” Pg 44-45 This building, now in the hands of the Presbytery of Lake Huron, is acting in a positive way on this dream of a congregation.

For more information on the SAGINAW COLLABORATIVE INC:

Statement of Purpose: To provide a downtown community enrichment center to be used by various organizations to offer safe educational, recreational, and social services for Saginaw residents of all ages.   http://saginawcollaborative.saginawcollaborative.org/2018/10/on-june-27-208-warren-ave.html

History: Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church (WAPC) has served Saginaw for over 150 years. Over the years the church has served as a food bank, soup kitchen, clothing bank, and youth center. It’s over 20,000 square feet are comprised of classrooms, offices, a sanctuary, gymnasium, stage, meeting rooms, and kitchens.

As membership and resources dwindled one by one community services were relocated. The Congregation can no longer support the upkeep of the building and will discontinue worship services on November 25, 2018.

People of faith, “Let your light shine” for the children in this Saginaw, Michigan community.  Let this be our prayer.

Rev. Tom Cundiff
Retired

Beyond the Tears

The Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan will gather to worship for the last time at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 25th–612 Millard St., Downtown Saginaw.  While I will not be physically present for this service, my heart will be in this worship service in thanking God for the gift of 151 years of service in the Saginaw community.

Most of my career as a Pastor was devoted to serving this congregation with ‘energy, intelligence, imagination and love.’ More than anything else I will remember our striving to glorify God as stewards of the abundance of resources God entrusted our care.

I will never forget the special experiences we spent together in worship or on retreats. Lunch Bunch excursions and fellowship dinners will always be remembered. Closest to my heart will be the baptisms, weddings and funerals—and sacred moments when we would join together in conversation and prayer.

The cornerstone of church ministry has been in caring for the children and youth in the community. I understand there is a commitment to use the church building to continue this work in serving the community.

All in all, may we all give glory to God for 151 years of living as servants of the living Christ. May God continue to bless all those who were touched by the love of God though the ministries of this Saginaw Church.

Christ lives on the Corner of Warren Avenue and Millard Streets in Saginaw

Receiving the final newsletter from the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw almost brought me to tears. The end! This church is closing. The grief is real.

Then I read an article about the future use of the church building. Christ lives! The church continues to thrive!
WHAT A BLESSING! The hands and feet and heart of Christ will continue serving the “underserved” part of the city of Saginaw. God willing, all the pieces of the complicated puzzle will come together for the newly formed downtown community enrichment center formally called “Saginaw Collaborative, Inc.”.

While the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church has formally closed, the living Christ continues to live and walk with the people in the community—the faith and vision of members of the church along with the Presbytery of Lake Huron.   I celebrate receiving this news…..and the hard work of members of the congregation and Presbytery of Lake Huron have not gone unnoticed.

This is the newsletter article I received on November 10th.

BUILDING UPDATE

A community based organization has been established “for the provision of a downtown community enrichment center to be used by various organizations to offer safe educational, recreational, and social services for Saginaw residents of all ages.” The group has been incorporated under the name of “Saginaw Collaborative, Inc.” By-laws have been approved, a Board of Directors and officers have been elected, and an application for tax-exempt status has been filed with the IRS. Rev. Dr. Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter, as an ex-officio board member in an advisor capacity.
Women of Colors will continue as a tenant, with intent to expand their scope of services. In addition three additional organizations serving the youth and needy of Saginaw have committed to occupy space with several other organizations in discussion with the Collaborative for space, as well.
Session has approved the soliciting of bids from architectural firms to inspect and design the necessary structural and engineering renovations to accommodate the buildings new usage. Every consideration is being given to continuing Warren Avenue’s legacy of ministry to a traditionally underserved segment of the Saginaw community. The Collaborative has begun seeking funding from various local agencies to commission the strategic and fund development plans necessary to implement this exciting, yet daunting, project. Please pray for the projects’ success.

JOURNAL: September 11, 2011 / September 11, 2018

 

What were you doing when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001?

As for me, I was listening to the news in my car on the way to the church when the first plane flew into the first tower.   I had a scheduled meeting with Avis, the church administrative secretary, to work on the church budget. I didn’t stop all that I was doing to keep up with the news.  Was I in denial?  Were my priorities screwed up?  At that point I’m pretty sure I didn’t comprehend the gravity of this situation.

I went ahead with the business of the day—numb—until the phone rang.  Church member, Kevin, called to ask me about my response to this situation.  What was the church going to do?  This tragedy was sinking into my mind/soul!  I have no idea how I was going to respond.  All I know for sure:  Kevin, along with numerous others, were calling upon the church for what the church does best–the offering of pastoral support.  Honestly, all we could do at this time was listen and hear and grieve together the loss we were experiencing as a nation.

Kevin would soon travel to New York as a trained Red Cross volunteer to provide logistical support for the thousands who responded to this national crisis.  The church would join with neighboring congregations in worship and prayer.  Seventeen years later, we continue to grieve and search for ways we can respond to this horrific episode in our past.

What were you doing on September 11, 2001? What are we doing now, personally and as a church and nation, to keep America safe?

CAN A PROGRESSIVE ALSO BE AN EVANGELICAL?

What part of me and my identity as a Christian is evangelical?   And Progressive? The Greek verb Jesus uses is evangel from which the word evangelism is derived.    I am called to preach the good news as an evangelical.  I am also called to be an advocate for that which I preach.  More than words, I am called to live the gospel.  As a Presbyterian (reformed) Church pastor, I believe the gospel motivates our living what we believe.  This makes me a progressive.  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?

While I see myself as a progressive evangelical, I can in no way align myself with all evangelicals….especially the conservative right.

DIGGING DEEPER:  I have invested over forty years preaching the “good news” of the Gospel.   I continue to believe God’s ancient, unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ—words of scripture that speak to and live in the lives of people with hearts open to hear what ancient scriptures say.  I search for what Christ says to me within the context I now live!  As an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, I continue to open my mind and heart to what inspired words of scripture can teach me.

As a preacher and pastor, I have always believed myself to be a quiet progressive—if that is possible.  Maybe it’s more accurate to call myself an introvert progressive.  I like the image used by a colleague—couch progressive.  Perhaps I am a covert, couch progressive who tries not to wear ‘progressive’ as a badge?   As a couch, covert progressive I try not letting my personal views interfere with my being an effective minister.

Scripture has long informed who I am and what I preach grounded in this text:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free.  Luke 4:18  (also Isaiah 61)

Doesn’t this sound progressive?  And Evangelical?  While I rarely (if ever) use this term “evangelical” to identify myself as a Christian, I have found myself aligned with much of what I believe true evangelicals represent.  Back to the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?  

Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners (www.sojo.net) has this to say:

What it means to be ‘evangelical’ is changing — it’s reverting back to its original meaning.

The new evangelical statement attempts to clarify who evangelicals are and how they should be defined: not as a people beholden to any political party, but as a people who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that always seeks to lift up those on the margins of society — not deport them, or scam them, or attack their professionalism because of their ethnicity or gender. These evangelicals are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. They are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians from a wide range of denominational and political backgrounds.  (www.Sojo.net, March 6, 2016, ‘Evangelicals:’  You Keep using that Word.)

WHAT I BELIEVE:

Now for these thoughts in an attempt to answer the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?    Yes, if one lives his or her life grounded / centered in the love of God.   God is more than words or ideas found in the pages of ancient scripture.  Love binds us together and builds us up. Love lives in and between us relationally and in our experiences.  We learn about this love of God through many people, past and present, including a famous man believed by Christians to be Lord and Savior—Jesus  Christ.  I  believe Christ lives in and between us sharing with us the love of God that binds us together and builds us up.  More at another time on this subject of the ‘living Christ’.

This is why I created this blog.   God lives in and between us.  Love exists in and between us.  Love connects us.  Love builds us up.  WE ARE BOUND AND NURTURED IN GOD’S LOVE!

The scripture that teaches us this concept informs who I am as an evangelical and progressive:

Hear O Israel…. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  …. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.  Mark 12:29ff

We cannot separate what we know of God from how we live with God!

It is from my perspective,  perhaps as both an evangelical progressive, that I can preach the good news to the poor;  proclaiming release to captives living in a broken world and recovery of sight/vision to those who are blinded by brokenness and sin.

Yes, I believe I can be both an evangelical and progressive — if I work at both!  If I let God’s love speak and live through me.

Does this make sense?

 

TOOLS IN ADDRESSING CONFLICT

This past few weeks I have learned or heard about some minor conflicts between neighbors in the community where I live.  It has become way too easy to voice grievances using Social Media Networks.  Others have been more formal in writing their complaints.  While not a desired result, personal feelings have been hurt.

While this has only happened with a small number of people in the community where I live, I have decided to take a few minutes to write on the topic of “Addressing Conflict”.   Some basic, common sense guidelines:

1.  Direct Communication!  Two-way dialogue with those whom we disagree is the first and most desired first step in resolving conflicts.  This is preferably done face-to-face.       

 2.  Be sensitive to the reality that there will differing opinions when it comes to issues and conflicts.  The more diverse the community, more likely opinions will exist.

 3.  As neighbors, we need to listen and hear what others are saying—especially those with whom we may disagree.   Use of hateful or demeaning rhetoric will never be helpful in resolving conflicts.  

 4.  As leaders in the community, we need to be open to the possibility of adapting or changing ones viewpoint or opinion.  We must also be open to apologizing when it is discovered we have been wrong.     

 5.  We need to be open to the idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in avoiding the escalation of a conflict.  

There is a wonderful document published by the Presbyterian Church Mission Agency titled, “Seeking to be Faithful Together”.  Persons who wish to explore the subject of managing disagreements may wish to look at this link.  This PDF document is free.

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/seeking-be-faithful-guidelines-presbyterians-times/

When it comes to living in harmony in a community—whether it be a neighborhood or church or some other type of business or organization, a typical goal is the uplifting of people and their relationships with others.  To this end, I hope this blog will help in underscoring the need to resolve conflicts in applying the “Golden Rule”:   “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you!” Luke 6: 31  NIV (New International Version)   “Face-to-face” conversation is the best tool we have in resolving conflict.

The Magical World of Retirement

Jack Stotts, former President of Austin Theological Seminary, said upon his retirement:

“My initial conclusion about retirement is that it is a magical world.  Now each month checks appear magically in our bank account, courtesy of wire transfers.  The economic threat has been tamed, at least for now.  In this magical time of retirement, the burden of “dressing up” for work every day is whisked away.  I can select my own uniform.  Now I can ask, “What do I want to do?” rather than, “What do I have to do for the seminary today?  The boundaries of my little world, small though it was, have collapsed.  The terrain has shifted.  I am free to erect different boundaries, to rearrange the landscape of my life.  And that is just the problem.  For in retirement I not only can but must reorder my life.  In that sense the magical world of retirement is also threatening.”

The question I continue to ask myself is how to reorder my life now that my wife and I have made the decision to move almost 3000 miles to California.   Within a new Presbytery in a location where there are few Presbyterian churches (Redwoods Presbytery), how will I live out my “Call” as a Teaching Elder / Minister of Word and Sacrament?

Three things I affirm with conviction in approaching this challenge of reordering my life as a pastor:

I will never stop serving God.

Jesus never retires.

The church, the living and vibrant body of Christ, doesn’t retire!

Returning to Jack Stotts for some insights in living in this world of retirement, this is an insightful article on retirement found at this link:

http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-2/Religion-Online.org%20Books/Stotts%2c%20Jack%20L-Aging%20Well-%20Theological%20Reflections%20on%20the%20Ca.pdf

Jack Stotts says,

 “Retirement is not a condition of our self-hood; it is a context for our selfhood.  We must adapt, even as we have adapted to new contexts when we have moved from one physical location to another.  The late Dr. Joseph Haroutunian, professor of theology at McCormick Theological Seminary and later at the University of Chicago, dropped this pearl in class one day:  ‘Our bodies precede our spirits and our spirits must catch up with our bodies,’  referring to those who move geographically from one place to another.  We find ourselves having to grow into a new culture as well as into a new house. Those of us who have moved many times can agree that it takes our emotions and our spirits longer to feel at home than it does n our bodies.”

Traveling over 3000 miles to a new home in California near where our daughter lives, my first task “called to ministry” will be to move and adjust to living in a new context and culture closer to members of our family.  I have also done some initial networking by emailing Presbytery officers where I will be living to establish some new contacts/relationships.  Nancy and I will be look for a new church home.  As this journey continues, I hope to keep up with pulling together some of my thoughts for this blog.  These are first steps, ‘baby steps’ as I travel into this magical world of retirement.