We’ve been preparing for my annual showing of Nativities (doing lots of research, working with local churches and organizations, advertising, etc.) and it’s become clearer to me this year than in anytime past that few people on the West Coast of the United States know of the rich tradition of collecting/display Crèche art.
Many people think I am the only “crazy” person out there collecting. I’m not. Many people (on the west coast) think my collection is HUGE – compared to other collections, it’s relatively small. One woman has over 3,500 sets and doesn’t even hold an event to show them! Many don’t know how two West Coast collectors (one in Bellingham, WA and the other is Santa Clara, CA) donated their collection to one of the largest (if not THE largest collections in the United States!) Please visit Dayton University and stop by the Library to see their rotating collection. It’s very impressive.
Crèche art collecting and appreciation is alive and well, but not so much here on the West Coast. I’d like to change that.
We’ll host 2 Displays this year.
Show #1: Queen Anne Christian Church, 1316 3rd Ave West, Seattle: 200 sets displayed, from November 29-December 2. Showings from 10-7 p.m. each evening and Sunday from 1-7 p.m.
Display #2 Northwood Christian Church, Springfield, Oregon, 10am-8 p.m. December 17-20. Over 600 sets displayed.
Look forward to seeing you.
Interim Pastor Neil W. Allen
On October 9th, a federal judge in Wisconsin has struck down the housing allowance for ministers citing it as unconstitutional and giving preference to religious institutions.
As you read this, you might be thinking I would vehemently oppose this measure, as it affects me directly, but I’m not in vehement opposition. Yes, it would be a major tax hit on me, and yes, it would dramatically impact the ability of pastors to do their job, and even open the doorway to taxing the buildings our churches use for worship, but it would also free up some things.
First, it would free clergy up to speak politically in the pulpit allowing them to endorse candidates. This won’t please all the churches or clergy serving currently, and it may make them more contentious and less friendly environments for people of opposing views to sit together. However, it may also free up clergy to speak directly to issues they feel burning in their hearts. The currently law, in some ways, prevents clergy from exerting undo pressure on the election process, but it was written in a day and time when religious institutions were more able to sway the general process.
You may not know it, but clergy are not allowed to endorse one candidate over another while in their religious institutions. However, they can endorse candidates when not in the pulpit or church institutions provided they state they are making the endorsement from their personal perspective and not from their 501(c) (3) institution affiliation.
Furthermore, as we in the Christian Church share our 501(c) (3) status, anytime one minister threatens the status, we all are subject to scrutiny from the Federal government. While this hasn’t seen major challenges in the past, it is likely it will be one of the next shocking developments to come. In summary, as more and more of our clergy make bold statements on the current charged political climate, it seems like only a matter of time before some of those cases make national headlines.
A second thing a change in the tax exemption would do is to force churches to either give up their parsonages, church buildings, and hopefully pay pastor’s a living wage, allow them to contribute to the tax burden that is shifted to the general population and change dramatically how the church uses their buildings. It could be argued that paying taxes on our church buildings would force churches to be more invested in their communities, and even be considered reasonable, as we expect fire and police help when our buildings and people are under assault. I merely ask, “Shouldn’t we be paying our fair share?”
One of my dear friends was living in a parsonage that was in such terrible condition it caught fire resulting in loss of life. If that congregation had to pay taxes on that property, it probably would have tipped the scales and forced them to sell that old house. I’m not suggesting the shift in responsibility would automatically upgrade the pastor’s living conditions, indeed, it may do the exact opposite, but it would absolutely force churches to take a more serious look at their owned properties and shift the burden of housing to the clergy themselves. Too many church building sit empty during the week. Only when the churches face financial crisis do they take serious steps to use their building as a resource. This tax shift may force drastic action from churches sitting on their assets. It may light a fire under them to act and cause churches to open in ways they never opened.
So, you may think I’m in favor of the tax shift – No - I’m not really all that excited to see this change. Some churches may use their unrestricted political position to dramatically influence elections. Other churches would simply close and cause a greater decline in the number of churches closing each year. The decline is steep enough! I am simply suggesting that a change will come eventually. I am also saying, “It won’t be the end of the world.”
Pastor Neil Allen
Several ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada are collaborating to come alongside our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico who have endured the ravages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Given our close relationship with the Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) in Puerto Rico, Week of Compassion has been coordinating with various partners to provide relief. We are still waiting for assessments to take place, a process made particularly difficult because communication and power are down and will not be back up for months.
Within the last several weeks, Week of Compassion have provided over $100,000 for emergency needs just to the Caribbean, and over $300,000 to communities impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. And we are just getting started. This is great news. Thank you for your generosity, which makes this possible.
In the midst of extreme need, Rev. Miguel Morales, the General Minister of the Discípulos de Cristo in Puerto Rico explains, "The situation is getting harder every day. We are low on water. We have to wait in long lines to get gas. Our resources are running out."
The hurricanes that affected Puerto Rico will call for the church to respond for the long term. In Puerto Rico, the entire island is affected - that's 3.5 million people! Fatalities are many, and growing. Loved ones are missing, and families cannot connect with them because cell phone signals are unavailable in most places on the island. Gasoline is already being rationed, limiting long-distance travel.
And this is just the start of the needed response. The situation is dire and is a humanitarian crisis. We are responding, and will continue to help in the months ahead.
We are deeply thankful for the support received so far. However, based on initial assessments, much more will be required as we continue to comprehend the extent of the overall damage. Currently, we have only received about a half of the donations needed to fully respond. When you consider a year end gift, I encourage you to give now - don't wait until December 31 - and designate it for Hurricane Relief so we can rebuild these communities for the long term. Remember, 100% of your designated gifts will go towards rebuilding and reestablishing many of these communities.
For a church, "acts of God" is not only a pseudonym for natural disaster. Acting in faith, we believe that acts of compassion and solidarity are also "acts of God." God is calling us to act... now! God is calling us to act in Christ's name, now! Your compassionate support is needed to ensure that hope will overcome despair and the human community thrives.
Will you join me and stand compassionately with these communities by giving a designated gift to Week of Compassion?
Update on Harvey and Irma:
Week of Compassion partners are assessing the extensive damage in Cuba. We have set aside funds to support the coming appeal, once response plans are in place.
Power outages and flooding continue in Florida and along the southeast coast. Week of Compassion is working with regional leadership to assess the effects of Irma on our Disciples congregations. Reports of roof damage and flooding at homes and church buildings have already begun, and we anticipate many more as people are able to return from evacuation locations. Congregations across Florida and the southeast continue to offer shelter and assistance to their communities, with support from regional leadership.
Week of Compassion has an ongoing relationship with the Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster, where we are supporting long-term recovery from Hurricane Matthew. We have reached out to offer additional assistance for additional efforts responding to Irma.
In the last week, Week of Compassion has distributed over $100,000 in solidarity grants to households and churches through the Coastal Plains Area and Southwest Region. Additionally, our staff has provided information and pastoral support to Disciples congregations making significant impact in their local areas. Our congregations span the impact zone--from Corpus Christi, Aransas Pass, and Victoria in the west, to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange in the east; from Galveston and Texas City in the south, to Conroe and Kingwood in the north. Disciples have distributed more than 1000 clean up buckets and have helped muck out dozens of houses. Congregations have collected school supplies, hosted meals, and offered prayer for and with their neighbors.
Together with Disciples Volunteering and local and regional leaders, Week of Compassion is planning for long-term recovery support and volunteer opportunities.
Hospitality - Reflection on a recent visit to Indonesia
Last month, a group of nine Disciples seminarians and recently ordained clergy participated in an immersion experience with Week of Compassion partners in Indonesia. Rev. Miriam Gentle of the Capital Region offered this reflection as part of a recent sermon.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus is our example for what welcoming the stranger means.Jesus entered humanity and became human. In the Incarnation, Jesus humbled himself, becoming vulnerable.
Even as he humbled himself, he invited others into a relational experience; strangers, Samaritans, women, tax collectors. He welcomed little children, who had no status in society, and placed them on his lap and proclaimed that to them belonged the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16)
Jesus even broke bread with the person who would eventually betray him.
God's welcome was extended to all.As scripture shows us, hospitality is about giving and receiving. It's about relationships and mutuality. Mutuality means that we need to welcome others, but we also need to be humble and vulnerable enough to allow others to welcome us.
I experienced a bit of this mutuality in my recent visit to Indonesia. I traveled with a group of seminarians and newly ordained clergy. We weren't there to do mission work, dig wells, or build schools. Our task was simply to observe the work that was being done by Week of Compassion, the Disciples' relief, refugee and sustainable-development mission fund, partnering with Church World Service working with food insecurity and disaster risk management.
As our group of ten traveled to remote villages, I felt like those early apostles, sent out two by two, traveling light, carrying God's love in our hearts, being welcomed by strangers.
On the island of West Timor, we traveled for hours up a winding mountain road. Breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean on one side. We drove until the cars could no longer travel up the mountain. Then we walked up a rocky hill. A bit winded and weary, I came upon a humble cement block building nestled among the trees. In contrast to the gray and dusty cement block building, brightly colored woven cloths woven by the women of the village, hung neatly in rows.
We climbed the steps and entered the building, their church. I was surprised to see the entire village had gathered to greet us. As we were ushered to the front, a place of honor, the children of the village began to sing. The words, in Indonesian were not ones I understood, but the tune, "Amazing Grace" gave me all I needed to translate. God's love is here and you are welcome in God's name. Salam! Welcome! Peace be unto you!
I felt humbled, honored, and loved. God was on that mountain. God was there in our midst. We were offered food to eat from what little they had. Fish, rice, bananas Even in scarcity, they welcomed us lavishing their food, their water, and their gifts of beautifully woven scarves, on us.
True hospitality is choosing to see another person as a child of God. When we enter into relationships with others, guided by respect, love, and mutuality, we begin to unfold God's kingdom on earth and live into our calling of "doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly" with God and all creation.
Through the Storm
We keep checking with our friends in the Southwest Region on how they are bouncing back from Hurricane Harvey. The reports indicate lots of efforts and holy thoughts on the nature of God’s resilient people.
Nora and I will be heading to Texas when the mission stations open. Hope some of you can make the journey with us.
Sadly, as the water has barely receded in Texas, as category 5 storm is heading toward our friends in Florida. 17 churches dot the Florida Region from north to south, and a couple, like the West Palm Beach church, look to be right in the thick of all the target maps.
I spent some time on their website and witnessed their energetic pastor inviting folks to know and love Jesus. His genuine honesty and love for people is very evident. Although I’ve never met Pastor Donn Brammer, I can see he is a passionate man that will do whatever it takes to help his friends and neighbors in the West Palm Beach area when the storm(s) have come and gone and one their damage.
I paused in prayer for Pastor Donn and the long road of recovery for the people of South Florida even before I know what will happen.
This I do know, I’m already planning my mission trips for 2018.
Looks like we may be on the road for a long stretch.
God is Good. My hands and heart still work. I offer prayers with these hands and will offer more when the call goes out.
Interim Pastor Neil W. Allen
No Time Like The Present
The waters rose past the pews and over the chancel at the Cypress Creek Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Houston, TX, where my good friend Rev. Bruce Frogge (pronounce Froche) is serving. Bruce posted a live stream on his FB page showing the devastation. It was hard not to stop the tears. Bruce is such a great pastor and has such a passion for people, I already know he will do EVERYTHING in his power to bring an end to the suffering in the area, and not simply to rebuilding the church.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with how our Week of Compassion Offering works, a call is made to the local pastors from our offices to see how to help local congregations and their families. This call is made EARLY in the process and followed up by the W.O.C. staff.
More than a phone call, W.O.C. resources will come pouring in with people who want to help. Expect a mission station to be set up for the long recovery. You will be able to donate time, money and prayers to the people of Houston.
Long after the rain and flood waters recede, W.O.C. recovery efforts will continue. Working with our Local Pastors, our church will remain diligent until the recovery is complete.
Much of this information comes from firsthand experience with the W.O.C. staff (we went through a flood while I was serving in Indiana). Nora and I helped with the Katrina rebuilding project in 2008 (2 ½ years after that disaster). We stayed in a W.O.C. mission station and helped rebuild homes in the 8th and 9th Wards (hardest hit) in New Orleans.
I highly suspect such a mission station will be added to the “To Do” list of our national staff.
Stay Tuned for more. There are lots of ways to help.
BTW – Week of Compassion has a B+ rating (equal to the American Red Cross). These rating are based on actual dollars used for mission and how much is used for operational costs (yes, those costs are real, and our staff makes every effort to keep those low).
Prayers for the people of Houston,
Interim Pastor Neil Allen
This week, I've been sad.
Elder Meditation by Kat Robinson given on Sunday, August 20, 2017.
This week, I’ve been sad. You see I am a UVA graduate. I love Charlottesville. I love how the serpentine walls wind across the grounds. I love standing in front of the Rotunda, time traveling. In case you are wondering, yes, I would have been in the crowd with dear friends by my side walking to demonstrate my belief that hate cannot win. But right now, in this moment, I confess that it feels like it did win...at least for a while.
I am sad that our public gaze has been pulled into a world of non-tolerance and hate once again. It hurts.
Yes, we need to have conversations re: race and our history. Yes, we need to look at our present in the full light of what we’ve seen this week. We cannot separate ourselves. We have to figure this out. No, I will not think that we cannot move forward. No, I will not settle for a quiet peace. I want a loud, joyous peace. I want strong handshakes and hugs. I want boisterous laughter and I want committed movement toward justice. I want to share the table with my friends...black. Jewish, white...all of them.
It has been a sad week and it got harder. I believe in signs. A few weeks ago, I woke from a dream sweating. My dream took place in front of the tram at SeaTac airport. The tram doors opened and out walked my mother. She stared straight at me and said "I'm looking for your dad". Later that morning, I called my sister and shared my dream. I called Dad more frequently. My sister visited him 3 times in the past 5 weeks. This morning my brother-in-law called to share that my Dad had passed away.
Perhaps you believe in signs also. Perhaps you don't. I don't know, but here's something I know...everyone hurts. Sometimes hurt happens in a very public fashion, sometimes it's in the quiet as the morning wakens. Hurt is hurt. To move forward, we have to acknowledge that people are hurting in ways that may not be seen, may not be acceptable, may not be productive. Perhaps if we acknowledge the hurt, we can begin to move forward.
As we walk on our paths this week, let us acknowledge where we see pain, so that we can better address how we are all hurting.
God bless us and the world around us as we move forward.
In 1957 my cousin Jr. showed me his switchblade. He said it was “necessary to carry it on the streets of Detroit, Michigan.” I was only 7 at the time, and it made me afraid for my cousin. He talked about the African Americans of the city by using the “n” word and spewed (I can’t think of a word strong enough to describe it) hatred and violence toward them.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I saw him. Shortly thereafter, he ran away from home.
The family searched for him, but had no luck finding him. I guess they all figured he was dead. Seven year olds just wonder about such things.
30+ years later his sister exclaimed, “We found him.” He was living in a mobile home in Charlottesville, VA, of all places. He was a grandfather with a plethora of kids.
It was joyful thought to me that my cousin was alive, that he got to speak with his dad on the phone before my Uncle died, and that I had a boat load of cousins living in Charlottesville, VA….until yesterday.
As the posted pictures scrolled past my eyes, I searched the crowd for young men that looked like they might be related. Frankly, I saw more than a few, and I had to stop looking.
It’s one thing to be disappointed that racism isn’t dead, but a completely different thing to question if your own family members could be wrapped up in the thick of it. I’ve heard enough of it from my own family to know the seeds for it are far from dead and buried.
I want to hide my face in shame, but that won’t help. So I speak out. I call my own family out. I refuse to let the hatred go any further.
As one of my seminary professors said while responding to an African American student pleading for justice, “The white community has to lay an axe to that tree themselves.”
Moments ago, the news streamed again. A car slammed into the protestors.
STOP! PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND FIND THE PEACE OF GOD. IN THE NAME OF JESUS – STOP!
Interim Pastor Neil Allen
I learned to fold origami cranes about 40 years ago. I wanted to teach my youth group about Sadako, the girl who survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima in 1945, only to die 10 years later from Leukemia due to radiation overdose.
Sadako’s brother, who had also endured the blast, explained recently that it was a beautiful day. “Not a cloud in the sky.” The family (with the exception of their father who had gone off to work), had just sat down to eat breakfast.
There was no siren, and no warning.
Sadako (age 2 at the time), was blown out of the house and was found sitting on a box outside with tattered remains of her clothing. No one knew how she got there. A friend rescued them with a boat, and took them far down river, dodging the floating bodies and other remains of their once proud city.
When Sadako was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1954, her father told her the legend of the 1,000 cranes. “if you fold 1,000 cranes you will be granted a wish,” he explained to Sadako. She began immediately folding cranes. In all she completed 1,644 before her death.
“That no child would every have to endure this torment.”
As North Korea and world leaders ramp up their war of words, we pray that Sadako’s wish will continue to hold as it has since October 25, 1955 when she died.
Interim Pastor Neil W. Allen
Back To School
A few days ago we unloaded the news to our grandson. He’s going to a new school (he’s a freshmen, so we reminded him it was a good time to transition). We also told him school will start earlier.
He gave us that “WHAT?!” look every kid gives their parents when it’s time to go back to school, but then he was told that he would be getting out earlier next summer, and that seemed to make the news seem okay.
Yep, it’s just a few more days until the school season is back up and running. A couple of things every parent and grandparent want you to know:
Interim Pastor Neil Allen
Pastor Neil Allen
I am blessed to serve as the pastor of Queen Anne Christian Church, an amazing community of wise and thoughtful people.