Tracy Talks XV

A Christian’s calendar is complex. We have the Gregorian calendar of January through
December with reminders of full moons, the beginning of seasons and civic holidays. For the
(c)hurch, we have the fiscal year that runs July through June and time seasons based on
budgets and nominations. The Christian (C)hurch calendar runs Advent through Christ the
King Sunday which is late November to mid-November noting seasons of Holy days. On the
Christian (C)hurch calendar, the first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the new year.
Advent is a season of hope – Advent is Latin for waiting. The image of pregnancy is often
thought of during Advent as we are preparing for the birth of a baby. Throughout the season,
the church reads Scripture about the hope of a Messiah and lights candles that express our
waiting for the hope, peace, joy and love that the Messiah will bring to the world. Advent is an
opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child born anew each Christmas.
During Advent, it is a good practice to do something daily to prepare our hearts for Christ. A
recent addition to the observance of the season of Advent in the Christian church is the Advent
calendar. The observance of the Advent calendar to number the days in Advent began in the
19th century among the German Lutherans. You may think of calendars with chocolates for
each day when you think of an Advent calendar. You may have read books with ordered
devotions in the past.
I’d like to offer you a calendar to observe this year. The SALT project offered a set of Advent
calendar devotions last year that I think were helpful in observing the Advent calendar in a new
and different way. Several of us prepared packets of the SALT project Advent calendar for you
to pick up on this Sunday. You will find envelopes with the cards on the table in the Narthex.
(The SALT project is a donor-supported, not-for-profit production company. The suggested
donation for the calendar project is $25 / church. If you’d like to contribute to that donation,
please leave a dollar in the basket next to the calendars.)
The SALT project Advent calendar of notecards gives you a daily idea for doing something to
devote yourself to Christ and prepare for His coming. This calendar is designed for youth and

young adults and is easily adapted for people of all ages. This calendar can be followed as a
family, a couple or individuals. Mo Mo and I will be observing the calendar with you.
Some of the daily suggestions may be easier to fulfill than others. For instance, day 13
suggests you invite friends over for a vegetarian feast – that may not make sense for you.
Still, think of something else to do that day like no meat for dinner or taking a friend to lunch.
You may not do the days in order, either. Perhaps your schedule allows you to do day 5
(writing a faith statement) on day 7 and day 7 (leaving quarters in gumball machines) on
day 5. You can do what you need to do to make it easier to follow and still practice daily
devotion during the Advent season.
You may start your Advent calendar on the 1st Sunday and 1st day of Advent which is
Sunday, November 26th. For the candle lightings suggested on Sundays in the calendar,
you may consider lighting a candle at home or allow our candle lighting on Sunday morning
during worship to fulfill that practice as we will be lighting a candle each Sunday on our
Advent wreath.

If you follow the church’s Facebook page, there will be a daily post for the following day’s
devotion. For example, on Monday afternoon you will see a reminder for the devotion for
Tuesday. Feel free to post your progress in the comments on those posts to let us know
how you’re doing, what worked for you, or a faith statement you wrote on those days.
If you have any questions, want to share your progress, have any ideas, let me know. I’d
love to hear how this practice is working for you.

Tracy Talks XIV


People often site the reason they love the Fall is the beauty of all the changing colors on the
trees. It is a beautiful time of year. I think equally as beautiful as Spring, because we see
many colors of God’s creation in both seasons. Traditionally, we think of Fall as the season of
harvest and Spring as the season of planting. This year, Fall will be a season of planting at
First Christian Church.

As some of you have noted and many have noticed, the plants and shrubs around the church
need some new life. Our gardeners have worked diligently to maintain our gardens, pruning
trees and bushes, removing weeds, and planting flowers. Their work has been marvelous,
especially given they’ve been working with some unwieldy plants and others that are showing
no signs of life.
It is important for us to maintain the grounds around God’s house so that we have a beautiful
and inviting building to welcome our members and visitors where we can love and serve the
Lord. In addition to us just wanting the church to look nice, we need to be mindful of who can
hide in overgrown bushes who may want to enter the building without our invitation whether it
be a would-be thief or our wildlife neighbors.
Our gardeners have taken time to procure plans from Berns Garden Center to add some new
life to the gardens around the church. The Property Team approved the work. Will, Gifts and
Memorials has approved funds to be used to cover the expense of the new plants and labor for
this project. The work will begin later this month and take a couple of days. Our gardeners,
Property and WGM are all very excited about the project.
Some of the funds will come from memorials given in memory of Lois Hafer. Like many of our
members and departed saints, Lois had a great love for the church. She enjoyed helping take
care of the church grounds for many years. WGM are glad for the plans and feel this will be an
excellent way to use memorial funds.
I want us to get our hopes up about how beautiful the church will look with new plants, trees
and shrubs; I also want us to have reasonable expectations. Our current landscaping is very

mature and our new landscaping will be young. We’ll need time for them to mature and it may
look sparse for a couple years. Everything will be planted with room for the plants to mature
meaning there will be space between them until they reach their full size. The plans have
taken into account flowering times for the plants so that there is a bit of color throughout the
Spring and Summer seasons without everything being in color all at once.
After the work is complete, we’ll have a prayer and dedication during our worship service to
celebrate God’s creation and the means to do this work thanks to memorials given in memory
of our departed saints. If you have any questions about the plans, please see Sharon
Amburgey, Linda Pointer, or Charlotte Steele.

Tracy Talks XIII

When I was searching for a church to call home in my 20s, I visited many churches. I
remember a few of them particularly. One was a church focused on young adults. The
preacher was great. However, no one greeted me when I visited. There was a welcome table
that I had to go to be welcomed and get more information about the church and service. No
one invited me into conversation with their group or invited me to sit with them.
Another church I attended also had no welcoming person. I was handed a bulletin and I went
to sit by myself. The pastor greeted me and gave me an opportunity for participating in
ministry well before service started. The pastor was the only one to talk to me that morning.
I think I told you the story of visiting the church that I eventually called home. Wally Franz
greeted me at the front door of High St. Christian Church. He handed me a bulletin. He
walked me to the worship space and introduced me to Char and her family. Char invited me to
sit with them and they explained the service to me so that I knew what to do and when to do it.
Had it not been for Wally and Char, I probably would have went searching again.
I often wonder how visitors feel when they visit our church. I wonder if they feel as welcomed
as I did at High St. I wonder who our Wally and Char are. I wonder if the experience of a
complete stranger is different than a friend who visits or someone who has come back to
church after a long time away. Without a Wally and Char, our visitors may not feel welcome
and may not come back. Just as we welcome guests in our homes, we should welcome
guests to our church.
Welcoming churches have dedicated people to the ministry of hosting guests. Those hosts
know they are not at church to be served, but to serve our guests in a specific capacity. Hosts
greet visitors and introduce them to others. Hosts sit with guests and help them understand
what we do in worship. Like Wally and Char, hosts can serve in different ways to the same
I understand it can be scary to introduce yourself to someone new. I believe being a host at
the church is a spiritual gifting and calling. While we may expect this hosting ministry to be

done by our leadership, not all Elders and Deacons have that gift so it can be done by others
in the congregation. Hosting may be your opportunity to serve if you haven’t yet found your

Do you feel called to host our guests like Wally and Char?

Tracy Talks XIII


Last Thursday evening, I went to a forum hosted by the Middletown Ministerial Alliance at
Central Connections. Police Chief Muterspaw, Police Sergeant Nelson and Fire Chief Lolli
shared with those gathered current statistics regarding the heroin epidemic in Middletown, then
answered questions posed by the audience.
One of the questions asked was by a woman who does some gardening at one of the
downtown churches. She is often approached for financial assistance while she is maintaining
the church grounds. She asked what she should do when she is approached for assistance
because she wants to make sure she isn’t giving people money to buy drugs.
The police sergeant suggested that churches not give cash to those requesting assistance. It
is fair to assume that someone who asks for and takes cash will most likely not use it for what
they asked. Unfortunately, not everyone who comes to the church for assistance has the need
they tell us. That is not to say that some people don’t have legitimate need. But, not all of
those seeking assistance from churches are honest about their need.
If someone approaches you for assistance while at church, I request that you do not give them
cash and direct them to me. I’m at the church on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and
Sundays. If I’m not at the church, you can call my cell phone.
Through the Outreach Committee, I have resources available to provide assistance. I first
screen all requests to make sure there are no holes in their story, so I can refuse those who
are trying to take advantage of the grace and compassion of a generous church. For instance,
one man came to the church twice on Thursday with 2 different stories and 2 different
By fielding all requests, I can protect you from being taken advantage of. Some dishonest
people know that church people are very kind and generous and will unfortunately lie to you to
get what they want. It is important that in a town where drugs are a major problem we not give
cash away to someone who could go buy drugs with it. However, I’m sure that any mercy you
show someone in need is not lost on them.

Thank you for your grace and love for our neighbors,

Tracy Talk XII

On Sunday, I shared a story about me being ungrateful about a gift from my parents when I
was 8 years old. Like my 8-year-old self, I don’t always receive God’s blessings with gratitude
and thanksgiving when I want God to answer my prayers in a different way. We can all be that
way with God’s answers to our prayers.
Martin in his invitation to the offering gave some ideas for reframing our thinking so that we can
better appreciate God’ blessings. Heather in her children’s moment taught the children (and
reminded the adults) that we need to be patient with God because He will provide for us in His
time. Even the music Rachel Eve chose went along with our theme of reflecting on God’s
Isn’t it cool when God’s Spirit works in our preparation to create a theme in worship!? When
we all look at the Scripture for the coming Sunday as we reflect and prepare for what we’ll say,
it’s amazing how the Spirit works all things together for a unified message. This week it was
The one thing I am most grateful for this year is the honor of being your pastor. It is a gift to
share the journey of faith with you. We’ve cried together, laughed together, prayed together
and thought deep thoughts together. Thank you for inviting me into your life and allowing me
to point to where Christ is in our lives and how God is working in our lives. You are a kind,
compassionate, generous, loving group who I am glad to serve Christ in a mutual ministry.
Thank you for your gifts and words of appreciate.

Tracy Talk XI

I had the opportunity to walk in the Middletown Homecoming parade on Friday evening with
the Girls on the Run team from Amanda Elementary School. I was surprised by the invitation
and decided to go for it. Who doesn’t love a parade!
When you watch professionally produced parades like the Rose Bowl parade or the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day parade, there are no long gaps between groups and it is well paced. At a
community parade, there is less coordination and large gaps can grow. The Girls on the Run
team had a spot in the parade Friday night that was near the beginning of the parade.
The groups in front of us moved quickly and they pulled away from us very early in the parade.
The group behind us lagged well behind us early too. The girls tried to catch up to the group in
front of us but couldn’t keep up. Then, they wanted to fall back toward the groups behind
them, but got worried that they couldn’t see the group ahead. Isn’t that indicative of many
aspects of community life?
Families try to keep up financially but there are large gaps between middle class families and
those living in poverty. There are limited opportunities to move ahead. It’s too easy to fall
behind and lose sight of the opportunities ahead. In our schools too, some students move
quickly ahead and outpace their classmates. Many students fall behind in our schools who
need attention and you’re left with a few who may not get the help they need because
resources are given to those lagging and those at the head of the class.
My hope is that when we plan our community service in response to God’s vision which we are
currently discerning we will help bridge the gaps, help people move ahead and help families
succeed. One of the people who responded to our community leader interviews said we need
to look beyond quick fixes or providing handouts. We need to help people get out of poverty.
As Habitat for Humanity’s puts it, we need to provide a hand up, not a hand out.

Tracy Talks X


The Board and Elders continue their work in our vision discernment process. Over the
previous 2 months, they were interviewing community leaders asking questions about: who are
our neighbors; what do they need; what is being done for them; what else can be done. I have
received reports of the work they did and I will synthesize their reports into a manageable
summary of the 22 interviews. I’ll have that for them to review at the October Board meeting
and will make it available to you after their review.
Now, the Board and Elders are doing some reading. They’re reading chapters or whole books
about the mission of the Church. The authors are industry leaders on missional transformation
of churches. What does that mean? Missional transformation is the current buzzword for
churches who are being transformed from irrelevant, dying or stuck churches into vital,
relevant, healthy churches by shifting their focus from themselves to others. Churches today
are getting new life when they stop focusing inward and start focusing outward.
The reading the Board and Elders are doing will give them insight about why churches make
the shift and how they make the shift in thinking. The books include insights about how we can
plan for mission and ways we can be transformed. This transformation requires us to think
differently about what is outreach and how do we do outreach. I could tell them and you all of
whys and hows, but I want the Board and Elders and you to know that these ideas are
supported by church leaders who know the dedication of shifting the church’s mindset and
have seen the fruit of the hard work of transformation.

The Board and Elders will not need to do a book report or receive a grade. Everyone gets
100%! They’ll each share with me 3 bullet points, a quote or a paragraph summary of what
they read or thought inspired by the reading. I’ll synthesize that into a summary of all the
reading for them to review and I’ll make that available to you as well.
If you would like to also read something, please let me know. I have a chapter of a book that
would be a very good summary with nice stories to convey the teaching or I have a couple
books that you can choose an interesting chapter from. The reading will take you less than an
hour, unless you choose to read a whole book.

All this work being done by the Board and Elders will lead us to a bunch of stuff to pray about.
Through this work, God is beginning to reveal to the Board and Elders spaces where we can
serve and people we can build relationships with. My plan is to have a spiritual retreat during
worship on Sunday, November 12th for us to pray and plan. My hope is this retreat will be
when God reveals more of His vision of who we can become and what we can do through
missional transformation by our worshipful work as a congregation.
I can’t plan when God does stuff or tell God when things need to happen. We are seeking
God’s revelation in this process of prayer and work. We can’t rush God’s vision – it needs to
be from God, not us. This process of discernment has evolved as we moved along.
November 12th is my hope for a spiritual retreat during worship. However, the Board and
Elders will need to review the work they’ve done before I’m ready to say it is time for a retreat
and what that retreat will be like. I’ll give you more details about what that retreat might be
once the Board and Elders meet in October as I’m praying for God to reveal to me the next
step in this process of seeking His vision.

Tracy Talks IX

Thank you for your responses about my query regarding Bible study. Based on your
responses, Wednesday afternoons seem the best time for study for the most people.
Beginning Wednesday September 20th, I’ll have Bible study from 2 – 3 pm in the memorial

We’re going to try a study called The Wired Word. It is a weekly Bible study based on current
events. Each week, I’ll receive an e-mail from the publisher with a lesson based on something
that is going on in our world and is making the headlines. Unlike a book club or other Bible
studies, this will be an easy study for you to come when you can and not feel like you’re
missing a big piece of a study if you miss a week or 2.
I’ll receive a leader’s guide and a participant guide each week. I’ll make the participant guide
available to participants before the study. You can have it delivered via e-mail or you can pick
up a copy on Sunday morning for the study on Wednesday. You’ll need to read the lesson
about the current event before class. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll gather to read
Scripture and discuss the current event in light of Scripture. This will be a discussion based
class. If you’ve read your participant guide before study, we’ll have lots of time to talk.
If you’re interested in attending, please pick up your first lesson materials on Sunday,
September 17th in the narthex or let me know if you’d like to receive it via e-mail. If you can’t
make it to the study and you’d like to review the material at home in your private devotion time,
please feel free to take a copy. Please let me know if you are thinking about attending so I can
know how many to expect.

Tracy Talks VIII

I share with you this recent update and prayer from Week of Compassion about Hurricane
Harvey and their response thanks to our Week of Compassion offering.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas Friday night as a category 4 hurricane, causing
flooding and structural damage in towns along the coast. The mayor of Rockport, where the
eye of the hurricane crossed, has reported “widespread devastation.” Hundreds of thousands
are without power, and may last for days. President Trump has issued a federal disaster
declaration for the state, and Texas Governor Abbott has named 50 counties in a state
disaster declaration.

Winds have weakened since landfall and the hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical
storm. The primary concern right now is flooding within the week as heavy rainfall of three feet
or more is expected. Water levels in bayous, reservoirs, and waterways are already rising. At
least 2 tornadoes have also been reported south and west of Houston, damaging multiple
business and approximately 50 homes. Several other tornado warnings continue. The Dallas
Convention Center will be welcoming 5,000 Gulf Coast residents this Tuesday.
Week of Compassion will continue to monitor the storm and reach out to Disciples
communities and partners. If you visit the Week of Compassion Facebook page, you can get
regular updates about the work they are doing with area partners. One post includes a video
from Rev. Elizabeth Grasham and the scene outside her home. The situation is severe and
still developing.
If you are interested in helping, the best immediate response from afar is three-fold: pray, stay,
and donate.
Pray. Keep the people who are in the path of the storms, the rescuers and first
responders who will be working on the ground in your prayers as the storm continue into the
next few days.
Stay put. Out of concern and a desire to be useful, you may want to go and help. Now
is not the time! The situation is dangerous and is ongoing. Volunteers at this time put

themselves at risk and create additional challenges for rescue and emergency crews.
Volunteer opportunities will come later for clean-up and long-term recovery.
Donate. You can donate at and designate US
Storms where 100% of your gifts will go to help communities rebuild after storms such as
Hurricane Harvey. No administrative fees will be withheld from your donation.

God of Noah’s rain and the psalmist’s morning dew; Jesus, our water-walker and storm-stiller;
Spirit of mighty wind and word who moves the tides of creation’s seas and the hearts of those
drenched in baptismal waters: Protect those in Hurricane Harvey’s path. Provide comfort to
those who suffer loss. Grant safety and courage to those who respond to survivors. Sustain
all our hearts with compassion for our neighbors and with hope of days filled with sunshine and
gentle breezes. Amen.

Tracy Talks VII

The beauty of God’s blessings. Praise in song. Family. Whenever or wherever 2 or more are
gathered in His name. Honor God. God’s great earth. Family support. Communion. Love.
Helpful. Family. Notice a trend?
A beautiful flower. A bird flying over the lake at Camp Christian. A Panda mission trip. A
mountain. A Habitat build. A pile of food collected for the food pantry. A Panda mission trip.
A pile of Christmas gifts collected for kids. A big old stone church. Grandma snapping beans
on the porch. Notice a trend?
These words and pictures were affixed to the poster board I placed in the Narthex for you to
put up words or pictures of what comes to your mind when you think of church. The word
family was prominent in the words written and placed on the board and included in one image.
Pictures of mission trips were prominent among the images. Only two words – communion
and praise in song – were things we typically do in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, but
they are not limited to acts of worship reserved only for Sunday mornings. Only one picture
was of a church building.
That tells me that you believe that we are most “the church” when we are a family and engage
in mission. I believe that is indicative of who God is calling us to become. So, I wonder: When
are we most like a family? When is our next mission trip?
The Board and Elders are interviewing community leaders about what’s going on in our
community and what still needs to be done. This is a big task, so we’re going to spend some
more time doing those interviews. If you’d like to help the Board and Elders with this task,
please let me know and I’ll get you a person to contact and a list of questions to guide your
conversation. The results of these interviews will give us the information we need to plan
ministry we can do in the community with our neighbors.
I believe this process is leading us toward becoming the church God envisions that is like a
family and engaged in mission. We discerned that vision through prayer. Not that we’re not
already a family who does mission work. This process will allow God to guide us to ways we

can strengthen the fellowship of our family and do mission in new ways. I don’t want us to
rush this time of discernment. We don’t want to push ahead without hearing all God has to
say. Please hold the Board, Elders and congregation in your prayers as we continue to
discern God’s vision and mission for our church.

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)