Monthly Archives: March 2012

HGTV and the Church

I love HGTV. I like watching the transformation of a cluttered, awkward room into a beautiful, elegant space. And I especially like it that it seems as though it is something I could do, if I just jumped in and did it.

Churches tend to get cluttered and awkward in both space and perhaps in spirituality as well. Do we fill our calendars with events, but ignore the reason for the events? Do we focus on numbers of people and not quality of worship? Do we worry more about money coming in than mission going out? Perhaps we need a little HGTV transformation in our congregational lives.

Zion has a new committee called Chancel Arts (a name I stole from Plymouth Congregational–sorry, Plymouth, but it was so much better than our previous “Altar Flower Ladies”). The Chancel Arts committee is taking seriously its task of decorating the church sanctuary for worship and is approaching it with great enthusiasm and creative energy. Here is what they have created for the last week before Holy week begins.


The decoration of the sanctuary is a more difficult task than it looks. The Chancel Arts Committee is hoping to move our hearts towards the meaning of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter through visual cues. Take a moment to gaze at the altar during each day of Holy Week (the altar is going to be different every day as we lead up to Easter morning) and see if it transforms you.


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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


A Member of the Zion Cloud


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12.1

Technically, the “cloud of witnesses” to which the author of Hebrews refers are the people of faith who have come before us. But I would like to focus instead on the cloud of witnesses that surround us today at Zion. In the present. The people of faith that sustain and energize and nurture the congregation right now. Where would Zion be without its cloud?

It is impossible to miss the beautiful tree that is in bloom outside our church doors. Every year that tree marks the change of season from cold and dark to the light of summer. Why is it there? Because 30 years ago, Milt Paule planted it.

Thank you, Milt. Thank you for being part of our cloud.



Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


Needle in a Haystack

The good news is–we found my glasses. The bad news is –we found them when Don stepped on them.

We were driving back from Des Moines very early Sunday morning. It was foggy and still a little dark when we pulled over in a remote spot somewhere between Pella and Mount Pleasant(a lot of desolate distance there). Both dogs needed out of the car so we stopped for just a moment, let them run into the nearby field, and within a few minutes were back in the car heading towards Burlington. About 30 minutes later, I realized my glasses were gone. After several minutes spent frantically searching the car, we reluctantly concluded that I must have dropped them when we stopped for the dogs. The problem became, where exactly did we stop?

We continued on to Burlington arriving at Zion in plenty of time for John’s stimulating Sunday School class, “Just Eating” and for me to find an old pair of readers stashed in my desk. The worship service was filled with energy–the choir inspired us with Tim’s solo of the Beatles song, Yesterday. The new members of the bell choir swelled their ranks and the bells played beautifully. But for me the fact remained–my new expensive glasses were gone.

That afternoon Don and I headed back out knowing that on the side of the road, somewhere between Pella and Mount Pleasant, lay a pair of glasses. The glasses were green and brown, by the way. Green and brown just like the field where I dropped them.

But the real question remained–what field?

After several false attempts we finally located what we believed to be the exact spot. Yet, after careful searching, still no glasses. The sun was setting and it was time to give up. And then Don heard it. A crunch. There they were. On the side of the road, somewhere between Pella and Mount Pleasant, under Don’s shoe.

With uncharacteristic luck, my vision insurance covers broken glasses; it doesn’t cover glasses that one drops and never finds again. And, if you think about it, we probably wouldn’t have found my green and brown glasses in the green and brown field if Don hadn’t actually stepped on them.

When Jesus said “seek and you shall find” did he really mean, “sometimes you have to step on something before you know it’s there.” Or maybe he meant, “you have to be really persistent in your seeking.” Persistent to the point that you will drive across the Iowa landscape seeking a needle in a haystack (a pair of glasses somewhere along a 100 mile stretch of highway 34).

Lent is nearly over. Did you find what you were seeking? Or are you still waiting to hear the crunch?

See You in the Pews!




Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


Sitting on the Tarmac

Every seat on our small plane is taken. The inhabitants (hostages seems a bit harsh, but give me another hour) of the tiny rows of seats sit squished together, a few tall men with their knees nearly eye level; the noise of the engine whines ceaselessly through the recycled air.

Twenty minutes ago, the captain cheerfully announced that takeoff would be delayed by 50 minutes or perhaps an hour. Four minutes ago, he less cheerfully announced that it could be a little longer than an hour.

Rule of thumb? You may fly into O’Hare on time, but never try to predict when you might leave.

The noise level and temperature inside the plane is rising. And even though we are motionless, the conscientious flight attendant just came over and told me to fasten my seat belt and please return my seat to the upright position. Is she afraid that the plane will go from a standstill to a sudden and speedy taxi down the runway? No warning at all — a sort of spontaneous combustion of movement, tray tables down and baggage unstored in overhead compartments? I smile at her and am immediately compliant, clicking and straightening without hesitation. I am from Iowa after all.

Images of the JetBlue passengers trapped for 8 hours come to mind.

Back when the plane was going to leave Chicago O’Hare on time, I planned to be in my hotel room at the Justice and Witness Board of Directors meeting in Washington, DC in time for a shower, possibly a quick nap, and then maybe even a grande coffee before the first plenary session was called to order. Now I will dash from airport shuttle to conference room dragging my luggage behind me. No shower. No nap. No Starbucks. Where is the justice?

Oh right. Justice is why we are coming together for this meeting in the first place. Justice and Witness is one of the four covenanted ministries of the UCC. To learn more, go to JWM. The staff members of JWM confront everything from urgent environmental issues to human trafficking to immigration. I am privileged to serve on the board and to offer at least a little support to the members of that hard working staff.

Even if it means sitting on the tarmac.


Justice and Witness opening plenary.

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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


Church Hero

In the Gospel story, it was a young boy who brought forth his offering of a few loaves and fishes for Jesus to turn into food for 5,000. At Zion, it was Will Neises.

Will decided that he owned too many toys and to receive even more at his 9th birthday party last week wasnt what he wanted. Instead, he wanted to help someone. Will told each young person invited to his birthday party to bring food for Zion’s food pantry. No presents for him, just food for those in need.

Zion’s children are not the future of the church. They are Church.

Thank you, Will.



Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


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Embracing Our Heritage–All of It

I recently read an article by a colleague warning against the pagan elements of Christian holidays. On one hand, I agree with him– there are many rituals, objects, practices and liturgies within Christianity that originated in paganism. For example, our present day church architecture is modeled after pagan temples. All pagan temples had a sacred altar at the front on which to place sacrifices. Every Sunday morning following the prayer of dedication at Zion, we walk our offering (sacrifice?)to the front of the church and lay it on the altar. Very pagan. Very Christian.

The act of blessing, the fish symbol, the wedding ring, and the calendar date given to Christmas all have their origin in a pagan religious practice. This is partly because in the 2nd century pagans converted to Christianity brought their pagan practices with them and because in 325CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine began the process of converting the official pagan religions of the Roman Empire to Christianity. In lots of cases, Constantine took a pagan celebration and after giving it a few Christian trappings, declared it Christian.

My colleague suggested we strip Christianity of anything left from its pagan heritage. Not only would that be impossible (do you really want to change the date of Christmas?) it would also be a huge loss. So what if easter lilies were adopted from a ritual involving the Goddess of Fertility? When I see easter lilies, I think of the church at Easter.

Are there any “pagan” aspects of Christianity in which you have found meaning?


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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


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Spring? Really?

As happy as we all are about the early arrival of spring, everyone seems a little nervous. Will the tulips die weeks too soon for the Pella tulip festival? What if we get a cold snap and the fruit trees lose their buds? Or worse yet, we could even experience another snowstorm. And most worrisome of all, is the beautiful weather just the result of global warming?

It’s hard to enjoy something when in the back of your mind there lurks an ominous warning.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what Christians have named Palm Sunday, the crowds were exuberant and I am guessing that the disciples probably joined them in their enthusiasm. But Jesus must have heard the ominous warning. He must have known that he was on the final path of his life’s journey. It might have been spring time for some, but for him, it was the darkest winter.

During Holy Week we have the opportunity to focus on the final days and hours of Jesus life. The holy days that precede the celebration of resurrection are a necessary spiritual journey.

Zion offers a Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday worship, a Saturday meditation. On Easter we will start out with a sunrise service followed by breakfast and then the mighty crescendo– the Easter worship.

I suggest you come to all of it!

See You in the Pews!


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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

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