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Jake's Service of Installation

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Ron Patterson

September 6, 2020

Click here for the full worship bulletin from Sunday, September 6, 2020.

Service of Installation for the Reverend Jake Miles Joseph

Covenant with First Church minister:                     Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham,

Chair of Church & Ministry, New Haven East Consociation,

Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ

Jake, servant of God, I invite you to come forward as a sign of your acceptance of the call to the office of Minister of Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Guilford.  Seeing that, by the grace of God, you have been called to ordained ministry and that First Congregational Church of Guilford has been led to  call you as Minister of Faith Formation, are you willing to covenant with members of this congregation and the New Haven East Consociation? 

Jake:  I am willing and I promise to serve this church faithfully, teaching and preaching the word of God, administering the sacraments, and fulfilling a pastoral office according to the faith and order of the United Church of Christ.

Covenant with First Congregational parishioners:

Members of First Congregational Church of Guilford, United Church of Christ, will you please rise - on your feet, or in your hearts - and prayerfully affirm your covenant with your Minister of Faith Formation?

*We, the members and friends of First Congregational Church, Guilford, receive Jake as our Minister of Faith Formation, promising to gracefully labor with him in the ministry of the gospel.  We will pray for him, encourage him, as well as engage him in mutual respect, and support.  We gather with him and with the United Church of Christ as a sign of our mutual ministry, living life as Jesus taught: embracing relationship over doctrine, and trusting that death does not conquer love.

(Please remain standing)

Covenant with Consociation members: Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

Members of the New Haven East Consociation, that is, visitors from the Consociation and members and friends of First Church, will you please rise – in body or in  spirit - and affirm your covenant with First Congregational Church of Guilford and its Minister of Faith Formation? 

*We, the members of the New Haven East Consociation of the United Church of Christ, gather with you, the people and the Minister of Faith Formation of First Congregational Church, Guilford, as a sign of our covenant, and in celebration of our mutual ministry in Christ’s name. 

Charge to Minister, Congregation, and Consociation: Rev. Mary Nelson, Regional Minister

South Central Region, Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ

I am so honored that Jake asked me to bring the charge to the Congregation, and to him, today. Thank you, Jake, for blessing me with this invitation.

You have been in ministry together for a year now.  We should have done this installation months ago and I am sorry the pandemic got in the way.  But it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate this moment as an anniversary at the same time we express our hopes for a long and happy ministry together.  

Guilford, I don’t know if you know this, but I have known Jake far longer than I have known you.  I tried doing the math and I think Jake and I met 9 years ago at the General Synod in Tampa.  He had a Grinnell College shirt on, and we Grinnellians have something of a pact to stick together when we are out in the wild.  So from that moment on, I have been looking out for him.  My parents have too because as a college student Jake drove from Grinnell to Des Moines every week to attend worship at Plymouth Church where another Grinnellian was senior pastor at the time.  And of course my folks kept an eye on this enthusiastic college kid who would pile his friends into the car and drive an hour to a new city to go to church, and I am guessing there was some Vietnamese food involved afterwards.  Anyway, Jake, Dave and Jean send their love and their congratulations, and they were so pleased to be able to see you here in action on Ash Wednesday.  

Guilford, when Jake and I met back in 2011, he was wearing his Grinnell shirt and beaming about his anticipated adventure at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, where I also went to seminary.  And he was so excited to meet another Grinnellian who had gone to Candler. 

Jake, I am now as excited as you were then: that you are a Grinnellian who went to Candler and followed your calling to the shoreline of Connecticut.  I was grateful when we connected again last year as you started to explore what might be next for you.  We had a long phone call where I talked about several churches in Connecticut where I could see you succeed.  I talked about places where you could be a solo pastor, and places where you could grow the staff and become a senior pastor, and this one place on the shoreline that’s an amazing congregation with an incredible lead pastor, but did you really want to be an associate again?  Didn’t you want to be the one in charge?  Didn’t you know you had that capability?  Fortunately for all of us the Holy Spirit did her thing:  Jake wanted to be a part of a ministry team, part of a vibrant and healthy congregation.  He wanted to be in a place where he could use his brains and his heart and be appreciated for both.  He wanted to be in a place where he would be respected as a professional and treated as a human being.  And those things were exactly what the Guilford church wanted  and needed in their associate pastor, and exactly what Ginger wanted and needed in a colleague.  So you all better do right by one another and not mess this up!  Guilford, that is my charge to you!  Jake is good people and you’d better do right by him.  And I know you will. 

Jake, the Spirit brought you here just in time.  The church was longing for new leadership; Ginger was longing for a ministry partner; so many good things were longing to be brought forth in this congregation; so many seeds of justice to be nurtured and questions of faith to be pondered and databases of names to be united.  Your enthusiasm, and your brilliance and your inquisitiveness and your good judgment are exactly the right gifts for right now.  You are an amazing team player and an amazing leader, and that combination is rare.  I will admit that when you came here I felt a sense that Guilford needed you more than you needed Guilford, but I was mistaken in that, and glad to be wrong. 

Jake, in this last year I saw you grow into a pastoral identity that I knew you had the potential for, and I think that growth could have only happened in this congregation, with these colleagues, in this ministry role.  You did need Guilford in the same way Guilford needed you.  My hope for you is that you will continue to grow here in Guilford, even as you and Gerhard settle down the shoreline a bit so your commutes are a little less haphazard, and I hope that you will have a long and fulfilling ministry in this community.  I charge you to keep growing always, to learn something new every day that you can, and really dig in to the things that excite you and feed your soul, to learn and to ask the questions that only a Grinnellian, Candlerite, Coloradan, Iowan, Nutmegger can ask.  To claim .the determination and the adventurousness of someone who will pile a bunch of friends in the car to go to a new city to go to church, to say no and ask for help when something isn’t right, to challenge the status quo in the “Land of Steady Habits,” with the wisdom and the grace that I have known to be in you from the very beginning.  I am so, so excited to get to work with you at last and I look forward to many adventures in ministry together.  My dear one, may God’s blessing strengthen you for the journey ahead, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  

Prayer of Installation:                                                         

God of Hope, God of Peace, you have called each of us to serve you in the universal church as teachers, prophets, artists, neighbors, partners, and community.  You have called out your servant Jake to the service of Jesus Christ in this place.  Bless him, we pray, as he leads and ministers to and with the people you have placed in his care.  Be with him in classrooms, in homes, in the streets of neighboring cities, in this sanctuary as he works and risks to represent you. 

Grant him courage for bearing your Word that burns with power and justice.

Grant him joy in delivering your healing love.

Grant him the grace to present your prophecy, and your comfort.

Grant him strength to refuse conformity to the destructive powers of our world.

Grant him resilience in teaching to love you first of all, to love neighbor as self, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you. 

Pour out your Holy Spirit on Jake, on the people of First Church, Guilford, and on all the churches of the New Haven East Consociation, that we may serve in mutual ministry with all faithfulness, hope, diligence, love, and courage.  Make us all freshly aware of the challenge of your call.  Give us courage to live into that call and forgive our stumbling when we dare to act in your name. 

Open us anew to the wonder of your still-speaking voice so that we may be steadfast in our service, generous in our giving and courageous in our commitments, recognizing that we are diverse and yet all one in you, and you in us, as we serve together with faithfulness, creativity and joy.  In celebration and in hope we pray, Amen. 

Declaration:                                                                       Rev. Dr. Brasher-Cunningham

In the name of Jesus Christ, and on behalf of the New Haven East Consociation of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, I declare you duly installed as Minister of Faith Formation of First Congregational Church of Guilford. May God’s peace and guidance and grace be with you!

Scripture:                                     Philippians 4: 4 -13

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

Sermon: “Misery and Miracles," Rev. Dr. Ron Patterson

Holy One, we give you thanks for this day.  We pray that as we gather, we might sense your presence, might hear the power of your love, and hear your voice speaking in Jesus. Amen. 

We live in a time of misery and miracle.  I am miserable because I can’t be with you today in person to celebrate Jake’s Installation as your pastor and teacher.  I am miserable about the misery of people of color, the state of the environment and a dozen other things that are bringing misery to the poor and not-so-poor in this time of pandemic.  But because of a miracle I don’t understand, here I am-  a person who lives in Tacoma, WA speaking to you from the sanctuary of Jake’s home church - Plymouth Congregational UCC in Fort Collins, CO -  the meeting place of the congregation that nurtured Jake on his journey, the place where he was ordained, and where we first met one another when I filled in for his pastor while he was on sabbatical.  So then misery and miracles.  We gather today to celebrate a new chapter in Jake’s life, and in the life of your congregation.  Amid lots of misery we gather by miracle, despite the misery of corona.  We gather mindful of tons of misery but we gather in the same way the followers of Jesus have always gathered, mindful of misery, the call to seek miracles of mercy and grace that become possible when we are touched by the power of the risen Jesus.

When Jake asked me to preach today, he chose as his Scripture some of Paul’s words to the Christians at Philippi. These words are just about the best answer I know to the perennial question of human existence.  You know the question that people ask in about a hundred different ways, like “how am I supposed to live?  What should I do?  How should I manage my life?”  The choice of this text was not a surprise to me.  I spent three months a couple of years ago sitting in the office next to Jake’s.  Poor Jake.  He soon discovered that his temporary senior colleague sitting four feet away was a talker and a story-teller and a desperately lonely retired senior minister missing colleagues who were paid to listen to his ideas about theology and the state of the world.  Jake was so gracious in his listening, and gentle in his challenging and wise enough to shut the door when he needed to get some work done.  But in our dialogue, which I confess was frequently more often a monologue on my part, I learned some things about Jake.  I learned that he is gentle, in the sense that his natural way is accepting of others without judging them; and at the same time without ever abandoning his own deeply held convictions.  I hope the same observation might be true of this congregation because as near as I can tell that is an essential characteristic of the best ministers and the best congregations in the UCC.  Like Jake, I hope that you are people who do not leave your brains at the door when you gather, nor refuse to use them when you do gather either virtually, or hope to God soon in your beautiful meetinghouse. 

Now, the next sentence in this text pf Philippians hunts deep into the woods of a minister’s soul – mine certainly, probably Jake’s as well.  Don’t worry!  I can almost hear the apostle Paul shouting: “Don’t worry!”  because by all that’s holy, worry worries and makes misery for ministers: the budget, the buildings, staff relationships, lay leaders graded not so great, issues of conscience, and Christ’s call for a just world for all and just what that might mean on Connecticut’s gold coast.  Now don’t forget, I ministered for 13 years in Naples FL, the winter home of many who live between where you are and New York City. 

Worry is misery.  It’s also the place where miracles can be born, if that worry is seen as a an occasion to partner with God and people to make good things happen in the life of a church and the life that church leads in its community near and far.  

Now the next few sentences in this text are a bit of what I frequently call Pauline double-talk.  But it bears a close look because it points out the power of prayer, which as a minister advising a younger colleague in the presence of his congregation, I need to be seen recommending.  But let me recommend prayer with a twist.  Prayer not only needs to be where we go when the misery is just too great, but it needs to be the beginning point of miracles.  Prayer is praxis, or at least an invitation to jump into some exercise and direct engagement in an act of radical love, or what saint John Lewis calls, “good trouble.” 

Dear Jake, pray for the love of God, but keep on keeping on, with that best bit of our Calvinist heritage: doing works of righteousness and world-building for the sake of God’s kin-dom.  That’s miracle-making.  

Jake, do you remember our conversations about excellence?  Paul includes that word in his laundry list of virtues that comes next in this passage.  Read over the list, it’s a great basis for everything, your calling, and the ministry of your congregation needs to be about, but make excellence the center of all you do.  

When I was a little kid on the farm, Jake is cringing now, because that’s exactly how a lot of my cornier stories begin.  When we were milking the cows and a cow acted up or fidgeted, or kicked, my great aunt would warn that cow in a stern voice that she needed to settle.  Jake has heard me say that the last 7 words of the church are: we never did it that way before.  Those seven words can become one word: settle.  My poor great aunt just wanted to get the milking done, and I didn’t blame her because until it was we couldn’t leave the barn and head to the house for supper, but that cow knew better – and I only figured that out now.  When she kicked or fidgeted or fussed there was usually a good reason: a horsefly biting the other side of her neck, or a thorn in a sensitive spot or something just painful.  Ministers and congregations too often settle.  Too often they conspire with one another to settle for too little when so much more might be possible.  Never settle for less than excellence. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells the story of a pastor who asks a little boy in his confirmation class what John the Baptist said to Jesus after Jesus was baptized.  And the little boy responded without a break: “You are God’s Son, so act like it.” 

Friends, dear friend Jake, I can’t do much better than that.  Our text closes with a few words that are designed to move us from misery to miracle.  I can do all things through God who strengthens me.  May those words be the mission you share - pastor and people - in the years to come, remembering that if you get the mission right, everything else will fall into place and miracles will happen.  Amen. 

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