Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What’s in a Song?

At the Jazz, Justice and Gospel concert last Saturday, we were privileged to hear many fabulous musicians, among them Marco Torres who performed a heartfelt original composition. “Behind every song is a story,” he told us, and allowed us into his story, beautifully told in pitch and rhythm, tempo and tune.

Songs come to us from so many different stories – different lives, places in history, journeys with God or journeys feeling alone and abandoned. Stories of struggle, work, love, Resurrection. Stories from different cultures that we often know only distantly.

One of my favorite contemporary composers is Pablo Sosa. A classically trained musician, minister, and native of Argentina, his congregation was plunged into poverty and several people were “disappeared” during a period of violence.  In an atmosphere of political intimidation and terror, the response by many was to remain silent, yet Sosa responded by writing music in traditional styles and dances that allowed people to bravely and boldly sing out their stories of fear and faith. His well know “Gloria, Gloria, Gloria” (New Century Hymnal #758) is based on a popular dance  in Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, and women whose husbands had disappeared would gather in a public plaza and dance this joyful dance alone, imagining their missing partners.

Another song I recently learned is “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” I heard it on the radio news, being sung at a protest at the Massachusetts State House. I looked it up on YouTube and saw videos of this chant being sung in the Civil Rights marches, even as beatings, dogs, and fire hoses personified the hatred against which the marchers sung. This song was taken from an old Spiritual, and words were added that gave people the voice they needed to name their oppressors. “Ain’t gonna let Jim Crow…Ain’t gonna let no jail house…Ain’t gonna let Bull Connor turn me around.” When we sang it together last Sunday, here in Lowell MA, I thought of the words of Bernice Johnson Regan, founder of the Freedom Singers, performing at the White House. She stopped mid-song and turned to her audience of politely listening dignitaries, declaring, “You have to actually sing this song… cause you can never tell when you might need it”

And then there is the Biblical story of Paul and Silas. After receiving derision and an unjust beating they were thrown in jail, where they “prayed and sang praises to God.” In this action packed narrative, an earthquake then breaks open the jail doors, and their terrified jailer receives grace, knowledge, and the bravery to show compassion.

Some earthquakes are larger than life, and some are small movements of the heart. Some songs are sung boldly and some alone in the dark. Some allow us to weep with joy or sorrow, some are dirges and some are dances, some are prayers and some are praise. But all have rich stories to share. When we sing together, we hear the stories of others, listen and learn and then share them and make and remake them as our own. “After a song…the differences between us were not so great. Somehow, making a song required an expression of that which was common to us all.” Bernice Johnson Reagan.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Church, Worship, Sacred Space


Last Wednesday we had our second Pop-Up Church, a concert by Bobby Jo Valentine in an empty store front in downtown Lowell. To prepare, we cleaned and swept the space, hung lights, brought in chairs and tables. We brought snacks and pizza and juice and made sure to hang our rainbow banner so that everyone would know they were welcome. We put signs in the windows and passed out postcards and wrote Pop-Up Church on the wall. And then we waited to see what would happen.

What do you think of when you hear the word “church?” How about “worship?” How about “sacred space.” I felt that sacred space began to form as soon as people began wandering in. A parent with her children. Grandparents. People we see every Sunday. Guests we know from Under the Oak. People from the bar next door who had helped us set up, people just wandering by wondering what was happening. The music spoke to us all, Ebony’s gift of song became our prayer, Bobby Jo’s words of pain and restoration became our sermon. And there we were, a new, small gathering of God’s children, worshiping together in this amazing space created for just this single night.

As I thought about the event the next morning, I thought about how many times Jesus found himself in large crowds. People followed him, applauding his words and his healing and his leadership. He had the numbers. He had the “Likes.” And what did he do? Often, in the stories we know and love, he either gave them the slip or he singled out an individual to pay attention to. “Who touched me,” he asks, in the midst of an immense jostling crowd. And we learn that a desperately ill woman, impoverished and probably scorned by her society, has reached out to touch nothing more than a piece of his clothing. And she is made well. Jesus speaks to her in the crowd and commends her faith and wishes upon her joy and peace! (Luke 8:43-48)

So I wonder about all our gatherings – Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, Church, Sacred Space. I think the question stays the same. “Who touched me.” And I think many of us were granted a touch of Jesus’ healing joy and peace as we worshiped together in an empty storefront on a mid-week evening in downtown Lowell.

                                                                                        Janet

Friday, October 20, 2017

Making a Difference

In the Jewish tradition there is a phrase that describes what CCU is seeking.  This idea is central to a “just peace” church.  Acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world are known in Jewish tradition as “Tikkun Olam”. This idea comes from classical rabbinic teachings meant to assure protection to those who may be at a disadvantage.

One way we at CCU "patch the world" is by our mission giving.  We set aside close to ten percent of our budget funds for mission.  This allowed us to create the Robinson Fund.  Through this fund we help to heal the world and protect the vulnerable.  So far we have made this happen in the following ways:

      Assistance for Legal Help with Immigration for a Pastor       $2,500
      Donation for "Gift Cards for Guns"                                            $200
      Food for Pathways to Justice                                                      $75
      LTLC Fundraiser Walk                                                               $500
      Travel Expenses for Lao Church Visiting Pastor/Consult       $1,274
      Donation to Medical Fund for Charlottesville                             $500
      Merrimack Valley Project Fundraiser                                      $1,000
      Merrimack Valley Project Membership                                      $590

Now there are new expenses related to our Sanctuary Network project.  The Robinson Fund will help to cover these.

Perhaps there is no better example of "just peace" work than the Sanctuary Network.  As I sit and type I can hear our volunteer contractor putting up a wall up in what will be our guest’s room.  Check the video below for progress.  This will be an effort that will require the cooperation of those within and outside of our church.

Soon the Just Peace Committee will be working on a covenant that represents CCU's commitment to becoming a courageous church.  Stay tuned.

Will Miller



Thursday, October 5, 2017

One Year Community Yoga Celebration

Our CCU Moderator, Valerie Jones, attended the one year celebration for the YOGA class which meets in our building.  This class is one of a number of offerings that makes up what we have come to call "Lowell Learns."

Lowell Learns is a way we offer our members activities that enrich their inner lives.  We also offer the the Lowell community an opportunity to come into our building and to take advantage of our "inner self enriching" classes.  The community gets to know us a bit better and we get to know them better.

Valerie's thoughts on the one year anniversary of the Lowell Learns Yoga class are below.

One Year Community Yoga Celebration 


Friday night September 29, 2017 there was a joyous celebration of community at Christ Church United in Lowell. It has been one year since Kimsokun Ket, better known as Kim, started
teaching community yoga free of charge supported by voluntary donations. I began yoga classes for the first time on week two. In the beginning it was difficult to perform the poses but with persistence in one year I am able to complete the flow of most moves. The healing affects of yoga physically and emotionally are priceless. Yoga helps to channel peace love and joy internally.

As changes occurred within so did the seasons. The warmer weather had us venture outdoors , "Yoga by the Sea" which attracted people to join into the community.  At the one year celebration Kim chose to showcase the many talents of the yogis. As we sweated next to each other, everyone of varying skill, we were unaware that we were in the presence of such extraordinary talent, such as life skill mastery, art, poetry, and music. Through Kimsokun's Vision of giving freely of her gifts to empower others she was able to add to her community and to ours. Friday night's one year celebration was alive with diversity and talents that filled our church with the laughter and love of a thriving community.  Come and join us at Christ Church United for community yoga on Thursdays at 6 PM for a life changing opportunity.

Valerie Jones

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

CCU as the Music Church

When I was hired, less than a year ago, I heard the phrase “The Music Church” and thought, well ya! Bring it on! A church that love and celebrated its place in the Kingdom and in the community through music – awesome!

That was before I knew how much great music already existed in Lowell. From Jazz events to the Folk Festival, from Gospel gatherings to Chris Tomlin, Lowell is full of music, really excellent music.

This past Sunday morning we had many welcome guests in church, celebrating the Baptism of a beautiful new baby. Voices had worked hard to learn our music. I had worked hard in prayer and planning for this service. And for a moment, as the guests filed in and the baby was passed around and adored, I found my thoughts also rushing about…Is this music good enough? Is it contemporary enough so that we don’t appear to be old fuddy-duddys? Is it traditional enough so that we don’t seem to be just trendy and shallow? Does it have enough sacredness to reflect the sacrament of Baptism? Will they enough the touch of jazz? Will they realize that they are being asked to sing hymns that have bounced between New England and back again for generations and exist now to speak to us of a heritage of faith and communal worship?”

So Wow!  That’s a lot of pressure on one hymn, one gathering song.

After the service, and elderly woman told me how much she loved the singing. Someone else mentioned enjoying the Voices. Other days, I hear enthusiasm for a very singable contemporary piece, or a duet, of a guest group. Most people are too reserved to let me know what they don’t like, but a few tell me loud and clear! This is fine!

So what’s my point? You can’t please everyone all the time? Well, yes, but also, and more importantly, we all arrive on a Sunday morning from different places. Places of joy or places of pain. Fear, sorrow, gratitude, hope. We all love different styles of music, and those styles connect us more than others. And my prayer for each service and gathering is that some part of the music, along with our prayers and the Word, will reach the part of you and the part of me that came in need of being heard this morning.

We are already The Music Church, busy loving and welcoming and singing right here in Lowell. As we sing our prayers, fears, joys and blessing together. As we clap to Gospel or chant a Taize meditation. As we share tickets to the Chris Tomlin concert or gather on the front steps in a drumming circle, or get our ukulele players together to lead “Lean on Me.” When you need a friend.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Lamp-stand?

You know the text that talks about not hiding your light under a basket.  We are to let our light shine brightly on a lamp-stand to give light to the world.  Strangely enough I find that one of our most visible lamp-stands is the web.  Facebook and the church web site are lamp-stands that provide light that others may “see our good deeds.”

I have experienced this "lamp-stand" text in a new context as I sit in the basement of the church this week.  More than once in the last several days we have been contacted by churches who have seen our website and want to talk with us about Sanctuary for refugees or who want suggestions for ways their church might be a more courageous peace, justice community.

Yes, you are doing good deeds at CCU.  You are opening the church to people who are in need or who are fleeing from persecution.  You are giving money and time to provide meals, transportation, housing and comfort.  You open the building to AA groups, community groups and organizations seeking to do good works.

All of that is good in itself.  Not only is it good, but these are deeds that may become light to the world.  It is fitting that we are humble and do not seek glory for what we do, but we also have an obligation to contribute to the light in the world.  On our own, we can only do so much.  However, when others see our deeds and feel our commitment to each other then at that point our light shines out and deeds multiply.

So the light shines out and I get a call.  “Can you tell us how your church got involved in Sanctuary for immigrants?”  Peter is on vacation so Karen hands me a note from another church.  “We looked at your website,” they say, “can you tell us how your church got so involved in justice issues?  We want to start down that road.”

Good deeds are good.  Keep up the good work.  But also let your light so shine on our lamp-stand that people keep clicking through and becoming engaged.  It is happening.

Will Miller

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Village Harmony

More than twenty years ago, I was invited to a concert by my new neighbors after moving to rural NH. We drove through the woods on a hot summer evening to enter an even hotter church, an iconic New England building with it’s white clapboards and steeple on the outside and it’s wooden floors and box pews on the inside. Then the singers arrived – 30 teenagers full of boisterous energy and dressed like they had just raided the thrift store for whatever funky thing they could put on!

For the next several hours, this group of young musicians performed songs ranging from Gospel to Early American Shaped Note, filling the church with ballads, dance tunes, lullabies and resistance cries. I fell in love with Village Harmony, and since then have had the joy of performing with several of their adult groups, and bringing the teen groups to several churches to present their concerts, including, this coming Monday, Christ Church United Lowell!



Village Harmony was founded in 1989 by Larry Gordon, and since then has sent singers and instrumentalists throughout New England and the world. Each camp is filled with unauditioned singers from many places and backgrounds. They meet for a week of intensive study, usually somewhere in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Singing sessions fill six or more hours a day, with individual coaching and impromptu music making in-between. Meals are shared, and in the evening there is usually a contra dance, talent show, or chance to go swimming. Then they go on the road, spending the next two weeks traveling, performing nightly, staying in hosts homes and churches, and forging lifelong bonds of music and friendship.

This Monday at 7:30 pm we will be privileged to welcome Village Harmony to our own church home! Under the leadership of Suzanna Park, Carl Linich, and Nadia Tarnawsky, will will hear music from Appalachia, Republic of Georgia, Ukraine, and the Balkans. There may also be sea shanties and dancing! I hope you will come and fall in love with this group and this music as well.


Janet Barry

What’s in a Song?

At the Jazz, Justice and Gospel concert last Saturday, we were privileged to hear many fabulous musicians, among them Marco Torres who pe...