All posts by marcia

Upcoming Service Notes, September 3, 2017

This Sunday Rev. Michael Caldwell returns to our pulpit and will serve Communion and will center us in on Matthew 6’s section concerning prayer and praying. We all, including our beloved children, know the words, yet are always in need of considering why they are so important for us.

Click on this UCC response to Hurricane Harvey and what you can do in terms of donations and any kits needed. The hard copy of this will be inserted into the Sept. 3rd worship bulletin. Our time of Joys and Concerns will include prayers for all those who were devastated, as well as all the First-Responders and Relief organizations.

The offertory this week, “Élévation” by René Vierne, is perfectly suited to transport us into a time of quiet contemplation of the prayer we have learned. The absolutely charming  “Allegro” by João de Sousa Carvalho will bring a smile to our hearts!

Whoever you are and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here!

Sermon, August 27, 2017

“Who/Whose Am I?”
Deacon Marcia Tomlinson
Bradford Congregational Church

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
Matthew 16:13-20
August 27, 2017

This morning we’ve heard the beginning of the Moses story. Wasn’t it fun to see the children act it out for us! … let’s recap what we once learned in Sunday School about Moses.

  • He was born when his people were in bondage in Egypt. His mother put him in a basket to save him.
  • An Egyptian princess adopted him and raised him as an Egyptian prince. When he grew up he killed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.
  • He fled the country but was considered an Egyptian by his language and stature. God instructed him through a burning bush to go back.
  • He spoke to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” He unleashed plagues one by one each time Pharaoh didn’t.
  • He and his people were protected as the Angel of Death passed over Egypt. He led his people through the parted Sea. He led them to Sinai.
  • He smashed their golden calf. God gave him the 10 Commandments. He led the people 40 years through the desert.
  • God would not let him go into the Promised Land but did let him see it from the mountain top. Before his death he is said to have written down all the story of his people that we have in the first 5 books of the Bible.

Right from the beginning, we are reminded of his dual identity: Continue reading Sermon, August 27, 2017

Trumpeter Josh Pauly and Organist John Atwood

On August 27, 2017 the congregation was swept up in the musical excitement created by this talented duo. This recording is of their final rehearsal of Hovhaness’ Prayer of Saint Gregory.

Click here to hear it.

Shown below is John making last minute revisions to his score. We are so very blessed to have such a musical talent in our midst!


The other pieces in the service were Peeters’ Meditation for the Prelude, Couperin’s Fugette on the Cromorne as Offertory, and Telemann’s La Grace as Postlude. Mr. Pauly played on the hymns and was especially appreciated for his trumpet intro on the final hymn, “God of Our Fathers.”

Upcoming Service Notes, August 27, 2017

WHO-DO-YOU-SAY-I-AM-TRADINGCARD-3.5X2-324x235Filling the pulpit on August 27th is Deacon Marcia Tomlinson, who will lead us in examining  the  “Who are you” and “Whose are you” questions which face us all. She says, ‘Jesus asked his core disciples, “Who do THEY say I am,” and straight away followed up with the very personal, “Who do YOU say I am?’ Through this week’s Lectionary*  scripture readings we’ll be exploring how even the rescue of Moses ties into these “who and whose” questions of spiritual identity and belonging.

Our guest musician this week is trumpeter Josh Pauly. Although he’s often found in a school band room teaching,  his performance career has included playing backup to swing style jazz group  “Five by Design.” This Sunday Josh will  play “Prayer of St. Gregory” by Alan Hovhanes (heard here with harmonium and cornet), and one or two trumpet pieces by Telemann. He will also join in on one or more of the hymns.

And speaking of hymns, one of them is going to be “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand” which has that spine-tingling trumpet intro we haven’t heard in many a year!

*The Revised Common Lectionary organizes the Bible into three year-long cycles of readings. Each cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent. We are currently in Year A which takes us through the Gospel of Matthew. See our EPISTLE for the current month’s listed readings.

Sermon, August 20, 2017

“Lost and Found”
Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell
Bradford Congregational Church

Luke 15: 1-10
August 20, 2017

God has a lost and found. Have you used it?

When I traveled to Germany and Austria in 1973 for Foreign Study, I left my camera on the train in Munich. I was on my way from Berlin to Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Alps – where a weekly ski pass was $25 and the b & b was $1.50 per night. Anyway, knowing the exchange rate was that good, I bought a nice camera in Berlin, so to lose it when I changed trains was a huge loss. I was heartsick.

I filled out a lost and found form at the train station in Kitzbuhel, but never imagined that I’d ever see that camera again, especially since I lost it in Germany and filled out the form in Austria.

Two months after my return to the States, I received a cardboard box in the mail from Munich with the camera inside… and with film I developed pictures from that I still have.  The lost and found service of the cooperative German-Austrian train system really worked. Some conscientious person really went out of his way to serve me well.

Couple months ago I went to a contradance in Montpelier. You have to change into soft-soled shoes for dancing. Long story short, I left my good teva sandals there and didn’t realize it until the next day. Fortunately, I knew one of the organizers of that dance and contacted her. She went out of her way to check the lost and found for me and found the sandals and got them back to me.

God has a lost and found that really works – like these two lost and founds. Have you used it?

I can be so hare-brained and forgetful that I’ve lost a lot of stuff over the years. I’ve sometimes tried lost and founds without success. Other times I’ve forgotten to even try…

When we try God’s lost and found – and don’t forget to try it – we may not always be successful right away, but he parables of our Lord here in Luke 15 indicate that God’s impulse is to find us when we’re lost, and to look diligently for us until we get found.

The one lost sheep was so important that the shepherd went out of his way to find it. No sheep in that flock of 100 was extraneous. Every one was precious to the shepherd.

The woman who lost the coin knew the value of that coin and swept the whole house until she found it.

There’s more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons.

Another way to say it:

God rejoices more when we turn to God when we’re lost than when we think we’re superior to others around us, or when we just don’t think we need help finding what we’ve lost – because, let’s face it, we’re all very vulnerable to loss –

loss of loved ones who have died

loss of health / loss of hope

loss of perspective / loss of direction

losing our temper / losing our cool

losing a marriage or a close friend… the list goes on.

One of my favorite books about ministry is Kate Braestrup’s Here if You Need Me – Kate’s memoir of her years as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. Great book. One of the things the wardens do, of course, is conduct searches for missing persons. As she says so well, though most searches do not end well, the families of the lost are always so thankful for the expertise and the dogged determination of the wardens and the whole search and rescue community in Maine.

Braestrup would be the first to compare the commitment of the wardens to God’s lost and found – a lost and found that works even when there is grief along the way.

You might say we use God’s Lost and Found every Sunday in worship, every day in moments of prayer and meditation. Your loss of Tom’s ministry is huge after three power-packed years when you accomplished extraordinary change. But when you focus with God on what you found together, by Grace, as a more fully inclusive Open and Affirming Church and as a congregation covenanted for direct communication, you find yourself fully found for a promising new future with a settled pastor.

In my work at a restorative justice center in Vermont, I see miracles happen in cases of tremendous loss – like with a woman who lost her sobriety over and over again before she got a full recovery when she stood to lose even the custody of her children – all this partly because she felt supported by a circle of support and accountability at the restorative center.

If you listen to NPR’s morning edition, you will recall “Story Corps” on Friday mornings. One of the most memorable stories I ever heard was from a woman by the name of Mary Johnson whose son was murdered. For some reason, she wanted to face her son’s killer, went to the prison and got permission to see him, I believe facilitated through her local restorative justice center. Something happened that first meeting – esp the tears and grief of the murderer – that kept Mary coming back to the prison. After many years, the prisoner became like a son to her and was released on probation early because of the bond with Mary that developed, and her testimony about his repentance.

One more story to conclude: my friend John Morris is a retired Episcopal priest who, in retirement, has immersed himself in activism for peace and justice, esp in the face of the growing revenge complex the US has since 9/11. He went to a march against the illegal and immoral practice of torture by the US military after 9/11 and ended up walking with a man who’s wife was killed on one of the planes that terrorists flew into the WTC in NY. He said to John: “it’s important to me in my grief to let go of my rage. If I give into it, it consumes me. My faith calls me to let go of my rage, like Nelson Mandela who said ‘carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die.'”

What about you? Where in your life is loss hitting you hard? Unless we find a way to let go of our losses, grieve our losses, and find a way forward, find hope again, we stay stuck, we stay lost.

God’s lost and found in worship, in church, in conversation with a trusted friend, at an AA meeting, wherever, makes a huge difference.

Don’t forget to check God’s lost and found whenever you need to along the way… Amen.


Upcoming Service Notes, August 20, 2017

TSJT_The-Lost-and-Found_1Returning to the pulpit this Sunday will be the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell, retired UCC pastor of North Wolcott, VT.  He will reflect on our losses, including the loss of a respected interim pastor, through the lens of “God’s Lost and Found.” Using Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15, we will be reminded to imagine that God has a lost and found where we will always find Grace, even in the inevitable grief of our lives.

m_zsoldos_1_4x6Some quite extraordinary special music is in store for us this Sunday. Michael Zsoldas, saxophonist will be with us! Michael  is Affiliate Artist and teacher at the University of Vermont, specializing in jazz and improvisation.  Among his many accomplishments he has been the musical arranger for Oprah Winfrey’s “Trip of a Life Time.” Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, August 20, 2017

Sermon, August 13, 2017

“Be Not Afraid”
Cass Poulos
Bradford Congregational Church
August 13, 2017

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28
Psalm 105:1-6,16-22,45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Please pause with me for a moment of prayer:

Merciful God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be acceptable in your sight. You are our strength and redeemer.  Amen


  1. Prevalence of fear today. Violence, hatred, and supporting rhetoric.

Fear→Stop thinking→ fight/flight, reptile brain

  1. Faith & Fear Cannot Co-exist Commonly expressed
  1. Christ theologians understood faith & trust to be synonymous→ either word could be used to express the same thing
  2. Faith: Noun➔Requires not action→ an intellectual agreement with a set of tenets/rules of faith or dogma
  3. Trust: Verb➔ requires action, follow through on faith
  1. Trust requires belief
  2. Belief can exist without trust/ without action
  1. Fear: Greatest potential for danger→ stops thoughtful action
  1. Be Not Afraid
  1. 1st X in Bible: Gen 3.10→ A & E have eaten of the forbidden fruit, hiding from God because they are afraid
  2. Addiction & Recovery→ Living Life→ Fear Can Stop Us→ Hide who we are, our deepest desires➔ fear becomes insurmountable→ grows in power and overwhelms. What was meant to serve as a warning and motivator to action becomes a blockade
  3. We become isolated from ourselves, others, and God
  1. Chaos
  1. Today: Racism, Violence, Threats of nuclear & conventional war,
  2. Sea in Ancient Times: Represented chaos itself. Chaos is unpredictable, dangerous, powerful➔ God only thing that held chaos at bay!

The image of a small boat with a single mast, a typical fishing boat, was an early symbol of Christianity. It represented the church as a refuge from a chaotic world where professing faith in Christ was dangerous. For the first time in Matthew, Jesus and the disciples are separated from each other. The translation from Greek, says Jesus “insists” which implies the disciples did not want to go alone, but they are obedient and “get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side” (Matt 14.22). Jesus then dismisses the crowds and he “went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matt. 14.23). We learn the boat is “battered by the waves” and “the wind was against them” (Matt. 14.24). In Greek, the boat was “being tortured” by the waves. The sea and wind stand as a barrier between Jesus and the small vessel bearing the disciples. Remember the first boat story (8.23-27) (explain)…the second one is different: Jesus is not with the disciples; there is not a storm; and the disciples are not afraid of the wind. Indeed, the disciples are far from the land which means they are physically far from Jesus. They only become terrified when they see an apparition walking across the sea and coming towards them. Jesus comes to them in the latest and darkest part of the night. Even though there is only one thing which overcomes chaos, that can walk on water, from the disciples’ viewpoint, the apparition could be chaos itself. The disciples are rightly afraid. In terror, they cry out, “It is a ghost!” and then, they just cried out. (14.26). But it is Jesus and he says, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” So here we have further proof that Jesus is Divine. Jesus identifies himself with it is I which correlates with God’s I Am statements. Five times in Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” and three times, Jesus says, “Take heart.”

Peter represents all of us. He calls out and addresses Jesus as “Lord.” The title Lord recognizes Jesus as Divine and in Matthew, Lord is only used by followers, believers in Christ. Peter displays a great deal of personal faith. But then he asks Jesus, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (14.28). In other words, prove to me who you are by doing certain things. In the beginning of Matthew, Satan challenges Jesus twice; prior to crucifixion, he is challenged by the high priest and during crucifixion, he is challenged and mocked. On each of these occasions, Jesus is asked to prove his identity. But this is the only time that Jesus agrees to meet the challenge.

And Peter climbs out of the safety of the boat and steps onto chaos. It is not until he takes his focus off Jesus, until he notices a strong wind and becomes frightened that he begins to sink. And he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14.30). Immediately, Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him…” and then Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14.31-2). When they get into the boat, the wind ceases. For the first time in Matthew, the disciples who are in the boat worship Jesus and call him the Son of God.

Frederick Buechner said, “faith is disorderly…intermittent [and] full of surprises.”  Now we can ask why someone like Peter could have enough faith and trust to address Jesus as Lord and fearlessly step out of the comfort of the boat and yet challenges Jesus and then takes his eyes off him. He sees the wind and is fearful and begins to sink. Faithfully, he calls upon Jesus as Lord, and is saved. And the rebuke Jesus gives Peter is mild. Perhaps, rather than judging Peter for his shortcomings and his fearfulness, we should focus on his fearlessness.

The image of the boat as the church, a refuge from chaos is always apropos. We all experience chaos. Maybe we have financial fears. Maybe we or someone we love received an unwanted diagnosis. Maybe there is so much pressure we cannot even name it.

We have the image of the boat as the church floating on chaos. It is easy to say nothing, to sit within the confines of the church and never risk because we are afraid. It is too easy to ignore the clamoring of want and need outside our doors. It is too easy to remain disconnected from others because of fear. We are fearful of people with a different skin color, folks who immigrate, and people who are destitute. We may throw money towards “social problems.”  But the Gospel calls upon us to be open hearted, to be risk takers for the sake of Christ. We are called upon to risk finding out that we are worthy, that Jesus reaches out to us in the darkest and deepest part of the night. To be connected with another means that we risk vulnerability, that someone will see us for whom we really are. And maybe if they know, they will reject us or not meet our expectations. But to be faithful, to be sloppy and “disorderly in our intermittent faith” means we are open to the possibilities of Jesus reaching out and the possibility that we are loved exactly as we are.

Speak out against violence. Reach out to those who are different. Reach out to those who are fearful. Tell someone what God is doing for you today, what God does for you each and every day. How does faith and trust make a difference in your life.

Faith and trust are never complete. Rather they wax and wane and come back again stronger than before. I do not remember the amount of times God says, Be Not Afraid, but I do know God said it because humans experience fear. It is appropriate in dangerous situations. If it keeps us enslaved and stuck then it is time to jettison some of it… enough to take a step outside the boat and trust that when we begin to sink and we will, that Jesus will meet us with an outstretched hand.


Upcoming Service Notes, August 13, 2017

This  faith-full Sunday, August 13th,  we are delighted that Cass Poulos will again be filling the pulpit. She says:

“What we are told and learn about faith depends upon the teacher. Many of us who are older, may have learned that having faith means we never doubt, never waiver or falter in our walk with Christ. Younger folks may learn that wavering and faltering means we are human. Frederick Buechner, a Progressive theologian, said, ‘Faith is disorderly…intermittent [and] full of surprises.’   Examples of faithfulness in the New Testament vary…so what is a Christian to do? Come to church Sunday and we will explore how Peter might respond.”

Also returning to our morning worship will be flutist Lisa Barfield for the Special Music! She’ll play Humperdinck’s  Evening Prayer and  C. Franck’s  Adagio from Chorale in A minor. (Click on the highlighted titles to hear these lovely pieces)

What hymns of faith-FULL-ness did you grow up singing?

So familiar, yet never failing to penetrate deeply and lovingly into our hearts, When Peace Like a River (It Is Well With My Soul) was written out of grief Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, August 13, 2017

Sermon, August 6, 2017

“Taxi Driver”
Rev. David Pruitt
Bradford Congregational Church
August 6, 2017

Luke 24: 13-40  Matthew 25:31-40

When He walked the earth, the compassion of Christ could show up at strange times and in unusual ways.  It was sometimes not accurately identified until after the fact.  Luke describes two followers of Christ who hungered for connection with him and spent likely a blessed hour or more with him but did not recognize him until the end of their visit.

Matthew gives us Jesus praising other followers for marvelous ministry to him in his need when they had no idea it was Christ they were serving.  This can still be true today.  This morning we’ll share a short communion reading reminding us of that truth.  It’s entitled “Taxi Driver”.


Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for living.  When I arrived at 2:30 a.m. the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.  Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away.

But, I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation.  Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door.  This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

I walked to the door and knocked.  “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice.  I could hear something being dragged across the floor.  After a long pause, the door opened.  A small woman in her 80’s stood before me.  She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie.  By her side was a small nylon suitcase.  The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years.  All the furniture was covered with sheets.  There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters.  In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said.  I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.  She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.  She kept thanking me for my kindness.  “It’s nothing” I told her. ” I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.” “Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.  When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said.  “I’m in no hurry.”  I’m on my way to a hospice.”  I looked in the rear-view mirror.  Her eyes were glistening.  “I don’t have any family left,” she continued.  “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.   “What route would you like to take?” I asked.  For the next two hours, we drove through the city.  She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.  We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.  She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.  Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired.  Let’s go now”.  We drove in silence to the address she had given me.  It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.  Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up.  They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.  They must have been expecting her.  I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door.  The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. “How much do I owe you?”  she asked, reaching into her purse.  “Nothing” I said. “You have to make a living,”  she answered. “There are other passengers,” I responded.  Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.  She held onto me tightly.  “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”  I squeezed her hand then walked into the dim morning light.  Behind me, a door shut.  It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift.  I drove aimlessly, lost in thought.  For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.  What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to ended his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.  We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.  But great moments often catch us unaware–beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

People may not remember exactly what you did, or what your said, but they will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel.

So we celebrate an act of thoughtful, heart-felt compassion.  The name of God, of Christ is nowhere spoken.  The taxi driver, and perhaps the elderly woman, may have seen their experience as only an act of human kindness.

But after the fact, such acts can and should be celebrated as in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.  When the time comes, may there be such a taxi driver for you and me.