Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

May the Angel of Annunciation awaken in you God's profound heartfelt love.

May Mary guide you in birthing the Holy One in your life and in birthing Love in others.

May Joseph engage you in deeper questioning and listening and give you courage to risk the next step. May your life become a Luminous Presence leading others to the place in their hearts and in the world where Christ is always being born anew.

May you have The Spirit of Christmas which is Peace. The Joy of Christmas which is Hope.

The Heart of Christmas which is Love.

May these Blessings be yours this Christmas!

from Ministry of the Arts

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tis the Season

This Sunday we continue to travel through Advent together as we light the Joseph candle and explore the notion of Silent Love. Our potluck theme reflects the diversity of The Gathering - salads. Our offering will be designated for The Gathering. Many thanks to Dick and Toni Marine who are organizing our Advent emphasis and to Dick Marine for co-planning and leading worship.

5:30 pm, 618 Locust St.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mary: Mother of Jesus

Perhaps no female in the history of humanity has been so talked about as Mary, the mother of Jesus. This Sunday we'll Gather to better get to know this woman who proclaimed the passionate and social justice-oriented vision called the "Magnificat" (Luke 1:46-55. We'll also encounter and celebrate another Divine Feminine/Mary figure as we observe the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is Sunday, December 12. Interestingly, the foci of both these women is relevant this week given current political events - e.g., tax breaks and wikileak allegations, and another of this weekend's emphases - Human Rights Day. In addition, we'll light the third Advent candle - the Mary candle. The first two, in our Advent wreath created by Toni and Dick Marine, are Light and Star.

At this point, Sunday's weather forecast is for cold, so let's warm up with chili - beef, turkey, vegetarian, whatever kind you like. We'll also need the accompaniments. Our offering will be designated for the pancake mix effort.

Merry Mary Sunday
This Sunday, December 12
5:30 pm
618 Locust Street

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gathering for Advent Observance

The Advent season is a time of longing, of expectation, of hope for the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation, fulfillment, and traveling through the desert are all part of the Advent experience. In the words of Jan Richardson, ''Advent beckons us beyond the certainties that may not serve us - those sureties we rely on that may have no substance to them after all. Advent is a season to look at what we have fashioned our lives around - beliefs, habits, convictions, prejudices - and to see whether these leave any room for the Christ who is so fond of slipping into our lives in guises we may not readily recognize. Advent reminds us that ultimately, we live in mystery, but if we stay awake; if we open our eyes in the midst of our life, with all of its wildness and wonders, then we will see: Something is coming."

Join us for worship Sunday as we traverse the Advent wilderness together. Our offering will be designated for United Campus Ministries (and don't forget your pancake mix - see below), and our potluck theme is food of the season.

Sunday, December 5, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Friday, November 26, 2010

SALT this Sunday

Ecumenical Advent Worship with San Angelo Living Together (SALT)
St. Paul Presbyterian Church, 6:00 p.m.

We're adding a little "SALT" to Advent by joining with others this Sunday for the San Angelo Living Together community-wide Advent service and meal. Worship begins at 6:00 p.m. and will consist of gospel singing, scripture reading, and prayers. St. Paul Presbyterian Church, the host, will provide dinner following worship. As in previous years, the evening promises to be full of good singing, good conversation, and a chance to develop relationships with people across the city. Meet at St. Paul Presbyterian, 11 N. Park Street, for the 6:00 worship time.

Please Note: We will NOT meet at 618 Locust Street this Sunday, November 28.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gathering to Give Thanks

This Sunday we will gather to celebrate and give thanks by sharing the rich and full gifts and experiences of Gatherers, so come ready to share and enjoy readings, poems, art work, scripture, stories, etc, about different experiences and meanings of Thanksgiving.

As is our practice, we will share hospitality and a meal with others - but with a twist. Instead of having a large Thanksgiving dinner together, we will have a minimal meal of soup and crackers Sunday night. If you have a crock pot and want to bring soup, do so, or bring a can of something and we will mix the various cans together and have "hobo" soup. But here's the deal: so that we can share the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with others, we'll donate Thanksgiving food items to the Concho Valley Area Food Bank. So please bring Thanksgiving staple items such as cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, green beans, yams, cake mix, etc., and we'll gratefully share our abundance with others via the Food Bank.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God's presence with singing. Enter God's gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise. Give thanks to God. For the Lord is good; God's steadfast love endures for ever, and Divine faithfulness to all generations.--Psalm 100:1-2, 4-5

The generosity of God in sharing the goodness of creation with us can elicit only one possible response - that of gratitude.--Esther de Waal

Sunday, November 21
5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The bite in the air,
the smell that crisp October wind brings,
the earth moist and pungent
ripe grapes scenting the air
the mossy wet aroma of decay
and the leaves
coming on like paper lanterns,
dressing for death in colors of sun and blood
this is autumn

from Wabi Sabi Simple,Richard Powell

Friday, November 12, 2010

Practicing Gratitude

This coming Sunday, November 14, we will gather for a time of contemplative meditation focused on gratitude. We will "practice gratitude" by giving our offering to the San Angelo Friends of the Environment. For the potluck, you are invited to bring something for which you are thankful. Ann has noted before that "We are truly a 'bread and fishes' group where there is always plenty of food. So if cooking is not your favorite activity, or if you are rushed for time, bring something easy like chips, bread, soda or a smile. Share yourself--never worry about food."

Sunday, November 14, 2010
5:30 pm
618 Locust Street

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thursday is Movie Night

Join us for Call Me Malcolm on Thursday, November 11 at 6:30 pm. The movie will be shown at the new SpringHill Suites Hotel, 2544 Southwest Boulevard (also off Loop 306 access road, close to The Olive Garden and Home Depot). Inside the hotel, look for the Raiders Room.

Voluntary donations will go to Angelo State University's HERO, Helping Educate Regarding Orientation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gathering to Remember Our Saints

Sunday night, November 7, the saints will come marching in as The Gathering observes All Saints Day, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street. For this remembrance Sunday, we will be celebrating the lives of those loved ones (pets as well as people) who are no longer with us. Ann suggests you bring a photograph, newspaper clipping, memento, or just a note to place on our special altar to honor the life/lives of your loved one(s). In the best of Gathering fashion, it will be an interesting mix of traditions.

Our offering is designated for Hope United Church of Christ in Georgetown, TX, a South Central Conference new church start, which just started worshiping in October. Hope United is chosen for a couple of reasons:

As we honor our faith ancestors, we recognize and affirm our relationship with those who have come before us in the UCC; and appreciating that even as we are still a new church start we are becoming the ancestors of those who will come after us, we are giving to another UCC church in formation - our younger sibling, so to speak.

Hope United "seeks to be a community of faith that is open to all, offering the freedom to explore the questions of life, share the love of Christ, grow in faith, and work for peace and justice." We also celebrate the beginning of a brand new church start - Christ United in Carrollton, Texas.

Our potluck theme is anything your saints inspire you to bring. All are welcome!

Sunday, November 7
5:30 pm, 618 Locust St

Friday, October 29, 2010

Monster Mash

Gathering for Sacred (not Scary) Business

Don't get spooked... it's time to gather for an evening of ghastly fun business. We've got a lot going on in The Gathering and much to share with each other, so this evening will be full of engaging with the Spirit and discussing and deciding things that shape who we are. All goblins and monsters are encouraged to participate. The Gathering is a collaborative community where each voice is unique and important in making up the whole. We say we welcome all into the "full life and ministry of The Gathering" and that doesn't just mean others - it means us, too!

Recognizing the time issue, we will not have a regular pot-luck; feel free, however, to bring Halloween snacks to share if you'd like. Also feel free to come in Halloween drag! Our monetary offering will be designated for The Gathering; you are also invited to bring canned and boxed food for Project Dignidad.

5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spirituality: Art 21

Sunday, October 24
Art and Spirituality
5:30 pm, 618 Locust

Jeremy Hahn will lead this Gathering and describes it as: "We will be showing an episode of the documentary ART:21, titled 'Spirituality', which explores questions about faith, belief, meditations, and religious symbols through the work of five different contemporary artists: Beryl Korot, Ann Hamilton, John Feodorov, Shahzia Sikander, and James Turrell." Our potluck is vegetarian, and the offering recipient is still to be determined.

See You There,
Karen Schmeltekopf
The Gathering

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nancy & Friends

Nancy York and friends (Ann Light, Teresa Rylander, maybe others) will be co-leading worship while Karen is on vacation. Imagining the creativity, energy, and resources Nancy, Ann, and Teresa bring to worship planning and leading, Sunday's worship will be rich and satisfying. The theme is "What is the compassionate response to adversity?" The offering will be designated for CROP Walk, and the potluck is fingerfoods.

Gathering for Worship
Sunday, October 17, 2010
5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Llama Whisperer & Her Furry Friends

Sunday, October 10, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Beverly Fisher and friends will join us Sunday night as we learn about healing and community from llamas. Yes, the llamas will be present. Our offering is designated for The Gathering. Because South America is generally considered to be home to these gentle and social animals, we'll go South American for our potluck theme. This is a great evening to invite people to The Gathering!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Breaking Bread

One piece of what makes The Gathering The Gathering is sharing our communal meals. We believe that "Communion" is made as we sit down at a table together to share food and share ourselves. Our meal is a sacred way of tying us together and tying us to God.

Is this why so many traditions consider sharing a meal together sacred? Is this the meaning of "World Communion Day"? How does Jesus' table fellowship fit in? Feminist theologian Janet Walton says a sacred meal is powerful because it embodies memory, imagination, power, encounter, freedom, relationships, presence, and blessing. We'll explore these notions Sunday night when we gather for worship. Our offering will be designated for Neighbors in Need. This offering of the United Church of Christ supports ministries that address poverty, economic development, human rights, peacemaking, violence, racial and economic justice, public policy advocacy, and environmental concerns. Our potluck theme is international - e.g., how might our neighbors in Bangladesh, Mexico, Sweden observe World Communion Day?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gathering for a Blessing

Our next opportunity to communally share Divine Presence and Touch will be Sunday, September 26, when we gather for contemplative meditation. Karen McGinnis and her fellow blessing givers will offer the Oneness Blessing. Karen notes the Oneness Blessing board will also be available. If you wish to bring a photo or write a note regarding family, friends, pets, or anything else, you are invited to place it on the blessing board.

For more information before Sunday, check out San Angelo's Oneness Blessing website

This will be our last evening to collect beans and rice for our special 100 pounds of beans and 100 pounds of rice for Project Dignidad. At this point, we have about 65 pounds of each, so we're almost there! Our offering, then, will be for Project Dignidad - beans, rice, and monetary.

In honor of the Fall Equinox, occurring this week, our potluck theme is fall food.

Sunday, September 26, 5:30 pm
618 Locust Street

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peace as a Foundation

All things pertaining to spiritual progress in life depend upon peace.

- Hazrat Inayat Khan quoted in The Heart of Sufism edited by H. J. Witteveen
In September, The Gathering has focused on the spiritual discipline of living and cultivating peace - both without and within. We do so in observance of the Season of Peace, which began on September 9th and will conclude with the International Day of Peace on September 21st. We have participated in prayer services and vigils, the 9/11 memorial service, worship, conversation, and of course, showing the movie One Peace at a Time. This Sunday we will continue to explore the theme as we worship together, 5:30 PM September 19th, 618 Locust Street. Many thanks to Nancy York and Trudy Darling for their efforts in helping create the worship experience.

Women for Women International will be our offering recipient as they are cultivating peace by providing women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies. They state: We're changing the world one woman at a time. Our potluck will play on the old "peace" bumper sticker "Imagine Whirled Peas" (after all, one of our Practices is "humor"). Do with that what you will!

Sunday, September 19
5:30 PM, 618 Locust Street

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"One Peace at a Time" Showing this Thursday

One Peace at a Time will show September 16th at 6:30 pm at the San Angelo Convention Center. The movie is part of San Angelo's Season of Peace and The Gathering's film series. All are invited.

Over the next few months, the Gathering will host four films in a series titled "Neighbors Known and Unknown." Each film will highlight a different aspect of the broad and fascinating tapestry of human experience. One Peace at a Time is the first in the series.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Having Faith

What is faith? What does it mean to "have" faith? Or have a "crisis of faith"? What's the relationship between faith, mystery, and control? How does one nurture faith?

This Sunday, Teresa Rylander and I will lead an exploration of the subject based on insights from Sharon Salzberg's book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. "This is the best book about faith that we have read in a long time," say Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat at In addition to our offering of 1 pound bags of beans and rice for Project Dignidad, we will receive our fall semester offering for Angelo State's United Campus Ministries, a place "which exists to provide an environment where faith and knowledge and their relationship can be explored." Our potluck is anything light and cool.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Season of Peace Begins

Peace Ambassadors of West Texas, an interfaith group working to promote peace through understanding, invite all to join in the 2010 “Peace Begins with Me” Season of Peace. Becky Benes is serving as The Season of Peace coordinator.

The Season of Peace hosts an interfaith service this evening at 7:00 pm at Unity Church. The schedule is as follows:

1 a.m. today — Prayer vigil for peace and healing begins.

7 p.m. today — Interfaith prayer service, Unity Church of Christianity, 5237 S. Bryant Blvd.

9:30 a.m. Saturday — 9/11 Memorial Service at the 9/11 Memorial site by Celebration Bridge, behind the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, 1 Love St.

6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 — “One Peace at a Time,” a film by Turk Pipkin, San Angelo McNease Convention Center, 500 Rio Concho Drive. Sponsored by The Gathering-UCC.

12:30 p.m. Sept. 19 — Musical program with Dwain Briggs, Unity Church of Christianity, 5237 S. Bryant Blvd.

6:30 p.m. Sept. 21 — “The Many Names for God: Challenges of Interfaith Dialogue,” University of Houston world religions professor Helen Rose Ebaugh, ASU’s C.J. Davidson Conference Center, 1910 Rosemont Drive.

Midnight Sept. 21 — Prayer vigil ends.

The Gathering is showing the film, One Peace at a Time movie on September 16. All are invited to participate.

Over the 12 day Season, people are encouraged to pray for peace in their homes and faith communities.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Golden vs. "Gold &" Rule

Lonesome Rhodes: This whole country's just like my flock of sheep!

Marcia Jeffries: Sheep?

Lonesome Rhodes: Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me!

Lonesome Rhodes
: I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!

In the 1957 black-and-white film, A Face in the Crowd, the scariest Andy Griffith you ever did see plays Lonesome Rhodes a raucous hayseed that starts as an itinerant Ozark guitar picker who catches on as an incendiary inciter and then becomes a TV big time personality and political king-maker. Marcia Jefferies is the media shaker and mover that discovers him literally along side the road and helps to launch the career that becomes a monster. Could it be that the line between film and reality gets blurred upon occasion?

On August 28th Glen Lee Beck was the organizer and master of ceremonies for his Restoring Honor Rally at the Lincoln Memorial. The crowd estimates vary, but certainly multiple thousands came out to hear speech and song in a staged effort to let the rest of America know that there are citizens that feel passionately about the safety of their Christian Nation.

Mr. Beck’s admirers and supporters are attracted to and moved by “this [man] who stands for truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, a recent letter to the editor writer allowed. The assertion is that Americans have lost their sense of honor as it “has been disappearing from our lives and dictionaries over the past 20 years, maybe longer.” The writer went on to say that what has to be done to save the country is to start making some changes as a nation, and as individuals, including recognizing that not only America, but the world as a whole needs God.

When there is such passion and conviction by admirers and followers one wonders why those who are not fans of Beck don’t get it? Just what accounts for such a dramatic split?

Mr. Beck presents himself as a common sense man come to lead the lost out of the wilderness and away from socialism, communism and a racist president. Supporters experience him as a man of passion and reverence who has overcome problems in his personal life to be their champion of truth, honor and the American Way.

His critics see a dog-and-pony circus clown who is now making 32 million dollars a year via crocodile tears and finger pointing as he rants Beck-basics from a self serving black board.

As the movie demonstrates this type of public figure is nothing new under the sun. There is a long line of American characters that have popped up, especially on the radios of the common man, telling all who would listen about what it takes to get on the right track. Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920’s, Father Coughlin in the 1930’s, Joe McCarthy in the 1950’s and of course, Rush Limbaugh in more recent time have shouted down sin and stupidity as the protectors of American freedom, pride and exceptional values.

These days of course fear mongering is daily fair on 24/7 on cable news. If a viewer sits for too long in front of the tube it becomes very difficult to keep separate the paper tigers of our mind versus the real tigers of our lives as the echo chamber amplifies constantly.

When conviction and hostility flow like a raging river separating neighbors and community what can be the solution? Could it be as simple as not doing to others what we don’t want done to us? Oh, but wait, that might close the circus and take away multi-million dollar incomes and influential positions of adulation. Once again, that doggone Golden Rule, it can be just so inconvenient at times.

Guest post written by Neil Snipes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sacred Work

Labor Day was established to honor workers and commemorate their contributions and struggles, past and present, to bring justice and dignity to the workplace and to society. Since its founding 100+ years ago, the struggle for justice and dignity in the workplace continues. Currently, more than two million full-time, year round US workers live below the poverty line, struggling to pay for necessities such as food, housing, healthcare, transportation, and childcare. Since 1996, thousands of faith communities have focused Labor Day weekend services on injustices facing low-wage workers and the religious community's efforts to support workers' struggles for living wages and family-sustaining benefits.

The Gathering will join this effort Sunday night as well as reflect on what makes "work" - whether it's sweeping, teaching, painting, preaching, banking, gardening, or whatever else - sacred. Our monetary offering will be designated for an organization whose "work" is to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth by helping others work: Heifer Project. They stress that "by giving families a hand- up, not just a hand-out, we empower them to turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope."

In addition, you are invited to bring the classic healthy hardy budget meal: one pound bags of beans and one pound bags of rice for a special "September Beans and Rice" offering for Project Dignidad. (See below for further story.) Our potluck will be dishes containing beans and rice and anything that accompanies this delicacy.

Gathering for Worship
Labor Day Weekend
Sacred Work
Sunday, 5 September
5:30 PM, 618 Locust Street

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gathering for Sacred Business

Community Conversation Regarding Our Priorities

We've got a lot going on in The Gathering and much to share with each other, so this evening will be full of engaging with the Spirit and discussing and deciding things that shape who we are. You are encouraged to participate. The Gathering is a collaborative community where, just as our bell banner symbolizes, each voice is unique and important in making up the whole chorus. We say we welcome all into the "full life and ministry of The Gathering" and that doesn't just mean others - it means us, too!

Recognizing the time issue, we will not have a regular pot-luck; feel free, however, to bring a sack supper if you'd like. Our monetary offering will be designated for The Gathering; you are also invited to bring school supplies which will be donated to Austin Elementary, the school zone in which Promenade Square (618 Locust) resides.

Sunday, August 29
5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Join Us in The Garden

Dinner and a Movie
Sunday August 22, 5:30 pm

We'll watch Academy Award Nominee The Garden, and discussion will be lead by Maurice Toliver.

Synopsis: The fourteen-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country's most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community.

But now, bulldozers are poised to level their 14-acre oasis.... The powers-that-be have the same response: "The garden is wonderful, but there is nothing more we can do." If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?

We'll share garden fresh vegetables and other treats while we watch the movie, so easy-to-eat-on-your-lap garden-fresh kinds of things are suggested for our potluck. In observance of Ramadan, and in response to the devastating floods in Pakistan, our offering will be designated to help Pakistani flood victims.

618 Locust Street
San Angelo, Texas

Friday, August 13, 2010

Service of Song & Prayer in Manner of Taize

The Taizé community, based in Taize, France, is an ecumenical monastic order with a strong devotion to peace and justice through prayer and meditation. Prayer and silence are at the heart of the Taizé experience.

The 100-strong community of Catholic and Protestant monks is drawn from 30 countries across the world. The community has become one of the world's most important sites of Christian pilgrimage. Over 100,000 young people from around the world pilgrim to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work. Through the community's ecumenical outlook, they are encouraged to live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation.

The community seeks to include people and traditions worldwide. They demonstrate this in music and prayers where songs are sung in many languages, and include chants and icons from the Eastern Orthodox or other pieces of scripture, repeated and sometimes also sung in canon.

Sunday's Gathering worship experience will be a Taize service of prayer and meditation. Our offering will honor our own ecumenical effort devoted to peace and justice - West Texas Organizing Strategy. Our potluck theme is, of course, simple French fare.

August 15th at 5:30 pm
618 Locust
San Angelo, TX

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Forest of Love

This Sunday we will gather for exploration, reflection and conversation concerning the notion of unconditional love. Teresa Rylander and Howard Green will facilitate the conversation, and they use as their foundation an interesting collection of writings from the Tao te Ching, John Shelby Spong, and Dale Allen Hoffman.

The offering will be designated for Bread for the Journey and the potluck theme is Light and Easy. Join us 8 August 2010 at 5:30 pm, 618 Locust.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pastoral Response to Proposition 8 Ruling

August 4, 2010 – Today, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared the California state law that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman unconstitutional. I applaud this ruling and believe that Judge Walker has issued a just and fair ruling that pleases God. The journey to full marriage equality for all Americans is still before us. But I have faith that the God who created each of us and called it good is with us in this journey and will see it through.

As the world’s largest predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregation, we stand with the 18,000 same-sex couples who have already been married in California and with the hundreds that have been married here at the Cathedral of Hope in our 40 years of ministry. We also stand with every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person who has courageously made covenant with someone they love despite the laws in our nation. This is a day of celebration and joy and we have seen the realm of God come closer to the earth and for that I give God thanks.

Rev. Jo Hudson, Ph.D., Senior Pastor
Cathedral of Hope
Dallas, Texas

Friday, July 30, 2010

One Great Celebration

You are Cordially Invited to a Celebration of 1's:
1 Year of Gathering Weekly
1 Year of Gathering at Promenade Square
1 August 2010
Sunday, 1 August 2010
5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

In September 2006, a group began gathering monthly to share and deepen their souls. Over the next few years, enlivened and prompted by the Spirit, this eclectic spiritual group gradually evolved into The Gathering, a new church start of the United Church of Christ. Today we are still committed to spiritual growth; we still seek to know God through the practice of spiritual disciplines, compassionate service and prophetic action; and we are still evolving. We believe that authentic relationship with the Divine means authentic relationship with the world, and we seek to be agents of healing and hope. We are an ecumenical faith community, drawing from and enriched by a variety of traditions, and we choose to affiliate with the United Church of Christ.

This Sunday, we will gather to celebrate our stories - those that ground us in our faith traditions, those we are currently creating together, and those particular Gathering stories yet to be made.

Our offering will be two-fold: because it is our anniversary, we will receive an offering for The Gathering; and because it's a first anniversary of sorts, we will honor the occasion by receiving a traditional "first anniversary" gift - paper goods. The recipient for this special offering will be the Concho Valley Regional Food Bank. They need paper goods of all kinds - paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, cups, plates, etc. For our shared potluck meal, you're invited to bring something that reflects your experience of The Gathering. (I know it's an old joke, and I'm trying hard to resist, but it would be so easy to say "mixed nuts" or "fruit salad" here - and you have to admit, both actually fit.)

Come celebrate this day - and bring your stories with you!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Cool Place to Be

Inspired by the writings of John Shelby Spong, Ann will lead us in exploring the questions:

"If God is not a being (entity), what does it mean to love God?" and "If God is not a being (entity,) how does God love us?"

Homemade ice cream and trimmings will help cool and soothe our hot discussion. Ann and Crockett are bringing vanilla, and she invites someone else to bring an additional flavor. Of course, we also need the appropriate "condiments" - like cookies, cake, toppings, gooey stuff, etc. Ann suggests:

"If no one has the energy to make homemade, store bought ice cream will be just as good. Bring your bowls, spoons and plan to dive in for a fun evening."

Contact Ann for more info. The offering recipient will be The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, an organization helping wildlife impacted by the Gulf oil spill.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Divine Gaze

"Only from the heart can you touch the sky." - Rumi

On July 11 Neil will lead a discussion on the contemplation of origin, meaning and humanity from a perspective few have gazed.

Please join us at 5:30 pm, 618 Locust. Pot-luck theme: Summer Delights. Offering recipient will be Our Church's Wider Mission, described as "the lifeblood of ministry and mission in the United Church of Christ."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hendersonville, N.C.:

A Church, an Organization and the Signs of Victory

Henderson County is located near Ashville in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, near where I grew up in Charlotte and into which I return every summer as if drawn like a magnet. In this county is an incredible church, together with a number of courageous clergy. The church is the First Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ; the clergy belong to an organization called "Love Welcomes All." I visited both of these entities early in June and both convinced me anew that the rearguard negativity against homosexuality inside conservative religious circles is today in the final stages of its own rigor mortis. This negativity has, I believe, become so irrelevant that it needs to be engaged no longer. The proper strategy is to ignore these voices from this moment on, whether they emanate from the Vatican, Canterbury or the television preachers who harass us daily through the media.

The First Congregational Church UCC is actually in Hendersonville, the major town in Henderson County, but this still means that it is part of what is a rural, conservative and fundamentalist culture. One sees words painted on the rocks and trees along the roads in and around Hendersonville announcing that "Jesus Saves" and warning those who pass by that they must be prepared "to meet your God." Three crosses are planted on various lawns throughout the area to remind the populace of Calvary. One church has even erected on its property a sign loudly proclaiming "Do not let the next time you come to church be when you are carried in by six strong men." Local radio in this area is filled with preaching voices that attack sin vigorously, elicit guilt massively and urge conversion constantly. The local newspapers cover church news regularly, printing many advertisements in the Saturday issue telling people where they can hear "full gospel preaching" on Sunday morning. One needs to understand this context before one can appreciate the witness made by the First Congregational Church and the organization known as "Love Welcomes All." This is their story.

Some years ago, an Englishman named Walter Ashley, an Oxford University graduate who had had a career in journalism, moved to Hendersonville to retire with his wife JoAnn, who had defied the sexism of her generation to become a corporate attorney. In this move they joined other retirees who had discovered that the gorgeous climate in these mountains made this an ideal retirement community. This couple had been married in and been active members of the Park Avenue Christian Church, one of New York City's most exciting and progressive congregations. Finding a new church home was important to both of them. That was not easy in this fundamentalist religious environment. The First Congregational Church was their choice and both of them immediately moved into leadership positions. Walter became the teacher of the adult Bible class on Sunday mornings. He explored the scriptures in this class in a way that no one in this community had heard it done before. He also introduced the members of this class to the writings of contemporary biblical scholars well known in the academies of Christian learning. People were excited by these new insights and when news of this class spread throughout the community it began to attract many more people to this congregation. Aided by a very gifted Senior Minister named David Kelly who deeply yearned to make his church an alternative to the cultural fundamentalism of this region, it became a religious enclave for the growing number of incoming retirees. One thing then began to lead to another.

A couple in this congregation, Ann and Jim Allen, were the parents of a lesbian daughter, and they wanted to be certain their child was welcomed in their church. Inspired by their membership in Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-Flag), they agreed to head up an educational campaign to have their church declared by their denomination to be "An open and affirming congregation." That campaign was a great success and this congregation added that designation to their outdoor sign and printed it on the back of their regular Sunday bulletin. They wanted to proclaim their identity to all who had the eyes to see.

When Walter Ashley died about five years ago, Pastor Kelly and Walter's widow JoAnn decided to honor him by establishing the Walter Ashley Lectureship to be held at this church annually in which the issues of the day might be forced into dialogue with contemporary Christian scholarship. I was privileged to be the first Walter Ashley lecturer in 2006 and was amazed to find the church literally packed, with people being drawn to these lectures from miles away. Since that inaugural year, other Ashley lecturers have included Walter Brueggeman, Marcus Borg and next fall they will welcome John Dominic Crossan, possibly America's best known historical Jesus scholar. Since the first of these Ashley lectures, a number of people attending them have decided to become affiliated with this church. In the meantime, Pastor Kelly retired and a gifted and articulate new pastor, Richard Weidler from Portland, Maine, has succeeded him. The church wanted a pastor to continue their direction and Richard Weidler wanted a church that was willing to stand for the things the annual Ashley lectureship embodied.

Meanwhile, in the wider community, one of Hendersonville's large Baptist Churches began a vigorous anti-homosexuality campaign based on stereotypes that are not accurate and Bible quotations that are inappropriate. It was such an affront to both knowledge and human dignity that a few open clergy and laity from moderate congregations throughout the county and led by First Congregational came together to form an organization called "Love Welcomes All." Their purpose was to carry out a series of day long educational seminars on the subject of homosexuality that would create a very different conversation. The cultural norms were questioned and people who had once believed themselves to be alone discovered that there was another Christian voice that they had never before heard. A new challenge arose on July 18, 2009, when the religion section of the local paper carried a lead article about a new book written by the pastor of Hendersonville's First Presbyterian Church entitled, Homosexuality and the Church: Overcoming Controversy with Compassionate Ministry. Compassionate Ministry turned out to be converting homosexuals to heterosexuality through prayer, variations of the 12-step program and the work of a fundamentalist organization called Exodus, Inc. that advertized its ability to "cure homosexuals." Since none of these procedures have any credibility in medical or scientific circles and indeed are badly discredited, this article served to refocus the work of "Love Welcomes All." Their first decision was to attend a public presentation on this book by its author at the First Presbyterian Church. The delegation from the First Congregational Church, included Pastor Richard Weidler, the previous interim pastor, Barbara Rathbun, who happened to be the wife of a practicing and board certified psychiatrist, the chair of their board of deacons, Clay Eddleman, also a board certified psychiatrist and a partnered openly gay man, and the person who served as the president of the local P-Flag group. The entire audience listened quietly during the presentation, which was laced with biblical quotations about Sodom and Gomorrah as well as verses from Leviticus. The author also made derogatory claims about the American Psychiatric Association and its positive findings on homosexuality that appeared to him to "invalidate the Word of God!" He ended his speech by announcing that he had never heard of a "Christian psychiatrist!" He was about to meet or hear of two who challenged him openly and immediately in his own church. That confrontation was the talk of the town.

"Love Welcomes All" went to work in earnest to educate the community and to isolate ecclesiastical negativity. They launched an educational campaign through the letters to the editor's column in the local newspaper. No medically or scientifically incompetent material that appeared in this forum from untrained or poorly trained "Christian Counselors" was allowed to go unchallenged. Psychiatrist Clay Eddleman coolly dismantled their prejudice letter by letter. This group began to plan and carry out quarterly interfaith community worship services to show the world that being Christian did not mean being homophobic. In time they identified and called out of the shadows, 35 gay-friendly congregations in a three-county area, all of whom had previously thought of themselves as isolated and alone. They opened a website,, that now has a growing membership, locally, nationally and, with its first member from Pakistan, internationally. A second local Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Mark Stanley, senior pastor at Hendersonville's Trinity Church has publicly written to his governing board, that he is no longer able in conscience or morality to continue to administer the law of his church regarding negativity to the gay members of his congregation. The unholy alliance between religion and homophobia is now being expelled from the Christian Church.

I had the privilege of addressing both this pioneering UCC Church and a "Love Welcomes All" service in early June. Today, both are growing in the mountains of western North Carolina. People opposing ignorance and homophobia in the Christian Church are learning that not only are they not alone, but they are a rising majority. These people understand that silence is the ally of homophobia and that confrontation with evil is not itself evil. What better sign could there be that this battle is over and that religious-based homophobia, the last bastion of this prejudice, is mortally wounded. The First Congregational Church UCC and "Love Welcomes All" have stood tall and made their public witness in a deeply fundamentalist and evangelical part of western North Carolina. Thanks be to God.

– John Shelby Spong

If you wish to write this church and thank them for their witness, please do so at Pastor Weidler and its members would love to hear from you. JSS

Friday, July 2, 2010

Freely Gathering: Conversation & Cook-Out

Sunday, July 4, 2010
5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Come join us in relational delight as we acknowledge our national heritage this Sunday, July 4th by Gathering for celebration and connection. "Nothing formal just fun" is the phrase of the day. Crockett and Neil will provide grills for hamburgers and such, so bring your preference of dogs or burgers and whatever else you like cooked on the grill as we celebrate independence in good company. Communal offerings so far include: hummus, pineapple and fresh-from-the-garden corn on the cob for grilling, potato salad, potato chips, tea, lettuce, tomatoes, Ball Park franks, buns, relish, mustard, onions, chili and sauerkraut, hamburger buns, and pickles.

Our offering will be designated for The People/Plant Connection - a new local organization promoting health and wholeness in individuals and San Angelo via community gardening and other horticultural endeavors.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gathering to Reflect on Sacred Texts

This week's summer solstice prompted curiosity, exploration, and reflection on creation stories - particularly those parts concerning the creation or appearance of light. This coming Sunday we will engage some of these stories and reflect together on the on-going power of their meaning. Undoubtedly, the conversation will be very "enlightening"!

Sunday, June 27, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street

Friday, June 18, 2010

Centering Prayer

This third Sunday of the month is our contemplative prayer time, and our theme this month is centering prayer. In the words of, "Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship." The website continues:

"Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer - verbal, mental or affective prayer - into a receptive prayer of resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with God."

Father Thomas Keating, the priest we have seen with philosopher Ken Wilbur on the Integral Spirituality DVD, will be our model for this practice; you can find him describing the prayer method on this youtube video. Our offering will be designated for United Campus Ministries, a "prayerful place" for many students, and our potluck will be anything - with the notion that our very preparation and engagement with food can be a prayer in itself.

Sunday's Gathering, 6/20
Centering Prayer
5:30 PM, 618 Locust Street

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fresh from New Orleans

The Gathering meets this Sunday, June 13, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street, and I look forward to being together again as The Gathering.

After hearing Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite at the Annual Meeting of the South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ in New Orleans, I am full of energy, enthusiasm, and hope for The Gathering because she talked about The Gathering! Well, she didn't really talk about The Gathering, but she did talk about the necessity for innovation in creating a faith community - and it appears we have much of that innovative impulse. Some of the topics she covered include "the age of anxiety," "wired wisdom," and "public theology". Sunday night I will share her insights, words of wisdom, and challenges, and you'll definitely want to be part of the conversation!

Our offering will be designated for the San Angelo Kids Eat program - the summer effort to feed a healthy lunch to 10,000 local children. And speaking of eating, because it is now officially hot (100+ degrees definitely counts as "official"), let's bring things that are cool, or will cool us down . Ice cream, watermelon, chocolates anyone?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our Loving Community

Gathering to Worship

Sunday, June 6 5:30 pm
618 Locust Street

Many thanks go to Nancy York for taking the leadership task of planning and leading worship for this coming Sunday night, June 6. As of this writing, the planning is on-going; the theme of our shared meal has been determined, and it's general potluck. To help Nancy and the community with worship, please contact her at:

South Central Conference Annual Meeting

Okay, I understand that every once in a while, as Pastor of The Gathering, I need to "take one for the team," and this weekend is my weekend of suffering. It's going to be hard, but someone's gotta do it, and since I do so love The Gathering, I'm willing. So what's the agony with which I'll be dealing? What's the sacrifice I'm ready to make? For what martyrdom will I become known far and wide? Of course - it's spending the weekend in New Orleans for the Annual Meeting of South Central Conference UCC.

When I leave early Thursday morning, I will take with me 18 personal hygiene kits, extra parts for more, and $140 we collected Sunday, May 16 for the homeless ministry at Back Bay Mission, Biloxi, Mississippi. I will also take delightfully creative Gathering brochures crafted by Jeremy Hahn, Neil Snipes, and myself. I return Monday. In between I will worship, break bread, attend workshops, participate in a skit about new church starts, visit with colleagues, talk about The Gathering, and be one of many doing the work of the South Central Conference. I suspect (and hope!) I'll also hear some mighty fine music and eat tasty Cajun food. Because no one in The Gathering is able to join me, my two sisters have volunteered (they, too, are into 'suffering') to come along. I look forward to the weekend, sharing about The Gathering while there, and sharing with you about the Annual Meeting when I return.

Friday, May 28, 2010

To Gather or Not To Gather...

That is One Question we Have Answered

Gatherers tend to be seekers, questioners, journeyers. We understand that there are many questions without answers and often, it is in the questioning itself, the journey itself that we experience the Holy. Mark this day (drum roll, please) - there is one question that does have a definitive answer - even for The Gathering: Due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, we are NOT Gathering this Sunday, 30 May, 5:30 pm. at Promenade Square, 618 Locust Street. Because we moved our fifth Sunday of the month "Community Conversation Re: Our Priorities" aka "Gathering for Sacred Business Meeting" meeting to the fourth Sunday of the month (and what a very satisfying conversation/sacred business meeting it was), we are encouraging ourselves to live on the edge this holiday weekend - not by asking deep theological questions or by seeking deep spiritual truths - but by resting, playing, enjoying our families, visiting our neighbors, and most of all, by remembering the men and women who have died while serving in the US military.

The Spirit, of course, is still alive and well even though The Gathering is not officially gathering. Watch for her presence as you walk along the river. Listen for her voice as you enjoy the breeze at sunset. Feel her energy as you celebrate graduations. Know her comfort as you attend a Memorial Service.

We will gather for worship and community again the first Sunday of June. 6 June, 5:30 pm, Promenade Square, 618 Locust Street.

West Texas Organizing Strategy Meeting
Thursday, 27 May 2010, 7:00 pm
St. Mary's Catholic Church
This summer's Kids Eat Program was discussed.

Shalom, Peace, Salaam,

Karen Schmeltekopf

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gathering the Spirit's Energy

Sunday, May 23, is Pentecost - an observance historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, which commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus. In Christian churches, Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Spirit upon the followers of Jesus as described in the New Testament book of Acts during these Jewish "fiftieth day" celebrations in Jerusalem. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described as the "Birthday of the Church".

On this day commemorating the Spirit's Presence experienced in a new way, we will celebrate and explore the Spirit's stirrings and wild activities among The Gathering - and in a curiously very appropriate way, we'll do that by having a "Community Conversation Regarding Our Priorities" - aka a Gathering-wide business meeting. This spring, the Community Connecting Workgroup and the Worship Planning Workgroup have put much prayer, energy and planning in to The Gathering, and they have much to share with the group as a whole - like the proposed summer schedule, the proposed fall schedule, a marketing effort, and the need to spend money to purchase things like a projector so we can watch movies again!

So the evening will be full of engaging with the Spirit and deciding things that shape who we are. You are encouraged to participate. The Gathering is a collaborative community where, just as our bell banner symbolizes, each voice is unique and important in making up the whole chorus (see purpose below). We say we welcome all into the "full life and ministry of The Gathering" and that doesn't just mean others - it means us, too!

Recognizing the time issue, we will not have a regular pot-luck; feel free, however, to bring a sack supper if you'd like.

Sunday, May 23, 5:30 pm, 618 Locust Street.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Serving Others

Sunday, 16 May 2010 5:30 pm
618 Locust Street

We will participate in the South Central Conference 2010 Annual Meeting mission project by making personal hygiene kits for the Back Bay Mission Homeless Ministry. Back Bay Mission, located in Biloxi, Mississippi, is a ministry of the United Church of Christ, and its mission in part states it: " faithful witness for social justice and compassionate service to the poor and marginalized." They advocate for justice and also provide direct services for those who experience injustice daily. I will take the kits to the Annual Meeting in June. Kit items still needed: 10 hand towels (approximately 16x28 inches), 8 washcloths, 24 wide tooth combs, 9 toothbrushes, 10 toothpastes, 26 plastic soap containers (to hold a bath size bar of soap), and 23 deodorants (solid or roll-on). Nancy York is coordinating the evening.

We will also hear about Isobelle Fox's experiences of the Transgender Caucus trip.

Because we will be putting the kits together, our "pot-luck" is snack food.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Celebration of the Feminine (on Mother's Day)

I look forward to the sharing we will do Sunday, May 9th in Celebration of the Feminine. I look forward to the readings, poetry, art, music, scriptures and stories. If you would like to give me a heads up prior to Sunday on what you plan to share, please feel free to email me.

Our offering May 9th will go to the Children's Miracle Network. This is a non-profit organization that raises funds for more than 170 children's hospitals, of which Shannon Hospital is a member. CMN hospitals help sick and injured kids in the local communities. CMN funds are kept in the community in which they are generated to provide life saving pediatric care, education, research and equipment.

Bring for our pot luck anything that reminds you of your mom, grandmother, or another special woman that has provided spiritual nourishment for you.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Love: The New Commandment

Gathering for worship this Sunday, May 2 at 5:30 pm, 618 Locust.

Jesus: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Rumi: "If you want to know Love, become 'we'."

Cynthia Bourgeault: "The goal is...the luminous capacity to 'love our neighbor as ourself.' Not as much as ourself - there is no comparative here - but as our very self."

Richard Evans: "Jesus' commandment is not about what you believe but about how you live."

How does one actually live Love? What are the possibilities if we actually became "we" and lived this Love? We'll explore these radical notions during worship Sunday night. As a concrete effort to become "we", our offering will be designated for the "Strengthen the Churches" offering of the UCC. The Gathering has been the recipient of this offering through the gifts of other churches because it
supports the creation of UCC new church starts. It also helps renew and revitalize existing UCC churches and supports the work of the God is Still Speaking Ministry, which shares the extravagant welcome to all.

Our potluck will be anything you'd like to bring that conveys the notion of living love.

text in the "How Can I Help" mandala (pictured above) reads:

How can I help? Forgive yourself and others; Embrace peace; Practice compassion; Respect life; Listen with your heart; Love.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Second Perfectly Pleasurable Picnic and Pet Parade

Sunday's Gathering, April 25 at 5:30 pm, is all about fun, frolic, and furry friends. We'll picnic at Ponderosa Park (in Mertzon's Ponderosa Estates) - eating, playing, fishing, and also blessing our animals. So, of course, family members who happen to be animals are welcome! If, for whatever reason, you're beloved critters are not able to be with us Sunday, blessings will also be offered "in abstencia." (They must be present, though, if they want to participate in the pet parade, etc. That seems only fair, don't you think?) Bring your pets for a blessing or just yourself and a friend (and/or your friends' pets) for an outdoor fun time under the trees on Spring Creek.

Our offering will be designated for the Tom Green County Humane Society in honor of Kristin Stanley, who designed and has managed our webpage for the past year. And in case you didn't notice, she and her feral cat colony have been in the local paper this week.

Fred and Marilynn Johnson will supply Arby's beef, buns,and sauce for our fun get-together and Crockett and Ann Light are reserving the Ponderosa Park. Gatherers are invited to bring side dishes, desserts, drinks, & ice. Ann suggests you let her know what you're bringing so we'll have a well-rounded and tasty meal. She also suggests you bring lawn chairs, insect repellent, fishing gear, and toys - either your own or your pets.

Directions to the Ponderosa Park:

Go south on Highway 67 toward Mertzon. Exactly 11 miles past the Super WalMart, there is a turning lane in the middle of the road and a sign in the right of way (on the right) which says "Ponderosa Ln." (this is a new sign-used to say E. Bryant.)

Turn left, cross railroad, follow Ponderosa Lane until you see Ponderosa Park sign on left (Rio Villa road)

Go down road 'til it dead ends at Spring Creek and you are there. If you get lost, call Light's cell - 325-234-1586

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When Small is Beautiful

Teresa Rylander writes:

I recently met with a good friend who runs a large community foundation. It was his experience that many large foundations, even when they offer substantial grants to expand small, very well-meaning projects, at first grow and prosper, and then somehow eventually fail, in spite of good work by skilled people with the best of intentions.

He asked me about Bread for the Journey, a small local charity I founded twenty years ago, now operating in chapters across the country. He asked, “When you help so many local people get started from the ground up aren’t you just setting them up for failure?
Can you even name five projects you helped get started that are still thriving after five years?” After the first dozen or so that tumbled from my memory, we both saw I could keep going for quite a while, and he conceded I had a point.

I then asked, “These well-intentioned programs that you support—how do they typically fail?” He told me about a fledgling community center that had begun as a small Quonset hut. The foundation supported an expansion program to include a new building, services for teens, an art program, an after school program, a GED program—all things that would benefit the community. “It was a great project,” he said. “So what happened?” I asked. “It was simply under funded. As the programs grew, they needed more funding and in an impoverished community it was hard to raise the money needed. Finally it just collapsed from lack of money.”

I offered an alternate explanation.
“What if the problem was not that the projects were “under funded” but rather were “over-dreamed? What if, when they started, they grew organically and to scale because funding, experience, and wisdom all grew together, at the same rate. But at some point their essential mission changed; almost every non-profit I have worked with reaches this choice point: If we can do this much so well, wouldn’t it be better if we could do more, and help more people? What if—seduced by our American belief that the best is always the one that does the most—they began to over dream, to overreach their honest capacity? What if out of sheer, good-hearted desire to do as much as possible, they took on more than they could honorably do as well as what they had been doing before? Like climbing out too far on a branch that will not hold our weight, perhaps it simply collapses.

The issue of longevity, vitality, and sustainability of our life and work is often determined by our concept of scale.
We are easily trapped by the presumption that bigger is better. If we create something that serves X number of people well, and runs effectively and easily, imagine how much more we could do if we only had twice as much, ten times as much? While this begins with some noble intention, even the best of intentions can be corrupted by a subtle undercurrent of pride and deep confusion about what, in any project, in any community, is enough.

From Chapter: "When Small is Beautiful" from A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller