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Sermon by Rev. Nicole Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on December 23, 2012. Text: Luke 1:26-59. This sermon relates Mary’s belief in Gabriel’s promise to the belief that led a Newtown teacher to sacrifice her life for her students.

This video was made by Rhode Island College student, Kristin Blais, for a class. Thanks Kristin!

Beneficent Church

From Beneficent Church’s October 2010 newsletter:

On October 16 & 17, Beneficent Church will be hosting a gala celebration of the 200th anniversary of our Meeting House. This event will bring to a close over a year’s worth of work. We would like to thank what has come to be known as the MH200 planning team—Doris Mathewson, Pat Falcon, Jane Eastman, Marilyn Washington, Jon Farnum, Charlotte Decker, Jean Kelly, Matt Hird, Peter Borgemeister, Jed Griswold, Irene Hope, Susan Carroll, Pastor Todd, Pastor Nicole, and especially our chair, Mary Ryder.

Please make every effort to participate in the weekend celebration. And invite your friends! It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Saturday evening awards gala on the 16th is an opportunity for us to invite people from the community to join us in celebrating community groups and leaders who are partners with us in working to make Providence a more just, compassionate, healthy, and whole place. The Sunday celebration is an opportunity for current members and alumni to celebrate our connection to this faith community.

The purpose of celebrating the 200th anniversary of our Meeting House has been twofold: 1) to get in touch with where we as a faith community have been in order to better understand where God is leading today and 2) to reconnect with our communities—Providence, in particular—by sharing our story and inviting our friends and neighbors to become a part of that story.

We began at the beginning. On January 3, 2010. Harl, Jonathan, and Linda Ryder dressed in 18th century period costume, and Harl acted as town crier announcing the commencement of the year’s festivities. Over the following months we celebrated different aspects of our history: our colonial beginnings as a “New Light” congregation, our African American history, the leadership role of women at Beneficent, our ministry among immigrant and refugee groups—particularly our connections to the Chinese community, our more recent public and intentional inclusion of LGBT people in our life and ministry. All of these aspects of our history can be seen in who we are today! They were celebrated with speakers and dinners and events—including a major renovation of Abbott Park—too numerous to mention here.

We’ll end with an 1897 quote from Beneficent’s Home Mission Board. At that point in our history, the neighborhood around the church was changing and putting pressure on the church to adapt. Here’s what our ancestors said: “In our location we must be largely a ‘missionary’ (as distinguished from a ‘home’) church. Let us pray for the success of the venture; and, that this old church, besieged by business and surrounded and restricted by growing traffic, may, in its adjustment to changing conditions, continue a powerful influence on the community.”

Little did they know at the time, but in 1897, Beneficent was on the brink of the greatest period of growth in its history!

That 19th century spirit of vitality, hope, and mission in the face of change is alive today and will carry us forward into the 21st century.

(Originally published in Beneficent Church’s newsletter, The People’s Times, May 2010).

We need wisdom, not just information. Recently Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave the keynote address at the American Society of News Editors conference. He said that in the 21st century, the world has moved from a situation of relative information scarcity to a situation of information abundance. The way Pastor Nicole and I like to put it is, in the Internet Age, “It’s all out there!”

For us, this means that we focus less on giving expert advice and more on building faithful community. We focus less on imparting knowledge and more on nurturing wisdom. This work requires less Internet searching and more soul searching. It invites us as a community to talk together and listen deeply to each other in respectful, loving ways. We are challenged to work through differences, hear each other’s stories, and discover that our diversity is not a problem to be fixed but an opportunity to be celebrated. Diversity is an opportunity for deepening our understanding, enriching our lives, and developing creative, life-giving solutions to the challenges that face us. In other words, our diversity is an opportunity to practice wisdom.

Proverbs gives God’s wisdom a voice: “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago . . . I was beside him like a master worker; and I was his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (8:22, 30-31).

This month you will not want to miss the opportunities to celebrate community, diversity, and wisdom at Beneficent Church: International Families Sunday, May 2; Mothers’ Day, May 9; Youth Sunday, May 16; Confirmation Sunday, May 23; and good old-fashioned Memorial Day, May 30. We look forward to seeing you!

(By Rev. Nicole Grant Yonkman. First published on www.ucc.org.) This past Sunday, three of our confirmation class kids assisted in worship by leading prayers and reading scripture. Each child’s reaction ranged from petrified to resigned determination. For all of these kids, this was their first time speaking in front of a group of people that was not their class from school. In the look on their faces, I was reminded that being a church leader does not just happen, it is a skill that must be carefully nurtured and developed.

I am in the small minority of UCC pastors – just four percent – who are under 40 years old. I went to seminary right out of college and ministry has been my career for the last 14 years. While I was marginally involved in church as a child, my call was really nurtured and encouraged through a campus ministry program at college.

While I feel fortunate to have had strong role models in college who pointed me in the direction of seminary and ministry, I don’t see a lot of pathways for young people. I’m not just talking about young people who might want to become ministers. I’m talking about young people that want to be Christians; to live a life of faith and walk the Jesus walk. Although our country faces the toughest financial crisis since the Great Depression, our churches have been declining and struggling financially and numerically for years.

The truth is, many children, youth and young adult programs in local churches, denominations, and colleges were cut years ago. We are now reaping what we sowed a generation ago: a majority aging and aged congregations that have few or no children whatsoever. It’s now not just one lost generation, but two lost generations. Generation X has come of age and given birth to children who have no idea what church is.

So what is a church to do? Read more . . .

2009 NCLI, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

2009 NCLI, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

I just returned from a week in Atlanta. I was on the leadership team for the New Church Leadership Institute, a training event for church planters and church revitalizers. It was a lot of fun working with a great group of people dedicated to growing existing churches and planting new ones. My role was basically to be helpful and do whatever needed to be done to make the NCLI a great experience for everyone. So I lead worship two mornings, provided afternoon music breaks, taught a seminar on social networking and Web design, drove the shuttle bus, helped out with the bookstore, and made lots of great friends. Find out more about the NCLI by visiting growtheucc.org. Our goal for next year is to have 500 people at the event! The energy this year was great. It’s good to know that there is a new generation of leaders in the United Church of Christ who have the gifts and the skills to work for a healthy, hopeful future for our churches.

Nicole and I have an article about Prairie Sky Church published in the most recent United Church News. Here’s an excerpt . . .

“Jesus invited each, starting where each was, to begin a spiritual adventure in a hitherto-untried way of living.”
— Adventurous Religion by Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1926.

It was on our European backpacking honeymoon in 1996 that we began calling ourselves the “Grant Yonkman Adventure Team.” A call to ministry and a sense of adventure are two things we’ve always shared.

When we accepted a call from the Indiana-Kentucky Conference in February 2007 to plant a church in Fishers, Ind., a fast-growing suburb of Indianapolis, we understood it to be another chapter in the Adventure Team story. We drew on the spirit and energy of our adventurous UCC forebears who had the guts and the will to gather around the vision “that they may all be one” 50 years earlier.

Church planting is the process of starting a new church that will, in a relatively short period of time, become a self-sufficient, self-supporting, autonomous congregation. Ultimately, our efforts did not produce a church, but our experience has taught us a lot about what it takes to plant a church and reach young people. . . . Read more . . .

On April 26, Beneficent Congregational Church (Providence, RI) called Todd and Nicole to be their co-pastors. Beneficent Church was founded in 1743 by a group of Congregationalists who had a revival experience during the Great Awakening and were moved by the Holy Spirit to start a mission to the working-class people on the west side of the Providence River. The founding pastor, Joseph Snow, Jr., was a carpenter by trade.

Over the years, Beneficent Church grew in size and influence. The working-class neighborhood gentrified and became a place where the wealthy and powerful lived. Beneficent responded by adjusting its mission to reach its new neighbors, many of whom found a church home there. The church’s pastors continued to be very creative and mission-oriented, beginning what were at the time cutting edge programs such as children’s Sunday school, and taking advantage of the new medium of radio to broadcast their sermons.

In more recent history, Beneficent Church, like many established, mainline churches, has experienced significant decline in its membership. Beneficent Church has called Nicole and me in the hopes that we might help the congregation “redevelop,” that is, re-establish a vital relationship to its community in order to grow in membership and mission impact. It’s a challenge we look forward to.

I am currently a regular guest musician at a small Congregational Church in Cherryfield, Maine–just down the road from our residence in the town of Milbridge. I lead the traditional worship music–including prelude, postlude, the Doxology, and the Gloria Patri–all on guitar. Why guitar? Because that’s the only instrument I currently have any real facility with. It’s unusual, but it seems to be working for this small group of faithful Christians. Anyway, here’s the Adventure Team’s homemade Gloria Patri . . .

Maine Seacoast Missions Mission House

Maine Seacoast Mission's "Mission House"

Today the Adventure Team visited the Maine Seacoast Mission headquarters in Bar Harbor. It’s housed in a beautiful, large, red-brick, at-one-time-summer-home overlooking the bay. The house was donated to the mission with an endowment for maintaining the building so that mission dollars can be used for mission. Visit their Website to learn more.

Founded in 1905, Maine Seacoast Mission is an ecumenical mission organization related to the United Church of Christ. The Maine Sea Coast Mission provides spiritual, health, and youth development programs in coastal and island communities from mid-coast to Downeast Maine.

Our oldest daughter participates in the EdGE program, which is an after school program run by the Cherryfield branch of the mission. It’s awesome. She loves it. The Cherryfield branch has a beautiful facility including wooded land along the Narraguagus River with walking trails named after places in the Lord of the Rings. Our family likes to use it for cross-country skiing.

Here’s a little video of this wooded area, which we call “The Shire.”

Flickr Photos