The Struggle is Real

"The Struggle is Real" is a music video made by H2O Productions/Peace Propaganda Project at Plymouth as part of our collaboration with Pathfinders.  The youth worked to capture their experience in this music video.

Faith Stories

2016 Plymouth UCC Confirmation Class Statement

2016 Plymouth UCC Confirmation Class Statement

2016 Plymouth UCC Confirmation Class

May 15, 2016

We Believe:   

    As Jack taught us, “God is my buddy.”

And we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and in inclusion.

We Have a Hard Time Believing:

In some of the miracle stories like the creation of everything in seven days, the parting of the Red Sea, and Jesus walking on water.

And we have a hard time believing ideas like the resurrection, the existence of hell, and the idea of universal damnation.

We Understand:

    Everyone has a comfort zone and that everyone has a challenge zone.

And we understand doing the right thing, or doing justice, sometimes requires us to take uncomfortable actions outside of our comfort zones.

We Wonder:

What God looks like and what heaven looks like.

Are we here on earth alone in the universe, or are there other lifeforms out there?

And we also wonder why there’s no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible.

We Appreciate Plymouth UCC Because:

    As children we felt welcomed, could play in the gym, and got lots of snacks.

    We appreciate Pastor Bridget starting the prayer, “Holy Spirit, bring us peace.”

And we appreciate youth retreats where we met new friends, developed new perspectives, and got exposure to the greater community.

We Promise to:

    Be respectful       

To help out Plymouth & our local communities in whatever ways we can

    Challenge our comfort zones to be of service to others

    To bring life, laughter & love to Plymouth and our local communities

    To say please & thank you

    To be grateful for what we have – and find ways to demonstrate our gratitude

We Ask Plymouth UCC and its Members:

    To show us Acceptance       

To show us Patience   

To show us Guidance

    And for your prayers

We Trust:

    The power of love, the power of friendship, and the power of community.

And we trust, as Jack taught us, that “Pastor Andrew is not your mom”.

We Hope:

    For a world free of corruption, pollution and other forms of decay

    For the strength to build a strong family around us -- both now and as we grow in the future

    For rightful Justice

    For perseverance               

For equality

    For continued Growth

    For healing (especially for Truman)

We Love:

    Food and sleep;

Art, books, and music;

Sports and adventure;

New possibilities and intellectual stimulation;

Having fun and entertainment;

And communicating and laughing with friends and family.

And we love you all and are glad to be joining you in this church.


March of Dimes by Steve Gerard

Household Mission - March of Dimes by Steve Gerard

Last year, when I was given a paper hand during the service on which to write my household mission, I drew a blank.  I live alone.  I work and I attend church on Sunday.  What household mission could I have?

Then I was asked to be on the Board of Outreach and Mission.  Again I was confronted with the household mission.  With the help of a fellow board member, I realized I do have a household mission as well as a family mission.

My mission started slowly in January 2005.  My daughter Amber was home from college and was in her first trimester; we found out a month earlier that she was expecting.  I heard a loud cry from the bathroom.  She was bleeding.  My future son-in-law Ryan and I headed to Waukesha Memorial with her in the middle of the night. When I was called into the room right before they were going to perform an ultrasound, it was dark except for the monitors.  I saw my grandson for the first time, moving.  That evening we were told that the placenta started to pull away from the wall.  The doctors wanted to give her a pill to abort.  We chose to wait and see her doctor the next day.  She was put on bed rest.  I am so glad she went to a high risk doctor because Ashton was born early but healthy in June 2005.

Fast forward to the fall of 2008, my son Christopher and daughter-in-law Anna were expecting in February 2009.  On the early morning of November 20th my son called me crying to inform me that Anna was in labor.  It was not looking good as it was too early for labor.  By the time I got to Waukesha Memorial my granddaughter had not only come into this world but also left this world within an hour.  There were no words that could be said to my son that could help him.  As a father I’ve always tried to be able to comfort with words, but seeing a lifeless little girl lying in the arms of her mother, there are no words.  Just a moment to ask God, “Why?  This is not supposed to be like this!  She is to outlive me.”

As part of working on their grief, Chris and Ann started to fundraise for the March of Dimes, an organization funding amazing research and programs to end premature births, birth defects, and infant mortality.  We had family teams, did the walks, and watched how this involvement gave meaning and understanding that we were not the only family going through times like this.

In the spring of 2009 we found out that Anna was expecting again. After complete bed rest as the due date neared, Hunter was born early but healthy.  In December of 2010, Gage was born at only 24 weeks.  He was in the NICU at Waukesha Memorial.  He gave it a good fight but he passed ten days later.  Again I had words with God on why he would do this.

I watched Chris and Anna put their faith in God to help them work through the grief and pain.  I realized that my son had grown into a strong man.  I do believe his faith in God helped him move forward and keep his marriage strong.

In 2013, Chris and Anna told the family they were expecting.  She was on complete bed rest early. Again I had a grandson come early into this world.  On June 17, 2013, Parker was also born at 24 weeks - weighing only 1 pound and 11 ounces.  He stayed in the NICU at Waukesha Memorial till one week before his due date of October 1.  He is now 20 pounds, walking and trying to talk.  He still has a feeding tube, but the rest of him seems to be normal for an almost 2 year old toddler.  He’s giving his older brother a run for his money.

Our family team just finished the March of Dimes walk for the seventh year.  We have helped raise $23,500 in honor of Parker and in memory of Morgan and Gage.

My life has been blessed with three children and their spouses, eight grandchildren, and two angels.  I and my family will continue our mission to help the March of Dimes so other families don’t have to ask, “Why?”


Volunteering at Pridefest by Britt Brown

Volunteering at Pridefest by Britt Brown

In 2003 the Cream City Foundation took over management of the financially struggling Pridefest – Milwaukee.  The Executive Director of the foundation called me to discuss my issue with the festival keeping the playground off limits and Pridefest not providing any kind of programming for families and children.   Truman was three then and we wanted him to interact with other LGBT families with children.  Her response was “Fine, you are the new Director of Family and Children's programming.”

Twelve years later, I am now the Director of Hospitality and deal with the “guest experience” from the front gate to the VIP areas of the grounds.  I, and my assistants, try to make the festival an experience that attendees want to return to year after year.  This opportunity has provided me with many experiences I probably would never have had.  I could tell you stories about how strange and wonderful some of these celebrities really can be.  I can negotiate catering contracts; problem solving and crisis management are also experiences gained volunteering at Pridefest.

Truman loves to attend the festival to this day and this year has many neighborhood friends and schoolmates who want to attend.   Noel sees the confidence I have gained in many areas because of my experiences with Pridefest.  More recently I have been confident enough to make many major changes in the Hospitality department of Pridefest.  Now we see pre-sales rising for the VIP Experience, and volunteers and patrons returning year after year.  One Patron last year told me that the VIP experience had gone from “something akin to a Frat party to a real VIP experience.”

This year we will have guests from four other Pride festivals around the country visiting to see what we have accomplished and how we did it.  We are an all volunteer organization and work very hard starting in July (after the June festival ends) to work on the next year.

As Milwaukee Pridefest becomes Pridefest Inc. (501c3) things are changing as expected.  I will probably continue as long as they allow me.  (I have quit three times already, but couldn’t stay away.)


Teaching Sunday School by Lesley Houchin-Miller

Teaching Sunday School by Lesley Houchin-Miller

For the past two years, Lesley Houchin-Miller has taught the 5th-6th grade Sunday school class with Charlie Marsh.  She had helped with teaching when her son was in the K4 class, but considers this her first official position.

Like most good volunteers, Lesley considers her reasons in signing up to be selfish: she wanted to get to know people at church and has succeeded: she’s met the families of the kids she’s teaching.  Of course, she really enjoys the teaching and the kids, whom she declares to be “very smart and insightful.”  Recently they were doing a project that asked the class why we love Plymouth.  One student responded that, “Jesus didn’t reject people and neither do we.”

Although Lesley considers her understanding of the Bible to be about the same as the kids she teaches, she says that’s ok, because Plymouth wants people to contribute in whatever ways they can.  She offered to teach when an email was sent to the entire congregation asking for teachers.  She loves the co-teaching method that allows her and Charlie to alternate and use their own strengths.  Charlie has the Scripture knowledge and the overall fun factor, and she leads the role-playing sessions.  They work together on the discussions, reading aloud, and art projects.  The students draw pictures of the Bible stories to refresh their memory of each story.

The classroom format is discussion style.  The topic for the day comes from the age appropriate curriculum about a rock band on tour and the problems they face.  The kids read Scripture and discuss how the story relates to home, school, and friends.  Lesley and Charlie have created a place where the kids are comfortable talking about issues and sharing things from their lives.  Lesley really enjoys the bonds she’s developed with each of the children.

Lesley says the only drawback to teaching is that teachers miss out on Coffee Hour and Adult Ed classes.  (Pi Day was fun because the kids and teachers got to mingle with people they don’t usually see.)  To have more time with adults at Plymouth, she recently joined the Handbell Choir.  [She says that gives her a time to regroup in the middle of the week.]  Lesley thinks that everyone has a story and they are so interesting she doesn’t want to miss any.


Our Home for Wayward Hippies by Michelle Gurn

Our Home for Wayward Hippies by Michelle Gurn

When my daughter Gretchen (Gigi) died in the summer of 2011 at age 22, her sister Abby who was almost 19 at the time, and I were devastated.  We survived by clinging to each other and with the love and care given us by friends and family.  Our house had always been the one where kids hung out.  Parties, jam sessions and sleepovers were frequent.  When Gigi left us, her close knit group of friends felt as lost as we did.  Many of her friends were Abby's best friends too, having shared many experiences at Milwaukee High School of the Arts as well as in our rec room.  

When we discovered one friend was being mistreated by her live-in boyfriend we knew we had to offer her an alternative place to live.  Marissa came and stayed with us for several months.  After that a series of others joined us, including traveling friends like Phoenix from Savannah, Georgia, where Gretchen had been going to school; Aryne, whose lease was up on her apartment but wanted to stay in Milwaukee for a couple of months before moving to Santa Fe; LeAnna, a struggling musician who sang and played with Abby for a bit; and Karen, who was moving back to Milwaukee to start a new job while her newlywed husband stayed in Wausau until their lease was up and they could find a place here.  Some stayed for a couple of weeks, some for over a year.

When Abby and I started looking for a new house last year, we knew we had to consider our current house guest Lance, a fellow struggling artist and musician.  We moved into a fixer upper duplex in January and Abby now has her own flat, which she shares with Lance.  He has recently been able to start helping a little with utilities and some rent, having secured a spot on the comic page of Riverwest Currents.  And they have plenty of space for additional wayward hippies and anyone else who needs a temporary place to crash.  I’m working on getting the spare room in my flat ready for others, too.  (Does anyone have a gently used twin mattress set they no longer need?)  

Abby and I are happy that we have been able to help a bunch of young adults in a small way, and in return they have all helped the healing process for our broken hearts.


Evangelizing in the Kale Fields by Jennifer Morales

Evangelizing in the Kale Fields by Jennifer Morales

When Keren and I decided to move to rural Wisconsin, my job transition was much easier than hers. I work for myself from the comfort of my home office. If I have the internet, I have a business.

Keren, however, is a licensed massage therapist; moving out of Milwaukee meant giving up her entire clientele. She needed to get a transitional job while she made connections among our new neighbors, so she signed on at Driftless Organics, an organic farm which provides weekly vegetable boxes for hundreds of members as well as much of the kale sold at Whole Foods markets in the area.

A farm crew, we quickly learned, is an intimate thing. The physical labor is hard and the days are long. Meeting the weekly orders for so many customers means a lot of pressure on the minds, spirits, and bodies of the workers. Not surprisingly, the crew leans on each other a lot, physically, emotionally, and socially. Talk in the fields is often goofy but can also go deep into Big Questions and personal stories.

Keren is the only LGB or T member of the current crew and some of her coworkers were fascinated to learn that we had attended an open and affirming Christian church back in Milwaukee. Many of them had never met a gay Christian and some had never even heard those words combined in a sentence. Keren’s conversations with them while transplanting and weeding expanded their idea of what a Christian church could be.

Their surprise probably should have been a tip-off that our search for a vibrant, local church that would truly welcome us as a same-sex couple would eventually prove fruitless. We are now working with the UCC to form a house church here in Viroqua.

The farm crew is mostly in their 20s and 30s, unmarried, and childless. They are, as recent research shows, members of the demographic group least likely to go to church. Nevertheless, their interest in Plymouth and in our church search, has reinforced for me the importance of evangelism. I’m not talking about going door to door with Bible pamphlets threatening the End Times. I’m talking about generously and genuinely sharing the Good News that we are all beloved children of God and that there are indeed welcoming, inclusive places to celebrate that.

That’s been good news to Keren’s co-workers, many of whom believed that the starchy theology and exclusionary practices of their hometown churches pretty much sum up what “Christianity” is.

At a party recently, a new member of the farm crew approached me. She had heard from the others about Plymouth and the UCC.

“Is there anything like that out here?” she wanted to know. When I told her we hadn’t found one, she was visibly disappointed. Now that we are organizing a house church, we will invite her and the rest of the farm crew to join us.

At Bridget’s suggestion, I’ve been using the “What We Believe” statement on the UCC’s website as a house church outreach tool. It’s a great reminder of what makes the UCC movement the amazing force that it is. It’s a whole list of good news we can offer the many people who have been turned off (or turned away) by Christian


Accidental Evangelism by Britt Brown

Accidental Evangelism by Britt Brown

From a testimony at the Annual Congregational Meeting on January 25th

Two weeks ago I received an email from my friend Luci Klebar.  Luci wanted to know if I was ready to come out of retirement and rejoin the Church council as one of the At Large Members.  It was the next request that surprised me.

Would I be willing to take a few minutes to talk about evangelism?  Me, you want me talk about evangelism?  I thought, “Me?”

So I looked it up, I Googled it, then I tried the old fashioned way, a dictionary in book form … same definition.  




1.  (in Protestant churches) the practice of spreading the Christian gospel RC Church term evangelization, evangelisation

2.  ardent or missionary zeal for a cause

3.  the work, methods, or characteristic outlook of a revivalist or evangelist preacher

I was afraid of this.  It means exactly what I thought it did. My first thought was to keep Googling until I found a definition I liked.  

Then I recalled a conversation Andrew and I had about this topic.  Perhaps, it is our perception of Evangelism we need to transform in our minds as members of Plymouth Church.

Andrew reminded me that Bill and Kate Heller came to Plymouth, because of Noel and me.  I would talk about what Plymouth was involved in or working on.  I was not preaching about Plymouth, just being proud of what Plymouth was doing.  They also attended Truman’s 1st birthday parties here at the Plymouth church gym, so when they were ready to “find” a church they felt comfortable enough with Plymouth to visit on a Sunday.  There were others also who came because of us, some still attend, others have moved on.  

Is this evangelism?  Not in the common, modern definition.  But it is a kinder, gentler, even stealthier Evangelism, so stealthy, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.

I also realized, as I posted pictures of the Plymouth Youth Group making lunch for Guest House and mentioning the Youth Group’s MLK Service weekend on Facebook, I was doing it again.  I was accidentally evangelizing!  I can’t help myself!

What I am saying is redefine how you think of evangelism, erase the stereotypes, and reconstruct it in a way YOU can be comfortable with and you can be an Accidental Evangelist.  Just talking about what you are doing at Plymouth - Gardening, Arts Guild, Deacon, B.O.O.M., working with Pathfinders, teaching Sunday school, working with the Burmese Mission - no need to pontificate about church,  just talk about what we are doing and who we welcome to walk with us on our journey.


Creative Arts and Sacred Story Project

Creative Arts and Sacred Story Project

Plymouth Church, in collaboration with Pathfinders and Shir Hadash, will be launching a “Creative Arts and Sacred Story Project.”  The project will bring together youth and adult artists to learn about forgiveness and create a variety of artworks in response.  Gifts in honor of Rev. Dan Jonas on his fiftieth ordination anniversary and in memory of Dr. Ann Marie Starr will fund this collaborative project.  Please contact Andrew Warner if you or your youth are interested in participating.

A key team member for this project will be Tia Richardson, pictured here completing a portrait of Martin Luther King.  As she describes herself, “My focus right now is community-based art, i.e.. collaborative murals with youth and the community. I use talking circles to generate deep listening to each other so that every voice can be heard. I believe in the power of listening and creating relationship through a common experience, such as doing a mural around issues affecting us individually or as a group, and then reflecting on the experience. I believe in giving equal value to the process; that the experience is what heals and the outcome - the mural - is not just a product but a testimony.”

Arts in Congregations

The arts, and artists, can play an important role in probing the meaning of sacred stories.  Recently at Plymouth several people acted out the story of the Song of Songs.  Seeing the scripture enacted brought it to life, helping us enter the story at a deeper level than just listening would provide.  

At the same time, the arts can allow us to gain perspective our own lives which we might not normally gain.  Works such as Bilhenry Walker’s “Urban Pietas” move us from the story of Jesus’ death to look more closely and intently at the violence around us today.  

In short, the arts increase our ability to access meaning in even the most familiar stories.

Arts in Human Development

The Search Institute studies the nature and shape of positive youth development.  Their widely cited research from 1990 identified forty assets which help youth grow into healthy and confident adults.  While the forty assets began as a study of adolescent development, one can easily see these assets as part of the broad picture of a well-developed person.  

After identifying the forty developmental assets, the Search Institute went on to research the importance of developmental relationships.  Relationships matter to youth:

the number and intensity of high quality relationships in young people’s lives is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes, including increased student engagement, improved academic motivation, better grades, higher aspirations for the future, civic engagement, more frequent participation in college-preparatory classes and activities, and a variety of other individual outcomes.” (Search Institute)

Growing the assets of youth requires more than just developmental relationships.  Developmental communities provide the container or context required.  Communities can create environments which contribute (or, unfortunately, undermine) the formation of assets and relationships important to youth development.

The arts connect directly to positive development, as can be seen in even a cursory review of the forty assets.  Most directly: youth need constructive uses of their time which involve creative expression (asset #17). Less directly: youth can strengthen interior abilities for social competencies and personal identity through the arts.  Musicians with the Peace Propaganda Project worked with youth from Pathfinders at Plymouth Church to create a music video.  The video allowed youth a way to tell their stories in a powerful and creative way.  Even youth reticent to share in other venues found a voice or a part in the video.  In short, the arts change lives.

Creative Partnership

Plymouth, Pathfinders, and Shir Hadash all share space in our building.  What would happen if we started meeting and reflecting together on common struggles?

A few years ago, a youth brought a weapon to the Pathfinders Drop-In Center.  The incident prompted reflection and study by Pathfinders, including a survey of youth about weapons, violence, and safety.  Among the insights from the survey came a clear indication of the kinds of messages Pathfinder’s youth heard at home: if hit, hit back harder.  The survey pointed to a growing edge in the developmental assets of youth: social competencies for resistance and peaceful conflict resolution.  

Homeless and at-risk youth are not the only ones who struggle with such competencies.  All of us struggle in various ways with the ability to forgive.  People at Plymouth and Shir Hadash do not come to a conversation about forgiveness as experts seeking students to teach, but as people who share a struggle to learn and live.

Sacred stories and traditions probe the question of forgiveness and even the possibility of forgiveness.  Our own personal stories contain insights into forgiveness, too.  Participants from our organizations could draw on our personal and sacred stories to have a dialogue about the challenges, limitations, and opportunities of forgiveness.

We plan to bring together a variety of people: youth from Pathfinders, an artist-in-residence, and youth and artists from Shir Hadash and Plymouth.  Artists and youth would reflect together on how our sacred stories help us understand and imagine forgiveness.  Adult artists would work on their own projects inspired from our conversations.  The artist-in-residence, Tia Richardson, would work with youth from Pathfinders, Shir Hadash, and Plymouth to create a collaborative mural.  Artists - youth and adult, novice and professional - would work to create pieces which reflect their thoughts about forgiveness.  We would then reconvene to share our artwork and to hold a public gallery night.


"Urban Pieta" - Sculpture by Bilhenry Walker

"Urban Pieta" - Sculpture by Bilhenry Walker

Urban Pieta.jpg

During the season of Lent we will display Bilhenry Walker’s “Urban Pieta” in the sanctuary.  

“Urban Pieta, Crime Scene at 11th and Atkinson” is based on the famous Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo in which Mother Mary holds her dead son, Jesus,  across her lap in loving anguish. This metaphor for tender caring amidst the tragedy of death has been memorialized in many ways throughout the centuries. Images of soldiers holding their fallen comrades have been committed to both bronze and film for us to ponder and reflect on our own personal griefs and lost friendships.

“Urban Pieta” was born out of a real-life event which  occurred May 18, 2014 on the streets of Milwaukee. A worker of mine, Terrel*, was hanging out with his friends at the corner of 11th and Atkinson Streets when a shooter came out of the alley and began firing indiscriminately with his AK47. Three young men were immediately hit with these military rounds, one of whom was JoJo*, a friend of Terrel’s. Terrel immediately grabbed JoJo and cradled him in his arms until JoJo had completely bled out and died.  While Terrel held JoJo until help arrived, he reflected on the meaning of his own life and the loss of his friendship with JoJo. It was a sobering and traumatic experience for him.

The events following the shooting were even more sobering as this story of urban revenge unfolded. Although the two other young men died that same afternoon, the shooter was never apprehended. In a twist of cruel street politics, the shooter was well known to the survivors, but no one would finger him for fear of retaliation from his family. It was not surprising that the shooter and cohort brazenly found the original target several weeks later and killed him at the very same corner. The tragedy was now compounded five-fold as it  resulted in the loss of a husband, father of four children and breadwinner to a struggling family living in that neighborhood.  

Nine months after the shooting of JoJo, the perpetrator has not been charged for lack of eye-witness testimony.

These events have marked a change in how I address my concept of  “Crime Scene” sculptures. Instead of dealing with the abstraction of violent deaths in the urban environment, I am now linking each sculpture to a particular death and memorializing the life of that person as well as the senselessness of his passing.

(*Names have been changed to protect those involved.)


Prison Ministry by Curt Anderson

Prison Ministry by Curt Anderson

My name is Curt Anderson. I was the Senior Minister of First Congregational UCC in Madison for 12 years, until I retired this last summer. A few weeks ago, I became a member of Plymouth UCC in absentia. (My wife and I had a long-standing commitment to take grandchildren to see a play in Madison that day.)


 Several years ago, First Cong Madison started a prison ministry program; and on a few occasions, I had a chance to go to a prison and talk to prison inmates who had participated in one of the programs the church ran there. I found those conversations to be very enlightening. Some of these men (so far the programming has been mostly for men) had done horrible things in their lives to cause them to be incarcerated; yet they were using that time to come to terms with what they had done, to make amends in whatever ways they could, and to change the kind of people they were. Talking with them was fascinating.


 About 5 years ago, when the recession started, First Cong went from having 1 – 2 people a week call or come in asking for help to having 2 – 3 people a day make that request. Rather than simply saying “yes” or “no” to them, I started taking time to talk to them. I found out as much as I could about social services in Madison so I could direct them to whatever help was available. I helped them with funds from the church whenever I could. But I also simply listened to them and encouraged them to share with me whatever they wanted to share. A few people started to come to see me even when they weren’t directly asking for help. I hope and I believe these conversations were meaningful to the people who came to the church. They were certainly meaningful to me. I grew in my ability to understand and relate to people whose circumstances were very different from mine.


 A few years ago, I could not have imagined myself saying this; but as I approached retirement earlier this spring, I began to believe that I was now being called to visit inmates in Wisconsin prisons. I have settled pretty well into retirement these last few months. I hope to have a meeting soon with people in the Department of Corrections to see if I will be able to do this pastoral visitation.


 Relating to people who were very different from me came to be an important part of my life in the last few years. I hope to continue doing that even though I am now retired.